Restoring Hindutva: Lift the Trident!

 

Imagine riotous groups of men, clad in the Hindu ritualistic color of saffron, carrying tridents in hands. Imagine their faces wrought with anger and a purpose fuelled by collective emotions as each individual assumes his role of Lord Shiva- the destroyer in Hindu Mythology.

 

Who are they? What are they trying to establish?

 

They are trying to address a deviation from and a potential threat to their heritage- their current ideology of Indian Culture. An ideology that is looked at solely through the “mnemonic lens” [1] of their latest reinterpretation of “Hindutva” , a Hindu way of life.

 

They could have been rushing to “return to their origin” [2] by demolishing the Babri Masjid- a mosque claimed by Hindu extremist leaders to have been built at a significant Hindu site; they could have been socialized [1] to avenge the loss of their brothers in a communal strife, or in this case, they could have been going to restore order,to cope with their “sentiment of loss and displacement” [2] by reclaiming Hindu women from their Muslim lovers, their attempt at going closer to their “lost home” [2].

 

These images were redrawn into my mind by a disturbing news article: ““Love jihad”—the Sangh Parivar’s sexual politics by another name” [3] The readings helped me articulate my thoughts as I tried to explore the reasoning behind political and religious manifestations of Nostalgia for Hinduism in India. I must confess, my thoughts are not mine alone, they are formed through personal experience but also result from an exposure to alternate forms of thinking through a variety of media inputs.

 

“Love Jihad”, a term coined in 2009 in the state of Karnataka [3], India, is a “conspiracy theory”  [2] claimed by the upholders and self proclaimed preservers of Hindutva in India. According to political parties such as the Shiv Sena (Lord Shiva’s force) or the Sangh Parivar (Hindu Nationalist Family) there is a new form of Jihad- coerced conversion being practised by followers of Islam, in the smaller towns of North and South India, through marrying and converting Hindu women to Islam.

 

Whether or not these marriages were through adult consent, and irrespective of the lack of evidence for such exaggerated claims and myths, the Shiv Sena has decided to introduce a special force of its men called “Love Trishul” (Love Trident) [4] for bringing these women back to their households and shaming or punishing the Muslim men who dared to practice this form of love or invasion.

 

This reminds me of the abduction of Lord Rama’s wife Sita by the demon King Ravana and the deployment of a force for her retrieval to her rightful place in Hindu patriarchy. Time and again, select concepts (unfortunately strongly conservative and newly ritualized [1]) and symbols of Hindutva have been appropriated by religious and political leaders as well as families and individuals for restoring their perception of the true Indian culture, reducing their “memorial signs to a single plot” [2], the plot to defend Hindutva, to defend family’s honour through their women’s honour (read sexuality), to defend superiority and so on.

Needless to say, deploying such rhetoric has often led to loss of rationale and violence. It is true indeed, “unreflected nostalgia breeds monsters” [2]. Be it the painful demolition of Babri Masjid and the riots that followed, or be it breaking of glass and furniture in cafes on Valentine’s Day (mythologised to be against Hindu tradition in the 21st century), the extremist preservers of Hindutva, use creative reconstruction [1] of their knowledge and hearsay to develop newer theories of “elsewhere, another time, a better life” [2]. In this case, of women who do not fall in love or marry outside of their community. As it is in Hindu tradition the woman is also a site that reflects ownership, be it the sexual symbols in the Mangalsutra (a neckpiece that the man places around her neck during marriage) or the Kamarbandh (a piece of jewellery worn around the waist) both are symbolic of his ownership of her sexuality, of the woman assuring continuity of his family. The idea of “Love Jihad” is perhaps then easier to propagate as a collective threat to continuity of Hindu lineage.

 

This apparent risk is not in isolation, different “impersonal sites” [1] are being currently focused on to instill the spirit of Hindutva. As the BJP came to power this election, India’s political scenario was one of heated debates over return to “Hindi” as official language. There have been efforts at introducing ancient Indian (read Hindu) wisdom in school text-books and further promotion of religious tourism.

 

But who agrees with these acts of intangible or tangible “heritagisation”  ? People who belong to the Hindu community, and fall prey to mnemonic devices such as popular Hindu imagery used in political campaigns or great oratory skills with references drawn from Hindu mythology. Some of these public speeches are choice lessons in how to familiarize “members with its past” as “an important part of a community’s effort to incorporate them.” [1] They could be compared with the mouse in the experiment, whose memory of the tone and associated danger was corrupted [5] A false memory is often implanted in such invocations to religious belief that leads to an ‘integration of various individual pasts into a single common past that all members of particular community come to remember collectively” [5] They might then forget the reality of their own experiences which could contradict the claims made by their leaders ascribing heritage value [5] to practices not necessarily healthy or in tune with times.

