Hinduism could probably be the most nuanced religion if only the Hindus left it alone. A political leader is carping about how Bollywood denigrates the religion. Films in India are essentially ‘socio-myth’, therefore, characters are inspired by an existing template.
We are celebrating Diwali now, a festival that heralds the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya after his banwas. Hindutva parties conveniently see his exile as banishment of their beliefs by the marauding colonisers. The resurgence to uphold purity of the faith is mere varnish; the subtext is fear of appeasement. Babar haunts the saffron brigade, not the Indian Muslim.
Sushma Swaraj’s whimper of a war cry is an annexure to this paranoia. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader deliberately picked on a soft target: “I came to know about the attack on Hindu beliefs in two recent movies, Oh my God and Student of the Year. In the latter, there are references to Radha not knowing how to dance and being invited to the dance floor to learn dancing. Why is it that the ‘attack’ was only on Hindu beliefs and on names like Sita, Radha and Kaushalya?”
For the uninitiated, a few mythological details:
• Radha did dance in Lord Krishna’s ras leela.
• Meera lived with her husband, but declared, “I have already given up my life to my beloved Lord Krishna.”
• Sita had to walk through fire (agni pariksha) to prove her purity after being kidnapped by Ravana.
• Durga is depicted with weapons and devotees may offer her wine and then drink it as an offering, as suggested in the ‘Devi-mahatmyam’.
• Draupadi was married to the Pandavas (five brothers) and they gambled her in a game of dice, after which an attempt was made to disrobe her. There are varied ways to react to these and see them as symbolic messages, or to critique them as scholars and feminists have done. It is not to question the religion, but to understand the validity of such totems. Interestingly, while the right-wing groups pay obeisance to such symbols, they follow a monotheistic paradigm. In Hinduism, there is no finality of a Supreme Being. The concept of avatars (forms) itself disabuses any such thought. The moral policing by saffron parties degrades women using contemporary yardsticks, but expects them to display ancient probity. Rather conveniently, they use terms from another faith to justify their cussed stance: love jihad, fatwa, Talibanisation. But they never raise the issue about pornographic DVDs shot by a sadhu using young kids against the backdrop of the Varanasi ghats, selling them to foreigners who crave perverse exotica in a holy place, or when Madonna sang Sanskrit shlokas in one of her albums. Has any Hindutva leader ever spoken out against tantric practices that often sexually exploit the vulnerable? Ministers have been blatantly projected as religious icons even as they indulge in hate speech, and that seems all right. Does such mimicking of deities ascertain virtue? The idea of virtue is itself devoid of a framework. This does not appear to be important. Politicians are only interested in a quid pro quo to claim how “other religions” are spared the stereotypes and the tolerant Hindu suffers. Since joyful imagery is sanctified in temple sculptures and several texts, they cannot take a moral high ground. So, they shift the battle elsewhere. Mollification of minorities is fertile soil to plant seeds of fear in.
The Danish cartoons and films portraying the Holy Prophet (pbuh), deemed blasphemous, are cited as evidence. While the reactions to them have indeed been extreme, these depictions were not as innocent as names of Bollywood characters. Some years ago, there was an outcry against former cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin for signing his name, which is also the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) name, on a pair of Nike shoes he was endorsing. That reaction was obstreperous and many of us spoke against it.
Has Hindutva displayed sensitivity towards marginalised groups? The allegations by a young man against an internationally-renowned individual — thought to be the embodiment of piety —for sexually abusing him died down, but films are questioned for being regressive. Gay activist Ashok Row Kavi, in an open letter to the former RSS chief K Sudarshan, had written: “Homosexuals were never stoned to death or even persecuted in Hindu India or even in the worst days of Aurangzeb, the Mughal bigot. It is only with the advent of the British, during their brutal Raj, that homosexuality was criminalised.”
In the late 1980s, Roop Kanwar followed the tradition of proving her morality and jumped into her husband’s funeral pyre. Ministers continue to blame women for rape and, strangely, mythology is brought out to showcase virtue. Symbolism is not about decadence, but worship of the divinity in human form. The propagators of Hindutva do not quite comprehend these subtleties. Those who talk about their great respect for ‘mother earth’ abuse her all the time. Flashing trishuls and demolishing and excavating sites is rape of history, no different from what the colonisers did.
This is what Subramaniam Swamy said: “To protect secularism, gender equality we should ensure that no district has Muslim majority unless they accept ancestors as Hindus.”
Did they consult their ‘siblings’ before going on rath yatras? They want Muslims to adopt Hindu names. Will the Brahmins opt for Kshatriya and Shudra names or permit the latter to use their names and enter temples?
If I were to change my name — one has not denied Hindu ancestry — how will the Hindutvawadis explain to me the misogyny of the khap panchayats, or why riots are engineered in Muslim majority areas and young men arrested without a warrant? Can I also demand that Bollywood must stop showing Muslim smugglers and misinterpreting Indian Islamic culture because it would, should, hurt my Hindu ancestry?
Superficial co-opting reveals a phobia about one’s own people. No Taliban module is needed. Hindutva is completely self-reliant in, and stimulated by, its insecurity.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2012.