The photo above is from the inaugural function of the International Theatre Festival of Keralam (ITFoK). There was a heated debate in Facebook about the scene highlighted in this photo. The debate was about how settu mundu is being touted as the traditional attire of Keralam when it represents only the upper-caste traditional attire. The discussion was initiated by someone called Abdul Kareem and I got to see it when Sudeep Ben re-shared the photo in his FB page. After following up on the debate in the FB pages of Sudeep, Abdul Kareem and BRP Bhaskar, I posted my thoughts in one of the posts. Here it goes:
1) It is important that we ask questions about what is being celebrated as ‘traditional Kerala attire’. Every community/caste/tribe has had a different attire so it is impossible to define what is traditional and what is not. And just because one of them is being commonly celebrated as ‘traditional’ (which has happened long before the ‘disturbing’ questions about caste arose) does not mean that it must be accepted without a question.
2) Wikipedia says that ‘Mundum Neriyathum’ is “one of the remains of the pre-Hindu Buddhist-Jain culture that once flourished in Kerala and other parts of South India” (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mundum_Neriyathum). It is also said to be an adaptation of the Graeco-Roam costume called ‘Palmyrene’. So I am not sure how ‘Hindu’ it is. Upper-caste Hindus might have adopted the dress-code because they could afford it while the lower-caste being the working class couldn’t have afforded the attire.
3) The Sangeeta Nataka Academy function is a less harmful example if compared to the inaugural function of the TV programmes like Idea Star Singer which seem like a Hindu religious ceremony.
4) The remaining question is which identity we should use as a common cultural identity. Now it is dominantly upper-caste Hindu and not many have questioned this, so it continues. Whether we need to have a common pre-set cultural identity when it is projecting only one cultural identity is the next question. In this particular case, whether an ‘international’ theatre festival needs to have a local identity stamp on it is a third and more relevant question. I think it will be good to let people wear what they want to wear rather than giving a false notion of a common cultural identity.
The truth is officially out now. There was no Love Jihad and if there ever was one, it was a hate campaign organized by one Hindutva website called Hindujagurti.org. The cyber cell of Kerala Police has filed a case against the website owners for spreading religious hatred and false propaganda.
But the propaganda campaign had already made the damage. Young Muslim men were looked at with suspicion. Those of them boys who were in love or flirting with girls of other religion were tagged as terrorists and jehadists. Islamophobia rose to the core in the so-called educated society of Kerala. And they easily chose to forget the fact that in a male dominated society like ours, women are always converted to their husband’s religion, even in love marriages. Not just religion, say if a Roman Catholic girl is married to a Chaldean Syrian Christian boy, she would be converted to that denomination with marriage. And when a bunch of Hindutvavaadis called it jehad, just because it was Muslims at the other end, everybody bought the crap.
The curious case of Catholic church must be taken to notice in this case. The Syro Malabar Church had warned it’s community members of Love Jihad, without even checking the facts. A notice was posted in the website of Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council. And they worked with VHP to tackle the issue. “We will work together to whatever extent possible“, K S Samson, an office-bearer of Kochi-based Christian Association for Social Action (CASA), a voluntary Christian association, told the Times of India. But is it surprising to hear it from the Church that was busy framing Communism as a greater threat to Christianity than Hindutva, while ordinary Christians were being slayed in Mangalore by Hindutva organizations? Now during a news hour at Reporter TV, the Church has admitted that it was wrong. Oh yes, our Church does that all the time. We commit/support crimes during one time and would apologize for it years later after it has made a larger damage.
But the Hindutvavaadis and their supporters would still not give up. You can see Rahul Eashwar, the bragging Hindutva poster boy of Kerala, trying to muscle through the debate in Reporter TV. Oh, and he very cleverly plays the ‘middle-man’ by blaming extremists of both sides (and his insistence on highlighting the extremism of ‘both sides’ happens only when ‘his side’ is attacked) and he is still saying that there must have been some substance to the idea of Love Jihad.
The interesting thing is that through out all these debates – all the for and against talks about the branding of Love Jihad – nobody has touched the greater issue that involves gender. No individual or TV channel has sought out why it is women who have to convert to their husband’s religion/denomination. Or why the husbands agree to their wives’ right to stay in her religion/denomination until the marriage ceremony is over and then convert them to their faith, forcefully or not.
Earlier on the topic: Love Jihad?
Here is “My Fellow American“, an online film and social media project, that is trying to do something about Islamophobia with sharing stories of people and trying to raise awareness. Checkout their website My Fellow American and also watch the teaser video below.
