News Karnataka
Wednesday, November 30 2022

Bans, Cultural Cleansing and 21st Century India

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If we thought that after over 18 months of BJP rule our media would be flush with stories of ‘acche din’ in India, we are in for many surprises. Instead of a ‘Shining India’, we are forced to live with bans, state intrusion into our personal lives, even to the extent of controlling what we eat, watch and where we choose to live.

Having failed to usher in any progressive legislation for the last one and a half years at the centre, and having failed to distract people from the engulfing scams and corruptions of office in States, what the BJP seems primarily concerned about is to rid the country of cultural pollution, cleanse Hindi language from its interaction with other pollutants such as Persian or English, and cleanse the land off non-vegetarians who pollute the Brahminic ‘purity’.

There is a grand strategy at work here,  which is very evident. While the Prime Minister Modi maintains the aura of inclusiveness by spinning out the development mantra, the job of cultural purification and the impoverishment and de-legitimisation of the majority population is delegated to culture and HRD ministries.

If the cultural cleansing discourse is woven by the RSS from the writings of Savarkar and the rest, real cleansing of the geographical and cultural spaces is delegated to the ‘thuggish’ street boys of Hindutva who see that the shops (mostly Muslim owned) are vandalised, vehicles burnt (under the pretext of animal transport) and see to it that the ‘jungle raj of medieval era identity politics’ is established.

When government brings out census figures on religious composition of the country communalisation of the census figures and Muslim bashing is delegated to the more extreme elements of the party such as Sakshi Maharaj, Adityanath, NiranjanJyothi and the like.

Cleansing of the Hindu Samaj from pollution through social contact between Hindus and Muslims (and others) is handed over to lower rungs of the Hindutva family such as Hindu Yuva Sene and Bhajrang Dal.

As a whole, within a short time the country is ushered into a medieval era identity politics and national discourse is channelled towards primitive era religious practices about pollution, cleansing and border police. Welcome to 21st century India.

Cultural Pollution discourse

“We will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised and where Indian culture and civilisation need to be restored – be it the history we read or our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over years,” The Telegraph quotes, union minister for culture, Mahesh Sharma. The government’s cultural cleansing, and by default inculcating ‘Indian culture’ into Indians,what minister Sharma identifies, is characterised by the following: in the practice of three generations cooking in the same kitchen and eating on the same table; in the respectful relationship between parents and children; in the emotional bond Indians have for each other and the relationships they respect.And these Indian valuesshould be acquired through books which should be read before one reads novels; and, before the youth go to gain wisdom from Thailand, Dubai and Singapore, they must gain wisdom from our own museums and heritage.

So get ready for a daddy-mummy state aggressively engaging itself in a lot of cleansing in school syllabus, of faculties in colleges and universities, libraries and museums, media and arts. Also expect more renaming of cities and streets, destruction of mosques and churches and perpetual troubles for NGOs, especially managed by minorities, leftists and secular leaning groups.

Teesta Setalvads, Priya Pillais, St Stephens and their types should take it or leave it because that is what you get under this dispensation focussed on cultural cleansing. You are on the wrong side of culture, you pollute the ‘purity’ of India. Minority educational institutions will be of particular target. Delegitimising of minority culture, practices and space by disputing the legitimacy of places of worship, cancelling of religious holidays or replacing them with innocuous looking programmes such as blood donation camps or yoga promotion days and what not will be the new normal.

Cultural Cleansing through coercion or terrorism

If anyone is not yet shocked by what the culture minister has outlined above, think of the aims announced at the just concluded Vishwa Hindi Sammelan. The government wants pure Hindi, purified off Persian and English words. (Of course the agenda did not overtly mention about purifying Hindi off Tamil, Kannada or Malayalam and other words acquired over centuries). The government has already tried to purify the internet by trying to get rid of porn sites (but failed miserably of course). As for preventing Hinduism’s history from being polluted it has managed to ban books, movies, writers and what not. An example is Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. There were also demands to ban Amir Khan starred movie PK citing ‘hurt sentiments’.

Some Hindu extremists associated with Hindutva have not only threatened writers such as late U. R. Anathmurthy, Dr KS Bhagwan (retired professor of Mysuru University) and VeerbhadraChennamallSwamiji of the Nidumamidi Mutt,but have managed to eliminate those who have openly criticised certain superstitious and obscurantist practices of Hinduism.

