One of the greatest dangers India faces today is from the narrow, intolerant “cultural nationalism” that the Sangh Parivar has spawned in ugly manifestations of Hindutva under various names and guises. All are divisive and exclusive, preach hatred and have stoked a violence of the mind that every so often spills over in brutal and destructive orgies. The targets may be pub culture, pop culture or mod culture, with women being particularly singled out for punishment for an assumed betrayal of their assigned role as keepers of an imagined past and values that would enslave their body and souls.
This has a counterpart in Talibanised Islam that has earned notoriety for likewise enslaving women, rejecting the modern world and practising the blinkered monoculture that led to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
Both these aberrations are foreign to India and are born of a pathetic lack of knowledge or understanding of its history and culture that have celebrated diversity and welcomed and accommodated change.
They stem from the politicisation of culture by those who would define themselves as the chosen people by excluding others.
This attitude itself speaks of a huge inferiority complex and an inherent authoritarianism or fascism that is unable and afraid to coexist, let alone compete with other ideas and ideals and chooses to remain cocooned in the past. These cultural Luddites dare not face the world and are enemies of progress.
We have sadly seen a steady rise of such intolerant trends rooted in Hindutva, which has nothing to do with Hinduism, (itself an ambiguous term given to describe a body of beliefs and cultures by others), and a fundamentalist, Wahabi Islam with Saudi financial backing. Both are equally menacing and feed on one another in India.
The visible rise of the Sri Ram Sene in Karnataka is the fruit of many years of patient nurturing of the ideology of hate, especially among the young. Its more robust manifestation coincides with the coming to power of the BJP in the state. This is true elsewhere too as the Parivar ideology has thrived under political patronage. The Mangalore attack on women in pubs and on young men and women dating or even seen together in a bus, especially as the boy is a Muslim, has shocked the nation. Mangalore, long a hub of education, enlightened cosmopolitanism, and inter-faith harmony, is now being told that its local culture must be well protected. Girls should be saved from pubs, discos and gender-intermingling and women should be back at home by 7 pm, learning to make chappatis. This mentality of male chauvinism is pre-medieval and the attacks on pubs, buses and, earlier, churches, will in no way prevent “the destruction of Hindu culture”.
The planned violence, molestation and hooliganism that has attended these events proclaim premeditated intent and cannot be extenuated as “small incidents” that have been blown up or “politicised” as part of a “conspiracy” to defame the BJP government as made out by Hindutva apologists and spokesmen. But the fact is that the Mangalore incidents are part of a wider trend of intolerance, manifested against women, minorities, the “other” everywhere, and against Christians in Karnataka, Orissa, and parts of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat and against Muslims over an even wider geographical spread.
Similarly, hoardings have appeared in Srinagar warning couples against dating.
J&K has seen its share of moral policing by the Dukhtarn-i-Millat and other elements cast in the Taliban mould, with beards, veils and skullcaps becoming an ideological statement for many. These outward symbols of religiosity do little credit to true faith. The latest example of this kind is the reported outburst against Mallya’s alleged prospecting for a licence to grow hops and revive a brewery that his father had promoted in the Valley in 1973.
The Sri Ram Sene leader, Pramod Muthalik, has announced that his storm troopers will come down heavily on couples found together, let alone dating, on St Valentine’s Day. He has gone to the extent of declaring that his cultural police will go around with priests, turmeric and mangal sutras and “marry” off dating couples. In case of resistance, the girl will be forced to tie a rakhi on the wrist of her escort to symbolise a brother-sister relationship. Hopefully the police will also move around with vans in which to take such goons to the lock-up.
Far better that young couples get together openly and enjoy the company of the opposite sex than indulge in hole and corner intimacies that result in guilt and shame.
The BJP national executive meeting in Nagpur last week saw, first, Rajnath Singh and then Advani once again nail the hoary Ram Mandir issue to the party’s electoral mast, to the ire of some NDA partners like Nitesh Kumar. The juice was squeezed out of this particular lemon quite some time ago and the party has done very poorly electorally in Faizabad-Ayodhya constituencies.
The Ram Setu issue came in as a handy substitute but that trail also appears to have turned cold. The Amarnath Shrine Board issue will ripen as the summer advances and but may not have as universal an appeal as Ayodhya which locks into the minority-appeasement motif.
The cynical exploitation of religious symbols may be a mere political embellishment for the BJP. The real danger, however, lies in the impetus fringe elements in the extreme Hindu right have got from their mentors in the BJP and RSS who they accuse of having gone soft on core cultural goals.
Thus a Dharma Raksha Manch conclave in Mumbai advocated that India do away with its secular constitution and be declared a religious nation. And now the Shiv Sena in Rajasthan has overnight converted to the Sri Ram Sene as its concern extends beyond just the Maharashtra manoos.
In a speech made on January 9, 2009, Muthalik described the Malegaon blast as a “curtain raiser” and said that the time had come for Hindus to take on a “militant avatar”. He was addressing the Hindu Dharam Jagruthi Sabha in Mangalore where Pragya Singh Thakur was praised and there was reference to recruiting and training youth for a Dharm Shakti Sena.
The home minister has said that he is watching the situation as none can be allowed openly to preach terror and intimidation.
Those who would ban Slumdog Millionaire as it portrays the underside of Indian reality, like Adiga’s White Tiger, or Deepa Mehta’s Water, or ban Hussain’s paintings, Laine’s Shivaji, The Da Vinci Code or The Satanic Verses are censors who would rewrite reality and history to hide their own uncertainties and reorder the world in their own image. These people do no service to India or their cause. Nor Maya Kodnani or Kalyan Singh who seek anticipatory bail or change colour to run away from their past
B G Verghese is a columnist