Bibliography

 

  1. B. Zerubavel, ‘Social Memories: Steps to a Sociology of the Past’ (1996) 19(3) Qualitative Sociology.

2. S. Boym, The Future of Nostalgia 2002, pp 1-56

3. Mody,Anjali.“Love jihad”—the Sangh Parivar’s sexual politics by another name  Caravanmagazine.in. Caravan magazine, 13 Sep,2014 <http://www.caravanmagazine.in/vantage/love-jihad-sangh-parivar-sexual-politics-another-name#sthash.IvKZgoJH.dpuf&gt;

4. Yadav,Ankit. “Shiv Sena forms ‘love trishul’ to counter ‘love jihad’” Timesofindia.indiatimes.com.TNN ,8 Sep,2014 <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bareilly/Shiv-Sena-forms-love-trishul-to-counter-love-jihad/articleshow/42050534.cms?intenttarget=no&utm_source=TOI_AShow_OBWidget&utm_medium=Int_Ref&utm_campaign=TOI_AShow&gt;

5. R. Harrison, ‘Heritage and the Problem of Memory’ in Heritage: Critical Approaches Routledge Press: London 2013.

6. “Memory and Forgetting” Radiolab Podcast 2007. 12 Sep, 2014. <http://www.radiolab.org/2007/jun/07/&gt;

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“Madam are you from Japan?”

“Madam are you from Japan?”

For a moment I thought he was kidding me, but unfortunately he wasn’t!

Just because I had stepped out of the airport with a friend from Manipur and distinct features, I was perceived to be Japanese by the auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi. I am not from Japan, my ancestors are not from Japan, and I do not have the physique or features that  people use as a lame excuse for nurturing  a simplistic perception of anyone from the North Eastern States of India, with least awareness of the plurality of people . I look Punjabi and even am Punjabi, this was the most incredulous comment ever, and I am still overwhelmed by the sheer ignorance that persists!

I told him I am not, that my friend though from Manipur, lives in Delhi and asked him to drop me in a residential area of Delhi, indicating that I have been to Delhi before and am not the tourist he assumes I am. But this guy was truly persistent. He tried to take me via longer route, he told me how Delhi is a great place, and then to exasperate me further, he actually pointed at India Gate and told me how it is a must watch tourist destination.

When we reached towards my destination and I guided him on the turns, he assumed it is thanks to my mobile phone and maps, and finally before leaving told me how he came this far just because I could have been cheated by other driver folks in the city.

I think somewhere the gentleman mentioned gave me the beginning of an answer to a  question another had asked around 6 months ago, “Why do we need museums?”

Buddy, you need museum to go to the anthropological section and begin to understand that the North Eastern States of India are not Japan, to start being aware, to nurture empathy, not ignorance.

Museum Studies 3- Sangrahalaya se parichaya

“So what is there worth looking at in the National Museum?” I was asked (very genuinely) by (an equally disinterested) relative of mine.

At that moment, I knew she would not have the patience to have a dialogue on this, I knew this was her attempt at closure to a series of questions she had asked before, “So What do you do?” …”Volunteer?? “….”National Museum???” …”You mean, no pay????”…”Why?????”

So I simply said, everything. But my conscience eats me up, so a longer reflection here:

I love going to the National Museum because I believe there are wonders inside those walls, there are stories that go beyond yet explain this city, this country, this world. Its another universe altogether and I am slowly becoming a part of it, as I become closer to it, I realize that  this otherness is only due to barriers in my mind, perhaps it is not separate from any of us in reality, it is a reflection of where we did begin and how we grew, in what ways, what we thought and how it still seeps in.

I believe that there is greatness in every object, sculpture, cloth, painting, book, in every form of expression duly preserved, I know it has a lot to tell. I have faith in being part of not just a tangible but an intangible heritage that belongs to all of us, each and every one of us. Every time I step in, the vastness of this heritage overwhelms me and consequently soothes me with its acceptance of my presence and curiosity.

As the International Council of Museums beautifully describes in its Code of Ethics, museums belong to entire humanity and I have as much ownership and responsibility on me as is the intrigue and fascination. This is not an artsy event, this is duty, this is a very crucial aspect of life, of growth, of making sense of existence, of finding meaning in daily life.Therefore I would willingly want to assist the museum in any which way, in the name of art, stories, culture and history, in the name of humanity!

So what is there worth looking at in the museum then? Who am I to tell you that or to qualify the museum’s collection? The entire museum is an asset for all of us, each and every thing is a gift to look at if only you believe that it is, only then will you realize how it is so, otherwise it would remain a mundane display.

This realization has also been strengthened by the inputs that we have been receiving as part of our training. I earlier used to crib that the museum is not interactive enough, it needs better display, technology and so on, but you know what, more than these gadgets and interfaces, it needs belief in the heart of the person who comes inside, it requires a change in the perception of those who look at a museum from outside and think it is boring. Of course this does not absolve the museum of its duty to reach out, to be friendly, to be open and accessible, however , solely changing the design or introducing a superficial experience will not change a social perception.

