Towards Oblivion – The Journey of a Tolerant Culture

By Aparna Patwardhan via published on August 31, 2016


India is a large, complex and beautiful country of diverse faiths and cultures. Practically every religious denomination that exists on this planet has a presence in this country. If there is one quality that differentiates India from other countries, it is that in a spirit of plurality, she has always welcomed every foreign culture and religion that arrived on her shores into her fold with respect and nurturing warmth. ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family), is a popular and credible boast of a Hindu because secularism has been an integral part of Hindu philosophy, culture and tradition.

We, Indians, pride ourselves as the inheritors of an ancient civilization; we speak of ancient traditions, customs which have evolved over thousands of years and which form the basis of the Hindu “way of life”. But, today, the honest truth is that we are not as connected to our roots as we think we are and most of us live a progressively-diluting Hindu “way of life”. We are, in reality, a country of dying art forms, traditions, systems, languages, festivals and customs.

From my college days in Bangalore, I remember a student who used to wear a half-saree or ‘langa daavani’ as it is known in Karnataka. I remember her even after so many years because she was the only girl who wore that traditional South Indian dress every single day while the rest of the girls would be attired in salwar kameez or western attire. A half-saree was the regular attire of young girls when my mother went to college. Today, the ‘langa daavani’ is dead and buried at least in big cities like Bangalore.

The Pandavani singers of Chattisgarh are storytellers who serve as their community’s historians and preservers of culture. Boa Sr, was the last speaker of the Andamanese language Aka Bo; he died in 2010. Sakhi Kandhei is a puppet art form from Orissa and the nomadic Vasudevs of Nasik travel from state to state singing devotional songs. What is common among all these is that they are dying or dead art forms. They are not simply art forms that one indulged in as a hobby but that art formed the economic backbone of entire communities while keeping our nation’s history and rich culture alive through them.

It is easy to convince a Western-educated or a liberal-minded person that these art forms are dying because of so-called modernity and lack of support from both government and patrons. It is easy to explain to the same crowd that traditional silk-weaving is dying in many parts of India because modern machines and material have replaced both old looms and artisan-weavers thus, pushing entire communities into poverty. But, tell them that Jallikattu is a sport involving bulls during the harvest season and that it helps preserve native bull stock, and the half-baked arguments against it start flowing. What they seem to miss is that cattle are treated with a lot of respect in India, that this sport keeps species like Kangeyam, Puliyakulam and Tiruchengodu from extinction; that the cow to bull ratio has alarmingly decreased from 4:1 in 1990 to 8:1 in 2015 and that a ban would mean that farmers raising bulls have no choice but to send them to the slaughter house. To animal rights activists, would that proposition be less cruel than a sport? Some people and organizations like PETA seem to miss the whole point because they are completely disconnected from the ground reality. They have little understanding of the culture of India but yet, retain the right to speak on behalf of an entire country even if the large majority is not in agreement with their view. While cruelty (if there has been evidence of any) to the bulls during the sport could have been addressed logically, an effort to ban the sport itself has upset many and rightly so. For, when there was a raging debate over beef barely a few months ago, Hindus were termed intolerant and superstitious for taking a stand against beef-eating and for venerating the cow but the likes of PETA or its supporters were nowhere in sight in support of a ban on slaughter. What is also strange is that PETA, an international organization and other like-minded organizations have not intervened to bring about bans on the slaughter of millions of turkeys on Thanksgiving Day in the USA or the slaughter of billions of animals during Bakrid and other Muslim festivals. And there in, lies the larger issue – why is India being targeted and specifically, why are Hindus soft targets?


It is sheer hypocrisy that the liberals, who organized beef parties across India to rebel against the sentiment of the Hindus regarding beef, were the first to support a ban on Jallikattu on the pretext of cruelty to animals. These are the same folks who donned skull-caps, attended iftar parties and posed for photographs while eating some beef kababs. Two tweets by one such liberal intellectual, Ms.Shobhaa De exposes their mindset completely. On October 1st last year, when the beef debate was on, she tweeted in an obvious challenge to those asking for a ban on slaughter,“I just ate beef. Come and murder me.” A few days ago, on January 9th, she tweeted in support of a ban on Jallikattu thus,”Jallikattu: Barbaric, brutal, and medieval. Must be challenged,banned,no matter what! Betting money of politicians involved in this cruel ‘sport’.” Such people wrote columns and made petitions to stop the bursting of crackers beyond restricted hours during the most important Hindu festival, Deepavali, but none of them made similar petitions against bursting of crackers on New Year’s Eve. We did not hear a squeak in the name of environment from our liberal brethren against the uprooting of millions of Christmas trees across the world while there was a high-decibel opposition to the immersion of Ganesha and Durga idols during the respective festivals. The duplicity in their stand and activism only points to vested interests.

