Hindus up in arms over widows' film

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 May, 2006, 12:00am

Hindu nationalists are having another go at film director Deepa Mehta over her film Water, which portrays the harsh treatment meted out by Hindu society to widows.

When Canada-based Mehta was filming in the Hindu holy city of Benares in 2000, angry Hindu mobs launched violent protests, wrecking the set and equipment, and threatening Mehta.

This time round, following the film's recent US premiere, they have been burning pirated DVDs of the movie and warning shopkeepers not to stock it.

'We will not allow the film to be shown here. It insults Hindu sentiments and depicts Hindu culture in a poor light,' said Gaurav Sharma, an official with Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu group. Mr Sharma said any cinema showing the movie would 'face the consequences'.

In 1998, Shiv Sena gangs disrupted the showing in Bombay of an earlier Mehta film, Fire, which portrays a lesbian relationship, smashing windows and burning posters.

Although the Supreme Court ordered that protection be given to cinemas, owners were too frightened to show the film.

Water shows widows living in a Benares ashram in the 1930s in extreme poverty and how some are forced into prostitution by affluent, high-caste Hindu men.

Hindu nationalists claim that these conditions no longer exist, but anyone who has visited ashrams where widows live can vouch for the fact that little has changed.

Widows must wear only white, break their bangles, stop wearing jewellery, shun meat, hot food and sweets, avoid happy occasions such as weddings and births, and, in many cases, shave their heads.