Namaste from Kerala in India,
India today is experiencing ructions and protests which are probably the biggest since Partition. Trouble is brewing. The big heading in The Deccan Chronicle one day last week was “India’s Culture Wars”. This is no isolated cry in the wilderness. To put it mildly, it’s the talk of the town.
eroded by stealth
Things erupted in a flashpoint arrest of a student leader in Delhi about three weeks ago but things have been seething here for a few years now (probably since the election of the Modi government). The cultural diversity heralded so famously by Gandhi and underpinning their existence since independence is being eroded by stealth rather than by deliberate policy. An acquiescent Narendra Modi is squarely in the frame.
Muslims are a minority in India, even though there are more here than in Bangladesh. Jains, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs form sizeable minorities but Hindus are in the majority in a country where religion plays a big part in daily life. When a Muslim man was beaten to death after he was accused of storing beef for his family’s consumption, Modi was silent on the topic for a long time. (It turns out the man had goat meat in the refrigerator.) Other similarly egregious incidents have also gone unchecked, heralding some doubts about official faith in the diversity.
Recently, things have exploded with the arrest and detention of a Students’ Union president in Delhi. He is currently detained in prison on a charge of sedition. The police claim he has been publishing and authorising anti-nationalist material. Apparently, he was speaking at a rally and encouraged people to ask questions about officialdom and the orthodoxy. He also encouraged people to question the mantras which pass for official doctrine on nationalist themes.
“a divisive and vicious theatre of war”
The scenes in the days immediately after the arrest have been fairly harrowing, and worrying. Journalist Patralekha Chatterjee stated that “the country has become a divisive and vicious theatre of war”.
Just when the people – especially the intelligentsia – have become very worried about the future of the nation, they have turned to their government for assurance and guidance. Instead Narendra Modi seems to be indifferent and more interested in boosting business opportunities. He has authorised the university to fly more national flags and required students involved in the fracas to chant nationalist slogans (to prove their nationalist allegiance). This is not a good sign for historians and humanists alike who know all about nationalism and scoundrels and last refuges.
This is another reason why India will need to be careful of unfettered growth and development; throwing the cute baby out with the sullied bath water will wreck the nation and deter foreign tourists in one fell swoop.
Linda and I have done our bit to preserve some of the Indian traditional culture – by immersing ourselves in it – along with our bit to enhance the economy – by spending wildly at every fabric and dress shop, but both of us value the right to speak up, the right to freedom of speech and the right to dissent more than the right to make profit. We hope India’s culture wars don’t ruin what is one of humanity’s wonders.
Kanam from Kerala