In all the material I have seen and read about Islam and the common perceptions about it, I have never seen or read a convincing speech like the TED talk given by Mustafa Akyol which makes a lot of sense. A must watch.
In my post about Prof. Joseph’s hand-chopping incident, I had written about the intrusion of religious elements into the liberal, democratic and political spheres of Kerala in disguise. I think this is more dangerous than the Hindutva politics because Hindutva politics is there on the surface for everybody to see. Hindutvavaadis thrive on anti-minority sentiments and extreme Hindu-nationalist views, and everybody knows that. Hindutavavaadis never hesitate to boast upon their beliefs (except for the grooming campaigns of Narendra Modi these days), but on the other side, the hard-core Islamists chose to play different. When they learned that terrorism and an extreme Islamist movement is a growing concern in the public, they put on the mask of liberal activism and tried to play more left than the Left. While the Left in Kerala has left itself to be rotten, there was an empty space in the field of activism that was available for others to occupy. And the Islamists were quick to fill in that space. It is said that ‘even the BJP is Leftist in Kerala’. So the best way to get public acceptance was obvious – be more left than the Leftists.
The first step in that direction was taken long back – starting with media. A prominent Malayalam weekly and news daily is owned by such a group. They invited the prominent figures in the socio-political-liberal sphere to write for them and made a mark. Then came their student/youth organizations. They started campaigns and agitations on several issues – Capitalism, Globalization, Bourgeoisie, Western Imperialism, Environment, Development, Human Rights etc. When they shouted slogans against America and Israel, their tones were sharper than the Communists. When they talked about freedom of speech for M F Hussain, they kept mum on the threats and Fatwas issued to Taslima Nasreen. When they talked about Imperialism and Human Rights, they never talked about the Islamic imperialist countries and the grave human rights violation in those countries.
When Madani was released from jail, he also played the same political card. Madani was smart. He saw the possiblity of a wider political spectrum and thus included “Dalits” in his come back. The term “Dalit” had already become a fine selling point of all political parties by then. Madani also banked upon the same “anti-imperialistic” politics of the other Islamist organizations.
But people failed to notice it or chose to ignore. And our socio-political leaders kept taking part in their meetings and that image has been used to boast upon their public acceptance. And now the final step – Jamaat-e-Islami is forming a political party in Kerala. And what is their declared obective? Their Wiki page says, “Establishment of (Islamic) way of life in all aspects of life“. And their core doctrine? “the Divine Being is solely Allah, there being no God except Him, and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger“. Tell me how it is different from the dream of a Hindu nation proposed by the Sangh Parivar.
Now we have a number of such “political parties” and “activist organizations” in our public sphere. And the news of bombs and detonators being placed in the public spaces and people being hacked in the name of religion is increasing day by day. Even though some of the socio-political leaders and intellectuals have turned a blind-eye towards such developments, the consolation is that there are people like Hameed Chennamangaloor who have been voicing against these groups openly since a very long time. And publications like Mathrubhumi weekly having open debates about this as cover stories. But that is not enough. People have to stand up and say, we don’t want an Islamic or Chrsitian version of BJP or Sangh Parivar. We don’t want religion in our political space. We don’t want that one God or multiple Gods and their doctrines to rule us, instead the secular ethos envisioned by the founding fathers of this country. We want to keep our democracy in place, how much shortcomings and failures it has.
I admit that when I read a news report titled “NGOs, Teesta spiced up Gujarat riot incidents: SIT” in Times of India, I almost bought it. I know it is stupid to blindly believe everything that the media churns out, but the story was published in TOI and they quoted the SIT in their news report which added to some primary credibility. Then there were immediate responses from Sangh Parivar sympathizers. They said that the “pseudo-secular media” conveniently withheld the story from publishing since it is election time. They attacked their enemies, those who stand for the secular ethos of the country. They also wanted the Supreme Court to initiate action on the “pseudo secular media” because of their silence on the issue.
I was shocked to read the whole thing. I got confused too, as whom to believe and whom not to believe on such sensitive issues. I thought that the very same secular values that many people in this great country stood for have just got dirty because of people like Teesta. Like I said before, I almost bought it.
The TOI report said that all of these were told by SIT chief R K Raghavan in the Supreme Court on April 13th, Monday. But hold your horses, because none from the SIT or Mr. Raghavan himself were present in the apex court on April 13 to tell anything.
Even though the TOI article was referring to the SIT report, the person whom they quoted was Gujarat government’s counsel, Mukul Rohtagi. And the SIT chief Mr. Raghavan told Hindutan Times that the alleged leaks appear to have been based on statements of state police officials and “cannot be termed as findings of the report.”[via]
Then came the second article in Times of India, by the same reporter and this time the reporter said nothing about the above claims and rather held on to “discrepancies” and “contradictions“. No word about Kausar Banu, Wanton Killing or the Tutoring of Teesta. He chose to be silent on those allegations which he had earlier stated as the “SIT found untrue“.
