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Why I Dread the Next Navratras

The nine-day ritual is now more about marking physical space and/or territory, as several among animals do, and enforcing the will of the majority of god-fearing Hindu adherers on ‘others’.

Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Deccan Herald

The biannual (quarterly for some) demonstration of love, care and affection toward randomly chosen, but numerically restricted, girl children, especially from the poorer sections of society, is barely a day or two past us.

The majority of the millions of god-fearing Hindus who feted and fawned, in various degrees, over these slightly overwhelmed pre-pubescent girls, are back to their ‘normal’ adherence to patriarchal values in which misogyny and foeticide are ‘okay’. 

The little ones too, deified for a few hours, have returned to their cubby shanties where existence is constantly under a pall of uncertainty.

After having performed rituals while deifying pre-teen girls as saakshaat devi or personification of the goddess, most of her devotees are back to parroting Beti Bachao, Beti Padao  (save the daughter and educate the daughter) in words only, as a mere political slogan, in which , kanya shakti or girl-child power is just a jumla or rhetoric. 

Make no mistake, this ritualistic outpouring of devotion – custom lays down washing the feet of the young ones and wiping them with a clean cloth – is not an act of remorse at routinely perpetuating class exploitation, especially of those on the economic and social margins of society. Instead, it is thought to be an avenue to realisation of wishes. 

A religious-ritual-explainer in a ‘credible’ website I read up before writing on a matter that involves a ‘matter of faith’ -- I daren’t be wrong -  states, “it is believed that during Navratras if havan is performed alongside kanya pujan, happiness and prosperity will be achieved.” 

For the devis of the maximum period of half hour, it is an escape into a make-belief world that exists in colonies from where they are usually shooed away when not ‘needed’. 

The Navratras are the only times when they are wooed and even if a tiny one who is running out of patience with a pink ribbon tied to her scrawny hair, already has a belly that can hold no more, the lady of the house, will still try to push in an extra morsel. 

She is possibly propelled by the Newtonian third law of motion – an extra bite or two would mean more coming into the family coffers. Does anyone ever do anyone from the poorer sections a good turn, save handing out occasional alms, without expecting anything in return? 

Have no doubt, this nine-day Navratra period, and those to come in times ahead, has nothing to do with self-abstention. Contrarily, it is all about violent forms of enforcement on others, especially ‘the other’. 

Navratra celebrations have been becoming progressively ‘in the face’ of those from other religions and non-believers for several decades. It is now more about marking physical space and/or territory, as several among animals do, and enforcing the will of the adherers on ‘others’. 

This year the act of marking presence was more belligerent in the part of India I dwell in -- Uttar Pradesh, now the habitat of neo-triumphalism. 

This may or may not be an actual event in the society I live in -- one should not be definitive in these matters for fear of ‘hurting’ majoritarian sentiments. Yet, this has certainly happened somewhere or the other and began with, what else but a WhatsApp message. 

Day-long mantras, the RWA (Residents’ Welfare Association) memo stated, would be chanted over eight days with the venue shifting from the common rooms of the eight towers in the society before the ninth day’s finale being on the slightly more ‘common’ common space in the middle. 

Almost as a postscript, that most initially missed, the post informed that the chantings would simultaneously be relayed on the internal audio system that exist in high-rises to relay emergency messages. 

This is a new twist in loudspeaker politics that has catalysed many a riot but it now has official sanction of local ‘authority’. No one dares asking questions for fear of a return query being thrown at them -- did you protest when azaan calls started being given from the nearby masjid years ago? 

Welcome to whataboutism square where every private religious observance of the dominant majority community is publicly flaunted and asking questions about them, ensures being labelled as one of ‘them’. 

All this is justified, I presume, because the rashtra or nation, facing khatra or danger for long. 

There is indeed ‘grave’ threat to religious sanctity in, where else but Jawaharlal Nehru University, where progenies of its communist founders ‘served’ a non-vegetarian dish along with dinner on Sunday. Meat eating after all, ‘brings out’ the ‘animal’ among people and should be disallowed, at least during Navratras, if not always. 

On the same day, also the day of Ram Navami, the police withdrew permission granted to an atheist conference in Pune. After having held it peacefully for the past six years, the organisers, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Vicharmanch, were informed that ‘sentiments of believers’ would be hurt by opinions expressed during the conference. 

There has also been an outbreak of communal violence in several states, including Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where Assembly elections are due over the next 20 months. In several places, this had meat – and processions due to it, as the heart of the matter. 

This year, I witnessed around me a more emphatic observance of the Navratras. Reasons are not difficult to seek. A wave of triumphalism is palpable in the wake of the verdict of the recent state Assembly polls.

The PEW report last year stated the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had support of 68% of Hindus in northern states while in the central region, it was 65%. 

The, ‘yes there is a formal order, no there isn’t’ for closure of meat shops in Uttar Pradesh may have been in headlines, but even eggs disappearing from the shelves of neighbourhood groceries in not a new phenomenon.

Two decades ago, I learnt that property developers do not sell the first flats to Muslims for fear of no-buyers for the rest. And, anyone has to just say adaab over phone at a ring in a public place to experience a gaze of suspicion. 

Directives for the minorities have nothing to do with religion. It is all about power and being in a position to dictate and control every form of behaviour of the ‘other’, (read Muslims in UP) – what they wear and eat, where they pray, with whom they are allowed to forge romantic (even social and platonic) relationships. 

If not Islamophobia, but suspicion and/or dislike for Muslims has predated the emergence of BJP as a significant political party in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But BJP has instigated the rancour and made the ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’, or ‘us’ and ‘them’, divide or narrative as being politically correct. 

The mob is now just not reported in newspaper headlines as having acted in local trains or in remote hinterlands. We now live and rub shoulders with the members of this mob, use the same elevators, shop in the same departmental store and share the same upper-middle class spaces. 

I can just dread the next Navratra.

The writer is a NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. His other books include The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwinThe views are personal.

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