This article looks at three event happened in the months of March and April, during Covid19 pandemic in India i.e. People’s applause for health workers on 22nd March; popularly known as Janta curfew, on 5the April both appealed by the PM, and the national broadcasting of serial Ramayana for entertainment of the whole country during lockdown influenced by the leader of ruling BJP party. I argue that the performance acts told by PM Narendra Modi are associated with the Hindu religious-cultural practices and identity. Also, that these events were the exercise of mainstreaming Rama and marginalization of the minorities.

22nd March; the Janta curfew day, PM appealed all people to play Thali(plate), Tali(clapping) and Ghanti(hand bell serves worshiping purposes) at 5pm to express gratitude towards  the health workers of the country. Other countries of the world did clapping for showing the same gesture. But the Indians were asked more than clapping. Thali, Tali and Ghanti are associated with Hindu religious-cultural practices. Then, on 5th April, people of the country were asked to light up Diya; the lamps/candles at 9pm for 9 minutes, symbolizing 9 days of fasting and prayers when Rama returns home after 14 years of exile.

Diya (lamps), Ghanti(hand-bell) and clapping have a very important place in Hindu religious and cultural life across the country. These acts when performed collectively, offer Hindus the affirmation of religious identity, their association with god and present community. Therefore, these are performed at Hindu festivals and Bhajan; offering worship by devotional singing and music. Many non-Hindu religious and tribal communities either do not have such practices in their religious-cultural life, or place it secondary.

Tali; clapping and lighting up the lamps are practiced by the other non-Hindu religious communities as; primarily by the communities such as Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs; mostly treated and believed as part of Hindu community in the nation. Christians and Muslims too have the culture of lighting lamps at some cultural-ritualistic events but those practices are not signs of their religious identity in India as they are associated with Hindu identity. These are synonyms for symbolizing Hindus in the visual culture and literature; for the other and for the Hindu themselves. Yet, these communities also had to participate in the above mentioned event nationally, as appealed by the PM himself.

Making Hindu culture public practice does not offer minorities anything but with limiting their cultural showcase. Meanwhile, for Hindus it is becomes a tool to affirm their own identities in public by multi-religious and multicultural communities at the national level. This event in the times of natural pandemic crisis becomes a metaphor of calling upon divine forces to help people save them from the crisis. Minorities either have to believe the same as Hindus do or have to felt left in such psychological stressful time.

Notably, such large scale ritualistic spectacle seen by the whole population of the country and its neighboring countries builds as majoritarian Hindu identity as its synonym, regardless it’s secular constitution. The spectacle also marginalizes the minority cultural practice by making them, regional, local of less important for the whole nation while Hindu practice dominates on the national level compelling all other communities to do the same amid chanting of Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Vande Mataram and Jai-Hanuma, Jai Sriraam; all slogans shouted by the Hindu rightists to serve the narratives of Hindu nation for decades. Many times same slogans have been shouted to threaten the religious minorities and even Dalits in twenty first century India. This spectacle becomes the symbol of the pray, hope and happiness for certain religious community but not for every community of the nation.

The spectacle of Diyas, candles every doorsteps and balconies at night on a particular day as we have witnessed on April 5th 2020 had been a symbol of Hindu Festival Diwali with no difference. This spectacle resembled with the cultural memories of the Hindu majority made them feel like a celebration accompanied with the crackers and chanting of slogan sound had to make it perfect celebration because that is what they have been doing through centuries. Thus, everyone doing same in the country regardless of religion and culture, made it an exercise of Hinduisation of the nation where identity of the Hindus were to projected as the collective as India. Every performance of the culture and ritual solidify the identity of the group for the members of the group and the spectators of it.

Performance of Thali and Diyas looks a little similar to the other event of appreciation of the health workers worldwide like Italy or UK’s clapping and flash lights, yet India’s different in its nature of being associated with the identity of a religious community. Cultural politics of this ritualistic act is marginalization other community and loosening-up the secular threads of India.

To serve this purpose at the cultural and subconscious level, the broadcasting of a serial, a tele-translation of a Hindu myth story Ramayana with the same (created by Ramanad Sagar in 1990s) has been started twice a day amid lockdown of 21 days (the government intends to extend it). When India’s multi-religious-cultural population with different ratio is staying home, rural population not having access to Netflix or similar medium of national-international multi content, dependent on the national television, are involuntary watching the epic stories, synonym of Hindu religion for past 30 years.  Hindu population benefitted with other options are also choosing to watch it to make sense of their affiliation with the ruling party who recommended Ramayana for entertainment during lockdown as many social media posts of BJP leaders celebrate the show by posting their picture of talking about Ramayana.

Politics of broadcasting Ramayana when Rammandir is going to be built amidst people’s questioning the judgement and its intensions. The repeat telecast perpetuates the idea that the whole nation wants to watch Ramayana; that there is no other versions of Ramayana exist! This exercise makes other versions invisible from the cultural landscape of India. It also marginalizes folk cultures, and leaves no national place for minority religious cultures such as of Muslims, Christian, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsi and Jains etc. Given the current situation, seems like the entire population have to entertain themselves by a singular version of Hindu epic story of Rama. Like, no other religious faiths, myth, rituals can be that great and valuable for the nation as of Hindu’s. Also, that being religious might save you from bad shortcomings, and if they could do so that would be from a majority religion, by passing all other minority religions. Clearly, it is Hinduisation of everyone by sweeping other’s faiths, myth, rituals, and culture at national level. It also indicates the partial and religious nature of the governance of a secular country.

Moreover, there are more than 300 hundred versions Ramayana available in the different region, communities throughout India, southern versions are different slightly in its stories and viewpoints. Classical and folk again tell somewhat different stories. But this time when country is fighting with covid-19 pandemic, exercising no social gathering or cultural practices, visual cultural has important role to play to balance, maintain, and construct their psyche of tough times, it builds an emotional memory that how a bad time passes who and what offered hope or help. Therefore, mainstreaming of Rama as a Hindu god and also Hinduasion of the whole country is going effect a mass memory resulting into a social psyche of majority politics.

Dr Priyanka Sharma, Dept. of  Performing arts, Pondicherry University



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