This disdain for all things Hindu, has now moved beyond the domain of social activism, into policy-making. Let me cite an example. The river Cauvery is the lifeline of farmers in Karnataka. Every year, on a particular day at a particular time, which is predicted using Hindu astrological calculations, she springs forth at Talacauvery, in Kodagu district. Thousands witness the theerthodhbhava, and Hindu priests welcome Mother Cauvery with puja and hymns. The state government makes special arrangements for tourists on this occasion. As a ritual, every year, the Chief Minister offers a ‘baagina’ (a traditional offering made to goddesses and women during festivals) to Mother Cauvery, a tradition that was followed by the Kings of Mysore. Despite such rich traditions, which are followed from times immemorial, the Karnataka state government led by Mr. Siddaramaiah has proposed an anti-superstition bill that aims to curb superstitions such as astrology and ‘blind faith’; a move that is seen as an attempt to target Hindu customs and traditions, which are painted as superstitions by liberal society. While minorities have specific rights to protect their culture in India, there is a consistent onslaught on Hindu culture by all and sundry – national and international entities, liberal Hindus and even governments of a certain hue and color.


In India, Christianity first arrived in Kerala in 1st Century AD and interestingly, Islam also arrived first on the shores of Malabar in 7th Century AD. So well integrated are these two religions in Kerala’s social and cultural fabric that in Sabarimala, devotees have to visit the mosque of Vavar before proceeding for a darshan of Lord Ayyappa. Devotees have to observe certain dietary rules and daily rituals for forty days before visiting the shrine. Women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not allowed in the shrine. But, women are allowed in all other Ayyappa temples; in fact, there are no restrictions for women in any other temples. Due to the said restriction, all of a sudden, the allegations of discrimination against women at Sabarimala have reached a din because a few women have chosen to represent millions of women.


Interestingly, those millions have no problem with existing customs at the Sabarimala shrine. What these women activists have failed to factor is that Kerala is a matriarchal society; that women have a superior status socially and therefore, the allegations of discrimination sound hollow. For every Sabarimala, there is a Melmarvathur temple, a Mannarasala or Pongala ritual, where women can perform poojas or are primary participants in the temple rituals. Should then men fight for a space in these temples by raising a similar argument for equality? The only outcome of such activism is that the sentiments of the truly religious are hurt while the ones indulging in activism may find it superstitious to even step into a temple.


Activists fighting against discrimination should have no qualms fighting for rights of women, irrespective of caste or community. But, it is disheartening that not many activists will dare fight for the rights of Muslim women to worship alongside men in mosques. Nor have they stood in support of 70,000 Muslim women, who recently petitioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to criminalize polygamy and triple talaq and to ensure equal succession & inheritance laws for women in their community. In fact, boisterous, misplaced activism of the Sabarimala sort will receive much support and admiration if the fight was for education, sanitation and economic empowerment of women belonging to all rungs and segments of society. Again the perturbing question presents itself – why is India being targeted and specifically, why are Hindus soft targets?

What gives a small group of people with seemingly vested interests, the right to speak on behalf of the large majority without seeking their views on such matters? Is the Hindu sentiment terribly unimportant or is there a deliberate attempt to obliterate whatever is native to India. The answer is an affirmative to both and there is much more than meets the eye, it appears. While so called modernity plays havoc socially, culturally and economically on the lives of those that are closely linked to native culture and tradition – such as tribals , nomads, artisans, rural folk –, other harmful blows are being dealt on the entire nation by the growing aggression of one religion and by growing proselytization of another. It is an irony that Hindus feel more and more constrained for space in every domain; that they feel threatened and defensive about their identity and freedom, which is challenged every day; even though, demographically they constitute approximately eighty percent of the population.

Will a Uniform Civil Code help solve these imbalances? It might. But, the problem needs to be addressed not just at the political level. It needs to be addressed at a social, economic and individual level too. Hindus have chosen neither to organize themselves nor to respond swiftly and boldly against attacks on their way of life. Their laid-back excuse is that our ancient civilization has survived despite centuries of foreign invasions, cultural onslaughts by invaders, mass conversions by the sword, economic and political subjugation etc. A much-celebrated freedom movement that laid too much focus on meekness and an education system designed by colonial masters with the purpose of making mere clerks out of Indians, have only made this laid-back nature, a part of the Hindu DNA. Even if people recognize that a problem exists, they wait for knights in shining armor or the political establishment to rescue them. Meanwhile, the slow but sure elimination of all that forms the foundation of our ancient civilization, is already in progress – our customs, attire, language, rituals, festivals, art forms, to name but a few, are all dying. Today, our country has become a burial ground for all things ‘Hindu’. An immediate and concerted effort at organizing and forcefully putting forth ideas and plans of action to protect and preserve our identity, can perhaps save the day.

Raising the issues of discrimination and abuse in spaces where none exist, is a desperate bid to keep alive the bogey of intolerance which was started by the liberal brigade with the backing of the so-called secular political parties of India. With the successful hype of Dadri, which brought international infamy to Indian credentials of tolerance, there can be no better cause than animal rights and women’s rights to further the debate on India’s intolerance at international forums and to bring disrepute to a popularly elected Government at the Centre.
But, will India see through this multi-dimensional problem that is out to destabilize her very being and will she be able to address it before it is too late. Unless, the Hindu chooses strength over weakness, action over complacence, unity over discord, he might as well bid goodbye to the plurality and the idea of India.

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