• Padmaavat : The politics behind mobilising consciousness of our cultural past

    Surajkumar Thube

    February 21, 2018

    Image Courtesy: India Samvad


    The pride and valour of a community, among other glorified stories of our pristine past, continue to be the central preoccupation of our modern life. This has gained currency in the recent past, as one witnessed in the controversies that plagued the film Padmaavat. The violence, chaos, and confusion, fomented by the Karni Sena, continued unabated. A vicious mobocracy took hold.

    Pointing out that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)  cleared the film, and that Supreme Court rejected the plea against it, seems redundant when mobocracy starts operating in full swing. The people, through whom the State legitimises its power,  themselves begin to operate as the executioners of that unbridled power. Interestingly, in this diffused form of appropriating power, this “mob mentality” continues to have clear markers—either of their cultural sensibilities of their geographical presence—of the group or community which orchestrated this descent into mobocracy, even if it has people from other communities.. This phenomena, of mob mentality more than erasing the multiple identities of groups involved, actually reinforces these specific differences within them without tinkering with their larger accepted, albeit imagined, cultural past. A distinct, separate identity has to carve a niche for itself, in order to stand out in your immediate social grouping without diluting the significance of a cogent social map.

    Active groups like Ahmedabad Kshatriya Sabha, Rajput Vidya Sabha, Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena, Jauhar Kshatriya Manch, Akhil Bhartiya Khatriya Sabha, and Shree Rajput Karni Sena are all examples of a phenomena wherein even if  perceptions of your own identities drastically vary, depending on the impact of globalisation and capitalism ( in 6 different states witnessing law and order issues) it is consciousness of dominant traditions that act as a social glue that sustains this onslaught as one community.

    Let me pause here and explain what I mean by globalisation and capitalism. In the name of globalisation in the Indian context, a post colonial nation, what we mostly see is an onslaught of domination and invasion of a peculiar world view coming from the West. Being the “latecomers” to modernity, there is an intense mimetic desire in, a desire for convergence and resemblance; this is stronger than the desire to chart out our substantial cultural differences. This, to use Immanuel Kant's words, is symptomatic of a severe lack of a sustained critical engagement with the phenomenology of the self. It is for this reason that Roland Robertson's idea of glocalisation— a collapsing of the global and the local— doesn't work in our case, as the local continues to be dominated by a small coterie of self avowed promoters and protectors of a peculiar tradition, at the cost of eschewing other forms or interpretations of the same. This, to juxtapose it to capitalism, sees a rise of cultural homogenisation further pushed by a media-induced technological globalisation. As Avijit Pathak says, globalisation, in the Indian case, is inextricably linked to power. Thereby, in this interaction of cultural homogeneity from the West and the cultural heterogeneity of the East, the space of the latter has long been appropriated by a small, powerful group as the primary purveyors of the same. Capitalism, seen through the lens of this group, unleashes a kind of change that is rapid and permanent. This interjection for our concern over here is needed as to talk only of the “cultural” takes us away from the more fundamental material entity which is the “society.” According to Benedict Anderson and other Marxists of similar thought, this transition is required to realise the actual nexus of political, economic, and cultural ideological relationships. )

     This dynamics can even be seen in a place like Punjab, where the Rajput Mahasabha has publicly announced that they have no issues with the film, although some feelings of disquiet are still palpable among them. It seems the core “ethnic pride” remains intact even when one starts moving away from its naturally identifiable geographical presence.

    In this interaction of consciousness and identity, the former comes off as mostly a metaphysical, mystical hew, an element of one's togetherness since antiquity. This togetherness can be understood by the term “diachronic unity,” which basically means a unified consciousness over time. Under this unity, it becomes more important to buttress the importance of “remembering” more than 'experiencing' a particular event. Whereas identity is in many way a modern construct that has a perceptible political thrust to it.  The association of the above mentioned consciousness with this personal identity makes us realise the significance of this continuation of remembering in carrying forward a sense of a unified community.