The recent killings of rationalists such as Prof M. M. Kalburgi and others in Maharastra demonstrates the reach of the ‘terrorist’ brigade of Hindutva. How certain whistle blowers, journalists and others were eliminated in connection with Vyapam scam without the state ever bothering itself about the scale of murders, shows how precarious the life of those who dissent against what the functionaries of this political dispensation are capable of doing.

Against such blatant abuse of power if one imagines that there is a free press in India, he/she needs to see the scale of self-censoring that Indian media (especially the resource-starved local media) practices for its sheer survival.

Finally, for policing spaces from being polluted by meat eaters, Muslims or others, one only need to go to the housing societies and real estate agents to buy or rent a property. There,  one will realise how seriously this pollution discourse operates, and to what extent exclusionary practices are rife in living spaces. (One can recall how a Muslim professional woman was made to leave an already rented flat in Mumbai because she was a Muslim and the Hindu residents of the housing block objected to her presence there).

As for protecting the Hindu domestic life from pollution Hindu moral police (in some areas Muslim) see to it that no Hindu girl or boy is found with each another.

Violence in the name of Non-Violence

The classic case of meat ban in BJP ruled states during the Jain fast, even in places such as Kashmir, and the whole thrust of making it into a national discourse tells it all. Couching the discourse under the most pernicious legal blanket of ‘hurting/protecting religious sentiments’ a minority practice of vegetarianism is made to appear as the national normal, and in the bargain, within a single week the BJP has succeeded in making Jains acommercially successful, peace loving, non-violence promoting community a villain in the national psyche.

The bans and their reversals on behalf of a minority, cast the majority of Indians as pollutants because they are non-vegetarian. Demanding that the majority non-vegetarian population should put up with ‘our’ (Jain) religious needs even at the cost of their livelihood made them look like they are extremely selfish. It is because such an intelligent community did not realise the import of their demand.

What if a similar demand is placed before the nation by Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis? Vegetarianism, as a non-violent pursuit, is certainly a noble pursuit. However, as noted by Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria and UlkaAnjaria in (Us versus them: Like India, meat divides people even in the US):

“The problem is that when vegetarianism – and what you eat in general – is associated with morality, it serves to strengthen distinctions, marking class, education and other indicators of status.”

This precisely is what vegetarianism is used to do in India. To set oneself apart, to show oneself better than other is an Indian illness. Vegetarianism is used as a pretext to do that. Here majority population is made to or forced to give in. This is the prejudice and discriminatory attitude vegetarians have against the non-vegetarians in India because this dietary practice is associated with morality. But the opposite is rarely the case because non-vegetarians rarely harbour prejudice or discriminatory attitude towards vegetarians precisely because non-vegetarianism is free from moral associations.

This is the singular success of Brahmanism in India. Through the deployment of their regressive purity and pollution discourses they have nearly succeeded in inculcating inferiority feelings among the majority population in the country. In public institutions such as schools, work places and elsewhere there is virtual segregation. As already mentioned, people are discriminated against when they buy a flat or look for a job. Also, there are instances of Hindu purification ceremonies mandated on minority groups when they bought houses in Hindu dominated areas in Gujarat. This pollution ideology is so pervasive in India, even a progressive organisation such as the Hindu Newspaper bowed to the demands of the pollution lobby and segregated vegetarian and non-vegetarian eating spaces.

This is now official objective of the Indian state as expressed by the culture minister: to establishupper caste hegemony over the majority population who (with meat ban) are officially declared as cultural pollutants.

Here we are then. In the 21st century, under the Hindutva agenda of cultural cleansing, India is the New Saudi Arabia and competing with Muslim Pakistan where minorities are openly discriminated against and have no protection under the state; intrusion into people’s private lives is the core mission of the state-supported religious and cultural police.

These are the medieval minded religious states that India under BJP appears to be competing with, not against the economic rival China or not against any modern democracies of the World.

NDA: Authoritarian ego and the failure to negotiate-1About the Author: Samuel Sequeira is a Postgraduate Researcher, at the School of English,  Communication and Philosophy at the Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom. He is currently researching on issues such as South Asian immigrants in Wales, Immigration discourses in the UK and Identity and conflict.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same


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