Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Vande Mataram Controversy

A short break from the unrelenting flow of national security posts here.

A friend of mine asked me to comment on the recent Vande Mataram controversy and I wrote the following reply which I now share with you.

It is difficult for me to discuss the song Vande Mataram, without the specific context in which it was rendered, i.e. the conversation between two characters Jivananda and Mahendra in Bankim Chandra's epic, Anandamath. I recently chanced upon a write up by Tapan Raychaudhuri, which details the influence of a cult of Goddess worship on Indian nationalism. Tapan very carefully links the Pitasthan legends of the Puranas to an incipient form of Indian nationalism and then goes on suggest that Anandamath and the concepts therein reflected a more dramatic appearance of the same Goddess Worship ideas.

I find little to fault in Tapan's analysis. A simple survey of the war cries of major Indian Army regiments reveals a large surplus of Goddess worship in them. In general Goddess symbols are abundant in India. It is also easy to see why the great Bengal famines would have provoked a strong reactions from Goddess worshippers in India. Goddess worship generally places great emphasis on the Earth (i.e. the land itself) as being an icon of the Goddess herself. Like the Goddess, the Earth represents nourishment and fertility and this contributes to a strong prevalence of Goddess ideology among agriculturalists. A famine like the one caused by the brutal taxation of the British Government in Bengal would have denigrated one of the most prominent icons of Goddess worship. This is kind of disgusting degradation by the British could only have had one result.

The Muslim anxiety over the concepts espoused in Anandamath and Vande Mataram arises from Bankim's identification of the Muslims as collaborators of the British. A more traditional Muslim world view places Islam as a religion at odds with Goddess Worship. To quote an Indian Muslim member of parliament, " We Muslims, do not bow our head before the mother, we bow only before Allah". I need to provide you no examples when I say that Islam as it stands today diminishes the status of women and generally downplays any references to a sacred effeminate. I am personally convinced that this rejection of the concept of the Sacred Feminine has resulted in Islamic society hosting some of the most eggregious displays of male chauvinism in known history. I am not saying "Hinduism", or Christianity are free from such tendencies, but Islam today a poster-child for religiously motivated repression of women.

With this balance of facts laid out, in my opinion, the Indian Muslim rejection of Vande Mataram cannot be taken to imply a rejection of Indian nationalism itself. Neither can it be taken as the expression of the desire to reject "Hinduism" as a whole either because there is more to "Hinduism" or Indian Nationalism than just Goddess Worship. I agree that characters like the Nizam of Hyderabad were out of line to ban the singing of Vande Mataram, but I don't see how their actions were different from those other morally bankrupt regimes that had sided with the British Indian government? I mean this guy left his wives and ran for it when the Indian Police action took his beloved capital and his Vazir, Mir Laik Ali actually ordered Kasim Rizvi and the Razakars to attempt genocide to deter the Indian police from entering Hyderabad State. Can you take the actions of a Hitleresque figure to represent an entire community? I'd rather not go down that road.

I personally find that Goddess Worship is an acceptable thread woven into the greater body of the faith in India. I grew up surrounded by a very large number of Goddess icons and I have no problems saying things like "Mother India" etc... but I don't particularly care if anyone else sees things the same way I do. At the end of the day, the Goddess Worship iconography and terminology really only serves to neatly audit and represent national interests, it does not represent actual national interest in completeness so I don't see any point in making a big fuss about it.

If some Indian Muslims want to reject Vande Mataram on religious grounds, it is within their rights to do so. Doing so does not in my opinion erode the national spirit in any way, it merely challenges us all to come up with a more acceptable language to articulate our views. If such a rewording provokes a more holistic thinking on national interests what can be so bad about it?

7 Comments:

At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure. Its all linked to Goddess worship and we should find another way to holistically redefine our national identity so that them poor children, them Muslims dont get offended.
Any other country would call it bending over, and they would be right.

 
At 2:40 PM, Blogger maverick said...

anonymous,

Where is the questioning of defining? This notion that the mother analogy defines Indian nationalism is false.

You have to restate the ideas of nationalism without the benifit of this maternal logic.

Who cares what other countries say?

If your sentiment for your mother is so shallow that it depends on what others say about her, then I think already we are seeing the limitations of this mother India approach.

 
At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This notion that the mother analogy defines Indian nationalism is false.

says who? you? who are you?

You have to restate the ideas of nationalism without the benifit of this maternal logic.

why? because a bunch of muslims throw a hissy fit? As they throw on everything which offends their idiotic love for islam over the nation, each and every time?

