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In the modern democratic societies, the emergence of majoritarianism, as political ideology is a organised well thought of response of the social, religious, ethnic and racial majorities to the new progressive, democratic, secular and political philosophies/ideologies which have posed serious challenge. Afraid of losing the social and cultural monopoly, the majority invents socio-religious rituals, festivals, customs and traditions as tools of guaranteeing the domination and provided permanency to such a domination. There are three visible processes, through which the culture of majority goes through to keep itself afloat:  1) the form, nature and method of rituals goes through reforms, 2) it would be implanted into the national institutional structures as general culture and 3) it goes through the process of hypocritical secularisation.

The form, nature and method of rituals and festivals do not remain same. According to the changing time and context, the socio-religious orthodoxy would be subjected to the essential reformulations. Perfect example for this is the temple oil lamp replacing the electric light and electric illunmination in the temples as an essential part of the temple festivals. Oil lamp and electric lamp in the temple do not carry the same meaning. Yet, they both presented as same meaning (light). In fact, electric light is seen as much more suitable compare to oil lamp as the electric light represents the permanency as it over powers natural wind.

Similarly, domination and permanency of the culture of the majority is also guaranteed through infusing its culture into the national institutional structures in the name of national culture. Before this, the custodians of the majority culture, despite being aware of the fact that constitutional democracies do not accord any social gradations to the culture of composite social groups, leave no stone unturned to provide the status of ‘national culture’ to the culture of majority. Though it is not the culture of everyone, it being the undeclared national culture, its practice, as such, though could be seen as quite normal and unharmful, it is nothing but imposition of the culture of the majority over the other (consisted of the caste and religious minorities in India). The domination of the culture of the majority would not be seen as such till the other/s starts seeing it as such. At a certain point in time in history, the other would gain the speakability that throws a challenge to the supposedly unchallengeable. Muslims and dalits in late 19th century, began see the domination of the majority as invisible force of denying their due recognition as one of the social groups of the nation. The social position of the Muslims and dalits has never been the same, though. While the latter is seems to have rich history and culture but its popularity as national culture is restricted, it is almost presented or treated as ahistorical/non-cultural category that would better be kept outside the ‘culture of the nation’. This restriction and rejection, though did not bring them together, but somehow prompted them to fight for the cultural equality on their own. Their fight for cultural equality would have led the recognition of their culture being part of the composite culture of the nation but they are not recognised as equal to that of majority’s culture.

In the process of transforming itself into a large scale single culture, the culture of majority not only assimilates all the similar or even the different, but also goes through the process of hypocritical secularisation. The majority, though, feel that secularisation is a forced process; it finds its minimal compromise with its orthodox positions would be much more beneficial than its rigidity. Therefore, the hypocritical secularisation is political rather than a social process. Its benefits are enormous.  While it acts as secular, it demands the other to be secular in actuality.  While it presents itself as universal and national, it would be critical of the particularity of the ‘other’ as anti-national and expects it be part of the universal. Though by the logic of being the culture of majority, it inherently posses the inbuilt character of being anti-national as its original narratives were anti-natives (anti-dalit and anti-advasis), it doesn’t bother about such negativity. It values its self-defined idea of nation and nationalism based on its culture and it devalue/ or remain unsubscribed to the constitutionally defined idea of the (democratic) nation. Yet, since it comes to an understanding that the time and context does not allow it to translate its dream into reality (Hindu Rastra), it shifts its focus to the best option: capture political power invoking its powerful demographic constituency. It is in this process, it transforms the particular into universal, communal to ‘secular’, violent exclusive into ‘non-violent inclusive’ and homogenous into ‘heterogenous’ (Hindu culture becoming the culture of every Indian). This transformation is a part of the larger conspiracy of the majoritarian forces which intends to transform its homogenous into the national culture.

In this process, the Hindu social, religious and cultural institutions and, disturbingly, even the governmental secular institutions would be put to the proper usage as they naturally provided congenial environment for the continuity of the domination. Given the domination of the contributing sources like priests, scriptural sanctions, patronage of capitalist bourgeoisie and bureaucracy belong to the upper caste and class Hindus in every sphere of the secular public sphere and religious private sphere; it is easy for these structures/institutions and groups to transform majoritarian culture into an unchallengeable national culture. Consciously and unconsciously every group and structure performs their ascribed functions and they also respond to the cooperation call given by the mother agency. Their functions get redefined according to the constantly changing political ideological, political and cultural priorities.