     The former not only gains political currency from the latter but also manages to keep the role of culture alive in the ethnic nationalism that gets perceived in contemporary times. Even our rudimentary idea of capital is enough to make sense of how it helps in crystallising this cultural project in modern times. As Barrington Moore argues, the process of political democracy preceding industrial revolution, in the Indian case, has left the dominant cultural behemoths largely unscathed, especially in terms of their societal clout. Because of its uneven nature, the crystallisation of identities happens on a socially constructed base laid out by the hegemonic cultural powers.)

    Further, the multiple players mentioned above almost make a case for a horizontal secularisation, where the element of individuality is used only in so far as to strengthen  an individual’s communitarian bonds. Violence, over here, is needed to protect the pride and valour of the community. Non-violent protests, as the Karni Sena supposedly intended to carry out, was always going to descent into different forms of violence; this is because non-violence, inherently, does not appear in multiple forms. It is violence, either ideational or physical (and many other sub-categories of the same that can cater to multiple forms of disgruntled voices). Non-violence remains only a facade to, temporarily, suppress your myriad forms of “emotional-cultural” violence.

    One of the intriguing groups mentioned above is the Jauhar Kshatrani Manch, who have come out in support of the Karni Sena to assert their “swabhimaan” (pride).  The finitude of life, i.e., human mortality, is required to sustain the belief of the seamlessness of the endless continuum of traditions, something that gives primordial notions of sacrifice the highest scale of veneration even today. Consensus over the same—and about the larger pantheon of agreeable traditions mediated through beliefs, poems, public rituals— creates a religious nationalism much stronger than the official stand of civic nationalism that appears enervated and exhausted even before reaching anywhere near its fullest potential. If consciousness means being  reminded of the centrality of mortality, the very act of using that as a tool to politically mobilise an emotional-cultural community is something that reinforces the particular ethnic identity. Also, as a few women speak on behalf of the entire community about preserving swabhimaan, exclusivist moralism is deployed where even the perceived inclusion of other women in your bandwagon is done on terms and conditions set by this very small coterie of cultural protectors. This was clearly visible in the the unease and dismay with which three women of the aforementioned group gathered at Chittor fort, purportedly to commit jauharas they contended that the government had failed to safeguard their swabhimaan)   This reminds of the controversial period of 1980's, mainly in North India and particularly in Rajasthan, when Roop Kanwar had “voluntarily” committed sati.  What one sees now is the same discourse that was then put forward in support of sati, and the veneration of Sati Temple.

    Quite simply, this overall purist orientation of tradition being handed down in a linear, homogenising fashion juxtaposes well with the parallel homogenising tendency of capital in an inherently fractured modernity. Just as the dominant groups become the promoters and protectors of cultural heterogeneity, the dominant group is also involved in the cultural homogeneity of modernity induced by capitalism. “Modernity of Traditions,” to borrow the term of Rudolph and Rudolph, aptly captures this phenomenon. This homogenising tendency can also be seen by analysing how the “mobility”  has always been more for capital than for labour. This can be further extended for our case by noting how the unhindered mobility of capital eschews the proliferation of  a mobility of multiple “ideas” of cultural difference.

     Moreover, with an annihilation of the very idea of a counterbalance to this imagined consensus, the cultural symbolism of the prevalent psychological perception is what informs ourmind. This is reason enough to strive for a cultural solidarity which would, virtually, face no competition in a transition from a “subjective” pool of consciousness to an “objective” identity. As Akeel Bilgrami argues, subjective identity is when an individual is said to have a certain identity, owing to some characteristics they haves and with which they identify; while an objective identity is that where an individual is said to have a certain identity owing to some characteristics they have but with which they might not necessarily identify with. The subjective part is prospective, in the sense that one is more concerned with how one conceives oneself to be, rather than merely what one is. At the same time, it is the objective part that goes beyond the obvious biological characteristics to highlight the influence of economic formations throughout history in a given society. The subjective consciousness mentioned above, then, seems more of an attribution to an unconscious or subconscious behaviour, which the Marxists call “false consciousness.” The present case of mobilisation of traditional consciousness can be seen in this light.


    Surajkumar Thube has recently done his post graduation in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He has previously contributed to India Today's DailyO, Countercurrents, Raiot, The Hoot and The Book Review.

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