Diwali to Jallikattu, activism of hypocrisy galvanising Hindus to defend festivals

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A potent way to break the spirit of a community is to strike at the heart of its collective joy: Its festivals.

The early, brutal march of Christianity usurped or appropriated pagan festivals. Pope Gelasius condemned the Roman fertility rituals of the Lupercalia on 14 February, declared Valentine of Rome a saint, and threw a feast after him on the same day, thus making it Valentine’s Day. The Roman celebrations of Saturnalia gave away to Christmas.

Two hundred years after it was established, Halloween was shifted from 1 May to 1 November to gobble up two Celtic pagan festivals — Samhain in Ireland and Calan Gaeaf in Wales.

In India, missionaries backed by British rule extinguished local festival after festival, many of them tribal and indigenous, on the accusation of being regressive and superstitious. This, while choosing saints based on ‘miracles’ they had apparently performed.

The other Abrahamic faith, Islam, struck at the very origins of community, knowledge, worship, and festivals. More than 40,000 temples were destroyed. Arguably the most bigoted and ruthless Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, banned firecrackers at Hindu festivals through a decree in 1667.

Today’s Indian judiciary and governments seem to be paying tribute to Aurangzeb’s template by unthinkingly banning crackers on the pretext of pollution. Studies have shown that pollution from Diwali crackers in Delhi-NCR, for instance, lasts only two or three days a year. Also, it is four or five times less than burning of crop residue mainly by farmers from Punjab and Haryana, which lingers for months. In the name of farmer protests, global celebrity climate activists like Greta Thunberg have been ironically pulled in to defend this stubble-burning.

Sensing a steadily growing nationalism since Narendra Modi came to power, millions of dollars are being spent on putting legal roadblocks for Hindu festivals, running high-profile NGO campaigns, and hiring celebrities to decry the traditions of the land. It has been a systematic, relentless, and multi-pronged attack. The goal seems to either delegitimise Hindu rituals, or secularise festivals by de-Hinduising them, or attempt a wipeout.

The results have been interesting, if not surprising.

Diwali was celebrated with ceaseless firecrackers across the country and specifically in Delhi-NCR, where there was a ban. The activism against old traditions seems to be galvanising Hindus into embracing those traditions more fiercely than ever.

There have been similar responses to the targeting of festivals like Karwa Chauth or a wedding ritual like Kanyadaan. Karwa Chauth, which used to be a north Indian festival, has now spread nationwide. Similarly, the largely north Indian Ram Navami spread across Bengal as reaction to the local TMC government’s initial attacks on it.

Specious campaigns against use of water in Holi have fired up people to defend their age-old and beautiful festival of colours more robustly.

The Jallikattu festival in Tamil Nadu which features taming of bulls nearly got killed by animal activists and courts. But people rose against this blanket censorship. Massive citizen pressure not only made the government bring a new ordinance in 2017 against a ban, but the sport has now started getting political patronage because of its growing popularity.

What makes the Hindu rage more righteous is the utter selectiveness of the attacks. Bakri-Eid, in which millions of animals are openly slaughtered, leaves a massive carbon footprint and a blood-trail of cruelty, has not faced NGO wrath or judicial activism.

Nor has Christmas, in which millions of real trees are cut or plastic trees are piled up as waste. A 2007 US study titled ‘The Carbon Cost of Christmas’ showed that each person produces an additional 635 kg of carbon during Christmas. More than 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in just the US each year.

Indian celebs happily post their photos around Christmas trees or from Eid parties without a single lecture about the impact of these festivals.

This hypocrisy and systematic attacks are fuelling a backlash of Hindu unity and renewed pride in one’s traditions. Probably this stubborn and enduring resistance is why the civilisation has not got wiped out by invasions and colonial tyranny across the centuries, and now stands at the edge of a revival.

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Diwali to Jallikattu, activism of hypocrisy galvanising Hindus to defend festivals
Diwali to Jallikattu, activism of hypocrisy galvanising Hindus to defend festivals
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