On Wednesday, there was a riot of colours in Bengal. The naive people who ventured out in normal clothes returned home in much more interesting attire. There was a lot of drinking and merrymaking on the big day of the festival of colours. It wasn’t Holi, but rather the spring festival of Dol Jatra or Boshonto Utshob. The festivals fall on different dates and it has always been this way. This year, Dol Jatra was on March 23 while Holi was the next day.
“Dol” means a swing and “Jatra” means journey. Lord Krishna and Radha are the ones on the swing and the devotees take them around. No character called Holika, from where “Holi” originates, is remotely involved.
However, going by the “national media” and a colourful greeting on the prime minister’s Twitter feed, one wouldn’t know that in many parts of India, the festival of colours is not Holi.
As always, the prime minister, as is the practice, rather patronisingly put out “Happy Holi” greetings in Hindi on a day that is not Holi, mostly for the millions of his countrymen who are non-Hindi, non-Hindustan.
Ultimately, ideology defines priorities. Holiday lists are a decent reflection of the ideology running deep through any administration. This is painfully true for India as well.
A Union government circular lists the “Holidays to be observed in Central Government Offices during the year 2016”. Holi, on March 24, is on the list of compulsory holidays. Dol Jatra, on March 23, is not.
The circular leaves open the possibility of having Dol Jatra as a “restricted” holiday, by stating that “Coordination Committees at the State Capitals may draw up a separate list of Restricted Holidays keeping in view the occasions of local importance".
The message is clear: Holi is “national” while all festivals of colour are “local”.
Whose “local” becomes “national” and whose “national” is rendered “local” as a result is a contest that harks back to the foundation of the Indian Union. That contest is over. The Indian Union operates as a plural and federal union in rhetoric, and a Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan nation state in practice.
All three states declared a public holiday on March 23 for Dol Jatra, or Yaosang in the case of Manipur (a six-day festival that starts on the full moon day on which Dol Jatra falls – Manipur observes both festivals, but not Holi). The circulars have no mention of Holi whatsoever. But the central government mandates that it should and it must.
In Odisha, there are observers of both Dol Jatra as well as Holi, and so March 23 and March 24 are mentioned separately as holidays. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states in the Hindi belt list Holi and have no mention of Dol Jatra, and that’s how it should be.
Interestingly, the Bangladesh government officially mentions Dol Jatra (and many other Hindu Bengali festivals) as a restricted holiday on March 23 for Hindus. But there is no such acknowledgement of the “local” from the Government of India.
Destruction of diversity
You might ask what the fuss is all about. Why not just sit back and enjoy the festival of colours – whatever name it is known by? Why don’t we just consider Dol Jatra a “variant’ of Holi?
This magnanimous inclusion by declaring it a “variant” has a predictable direction. Whenever there are multiple forms, the Hindi-Hindustan zone variant is considered the standard by the Centre, though the Indian Union doesn’t formally claim itself to be a majoritarian nation state.
This destruction of diversity by co-option is what fashionably goes under the name of “tolerance”. Our “local” gods and goddesses thus become forms, and get subsumed into “bigger” goddesses that invariably had greater military strength and dominant state apparatus backing them up – this has been an ancient trick in this subcontinent.
It is easy for people to “look past” variations, especially when the hierarchy of variations favours their cultural world. Others “look past” to be accepted by the “mainstream”. What might appear as hair-splitting to those in the middle is a desperate cry for preservation of identity for those on the periphery.
What business does the central government have creating a separate list of holidays? Does it represent anything less or anything more than the individual states? If it does, then what does it represent? Which selective parts of the Indian Union does this list and its emphasis represent?
Why is it always the case that Hindi-Hindustan forms take precedence? Why is the concept of “all India” and Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan so remarkably similar? In its holiday calendar, the Indian Union exhibits its deep ideology that there is an officially promoted and imposed hierarchy among the Indian Union’s citizens and communities, of “core/national” and “periphery”. And what does it mean for the rest of us, living in the penumbra of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan?
With “national channels” beaming colour festival motifs on March 24 and not the day before, many desi and firangi photographers were shooting away to capture the colourful “soul of India” on Thursday, and there were full-page Holi discount advertisements in non-Hindi newspapers of un-Holi lands like mine. Something broader and much more insidious is at play.
In the evolving political-cultural landscape, Dol Jatra becomes Holi, Durga Pujo becomes Navratri, Kali Pujo becomes Diwali, and all marriages need to have a “sangeet”. The most sublime form of this cultural hierarchy is seen in the diaspora. Such ethno-cultural flattening does no service to the Hindi heartland, where many cultures are in a state of decay, thanks to metro-centric Hindianism. And it goes beyond festivals. The deep ideology of a state is given by “innocuous” choices, of font-size variations of different languages in “Gandhi-chaap” currency notes, the automatic language and observed festivals of the Central Reserve Police Force or Border Security Force personnel, irrespective of their posting in West Bengal or Tamil Nadu. And there are many other instances.
When was the last time a Tamil marriage/religious/cultural custom went “national”? Whose “local” becomes “national” and whose “local” disappears when ideas like “all India” and “mainstream” are evoked? Why is the direction of traffic in this supposedly two-way street so predictable? Why does any leading prime ministerial contender focus most in areas where Holi is the uncontested name for the festival of colours? Dol Jatra-Holi, Kali Pujo-Diwali, and such are all testaments of the Central government-sponsored transformation of the Indian Union into Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan, via the seditious-if-you-oppose ideological construct of India.
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