If Rip Van Winkle woke up in India today, he could be excused for mistaking it to be Pakistan; spotting blasphemy has become the latest sport in this country. A vocal minority, with the tacit backing of the regime, is reading insult to religion in everything, from literature to cinema to commercials. Last week, BJP MP Tejasvi Surya took exception to clothing company Fabindia’s use of an Urdu phrase, ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’, which translates as ‘the celebration of tradition’, for its line of Diwali apparel. This was enough for it to be accused of deliberately Abrahamising Hindu festivals and a call went out for boycotting the brand. The BJP’s troll army got into the act, targeting the ad for hurting the sentiments of the Hindus and for ‘damaging the Hindu festival of Diwali’.
Now, it does not matter to these people that Urdu -- an Indic language closely related to Hindi but written in the Persian script and having many loanwords from Persian and Arabic -- is one of our officially recognised languages. If the Suryas of the world were to ban Urdu from Bollywood, some of its most memorable lines would be unrecognisable: ‘Mogambo prasann hua; Kitne vyakti thay?; Don ko pakadna kathin he nahin, asambhav hai; Ye sansaar, ye sammelan mere kaam ka nahin...
Not only is the MP’s grouse against the Urdu phrase manufactured, his objection to the clothes worn by the models as not being ‘traditional Hindu attires’ is ludicrous: three of them are in saris, one in a salwar-kameez, and one in kurta-pyjama. It may be recalled here that Surya is the same man whose tweet – ‘Terror has no religion. But the terrorist definitely has a religion, and in most cases, it’s Islam’ – was deemed so inflammatory by his own government last year that it got Twitter to block it.
Fabindia capitulated, just like Tanishq had last year. The Tata-owned jewellery brand pulled out a beautiful ad that depicted an inter-faith baby shower after Hindutva supporters outraged against the commercial on social media for allegedly promoting ‘love jihad’. Tanishq even issued an apology for hurting ‘public sentiments’. Of late, several other brands, including Zomato, Unilever and Manyavar and have faced similar backlash. The Manyavar ad had actor Alia Bhatt playing a bride and critiquing the idea of ‘kanyadaan’; questioning why daughters are considered ‘paraya dhan’.
Now, another BJP MP, Anantkumar Hegde has targeted tyre company Ceat, objecting to its ad featuring actor Aamir Khan. According to him, the ad which has the actor advising people not to light firecrackers on the street could create ‘unrest among Hindus’. Hegde asked the company to address the problems faced by people on roads by ‘namaz and other festive days by Muslims’.
Such sectarian campaigns run contrary to the composite culture of the country and are a manifestation of the misplaced ideology of the late RSS leader M S Golwalkar who believed that the “non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture...”
The ‘religious sentiments’ ruse is part of the divisive politics being practised in our country. The majority community is being constantly fed the lie that their beliefs are being mocked in the name of secularism, that anyone can take liberties with their religion, that Hinduism is in danger. The tactics of the Hindutva mob is simple: Raise a social media storm, amplify it using a pliant media, file FIRs across the country, create a ruckus outside cinema halls, shops, offices, homes and the other side will give in, as the judiciary too has been ambivalent on the issue.
The silent majority must now step in and say that such shenanigans hurt their pride in Hinduism as a tolerant religion.
The way religion has been weaponised to suit political ends is insulting for anyone who calls himself a Hindu in the soul-searching tradition of the great rishis. On the one hand, India uses atomic fission to generate energy and is a proud member of the elite nuclear club and on the other hand, a political party in the land of Buddha and Gandhi uses negative energy from societal fission to propel itself to power. It is time to ask how someone sold the majority community the idea that a religion that has withstood the onslaught of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity is in danger of losing its identity. Hinduism is not in danger but the economy is, our democracy is, our jobs are.
Are we blind to the havoc created by civil strife and religious fundamentalism in our neighbourhood? Look at Pakistan’s GDP which is a fraction of India’s, look at the way it is in the grip of China, look at the lack of religious freedom there, look at the status of its women... Why then are we hell-bent on becoming a mirror image of that failed state? Will slogans such as Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan take us anywhere but to ‘kabristan’?