It is the organised efforts of all these in the form of investing on the extension of infrastructure of the communal organizations, garnering the financial support of the supportive elements, redefining and redesigning the culture to suite to changing context, devising the outreach and countering mechanisms to the constant challenge from its alleged and imaged enemies in the form of rhetoric and in the form of physical action, if needed keep re-strengthening its culture.

If we examine the pan-Indian Hindu festivals and the way they are celebrated or organised, we will come to the understanding that making them into pan-Indian popular festivals (in comparison to the festivals of the other(s)) itself would substantiate what is argued so far. Most of the Hindu festivals like Dussera, Diwali, Pongal, Vinayaka Chaturthi and Kristhnastastami have became national festivals with some regional cultural and social peculiarities. But the same status is not accorded to the religious/cultural festivals of the religious minorities. Though the government respect the sentiments of the minority by declaring festival day(s) of the minorities as national holidays, the participation of the general society in the festivity is quite minimal if not completely absent. Even this nominal respect that is given is also being denied in the recent times. The 25th December, day of the Christmas festival, has been declared as the Good Governance Day in 2014 by the government of the day. Though it is also birth anniversary of the ex-Prime Minster Atal Bihri Vajpai, this forces every officer in the government establishment to take part in the occasion which includes Christians too. Therefore, intention of the government in choosing 25th December as the Good Governance Day calls for suspicion. Moreover, culture of the majority and its status of being pan-India ‘national culture forces the ‘other’ to participate even if they do not want to. These are very successfully implanted into various institutional setups run by the government as the general culture of the nation. Celebration of Ayutha Pooja, Vinayaka Sathurithi and other regional festivals in schools, colleges and universities in India indicates how domination of majority over the other is quite natural.

The history of celebrating Ayuthapooja and Vinayaka Chathurthi in government run schools goes back to the freedom struggle. Balagangdhar Tilak has used them as a tool of invoking sentiments among Hindus to promote ‘nationalism’. Once the freedom is achieved, delinking Ayutha Pooja and Vinayaka Chathurthi from educational institutions should have been quite natural in the newly emerged secular India. But neither the new India’s secular and rational civil society nor the progressive leadership saw this as a problem. Religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution of India to all. Unfortunately, both majority and majority failed to maintain the required distance between religion and education. In fact, they used it for the propagation of the religion to re-establish the de-linked connection. Hindus, Muslims and Christians intentionally ignored the natural incompatibility between education (reason) and religious (faith) in the independent India. Hindus, despite having their own massive network of educational institutions run by their religious organisations, also uses the demographic domination of the Hindus in the government educational institutions as an advantage.

Religionisation of the Secular Space

I would like to narrate my personal experience as student of primary school in my village Telikipenta, Srikakulam Distrcit, Andhra Pradesh to show how schools celebrate Hindu festivals in schools as part of general culture. My village is typical Hindu village with not a single Christian and Muslim family. Therefore, forcing a Christian and Muslim boys/girls to participate in Vinayaka Chaturdhi and Ayutha Pooja did not arise. But is not the case with other villages. Though both the festivals are celebrated, here I focus on Dussera. The festival in our school was consisted of pooja and procession.  Once students reach the school on the day of Dussera, the touchable and untouchable students keep their slates, books and bags in separate places and the teacher conducts elaborated Ayutha Pooja. Then singing Dussera songs we were to go on procession, from the school, led by the teacher, into the village visiting the homes of students who were studying in the school. But it was customary that the procession first goes to the home of the village head/panchyat president. We carry well decorated bow and arrow. The tip of arrow is fixed with cylinder shapes cup made of thick paper sheet. When we go to the house of the student, along with our teacher, we would shoot Parti (a mix of some selected leaves and petals of flowers) filled in the cylinder cup of the arrow into the house of our fellow student led by the student of that home. After this, parents would offer gifts to the teacher (in 1970s to 90s) in kind or cash. Cash is less popular than the kind. From my vague memory of the Dussera in school, this is what it is. I don’t recollect what was the elaborated ritual conducted as part of Ayutha Pooja in school. But I remember we kept out books, slates at the ritual as Ayuthams. After the covering the houses of the touchable castes (Brahmans, Vaishyas and Shurdas), the procession would go the Mala Palli (Scheduled Caste colony). Since the procession starts around 10 AM, by the time it reaches Mala Palli it would be around 4 PM. Students of the touchable caste communities would not accompany to the Mala Palli. But SC students join with the caste Hindu students to go to their residential areas, in the procession but they would walk back in the line and maintains a required distance. By the time we reach their homes, the SC students find that they did not have Patri to shoot into their homes. They sing Dussera song for make their parents happy. Since most of the teachers of the elementary school were caste Hindus, they would neither come to SC homes nor would they accept any gifts even if the parents of the SC students have something to offer if by chance they come.

