On Netflix, Islamophobia, and garble of identity representation

FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo/File ( image used for representational purposes only)

By Ehaab Qadeer 

Madhya Pradesh police filed an FIR against Netflix for what they deem to be is anti-Hindu content. Later BJP leader Gaurav Tiwari tweeted the FIR and then thanked the MP Home Minister for the support. Objections were raised about one of the scenes of Mira Nair’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ in which a couple was shown kissing in the courtyard of a temple. The complainant has accused Netflix of portraying an incorrect picture of Hindu culture globally and promoting “Love-Jihad”. While we could debate the issue and say that this is a matter of freedom of expression. But it isn’t untrue that some shows do strengthen the stereotypes about a certain group of people. Whether the content is a reflection of or the root of societal narratives is yet another debate. And while it would be unfair to say that these shows do not seem to attach an apparent extremist uprising of Hindu nationalism.

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Talking about the misrepresentation of religion and community in 21st-century popular culture, could there be any better era to discuss this sketch? We have to ask ourselves why is this the only type of content that offends us. If it is about how minorities are being presented in popular media, can we even begin to imagine how Muslims feel? For times immemorial Muslims have played the terrorist. The representation of Islam and Muslims in general could not be more parochial. But this isn’t just the problem with Indian content. Several international shows are also laced with Islamophobic content, undertones, and narratives. Take the hit international show Bodyguard (UK) which starts with a suicide bomber of the Islamic faith. Later when she gets caught she talks about how she made it so because of “vulnerable Muslim women as a victim scenario”. So basically according to the writers, Muslim women can be either a victim or will straight up bomb your home? Sounds about white, but wait there is also a lot of brown.

Let’s take another Netflix series into consideration called “Bard of Blood,” produced by Shah Rukh Khan and written by Bilal Siddiqui starring Emran Hashmi. It’s sad and funny at the same time but Muslims themselves have started banking upon this tried and tested pigeonholing of Muslim identities in the popular culture. At the top of one’s head, how many films can one think of where a Muslim played the bad guy? There are films like Kurbaan, where an entire Muslim family tries to bomb a white city, there are also other films like Secret Superstar where an angry Muslim bloke abuses his wife and child. Now both of these are also on Netflix, did that bug us? Am I against these films? Not really. Do I think these films might contribute in some capacity to the already aching image of Muslims in media and popular culture? Probably. In fact, think of any film that involves a bomb blast or a shoot-out, chances are the mastermind is a skullcap wearing kohl-eyed man who is a Muslim of course. In fact, there are very few films that show Muslim characters in a good light, shows Muslims are apologists who have to prove their loyalty to the state. Take Chak De India for an example. The Islamophobic narrative isn’t just limited to Netflix.

What I’m saying is simple. It is good to debate whether certain content can further deepen the communal divide and strengthen stereotypes, but to do so when it is only convenient is problematic, to say the least. We cannot be filled with resentment only when it’s about the majority. Muslims have so far been ridiculed by popular culture and portrayed in a bad light that they honestly stopped caring about it. It is the least of our concerns. Three or four shows can hurt majority sentiments to such a great extent, why have we never thought about our fellow countrymen? What’s the point of democracy if we are going to pick and choose who gets to tell their stories and who has to be subjected to censorship. If we cannot honestly a draw just line of standards for contents then we might as well stop watching for what it is a simple show.

Love Jihad Politics

Love Jihad is a figment of political ingenuity, but the power of its politics cannot be brushed aside. You thought Ram Mandir was the cornerstone of the Hindu Rashtra? Think again. It is actually the bending of Hindu minds around the phantoms of ‘Love Jihad’ that will ultimately create the Hindu Rashtra.

Love Jihad’ is slowly and steadily turning into the carrot that is leading the donkey towards the formation of a state where politics and religion merge. And will eventually seize the sexual autonomy of Hindu women which will further strengthen the Brahmanical patriarchy in the society.

With the popular acceptance of this hypothesis, legitimized and normalized by discussions on television debates and social media, ‘Love Jihad’ has turned into a Yeti monster that people are convinced exists but has rarely ever seen, which makes it all the more frightful.

The narrative is certainly not on the horizon just because of an extreme far-right hyper nationalistic political party led by a man who does not believe in religious freedom and pluralism of the state, but in fact, the societal norms have reinforced this bizarre attack on the very pious notion of love. Women’s sexual autonomy is being chastised. If the societal norms were to tell us otherwise, accept the pluralism and women’s choice of loving whomsoever they feel right – no government would dare to table such inimical bill and ponder upon it. The veracity behind this charade is the societies are safeguarding the state’s spiteful vision. For instance, inter-caste marriages in India have been proven detrimental over the ages. A father would hang his daughter for crossing the line and marrying a man from another caste. Daughters have been stripped off their property rights just for choosing their life partners. So blaming just the government or a political party for such subjugation would be unfair while the entire society is busy practising and strengthening this bizarre chronicle.

Also, ‘Love Jihad’ is no contemporary concept. You will be staggered to know that right-wing Hindus were stricken by the same psychosis in the 1920s. Back then, riots took place over the alleged abduction of Hindu women and their forced conversions to Islam in Kanpur in June 1924 and Mathura in March 1928, according to the renowned historian Charu Gupta.

And the story is not very different today. Without any credible sources, there is still a big show of the number of Hindu women who have been “coercively” converted to Islam by fiendish and tantalizing Muslim men masquerading as lovers. In 2009, pamphlets distributed in Jawaharlal Nehru University claimed that “4,000 girls” had been converted to Islam under ‘Love Jihad’ in Delhi and Maharashtra. This number, whose source is still unknown, was circulated by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP — the student wing of the RSS.

Under Yogi Adityanath’s very own administration, 14 cases were being investigated for ‘Love Jihad’ in August this year. But half of those cases have been found out to be consensual marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men, and closure reports have been filed for them. The remaining seven cases are still under investigation. Yet, the ideology of Love Jihad is still considered real enough for Yogi Adityanath and other chief ministers wanting to enact a law on it.


Ehaab Qadeer is an MA Graduate (Communication and Journalism) from KC College, Mumbai.