Celebrating The Complete Man

Shree Ram, Jay Ram, Jay Jay Ram.  Copy paste. Copy paste. Since 1992 for me.  1946 for the more devout. Even earlier for the criminally insane. The rise of Hindu nationalism and the concurrent rise in movements highlighting oppression of minorities and backward sections of the Indian society are in sync with the assertion of identity being witnessed all over the globe at this time. Whether it is Trump and China or Rakhine and Rohingya or the Islamic State and the rest of the world, the dynamics are the same.

When we were in Punjagutta, the lane we lived in was dominated by Muslims who had come into wealth in the last couple of generations, not old money with an accent, many of the older generations being clerics, while the middle generation had embraced business and professions like law, engineering, etc. The younger folk were more in tune with the times, tech savvy, sophisticated, outgoing. The Hindu population was a minority, a large part of it in the slums, and the rest old time residents of the locality, mostly moderately educated, middle class. For both the Hindu and Muslim demographic, there was a significant percentage of uneducated, underprivileged, oppressed members. During festivals like Eid, Dussehra and Diwali, both communities celebrated together. One day of the Dussehra celebration was hosted entirely by the Muslim families, and no one really had a problem.

Image by RajTilak Naik

Around 2010-2011, we began noticing a certain call and response nature to the festivities. Eid, Ramzaan and Moharrum were celebrated with a certain aggression that was garbed in the assertion of communal identity. The processions would almost always verge on challenging both law and order and the sensitivities of those not participating in it. Young men would circle around the procession on bikes with flags and sometimes weapons in an ominous manner. When I asked about it, I was told that the police and the government were out to deny them their right to self expression and religious freedom. They used these occasions to send out a message to them to stay away. In 2010, I first saw a bike rally on Ram Navami. While the Ganesh festival and the immersion procession did see a lot of flag waving and religious rhetoric, Ram Navami, especially in the south of India has always been more of a temple and home celebration. This began to change and over the next couple of years, there was a deliberate and obvious display of muscle power in the Ram Navami processions.

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