Doing It Everyday
Hindutva Consolidation and Conscription
in Tamil Nadu Through Celebrations
I hate, I despise your feasts
I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals.
When you offer me holocausts and grain offerings
I will not accept them...
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like an overflowing stream.
(The Book of Amos 5:21-24)
In the transformation of the Hindutva agenda that has included hard cash and hate consolidation, you don’t go in search of Gods, they come to your pavement, your doors. The city comes to a standstill, the juggernaut of the gods-and-devotees continues. The new-found religiosity is stifling and stunning and a little hard on your ears, but it is contagious. You are drawn into becoming a spectator, and not before long, the skeptic in you has put in the papers, you are part of the excited crowd, caught in the frenzy of fundamentalism that is caramel-coated with devotion. This one-after-another-after-another ensures that all days are holy days. Occasion is reduced to almost a routine. The weekend is downsized to being a jazzy, glitzy flamboyant festival. Like the kinky Osho once remarked, living becomes an eternal celebration. And, you are doing it everyday. Why worry if Hindutva is working on you 365/24/7? Arrey, nobody’s complaining yaar. Yes, but little knowledge has never been more dangerous. There is cause to complain only when we are made to realize (by none other than the Sangh Parivar) that this holding of festivals, this appropriation and hijacking of the public sphere is their program in the project of Hindu consolidation, mass conscription and ‘collectivization’.
In looking at the glamorous and much-photographed instances: say, the Vinayaka Chaturthi rituals in Tamil Nadu that occasionally result in loss of limb, or life, and waste of newsreel, we have ignored the larger, risky picture of what is happening the rest of the year. Choreographed Kumbh-melas and stage-managed rath yatras have their lesser known counterparts: itsy-bitsy Hindutva festivals that ravish daily calendars, that continue to be born everyday. Sociological analysis by Fuller, Geetha and Rajadurai , and Anandhi have studied the Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations in the state of Tamil Nadu at great length. Their independent researches has shed light on the imitation and replication of the Maharashtra example in the immersion of Ganesh idols [Fuller], of the recruitment of the subaltern sections in this event [Anandhi], and the engineering of the clashes with the minority communities [Geetha and Rajadurai]. Fuller’s engaging thesis—the most recent study on the Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations—describes of how the Sangh Parivar successfully appropriates local, traditional Hindu rituals to create a wider Hindu unity and establishes that “the primary goal for the Parivar in the utilization of such rituals is to persuade all Hindus to become conscious of belonging to a single, majority community.” Alas, Hindutva doesn’t stop with showing its might on the fourth day of the Bhadrapada. Hindutva celebrations are not once-in-a-year carnivals. Its like the local cinema screening sleazy films: there are four shows a day, and its almost always houseful. Or given the militant and deceptive posturing of the Orange Order outfits, here is a fitter illustration: Hindutva conscription is not always an imbecile Operation Shock Treatment (though that is resorted to during carnages, rapes, murders, and other cold-blooded lunacies). It is Operation Slow Poison. Every day, every week, every year. It works like tiny doses of arsenic, it percolates and mingles with your bloodstream, and before you are aware, you are dying the little deaths, someone else dictates your life. Such an assimilation is an all-year project.
In this paper, I have attempted to analyze the importance the Sangh Parivar lays on festivals as an integral part of their agenda of action, this continuous process of Hindutva conscription and consolidation through celebrations and rituals that are organized (or sometimes, hijacked); the varied attempts to appropriate the public space; the targeting of the oppressed sections and the women, its subsequent effects and the overall grave threat this seemingly innocent program poses to communal amity.
Sangh Parivar credo on festivals
The supreme ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), ‘Guruji’ M.S. Golwalkar believed that the festivals were a “medium of mass-awakening” besides the one-hour shakhas. In his Bunch of Thoughts, he wrote that “the tradition of national festivals that the Sangh has evolved is a potent medium of awakening the masses to our true and integrated national life.” So there dear readers, brace yourself for the first lesson we are to learn from a bunch of thoughts: the tradition of national festivals is what the Sangh has evolved. The festivals have not arisen out of centuries-old practice (how much more can they demean our ‘golden heritage’ that even according to their claims is five-thousand years old), or age-old traditions (parampara and sanskriti: where are they?). Instead the national festivals are mass-market products evolved by the Sangh.
Festivals differ largely from their one-hour-a-day meeting sessions. While shakhas are private bouddhik sessions for members only, Hindutva celebrations are sinfully different: they are bouddhik sessions for the public. It is an indoctrination amidst bhajans, it is a seduction in the midst of festive processions. If the freedom of imagination allows one to compare the shakha to a training ground of the desi Nazis, then the festivals are their fishing grounds. Every citizen is baited with what is scrumptiously called ‘cultural nationalism.’ The RSS, the parent organization of the large, unwieldy Sangh Parivar officially recognizes and observes only six national festivals. They are: Varsha Pratipada/ Yugadi (The Hindu New Year’s Day), Hindu Samrajya Dinostav (Coronation Day of Chatrapati Shivaji), Guru Pooja, Raksha Bandhan, Vijayadashami, and Makar Sankranti.
But this isn’t the norm for other members of the Parivar. Known for its dubious deviance from its claims, this issue is no different. Doublespeak arises out of their twice-born-ness. While the RSS recognizes only six days (please note the absence of the national independence day in this list), other organs of this large, fertile family have patented all calendar days for one festival or another.
It is widely known that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) carries the religious activities of the RSS, and is in charge of the festivals and celebrations. Let me attempt an analysis of the Hindutva Agenda of mass mobilization through a reading of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s statement on ‘Fairs, Festivals and Yatras’. Here are some excerpts from its official website: www.vhp.org
“The man is a social animal. He does not like to sit idle or live alone. He even wants to share his personal feelings of joy and sorrow with others. That is why he is fond of Festivals and Yatras as these are the main source of collectivization. The celebration has become the part and parcel of the human life since long.
In India celebration of fairs and festivals has become like a ritual. They are being celebrated separately according to one's faith, religion and custom. The festivity has special. significance in Hindu society as they are considered to be the real source., of imparting sanskara on the society. They are the reflectors of the memories of our great culture and civilization. In a Hindu house every day is a festival day.
Seeing the importance of Fairs, Festivals and Yatras, the V.H.P. started managing various Fairs, Festivals and Yatras to create the feeling of oneness and unity amongst various communities of Hindu society.”
I hate to interpret the obvious, to explain what dances from words set down in black and white. But an essay requires logical coherence, and an author’s indulgence now and then, to not only scream her ideas, but also to read out from between the lines.
The first statement is the recognition that festivals and yatras are the main source of collectivization. No wonder then, that the Sangh Parivar uses these festivals and yatras as the main tools in its political program. Religion, is not the criteria now, nor is dear-old-damned-for-dead spirituality. In the game of numbers, in the question of mobilization, the saffron wing has selected its potent machinery.
The second statement that needs to be given weight, is that every day is a festival day in a Hindu house. This is almost like dressing the sacrificial lamb before leading it to a butcher. Underlining the fact that there exists an innate religiosity in the Hindu home, is a way of preparing for that religious, festive fervor to be tapped, and exploited.
Next, we are told of how and why the VHP started ‘managing’ various fairs, festivals and yatras (that we collectively call as celebrations in this paper). Seeing the importance, or so the VHP says. Seeing is learning. Seeing is replicating. The VHP’s ‘management’ of fairs, festivals and yatras is not spontaneous, or devoted, or even remotely religious—it is a mere capitalization.