Marriage took me to Mangalore. Living in Attavar, I saw the city as a sister/lover: a feisty woman caught in the grip of a violent, disapproving man, she’d be rid of him if she found her strength. So, when I first heard of the recent assault by Hindutva vigilantes at a resort in Padil, I was relieved that Mangalore’s everyday fate was finally gaining national attention.
Mangalore’s story has its twisted echo in Subash Padil, a right-wing criminal of the Hindu Jagaran Vedike with an astounding record: participation in the pub attacks in 2009 to real estate-related violence to masterminding the July 28 assault at Morning Mist Home Stay.
Mangalore’s story also shows how Hindutva seeks to regulate social life; how dress becomes a component of identity construction to define the Other. RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat had wanted the veils of Muslim women to be lifted so he could glimpse what they had to offer. Even ex-women and child development minister C.C. Patil, with a weakness for pornography, had exhorted women to dress decently. Here, Muslim women are blamed for covering up, Christian women are blamed for showing skin and Hindu women are blamed for aping them.
Capitalising on conservative tendencies, Hindutva has managed to turn everyone in the city into an informer. Bus conductors send SMSes to reactionary outfits when they see an inter-religious couple socialise. Mobilisation, like justice, is instant. Recruiting its rank and file from the backward castes like Billavas and Mogaweeras, Hindutva has indoctrinated them and created vigilantes. So, they break into private property to deliver justice. Under the BJP government, they have immunity from prosecution. To keep its loyalty intact, the police arrive late, chat with the assailants and question the “morality/necessity” of partying. Cases are filed against TV journalist Naveen Soorinje under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, though without his footage, this incident would have been buried in the hundreds of cultural policing episodes that hold Mangalore ransom.
Today, a friend tells me that in response to spontaneous protests by students, Kadri police station inspector Venkatesh Prasanna—infamous for inflicting violence on inter-religious couples—has vowed to make life miserable for students of St Agnes College.
The reaction of the state machinery is as much revealing as it is outrageous: Padil, July 28, is not viewed by the state machinery as sustained, majoritarian, hypermasculine Hindu terror in a multi-religious society; or as molestation, sexual harassment or non-penetrative rape enacted on the female body in order to punish and discipline it; or as a total sellout of the police to fanatical forces. Things that are normal almost everywhere else in the world—young people wearing stylish clothes, sitting next to each other in a bus, having a drink, partying—are identified as problem elements by Hindutva hooliganism that legitimises itself under the guise of protecting ‘Indian culture’.
This Indian culture is the most radical idea in recent years to have simultaneously entered the minds of Hindu fundamentalist groups and self-proclaimed feminists like National Commission for Women chairperson Mamta Sharma. In keeping with the patriotic spirit of the season, I call upon these outfits to revive the said culture by promoting the elegant style of clothing showcased by Chola bronzes. Desi Designer Wear. Since it’s always summer in south India, there’s no need to bother about a Fall/Winter collection.
Moving from apparel to food, I want to remind the right-wing outfits that Sangam-era warriors enjoyed their booze after a delicious meal cooked to such perfection that distinguishing meat from rice was like picking silt from river sand. That’s a couple of thousand years ago, but country booze can be brought back into fashion. In Tamil, there is documented evidence of toddy from the root of the fig tree, toddy from the bark of the usilam (sirisa) tree, toddy from the flowers of iluppai (mahua) tree, palmyra toddy, peepal toddy, coconut toddy and even paddy toddy. We Tamils were known to dig our drinks in its highly fermented form, so sour you would make a face just sipping it. My personal pick would be the mattu, distilled liquor from the sugarcane, a recommended aphrodisiac. Or, it would be the undaattu, an eponymous spirit that required you to drink, then dance. Ideally, I would buy it from a patuvi, a lady who sells liquor. Sorry for making references to my mother-tongue alone, but since you have Indian culture in mind, don’t forget that there are at least a thousand different languages here and 10 times as many drinks. Each of them is as Indian as the other. Dear Protector of Indian Culture, doesn’t this bubbly idea intoxicate you? Bring it back, bring it on, we’ll get drunk on this delight. Let us hit the dance floor, now.