Nov 5, 2005

Considering Diwali

Digital Rotation:
Black Sabbath: Sabotage
The Roots: The Tipping Point

Finally consolidating all my files from 4 different computers onto the new iBook. It has been working out pretty well, though it's a damn distraction in the middle of class. But whatever - we deal as we can.

Have been watching the Diwali frenzy in the NRI community of the United States reach new heights this year, and have been wondering "why?" For example, a number of people pushed for alternate side of the street parking to be suspended in NYC for Diwali, the closest you can get to having it declared a holiday in old New York. I'm sure there's been a push every year, but why to such a frenzy this year? Maybe the RSS has decided to focus on grassroots entrenchment of Hindu-dom in the NRI community, and build from these smaller victories towards a more unified base for funding their revolution in the future. Hell, fascists around the world have learned from America's policies in the past (see influence of American genocide of Native tribes on Nazi ideology and techniques, as well as treatment of immigrants as the new model for new Europe's rising rightwing), so why not learn how the neo-conservatives took everything over in the past 25 years.

Diwali... a topic I definitely want to return to, because it has such a weird place in the Hindu diaspora's framing of who our community is. It's taken on predominance in posture over the other holidays, but even in the talking points, you hear "it's like our Christmas." Such an interesting choice, actually, as I've heard non-commercial, non-scary Christians complain that Christmas in all its retail revelry is not the holiest of Christian holidays, and I've heard the same about Diwali. It is one of many holidays (holy days). So what gives?

Not to mention the distillation of a master narrative of Diwali that is very problematic for non-Hindus. First, it's not even called "Diwali" in South India - it's Deepavali. Second, it signifies different things for different communities. Jains consider it a holy day, because it has come to represent the day when saint Mahavir reaches moksh (nirvana). While I've seen comments to this effect thrown out in the media, I've also seen the repeated misrepresentation of Jainism as a "sect" of Hinduism. Something that drives me absolutely crazy. The confusion of the people themselves notwithstanding (my cousins still don't seem to understand why this distinction is important), it's still wrong. It's like calling Christianity a "branch" of Judaism.

With proponents of a fully realized Hindu state of India ("Jai Hind!", they proclaim) eager to cobble together a portrait of a super-majority Hindu nation (while gobbling up the true heterogeneity - including more than 300 million tribals and animists), the conflation of different and distinct groups beneath a saffron flag is extremely problematic. And the increased fervor of seemingly educated NRIs in the United States to push a Diwali agenda feels misguided in the light of true civil and human rights concerns (especially as reports from Congress seem to indicate that a lot of important programs that support less affluent members of the American public, including documented immigrants, are on the chopping block).

Freedom of religion means that you can practice whatever you want in your own home without fear of persecution. But as Peter Irons, best-selling author of many interesting volumes on Constitutional law and the Supreme Court, said recently, the Puritans who first came to the US wanted that freedom because they were pretty extreme and were persecuted for being on the edge when they were in Britain.

Freedom of religion doesn't mean that we have to adopt a religious holiday as the sole representation of a cultural identity, especially one that is as polycultural as the many branches of the Indian diaspora. So if I don't immediately respond to "happy diwali!" greetings with the same gusto as the well-wisher, maybe this explains my thinking.

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