Temple Inaugurations Are Not Decolonization; Indian Culture Is Much Broader

Featured & Cover Temple Inaugurations Are Not Decolonization; Indian Culture Is Much Broader

The recent ‘pran pratishtha’ (consecration) of Lord Ram in Ram Temple in Ayodhya has been a major spectacle. This has accompanied the promotion of the mass display of religiosity in most parts of the country, more so in northern India. This also saw the fusion of the roles ‘chief of religion’ and ‘chief of political power’ into a single person, the Prime Minister of India. It was immediately followed by Narendra Modi inaugurating another big temple (Swaminayan) in Abu Dhabi with gaiety and publicity. Soon the foundation for another temple in Chambal, Kalki Dham, was also done by Modi. Impressed by the serial temple events many right-wing ideologues are claiming that Modi is the first statesman from post-colonial societies to move towards the decolonization of cultures in post-colonial societies.

Temple Inaugurations Are Not Decolonization; Indian Culture Is Much BroaderHow did colonialism affect South Asia in particular? South Asia was predominantly a feudal society, ruled by the landlord-kings legitimized by the clergy. The British succeeded in colonizing most parts of South Asia, the Indian subcontinent in particular. Their primary focus was on plundering its wealth and creating markets for the goods being produced in England. It had to lay the structure of a colonial state in which transport, education and foundations of modern administration were laid down. Incidentally, they also supported the eradication of some of the ghastly practices like sati. For other reforms, the likes of Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule, B R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi moved the mountains to bring in reforms and cultural changes.

The culture of society is not a static thing. It did start changing in multiple ways during the colonial period. While a blind aping of the West was a small part of cultural change, the major accompanying part was the journey towards a society with equality. These were baby steps towards the culture of industrial-modern society in India. This was looked down upon by the conservative political forces like the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, the communalists, as being “Western values”. They were essentially piqued by the journey towards equality of the downtrodden, they were opposed to it and they labeled it as being ‘Western’.

On these lines, they called the Indian constitution, the embodiment of India’s political culture, as being based on Western values. One recalls that the ideologues of the Hindu Right were opposed to the ideology that talks of equality. In opposition to this, they harp on holy books like Manu Smriti, which talks of the inequality of caste and gender. Interestingly those social forces that had roots in feudal power structure stuck to the ‘anti-Western narrative’. At the same time, they collaborated with the colonial rulers. Interestingly the national movement was shaping the culture and also opposing colonial rulers.

One recalls the Muslim Brotherhood (West Asia) at this point as yet another example. It also calls the democratic culture and values as Western import and tries to impose dictatorial norms and social inequality in the name of Islam. In India, the Hindu Right wing seeks to oppose equality as being a Western import. The opposition to the values of the Indian constitution is also couched in the garb of opposition to colonial culture and is propagated as a glorification of ‘Indian culture’.

Misplaced cultural convictions

So what is being called opposing colonial culture at times is the culture that bases itself on opposing fraternity and justice. Justice for all, irrespective of caste and gender, has been the goal of the emerging Indian democracy; this gives space to pluralism and diversity. Amongst the post-colonial states, India had the best political journey till a few decades ago. This was also accompanied by a culture, which had continuity and change. This was reflected in the life patterns promoted by the likes of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Bose and Maulana Azad, to name a few. This was an attempt to tune the culture which is compatible with democratic values.

The spree of temple-related events is accompanied by the right-wing assertion that this is the decolonization of culture. Also, the impression being created that the inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi is the first one in the ‘Muslim countries’ of West Asia is false. One knows there are many temples in the region, including UAE, Muscat, Bahrain and Oman to name a few. As the global migrations; the economy in this case, of Indians are accompanied by the temples in the region. We also recall there are many temples in our neighboring Muslim countries. Dhakeshwwari temple in Bangladesh is well known and we also recall that apart from other existing temples in Pakistan, Lal Krishna Advani visited Pakistan to inaugurate the renovated Katasraj Temple.

The glorification of Modi for ensuring a Hindu temple is unwarranted. To assert that by inaugurating temples in India and in Abu Dhabi, Modi is showing the conviction to bring in decolonization is misplaced. In India the colonial impact was undone during the freedom movement itself, as the roots of progressive social steps and progressive writings, the theatre also ran parallel with the national movement. Post independence the process continued with Nehru’s encouragement of scientific temper and Ambedkar’s well-drafted Indian constitution.

India did not get subdued by colonial culture in totality. What we are facing today is the promotion of religiosity and conservatism. Since politics is stalking the streets in the garb of religion, India’s traditional syncretic culture is coming under attack from conservative and orthodox values. A hilarious example of this is the opposition by BJP associate VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and company legally challenging the forest department to let the lion Akbar cohabit with the lioness Sita at the Kolkata zoo.

Onslaught of orthodoxy

As far as Abu Dhabi is concerned, not only Abu Dhabi but the whole of West Asia (Middle East) has suffered the onslaught of orthodox values due to the promotion of Islamic fundamentalism by the United States. In pursuit of its control over oil resources, it had overthrown the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 paving the way for a fundamentalist regime in due course. Later it was instrumental in propping up madrassas in Pakistan to train mujahedeen which gave rise to Al Qaeda with huge funding and also supplied them with armaments. This whole American intervention shifted West Asian culture towards a retrograde one.

The inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi in no way can undo the cultural damage done to the region by the global forces with infinite hunger for oil. Temples are one part of the culture. The definition of culture has to be much broader than just temple-related events.

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/perspective/temple-inaugurations-are-not-decolonization-indian-culture-much-broader

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