So yes, if this is the kind of journalism we are fed with, there needs to have legal action against “such” media houses. Unfortunately, these are the times of India.
PS: It doesn’t take a genius to guess why the Gujarat counsel’s claims made news just 3 days before the 1st phase of general elections. I am not for or against Teesta’s case. We have a process of law in place and our Supreme Court to judge the case. So let the law take it’s due course.
The Sangh Parivar and it’s supporters time and again have been saying that their violence is in response to centuries long oppression that Hindus had to face from it’s foreign invaders. They say Hindus had to suffer because of the tolerant nature of Hindus. They further explain that the Mughal raj, British raj, Missionaries and conversion are all results of this centuries long tolerance and universal acceptance of Hinduism. This has gained quite some sympathy from both national and international audience and is often used to justify the brutally violent acts of Sangh Parivar. But this story of tolerance is nothing but a myth.
Love, hate, tolerance and intolerace are all human traits. Religion could either enhance it or destroy it. The choice is left to the human beings. Jesus Christ taught the message of love and forgiveness to his disciples. He asked them to spread these words whereas some of his disciples simply went after spreading the religion and setting up it’s institution in the name of spreading his words. The abuse of Christianity had resulted in wars and religious persecution. Jesus Christ was gone and a religious institution replaced him. This abuse continues to happen as we hear US president George Bush say “God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq… And I did“.
Similarly, Hinduism is a beautiful philosophy. Many of the Hindu holy texts contain some beautiful thoughts and ideas. But by practice, Hinduism was not that universally accepting. The most celebrated “universal acceptance” of Hinduism is primarily based on our racist mentality that exists even now. I remember a couple of incidents – of how a northie wrote that “Madrasi chicks look ugly” which got the entire blogosphere in to a north-south divide discussion and then the most recent one from the first ever BlogCamp Kerala in 2008. One (and only) foreigner who attended the BlogCamp Kerala wrote this in his blog after the blog camp:
People were taking picture of me like I was a tourist attraction. 100 guys, 3 girls and one Guillaume, and everyone is interested in the Guillaume.
Yes, that happened in a so-called intellectual part of the society. Similarly, you go to an event, you see an african-american man and you don’t even feel like sitting beside him. But if he was white, you would definitely use any chance that you could talk to him and be a friend.
The above mentioned is one simple example of the racist mindset that we have. We love the color “White” or anything “foreign“. Hence we had warmly welcomed the Whites and other foreigners. This is one thing that resulted in the British Raj. The rulers of that time while they were treating their downtrodden within their social system (Dalits and poor people) like pigs, welcomed their White friends who later became their masters. Their own racist mindset resulted in all these. British Raj, Missionaries and such. And people call that racist mindset tolerance and universal acceptance. And that racist mentality is exactly what the problem behind conversion. Because it resulted in helping the foreigners, deep-rooting caste-system and poverty in it’s own society which later lead to missionaries and conversion.
If love, tolerance and acceptance were religious inventions, there wouldn’t have been atheists who are as humanitarians as some religious figures. The only difference is that such atheists (and I am not referring to some of those urban atheists who say “I am an atheist” for fashion) do not put any religion’s label in their work. So whenever you hear the Sangh’s doctrine about tolerance and universal acceptance, think again.
BJP leader and the party’s prime minister candidate L K Advani has declared himself as “secular” because “he studied in a missionary school“. Don’t we know what it took him to be secular other than his missionary schooling credentials? That includes bringing down the Babri mosque which resulted in Hindu-Muslim riots throughout the nation that killed a large number of Hindus and Muslims and helped the extremist organizations of both religions to attract the youth to their fold. A secular nation’s social fabric was broken and Advani became a prominent figure in the party. Now as the prime ministerial candidate of BJP, Advani has become secular.
Oh, and guess what, a BJP leader says this:
“In Orissa, untouchability among the Hindus and a simmering discontent among the lower strata have drawn people to other religions. Social acceptance is a big dilemma there,” the BJP leader said.
A statement that has come quite late, but I am glad that he identifies the root cause (other than the missionary tactics) now which I have been mentioning in this blog for quite a long time. Now, what do they have to say about those innocent people who have been killed and misplaced because of the riots in Orissa? How many more people have to pay with their lives until the whole of Sangh Parivar realizes the meaning of real secularism?
(Image courtesy: Newsx.com)