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Udaipur’s Competing ‘Religiosities’ – a Sign of Political Climate?

Discourse on TV news channels and social media has already generated fear among many Hindus and Muslims. 

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A bunch of boys scampered merrily onto the pedestrian bridge, yelling, laughing, bursting ‘bomb’ crackers. Their bright little green, blue, and saffron sherwanis shimmered and swirled as they ran gleefully, stuffing fingers into ears for the cracker blasts. A large mosque around the corner was brightly lit with many colours of the rain-bow. Rows of green flags with crescents adorned the tops of some auto rickshaws.

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    (Photo: David Devadas)
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    (Photo: David Devadas)
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    (Photo: David Devadas)

On setting foot in Udaipur earlier that evening last weekend, one of the first things one heard was the procession celebrating Eid-e-milad-un-nabi, the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammad.

The taxi driver from the airport, as well as the auto driver who brought one into the no-four-wheeler zone around Udaipur’s 16th century palace, spoke of diversions for the procession.

It turned out that neither of them had to take any diversion. The talk was the diversion.

Superficial Inclusivity

At first glance, all these vignettes from Udaipur seem like signs of inclusive, liberal tolerance.

After all, Udaipur is not only the city over which a temple of ‘Karni mata’ presides above the palace, but a Mewari city whose Rajputs take pride in their raja’s refusal to meet Muslim rulers.

Apart from the innumerable temples that prominently dot its landscape, Udaipur has many mosques, five major dargahs (mausoleum shrines), and several smaller ones—including some tucked inside the heart of Hindu-dominated areas. There are also several Jain and Sikh sacred places in the city.

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Assertive Religiosity

Despite all these facts, and the prominence of Eid celebrations, however, one finds less encouraging trends lurking beneath, if one digs just a little deeper. A chat with local friends revealed that both Hindu and Muslim religious processions have grown in size and visibility in recent years—perhaps even more so in the perception of observers from the other community.

The Eid-e-milad procession, for instance, is traditional, but many Hindus have the sense that it has increased in size.

One of those who says so, promptly adds ‘so have ours’. Her husband points out that the Jagannath procession, which often takes place around midsummer, has grown in size and visibility, just like Islamic processions.

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Organisers of some processions go out of their way to mobilise the processionists, and some of them pass through areas where the other community is concentrated. Flags too have become ubiquitous— green flags and saffron ones, both kinds with religious symbols stamped upon them.

The husband points to a row of flags on a wall across the road, adding that ‘they come and ask to put these flags up at our place too.’ I say, ‘go ahead,’ he adds, shrugging. A practicing Hindu who employs Muslims, he is a liberal young man, but chooses to float along with the tide of religious assertion.

This example would indicate that many of those who fly those flags and participate in those processions don’t necessarily want to assert religious identity, but rather that these trends are being deliberately promoted by activists in both communities.

The good thing is that, if assertive religiosity is indeed on the rise, there seems to be little sign of openly expressed annoyance towards the other community.

Social, political, and opinion leaders would nevertheless be well-advised to watch out for the possibility that assertive religiosity might turn provocative and become a cause for strife in the future.

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Trends and Portents

In any dynamic society, it is easy to miss the dangers inherent in such trends until they reach a critical point at which strife might possibly emerge between the groups asserting their respective identities.

For, while the trends emerge, they seem alluringly like signs of tolerance. If resentment lurks beneath talk of traffic diversions, it could turn into open hostility at some point.

The discourses and narratives on television ‘news’ channels and on social media have already generated fear and resentment among many members of both communities. A sense that the other has become unreasonable and antagonistic has increased on both sides. Tolerance needs a conscious effort.

(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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