The Hindu Right in Maharashtra is never far from the headlines? One day it could be threatening to beat up filmmakers for hiring actors from across the border, on another striking deals to extract donations ostensibly meant for martyrs, or for throwing ink at one of their own?
On Monday morning, Shiv Sainiks were again in the news for the wrong reasons once again when they forced the organisers of Mood Indigo, the annual cultural festival at IIT-Bombay, to remove a mural they said denigrated Hanuman. Reports say the Sainiks had a problem with the way the god was depicted in the mural, done by artist Abhinav Kafare. Kafare’s contemporary interpretation of Hanuman’s persona showed him holding a pen instead of a mace and replaced his crown with headphones. An iPod was strapped to his arm and a local train took the place of his tail. Now you and I may think that such a futuristic interpretation of a tech-savvy God at a cultural festival being hosted by premier engineering college in Maximum City, which swears by the railways as its lifeline is perfectly appropriate. The Sena does not share this view.
“The painting mocked Lord Hanuman who is revered by many…This is plain mockery of God,” Shiv Sena MLA from Vikhroli Sunil Raut told Hindustan Times. The Sena’s response was predictable: putting a piece of white cloth over the painting and asking the students to apologise for the affront.
The reaction is a sign of the growing climate of intolerance in the country where so-called activists and some politicians appoint themselves as custodians of religious sensitivities. Although the history of such interventions runs deep —you may recall the campaign against the late iconic painter MF Husain — this display of mind control in the guise of protecting people’s sentiments doesn’t stop at removing works of art. It goes on to dictate what people should wear, how they need to behave and the kind of culture they should espouse. The Sena, a party that was formed on the foundation of hostility against a particular community in the 1980s, appears to be thriving at a time when the mood at large is turning insular.
The problem is that every voice of protest against the cultural commissars of the Sena remains feeble at best. On top of it, keeping their box office fortunes in mind, even our biggest celluloid icons appear to be supine before the Right-wing organisations. Ironically, the biggest box office grosser this year is an ode to wrestling, whose resident deity is Hanuman and features an actor the Hindutva brigade wanted to banish. Unfortunately, in the minds of the Hindu Right, the God of gyan, gun and sagar (an ocean of qualities and knowledge) needs their stamp of approval before he can wield even a pen.