Smrita Irani, Minister for HRD, in her speech in Lok Sabha, while referring to a pamphlet on Mahishasur Martyrdom Day that described Goddess Durga as ‘sex worker’, asks, ‘Is this freedom of speech?’
She then asks, ‘What is this depraved mentality?’
She believes that a group which celebrates Mahishasur, and describes Goddess Durga as ‘sex worker’ is mentally depraved and she believes such a group should NOT be allowed to express their opinion. She questions everyone else who is supporting JNU students: ‘Freedom of speech, ladies and gentleman. Who wants to have this discussion…? I want to know.’
This is where Hindutva gets it wrong. Not only do they do not understand the concept of India, they fail quite miserably when they try to define Hinduism for all of us. Each time they try to bring a new section of Hindus into their fold enforcing conformance in their definition of Hinduism, they alienate some other section of Hindus.
Smriti Irani is bang on in reflecting the true prejudices of Hindutva proponents when she accuses the group identities that have distributed the pamphlets, in her own words, “SC, ST and minority” students of JNU. Isn’t this the same allegation levelled against Hindutva groups? That they are against the interests of SC, ST and minorities in this country?
The version of Hinduism espoused and promoted by Hindutva brigade is that of Brahmanical North Indian Upper Caste version, and each time they try to impose it onto all Hindus, they alienate SC, ST, lower caste, and South Indian sections of Hinduism.
Establishing Hindu Rashtra involves not only establishing the primacy of Hindu identity as the only legitimate identity in India, but it also includes establishing the superiority of twice-born castes, establishing primacy of Hindi as national language, and conforming to the singular definition of Hindu Gods and mythology.
And this is where Hindutva runs into problems.
While establishing Hindu identity as the primary identity for India, it alienates other religious identities, like Muslims and Christians. While establishing the superiority of twice-born castes as the caretakers of the Hindu religion, it alienates lower castes, SC and ST. While establishing Hindi as national language, it alienates Dravidian states of South India. And in trying to conform Hinduism to only certain mainstream gods, it alienates various Hindu groups that do not necessarily pray to the prescribed mainstream gods.
There are many versions for Hindu mythologies. Ramayana itself has many versions, wherein some versions glorify the role of Ravana while some others completely demonize him. As a result, Dravidian movement witnessed a brief period where Ravana was deified. In fact, even today, there are some temples dedicated to Ravana. So, unlike what the pious TV-watching Indian middle class believes after watching the sugary Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayana, there are certain sections of Hindus who do not necessarily believe in mainstream version of Ramayana, and may want to pray to Ravana.
That’s the beauty of Hinduism, which the proponents of HIndutva want to destroy: This diversity in choice of gods, this diversity in various versions of mythology. Threat to Hinduism comes from Hindutva groups, the same group which monopolizes on being its caretakers and security guards.
Mahishasur may be a demon and evil-incarnate to most Hindus, but that does not preclude the possibility that some minority section may want to pray to him. Looks like indeed the case.
In that version, where Mahishasur is the hero for local population, the Lady Durga could be the arch-villain, and in their version of mythology, she may as well be described as ‘sex-worker’. Such an alternate belief system is considered an alternate view of the mythology.
Indeed it is a sad state of affairs when Madame Smriti Irani thinks that the only version she knows is the true version of Indian mythology terming all alternate versions as product of ‘depraved mentality’. That is the exact problem of Hindutva. They want to define it for all of us, who is the correct god? What is the correct version of Hinduism? What is prescribed lifestyle? What is the prescribed moral values? What is the prescribed form of nationalism? What is the definition of true Indian? And so on.
She asks rhetorically, ‘Is this freedom of expression?’
Let me answer that question:
Yes, indeed it is.
I have the freedom to choose my god from the pantheon of Indian gods, which run into 330 Million. I may choose to pray to the little plant in my backyard, or pray to a monkey, or a snake. I could pray to a rat or I could pray to Ravan or Mahishasur. And in my version of mythology, it could be Sita tempting Ravana into doing evil things, or it could be that Lady Durga is a sex-worker employed to kill Mahishasur. When mythology is imaginary, why can’t one group imagine an alternate mythology? Why should mythology be legalized?
Then she quotes a Roman philosopher. In one grand sweeping statement, she equates these SC/ST/Minority students as ‘traitors’, calling them worse than murderers, who are rotting the soul of the nation.
Today, the Hindutva brigade considers everyone who does not subscribe to their version of Brahmanical North Indian Upper Caste version of Hinduism as traitors and murderers. They want to charge them with sedition and put them behind bars. If needed they want to doctor the videos to set up the charges against them. All this is done in the name of patriotism and nationalism, where the true patriots and true nationalists are the Hindus, not just ordinary Hindus, but the rabid ones, those who conform to the definitions laid out by the Hindutva brigades.
Do we need to fear such a trend?
This is the not first time such a trend has taken place on this planet. In the early 1900s most of Western Europe was reeling under the wave of nationalism and fascism that spread across various countries, where nationalism was monopolized, and where patriotism became intoxicating. First, imaginary enemies were created, the rights of citizens were surrendered, and the freedoms were expropriated. It culminated in persecution, ostracism, discrimination of large populations and eventually the Holocaust.