Today in Hinduphobia October 6, 2019: Festival Season Round Up of Tweets, Ads, Bans, Demolitions.
Hindus around the world might be celebrating Navaratri joyously with their family and friends on divine and human planes this week, but it’s worth pausing from the same old ever new and noticing, for a change, what’s going on all around them.
I have come to the conclusion that the number of people who are plugged into the social media information networks that notice and talk about concerns of Hinduphobia are relatively quite small, and most Hindus, especially in the middle and upper classes, tend to be oblivious to the entrenched, relentless cultural-genocidal war being waged on them by the transnational corporate machine and its allies in the neocolonial apartheid Indian state.
Let me put it this way. If you find that each year, somebody is systematically doing something to make something you like and take for granted appear more and more different from what it actually means to you and what it meant to your parents, grandparents and ancestors, different in an awful way, would you not, this year or the next, stop and take notice? Or, alternately, if you do notice, when do you stop making excuses for it like “we must accept things change,” or that this is “reform” and “progress”? When do you finally acquire the critical thinking skills to know when something can be legitimately called change, progress, and growth, and when all of these words might just be high-finance con jobs out to make you give up your own intellectual and cultural, and eventually, political independence too?
If each year, on your mother’s birthday, if all the TV channels and celebrities told you that the right thing way to celebrate your mother’s birthday is to starve her, or not wish her, or make her miserable in some way, and each year they disguised this cruel prank under some fancy advertising eyewash, how long would it take before you realized you were being had? Before you realized you are being colonized?
I begin with this sense of pain and wonder about where Hindu life, culture, and meaning will stand in India if the present rate of aggression by state and corporate civilizing missionaries continues. A good portion of Hindus have not been trained to spot propaganda, deception, or exploitation after years of humbled-humbling, obedience-training sort of education at school and at home. We have no rebels, it seems, except on the terms set up by the corporate-state Hinduphobic chessboard in the first place. We have a populace high on the notion that things are getting better, always getting better, even when they are not (and of course propaganda for this bizarre optimism comes not just from the corporate civilizing missionaries but from the natural interests of ruling party forces as well).
Here, briefly, are some things that every Hindu celebrating Durga, Rama, Lakshmi, or especially Saraswati, during these auspicious must stop and notice. These are the sort of messages, positions, and policies being pushed on to Hindus, and often times, by Hindus themselves (on that note, the anti-colonial saying “When the slave will whip himself after the master is gone..” comes to mind).
Throw out your gods, Hindus! American Hinduphobia in Nepal
I begin my round-up with an example from Nepal. When was the last time a US embassy handle offered advice on local traditions of this nature? Do they tweet about not chopping trees for Christmas or goats for Bakrid or whipping one’s self for Muharram? I don’t believe they do. But in any case, as I saw from some of the Hindu women activists I follow on Twitter, the Nepal US embassy saw it fit to do this:
Now, some readers might wonder what is wrong in using festivals as teaching moments for women’s safety issues. Nothing wrong, and most welcome at all, in my view, if this were the only issue at play here. The Western media campaign about menstruation in Nepal seems to have normalized some fairly intrusive policies which in any non-Hindu context would have been called out as cultural imperialism. NPR reported on this campaign to essentially get Nepalese Hindus to remove their traditional family shrines out of their homes and keep them in a community space, as if that were the only solution one can think of for the reported problem of the “menstruation hut” practice (while I yield to other scholars and activists on the practice itself, I will point out as a media researcher that I find the coverage of this issue in the Western press to be dishonest and sensationalistic — the practice doesn’t kill women, and yet the headlines have often made it seem that way, suppressing facts about the actual cause of death like snakebite to make it seem as if killing women was a Hindu ritual).
The Indian Ad Industry’s Hindu-Civilizing Mission
Hindus drinking Red Label tea and consuming other products in droves probably haven’t quite understood that there is now a new normal in the landscape of Indian advertising. Advertising is perhaps the most powerful form of communication there is in the world today, given the huge stakes involved in conveying messages that are intended to capture eyeballs, hearts, minds, and purses. Ad messages are produced with far more investment than even run of the mill entertainment programs, and what they sell is often far more than a simple product, than a whole worldview and belief system that goes far beyond it. If Indian advertising sold an image of the consumer, particularly the female consumer, as a smart, independent shopper one or two decades ago, now it sells an image of Hindu as Regressive who must be civilized, particularly around Hindu festival times.