This also calls for a questioning of the kind of education we have had,  of our great misfortune in having reduced history to rote and forcing students to believe that the text-book knows it all. There is no sense of imagination, no sense of discovery, no excitement in what is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of our lives, what defines us, what makes us? We only motivate students for science, for future, for technology, where did the thought go, where did the culture, stories, the mythologies go? And as for art, I think if I hear even one more adult say, Oh I don’t understand art, I can’t draw, I will faint! Art is not about conical peaks with a river flowing from under half setting sun for God’s sake! Art is in your way of life. Have a look at the decorative arts gallery or the Arms and Armour gallery, you will find art in everything, be it playing cards or hookah or swords, be it seat or swing or shoes, it does not need to be a different subject or a different department, but this is how our education trains our mind to think, we look at world in a fragmented manner. Lets look beyond school education, why is art not a crucial aspect of our public policy? Why do our Creative Industries exist in a scattered form managed erratically by different Ministries? Why do youngsters not sit in the beautiful space at IGNCA and prefer a mall? Why do people spend a bomb to look at atrocious rendering of Rajasthani art and puppetry but know nothing about the Kathputli colony at Shadipur, Delhi? WHY?

Another relative of mine, calls my weekend time at museum “charity”, I feel it is sacrilege of the sanctity of not just the purpose of my learning at the Museum but also of what philanthropy or altruism is and seeks to do. He immediately placed me next to the trendy elitist volunteers who can be seen at various high profile events and “causes”, brother, this is not charity, this is privilege for me. I am obliged and indebted for the wealth of knowledge I receive. Why do you wish to quantify my wealth? Would you ask someone with a very high income as to what they really learn? No, you never do that, you just ask their income and have a gleam in your eyes, why don’t you ask them what they understand of the consequenses of their actions? what they think and why? You won’t, you won’t feel the need to do so, but WHY?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sangrahalya se parichaya: An introduction to Museums and Museum Studies Part 2

A quick documentation of thought bubbles erupting in the auto-rickshaw:

There is a need for change in our museums, yes, but not in seclusion. Change cannot be isolated, change has to be systemic, because things are connected in a complex interdependent fashion that naked eye does not see, but perhaps experience would teach us gradually.

Let us take a hypothetical example, though much borrowed from what surrounds in actuality, context being, a nationalised or state run museum in urban India.

You know what is worrisome? No, not the crumbling sofas, no not the lack of vitality, what is worrisome is the attitude of people towards an overarching system, a system which though created by people, has been allowed to attain such a demonic stature that it devours on any attempt at a squeaky change. Whether this change is introducing a new activity or using a different hall for meeting, there are procedures, and papers, and permissions, there is a massive loss of time and energy, and eventually interest.

But let me not get into babuism and administration issues, there is something that is even worse:

Consider this, the existence of a single narrative. Who has written the history of my nation? By the way, what did i just mean by saying “My” “Nation”? Whose perception of mainstream history is being followed? why can the subaltern not contest the big fat mainstream belief? can the museums be a space for that? will they allow questioning? of course not! the system won’t allow that!

So there is a certain narrative which incidentally is very much identical to school text books, which has been followed and will be followed until eternity. It might be spoken of with such confidence and certainty that you may not realize that you could very well look beyond that, choose not to believe it as the ultimate truth, and that is what worries me. A system where different modes of narration, be it education, media, spaces, where they are accustomed to a single tale, that system demands change from its various nodes, and not just one.

It seems almost impossible to think of any experimentation when the system in an institution is rigid. Power can also be beautiful, it can be creative, it can be empowering, but when it gets rigid, then it becomes a weakness.

I wish I could describe this better, but when in a museum people, researchers seem a little stiff, seem submissive, seem grateful at every step, it makes me wonder if there needs be more space for them to express freely, to be joyous, to be excited.

Wow, I managed to turn this into a rambling + sermon, I deserve a pat on the back.

Shall write more soon, on museums, too much learning, too much in head, too little time to document!!!

Sangrahalya se Parichaya: An introduction to Museums and Museum Studies- part 1

Needless to say I am terribly interested in understanding museums, museums as both tangible and conceptual space. Museums the display, museums the experience, museums where history comes alive, museums where stories are reborn and recreated; Museums as centre of education, museums as spaces of collaboration, museums where art lives (1), museums where audience need not just receive, but also gives;

Ah, well, yes I also dream a bit, dream of the space many of our rich museums are yet to attain, but are on their way.

This interest is definitely not recent, however, the restlessness sure is, I want to know everything about museums, their origin, their purpose, their scope today and possibilities tomorrow.

