When we think SF, we think future, technology, speed, luxury––a pre-mediated look on SF from a western, Euro-centric perspective that has been imposed upon us since a long time. But we fail to think about how science-fiction plays part in places rampant with discriminatory practices, hierarchies, and traditions that have survived for centuries, and exist on their own, regardless of scientific and technological advances. How would a fascist country that segregates itself based on caste and religion make use of scientific achievements in ‘the future?’

Leila, a Netflix show based on Prayaag Akbar’s novel, answers this in its own interpretation. It is set 30 years in the future in a nation called Aryavarta, which feels like a natural extension of present-day India.

The series is set in an unnamed city that is a hybridization of Delhi and Mumbai, India’s two largest metropolises. The upper-castes live in luxury areas with clean, wide roads that are free of traffic jams and well-designed high-rise structures. They’re physically cut off from the rest of the world, which suffers from water scarcity, air pollution, and traffic congestion. It’s tough not to notice the resemblance to Gurgaon and Noida’s gated communities.The slums, on the other hand, are surrounded by massive mounds of waste and inhabited by people who are doosh (polluted) and not pure enough to be considered a part of Aryavarta. Even though they are not under Aryavarta’s jurisdiction, the slum-dwellers’ position is obvious from how the State’s enforcement authorities can instill fear in the slum-dwellers.

Shalini, the protagonist, is sent to a purity camp (formally known as the ‘Women’s Welfare Centre’)  as a State punishment for marrying a Muslim man. It’s a place where women who have married men of different religions or ‘lower’ castes go to be ‘purified.’ They’re given drugged regularly to help them cope with the trauma, and they’re subjected to humiliating rituals until they pass a purity test. If you fail the test, you’ll be enslaved for the rest of your life.

Shalini represents India’s reviled neoliberals today. She is a modern, educated woman who chooses to marry out of her religion.  Upper-middle class urban millennials in India would see themselves reflected in the glimpses we see of her family’s lifestyle. It has a modern appearance, but underlying caste prejudices, which to post-caste Indians, may appear to be class-based. Shalini would never let her maid, Sapna, touch her daughter, Leila, without first sanitizing her hands or bathing, and she would never let her kiss Leila. Shalini now finds herself on the receiving end of such behavior in a society where religious nationalism has completely crushed liberalism.

In the midst of a severe water and air crisis, the dystopian tale employs science fiction to conduct high-tech purity tests, control the working class through 24/7 surveillance, and make anti-miscegenation and food regulations tighter. Authorities overlook vigilantism in broad daylight. Women are officially classified as second-class citizens. Everything is intricately detailed, and what makes it terrifying is the fact that even though the world is exaggerated, it feels ‘normal’ to Indian watchers. History and future come together and the orthodox Vedic traditions dawn scientific cloaks to remain as relevant and validated as ever.