After this, I have seen presence of Hindu festivals in every educational institute I went through.  Both in colleges and universities, unlike students in schools, Hindu festivals acquire political meanings as the matured teenager becomes political in these spheres. Ironically, exactly at this point in time, in the life of the educated citizens are suppose to start acquiring basic national characters as educated citizen i.e. rationalism and secularism. Both these essential characteristic are to be acquired through (rational) education naturally and through the conscious efforts of the government by promotion of scientific thinking. Since the makers of the constitution understood that the Indian social groups would want the younger generation to be religious than rational and secular, they have obligated the government to promote scientific temper as governmental responsibility. But, political parties, secular or right-wing, which held power so far, have proved that religion is more important than rationalism. They even failed to keep their political ideology (religious or secular) and government in two different domains. In political democracy, political parties are needed to be mindful of the religious constituency to stay afloat in power. Therefore, no matter which party is in government, all of them would not even entertain the idea of promoting scientific temper among its citizenry. Such an act would be seen as a counterproductive to their interests. Therefore, one need not be surprised if the Article 51 A (h), in the Directive Principles, Constitution of India, which obligates the government to promote scientific temper among its citizens  is only known to the atheists, rationalists, activists working against superstitions. Even students of Public Administration and Political Science would not be aware of existence of such an article. Under these circumstances, the college and university societies consisted of teachers, researchers, students administrators, and non-teaching communities, would naturally neither secular nor rational. While the earlier three categories are suppose to rational and secular, the latter two, at least, be secular if not rational. Unfortunately, people in the public funded colleges and universities, do not display the minimum level of rational nor secular traits. Here secular needed to be understood in two ways. One, if respecting each every individual’s religion is secular, then public colleges and universities are secular. Second, from the point of celebrating religious festivals, they are not. Hindus, by logic of being majority, in colleges and university, consciously or unconsciously believed that it is normal to celebrate religious festivals inside campus and despite knowing that such normality is unavailable to claim as such or neither it could be imposed nor be asserted. According the constitution, public funded college and universities are secular and as they are the spheres of knowledge generation, cultivation and dissemination, they are to be rational. Yet, Hindus take the liberty of normalising the celebration of the regional (Hindu) religious/cultural festivals and pan-Indian festivals. In an educational institution, celebrating religious festivals is not normal. Even a Temple, Church, a Masjid inside the four walls of school, college and university works against the logic of education. there is visible ambiguity in the Article 28 of the constitution which in clause 1, it restricts religious instructions or religious worship in the educational institutions on one said and in clause 2 it says clause (1) would not apply to an educational institutions which is administered by the state but has been established under any endowment or trust which required that religious instructions shall be imparted in such institution. The clause 2 appears to be allowing minorities to use to educational institutions which are supported by the government or run on their own to impart knowledge. Problem with the clause 2 is that both the minority and majority are misusing it. They are running schools, colleges, and universities (a new development in the last one decade) which are partially being supported by the state. The basic rational behind keeping the educational institutions run by religious minorities out of the ambit of the clause 1 of the article 28 could be that minorities are not equal to that of the majority in financial strength and such religious minorities would lack essential infrastructural facilities to impart religious instructions and to worship. Therefore, restricting the impartation of religious education or worship in the schools and colleges run by minorities would mean the deprivation of religion to them. Even if that is the case, it is not responsibility of the government to support the propagation of any religion. Moreover, in a secular country, minorities must voluntarily reject any assistant provided by the government for promotion of religion. They could seek the assistance of government in developing their community educationally and economically but not religiously. Infrastructure for impartation of religious education should be separated from the schools they run either on own or schools run with government support. The basic incompatibility between education and religion must be recognised both by the majority and minority. More than the minority misusing it, what is quite dangerous is deliberate misuse of both the clause 1 and 2 of the article by the majority. Being majority it should not be using any of its organisational infrastructures for the propagation of its religion. But misusing the clause 2, the Hindu majority quite efficiently uses its status as majority and running schools, college and even universities. Since it is majority, under clause 2, the government should not have allowed it to start schools and college. Then, violating the clause 1, every government run public educational institutions are being used to promote its culture if not use them for imparting religious education.

