Bharatiya Yuva Morcha chief and Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya recently kicked off a controversy over a Fabindia advertisement for its festive collection, which featured the term Jashn-e-Riwaz. Jashn is a celebration/festival, and riwaz means tradition. Surya took umbrage at this tagline, calling it Abrahamisation of Hindu festivals.
To be consistent, he should condemn Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose for showing the temerity to name the army he recruited to fight for India’s freedom as Azad Hind Fauj. He did not call it Swatantra Bharat Sena in Hindi. He called it by its Hindustani name and wrote the name in the Perso-Arabic script.
Why don’t the worthies of the Bharatiya Yuva Morcha take out a protest march against Netaji and his attempted Abrahamisation of Indian freedom?
If to look at Bose, Surya would have to crane his neck, even after standing on top of a Fabindia table, he could drop that effort and look at himself. Or rather, look at that morcha in the name of his own organisation a little more closely. Where does morcha come from? Look up the word in a Hindi dictionary, and you would find that the word is derived from Persian. Ouch!
We occasionally see the young MP dressed in stylish kurtas, perhaps sourced from Fabindia. The kurta itself is a central Asian contribution to Indian culture. In fact, Indians draped unstitched clothing around themselves in various styles. Stitched clothes represent contamination of Indian culture, from the austere standards of nativist purity Surya’s criticism espouses.
What about our food? Should we abjure influences introduced by the Catholic Portuguese and the Protestant English? Both of them, after all, follow the tradition of Abraham. Rid our food of potatoes, onions and our beloved chillis? All of them came into circulation after being imported by the Abrahamites from the Americas.
What about alien influences like democracy and the notion of equality and citizenship? Should we go back to the Manusmriti norms of worshipping the Brahmin, described by Manu as the Lord of all Creation, and declare that women deserve no autonomy, considering that they are protected in childhood by the father, by the husband in their youth and by the son in their old age? Surya’s fellow partyman and minister in Karnataka had to wriggle his way out of a position he almost adopted, criticising the modern woman’s lack of enthusiasm for bearing children, that a woman’s primary job is to breed.
Should Carnatic music be rescued from the wiles of the violin and the clarinet? Should we beat all traces of Tansen’s legacy out of the tabla, beat all tablas till they break and replace them with the mridangam? What do we do with the santoor?
Should schools in India stop teaching algebra, developed by Christian Europeans from the works of al-Jibr, a Muslim? Even more fundamentally, should they stop teaching English altogether, the primary vehicle of western ideology to enter the heads of Indian children? History is, in any case, being re-written, to make Rana Pratap victorious at the battle of Haldighatti, belittle Gandhi and the Congress while discovering nationalistic virtues in Gandhi’s assassin and his co-conspirators, including Savarkar.
Should the city of Bangalore be swept clean of the products of Abrahamite civilisational pollution, such as computers, software and information technology-enabled services? And of western artefacts such as sewers and sewage treatment? Should we retool the healthcare system to get rid of anything that Susruta or Charaka did not describe?
Should we let go of coffee, originally from Ethiopia, full of Coptic Christians and Muslims, and tea, brought to India by the British from China?
How should Surya react to people who sport names like Shah? Call them arch Abrahamisers of unlimited (Amit) Indianness? What about that bit of wanton Abrahamisation at the apex of Surya’s political project?. ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai”. Mumkin?! Why not an unadulterated, simple ‘susadhya’ or ‘saral’?
It is high time politicians like Surya understood that the expanse of lands and peoples from the Persian Gulf in the West to the archipelago that is Indonesia in the East bears the stamp of Indian civilisation and culture, that cultural exchange is never a one-way street and that just as military honours in Indonesia are crafted in Sanskrit, many terms of administration, celebration, romance and tradition in India are sourced from Persian – and that is perfectly fine.
People migrate and mingle, conquer, rebel and flee, taking their culture along with them, with incessant give and take over time and space. This is how, from a corner of eastern Africa, humankind has migrated over 200,000 years to occupy all corners of the world, evolving unique cultures and then enriching them with cross-pollination from others when they met.
Unlike monotheistic faiths and their followers, polytheistic Hindus are better placed to accept other religions and their followers as entirely legitimate in their way of existence. All religions seek the same spiritual equilibrium, even if they follow different paths — this has been India’s tradition, articulated by Vivekananda when he observed that all rivers flow to the same ocean, even if they vend their different ways.
God’s chosen people being distinct from others and those who follow a faith other than one’s own being in the wrong are notions intrinsic to monotheistic religions. Hindus have traditionally seen deviance not in theology but in the transgression of caste boundaries. Democracy calls for eradication of notions of deviance on grounds of either faith or social hierarchy. All those who seek to reinforce notions of such deviance are enemies of democracy. Further, by injecting intolerance of other faiths among Hindus, cultural nationalists like Surya are guilty of the very semitisation of which they accuse others.
“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” That is Gandhi. The qualification that needs to be added is that the edifice in question does not exist as a readymade construct, but has to be built anew with blocks of liberty and freedom, cemented with democracy.