Recently BJP–Shiv Sena joined hands to ban the mannequins displaying lingerie in Mumbai. There is supposedly a clash between India and Bharat. It is said that the former is hedonistic and Westernized whereas the latter is the custodian of our thousands of years old glorious civilization.
As I sat down to contemplate over this recent development in Mumbai, memories of 2004, the year I arrived at Delhi University from a small city in Jharkhand, came flooding into my mind. The college had, what was in the University lingo called a “mixed crowd”, meaning that there was a section that was English speaking, fashion conscious, listened to rock music, followed soccer and hanged out at the most happening discotheques and pubs. The other group, the majority of whom had come to Delhi from the smaller cities of UP, Bihar, M.P. etc did not speak English (or struggled with it), wore baggy pants and full sleeve shirts, watched cricket and fumbled while talking to girls. Though these two groups seldom clashed openly, an undercurrent of mutual discomfort was always apparent. Being somewhere in between I had the privilege of straddling both these groups. Chic Delhi girls found ‘cow-belt’ guys creepy and awkward whereas Dudes called the girls from “Bharat” ‘Yamuna Paar’, from beyond Yamuna and hence Hindi type, badly dressed, lacking in attitude.
My first experience of RSS-Sangh politics came on the Valentine’s Day of my first year of college. There is a posh market near Delhi University called Kamla Nagar. On the Valentine’s Day this market bears a festive look, the streets are decorated with festoons, loud DJ music is played and big hearts are hung over the numerous cafes and eateries where couples date. That year ABVP, the student wing of BJP, gave a call for the boycott of the Valentine’s Day. They came with loudspeakers, waving flags and distributed leaflets, exhorting the youth to shun the decadent ‘western culture’ and to respect tradition. Being single then, I too went to see the Tamasha happening at Kamla Nagar. ABVP’s protest was being protested against by a rival group which too came with pro-feminist and libertarian leaflets and posters: “All you need is love”; “Win back the right to love”; “Women demand freedom from tradition” etc. I considered myself apolitical then, so I did not feel the need to join either of the groups. Though it did not escape my notice that most of the boys in the ABVP procession were from the ‘cow-belt’ group and the girls were all “Yamuna paar” and the other group demanding the right to celebrate Valentine’s Day consisted mostly of chic girls and polished dudes, people of refinement and cultivation.
Clash Between Bharat And India
Was this a clash between India and Bharat? In retrospect, I feel that the issue had many nuances that the less discerning miss out at first glance. The ‘cow-belt’ boys secretly admired many of the girls from the other group. But a standing joke was that even if one of those girls agreed to date us, we would not be able to sustain the relationship because of their “high maintenance cost” meaning that the ‘cow-belt’ boys just did not have the money to be able to date at the happening places of Delhi and most of them could not afford the kind of clothes and shoes that secure one’s entry into the discotheques of Delhi. Most of them had experienced the ignominy of being denied entry at a ‘cool hangout’ because they were shabbily dressed. Pornography was watched and MMS “kands” circulated without any thought about its impact on the Indian culture. The hatred of the other group was never absolute, far from it, most of the ‘cow belt’ boys actually tried to join/emulate the cool group. On rare occasions some of them did actually manage to ‘win’ one of the high profile girls, who were then displayed like a trophy which generated awe and envy among them rest. Needless to add that most of these relationships did not sustain, as the college ended the hard realities of life, like a comfortable lifestyle, shame of the peers forced the trophy girlfriend to seek greener pastures. The ‘cow-belt’ then declared that these girls were loose, whorish for being so selfish and dumping their boyfriends for something as ‘trivial as money’.
The two groups were never water-tight; some of the rich kids in the ‘cow-belt’ group did eventually manage to join the other group by gradually acquiring culture and the right kind of attitude. They would then gradually distance themselves from their old buddies who now seemed uncouth, ill-mannered and misogynistic.
It took me almost half a decade to realize that this clash was not about Westernized India and traditional Bharat. Rather, it was a clash between a closed group that resisted outsiders and those outside, seeking a way in. The ‘cow-belt’ boys went through a range of emotions ranging from envy, jealousy, awe to outright hatred. When hatred and envy exist, there always are people looking to make political capital out of it. This is where the Sangh Parivar steps in. For a brief while I too admired it. ‘Westernization of culture’ is a whip dog that can serve the purpose of giving a new meaning to jealousy, envy and hatred for being denied entry into the closed and guarded world of privilege, the ‘cool hangouts’, discotheques, lifestyle and date-pool. One’s longing for belongingness to the elite club can be inverted and transformed into hatred for the ‘Western Influence’. This is the longing for belongingness inverted into hatred that the Sangh Parivaar politics preys upon.
I dislike the Sangh Parivar, not because it teaches hatred but because it does not tell us what exactly one ought to hate. Hatred per se is not a bad thing. Why should I not hate institutions and individuals that make me think that somehow poor are themselves responsible for their poverty and the lack of culture and refinement that come with it? It is a mere accident of birth that I did not go to the schools that teaches the right manner of eating, dressing and conducting oneself in the polished circles. That my dad is not an ATM does not mean that I should be seen as less worthy of being a friend and lover. Why should I not hate the ‘cool hangout’ that denies entry to me because my clothes do not reflect that my family is rolling in wealth? I intend to smash every shopping mall and Multiplex that hires security guards and assigns them the duty to deny entry to anybody who looks like he might belong to the same class as them. I hate every institution that makes us feel and believe that our presence is so revolting that we do not deserve to enter it. And I also hate every person who inhabits that world of privilege, sanitized of the presence of the filthy and uncouth masses and then looks out through the tinted glass in pity, sometimes disgust and makes us feel all the time that we are lesser beings who ought to be kept out.
This divide in the society does not exist, as the Sangh Parivaar would argue, because some have become westernized and the rest are still clinging on to the Indian tradition. What does a Westernized rickshaw puller look like? Would a house maid be allowed entry into a discotheque just because she admires the Western culture? Are Westernized men celebrating Valentine’s Day with the women from slums? Do the Sanghis frown upon revealing rags worn by beggar women? The short skirt is an issue though because it gives the signal that the girl is, ‘out of reach’, ‘high maintenance’, that in 99 cases out of hundred she would not date a poor man who does not speak English, does not have a wallet fat enough to afford hanging out with her, looks ‘uncool’ because he does not wear branded stuff.
Westernization is not the issue; it is merely a symptom not the disease. The real disease is the fact that our society is deeply divided between the privileged few and the deprived majority. The privileged mark their difference from the rest by living in an exclusive world that has its own code of conduct, language, rules of behavior and culture. The war ought to be waged against privilege, which is the real disease and not against ‘Westernization’ which is but a mere symptom of this disease.