Monday, August 07, 2006

The "Other" in Modern Indian "Hindu" Psyche

My last post on "Another Communal "Us"vs."Them" Divide in India" got me a response from a muslim friend:


    I flew back to London from Bombay today... as usual I was several kilos over the baggage allowance, but being a serial offender I knew how to negotiate my way I was returning to the checking counter after scanning the extra bag, this girl from ground staff asked to confirm my last name... when I said what it was, she went and whispered in the ear of the guy at the desk "iske boarding pass pe star lagaya kya?" (have you put the "star" on his boarding pass?)

    At the desk the guy told me that I would have to go to the "customs facilitation desk" after I complete immigration and before boarding to identify my luggage and answer any questions they might have... I asked "hmm.. why me in particular though, is it some new procedure?" so he got all flustered and mumbled that it was a random check...

...but apparently, in India (or rather... in the the urban, educated, middle-class, "Hindu" India), this is not such a "random check" any more. It is reserved for "the Other".
[the "Hindu" - underlined and bold - is deliberate, since it contrasts with the Hinduism: A Religion that Never Was]

And who is this "Significant Other" - the enemy?

A piece by Namita Devidayal describes this "Significant Other" that haunts the Indian "Hindu" (urban, middle-class, and apprently historically clue-less) psyche:

Excerpts: (do access the original article, if you have time)
    "It would be easy for the optimistic liberal to conclude that Mumbai is still at heart, 'Bombay', a cosmopolitan city devoid of bigotry. The Hindutva parties were relatively muted in their reaction to the train blasts.

    Muslim organisations came out and condemned the attacks. And no one burned any buses. But even if the city opted out of the violent route, there is a growing rhetoric of violence that is silently seeping into people's psyche, like chemical waste into the soil, and no one knows when and how its effects will be felt.

    The rhetoric is evident in drawing-room discussions, over SMS messages, and in unspoken words and glances. Right after the July 11 blasts, a series of creepy SMSes and e-mails started doing the rounds, posing loaded questions like: "We agree that every Muslim is not a terrorist, but why is every terrorist a Muslim?"

    One e-mail bludgeoned its mass-recipients with the same tired cliches about how the minority community is growing exponentially, and will soon out-populate the majority...

    ...The memory is based as much on imagination as on actual events. For instance, stories about the violence of Partition often become fiercer and fiercer as they get orally transmitted from one generation to the next.... Stereotypes about the 'enemy' get reinforced because they are not based on real encounters or experience...

    More and more residential buildings discriminate on the basis of religion, and they can now do so with the sanction of a Supreme Court verdict that permits housing societies to be formed along community lines.

    Contrary to the utopian era of Amar Akbar Anthony, that wonderful allegory for religious amity, today it is less likely that your child will have a neighbour or a 'building friend' who is from another community — someone whom he can identify with purely as a playmate, share snacks with, maybe even take him one day to his place of worship...

    ...Mumbai may not be Ahmedabad, where children from different communities no longer study together, but it is inching its way there... According to Kakar, "In a period of rising social tension, social identity dominates, if it does not entirely replace, personal identity".

    Researchers working on a Gender and Space project at PUKAR, an NGO, were horrified by the findings of a series of focus group discussions it has held recently in Mumbai.

    Women — from the lofty precinct of Malabar Hill to the smelly bylanes of Dharavi to the neon-lit conclaves of Lokhandwala — were asked to describe what they thought were unsafe areas in the city.

    The answers, almost uniformly were: Minority areas. Had they ever been there? No. Did they know anyone who had been there? No. Their reasons for feeling that way? The men have beards and look dangerous and aggressive. Did they think they may be prejudiced? No.

    ...Only recently in Mumbai, a 'dangerous bearded man' was detained for an unjustifiably long period of time at the international airport. The irony is that he had flown in to attend the funeral of his brother who had died in the train blasts.... He was a victim, not a perpetrator. But stereotypes are beyond reason. They are reductive and create 'us' and 'them' cognitive states.

    For instance, cocktail party chatter today raises mind-numbingly simplistic questions: "Why is it that wherever there is conflict, it involves Islam?"

    Hardly anyone takes the time to discuss the complex history... Arguments are devoid of political analysis or historical context...."

... A troubling question: Are we - the Indians, not the "Hindus" - losing our Sanjhi Virasat?


gaddeswarup said...

Interesting; just yesterday I posted this in:
in the thread "Mind & Science".
"Here is another case. From: indiafa...indu_muslim.htm
"Every morning and evening a 60-year-old priest arrives at a little Ganesh temple housed in the M S University faculty of technology and engineering building at Vadodra (Gujarat, India), says this March 1999, Times of India report from by Sajid Shaikh from Vadodra, Gujarat, India. He spends the next few minutes performing puja before the presiding deity.

Nothing unusual about that - except that the priest is named Abdul Rashid Ismail Shaikh. A true-blue Muslim by birth, Abdul is a Ganesh devotee by choice. A peon (at the faculty) by profession, he is the unofficial priest of the temple. Even though a Muslim, he has impeccable credentials to hold the high position - he is a Sanskrit scholar and the shlokas roll off his tongue with unfettered ease. "I am the Muslim Brahmin here,'' says the man who is endearingly called Chacha (Uncle) by all on the campus. "
Some complexes where the graves of both hindu and moslem saints are still venerated can be found in: c...ikand250206.htm
I remember reading in newspapers a few months ago of a moslem building a hindu temple and a few years ago Srirangam temple chose a Moslem, Sheik China Moulana Saheb as their main musician. I left India 20 years ago ( but visit about once an year) and I remember many, including my father, worshipping both hindu and moslem saints. These things get a bit tricky during riots; suddenly women who do not wear burkhas start wearing them..."

Madhukar said...

Thanks for sharing these instances...

that, precisely, was the Sanjhi Virasat, I mentioned in the posting... we seem to have lost it in pockets of India

Sumita said...

I learned of the terrorist threat uncovered yesterday from my son's teacher, who was planning to travel this weekend. Earlier this week, he invited me to a Ganesha Chaturthi puja being held by a Christian priest in new york.

Did I mention this teacher is an Indian Muslim? We shared our common angst about crazy people who think of devious methods to create disharmony. It was probably the msot open discussion I was able to have about this impending "doom environment" and i realized it was because we were able to connect as human beings, and not as Hindu or Muslim.

However, what is relevant is I met a wonderful pakistani gentleman recently who shared the long history of the madrasas in Pakistan and how the Afghan was and US intervention created conditions of chaos and corruption that has been unprecdented.

I was deeply touched when he mentioned that people in pakistan and other Islamic countried are keenly watching India and China's growth as they hope it might provide a counter to a "western" model of life.

However, am cautious as I also see "violent tendencies" in India as well as a general apathy for human issues in the urban Indians. This imbalance and conflict needs a deeper look and understanding.

All is not well. We can do better....far better..than pat ourselves on our backs about being able to buy 17 kinds of toothpaste. That is NOT progress.

Madhukar said...

My experience - since I stay in a small town - is that the "violent tendencies" vis-a-vis religion are limited to only the media-covered, 'more-in-the-focus' larger cities...

btw, if you can ifnd it: do read John Cooley's Unholy War.. gives a good histoical background on how the US interventions in Afghanistan actually led to creation of Al-Queda... sort of "Bhasmasur phenomeonon"