Violating the meaning, character and purpose of education, college and universities, use these spheres celebrating regional religious/social/cultural festivals and pan-indian hindu festivals. Teulugs’Ugathi, Malayali’s Vishu and Onam, Tamils Pongal and North Indians Rangoli are some the regional religious festivals apart from Ayutha Pooja and Vinayaka Chathurthi as two most popular pan-Hindu religious festivals celebrated in colleges and universities. While celebration of (religious/cultural) regional culture in the state universities and colleges as part of regionalism is a sort of undeclared but official event in the calendar of the every educational institution, the pan-Indian Hindu festivals also acquires such as status. Since most of the colleges and universities, mostly, administered by the Hindus, very rarely, non-Hindus would be appointed as Vice-Chancellors and Principles to the public institutions and, they, in some cases directly and many indirectly support or be parties to the celebrations of religious festivals.  The rest of the teaching, research and non-teaching community belong to Hindus takes it as an advantage. Some of the upper caste social groups see these festivals as means and methods of promoting caste and communal identity. Till recent times the celebration of religious festivals, even in the most noted Indian universities, were serving the caste identity. Now they are serving upper caste and Hindutva communal identity.

“If I cannot stop Namaz on road, I have no right to stop Janmashtami at police station”, says Adityanath, the CM of Uattara Pradesh. When we try to understand the inner meaning of this statement, we have come to the conclusion that Adityanath is trying to equate government institutional sphere which is by logic suppose to be secular with road,  street and open ground. Police Station as a government office and common road as public sphere are not the same. While the earlier is by constitution is suppose to be secular, the latter is a less governed space. The latter is need not necessarily be secular as long as religiosity displayed in general public sphere is not leading to any problem to communal harmony of the nation. This is the space where the general society would show maturity in respecting the religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution, if the execution of such freedom is not derailing normal everyday life. But the institutional space and public road, as Adithyanath wanted us to believe are not the same

The constitution mandates the public servant in all its spheres, to be non-religious and non-ritualistic. Ironically, in colleges and universities, very few are secular and rational and majority are religious and ritualistic. In India, directly and indirectly, majority makes it clear to the rest that India is their nation and what they celebrate is the part and parcel of national culture. From building temples inside educational institutions to conducting religious preaching, the majority display its domination and use all religious symbols. They keep photos of their gods on their desk, in their cabins, hang portraits of deities to walls, lighting the lamp before starting academic programmes and lunching of even new schemes, academic programmes and inauguration of buildings and so on. They keep sandalwood cream and Vermolin to apply on forehead and rose water to sprinkle on the heads of the participants. Despite being aware that these items cannot and should not form part of the formal academic programes, they keep them as unavoidable items. They do it as common culture. It is not common culture at all.

