No place for cultural vandalism in India

Disfiguring symbols and statues of leftist icons has come across as shocking and crass

Gulf News
18:26 March 7, 2018

Flush with an electoral victory in the north-eastern Indian state of Tripura, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists allegedly went on to destroy the statute of Vladimir Lenin, the communist revolutionary and icon. Condoning the act, BJP leader H. Raja, national secretary of the party, called for the destruction of anti-caste icon Periyar’s statue in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Soon enough Periyar’s bust was vandalised with reports of counter-vandalism coming from other parts of the country.

India is famed for its syncretic culture, where the body-politic is informed by various ideologies, which sometimes clash and clang. As long as these differences are managed in a democratic fashion, no one should have any objection, but to resort to political violence and bulldoze statues of political theorists — just because you disagree with their worldview — is both irrational and crass. It is neither desirable, nor in anyone’s interest in India that competing political ideologies resort to sparring in such a reprehensible manner.

Over the course of its modern history India has assimilated various influences, home-grown and foreign, which have greatly inspired its own political and class struggles. Mahatma Gandhi, the great pacifist, as well as firebrand revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh (someone the BJP seeks to appropriate) often found inspiration in the methods propounded by the likes of Lenin to win freedom from tyranny. The First Russian Revolution (1905), for instance, fired up the imagination of so many Indian freedom fighters. Similarly, anti-caste icon Periyar was instrumental in shaping Tamil psyche and polity. Attempting to eradicate caste, he questioned superstition and actively fought for women’s rights. The idea of India, therefore, is a fusion of various philosophies, viewpoints and articles of faith. Any attempts to flatten out this syncretic culture is bound to boomerang.

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