All over the world, festivals are opportunities to share joy, food, celebration, resources and a common humanity. India is blessed with many festivals and a diverse population celebrating them at the community level. It has always been a fairly common practice to see friends and neighbors of one religion participate in the festivities of another religion. I remember all through childhood and college of Muslim friends coming home for Holi and Diwali, visiting us for Eid and everyone celebrating Christmas because well… what child does not want gifts from Santa Claus?
However, increasingly, since the right-wing takeover of the social media space in India, festivals have also been safered and feuds have raged. The first targets were Bakrid and Noel. Each Bakrid RW handle can be seen displaying hollow virtuous messages about how animal cruelty should be avoided. They conveniently forget that the slaughter of goats is a practice among many Hindus in Dusshera, India and Nepal. The cheesy biryani jokes are endless.
The celebration of Christmas has long been decried as a sign of the dominance of Western culture and a Vatican conspiracy to take over the world (one gift from Santa Claus at a time). In the very first year of the Modi era, the government attempted to disrupt the Christmas festivities by announcing that December 25 would be celebrated as “Good Governance Day” to mark the former Prime Minister’s birthday. Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He even announced that schools would remain open but resumed the decision after public outrage.
It seems terribly mean to me to try to disrupt the festivities of a religious community with mundane bureaucratic inventions or the symbolic love of animals, but then again, I never quite understood the fanatic-is-so tendency. -cool. This pettiness characterizes all fanatics around the world, whether it is the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas or the Hindutva hooliganism we-will-shut-your-eat-during-Navratri (but only if you are a non-Hindu). Majority bullying has permeated every expression of public holiday in India, especially in the media.
In 2019, Surf Excel faced RW’s reaction to an advertisement promoting Hindu-Muslim friendship, with accusations that it was promoting the concept of “Love Jihad” and giving primacy to namaz. on Holi. #BoycottSurfExcel has started to be trending.
In 2020, Tanishq released an ad promoting religious harmony, which featured a Muslim mother-in-law throwing a baby shower for a Hindu daughter-in-law, after social media ecosystem RW accused the brand of promoting Love Jihad.
In October 2021, FabIndia launched an online campaign called “Diwali” Jashn-e-Riwaaz. This time, the RW brigade accused FabIndia of having tried to “Islamize” Diwali by “using” the name of the festival. Dabur released an ad that showed a lesbian couple celebrating Karwaa Chauth using the slogan “Glow With Pride” after RW attacked them complaining that the brand had slandered the Hindu idea of marriage and partying.
It is strange to approach the holiday season with that bitter aftertaste of boycotts and a call for the ban and control of festive expression by Hindutva hooligans. News from Gurgaon of a namaz rally disrupted by Bajrang Dal hooligans chanting “Jai Shri Ram” begins to circulate. I feel discouraged and dejected. When did we become such a brutal majority country of bullying?
I am surrounded by such dark thoughts when my phone beeps. A dear friend who happens to be Muslim texts.
” Yes ! Diwali plans.
I reply, “I don’t feel very Diwali-ish!”
Pat comes his response, “Uhhhhhh… excuse me!” Try to avoid giving me a Diwali gift? “
I smile without wanting to. “I don’t remember having my Eidee from you this year.”
A few seconds pass. The phone beeps again. The answer says, “Aight! I owe you Eidee, you owe me a Diwali gift! Let’s go shopping. Saturday?”
I chuckle as I type an affirmative response thinking that at the very least, rampant consumerism will prove to be rampant bigotry’s biggest challenge!
Perhaps the childish and innocent greed for gifts will save the festive spirit of sharing in these petty times.
The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometimes a writer and social commentator.