One of my earliest memories of subtle indoctrination of religion was when as a school student I saw youngsters wearing a cross on their neck while wearing bell bottomed pants and T-Shirt as a fashion statement. It seemed just something fancy which one did just to irritate parents or show rebellion in conservative Hindu households. Another very common thing one did was saying “Inshallah” when one wanted to say that one wished for something to come true soon. Both these things were picked up from Hindi films, especially those starring Amitabh Bachchan or Zeenat Aman, both very popular actors from the film industry. At that time, I did not know about cultural indoctrination or misappropriation of culture or religion. It was only after I grew up and read about both these terms and how it was used successfully to destroy all the ancient cultures except for Hinduism, did I understand how toxic all this was.
All these years, in Bharat this happened at a slow pace before Independence and with a very strong undercurrent after Independence. One did not see the ripples on the surface. The slow pace was primarily because both the Abrahamic cults faced maximum resistance from Hindus all through the centuries of their existence because Hindus were not willing to let go of their ancient traditions so easily. Having monarchy also helped because the monarch felt responsible for protection and continuation of the ancient traditions and cultures. He was considered as an ‘amsha’ of Bhagwan Vishnu and there was no way he would allow for the destruction of the very Dharma which gave him that status. Post-Independence, we have been exceptionally unfortunate that none of our leaders thought it fit to either give Sanatana Dharma the respect it deserved nor did they give the PM’s or President’s chair the respect as an Amsha of Bhagwan Vishnu, or the duty of protecting Sanatana Dharma, its ancient traditions, cultures or knowledge systems. By adopting a peculiar form of ‘secularism’ in our country where the majority religion Hinduism was not given any respectable status, we ended up allowing for vigorous cultural appropriation and religious misappropriation. This also resulted in various forms of shaming the rituals/festivals in Hinduism via advertisements, print media, films, even educational books and more.
Influencing the public
Last year, the Tanishq brand Ekatvam came out with an advertisement for Deepawali which showed Neena Gupta, Alaya Furniturewala, Nimrat Kaur and Sayani Gupta discussing how they are going to celebrate the festival. In the advertisement, Sayani Gupta says, “I’m hoping to be able to meet my mum after a really long time. Definitely no firecrackers. I don’t think anyone should light any firecrackers. Lots of diyas, lots of laughter hopefully and lots of positivity”. A subtle way of teaching Hindus what should be done and what should not be done during a joyous festival. Why deprive children of the joy of bursting crackers? Hindus protested this advertisement voraciously but this year it remains to be seen what would happen if this advertisement is replayed, because the Government at the Centre itself has put out an advisory to all States to ban crackers.
Misconstruing daughters as property
Earlier this year the bridal wear brand Manyavar released a new commercial featuring Alia Bhatt, where it showed the Hindu marriage sanskaar of ‘Kanyadaan’ as demeaning and wanted to introduce giving away the bride as ‘Kanyamaan’. As per the advertisement the bride (Alia) thinks of some phrases that are commonly used especially in films, for brides to be, including, ‘paraaya dhan’ meaning someone else’s wealth. A very time-tested method of demeaning a culture by misconstruing daughters as property and giving away the bride (which happens in all religions and cultures) as ‘charity’! Since Navratri and Deepawali are the favourite target for almost all brands, this year too we saw the ritualistic targeting of these festivals. Navratri once again was the time for the launch and marketing of intimate inner wear, condoms and such products. And Deepawali saw the whole “festival of lights” being changed to Jashn-e-Riwaaz (celebration of tradition) by Fabindia. The advertisement showed models wearing fusion clothes shorn of the traditional jewellery or bindi worn by women during Hindu festivals. After the huge condemnation of the advertisement, the company insisted that it was not a Deepawali collection but they forgot that the advertisement clearly mentioned the “festival of lights”. They made it worse by saying that their Deepawali collection will be soon launched using the phrase ‘Jhilmil si Deepawali’.
In fact the word Deepawali itself has been tortured enough in the past by claiming that there was “Ali” in it, by shortening it to Deepawali and then by calling it a simple “Festival of Lights”—all of which do not bring out the essence of the Festival which covers five or six days (depending on the region one is from)
- Vasu-baras when we worship our Indian breed of cows (no Puja can start/end without Gou-Puja and/or Gou-gras)
- Dhanteras when we worship Bhagwan Dhanvantari who gave us Ayurveda, Mata Lakshmi and Kuber.
- Kali Chaudas / Naraka Chaturdashi when we worship Kali Mata / Sri Krishna
- Deepawali when we worship Mata Lakshmi with Ganapati and also the day when Sri Rama returned to Ayodhya
- Govardhan Puja and Naya Saal (New Year) for some regions
- Bhai Dhooj when one celebrates the bond between the brother and sister while remembering Yama and Yami.
The moment one uses Abrahamic terms for a Hindu festival or ritual, one can be assured that soon it will be shamed or appropriated by either one of the Abrahamic religions. The fact is that the Abrahamic religions do not celebrate life with the joy and happiness that is intrinsic to Hinduism via festivals and rituals. Hindu festivals celebrate every aspect of life whether it is birth, education, victory of Dharma, harvesting, marriage, rivers, appearance of our Avatars, throughout the year. There is actually no month of the year when we do not celebrate. Hence, to break our connection to our faith, it was imperative for the Abrahamic faiths to shame them or to misappropriate them.
A very visible example would be the misappropriation of the Vidya (Vijaya) Dashami Festival. Another example would be the misappropriation of Onam as a festival celebrated for the return of Maveli (Bali Raja), when actually it is a day when Hindus celebrate Vamana Avatar and the gentle subjugation of Bali Raja symbolising destruction of ego and arrogance and the springing of Bhakti. We see that native Muslims and Christians also want to indulge in this. Many think that it is showing respect, but the fact is that this is the way that ancient cultures were misappropriated and merged into the respective Abrahamic faiths.
We do need Governmental action to refuse permission for cultural misappropriation. Also instances of media houses, advertisement agencies misusing Hindu festivals to show them in a bad light or to misconstrue the festivals should be treated as a criminal offence and heavy fine should be levied on them.
We need a Cultural Protection Bill to save our ancient culture, traditions, rituals and ancient knowledge systems. Also, it is imperative that conversions should be outlawed completely. Demographic changes have been happening so rapidly that it is difficult to imagine that Hindus would have a country of their own even after 20 years.