Who cares what other countries say?

who the f*ck is talking of other nations? we are talking of indian muslims. dont play stupid semantic games. the simple point is that you are coming up with idiotic excuses to explain away their silly behaviour over something inoffensive.

If your sentiment for your mother is so shallow that it depends on what others say about her, then I think already we are seeing the limitations of this mother India approach.

dont be silly. my country comes first is an approach that works in every nation. if muslims cant live it, then they should pack up their boriya bistar and vote with their feet as their forefathers did. they have no right to keep using the islam is harmed card each time some aspect of indian culture offends them.

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Anonymous,

Who are you? why does anyone care what you think? Your opinions matter to me only as much as my opinions matter to you.

You have to reword the idea of nationhood because instead of becoming an instrument of unity, the words are becoming a cause of disunity and strife.

You want to pick a fight with Indian muslims, find some other issue to do it on, don't question their Indianness.

Muslim identity seeks to define itself as being distinct from Indian culture. To that end they have picked up some arbitrary points and decided to kick up a fuss about them. Please understand they have invested centuries in coming up with reasons to justify these distinctions, and it is not possible to change their way of thinking.

I say let them have their distinctions and let us carry on with the task of nation building. The Kamikhaini muslims in the Rajputana Rifles, for example charge to the war cry, "Bole Nara Haidiri Ya Ali" while the rest of the Raj Rif, uses the war cry, "Raja Ram Chandra Ki Jai". How does it matter what they say? both sections of the Raj Rif have given an excellent account of themselves in several battlefields.

Separate but equal has been shown to work in the Army and elsewhere. Why not just accept them and move forward instead of inventing reasons to make them "pack up their their boriya bistar and vote with their feet".

Nation building is a very complicated process, it is not a pasttime for idiots or people who don't understand what being a nation means.

Please understand, the idea of equality and separation is the key to India's national stability. Whether it is religion or caste or ethnicity, we rely on the idea that it is possible for people be different/separate but equal in order to maintain a peaceful environment. Assimilation pressure is thus equally distributed and prevents a focussing of cultural malcontent in populations.

You can't randomly try to change the core principles of Indian nationhood.

That sort of completely idiotic waste of effort and resources is best left to Pakistanis who are busy trying to "out Muslim" the rest of the world with their fucked up views.

 
At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are you? why does anyone care what you think? Your opinions matter to me only as much as my opinions matter to you.

Yes, precisely. then why is it that muslims should be cut slack? i feel offended each time some maulana appears on tv and talks of islam being superior to all other religions, do i f***in pick up a fuss over it and grate over how muslims need to f** off? if these people dont learn how to coexist without impinging on everyone else, then they should put their money where their mouth is and create nazariya pakistan in pakistan.

You have to reword the idea of nationhood because instead of becoming an instrument of unity, the words are becoming a cause of disunity and strife.

but that is the exact problem. anything not suitably islamic is a cause for disunity and strife with these gentlmen around, so why should i or my fellow citizens be patient and keep turning the other cheek? if pagans/polytheists/animists are so offensive to stern islam...then stern islam should either live with it, or f** off. if i am asked to say in "god i trust" in my rural school in midwestern us and put my hand to the chest when the star spangled banner plays...well gee, these gents can do so for vande mataram.

You want to pick a fight with Indian muslims, find some other issue to do it on, don't question their Indianness.

as i said, dont play stupid semantic word games. it is not i who is questioning their indianness, it is they themselves who are doing so. so they cant bring themselves to the idea that india is their motherland or even sing a few lines of a ditty saying the same, and who exactly is not being "indian" here? were muslims homegrown in india? they emigrated over hundreds of years right? now after a 1000 years in india, if they cant still say its their motherland, then they have issues, which no amount of poodle faking to create a suitably secular bearded icon shall solve.

Muslim identity seeks to define itself as being distinct from Indian culture. To that end they have picked up some arbitrary points and decided to kick up a fuss about them. Please understand they have invested centuries in coming up with reasons to justify these distinctions, and it is not possible to change their way of thinking.

yes, now you are getting near the answer. what you state is the exact goddam reason why the vande mataram issue is a subset of a larger issue. that of rejecting anything not suitably sacred and islam as shirk and off with it. the early practitioners of this approach went off to pakistan, the rest were allowed to stay out of an idealistic hope that we would all sing kumbaya together. and they wont. because at its very nature, islam is regarded by muslims to be *complete*. how can a secular state ever hope to compete with a way of life that rejects any form of syncretism or rule of law apart from itself? converts and mystics try to bridge the gap, but they have never been the central force in islam, because at the end of the day they are heretics. so, every three days or so, islam khatrey main hain. does any other nation come up with such poodle faking excuses to allow these gents to do whatever they want, without a thought for the broader national identity? john howard read the riot act to aussie muslims recently. so did blair to uk ones. what stops us but the threat of civil war? in other words, its the damocles sword that demographics has on us. hardly something to be proud of or happy about.

