Sunday, September 23, 2012

‘The Southasian Sensibility: A Himal Reader’ – Edited by Kanak Mani Dixit

Modified society
“It is early September. Baroda is tense. Its Muslims are scared. It is the last day of the Ganesh festival, when Hindus will take part in large processions before immersing their idols. Trouble is anticipated. Only four months ago, the demolition of a dargah triggered riots here. Security has been beefed up across the city – the state government does not want another blemish on its record, at least not now.’
“Yusuf Sheikh is sitting in his house in Tandalja, also derisively called ‘mini Pakistan’ by local Hindus, because of its Muslim majority. Worried about what might happen, he explains the undercurrent of tension: ‘If Muslims are out in these areas where processions are being taken out, there is a high possibility that a VHP person will throw a stone at some idol, and blame it on us. Muslims will then be called the instigators and there will be riots.’ The city’s Muslims have shut their shops, stocked up on supplies and huddled inside their homes.’
“Sheikh is a ground-level political activist in Baroda. An officer of the central government’s Intelligence Bureau, based in Baroda, pays him a visit to get a sense of the Muslim mood. Sheikh’s request to him is to keep an eye on the younger elements in the Ganesh processions. The intelligence official is fairly confident that no incident would occur today. ‘The state government is determined not to allow violence,’ he says…’
“‘Afraid’ might better capture the sentiments of Muslims, for the Hindus in Baroda do not seem to be merely celebrating a religious festival. Trucks and minivans carry huge idols, followed by hordes of people. Blaring music resonates from all corners, and those gathered dance aggressively to the tunes of hit Bollywood composer Himesh Reshammiya. That in itself would be the nature of a Hindu festival anywhere else in India. But here, the saffron flags seamlessly merge with the Indian tricolour. Harshad, an ecstatic-looking 18-year-old, explains: ‘We are Hindus. And Hindus are Indians. In our festivals, you will see the Indian flag also.’’
“In Baroda in Modi’s Gujarat, the Ganesh festival is treated – and exploited – not as a cultural but as a nationalist event. Those excluded accept their status quietly. Silence and deserted streets greet an observer in Muslim areas of the city. Here, there is a curfew-like atmosphere. A few local elders stand outside to ensure that no trouble ensues, while state police guard the city’s invisible borders. But while the day of Ganesh might be one when insecurity among Gujarati Muslims comes forth most visibly, they remain fearful, helpless and alienated throughout the year.”
(pp. 236-7, ‘The Southasian Sensibility: A Himal Reader’ – Edited by Kanak Mani Dixit – Sage)

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