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In India, A New Movie Brings Religion v. Satire Debate To Hindus

A satirical comedy about an alien who comes to earth and questions religious dogma has found an enemy among many of India's Hindus. A new view after the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Aamir Khan in "PK"
Aamir Khan in "PK"
Bismillah Geelani

NEW DELHI — Outside a jam-packed cinema hall in New Delhi, dozens of activists from the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal are protesting against the film PKbeing show inside.

Among those who burn an effigy of famous Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who stars in the film's lead role, is Vikas Sharma.

"He has insulted our gods and goddesses," Sharma says. "Hindus will not tolerate this. We won't allow this film to run anywhere in the country. We will attack it everywhere until it's banned."

There have been similar protests in other Indian states, and some cinemas have been severely damaged.

The film tells the story of an alien from space who comes to Earth on a research mission and is unable to return to his home planet after his spaceship's remote control is stolen. While searching for the device, everyone he meets tells him that only God can help him find it. So he embarks on a journey to find God, and in the process comes across various practices, dogmas and superstitions associated with religion, including Hindu, which he questions.

He finds out that most people who claim that they know God and can help others reach him are actually fooling the masses and leading them astray.

Hindu religious leader Swaroopanand Saraswati says he feels deeply offended that a Muslim actor finds fault with his faith. "How can a person who doesn't know anything about our religion make a film about it?" he asks. "Muslims don't need to bother about that. They have no right."

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev says there are double standards when it comes to expression about religion. "People think ten times before making any comment about Christianity or Islam, but when it comes to Hinduism, it's a free-for-all," Ramdev says.

Hindu groups have filed court cases against the film's cast and crew accusing them of blasphemy. But most people associated with the film, including the producer and director, are Hindus themselves and have strongly rejected the charges.

Parikshit Sahni is a veteran actor and plays an important role in the film. "I'm myself a deeply religious person and a practicing Hindu," he says. "I wouldn't have taken part in the film if there had been anything offensive in it. I think the people who are opposing the film have either not seen it or don't understand it. PK is against those so-called "god men" and gurus who mislead people in the name of religion — and we have quite a lot of them. Some of them are behind bars facing charges as serious as rape."

The controversy has given the film lots of free publicity, and people are rushing to see it. Businessman Sahil khanna says he loved it: "Finally a film that looks at some of the important issues of our time."

Two states have so far declared the film tax-free, making it cheaper for people to watch it. Others are set to do the same. The board of film certification has rejected the Hindu groups' demand to review the film and make cuts. The board says the movie has been cleared after due process, and the members found nothing wrong with its content.

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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