Thursday, June 26, 2014

A park. An elderly Muslim. Hindu religious music. Bad mix!

I typically reach the park well before dawn breaks.  It is warm even at that hour, with an occasional breeze.

But, I am rarely ever the only person that early at the park.  I am even more amazed at the sight of women, walking alone by themselves, that early.  At least this part of the old country is far away from the rape news geography.

Slowly they come.  In ones and twos, and by the tens as the sunlight begins to stream in.  One of those I have seen every morning is an older gentleman who walks slowly with his right hand holding a cane.  Always clad in the same outfit--a white lungi, a white shirt, and a white Islamic skullcap.

When I see that older Muslim gent, I become all the more ticked off at the public address system.  Why?  Let me explain.

This is a public park.  A government owned and maintained park.  Yet, throughout the more than an hour that I am there, they blast--very loudly--Hindu religious music.  Only Hindu religious music.  Nothing but Hindu religious music.  As if it is not a park but the grounds at a Hindu temple.

The older Muslim's outfit made his religion obvious.  There could be, among the walkers, people of faiths other than Hinduism.  Perhaps even an atheist or two.  (I do not count for I am a citizen no more of this old country.)  Why should the government bombard Hindu religious music on people who do not care about Hinduism?

Of course, this is not the first time that I am blogging about this atrocious deluge of religion in a public space.  But, it is even more of a sore point given that the sociopolitical environment is now charged/changed with the election of the Hindu nationalist party to power at the federal level.

The attempt to make the public space secular was perhaps a non-winnable fight from the very beginning of an independent India.  As India started the process of becoming a republic, Jawaharlal Nehru strongly advocated for Rajaji to transition from the office of Governor General and become the country's first president.  Nehru opposed the rival candidate, Rajendra Prasad, who was backed by Vallabhai Patel:
Mr. Patel’s choice for president was Mr. Prasad, a teacher and lawyer who had just presided over the assembly that drafted India’s constitution. This frustrated Mr. Nehru, who tended to be annoyed by Mr. Prasad’s public religiosity – by, for instance, his stated dedication to renovating the Somnath temple in Gujarat.
It was not that Somnath was a Hindu temple, but the temple had a long history of tension between Hindus and Muslims.  After the bitter partition along Hindu/Muslim lines, after the tragedy of lives lost and displaced, and property destroyed, Nehru did not want to trigger more communal tension with a Hindu president inaugurating the renovated temple.  Nehru lost that fight.  I suspect that the fight to keep religion off the public space was also lost; I cannot imagine Rajaji, despite the religious scholar that he was, accepting the invitation to inaugurate the temple.

I suppose I am stuck with the loud Hindu religious music every morning at the park.  At least it is temporary for me, and I will soon return to my sanctuary--the public space by the river where no government, or private group, blasts any religious music.  But, that old Muslim gent has no choice, I guess.

This, too, is India for you.


Anne in Salem said...

Is it impossible to differentiate beautiful music from its religiosity? For example, many people of many faiths or no faith find the Alleluia chorus from Handel's Messiah to be beautiful music, whether they celebrate the birth of Christ or not. Perhaps the Muslim gentleman appreciates the harmonies. Perhaps he can teach us all a lesson about getting along.

Sriram Khé said...

First, I will point to this post of mine from a while ago, on this very issue of beautiful music and religion:
So, without repeating those points, and on this park music issue:
This is a public park, in a country where there is a long, and continuing, history of Hindu-Muslim religious tensions.
To keep religion out of the public sphere is what we aim for. Now, even if the Indian society wants to keep religion in the public space, then they should give equal time at the park for religious music from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, ... and not blast Hindu music all the time, yes?

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