The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: With the Taj Mahal gate vandalised, Hindutva politics is plumbing new depths

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more)

The Big Story: Hindutva trumps development

In 1977, when the United States launched the Voyager spacecraft, it included 115 images of life on Earth. One of them was of the Taj Mahal. In case the ship was intercepted by aliens, the Americans who launched the Voyager wanted them to know that Earth contained a building as magnificent as the Taj.

In Agra, the actual home of the Taj Mahal, however, this wonderment seems to be fading a bit. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal dynasty that ruled a large part of the subcontinent from the 16th century to the 19th century. Since the Mughals were Muslim, almost anything associated with them has come under sharp attack in an India in which Hindutva nationalism is on the ascendant.

On Tuesday, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad removed a steel gate installed by the Archaeological Survey of India claiming that it blocked the way to a temple. This was done even as the Archeological Survey of India had made sure to create an alternative path to the shrine

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is part of the Sangh Parivar, a famil of Hindutva organisations under the patronage of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This network includes the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

This is not the first time Hindutva supporters have displayed an antipathy to the Taj Mahal. In 2017, Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Adityanath, attacked the mausoleum as not being Indian enough. That same year, A BJP MLA called the Taj a “blot on Indian culture”.

Yet, physically attacking a part of the Taj complex signifies an escalation. Part of this might have to do with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in the first half of 2019.

The Lokniti-CSDS-ABP Mood of the Nation Survey published a fortnight ago has some troubling portents for the BJP. The Modi government is as unpopular today as the United Progressive Alliance government was in July 2013 – nine months before it crashed to a defeat. Over the last year, says the survey, the BJP’s popularity has dipped by seven percentage points. Over 60% of voters characterise the Modi government as corrupt and key segments such as farmers, Dalits and Adivasis are angry. The Modi government’s stock has dipped sharply in western India, as well as in the South and East.

Moreover, the BJP has lost a string of bye-polls. Of these Kairana Lok Sabha bye-election in western Uttar Pradesh was crucial. The BJP had won it in 2014 in the backdrop of the 2013 Jat-Muslim riots. However, in May 2018, economic issues such as the price realisation of crops completely overshadowed communal acrimony and the BJP lost the seat.

Against such a backdrop, a sharper focus on issues of Hindutva identity – from the Taj Mahal to the manufactured controversy about Jinnah’s portrait in the Aligarh Muslim University – might unfortunately be the template for 2019.

Punditry

  • Killing of well-known writer and secularist, Shahzahan Bachchu, is a grim portent in an election year in Bangladesh argues this edit in the Indian Express.
  • Four out of five Indians will still be Hindu even when Muslim population peaks, points out Sachin Mampatta in the Mint.
  • Pakistan may be headed towards an election that is compromised, writes Mehmal Sarfraz in the Telegraph.

Giggle

Don’t Miss

Swachh Bharat internship for students gets rolling – with no funds and much confusion. Shreya Roy Chowdhury reports:

“This is forcing students to curtail their ambitions for the project. For instance, a group of three female students from Zakir Hussain College wants to start an awareness drive about waste segregation in a semi-urban locality near Vasant Vihar in South Delhi. But Ansari, the college’s nodal officer, has suggested they be as thrifty as possible, and prepare a play and a theme-song. They also want to paint some walls but Ansari has asked them to hold off till he knows who will pay for it. His students working in villages near their homes in Tripura and Manipur asked about building toilets. Again, Ansari told them to ask the local panchayats if they would be willing to give them ‘some small amount’ to design a prototype.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.