The two hot debating topics this December first week were the demolition of a disused building in Ayodhya twenty years ago and the current Gujarat election. The Ayodhya anniversary has by now become an annual ritual which (especially) the English language media religiously (pun intended) runs through, dusting its old footage or commissioning new quotes from old columnists. The debate such as it is, is like a restricted club whose membership is closed to outsiders. It is like the yarn about investigating a murder that occurred during an Italian card game in New York. The investigator asks the first guy, ‘who fired the shot?’ and he replies, ‘I dunno. I didn’t see it. I was sitting with my back to the door, you see.’ The second guy says the same thing and all others say the same thing. It was one card game in which everyone sat on the same side of the table!
As the debate could have only one side, any new columnists would have to conform by spewing old arguments of the old columnists, but if possible, in new a idiom. Or face ostracism from what is known as the mainstream media. Even the few columnists who have a contrary view would have to shroud their views in a lot of verbiage as to practically make them unintelligible or at least sound neutral. Or pass them as social science theories. Columnists with a Hindu moniker have to be doubly careful to pass the test of secularism. Others are not hampered by any such shibboleths. Thus, to be admitted to the club while a columnist with a name like a Misra or a Sarma would have to constantly invoke the dangers posed by the ‘Hindu right’ to the ‘secular fabric’ of the nation, a Manu Joseph could be brazen about his concept of secularism. Joseph first dismissed the notion that India is secular in his December 5 column in the International Herald Tribune (India Is Not A Secular Republic). To make matters clear even for the dimwitted, Joseph elaborated his concept of secularism in his column of the same day in New York Times (Secularism in Search of a Nation):
“…what it really meant, without spelling it out, was that Hindus, who make up the majority of the nation, would have to accommodate themselves to the ways of the other religions, even if this meant taking some cultural blows.”
In order to leave no one in doubt, as to what he meant by ‘taking cultural blows’, Joseph elaborates:
“So, Hindus would have to accept the slaughter of cows, which they consider sacred (some Indian states have banned cow slaughter); …”
For Joseph this was not enough.
“… the Muslim community’s perceived infatuation with Pakistan;”
Having demolished an oft repeated if clichéd ‘the idea of India’, shibboleth chanted by the secular intelligentsia, he comes to the nub:
“…the conversion of poor, low-caste Hindus to Christianity by evangelists; and the near impossibility of getting admitted to some prestigious schools and colleges run by Christian organizations because so many places are reserved for Christian students.”
The last bit about ‘the near impossibility of getting admitted to some prestigious schools and colleges’ is a placebo thrown in to mask his main demand that India be made a grazing ground for number-starved Churches in the west. There was a time when Christian run schools and colleges were in demand but there is no such mad scramble for them now as non-Christian (calling them Hindu might offend secular sensibilities!) institutions offer quality education comparable to or even better than them.
As Joseph was writing in an American newspaper read mainly in America would he consider tendering the same advice to the Americans? For instance, being a secular nation, America should have taken the cultural blow of ‘the World Trade Centre being brought down by a few misguided youth’ and not waged a war first on Afghanistan and then on Iraq. Or that America should really not bother about some of its jobs being Banglored. Or that twenty-first century America should really be not so conservative. If it were not so why would a Bobby Jindal or a Nicky Haley would have had to go to such great lengths to conceal their ethnic identities and fabricate new ones!
After all this din, the Indian mainstream media would have redeemed a bit of its credibility if it expended a wee-bit of its energies in mourning a humanitarian disaster that is comparable only to the holocaust. None bothered (or dared) ask, ‘if the day on which a disused structure was destroyed is to be described a black day and commemorated every year, what about the day on which an estimated 450,000 Hindus were exiled in their own homeland?’ Why do lofty ideals like secularism and composite culture do not have the same connotation in India’s northern-most state? If December 6 is to be celebrated as a ‘black day’ every year why don’t we commemorate January 19 the day on which the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits commenced in 1989 and did not stop till virtually all of them were driven out? By not speaking about it if not against it are not our intelligentsia and media guilty of complicity?