MUMBAI, India – A Catholic nun has asked a court in India to stop the release of a film due to its “blasphemous” content, claiming it would hurt the religious sentiments of Christians in the country.
Sacred Heart Sister Jessy Mani, a New Delhi based psychologist, has told the Delhi High Court the Malayalam-language film “Aquarium” contains “scenes of sexual relationships among same-sex, between priests and nuns and sex with animals, in a highly derogatory manner, thereby clearly tarnishing the reputation of the Catholic Church and its members, which in turn would demoralize the members who joined in the priestly order and nunship.”
India has laws against “insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs.” The Hindu-majority country has often seen communal violence, usually pitting Hindus against Muslims, who make up around 14 percent of the population.
Christians, who only make up around 2.3 percent of the country’s population, are often targeted by Hindu nationalists who accuse them of “forced conversion.”
“Aquarium” was completed nearly a decade ago, and originally had the title “Pithavinum Puthranum Parisudhathmavinum” which translates as “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” It later changed its name to “Pithavinum Puthranum,” due to complaints about using “Holy Spirit in the title.
It was originally due to be released in 2013, but the Kerala state censorship board refused to certify it. The southern state is the heart of Malayalam-language cinema – most of the country’s films are in Hindi – and also the home to India’s largest Christian community, who make up nearly a fifth of Kerala’s over 34 million people.
The producers are now releasing the film digitally on May 14.
However, a Kerala High Court on Wednesday stayed its certification in that state in a case filed by another nun, named only as Sister Josia in a report on LiveLaw.In.
Sajan K. George, President, Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) told Crux the Christian community is “routinely stereotyped” in Indian cinema.
The abuse of symbolic Christian images like a cassock-wearing priest misusing and indiscriminately using the holy water sprinkler, the portrayal of men in the community as a bunch of drunkards, and often women were depicted as being of easy virtue,” he said.
He mentioned one Hindi-language film had “offensive scenes” of a Catholic priest solemnising a marriage between dogs.
“Under the guise of ‘cinematic liberty’ the portrayal in bad light of the clergy and community deeply offends our religious sentiments,” George said.
Father Babu Joseph, the former spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, said the portrayal of priests and nuns in “Aquarium” was “insidious.”
“While we respect the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Indian Constitution, it cannot be stretched to such an extent that you begin to deliberately step on another’s toe,” the priest said.
“Hurting a community’s sentiments is not anyone’s prerogative and it becomes all the more delicate when it comes to depicting a certain section of the community that is being held in high esteem,” he added.
“Besides in painting a community in bad light what does the producers of this movie want to achieve? There seems very little except may be satiating their hunger for belittling members of a community who have and continue to do yeoman service to the society,” Joseph said, alluding to the outsized role the Catholic Church plays in India’s health, education, and social service sectors.
The priest also pointed to the fact the Indian government has previously banned movies and books that attempted to disparage a religious community.
“Such steps were taken with a view to safeguard the reputation of a community or its certain members who were subject to vilification by some vested interests,” he said.
George agreed, saying India’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression “is not absolute.”
“It is subject to reasonable restrictions such as the Indian Penal Code which penalizes acts insulting religion and religious faith,” he said.