The first chapter of Anand Patwardhan’s new documentary Reason begins with archival footage of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar addressing a gathering. “Everything has a reason behind it. Unlike religion, which believes in a final truth, science is on a hunt for endless truths and reasons,” Dabholkar says in Patwardhan’s award-winning documentary (the Hindi title is Vivek).
Dabholkar was shot dead on August 20, 2013, allegedly by Hindu fundamentalists. His assassination, along with the murder of Communist leader Govind Pansare two years later, are among the examples of murderous attacks on critics of the Hindutva ideology that are examined in Reason. Patwardhan also investigates Hindu extremist organisations such as Sanathan Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat, the rise of hyper-nationalism, assaults on Muslims and Dalits in the guise of cow protection and the attacks on students in universities.
The first two chapters of Patwardhan’s eight-part documentary became available on YouTube on Friday. Reason was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September last year, and it won the Best Feature-Length Documentary at the 31st International Documentary Filmfestival in Amsterdam in November.
The first chapter explores Dabholkar’s life-long campaign against superstition and his involvement with the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti. He was gunned down during his morning walk in Pune in 2013. “For hours I did not know what happened,” his wife, Shaila Dabholkar, recalls in the film. “I decided at once that we should raise our voices of conscience.”
The second chapter is dedicated to Communist Party of India leader Govind Pansare. Like Dabholkar, Pansare was shot by two identified gunmen during his morning walk in Kolhapur, on February 16, 2015. He died four days later. The Maharashtra government and the Central Bureau of Investigation have made slow progress in both murders.
The section on Pansare includes footage of his public speeches following Dabholkar’s killing. “Who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi? It is that very ideology that killed Dabholkar as well,” Pansare says, pointing to the involvement of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its affiliates.
One of India’s most respected documentary filmmakers, Anand Patwardhan’s credits include Waves of Revolution (1971), Ram Ke Naam (1992), Father, Son, and Holy War (1995) and Jai Bhim Comrade (2012). Reason aims to present “empirical evidence of what is happening to India today”, according to its official synopsis. “The overall argument of the film is made more gradually as we understand the ideological forces that have been at play for centuries.”