A few weeks ago, a well-crafted ad for Red Label Tea showed a Hindu customer looking to buy a Ganesha for his family’s celebration cringe when he discovers that the salesman is a Muslim. The gentle Muslim elder asks him to have tea, and soon, the bigoted Hindu gets over his bigotry to see the situation as any normal, decent human being would.
Now, in isolation, this ad would not seem amiss, and most Hindus I would imagine saw it and shared it on their WhatsApp groups awash in sentimentality about its warm message. But what most Hindus trained in distraction from reality perhaps don’t quite notice is the simple connection that one can make between this, and other ads like this. It’s not a dot, but a cluster, a pattern, and if you will, a prophecy.
Earlier this year, a similar Hindu-civilizing ad was brought out to mark the massive Kumbh Mela celebration which takes place about once a decade. In this ad, a young man, a Hindu, pretends to take his elderly father to the Ganga for the festival, and then proceeds to try and abandon him there! Of course, once again, it’s the tea that re-humanizes him somehow, and he changes his mind.
Another ad from around the same time shows a small Hindu girl protect a small Muslim boy from a group of other children (presumably Hindu) who are out to get him with colors. She does so sacrificing her own clothes, and she succeeds in getting the Muslim boy safely in his white shirt not to his mosque for his prayers.
This was preceded by another ad in which a suspicious Hindu is cured of his Islamophobia by his kind Muslim neighbor over a cup of tea.
Once again, each of these ads viewed in isolation can seem harmless, and even socially desirable. After all, who can disagree with a message of being nice to each other, and not judging people based on their religion? But seen together, and seen in the context also of what is not being said in the broader media culture (you don’t see ads with the Hindu and non-Hindu characters switched in such stories do you, not ever), it is evident that this is systemic Hinduphobia.
One can only wonder at the extent to which self-deception and internal colonization exists among Hindu consumers in India today that they continue to buy these products and go on cheerfully accepting these sly messages as signs of their enlightened humanity. Yes. That is what advertising does. It makes you feel better than everyone else. In this case, it makes you feel better at the cost of your own future. The Marlboro Man did that too.
News of the Bizarre: Hindus Try Ad-Idealism in Durga Puja, Get in Trouble!
It appears that some Hindus are so moved by this sort of ad-industry moral fantasy messaging they decided to unveil a whole new dimension to the sacred Goddess festival this year.
In Kolkata, the bastion of Durga Puja, the organizers of one community celebration decided to introduce in the spirit of communal harmony, the playing of Muslim prayers in the hall with Goddess Durga. This news naturally made more traditional and devout Hindus cringe, but what really took the goat was the fact that local Muslims did not appreciate it at all, and filed a complaint!
A similar spectacle was made in a suburb of New Delhi, according to journalist Surajit Dasgupta. Here, the traditionally soft-faced and bright deities worshipped during the festival were replaced with random “art objects” made of scrap metal, and the song and dance programming included a piece on how Muslims celebrate their festivals.
“Yesterday, I visited three puja arenas, but uploaded images of only two. The third was ghastly, where the idols were mere statues, not murtis, made of recycled metal waste. The structures, while resembling the mudras of Durga, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartik, were an eyesore, especially the faces.
Mercifully, the priests did not use them for worship. Puja was offered to smaller replicas of the five gods, which were near invisible. In fact, somebody asked me to turn my gaze downward to notice the real puja.
I ran into a pathetic cultural programme, too, that resembled a convent school fest where all the announcements in between the songs and dances were made in English by a near-100% north Indian crowd. Worse, in quite a repeat of the grotesque playing of azan in Beliaghata 33 Pally puja, they enacted an “Eid Mubarak” act in the middle of a medley of dance performances that were meant to show how the autumnal festival unfolds in different parts of the country. The idea of the organisers of the Noida event was, like Beliaghata’s Rintu Das’s, to showcase the ‘diversity’ of India…
It is not Bengal alone that has lost the plot. The wound of multiculturalism has festered, turned gangrenous and spread across urban India. But wait, if they had been serious about plurality, an occasion like Durga Puja should have prodded them to find out how Adivasis celebrate it. There was nothing from south India either, notwithstanding the fact that the housing society housed a modicum of representation of the part of the country that arguably is the last citadel of Hinduism. The Eid act was as put-on as the mandatory Black character in a Hollywood movie with 99% White actors.”
