The subsequent morning after I met Patwardhan, he appeared crestfallen. “To begin with, this isn’t a victory for Hindus,” he mentioned. “There are various secular Hindus like me who by no means needed the mosque to be destroyed or a temple to be constructed. For us, it’s a catastrophe.” I requested him if the judgment had made him rethink his plans to launch “Purpose” in India. If the Censor Board refused to certify the documentary, was he assured that the courts would once more come by for him? “I’ve to weigh my choices,” Patwardhan mentioned. However in an op-ed he wrote for an Indian newspaper a number of weeks later, he appeared to have made up his thoughts. “On Nov. 9, 2019,” he wrote, “those that had demolished our nationwide monument, successfully inflicting the deaths of 1000’s throughout the subcontinent, had been legally granted the very goal of their crime. Secular democracy was lastly laid to relaxation.”
For a short second, Patwardhan’s fears turned out to be untimely: Across the new yr, tens of millions throughout the nation protested a brand new citizenship legislation broadly seen as discriminatory in opposition to Muslim refugees. In scenes straight out of a Patwardhan movie, girls camped out on streets day and evening within the chilly. School college students held up portraits of Gandhi and Ambedkar to policemen. In metropolis after metropolis, Indians gathered to chant the preamble to the nation’s Structure.
However then got here 2020, with extra horrors. In February, on the eve of President Donald Trump’s go to to India, sectarian violence on the streets of New Delhi left greater than 50 folks useless, most of them Muslims. In March, in response to the pandemic, Modi declared a nationwide lockdown, up to now the world’s largest — and arguably the harshest — with lower than 4 hours’ discover. Folks had been crushed up by the police for a lot as stepping outside. All however important journey was banned. Tens of millions of migrant employees, caught with out wages, meals and shelter for weeks in cities, had been compelled to trek dwelling to villages lots of of miles away within the warmth. Journalists reporting on the state of affairs had been intimidated or arrested. After an outbreak at an Islamic convention in New Delhi, Muslims had been accused of finishing up “corona jihad” and spreading the virus throughout the nation. Posters prohibiting Muslims from coming into appeared in a single day in some neighborhoods. There have been stories of hospitals discriminating in opposition to Muslim sufferers.
I watched Patwardhan’s movies once more in self-isolation: They gave the impression to be now documenting not the previous however intimations of the current. The nation had modified an excessive amount of since I first met Patwardhan in Jaipur. Scenes that I had safely relegated to historical past books simply months in the past now appeared like well timed portents. The person who praises Gandhi’s murderer on the finish of “Within the Title of God”: Didn’t he stand vindicated by the Babri mosque verdict? The grieving Muslim widow in “Father, Son and Holy Conflict”: Would she now be handled unfairly in a hospital? The homeless lady in “Bombay: Our Metropolis”: What was she doing to outlive in Mumbai’s abandoned streets? The Dalit sanitation employee in “Jai Bhim Comrade”: Was he strolling dwelling to his village, hungry and hopeless, at this second?
The final time I talked to Patwardhan, he was reluctantly quarantined inside his Mumbai residence. It was June. The lockdown had failed: India had surpassed Britain, Italy and Spain within the tally of instances to turn into one of many worst-affected international locations. Each morning there have been stories of overcrowded hospitals and determined migrant employees ravenous on the roads. “I really feel so helpless watching all this on TV,” Patwardhan instructed me. “I ought to have been on the market recording these scenes, however I’m not ready to try this.”
The protests in opposition to the citizenship legislation had been a galvanizing second for Patwardhan. Indians from all walks of life, as he noticed it, had briefly come collectively to claim their concept of an inclusive nation. “I keep in mind feeling extraordinarily hopeful,” he instructed me. “For the primary time in a few years, I believed, I can retire as an activist, as a result of youthful generations had been doing wonderful work.” However whereas the nation was largely distracted by the pandemic, the Indian police arrested many college students and activists concerned within the protests. Courts stopped performing at full capability through the lockdown, which meant that bail and acquittals had been virtually out of the query. “To place them in crowded prisons right now,” Patwardhan fumed, “particularly when the virus is spreading in all places?”
In August, Modi laid down the muse stone for a brand new temple to be constructed on the web site of the Babri mosque. Flanked by clergymen in saffron robes, he carried out Hindu rituals and declared the date to be simply as necessary because the day of India’s independence. Weeks later, a particular courtroom acquitted 32 folks, together with L.Okay. Advani, of crimes referring to their involvement within the demolition of the mosque. After 28 years, the courtroom dominated that the razing was not “preplanned”: There wasn’t sufficient proof of a conspiracy.
Patwardhan instructed me final yr that it was turning into troublesome to tell apart between Hindutva and Hinduism. “The road will hold getting blurred,” he warned, “so long as Hindu nationalists keep in energy.” After we talked on the telephone in June, I questioned if he felt an analogous foreboding concerning the nation as properly, that sometime it may be troublesome to recall that India had as soon as been a various republic. “I’m making that argument in ‘Purpose,’” he mentioned. “This is the reason we’d like documentaries. At the very least they assist hold some recollections alive.”