I think it was somewhere in the 90s that the idea of the Valentine’s Day gained ground. From an innocuous day in history when a poor saint was executed for uniting lovers to becoming a momentous day in the battle between fanatics and liberals, it has been quite a journey for this day; as if love were not complicated enough. St. Valentine (may his soul rest in peace) would be horrified at the cultural spin that this day has undergone (especially in the Indian context).
Valentine’s Day is a wonderful corporate creation; a day when poor lovers shore up their pockets to celebrate a non-event and make money for the entertainment industry. The strategy was again put into use (initiated by World Gold Council, jewellers and banks) to make Akshaya Tritiya a religious event; who’s ever heard of the significance of buying gold on this day before the marketers gave it an auspicious spin?
Nevertheless, V-Day would have merely remained a day where lovers and wannabe lovers splurged money at the altar of love if not for the kind intervention of moral and religious guardians of this country, who want to protect the youth from evil forces. It is ironic that in their efforts to do away with the V-Day, they have unwittingly given it a fillip and so Feb 14th has suddenly come to represent a clash between 2 Indias (actually, there are many more Indias who are quite indifferent to this).So, Feb 14th every year is a now a media story where panelists discuss the Right to Freedom – the right to be in pink chaddis vis-à-vis the requirement to be in Indian dresses.
The definition of Indianess and Indian culture has become highly significant now. Groups like the Shiv Sena and the Sri Ram Sene have been bandying the word freely in all their interactions. Suddenly, Indian culture is a very homogenous term and the traditions are defined by Indian men who have a very narrow concept of nationalism and plurality.
So, wearing a sari and being a quintessential Bharat Mata (a figment of Hindi film industry) are Indian attributes while wearing jeans and going to pubs/bars render you un-Indian. With such narrow definitions of cultural nuances, is it any surprise that the guardians of culture have never thought beyond these silly symbols of Bharathiyatha?
Two things here –
Who defines what is Indian Culture, if there is something called an “Indian culture”? Is there something as amorphous as an Indian culture which actually dictates our way of life? Culture and society are terms that grow with time and vary across geographies. A Punjabi in the North has much more in common with the Pakistani than a Malayali like me scribbling my thoughts here?
Our dressing, social customs and are attitudes in life are largely shaped by our family and immediate society. In larger cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, where people from different languages and cultures work together, there is a greater mixing of these cultural aspects, which brings a beautiful heterogeneity. It is this heterogeneity that we have been taught to be proud of and celebrate.
Is it necessary to live by the so-called Indian culture? Even if by chance, someone does something which is not in sync with what is generally accepted and understood as Indian culture, does it give anyone the right to take law into one’s hands and attempt to institutionalize acceptable culture? Why is it necessary to live within these walls and subject oneself to rules which are of no significance to the individual? There is a dangerous cocktail of culture and nationalism being mixed and attempted to be force fed to people who oppose this.
As long as the Freedom to Expression does not infringe upon others’ rights, there is no reason why we cannot allow people to celebrate. I believe that Valentine’s Day is purely a commercial event but my conviction cannot prevent someone else from celebrating it. Bringing in the talk of Indian culture and traditions is just a ruse by these fringe organizations to publicize themselves.
Isn’t it ironical that something as silly as Valentine’s Day has become the rallying point for liberals in their fight against cultural nationalists? The Pink Chaddi campaign is smart, innovative and appealing but there is a real danger of creating the empowered women stereotype – the Modern Indian women who believes that going to bars and pubs is the way forward.
This does not in any way represent the educated women just the same way as the loony world of the Sena/Sene does not represent Indian culture. Ideological clashes lead to a polarity of thoughts many a times and it would be unfortunate if the real debate gets lost in the din of chaddis and saris.
A mature democracy allows a healthy debate among its various constituents and does not undermine the right to disagree with the majority. The Freedom to question, imagine and debate is an intrinsic part of our lives and if and when we lose the right to celebrate this plurality and freedom, the country becomes a mere geographical tract of land where boundaries are manned by aliens like Pramod Muthalik, who masquerade as Indians, protecting us from cultural attacks.