By Ananya S Guha
We have become a nation of symbols: religious symbols to unravel a certain predominance of religions. This is a deliberate attempt to debunk secularism and plurality of the country. A single edifice, a super structure upon the structure is cleverly being built not only to recreate a mythic past but also to destroy intervening historical truths. If history is coloured and tinged with myths, then we make the whole issue of historical reality emotional. And religion is added to the mix of partisan politics with the hope of creating a Hindu Rashtra. This is pandering to the RSS and Shiv Sena acolytes, who, mind you, at times have also exposed wedges.
Religion is a deeply personal engagement. In India, people have realized it notwithstanding the Mandir Masjid tangle, which has been threatening to erupt any time for last thirty years. The symbols that I am talking about are now quite explicit. The recurrent ones are Shiva and Parvati. Even the Prime Minister countenances them in public ceremonies or gatherings. The problem with myths is that they are myths. To interface them with historical truths is problematic. The problem is that such symbols invoke fierce religious passion, which everyone in this country cannot identify with. What about Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Parsis and Muslims? In short, invoking them means alienation for the rest. Such alienation is being cleverly worked and reworked to create divides, which could be woefully irreversible. Culture and religion are not handmaids. To make them synonymous is asking for further trouble in a pluralistic setting. But perhaps trouble is what the culture vulture wants. This is highly disturbing.
Then again this is being done in a systematic and planned manner. Even those normally moderate are bearing fangs of petty, egoistic nationalism. What is nationalism is of course the question! The forces of brute and disharmonic nationalism are peddling jingoism. Will we, the people of India, fall for this perverseness?
We are used to rich pluralism, not this barbaric jingoism. The monolith can be erected only at the expense of diversity, which cannot be dismantled, but grossly sidelined. These are the tensions as well as the consequences. We encounter symbols in our day-to-day lives, engaging symbols of the richly diverse aspects of this great country, it’s beautiful geography, majestic mountains, sultry plains, it’s exotic temples, mosques, and churches. The symbols coalesce and counter any stratification.
Electoral democracy can never be the champion of cultural plurality. Diehards will say that the BJP is acceptable to the people of the North East, especially after elections in Assam and Manipur. So it is largely acceptable to a recalcitrant North East, which has a large Christian population. There are strong feelings that the party may go down well with the people even in the Meghalaya elections. But the politics of culture works not through the votes but through rabid organizations and excellent planning, having their fingers in art, education and ordaining history of a nation. So we should not be fooled. The game plan is subtle but crafty. It has to do with Yoga culture as well. It has to do with invoking again and again the name of Swami Vivekananda who has been misrepresented and whose quotations are sometimes taken out of context.
Alienation will come fully only when people will see through the agenda mentioned and described above. And now the moral policing and cow vigilantism has exacerbated in states like Uttar Pradesh. Imagine having a probe in a house simply because male colleagues are sitting with a female one. This is the height of misplaced piety. And we are tolerating all this and licking sore wounds. The cow vigilantism has again captured headlines, hurting sentiments and deliberately assailing minority groups and even harming the economy. Cow Vigilantism is a gross attempt to snatch livelihoods. Once again another symbol is added to the supposed Pan Indian culture. Inchoate symbols like these only add fuel to fire, and alienate a large section of the people who consider themselves as inveterate Indians. Who is an Indian then, and what is Indian culture?
It seems we are impervious to the past, shaping of historical realities and movements. It is not simply agenda; it is blatant disregard for others and their sentiments. Today being Indian means regimentation: stand up, sit down, light the lamp, be holy, have a dress code and above all uphold Indian culture in which the referential points include mighty Himalayas where Shiva and Parvati reside, the holy cow, invocation of sacrosanct hymns. One may be steeped in all these but why should they be symbolic manifestations of a broad Indian way of life? Indian and Indianisation manifest in deeply articulated diversity of the country, not in myths and incantations.
All this is happening because we are frantically reworking a past, which exists partially. Half-truths to be made akin with truths are now a muddled and contorted reality. It is dangerous for the health and overall well-being of a nation, infested as it is with deleterious and unethical politics. Such politics has degraded the nation and is responsible for cutting wedges and deliberately aiming for alienation. The British policy of divide and rule is used with panache by our present lot of politicians. We know that but only smugly say that politics is a dirty game. That this dirt, this filth has diseased the country is, of course, another thing!
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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