I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live as a minority community in a country. I could be a minority in a lot of aspects – language, religion, my personal philosophies, my habits, so on and forth. However, in a country like India, the most pertinent aspect would be religion (This statement is kind-of ironic given the fact that secularism is one of the few things we have been consistently proud of!!). Language could be voted the second-most important aspect, but somehow the widespread use of Hindi and English makes up for the miscommunication caused by the plethora of languages we have. So religion takes the top spot and it absolutely deserves the position, since in India, religious beliefs and practices most often spill over to social ways of living life. Fasts, prayers, festivities, food, shopping, family gatherings, flagging off businesses, marriage, naming a child – there is hardly a social nook which religion has left unoccupied.
So let’s look closer into being a religious minority in India. On the face of it, being a Muslim or a Christian or a Sikh (or a Buddhist or a Jain or a non-believer) is not very different from being a Hindu. Everyone gets to vote, everyone gets to earn, everyone gets to pray, everyone gets to become a political leader, everyone gets away with corruption, so on and so forth. However, when I watch Indian movies and television (which are not really high-quality institutions to refer to, but they do play a significant role in what we watch and how we entertain ourselves on a day-to-day basis), I see Hinduism sprayed across every inch of the screen space. People are always talking about the pavitrata (holiness) of the Ganga, of going on teerth-yatras (pilgrimage), of getting pujas (prayers) done to ward off evil spirits and temple bells ringing away while God switches on the spotlight to take a better look at the melodramatic devotee. Obviously, all the characters are Khannas and Rais and Malhotras and Saxenas. With so much of the majority religion having taken over the media (not just fiction – Amitabh Bachchan in Varanasi and non-Hindu filmstars walking down to the Siddhivinayak), I can’t help but put myself in a Muslim’s or a Christian’s shoes and think of how all this Hindu extravaganza looks to their eyes.
Perhaps, they are too habituated by now. I have Muslim friends who know Hindu mythology better than I do. And of course, concepts such as the holiness of the Ganga are more part of the Indian general knowledge than a belief limited to the majority community. What troubles me is not what the minorities know of the majority (that part I’ll leave to a natural propensity to know about the ‘facts of the land’) but what it might occur to an individual to see temples all over the entertainment space while not knowing what it actually feels like to step into one, of never being able to watch a fictional production that shows the customs and festivities of his/her family and community. I really don’t know whether such thoughts occur to people (and probably, in the interest of social peace, it is preferred that minorities don’t start wondering like me). Maybe they do, and just ascribe it to the whims of a nonsensical institution to increase TRP ratings by playing into the hands of the majority.
I was trying to list down the number of minority characters I’ve seen as protagonists in our films. A few of my fingers remained idle in the counting process. Also, whenever a character from the minority community is the protagonist, the film is most likely dealing with the subject of communalism or religious issues. In recent films, stories such as Fiza that revolve around a Muslim family have always addressed issues of terrorism, jihad, riots etc. Sometimes we do see Muslims and Christians as neighbors praying to their respective Gods for the Hindu protagonists’ lives or whatever else they are in need of. Those are the stereotypical bearded Muslim old man or the curly-haired Mrs.D’Souza from next door who just has to wear a floral-patterned frock and blurt out in her anglicized Hindi – “Jesus sab thik kar dega” (Jesus will make everything right). When was the last time (if at all there was a time) that I saw a normal story about a minority family, who have other concerns in life not related to their religion, who celebrate their festivals, who draw allusions to their mythology, who go to work and fall in love and eat bhel-puris and date at Marine Drive…. In short, who lead a normal life??
Maybe my line of thought is mostly based on the visual media. Maybe minorities find adequate representation in modern Indian literature, maybe they don’t, maybe they don’t care! After all, at the end of the day, all this is fiction. This does not affect the cycle of life. Maybe it would’ve been more of a concern had it been a country where the majority is hostile towards the minority (I mean, officially). At least our media is mostly politically correct, propounding the values of the Constitution (i.e. a minority guy is always a good guy helping out a majority guy or being tricked into becoming a terrorist who bombs down a temple and a mosque together). I’ve heard the few Hindus in Pakistan celebrate Diwali inside the secure confines of their high compound walls while Durga Puja in Bangladesh is celebrated under tight security. India is nowhere close to that stage. The azaan and church bells are still very much part of India’s daily sounds.
Am I looking for trouble here? Am I putting ideas into people’s unsuspecting minds? Am I adding on to the already overflowing burden of communal problems? Not really. My reach is but very limited and I’m a nobody. All I’m doing is speaking my mind. That’s part of the Constitution too, see? I’m being as politically correct as our media ok?