I say let them have their distinctions and let us carry on with the task of nation building. The Kamikhaini muslims in the Rajputana Rifles, for example charge to the war cry, "Bole Nara Haidiri Ya Ali" while the rest of the Raj Rif, uses the war cry, "Raja Ram Chandra Ki Jai". How does it matter what they say? both sections of the Raj Rif have given an excellent account of themselves in several battlefields.

sure. and how many muslims serve in the indian army? please be aware that the proportion is negligible. and one of the key reasons is that indian muslims will not pick up the sword against pakistan. not blaming them, but whilst accounts like yours move the heart, in reality they dont solve the actual issues. i am more likely to hear "allah o akbar" in a riot then at raj rifles or jaklis raising ceremony. our idea of passive secularism, ie clamp down on the rights of the majority and mollycoddle the minority has only lead to the walls of distinctiveness be raised, because after all, islam khatrey main hain.

Separate but equal has been shown to work in the Army and elsewhere. Why not just accept them and move forward instead of inventing reasons to make them "pack up their their boriya bistar and vote with their feet".

sorry, it has not worked. it has worked in a rigidly controlled environment away from civilian control, where deviations are punishable by military justice and the firing squad. in a secular democracy, where people are expected to obey the spirit if not the letter of the law, it has failed miserably. there are muslim ghettos throughout india which proudly fly the pak flag, where children are told repeatedly that polytheism and hindus are shirk, where the knives come out immediately when "mazhab" is questioned. this is the state of affairs where a muslim girl marrying a hindu boy can cause rioting and murders egged on by politicians. and the matter is never addressed because after all asking them to vote with their feet is "not who we are". so who are we? the ones who periodically slaughter when forced to, but sit and watch the problems develop throughout the decade? agar islam khatrey main hain, then let them please fuck off.

Nation building is a very complicated process, it is not a pasttime for idiots or people who don't understand what being a nation means.

indeed, so why are these gentlemen in india then? surely they can contribute to arabia and kiss the hallowed grounds where the sun drenched sandals of mohammad walked on? it must be such a blissful place! why persist in creating dar ul islam in india, when dar ul islam is already existent elsewhere?

Please understand, the idea of equality and separation is the key to India's national stability. Whether it is religion or caste or ethnicity, we rely on the idea that it is possible for people be different/separate but equal in order to maintain a peaceful environment. Assimilation pressure is thus equally distributed and prevents a focussing of cultural malcontent in populations.

this is very nice, but in the case of islam it has not been shown to work. the problem is simple. hinduism by its very nature and ethos is status quoist. evangelical christianity and islam, both are not. they seek to expand their influence, and that causes zones of conflict. in such a milieu, the neat venn diagrams u have drawn up fail, and fail totally. there is no "separate" and "equal" when civic issues occur. their idea of individualism is to cut bakras on id in front of the house of a saraswat brahmin. their idea of equality is to have the muezzins call every day. this is all tolerated. but when the smallest issues bring forth islam khatrey main hain, brahmin/bania/tribal all go and tell the bajrang dal and they push back. and the bajrang dal would never have the power or be involved if this entire charade of islam is in danger was not invoked like every 2 minutes. islam in india is not buddhism or sikhism which grew locally and then flourished, political problems and occasional acts of violence apart. islam is, a foreign faith that came by force into india, committed acts of despicable brutality, and then settled into a slow and tortured coexistence with the other local inhabitants. but the problem is, that the meme, rather the issues that caused this clash of idealogies, persist because the indian state has suppressed their record and not evaluated them fairly because it wanted to create an ideal garden where goes too much into the flower, apart from it being a flower. the thorns still prick though. hinduism, as a faith and as a way of life has been attacked and reshaped, some was indeed necessary, but little has been done to identify islam or bring it into line with modernity. this is a problem which not just indians but the world over, folkas are waking up to, whether atheists or christians or the like. a gujarat does not occur unless a godhra does, and the godhra occurs because islam khatrey main hain.

