Saffron hegemony due to lack of education on diverse practices

By Nazish Hussain for,

Over the last two years the topics of debate in the India’s public sphere have been on the issues of ‘Gau Mata’, ‘Bharat Mata’, ‘Indian culture’ and on ‘nationalism’. We have also witnessed the surge of incidents and controversies around these ideas after 2014. But is it that only after 2014, these ideas came into being? It is worth pondering upon that why are these ideas of Bharat mata or Gau mata are so dominant and flares up the mood of right wings and also so called secular parties equally. How do these ideas become so prevalent and why are they expected to be unanimously accepted? How does denial or dissent makes it the very act of shame and renders the person anti national and vulnerable to attacks?

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If I travel down my memory lane, I learned about this ‘patriotic ‘idea’ of ‘Bharat mata’, ‘Gau mata’ with the idea of India to be a secular state in my CBSE Board School. Writing essays on cow and chanting Bharat mata ki jai during Independence Day celebration. While memorizing the benefits of cow and glorifying ‘Bharat mata’, we were never taught that cow; apart of giving us milk also gives us meat, which is consumed by India’s indigenous, native people like Dalits, Muslims, Christians. This idea was never taught. We were never taught that ‘Bharat mata’ might not be ‘mata’ for all Indians and ‘worshiping’ a personified political should not be considered as benchmark of patriotism.

So, it is not so surprising to see the right wing and so called seculars come together as patriots against the surrogate ‘others’ (Muslims) for not glorifying the so called mother goddess. Let’s not discuss why a Muslim won’t say Bharat Mata ki Jai rather, how does ‘Bharat mata’ becomes the benchmark for patriotism in secular India? The traces for the acceptability of such benchmarks go back to the academic discourses in the schools of India. The ideas of Bharat Mata or Gau Mata are embedded in the minds of crores of school children. This mentality takes these images to be of India’s and not of one religious community of India. Acceptance of single culture as ‘Indian culture’ gets done through the educational apparatus.

Demonization of ‘others’ in the history books has been done blatantly while portraying ‘Hindu kings’ as ‘national’ heroes and others to be the invaders/ villains of the history. The chivalry and bravery of the Hindu kings is used to invoke the patriotism among people while showing the struggle to be against the medieval Muslim rulers. Instead of studying history and trying to understand its politics pertaining to that time, it is portrayed as a myth. As Professor Audrey Truschke’s work reads,” It is High Time to Discard the Pernicious Myth of India’s Medieval Muslim ‘Villains’”. The nationalism invoked through ‘myths’ that instills in every child creates a wrong perception which begets social chasm and hatred for others.

The renaming of Aurangzeb road after India’s 11th president A.P.J Abdul Kalam Azad in Delhi is quite evident of the government’s ideology. Along the name of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb the Urdu language was also wiped out from the sign boards. But let’s not miss out the compliance of the liberal/secular Delhi government (AAP) in categorizing good Muslims acceptable by right wings, seculars and the bad Muslims who must be demonized and lynched in academic discourses and wiped out from India’s public sphere. Similarly in Maharashtra assembly, the suspension of a Muslim MLA by BJP and congress, who refused to comply with their idea of patriotism; exposes their complicity against ‘others’.

These already dominant images have been politicized in the form of ‘Ram Mandir’, ‘Ghar Wapsi’ or ‘Love Jihad’ by the right wing party of India. The politicized cow or the personified mata are pitted against ‘others ‘and shown in a dire need to be protected and saved. Their safety is guaranteed by hanging and lynching Muslims by the Hindutva mob.

The RSS ideologue who have been active in communalization and polarization of society; whose idea of national flag has been Bhagwa (Saffron) and not the Tri Color, have sought out a way to ‘Indianize’ Muslims on the slogan of ‘Bharat mata ki jai’.

The hegemony of one group becomes homogenized and accepted while the resistance to this hegemony becomes problematic and poses a threat to the Saffron idea of ‘India’ and renders a person ‘anti national’.

The solution to this lies in living the idea of multi cultural India. Formation of pluralistic society can be achieved by shifting the attitude of “tolerant majority” from seeing diversity as “others” or as “problem”. The so called seculars who are convinced of their own tolerance might need a reality check. Educational efforts are needed to change public consciousness of the alternative reading of culture, religion and ideas of nationalism. More democratized public spaces and media spaces are needed.

However, throughout these debates people have been urged to show tolerance but, I think why not acceptance?

(Author is a post graduate in mass Communication and journalism. She is presently working as a freelancer)