So moral values, you distinguish that from what you called tradition or religion or…?
Yes, I distinguish that, totally. Because tradition is not always what morals are, and those mindsets and patriarchy is not what religion is, or what morals are. These are all three different things, so we have to tackle them differently. Patriarchy is a mindset where a man has been told that he’s superior to everybody else, and he’s the lord and master for everything. That's full stop. And then I come to religion. Religion does not prescribe anything. All religions are good religions. No religious scripture has ever said to ill treat women. This, according to time, according to that patriarchal mindset, people have forced it on the community and on the society. Now, morals are totally different, and morals have no religion. I would separate, segregate morals totally from religion. Because no religion says tell a lie. No religion says that you do rape. No religion says lust for a woman. Morals are absolutely different from all religions.
What do you think the significance is in India of films like White Rainbow?
Well, in India, the significance to the religious heads is a lot, because I took this film to the religious people and asked them which religious scripture said that widows’ heads should be shaved. I have questioned them. Why are we doing it? Why are we putting a dress code of white on these women? Why are we taking off their bangles? Why are we taking off this teeka? And in some places, a woman is forbidden to eat twice, meat is totally forbidden, she can't eat meat or onions or garlic. Even food. And this is a patriarchy which has been put on us through these various kinds of things, it’s forced on us through food, through dress code, through looking ugly, so that a woman’s status is put down. So this has got something to do with patriarchy, but nothing to do with religion. But in the name of religion they might spread it.
How does this film compare to other films that have been made on widowhood in India, for instance Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali or Deepa Mehta’s Water?
Both are very good, both have brought awareness. I'm glad that people are making these movies which will bring about some kind of social awareness. Anything that gives a message for improving the status of women, I like.
How do you account for the fact that Chokher Bali, for example, is based on a Tagore story—
Yes, Tagore realized it at that time, imagine. And this was an old story, actually. Water.
Is that right?
Yes, Water is also an old story written by a Bengali writer.
So are you optimistic at all about—
Oh, I'm very optimistic. By the time I go from this world they will have changed status. It has changed in 30 years. I'm 70 today. And in another 10 years I think there will be a change. And also I cannot dismiss this growth that we are talking about, economic growth, that will also be responsible in some way for bringing about the change in women. Definitely, all these things put together, no single thing can change women, there’s no magic wand. Things will change slowly, people have to be educated, women will have to be educated, traditions will have to be re-set, morals will have to be inculcated into children. All these things together, it’s a five, six pronged effort that has to be put in to increase the status of women. And violence against women, for that I’ll say moral education is very necessary.
Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh