Doing It Everyday – 6
State support for Hindutva: the Tamil Nadu example
“During the 1984 December election to the State Assembly the Munnani launched a propaganda campaign against DMK which had all along aligned itself with anti-Hindu forces like the Muslim League, the Christian Church, the Communists and the DK and had been maligning Hindu Dharma and the Hindu gods and goddesses. …[T]he press in Tamilnadu too took note of the new mood of Hindus and wrote that no political party would now dare criticise Hindu religion and culture, since they no longer remained meek to take such things lying down. … [T]he DMK had to change its tune. Soon the sporting of pictures of Ganesha, Murugan and OM and processions to Hindu temples by its candidates started taking place. The ruling AIADMK leaders picked up the tune and began criticizing the DMK for its pro-Muslim and pro-Christian and anti-Hindu stand! Now ‘Hindu’ loyalty has replaced ‘Tamil’ loyalty.”
If it was possible to replace Tamil loyalty by Hindu loyalty it was primarily because of the erosion of the ideology of the Dravidian movement. Political Hindutva may be the new face of Brahminism, but we don’t have a Periyar here to point that out. Dravidianism too, is on the road of no-return, with documented instances of DMK and ADMK party workers accompanying the Vinayaka Chaturthi processions, adorning their respective idols with the party flags. Ideology now, is not even taking the backseat, it has been left behind to look after the home. Hindutva forces merely capitalize on this trend, and in the minds of the masses, replace the received rationalism with religion.
Not being content with reaching out to the people, the VHP attempted to mobilize the poojaris in Tamil Nadu. Even according to dated reports,
“It has so far trained 1028 of them from the rural areas in the State through 14 camps. […] So far, 20,000 poojaris have become annual subscribers to the organization named as GKP (Gram Koil Poojarigal Peravai) and more applications are pouring in for membership. As a result of the training, the poojaris have become proud in their Hindu identity determined to safeguard the interests of Hindus and stop conversions.”
Gods are rich, and India is really the land of gold and diamonds, and all the riches that we have read of in the Arabian Nights. Courtesy, the bounty of our Tamil Kings a great section of the land is owned by temples (Few estimates suggest figures as high as 1/3rd the total land area of Tamil Nadu). In such a crucial, powerful lobby the consolidation by the Sangh Parivar has been complete.
In 1996, when the GKP attempted a massive show of strength with the participation of over 60,000 poojaris, the then Chief Minister Jayalalitha who attended the function accepted all the 9 demands of the GKP which included the provision of pension to retired poojaris.
Hindutva has been on the fast-track since the beginning of the AIADMK rule in 2001. As if in a fulfillment of holy vows, the state government resorts to a “spiritual rule” and proudly pats itself for having renovated 2,822 temples. Retired poojaris enjoy pension, and if you are feeling hungry and there’s a temple nearby, there are chances that you will benefit by the Annadhanam scheme that freely feeds Hindus at temples. The mutts are the political players here. Not that the DMK has been above board either. Cavorting with the Hindutva forces is the political pastime in Tamil Nadu.
This is a scary phenomenon. For all the systematic hard-work that the Sangh Parivar has put into Tamil Nadu, the state may soon be the next Gujarat.
What festivals could do in Maharashtra and Gujarat
In the introduction to his book An Agenda for Cultural Action and Other Essays, K. N. Panikkar observes how the society “appears to be engulfed by a de-civilizing process” because of the adverse impact of communalism on the “three main features of Indian civilization: social accommodation, religious respect and cultural co-existence.” He attributes the social violence, including the Gujarat carnage to this decivilizing process, which, according to him “is not the result of a sudden and spontaneous upsurge of communal passion, but the outcome of long and sustained intervention in almost all spheres of social existence. Among the several strategies evolved by communalism to influence the civil society the religionisation of public sphere is perhaps the most vital.”
We can observe that not only does this mass mobilization using religion serve political and fundamentalist agendas but it also serves a distractive purpose by keeping away people from other venues of collective action. Jayant Lele, comments that the “control and dissipation of people’s cognitive competence, its deflection away from the real sources of the malaise, is the task that communalism seems to have been commandeered to perform.” Often, new festivals have cropped up in order to displace people from their secular engagements. Instances when they have invented a religious function to displace a non-religious celebration galore. Thus we can understand the domestication of dissent and why marginalized, oppressed groups like the Dalits who are striving to revolt and be reborn in militant avatars are posited with new enemies.
Such an attribution of enemies, systematic brainwashing, economic buyouts and space for respectable identities ensured that Dalits could be used against Muslims in the Gujarat carnage. The very structure of religious festivals might also contribute to the increased militancy and riots that arise as by-products. The culture of public processions that accompany rituals has advanced to the extent that there is little left to imagination.
Gerard Heuze, in his seminal work on Populism, Religion and Nation in Contemporary India: The Evolution of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, makes the following reflection:
“In certain respects similar to Brazilian carnivals, contemporary Indian pujas, moving between rioting, ritual, and mass release, also sometimes have a tendency to embody the repetitions of civil war. Muslim quarters are closed during large Hindu festivals out of fear of provocation connected with the passage of processions. Clashes have multiplied, despite increasingly strong police mobilization. The interest which an organization with para-military aspects, such as the Shiv Sena, finds in these particular and always more tense moments in social life is readily understandable.
Mass pujas have since the beginning been associated with the relation to urban space, a majority of the poor and the migrants in particular experiencing in this regard a situation of permanent shortage, which is only equaled in the old commercial quarters. The pujas have made it possible to mark the positions of “communities” in the process of assertion by associating the geography of the sacred with the stability of social groups. They have expressed variations in the organization of socio-religious ensembles. They have also produced tensions and distinct claims of religious preoccupations by using the idiom of ritual status as well as that of precedence (the order of arrival at a given place). Since Indian independence, the development of the Shiv Sena has greatly accentuated this tendency, and the pujas have been inclined to express relations of power in an increasingly brutal manner. Considerations of rank (ritualo-brahmanic) and perceptions in terms of rights connected with precedence have been gradually eclipsed in favor of an immediate perception of the capacity for group intervention. In these conditions, the puja assumes the appearance of a general mobilization, and this is increased by the use of symbols such as the saffron flag of the Shiv Sena (the bhaghva dvaj of Shivaji) or the green flag of young Muslims. It is during pujas, by means of the disorder that invades the city, that one dares to provoke the adversary and transgress the usually accepted limits. One draws provocative pictures and covers walls of the enemy up to the windows with posters. The use of sound to occupy space plays a significant role in the exacerbation of mass pujas related to special issues. Music and sometimes firecrackers are used for that purpose.”
He also notes how these mass pujas are capable of ensuring a kind of unity within the organization,
“More generally, it seems that the large mass pujas, which are increasingly often at the center of religious practice, exercise an uncontrollable effect on the organization, binding it to countless fragmented chauvinistic perspectives and bogging it down in the “culture of powerlessness” (napunsakta) of the popular quarters.
When Heuze speaks about pujas resembling civil wars, it might sound far-fetched to those who are not exposed to the reality. Tanika Sarkar documents of how even the war, the bloodbaths, resembled the pujas. She writes, “Bystanders and survivors during the days of maximal violence were struck by the festive, carnivalesque aspect of rampaging mobs. Indeed, one such mob looked like a 'barat', a wedding band, to unsuspecting Muslims on the fateful morning of February 28.” The pujas alas don’t end with the attainment of agendas, the harvest of death. They continue into the darkest of nights:
“The BJP has also been using a series of Hindu cultural festivals to further polarise the community on religious identities. It began with the Jagannath Rath Yatra in July, then the Shobha Yatra was taken out on Janmashtami day, August 31. The latter was organised mainly by Sangh Parivar members in Rajkot, Modi's constituency and had “Fight against Terrorism” as its theme. Several floats and exhibits had replicas of the Sabarmati Express burning. But there was no mention of those among the Sangh Parivar who orchestrated the killing of more than 1,000 persons after the Godhra incident. After that came the Ganesh festival which ended with violence and more tension.”
Even after the genocide, for the tempo to be maintained, for the killings to continue, there are Hindutva yatras and festivals and displays of gaiety. It is really not an easy time to live in.