The second part of Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Father, Son and Holy War opens with hundreds of men dancing at a religious fair. The narrator explains how the British colonisers describing Hindus as “a weak, effeminate and cowardly people” and “openly admiring the heroism of the martial races—the Sikhs, the Pathans and the Rajputs—caused the emerging Indian nationalism to become obsessed with proving its virility.” Consequently, Hindu men started feeling the constant need to overtly display their masculinity. Sarah DiMuccio, in her research paper “The Political Significance of Fragile Masculinity”, states that “this is because men feel threatened by the idea of losing esteem in the eyes of their peers, and subsequently their very membership in the high-status ‘man’ category.” She further writes, “to restore the threatened status of ‘real’ manhood, insecure masculinity motivates compensatory behaviors like rejecting vulnerability, extreme toughness, and aggressiveness.” This paper aims to exemplify how insecure Hindu men seek to validate their manhood by altering mythology, hero-worshipping, fighting the under-sexed ‘alien’ men, and dominating women.
Hindu men started by masculinising their religion, and “goddesses were transformed to serve the interest of the patriarchy”. The documentary features a poster in which a goddess is giving a sword to a male warrior, symbolising the passing of authority to men. A man at a religious fair explains that Goddess Lakshmi massages Lord Vishnu’s feet, and extravagantly dressed women are shown worshipping a god, all of which indicate how Hindu women were portrayed subordinate to Hindu men.
To maintain their status as ‘real men’, men learn to associate with and idolise traditionally masculine behaviour like violence and toughness. This is shown in multiple instances throughout the documentary. A teenage boy explains how he loves the famous WWE wrestler Randy Savage, popularly known as ‘Macho Man’, for his toughness, and he wishes to be like him to assert his dominance and bully the weak. Hundreds of men are seen applauding Bal Thackrey’s hate speech, which calls for anti-tolerance, lawlessness and destroying Muslim and Christian men who disagree with their ideologies. Thousands more attend similar speeches that mock the “enemy” for being effeminate, their genitals being shorter due to circumcision, asserting that Hindu men must ‘man up’ and kill them. Hero-worshipping is also seen at the Shivaji Utsav, where a Hindu man says that effigies of Mandakini, an Indian actress of the time, and other women bathing in the open are installed to depict that wives and daughters felt safe enough to bathe in peace by the river in the past because King Shivaji was ‘masculine enough’ to protect them. By labelling women as weak and perpetuating the damsel-in-distress stereotype, Hindu men declared themselves the saviours and protectors of women, yet again validating their identity as the stronger, superior sex.
The subjugation of women, unfortunately, did not end in the religious arena. It seeped into the ethos and culture of the country at large. In a scene of the documentary, a man casually talks of gang-raping women against the backdrop of billboards advertising Bollywood movies that objectified women and romanticised sexual assaults. He explains that men who merely watch rapes on-screen are impotent, and they have to “engage in the act to prove that they are ‘man enough’.” Later in the documentary, a Muslim woman reveals how a gang of Hindu men tore her clothes and sexually assaulted her for hours at a stretch after murdering her husband. These instances show how female bodies become battlefields for men to prove to the world, and perhaps even to themselves, that their masculinity is flourishing.
Although filmed in 1995, the themes of machismo, communal and gender-based violence highlighted in the documentary are still relevant. By refusing to accept marital rape as a criminal offence in 2019, the Supreme Court, which is dominated by upper-caste, upper-class Hindu men, reinforced ideas of male entitlement over women’s bodies. Men also continue to take to the political sphere to validate their aggressive and violent tendencies. Consider the 2020 Delhi riots for instance. Violence erupted in Delhi after the BJP leader Kapil Mishra made a hate speech calling for the murder of people who were against the Citizenship Amendment Act. This led to supporters selectively targeting Muslim neighbourhoods, burning their homes, looting their stores, and killing over forty ‘enemies’. A simple Google search will reveal dozens of stories of upper-caste Hindu men who raped and murdered Dalit women who were trying to receive an education, in order to remind women of their ‘real’ position in society.
The final scene of the documentary is filmed in a poor residential area in Mumbai, which was destroyed during a communal riot. It depicts a rather rare sight of a Muslim man helping rebuild his Hindu neighbour’s house. This conclusion attempts to showcase the beauty of a future where masculinity is not rooted in oppression and constant validation, but in friendship and tolerance. A utopia where Hindu men feel secure enough to accept that diversity, female autonomy and religious freedom are not threats to their manhood and, subsequently, to their motherland. However, keeping our current socio-political framework in mind, this future feels like a distant dream.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.