There is huge difference between college and university celebrating Ayutha Pooja and Vinayaka Chathurthi and people in a street doing the same by erecting Pandals (temporary temples in the streets) for  Durga Devi and Vinayaka. Such an installations and celebrations, in the latter, perhaps, do not amount to the violation of secular sphere. The constitution allows every community to propagate their religion in public sphere without causing hardships to people of other faith. But the majority is intentionally eliminating the difference between the general public sphere and the institutions and offices as public sphere. Given the majority of Hindus in all public institutions, this elimination of difference between these two naturally emboldens Hindus to use the public institutional and office sphere for communal political purposes rather than simply to perform religious obligations. So far, in the secular India, Hindus performing religious rituals in the public institutions and offices could be considered  as a obligation or may be doing it for fun which could be very well be avoided as they, anyway, do the same in the private space (home). Yet, in the present day congenial political environment, doing the same could attain political connotations. A Hindu can use the same religious festivals for the promoting Hinduism because such a Hindu would not simply be religious and social Hindu anymore but he/she would be a hindutvawadthi with political and communal objectives.

In fact, the aim of the government of the day at the centre and in some states is to  Saffronise  every government institution. This process would be easy as every government institution and office is dominated by the Hindu majority. All that is needed to be done is to find Hindus interested in hindutva. Their existing domination by being on the top positions in the institutional hierarchy makes it easy to cultivate Hindutva political ideology as an official institutional policy.  Such a policy might face opposition because in every institution and office we find people of other religions and also secular and rational people who might oppose it. Such opposition would be quite minimal. There are many institutions which are undergoing through this process at the moment. Rahul Gandhi has already made it clear that military, judiciary, army and other such institutions of national importance are under the process of saffranisation.  Adityanath’s comparision of Namaz on road with Krishna Janmashtami in police station, which we are miss reading it as secular, is, in actuality, to declare to the nation that both the general public sphere and public institutional and office space are under the process of state led saffronistion.

Worshpping Weapons.

Dussera, a hindu religious festival has different meanings. But broadly agreed common belief is that it is a celebration of good over evil. Good is god/goddesses and evil is demons/Rakshasas and Asuras. Rama killing Ravana is celebrated in Delhi and in the North, Durga Devi killing Mahisasura is celebrated in Mysuru, West Bengal and the rest of the south as Dussera. It is quite clear that these festivals are designed to keep reminding the Aryan Hindus on the successful subjugation of Naga or Dravidian natives. The Ayutha Pooja (worshiping weapons used for killing the Asuras), animal sacrifices (thanking gods for killing Asuras) and lightning of lamps (darkness caused by evil Asuras is driven) are symbolic representations of Aryans celebrating the defeat of native rulers. These in course of time, went through the secularisation in the process of the transforming Ayutha Pooja as a celebration of good over evil, success over failure, richness over poverty. This secularisation was carried out by both the orthodox Hindus and the progressive Hindus who intended to eliminate the original meaning or reason for the celebrations i.e Suras’ victory over Asuras. This, ironically, resulted in convincing lower caste Hindus and even to popularize these festivals among other religious people as festivals of peace and prosperity. However, what is quite interesting is that both the narratives (religious and secular) are continued to exist parallel: one is to keep the Aryanness/caste Hinduness and the other is to keep pan-Indianess.

Successful redefinition of Ayutham as a tool instead of weapon, qualified the festival to be the festivals of everyone. Tool is tool for everyone. It could be any tool. From a farmer to a factory owner, from teacher to a scientist and from student to an agriculture labor, everybody got convinced that they are doing Pooja to those instruments which are dear to them which have been playing significant role in their life. Yet, the meaning of Ayutham as a weapon (Trisul and Sword) continue to survive simultaneously along with it’s the other meaning (instrument/s or tools). off late the real meaning of Ayutham is gaining prominence as the Hindu Hindu-right becoming powerful.

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao (Srisri),M.A,Ph.D. is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University.

2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Dominance and majoritarianism are feature of capitalist societies where the rich celebrate festivals of their choice. The rulers in India celebrate festivals which are crucial to upper castes mainly brahmins. The dussera, deepavali, ram navami and so on are brahminic festivals. The adivasi festivals or those relating to Ravana or other asuras are not celebrated by rulers/ mainstream schools and colleges. This waone of the issues in Telengana struggles. Festivals like ‘ Bonalu’ or ‘ Batukamma panduga ‘ were overloked by Andhra rulers

    • Y. Srinivasa Rao says:

      true. however, my argument is that no religious festival should be celebrated in college and univerisities. celberations of non-religioius nature could be allowed but not religious festivals.