I do not celebrate Holi, especially after the social consciousness I developed during my graduation and post-graduation years. Actually, I do not celebrate any ‘Hindu’ festival now. This social consciousness has less to do with the curriculum of our universities which hardly recommends any anti-caste literature or scholarly works. In recent times, particularly Post-Mandal Commission, the students from marginalised social groups have created space for discussions in campuses. I was introduced to the scholar G Aloysius and his work on nationalism through the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. That lecture was organised by a student committee, consisting of Dalit Bahujan students of the campus in 2014. I was surprised that there was no reference to G Aloysius and his work “Nation without Nationalism” in my cultural studies classes. The book discusses the idea of nationalism from an anti-caste perspective, published by Oxford Press University. The course curriculum had actually not included any scholarly work by a ‘subaltern’ scholar.
There are ample of works, especially by the ‘subaltern’ writers which tell us how misogynist, casteist and brahminical the ‘Hindu’ festivals are. There is one article by K Jamnadas which particularly talks about Holi as a celebration of the murder of Bahujans. This erasure of anti-caste perspective and scholarly works from syllabus is not a coincidence, it is deliberate. Though the social structure of the student’s representation in public universities has become more representative of the society due to affirmative action policy, the social structure of the faculty remains over-represented by the privileged castes.
So, it becomes important to discuss whether ‘Hindu’ festivals are representative of the masses. The construct of Hinduism works when people divided into thousands of castes are made to feel that they belong to a religion which cannot treat them equally. The below excerpt from B R Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste demystifies the construct of ‘Hindu Society’:
Hindu Society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be-all and end-all of its existence. Castes do not even form a federation. A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes, except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot. On all other occasions each caste endeavours to segregate itself and to distinguish itself from other castes.
Bahujan usually associate these festivals with simple joys in life. I have memories of Holi from my childhood. Holi and Diwali used to be the time when my parents would buy new clothes for me. There would be holidays for at least 3 days in Bihar. We would have visits to our ancestral home and relatives.
These ‘Hindu’ festivals have got institutional support. There would be essay writing exercises on these festivals in schools. The media also plays its role in reproducing and reinforcing the stories behind these festivals and normalize their casteist nature. Bahujans celebrate these festivals because of the brahminical hegemony. It is like celebrating your own slavery. Once you realised that, you would not be able to enjoy these festivals. I have known friends who would avoid people on such festivals. It becomes painful to be part of these brahminical festivals when you learn the history which you were never taught while growing up.
It is important to ask questions such as what do we celebrate? Do we celebrate caste system when we celebrate ‘Hindu’ festivals? Do we celebrate the victory of an oppressive system? How can we celebrate the burning of a woman named ‘Holika’? Maybe the violence against the perceived ‘demon’ has been normalised. It has been normalised in the same way when the people talk about Ishrat Jahaan. Her cold-blooded murder is overshadowed by her alleged link to a terrorist organisation. Or, when the repeated attacks on Chithralekha by CPI (M) goons in Kerala do not get enough coverage in media.
The violence against the marginalised has been normalised. One will ask in Dadri whether the meat was beef or not, instead of grasping the severity of the matter. One would justify the suicides of Dalit students as a regular event in ‘South Indian Universities’. The tragic death of a Ph.D. scholar Rohith Vemula would be turned into an issue of whether he was a Dalit or from the Other Backward Class.
Smriti Irani would raise the issue of observing Mahishasura martyrdom day in the parliament, she would ask the Left from West Bengal to defend their Durga but they would not talk about the brutal murders of Holika, Putna or Surpanakha. They would not discuss how casteist and inhumane these festivals are.