I think this post will irritate many readers and may provoke some… but so be it.
Last Sunday, we were watching the “Neeya Naana” program on Vijay TV. Its a chat show that debates social issues. The topic of discussion for this episode was about the differences between reading news earlier and now. On one side were newsreaders who have almost retired and on the opposite side were current newsreaders. When Gopinath, the anchor asked about the differences in dressing up, the current female newsreaders said that they had to be well groomed, wear pastel colours, preferably wear western clothes and not saris, no flowers in their hair, no “bindi” or “tilak” to show their religious identity and keep a poker face while reading out the news.
The female newsreaders of yesteryears had to be well groomed, wore saris, no western wear, wore bindis, adorned their hair with flowers, wore bright colours during festive occasions, and yes, they too had to have a poker face while reading out the news.
India is a country of many religions, many faiths and hopefully a Hindu majority. I say hopefully because there has been such a relentless pursuit of appeasement politics in this country, that the Hindus could well be a minority !! I am agnostic about religion, but I like Hinduism because it sets me free, not because I was born a Hindu. Its liberating because I can choose to believe in God, or not, I can choose whichever God I like and be partial to him or her, I can go to a church and pray to Jesus and still remain a Hindu, I can go to a temple every hour, everyday or never and still be a Hindu…. Enough said. The problem I have is, because of some uneducated, anglicised idiots who got elected to the parliament and ended up running my country as their personal fiefdom, I have to be sensitive to every other religion and never ever show my preference for Hinduism. Why can’t a newsreader wear a “bindi” or a “tilak” or a strand of jasmine flowers in her hair if she so wishes ???? Since when is “being Hindu” not right ?
All of us appreciated a Salma Sultan, sans “bindi” and a rose tucked into her hair as much as a Sarla Maheswari, who wore the “bindi” and “sindoor” while reading the news. I can’t think of a single modern newsreader wearing a western “suit”, sans any identifying features from today who can match a sari wearing Neethi Ravindran or Rini Simon’s diction !!! All the yesteryears newsreaders were well groomed, kept a poker face, wore saris, wore bindis if they wanted to, wore flowers in their hair if they wanted to and still didnt upset any Indian of any religion. Why suddenly the need to appear “neutral” and keep the audience guessing about your religion ?
Then I read about a news item tucked into some corner of a digital newspaper about a school in Chennai asking a girl to pay a fine, because she wore a “bindi” to school ….. and not for the first time !!! How did the school dare to do this? The appeasement politics seems to have gone too far. Cut to Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal and you have a chief minister who has the audacity to ask people to tone down the Durga Puja celebrations to appease her vote bank. It gets uglier.
I am reading Tavleen Singh’s book “India’s broken tryst” and she says in one chapter that some American said at the World Economic Forum many years back when he saw Deve Gowda’s family members in saris that “India would truly arrive when we stopped wearing costumes”. Really ? Since when did saris become costumes ? and for all their “modern” outlook, America is yet to elect a woman as their President in 200+ years and they should really be deeply concerned about how Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton became Presidential candidates. Obviously things are deeply flawed in their famed democracy. I wish Tavleen Singh had told that American, that the “costume” we wear comes from a centuries old rich weaving tradition and unlike the manmade fibres, the pure silk and pure cottons help to keep the body cool or warm as needed, and that Indians wove such fine cloth that the barbaric colonial ancestors of this American had to cut off the thumb of every muslin weaver just to sell their substandard stuff from the mills in Manchester.
The fourth incident that led to this post was watching snippets of the movie on Muhammed Ali “I am Ali”. When a reporter asks him why he changed his name from Classius Clay, Muhammed Ali says “So, my father’s name was Cassius Clay. His father’s name was Cassius and myself’s name, and my great-grandaddy, who was a slave, worked for the original Cassius Clay from Kentucky. So, we know I’m not no slave now. It’s funny, that’s how an old name, how one name for a good amount of people, it all started in Kentucky…….If I say, here comes Ching Chong, you look for a Chinaman, here comes Lumumba, Africa, here comes Weinstein, Jew, here come Morningstar, Indian. Here come Miltonberger, German. Here come Jones, don’t know what color he is ’til you see him. So we don’t have our names. There’s something about the American Black people still got slave names. I hear that. I love truth, I don’t care if you go to church or mosque or synagogue. I don’t care if your Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, I don’t care what you are. When I hear the name, I want the truth…… Prove I’m wrong, if you’re Black and you have a European name, that’s not your name…..” Now, Muhammad Ali changed his name and his religion because his identity had changed. He was no longer a slave and didnt want a name that identified him as a slave but here in India, we don’t want people to wear their identity, if its Hindu, because it hurts some dumb politician’s vote bank.
I have a few fundamental questions – when Indian Hindus are asked to stop bursting crackers during Diwali as it leads to noise pollution and smoke etc, why are Indian Muslims not asked to stop using the loud speaker at 4 am in the morning for “azan” ? Is that not leading to noise pollution ? when Hindu temples have a board presided over by an IAS officer, why not have churches and mosques presided over by a civil servant ? How come its ok to allow conversion to Christianity and Islam but not to Hinduism ? Please understand, I ask these questions with the same feeling as I ask about why our textbooks speak about the “dodo” great grandson of our first Prime Minister while saying nothing about Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandsons?? Its not about religion, or God, its about fairness and equality before the law of the land.
No one wants to talk about these things and till we don’t have a civilised debate about these issues, the old style “appeasement” politics will continue and ruin us. “Divide and rule” was the coloniser’s weapon which the dynasty and utterly non-grand-but-petty old party inherited and sustained. When will we learn?? Hopefully soon.
Happy Diwali everyone … I am celebrating Diwali by posting this noiseless cracker and praying for the good of my country and my fellow Indians of every religion.