You can't randomly try to change the core principles of Indian nationhood.

what are these core principles? who decided these core principles. i daresay these principles were defined by "pranami" shri mk gandhi and his acolytes and then pushed through post partition. after all, mr nehrus history of india is on the same lines with a nice paint of varnish put over every act of islamic bigotry and revanchism and some pithy lines of nation building. nations built on an unjust or unrealistic depiction of the aspirations or expectations of people, invariably face strife. that is the case in india today. ever since independence, the islamic community has been moreorless insulated from a candid denouement of its antics, unlike hinduism, which has seen judicial and social activism, at times valid, at times invalid, examine every aspect of its belief structure and assist in reform. meanwhile islam has been allowed to sit in its corner, paint that corner green, and then react like a petulant child, with irrational violence,when the neighbour paints his walls a different color. schoolbooks talk of the evil of the caste system (good!), but do they talk of the evils of islamism or the religious bigotry that made the deaths of so many hindus and non muslims a part of indian history? a free and frank dialogue is essential, if these pressure valve is not implemented, irrespective of how much muslims pretend to live in denial about their own communitys foibles, it merely provides more impetus to the nonstate actors to take advantage and pursue a more extremist line.

 
At 7:40 AM, Blogger maverick said...

anonymous,

You may not go and give that Maulana on TV a piece of your mind, but it just seems to burn you up inside and all that inflamation pours out in places like my blog.

India is not America, we are not a nation built on genocide and forced assimilation brought about by the gun. We are a nation built on a peaceful statement of our personal desires and an ever growing spirit of tolerance. The kind of vapid, narrow-minded bilge that is called nationhood in other places does not suit us. We live in the enlightenment that comes with the knowledge that national pride and diversity go together. We are civilization that is innately diverse, we are quite simply different from these so called nations and democracies. We are in essence unique.

It is okay for a muslim to question his/her own Indianness. I do it too, I am Indian, yet I do not speak a single Indian language as well as I would like to. I eat food that is some replete with foreign influences that I can't possibly say that it is Indian, all around me people wear clothes that follow non Indian fashion trends and yet I know that all those clothes are stitched in Indian textile factories. So am I Indian? If however someone else comes up and says I am not an Indian, I find it offensive. It is as simple as that. I say let them have their arbitrary differences and let them question their Indianness like the rest of us.

If you want to believe what some Harvard fellow from an old Hyderabadi Nizami family writes in his book on the secular nature of the Army, then I can't help you. You are a victim of American psyops, there is no cure for your madness. I am deeply sorry. If you want to see how many muslims are in the Army just join it and go to Kashmir. The truth will speak for itself. If you can't be bothered to do that, you can hardly blame the Muslims that they haven't dropped everything they are doing to put on a show of their nationalism for you.

How different is a muslim ghetto from a Brahmin's only street or a Bania quarter in the city? What about the Malayees only housing society and the Gujarati and Telegu mohallas in cities? You accept this but when Muslims want to live together you reject the idea? How many Hindus would be happy to live next door to a beef eating Muslim? The Muslims of India don't say Hindus should not live together. They simply want a place where their communities can live and practice their customs in privacy. Where is the problem? Even in the America you love so much, the White people and Black people live in separate communities, the poles and the italians live in different parts of the city and the Jews live apart from the Christians, but I don't see you having a problem with that? Ofcourse white people call where black people live "ghettos" and where they live "paradise", that is not very different from the way that well-to-do Hindus behave but that is probably just a semantic issue to you.

You simply don't know your facts, India is the Dar ul Aman and America is the Dar ul Harb. Look up the history books to find where that came from. The Dar ul Islam is the land outside India. You are barking up the wrong tree.

Every religious creed attempts to increase its following. That is true of so-called Hinduism, so-called Islam and so-called Christianity. It is in the nature of man to seek to prosletyize. As we speak I am prosletyzing to you and you are prosletyzing to me. Why you persist in pretending it is only Muslims or Evangelicals that do it I really don't know.

The core principles of Indianness are an acceptance of diversity, and tolerance of opposing points of view. These are codified in various social, political and legal norms. Can the psychological acceptance of these principles be accelerated by a specific focus on social and religious issues? I feel it can and to that end a negative reinforcement of castism and a positive reinforcement of religious tolerance has been pursued post 1947. We are locked in to this part of the Great Indian Experiment. The aim of the experiment ofcourse is to minimize the outbreak of catastrophic social dynamics.

I think the answer to that is no. We are fixed into this experimental framework for social engineering. The knobs that have to be turned have also been fashioned years ago.

Please sit back and enjoy the ride, if you experience any discomfort please get used to it, after all the ride has only just begun.

 
At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ask Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen Party Leader Asaduddin Owaisi as he reprsents Hyderabadi Muslims and is considered to be the strongest Muslim Leader in India Today

 

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