On the eve of our entry into the 60th year of the Indian Republic, young women in a Mangalore pub were attacked and outraged in the name of ‘protecting Indian culture’. This is no ‘one off’ incident by ‘fringe’ elements. Since the BJP government assumed office in Karnataka, there have been at least 14 recorded incidents of similar nature. Those who compare such attacks with expressions of condemnable and abominable chauvinism (a la against north Indians in Mumbai), miss the point that such ‘moral policing’ additionally perpetuates gender oppression. Remember, through this Constitution ‘We the people’ gave ourselves equality for all citizens ‘irrespective of caste, creed or sex’.
Vigilante attacks by self-declared champions of ‘morality’ of any variety are nothing but an expression of barbarism at its worst. What else is this but an avatar of Hindutva Talibanisation? Only the other day the Taliban had buried alive five young girls who dared to go to school. The Taliban prescribes dress and behaviour codes for women in the name of protecting their ‘culture and tradition’! In a similar vein, the chief of the Sri Rama Sene (perpetrators of the Mangalore attacks) says : “If any one violates our culture and traditions, we will not hesitate to protest” (read attack).
By attacking young women in the name of protecting ‘Indian culture’, these vigilantes display their total vacuity of understanding of both — India’s diversity and its rich cultural plurality. This appears to be a part of the larger design of converting the modern secular democratic Republic of India into a rabidly intolerant fascist ‘Hindu Rashtra. The RSS spokesperson, while ostensibly decrying the hooliganism, qualified this by saying that pub culture was “alien to the Indian ethos”.
In fact, he appears to justify ‘moral policing’ in a way when he says that this needs to be done through “public education and not public violence”. ‘Public education’ through violent punishment is precisely the strategy that the Taliban states adopt and the Hindu extremists follow. The similarity of methodology is chillingly un-nerving — the Taliban destroyed Buddha statues in Bamiyan and Hindutva brigades demolished the Babri masjid.
What constitutes Indian culture remains an issue of contention despite the dominant consensus that emerged during our freedom struggle. The resultant Indian identity not merely recognised but protected our rich cultural and religious diversity. The unity of our country can be sustained only by strengthening the bonds of commonality that run through this diversity and not by imposing a uniformity upon the diversity, as the communal forces seek.
Jawaharlal Nehru, in The Discovery of India, invokes the evocative example of the palimpsest (a manuscript in which old writing has been rubbed out to make room for new) on the eve of Independence to describe India as “an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously”.
After an intense debate in the Constituent Assembly, the first clause of the first Article of our Constitution defines the newly born country as “India, that is, Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. Note that even without the words ‘that is, Bharat’, the content would have been the same. Coming in the wake of the bloody Partition of the country and the vituperative campaign of those who sought to declare India as a country only of the Hindus, the Constituent Assembly consciously chose Bharat because of its secular connotation.
The word ‘Bharat’ has many sources of origin. One of them traces to the son of Dushyant and Shakuntala in Kalidasa’s epic play. There is also a Vedic interpretation. Be these as they may, there is an interesting conceptual interpretation of ‘Bharat’. According to it, the name emerges from the confluence of ‘Bha’ — Bhavam, i.e. expression or character, ‘Ra’ — Ragam, i.e. melody or the tune and ‘Ta’ — Thalam, i.e., the rhythm. The manner in which all or some of the seven musical notes are combined with a specific tone and pitch creates the melody, which however, is incomplete without an accompanying rhythm. ‘Bharat’, therefore, is the character that emerges from the harmonious melody and rhythm of a celestial musical composition.
In many senses, such an interpretation captures the rich mosaic of Indian diversity and states emphatically that the organic unity within this diversity is the harmony of India. If, however, this fine balance is disturbed then instead of having a harmony we shall end up having an obnoxious cacophony. As we move into the 60th year of our Republic, the strains of cacophony are growing louder. The challenge before us, as we head towards the 15th general elections, is whether we will be able to convert this growing cacophony into a melodious harmony or not. Yes. It can be done.
However, it crucially depends on a decisive shift in the country’s policy trajectory through a political alternative — a non-Congress secular alternative to the BJP-led communal combine. It alone can create and sustain that harmonious melody in our country and its people.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and MP)