With Christmas season on the boom, there have been some aberrations glooming up the festivity mood. In some cities of Uttar Pradesh, certain fringe groups have doled out warnings to Christian schools against celebrating Christmas on the premise that mandatory participation of Hindu children in Christmas programmes amounts to “a step towards forced conversions”. While most amongst us find such agitations abhorrent and believe in the right of freedom to celebrate festivals of any religion as mandated by Indian Constitution too; however there are many who strongly share the sentiments with such fringe groups. On a little deeper research, I found that banning or boycotting certain religious festivals is an old practice, indulged in by many countries down the timeline. For instance, countries like Brunei, Albania, Somalia, even England and USA have witnessed a ban on Christmas celebrations during certain periods in history while countries like Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and China have strict regulations against Christmas celebrations in force even on present date. There have been similar examples of banning other festivals across the globe. So what’s the driving aim behind such bans and agitations?
People may list out multiple factors as reasons behind such moves but I think all those factors can be summed up under just two categories – political mileage to control the vote bank (quite relevant in Indian scenario) and religious fundamentalism.
Talking about the first, political motives when aligned with such bans/protests spill out into a pretty nasty mess, with violent representations and religious hostilities fuelling up as a fallout. The case of revoking ban on Jalikattu and the resulting uproar in Jan 2017 can be taken as a crude exemplar. Justifying the Jalikattu ban based on prevention of cruelty against animals meets with counter arguments of first imposing ban on mass slaughter of animals on the festival of Eid al-Adha, which sounds pretty logical except that it has a lot of political undertones wrapped up in religious sentiments. Now stopping certain practices based on purely humane approach, like the termination of Gadhimai Festival to stop mass slaughter of animals, makes a lot of sense; however giving such moves political colours complicates the whole scenario. But how do you stop the Indian politicians to jump on any and every paltry opportunity to sway the vote bank in their favour by using cheap gimmicks?
Well, let’s leave the politics at this, for it’s a long debate on how to bring about the long needed political reforms in India and I don’t feel much inclined or qualified to discuss it at the moment.
Moving on to the second factor of festival bans – the religious fundamentalism. This one needs deliberation. You see – festivals form an important part of the religious narratives; they are a show-window of the religious memes. (You can refer to “Memes and Narratives” on my blog to know my comprehensive view point on this). Promoting one’s festivals is one of the most effective tools of supporting the expansionist agenda of a religious meme. And it actually works.
Let me give you an instance. Over casual interactions with the school and college going kids in my family and friends over last couple of days, they have wished me ‘Merry Christmas’ many times over and shared with me their detailed plans of celebrating the festival, from Christmas tree decorations to hanging the red socks with their wish-lists; but not one of them wished me ‘Happy Gurpurab’. Rather when I wished them, they gave me a blank look, looking at me as if I’ve gone bonkers. I had to tell them in detail about it being Guru Govind Singh’s birth anniversary too. Isn’t that strange with me coming from a Punjabi family, with a couple of distant uncles and cousins wearing turban too?
What I’m saying is that these kind of situations make certain traditionalists feel threatened and they undertake bannings in a bid to preserve own heritage of religious traditions against the onslaught of other religions. But know this – radical methods are seldom effective. You try to force a thing down someone’s throat, he/she will resist it with all his/her might. You ban something and people will vehemently find ways to do it as an act of defiance. The fringe groups dishing out threats might be able to scare and dissuade some schools from official celebrations but how will they stop the small children running around excitedly in red Santa caps, singing Christmas carols in streets and shopping arenas, and decorating Christmas trees in their homes.
In modern times, how a particular festival is publicized defines the awareness levels as well as keenness in people about it and hence gives a particular narrative its relative strength. Festivals are like products. You have to sell them; you have to create new markets with fancy byproducts; you need to create a demand; you need to apply all marketing methods to make yours popular. In fact, banning something is a proven marketing strategy to promote it; our shrewd film-makers use this method all the time. (Disclaimer: By this, I’m in no way hinting at a certain film based on the character of a Rajput queen. It’s better to make it clear here, lest I get trolled for it.)
So all those fringe groups who are so sentimental about their people celebrating other religious festivals might like to hire good marketing experts to help their cause better. I would like to highlight that I’m not mocking them here; I dare not. In fact I solemnly believe in following one’s own traditions, to stay connected with own roots; for that’s vital for most of us to have some semblance of balance in life; and a way of weaving and maintaining a healthy social fabric. However, staying connected with own traditions doesn’t debar anyone from celebrating other festivals.
We just need to keep updating our traditions with times, making them trendy for the young generation and tweaking them a bit where needed to keep them healthy. Any radical steps will only harm the cause. Blindly emulating certain extremist religious sects is going to make the pond murkier. As I understand, all religions promote peace, acceptance and respect for each other, and all life forms. We just need to interpret our scriptures with the right perspective.
Religions need quite detailed study (as any other subject, rightly suggested by Satyajeet Ghoshal on my previous blog), deep analysis and exhaustive unprejudiced discussions; and that’s for another time. For now, all I want to say is – let’s celebrate the festivals in their true essence, to spend quality time with relatives and friends, and to spread happiness and joy all around.
Signing off with heartiest wishes to all for Happy Gurpurab and a Merry Christmas!
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