Kill the Hindu, Welcome the Tourist
The destruction of Hinduism in India is taking place not only in the space of a whole generation’s minds, but also on the ground, through a process of real, rapid encroachment of a predatory state into sacred lands and spaces.
This year began with an intense protest by Hindu women in Kerala against the court-ordered opening up of the sacred Sabarimala hills and temple to essentially tourists who would not have to undergo any of the traditional ritual observances and rules. The Western media completely ignored this pro-tradition women’s protest, and then exclusively celebrated another, smaller state-sponsored protest supporting the court order. Many urban and Western-based Hindus without any past or present practice of undertaking the rigorous penance required to go on this pilgrimage fell for the media propaganda and condemned the women protectors of the temple as “regressive” fundamentalists. That is what propaganda does.
More recently, the Indian courts also intervened in another local Hindu custom, that of animal sacrifice in some temples in the North-Eastern Indian state of Tripura. As a devout Hindu animal-rights-supporter, I would in any normal world have welcomed any move to end animal suffering, even at the cost of intruding into the faith of my fellow Hindus. But the sheer one-sidedness, hypocricy, and callous anti-Hindu discriminatory rigor with which this policy was enacted make me feel not just pain for the animals, but some radical empathy actually. We are as a people on the chopping block it appears; after all, here we have a court judgment which exempts animal killing by Muslims for Bakrid and by non-Hindus for any other religious reason, and most of all, exempts routine animal slaughter for everyday meat consumption, but decides that Hindu animal sacrifice alone requires a ban because animals are god’s creation. What is really curious, and sadly, another growing trend worth noting in India, is the invocation of “tourists” as a reason for stopping this practice. The judges reportedly worry that tourists visiting the temples here wouldn’t like the blood.
That really makes me wonder what else the neo-colonial Hinduphobic Indian state might decide will cause displeasure to tourists. That question, sadly, has already been answered. A few weeks ago, the state government in Odisha ruthlessly demolished centuries-old religious structures around the famous Puri Jagannath temple once again, with the goal of laying out a nice vista with a pond and jogging path for, yes, tourists.
The tragedy of all this destruction is how quickly it’s happening, and how callously indifferent or deluded the Hindu community, the Hindu parents of today in particular around the world, are pretending none of this is happening. Economic advancement may have been the greatest priority our parents’ generation growing up in the postcolonial austerity of Nehru’s India had to deal with, and the most urgent gift, they had to give us. Shouldn’t those of us who are parents today recognize that cultural sovereignty, and a shred of dignity in an increasingly interconnected and diverse global world, is the most important gift we have to ensure for our children’s generation?
Did generations of our mothers and grandmothers bear us only for us to turn into McAulay corporate bots and insult-licking consumers?
Take back your senses. Take back your mind. Take back your children’s future.
Postscript: Hindus are not alone.
I was very moved by this poem that was shared on Facebook by a friend today about what tourism is doing to the sacred Uluru in Australia. Hindus have lost much of what it means to feel sanctity and love for nature already even in our holiest sites. If we do not act quickly we will have nothing left of who we were. Even whatever little is left of who we were.
Sun burns hot over Uluru
Tourists come like they always do
Bigger crowds now they’ve come to climb
This hallowed rock from the dawn of time
Elders make their message clear
Disrespect’s not welcome here
Don’t disregard our ancient law
You won’t be climbing anymore
This is our home on sacred land
Listen, try and understand
Stay off the rock, it’s the desert’s heart
Dreaming place from the very start
Visitors they come and go
Some simply don’t want to know
What this icon means to us
Rednecks whipping up a fuss
The world is their amusement park
To us it’s clear, it’s very stark
Their puffed out chests and pure contempt
The born to rule feel they’re exempt
When will it be understood
Conquer all won’t come to good?
Some things better left unspoiled
All that’s touched, is all that’s soiled
Take your photo, pack your tent
Don’t forget to pay the rent
Maybe future generations
Heed the elders of our nations
This is our home on sacred land
Listen, try and understand
Stay off the rock, it’s the desert’s heart
Dreaming place from the very start
- Les Thomas