Do I sound a bit dramatic, well, what is passion sans drama!

I shall however not follow a chronological order in sharing my learning, my attempts, rather I would share whatever sticks to me and leaves a strong impression, definitely this is not a blog post without biases.

I would begin with a conversation with a gentleman I met yesterday. He was driving the auto-rickshaw and I was carrying my portfolio, so he asked whether I was an architect. I said I am not, but I am very well interested in spaces. What kind of spaces, he asked. I obviously replied, Museums.

He was shocked, and he did not attempt at hiding it. In fact, I think he was disappointed. He expected a young woman with a portfolio to be talking about new “modern” buildings, about urbanism, about malls and offices, glass and shine, and here she is, talking about , museums? He ridiculed my naive attempts at explaining to him why museums matter, why they are not supposed to be a passive storehouse as most of us imagine, rather they are places that we can co-create. He asked me, in a museum if there is a stone statue of Buddha lying somewhere, well that is that, what more can you do about it?

I tried to explain storytelling, experience blah, borrowed theories from internet and journals, but he simply asked me to think about it, the day I do have a concrete answer, come to Hailey Road, where he stands, and share it with him, he would wait.

Where on one end I could have treated this with exasperation and said, look how we treat our museums, look how we perceive these institutions, I wouldn’t. I take it as a very positive challenge, I take it as a sign to go ahead in the stream I have chosen and to work hard, to ensure that I don’t just find answers but implement the necessary steps.

Does this sound like a plot stolen from Bollywood? Well Bollywood and life, that is interchangeable, you didn’t know?

And as if it were planned, as if it were meant to be so, I have begun to get my answer.I would share something beautiful that occurred today. I was introduced to the Indus Valley Civilization like never before and was for once genuinely enthralled by the mystique of the great civilization, the thoughts, the words, the language of which is yet to be deciphered.

We were introduced to this collection at the National Museum by esteemed art historian  Dr. Shobita Punja, CEO of the National Culture Fund , author and also educator at various institutions.

Her session was an absolute delight and very inspiring indeed. The joy and passion with which she narrated the story of the Civilization, when she spoke of the glory of discovering it to be comparable to other ancient civilizations i.e. Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Chinese, that pride my friend was infectious. I was dumbstruck throughout her session where time flew by, I couldn’t believe it had to end so soon.

That is the power of brilliant heartfelt narration, your audience gets immersed in an experience so deep that they are surprised when it ends, it actually does not end, it leaves you thinking and curious.

When she made us notice details on pots, when she discussed why she liked a particular object so much, you shared her curiosity, her queries, her imagination. Imagination! that is what she brought alive for me today, when she reminded us of a beautiful space within history, that of “historical imagination”, something that lies between material proof and intangible assumption, something that allows one to respect the “maybe”.

The “maybe” in history, is what she asked us to never forget, and to always use when we share stories with those whom we guide around the museum. I was mesmerised, wow! that is the passion of a historian, of a researcher, a storyteller, she made us live a certain time, she made us think about a certain time, she made us imagine the possibilities, without anything other than the display and her narrative.

I was overwhelmed when she spoke of a toy cart and explained its relevance as a signifier, how it would matter so much to a historian. Cart signifying travel, signifying trade, signifying carrying of produce from villages to cities, signifying therefore the presence of cities surrounded by villages, villages that perhaps produced in abundance, such that it could be sold outside as well. It is not just a cart, not just an object, it has many stories embedded within it. It speaks of people and society, the system, the economy, and to think that it is a toy cart alone is sheer sacrilege.

The most delightful bit was when she spoke about the Mother Goddess statue. If you have studied history in ICSE board, you would remember that black and white photograph of Mother Goddess, guess what, there is no concrete proof to say that it is a Mother Goddess, it could be anyone, it could even be a lady dressed in a certain fashion on a particular occasion, these are all but “assumptions”, assumptions that delight or help make sense of a certain civilization, but are assumptions nonetheless. I suddenly felt this surge of gratitude, if only we were taught history like this in school. If only we knew that there is no one single way to look at our past, that the rigidity, the certainty with which mainstream education claims certain facts, might be much more flexible and inclusive in the real world outside. That History is not past, history is in the present, history in the mind, in the thoughts, in the interpretation, in the imagination, it is alive, it is breathing, it flows, it is a bit organic.

I wish I were agile enough to thank her, to share this with her, but i was awestruck, I was so pleasantly surprised by her very presence that I just kept beaming like a child who has chanced upon her favorite sweets at a place most unexpected, or maybe balloons gifted for free, or maybe cotton candy, or maybe just the realization that this learning has begun, that I would find answers, Oh the joy of it all!

There is so much more to share, in further posts 🙂

 

 

 

Works Cited:

1: Tagline from Milwaukee Art Museum