Return of the Pink Panties: Flimsy Opposition to Indian Fundamentalism
By Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, 28 March, 2009
The politician has been reduced to a blubbering idiot. As India gets ready to go to the polls and back to talk about the largest democracy, we are witnessing punk fascism.
The equations have changed dramatically. The professional politician’s credentials are being questioned in an advertisement that shows him being interviewed for the most important job in the country.
In the enthusiasm to take an ethical position, the irony is lost – the job is to head corporate India. One might applaud a move that does away with the pretence of the ‘public servant’. But the savants aren’t the ones we would trust even with Hallmark cards and heart-shaped balloons.
On Valentine’s Day, there was the usual noise about it being against Indian culture. The liberals woke up. They decided to send lingerie to the fanatic. The pink panty became a metaphor for rebellion, thus reducing the very real threat of fundamentalism to a farce.
Today, India does not have any genuine opposition to the increasing legitimacy that such forces are garnering. Definitions have become deliberately hazy to accommodate nebulous ideas.
Westernisation = globalisation
“Corporate India has finally roused itself from its political apathy,” was the deadpan beginning of a report heralding a contestant from South Mumbai. Meera Sanyal heads ABN Amro Bank, a multinational. Like many people with an elite education, she too was moved by the November terrorist attacks. Currently, the catch phrase is “immediate challenge of terrorism” so the corporate diva bemoaned that our coast guards do not have binoculars to see them coming.
The constituency she is catering to is essentially made up of the pink panty types. Her involvement in social issues has been broadly described as “poverty alleviation and HIV prevention programmes”. These are two subjects that make no one answerable.
This class of people has begun to assume that westernisation naturally translates into globalisation. This micro view of finance and marketability is thoroughly opportunistic. The major industrialists are aligning themselves quite openly with Narendra Modi, the architect of state terrorism. For them, he remains the man who has brought about tremendous changes and made Gujarat into an economic utopia.
The problem with rash and random industrialisation is that under the guise of creating more jobs it is mechanising the menial. In the 1980s when textile mills were shut down, thousands of workers became jobless; crime increased and it was partly the reason for the rise of the big gangs. Urban terrorism was the direct result of the sudden breakdown of industry.
Historically, too, we must remember that what we hail as Nehruvian socialism only borrowed the husk from Marxism; you broke open the crust and the kernel was unashamedly capitalistic. The labour class was a cover-up job and highly dispensable. The public sector became the stomping ground of the bureaucrat who consolidated corruption as a national pastime.
Later, we were to witness liberalisation that may have smirked at the Licence Raj but was essentially built on its edifice. The people who invested money and ran the show thrived by merely greasing palms. It was the class that could afford a foreign education and returned to wear the Nehru jacket, turning the concept of the FOB on its head.
Even the Gandhian rural idyll was trussed up to serve the feudal class, not the agricultural worker. The fact that farmer suicides continue to take place is testimony to this.
Globalisation, as we understand it today, is about making India into a corporate entity with its regimented hierarchy smartly camouflaged beneath an egalitarian “We all need to go outside for a smoke” and “We pee in the same loo whatever our designation”. The mimic men are aping the West, which is why they would never understand the ground realities.
To them it is important to sell the blinkers before they can even enter the horse race.
Do they understand the true nature of fundamentalism? Is flashing a pink panty in the face of a man who opposes a western concept enough? It seems to be their utter ignorance that it is no better than the saffron bandana or the green cap. In fact, it indulges in further reductionism because while the fundamentalists talk about ‘protecting’ women, these liberals are stripping them.
Therefore, sheltering your hood with gourmet restaurants is only a selfish need to further the western model and create an exclusive diaspora that will dictate what the world gets to see. It would include Slumdog Millionaire because this is what corporate India is going to save.
Amusingly, rightwing parties have been using the film’s message to hit out at the Congress saying that it only shows how badly the country has done under its governance.
The pink panty appears to fit the Hindutvawadi rather well.
Indianisation = Hinduisation
A 28-year-old with a famous last name and sturdy political genes makes a rousing speech against Muslims. There is no substance to it, but what stands out is that he talks about being “a Gandhi, a Hindu and an Indian”. Varun Gandhi has become the young audacious face of the BJP. It ought to surprise no one that he is the front man. The problem is not with the hate speech, but that an insignificant player has been catapulted to the national headlines.
His cousin, Priyanka, advised him to read the Bhagwad Gita carefully. She did not say he was wrong or that his speech made little sense; she asked him to go to the Hindu scriptures. There was no appeal to rationalisation. There was not even an expansion on the advice. What does the Gita say that would nullify Varun Gandhi’s words? Is there any particular verse that asks devotees to desist from making references to Muslim circumcision in a derogatory manner? Or that Muslim names are not so funny, really? Or there is nothing to fear when you see a bearded Muslim in the dark?
It is a typical pink panty argument that in effect equates Indian with Hindu. The Hindutva renaissance is essentially about regurgitation. While there is a legitimate cause for concern about the wooing of the Muslim vote bank, the new development is the subtle enticing of the Hindu vote bank. It is being packaged as culture rather than religion; places of worship are being protected as heritage monuments. No one seems to take the discourse further and ask how they can have heritage value when we are accusing the colonisers of having demolished them.
The BJP can never contest an election without reaffirming its commitment to the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Barbed wire fences around temples and stereotypes around their own status make it mandatory for every political party to protect the majority community; it might appear to be the legacy of the Hindutva groups but it is more likely a phenomenon catering to a limited segment.
The Congress has already been tainted with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and forced sterilisation of Muslims during the Emergency. The groups that stand for the backward classes feel compelled to woo the Brahmin segment; it isn’t unusual to find them whining about being the intellectual outcastes. The left parties do not think twice before selling out to industries displacing Muslim villages. Some of these may be considered aberrations but they reveal the rot they arise from.
The desperate need for reconversion of Christians is a part of this resurgence. With the Muslims, the parties stoop to selling themselves via Pakistan. The subtext being, we are not telling you to go to a nation that was created for you, we are saying stay here, but if you want safety of movement, of choice, of work, of education, of thought, of anything, then you will get it only from us. We will be the custodians of your fate.
You cannot tell the suave religious bigot apart from the liberal politician anymore. The pink panty syndrome has percolated down to demeanour and mannerisms. While one section debates against the foreigner heading a political party, the other flaunts her as the ideal Hindu widow.
It has its fluffy version in television soaps.
Ghettoism = Herdism
Political parties that spoke up for the masses are becoming increasingly ghettoised. Creating fissures along regional and lingual lines make it easy.
One reason the Uniform Civil Code has not fructified is that it will not suit the majority community. How can you talk about promoting “religious freedom” and then favour a ban on conversions? Don’t conversions constitute the right to choose your religion?
Hindutva groups are using other conniving tactics too, stating that the BJP views a Uniform Civil Code as an instrument to promote gender justice. It is true that most gender-related problems arise due to flaws in the practice of religion. Ban the triple talaq. Let Parsi women who marry outside their community have the right to enter the fire temples and allow their children to partake of this part of their heritage. These problems of the minorities need to be addressed sharply. But, then, Hindu society must not look away as female foeticide continues unabated, or pretend not to notice little children being married in Rajasthan, or that female infants are not sacrificed. The Devadasi system still exists. Women are beaten up and burned to death for dowry.
The herd wants it own exclusivity.
There is a huge noise about madrassas, but not a word against religious training and astrology sought to be introduced in mainstream syllabi. Expatriate money is pumped in to uphold our culture that seems to miraculously get recreated in ostentatious-looking temples.
The pink panty response is quasi religious. It flaunts an Art of Living guru.