In the last few weeks, Pramod Muthalik, head of a group called Rashtriya Hindu Sena from Mangalore, was suddenly shot into fame because of his antics which resemble Taliban style of imposing morals onto others. Everyday Times of India (TOI) covered the topic as if it is the burning issue of the day. Keeping aside the whole charade of how TOI ganged up on him, I do believe it is the burning issue of the day – not the Valentine’s Day, not its celebration or its opposition, but the way certain people take up the role of defenders of the faith and go about instructing and teaching others their moral values – opposition to Valentine’s day is just a symptom of something more sinister and insidious that is lurking in the minds of Indians nowadays.
Either it is protests against MF Husain’s paintings, or against Sania Mirza’s feet next to Indian Flag, there are many Indians who feel ‘offended’ by what others do. Not only that. They are offended by what others do in private, and what others think in private. That is the exact essence of Taliban – we will not allow you do forbidden, voice forbidden, and think forbidden, and we will stop you with all force, all in the name of a greater cause.
Many people dismiss Muthalik and his supporters and many other sister organization’s antics as fringe groups who are trying to get the limelight. They opine that one should just ignore such antics and that is the best way to fight them. Do I think the same? Not really.
Irrationality that decides to indoctrinate others and impose onto others is as dangerous as terrorism and corruption and other evils we decided to fight. There is a grave danger, always present, that we will go back to being irrational, that Age of Darkness can once again sweep over all of us. Muthalik is just one element who has decided to spearhead the campaign of that irrationality.
There are many Indians, ordinary Indians, well-educated Indians, those who have gone to top schools and work at top companies, who sympathize with Muthalik’s views, not necessarily his actions. So we get to what I call ‘agree in principle - disagree in action’ phenomenon.
Recently I was talking to a middle aged gentleman in the IT industry. While talking about Muthalik and his Rashtriya Hindu Sena, he said that media is unnecessarily giving publicity to these goons. He said that for a very long time now we were doing such things, harassing and whisking off couples holding hands or sitting together in parks to get them married forcefully. ‘So why all the fuss now?’ was his reaction.
Then he went on to say that we should all stay away from this media jingoism and think about ‘Indian Culture’. He said that Valentine’s Day is not an ‘Indian’ thing. What Muthalik and other outfits are doing is trying to fight the westernization sweeping over India in order to preserve our culture, which is a ‘good’ thing. He agreed with such elements in principle, but definitely condemned their actions. He said they have no right to go over there, drag women out and strip them off their clothing. He said it is not an Indian thing to insult and strip a woman like that. But then he ‘reasoned’ and ‘understood’ why Muthalik and his Sena had to resort to such things. He said, ‘Look! This whole Valentine things was become commercialized. Love should not be commercialized. Also, young women and men are concentrating on wrong things – going to pubs at late night is not our culture. Marriage as an institution is losing its sacredness’.
What is ironic is that this middle aged man was sipping tea, which he may not know was something that is not ‘Indian’ since British imposed it onto us. He was wearing a watch, which is once again an imposition of the West onto innocent Indians who were timing their activities looking at the all-natural Sun. He was wearing trousers and shirt, which is once again an imposition of the West onto the dhoti wearing Indians. The list goes on.
There are many Indians who are concerned about Indian culture. They do not agree that Valentine’s Day is an ‘Indian’ thing. They think it is something imposed onto them by the West. It doesn’t stop with Valentine’s Day. Some ardent Hindus of some fanatical breed do not celebrate New Year’s Day saying that our native new year starts on Ugaadi.
There are many people in Andhra region of Andhra Pradesh who do not celebrate Holi. The same people when living in regions where Holi is celebrated do not participate in it, saying it is an artificial thing imposed onto them by the North. While we were flying kites in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, some Muslim families forbade their kids from joining us calling the whole kite flying non-Muslim. The funny thing is that only the educated and middle class families thought in such Muslim and non-Muslim terms whereas the lower classes allowed their kids to fly kites not giving the whole thing even a thought.
India is reeling under a wave of irrationality; this time it is not out of ignorance, but because of exposure, and education that is not based in scientific thinking, rationale or reason, but something that is rooted in superstition, sophistry, and religious blind belief. Education is not always scientific – it can be used to enhance and increase stupidity and pseudo-science – through a process known as ‘dumbing down’.
Media and newspapers which do a good job of exposing Indians to the outside world put a filter when presenting it to them – they put the filter of magic, of blind belief, that of fear. They perpetuate our prejudices. They report alien abductions as science, idols drinking milk as a miracle, always leaving it ambiguous enough for saints, sadhus, and pseudoscience adherents to follow up with a metaphysical or supernatural explanation. They present technological advances made in medicine or engineering as magic or a miracle instead of explaining it as simple and explainable beauty of science.
There is a big section of Hindu community, similar to New Age groups of the West, who actually find a fantastic explanation more interesting than a scientific explanation. Indian Culture is defended using similar fantastic stories. Their arguments sound sophisticated, the reasoning almost sounds reasonable, the words and sentences are all borrowed from science and modern thinking, but the essence is that of Taliban.
Yedyurappa, CM of Karnataka, defended Muthalik’s actions saying ‘Nowadays it has become a crime to support religion and patriotism’. Many Indians have lot of problem with lot of things that are alien to their lifestyle. It is true with many cultures, not just Indians. Most cultures are xenophobic.
What is a bigger problem is not that we have problems with others cultures, other people and other ideas, but that we want to impose our ideas of morality onto everyone, forcing them into submission, gutting it down the throats of others, branding others with our mark, kicking them up, mauling them up, and if needed stripping them off their clothes, all in the name of defending our culture – which is a glorious thing to do – something like getting martyrdom in Taliban style of functioning.