Opinion | Diwali, the powers that be, and civil disobedience

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I have personally noticed an odd phenomenon. At 6 am, there is the chanting of the Venkatesa Suprabhatham from a nearby temple that I can hear for about 15 minutes. But lately, I can hardly hear it, because the state government has imposed a maximum of 45 decibels on all Hindu temple loudspeakers.

On the other hand, a new mosque issues its call at 5 am. This is recent: Earlier the calls were less loud and more distant. On Sundays, a nearby church used to have its singing, clapping, and sermons till about 11 am. Now they have hiked up the sound levels and the programme goes on the entire day.

This is symptomatic of state-sanctioned discrimination against Hindu culture, religion and rituals. Indeed, during Navaratri, the Chief Minister of Kerala said (I paraphrase): “Temples are public, but churches and mosques are private.” This appears violative of the constitutional guarantee of equal treatment irrespective of religion. At around the same time, the Kerala government forcibly captured a Shiva temple in Kannur, against the strenuous objections of protesting Hindus whom they physically ejected.

One could argue that this is de facto apartheid against Hindus in India, reminiscent of the treatment of blacks in South Africa until some 30 years ago. Hindus have been gaslighted into believing that somehow they deserve fewer rights than others, via a non-stop barrage of propaganda from native and foreign media and academia.

This contempt for Hindu sentiments is most visible during the festive season. It is possible that murderous attacks in the Vale of Kashmir on Hindu and Sikh Kashmiris and on Hindu Biharis were timed to coincide with Navaratri. Similarly, horrendous attacks, rapes, murders in Bangladesh. The intent was to cause maximum psychological damage. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the genocide of Hindu East Bengalis in 1971.

The reaction from the Indian media and intelligentsia was omerta. They simply ignored the harm to Hindus, including the gang-rape-murder of a 10-year-old girl in Bangladesh, and the attacks on dozens of temples there. The media adopted diversionary tactics, hyperventilating about a cricketer and the drug arrest of a teenage son of a film star.

But there was a media feeding frenzy with Diwali. There was a concerted attack on the very idea of Diwali (someone said it was a Buddhist festival, someone else that it belonged to Mappila Muslims). In reality, it is a joyous, emphatically Hindu celebration commemorating the return of the exiled Sri Ram and Sita Maa to Ayodhya. Thus the general festivities, lights, sweets and revelry.

However, there are other beliefs interwoven into Diwali: One that the manes, the ancestors, visit us on that day, and need to be shown the way back to the heavens with fireworks and lights.

In a fascinating Twitter thread, the scholar Bharadwaj argued that the original word in Sanskrit for fireworks, ulka, meteor, along with other textual evidence, suggests that the idea of fireworks lighting up the sky goes way back in Indian history, much earlier than the purported invention in China of gunpowder.

It appears that the average Hindu turned out in force this year to defy diktats and celebrate his/her festival. The Central government and various courts have been pushing for the elimination of Diwali fireworks under misguided notions about ‘science’. It behooves us to view ‘science’ with scepticism because scientists are as faddish and susceptible to lies and cover-ups as anybody else, as the sad tale of the Sars-Cov2 lab leak theory has shown.

Besides, the recent COP26 exercise has a subtle footnote: Developed nations are still not willing to reduce their profligate use of energy (two orders of magnitude more per capita), but wish to bully developing nations into stunting their economic growth by reducing energy usage. They want us as passive suppliers of raw materials and as markets for their goods. This is, at best, politics and propaganda. It is not science.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence now that stubble burning in Punjab, not fireworks, cause the pea-soup air pollution in Delhi in late October/November. Eliminating stubble burning is the solution.

Furthermore, according to Arvind Kumar (“Law aiding Monsanto is the reason for Delhi’s annual smoke season”) one can blame a fateful decision by the Punjab government to delay the sowing of the rice crop, on the instigation of seed giant Monsanto. Alas, wind patterns change in a northwesterly direction at the time of the delayed harvest (and stubble burning); earlier wind patterns don’t blow the smoke into the Gangetic plains.

Data shows that reducing or eliminating Diwali fireworks has no material impact on air pollution in land-locked Delhi; and surely a ban makes no sense whatsoever in the big coastal cities. But Delhi-centric courts and media have pushed for pan-India bans.

Why? There is a persistent trend among academics and media in the West to at best downplay India’s legitimate concerns, and at worst to be downright hostile to Hindus. For example, there was the explicit bullying of a young Hindu woman at Oxford, who was forced to resign as the president-elect of the student union. Then there is a white assistant professor in New Jersey who is the champion of anti-Hindu sentiment. There was the grossly discriminatory ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ conference a few weeks ago.

Also read: Diwali to Jallikattu, activism of hypocrisy galvanising Hindus to defend festivals

The sum and substance is that there are those who simply do not believe Hindus have the same rights as Abrahamics. Some are missionaries, intent on converting Hindus; some former Hindus have internalised the Anglosphere’s pervasive hostility because India’s textbooks and media are toxic. Others are fifth-columnists for various powers.

There is no reason for Hindus to be defensive when faced with withering attacks by these players with ill intent. Their claims generally turn out to be based on either dubious science or religious dogma. In particular, the assault on Diwali may well be part of a shadowy plan called ‘Project Thessalonica’: Remove festivals, remove the joy, destroy the livelihoods of the artisans like the fireworks makers, and then move in for the conversion kill. The stunning 2017 book, The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey, details how the Greco-Roman religion was wiped out by Christians as soon as they gained power circa 325 CE.

And the bonus is that developed nations can keep India “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen”: A captive consumer for all the stuff they produce. That must count for something.

The fact that ordinary Hindus performed civil disobedience, in what can only be termed Salt Satyagraha 2.0, by peacefully asserting their right to burst Diwali firecrackers as they wished, is a sign that the days of passive acquiescence to motivated nonsense are over.

The writer has been a conservative columnist for over 25 years. His academic interest is innovation. Views expressed are personal

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Opinion | Diwali, the powers that be, and civil disobedience
Opinion | Diwali, the powers that be, and civil disobedience
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