On Praveen Swami’s repugnant piece on Maha Kumbh
Say you are just chilling in a park on a Sunday afternoon with your dog, reading a book. Suddenly a fight breaks out between two people and a raucous crowd gathers. It gets noisy and you decide to take a look. Two youth are rolling on the ground and fighting like crazy. Suddenly someone from the crowd emerges and says he understands the reason they are fighting and says he will try to intervene. The crowd calms down at the assuring words of the mediator. But to your utter shock, instead of moving towards the guys wrangling on the ground he advances menacingly towards you. Grabs you by your neck and starts thrashing you. Next he tears up your book and vomits all over your beloved pet dog.
Bizarre WTF story, isnt it ? But this is what has been happening to Hindus in recent times. Praveen Swami in a particularly despicable article in The Hindu takes wild swipes at the holiest of holy Hindu pilgrimages, the Maha Kumbh in the context of a dogfight between the Congress party and the angry Muslim clerics over the Rushdie affair.
Here is a template many of us have been observing in the media of late.
Want something from fake secular state ? > abuse Hindu cultural symbols > Go to ATM > Spend > Repeat
This cycle has got to stop. Now. Find something else.
We wont issue Fatwas, but demonstrate to the world that these people are just clever but insecure imbeciles. Hamsters working ever harder trying to meet the insatiable demands of their masters.
Ignorant of basics
Praveen Swami after a flying recap of the Salman Rushdie affair, lands upon this.
Few Indians understand the extent to which the state underwrites the practice of their faith. The case of the Maha Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years at Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik, is a case in point. The 2001 Mela in Allahabad, activist John Dayal has noted in a stinging essay, involved state spending of over Rs.1.2 billion — 12,000 taps that supplied 50.4 million litres of drinking water; 450 kilometres of electric lines and 15,000 streetlights; 70,000 toilets; 7,100 sanitation workers, 11 post offices and 3,000 phone lines; 4,000 buses and trains.
Source: The Hindu
He has plucked these figures from John Dayal’s blog here. He also forgets to mention the evangelical religious affiliation of John Dayal instead referring to him as just “an activist”. The funny part is John Dayal’s essay builds up to a case against FCRA (the act that enables you to find out Christian Aid money flows)
The FCRA has been used largely to scrutinise Christians priests and nuns, a few Muslim groups and secular NGOs who receive funding through official channels. Meanwhile, hawala dealers are able to evade FCRA checks with the same felicity that they avoid Home Ministry surveillance.
Is the Indian State “underwriting” the Maha Kumbh
Let rewind to these numbers , Rs.1.2 billion for 12,000, 50.4 million litres, 450 kilometres of lines and 15,000 streetlights; 70,000. Let me throw in toilets, fire services, ambulances.
What he forgets to mention, very cleverly, is this :
The Maha Kumbh is one of the largest human congregations on earth. Over 60 Million people participated in the event he is talking about in 2001. The crows of the event could be seen from space.
The state is merely providing PUBLIC AMENITIES as its normal call of duty. The alternative would be to let millions including thousands of foreign tourists die in an outbreak of Cholera, riots, or leave behind a mountain of human waste.
The most jarring part of his essay was this line, which prompted me to write this blog.
That isn’t counting the rent that ought to have been paid on the 15,000 hectares of land used for the festival .. ..but it is instructive to note that an encephalitis epidemic that has claimed over 500 children’s lives this winter drew a Central aid of just Rs.0.28 billion.
Lets see this from a property rights angle. What he is saying is the Hindus who participate in the Kumbh Mela event, which predates all known formats of the Indian state, have no title over the venues. Which are sand banks, ghats, streets, and nearby spaces. In such a school of thought, the participants have to pay a fee (a tax) to the state from the proceeds of which the state will “rent these ghats” and provide the aforementioned amenities. From time immemorial, Hindus have treated these lands as their own, not in the sense of ownership rights but being able to continue ancient traditions such as the Maha Kumbh, Chitirai Festival, and countless others. If you demand to see title papers (most Christian and Muslim properties DO have proper title papers) then Hindus will have no choice but to create them. Territory, and traditions CONSTITUTE the Indian State. They came with the box.
Obviously, this isnt the only weakness in this piece. The state has Hindu temples under its control, so his sudden puppy love for property rights is dead on arrival. Next, even from an economic viewpoint, the Maha Kumbh is a grand tourist spectacle with millions of people from all over the world arriving and staying for weeks. The govt will stand to gain by spending on amenities and reaping benefits of orderly tourist activity compared to being burdened with the costs of chaos and disease if it were to listen to Praveen Swami.
Is Theism the danger to secularism ?
A complete misunderstanding of secularism follows :
Eight years ago, scholar Meera Nanda argued that “India is a country that most needs a decline in the scope of religion in civil society for it to turn its constitutional promise of secular democracy into a reality.” “But,” she pointed out, “India is a country least hospitable to such a decline”. Dr. Nanda ably demonstrated the real costs of India’s failure to secularise: among them, the perpetuation of caste and gender inequities, the stunting of reason and critical facilities needed for economic and social progress; the corrosive growth of religious nationalism.
Eight years ago, scholar Meera Nanda was wrong, as she is today. Secularism does not depend on decline of scope of religion in everyday life. If that were the case, then abolition of religion would be its central task. Hindu, Muslim, or Christian individuals derive strength, confidence, pride, tide over depression, anxiety, using their respective faiths. There is nothing in it that puts it at odds with secularism. Religious nationalism is nothing but nationalism that calls upon traditional strengths native to the land. You call it Hindu nationalism, but it has never asked for privileged treatment of Hindus.
What does not work is the state offering concrete benefits to groups based solely on adhoc communal considerations. This and only this will kill our secular state.