The political cover fire being given to the rioters who pelted stones by criticising the processions of Ram Navmi is a testament to the new normal of attacking Hindu festivals and festivities. A scattered but strategic attack is underway, for a few years now, to dilute the cultural importance of Hindu festivals through bureaucratic restrictions, judicial interference, educational dishonesty, pseudo-intellectuaisation, and most recently, violence.
By Tushar Gupta
Thus, every year on Diwali, the biggest festival for Hindus across the world, a ban on crackers, beginning with the national capital, is ushered. Even though the smog pollution can be attributed to the stubble burning in Punjab, now under the governance of Aam Aadmi Party, do expect another diktat on crackers later this year as the festivities draw closer. Not just Diwali, but even during Dussehra, environmentalists, who would have a much greater carbon footprint than an average Indian, make a case for effigies to be burned without crackers. As was the case in 2021, the argument of pollution was leveraged to rob the festival of sounds and fun.
Karva Chauth, another festival, has been on the target of pseudo-intellectuals for long, so long that the people began to see right through the charade being peddled. Yet, a repeated attempt is made to colour the festival, dear to many women and families, as against gender equality.
On Holi, all the water conservationists wake up. Of all festivals, Holi does represent the consequences of allowing one’s festivals to be attacked. Thanks to the education in schools where Santa Claus is still a legend for every winter break, more and more young Hindus find themselves disconnected from the festival of Holi. Compare the celebrations from the 1990s to today, and one would witness a stark difference. The festival, in many urban pockets, is at the brink of being lost.
Last year, even Ganesh Puja was not spared. While the pandemic resulted in specific set of instructions, the bureaucratic courtesy of which was only extended to Hindus, there were diktats on how tall the idols must be. Perhaps, the R-number of the virus was going to depend on the measurement of the idols during the puja. Similar diktat was then extended to Durga Puja pandals. The list goes on. The attacks go on.
There is a cultural consequence to these scattered attacks. Festivals, when viewed from a political lens, ensure cultural assertion. The route to political consolidation, in today’s times, passes through cultural assertion for all religions.
For Hindus, a divided house, historically, this cultural assertion and collaboration rings bells of alarm amongst the political opposition, and hence, these attacks are often endorsed, as witnessed in Delhi and some Congress-ruled states. A mention must be made of the toolkit that surfaced last year. Amongst the many political agendas it made note of, there was also the task of branding the Kumbh Mela in Uttarkhand, another holy gathering of Hindus, as a superspreader event while giving a clean chit to the protesting farmers.
There is also an inevitable impact on young Hindu minds. Beyond the politics, the tryst with one’s religion, at a tender age, begins with festivals. Today, if the children are robbed of the fun we had, or our parents had, during the festivals, they would only grow up to further dilute the festivities, by no fault of their own. This is precisely how Holi was lost to environmental lecturing over the course of last generation, at least in urban pockets. Similar fate awaits Diwali and Dussehra if the attacks are not countered. The issues do appear trivial in the larger scheme of things, but on a cultural level, they have long-term implications.
There is the question of festival economy as well. Given there is an entire ecosystem employed to defend the existence of halal economy, it is almost appalling that there is a lack of Hindu lobbies speaking on behalf of the workers in Sivakasi, for instance, where the industry has suffered due to the cracker ban. There is an elaborate local economy that relies heavily on festivals, and many of the traders see these festivals as a window to ensure annual profits. Today, all of them are under threat.
The government must arrest this development. For a government that is routinely branded as a Hindu Nationalist force by the Western media and other liberal outlets, it is time for it to own the tag and wear it as a badge of honour, for there is nothing wrong about being a Hindu who is devoted to one’s country.
The government must encourage celebrations at a local level, ensure economic opportunities are created around these festivals, and the judicial overreach is countered. Obtaining permission of authorities for even the trivial details for the observance of festivals is not the right precedent for the future of Hindus and Hinduism.
This article first appeared in www.swarajyamag.com and it belongs to them.