|The TOI picture|
The Mainstream Terror
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, September 2
What do you think of when you hear the words, “United colours of India”? A kaleidoscope that shows different shades and patterns of society. This, unfortunately, is not to be. The edition of the Times of India of September 2 has a picture of a child Krishna; his mother is wearing a burqa that covers her face completely with only a slit for her eyes to be visible. The caption reads: ‘GOD’S OWN COUNTRY: A Muslim woman carries her son dressed as Lord Krishna for the Janmashtami celebrations at his school in Patna on Wednesday.’
See the transposition. God’s own country makes it god of a certain kind. The Muslim woman’s acceptance of this fact is crucial. It makes it mandatory to combine a certain religion with the nation. To many, this might appear innocent, even innocuous. There was a time when it was. When children celebrated all festivals and not all men were shown with beards or women wearing veils to reveal their identity.
It is interesting that while the urban elite has taken over religious celebrations and consumerised it, they use the ‘backward’ idea to drive home the point of India’s colourfulness. It almost seems like they are sitting away and cheering at a spectator sport.
Part of the reason there has been a strong reaction to home minister P.Chidamabaram’s statement about ‘saffron terror’ is not indignation but to bring it out into an open arena and fight it out. As the home minister, he should have intervened and made sure that the ‘Hanumat Shakti Jagran Abhiyan’ by the VHP to mobilise the inert Hindu sentiment was not given a public platform. It could be held up as contempt of court proceedings that are subjudice since it is directly whipping up emotions prior to the verdict on the demolished Babri-Masjid site. As it is essentially a property dispute case right now, the chanting is geared to take the issue beyond it. What is the point in sending paramilitary forces apprehending trouble when such trouble need not occur at all if there is no such religiosity permitted in public?
The timing of Mr. Chidambaram’s statement appears to be a means of scoring political points. He said, "There has been a recent uncovered phenomenon of saffron terrorism that has been implicated in many bomb blasts in the past. My advice to you is that we must remain ever vigilant and continue to build, at both Central and state level, our capacities in counter-terrorism.”
How recent is recent? Why did he not talk about it earlier when the incidents took place? While the Hindutva parties have objected, it is surprising that the Congress has jumped in too to state that terrorism has no colour. Why? When people talk about Islamic terrorism, and do note it is not green terrorism but the blasé reference to a religion, then all the social commentators can come up with is that a few fanatic elements do not constitute the faith. Fine. So, this is saffron and it denotes certain specific parties that align themselves with Hinduism; they are known to be fanatic in mindset and actions. They are terrorists for that reason. So, why not call their bluff? Why is it, then, that terms like ‘Hindu jihad’ and 'Hindu fatwa' are seen as acceptable? Because they snidely refer to another religion as the paragon of evil.
Chidambaram mentioned that the phrase “saffronisation of education” has been used earlier. This is far more crucial for it tries to brainwash young minds into believing one kind of knowledge. It started with initiating astrology, then the singing of Vande Mataram. These would not be harmful in themselves if they were not forced upon people or appeared to be harking back to reclaiming of the national heritage.
India’s heritage includes rulers of the past. When it is convenient we blame the British for our Victorian attitude, especially when we want to project ideas like the Krishna’s ‘ras leela’. But if someone questions the agni pariksha (trial by fire) of Sita in the Ramayan or Draupadi being put up as booty in a game of dice and marriage to the five Pandavas in Mahabharat, then there is no scope for analysis. Suddenly, the intellectual corsets get tightened.
In the same manner, almost the entire Mughal era is seen in light of what some criminal elements indulge in. It now appears that all the monuments they created were built over razed temples. While there is some evidence in certain cases, this cannot be generalised. The reason there are muted voices regarding the Taj Mahal is because it is our major showpiece internationally. It is an economic necessity, not a cultural one.
This attitude has seeped into contemporary thinking. In one sort of terrorism names are mentioned and we can see that they are either criminals with some background or infiltrators; many are misguided young people who have been bought with money. In the case of saffron terror, even the home minister will not name Sadhvi Pragya or Col. Purohit although they hit at the crux of two of our great institutions – religion and the army.
Islam’s holy warriors are flashed around; Hindutva’s are portrayed as cultural ambassadors. The armed forces have been saffronised mainly because it was drilled into them that their enemy, Pakistan, was an Islamic nation and therefore the fight was essentially one of faith. The police force has also been inculcated with such ideas and the carte blanche given regarding arrests itself reveals the colour of the undertrials in cases of terror.
A writer of satire too has fallen for the bait by alluding to a don and terrorist links in Dubai, Pakistan and Laden to justify the slur on the Blackberry. This is the huddled group that mouths clichés about united colours whereas it holds itself close to the archetypes. Eid is coming up and Indians who have nothing to do with 9/11 are already discussing its timing with that date.
We have had enough of the iftaar vote-bank tamashas. I would like to see one of our mainstream newspapers put up a picture of a woman dressed in soap opera sindoor in the parting of her hair with a bindi shining on her forehead, her head covered, taking her child for a school celebration of Eid with him wearing skull cap and kurta pyjama or the girl child in salwaar-kameez with tassels. This has not happened in 63 years after independence in our secular republic.
It isn’t too late to show us the true colours of an India that needs to unite.