March 15, 2009

Karnataka: Film Maker caves in after threats from Hindu right on Chaplin Statue

From Times Online
March 15, 2009

Hindu extremists wreck plans for statue of "Christian" Charlie Chaplin

Hindu extremists say the actor's work is symbolic of a Western culture that must be resisted

Rhys Blakely, Mumbai

He fought fascism in the 1940s armed with little more than a crumpled suit, a bemused look and funny walk. Now Charlie Chaplin is embroiled in another battle of beliefs, this time with India’s Hindu extremists.

On Friday, Hindu radicals in the southern state of Karnataka stymied plans to erect a 20m (67ft) statue of the film star, on the grounds that he was a Christian. The move came amid a backlash against Western culture that has raised concerns that parts of India are at risk of being "Talebanised" by Hinduism’s far Right.

The Chaplin sculpture was being built at a cost of about 3.5 million rupees (£48,600) near the town of Udupi, the site of several Hindu temples. The structure was to form part of a film set, but work ground to a halt when Hindu activists chased the workers away and buried the building materials.

Hemant Hegde, the film-maker, told local reporters that he abandoned the project after being threatened by a mob of about 50 people, whose leader told him: "We will not allow you to construct a statue of a Christian actor."

The protesters were said to belong to the Hindu Jagarna Vedike (Hindu Enlightenment Group), a group linked to an attack on a Christian school in the same state last May. They demanded Mr Hegde erect a statue of Swami Vivekananda, a 19th-century Hindu missionary to the West, instead.

Mr Hegde told a local television channel: "I'm really surprised that people would associate Charlie Chaplin with being a Christian and not allow the statue."

Chaplin, whose 1940 film The Great Dictator mocked Hitler and Nazism, might also have been confused: the British-born actor was baptised into the Church of England, but later declared himself agnostic.

Indian commentators warned that the dispute was part of a wider revolt by extremists who claim that Indian values are under attack from Western cultural imports.

One of the most shocking incidents came in January when a mob of followers of the Sri Ram Sena (Lord Ram’s Army), a radical Hindu group, assaulted several young women in a pub in Mangalore, a college town also in Karnataka. Pramod Mutalik, the group’s leader, said at the time that his followers were "custodians of Indian culture".

Valentine's Day celebrations, kissing in Bollywood films and cheerleaders at cricket matches have also been targeted. "With amazing regularity, petty and prejudiced acts that rip at the social fabric of society are hitting the headlines," The Times of India said yesterday.

The local head of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition party, in Udupi said there was no place for Chaplin in the region. "If the locals are against such a statue, I am also against it," he told The Times of India. "Why should one bother so much about Charlie Chaplin, who was not even an Indian?"

Karnataka, in which Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, is located, has one of the worst records for anti-Christian violence in the country. At least 112 anti-Christian attacks were recorded in the state last year, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians.

The state government, control of which was won by the BJP last year, said recently that it was considering introducing laws about the circumstances under which Hindus can convert to Christianity.

Pro-Christian advocates claim similar laws in other states have provided the pretext for anti-Christian violence.