Sunday 4 October 2015

India’s 5,000-year legacy leaves lifestyles alone (Sunday Guardian)

Lifestyles — barring the very toxic — need to be kept outside the purview of formal law, and become the focus only of social reform groups.
The ban on beef and another for a few days on meat in general imposed last month by a few state authorities was not novel. If memory is correct, as early as 1955 there was a ban on beef in the then United Provinces, while reports have it that the Maharashtra ban, which has created so much controversy in media across the globe, has been a staple of public policy in that state for over a decade, the difference being that the state government till a year ago was run by the “secular” UPA rather than the “communal” NDA. And now, days ago, the murder of a 50-year-old Muslim man in Dadri reportedly for stocking beef in his larder caused outrage across India and bemusement in other parts of the globe. In South Korea, Argentina or in parts of the US, it would be unthinkable to have a meal without beef on the menu. Locals there cannot be blamed for getting a trifle anxious about any family member working in India, a country where some would like to make the eating of beef a capital offence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been tireless in his circumlocution of the globe as he seeks to generate external investment into India. The Dadri episode will not improve his chances, nor will such lifestyle-affecting official steps as the decreeing of vegetarianism, healthy though such an option may be.
It is extraordinary how similar the views of Wahhabis are when placed alongside those espoused by individuals claiming to represent an alternative theology, whether these be the celebration by the young of Valentine’s Day, or the wearing of dress that involves less than a few yards of cloth, besides of course rules on what can and what must not be eaten. In deference to Mahatma Gandhi and in opposition to the wishes of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the meat of cows has for long been banished from the kitchens of India. Now it would appear that buffalo meat too may get proscribed, followed perhaps by that of goats, pigs and chickens. A lifelong vegetarian, this columnist would be delighted to live in a world where meat, fish and poultry not be eaten by human beings, but such a situation needs to come about through the individual will of the people of this country, rather than through administrative diktat or the threats of neighbours. Certainly the media in India — and more so abroad — is selective in its outrage, for there was barely a whimper when a young Hindu boy was beaten to death in UP some months ago for the “crime” of marrying a Muslim girl, just as the planned destruction of dozens of Hindu temples in Kashmir has been ignored in narratives of the situation in that state. Even Atal Behari Vajpayee did nothing as Prime Minister to ensure that Hindu temples be placed on the same footing as mosques, churches and gurudwaras where the state was concerned, and continued the British-era policy of government control over major temples. This has to change. 
This is a country with 5,000 years of clearly recorded legacy, yet is there any showcasing of the actual area where the Kurukshetra war took place? Has there been an effort to recreate the path taken by Lord Ram (who belongs to all citizens of India, irrespective of religion) so that the people of this country will understand that theirs is not a 70-year legacy (of independence), or a 300-year legacy (of British rule), but a legacy spanning 5,000 years? Why has there, for example, been no effort to recreate the location of Ashoka’s Kalinga war, or the locations from where the Vijaynagar kings and the Cholas held sway? Why have their palaces not been recreated in the way the Chinese Communist Party has remade several portions of the Great Wall? 
Why are ancient Indian epics not being used as staples of school education, and why do history books still follow the colonial practice of regarding the ancient civilisation of India as a myth? Rather than rectify such core issues, the ideological cousins of Wahhabism who claim fealty to “Hindu” values seek to banish the English language and to impose dress and diet codes on the people in a manner completely at variance with the Sanatani tradition. It is not by removing the international link language that our culture will be preserved, but by ensuring that the young be taught the classics of this country in every language, rather than continue memorising those of the country which succeeded in enslaving most of India.
The murder of an innocent Muslim at Dadri was an act of terror, and those responsible need to be prosecuted under the terror statutes in the same way as the killers of the Hindu lad who paid with his life at the hands of bigots for marrying outside his faith. Violence in the name of religion is terror and needs to be dealt with as such, if the country is to escape the trajectory of Pakistan. Lifestyles — barring the very toxic, such as those involving molestation of the young — need to be kept outside the purview of formal law, and become the focus only of social reform groups working in a non-confrontational way. Whatever be an individual’s view on the consumption of meat or on homosexuality or on soft drugs or on alcohol, it is clear that a genuine democracy — indeed, any civilised state — would abstain from using the bludgeon of law and the instrumentality of the police to enforce a particular behaviour code, Saudi style. By focusing on relative trivia, what is being neglected is the need to move beyond the persisting colonial view of our history and reclaim our pride in an Indian — repeat Indian — identity which has stood the test of five millennia by its resilience and its excellence.

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