Karan Thapar:: Welcome to the Line of Fire for a discussion on ‘‘Is India’s culture under threat from the West?’’ With me is columnist and television presenter Tavleen Singh, columnist and CEO of Equus Advertising Suhel Seth and Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Vishnu Hari Dalmia.
Mr Dalmia, many of your colleagues in the VHP repeatedly claimed that India’s culture is under threat from foreign television, foreign dress even foreign behaviour. Is this a fact or an exagerration?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: No. It is true. There cannot be two views on this. But what is useful to us from western culture and not useful to us is a separate question.
Karan Thapar:: New Year is just round the corner and Valentine’s Day comes every year. Why do you criticise the celebrations?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Day is not part of our culture. But I do not think it is bad. If a man chooses to celebrate the New Year and if someone wants to express his feelings on Valentine’s Day, that’s not harmful — but they are not part of Indian culture. However, we have adapted them from Western culture — if that’s not inimical to our culture, I do not see anything wrong in it.
Karan Thapar:: He’s a lot more moderate about Valentine’s Day. But let me remind him about what Bal Thackeray wrote in Saamna. ‘‘This shameless festival has been celebrated by our young people for the past 10 years but it’s totally contrary to Indian culture.’’ Is Valentine’s Day such a threat to us?
Tavleen Singh: I’m actually embarrassed to have anyone in India objecting to something so totally frivolous as Valentine’s Day. Was the violence we saw, the tearing down of shops, the burning of shops a part of Indian culture? The violence against women. They are raped and the treatment meted to them is the worst in the world. Is that Indian culture? What’s this fuss about Valentine’s Day and about couples sitting on Marine Drive — there are more important issues.
Karan Thapar:: You Know, Suhel, Mr Dalmia does admit that it’s not a terrible thing that Indians celebrate New Year but he also says that it’s not part of our culture.
Suhel Seth: I think the tragedy with Mr Dalmia and his organisation is that they think they are the protectors of Indian culture. I’ve not seen your organisation object to starvation deaths. I’ve not seen your organisation burn and loot the FCI godowns, which are stocked with foodgrains. You people have mastered the art of getting publicity...You would be much happier if we celebrated December 6, when you brought down a mosque or would you be more delighted if we celebrated ‘‘frivolous’’ events such as what happened post-Godhra. I think the tragedy, Mr Dalmia, is that for far too long the nation has been deflected from serious issues. The tragedy is that we have serious people like you who make an industry dealing in non-serious issues and making a monkey out of India.
Karan Thapar:: Is that what you’re doing Mr Dalmia? Making a monkey out of India, concentrating on things that don’t really matter?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I’m very sorry that I heard these remarks. If we want to portray something which is good in Indian culture then these people who are working under western influence don’t like it. Unfortunately, we are so obsessed with western culture that we’ve completely forgetting our Indianness.
Karan Thapar:: Forgive me for interrupting but what you’re saying is that we are so obsessed with western culture that as a result western culture is undermining our own. But the truth is that when channels like FTV, MTV or Channel V come here they don’t westernise India, but India Indianises them.
What’s this Indian culture? And who gave the right to not just the VHP but anyone else to define Indian culture?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: The VHP cannot impose it, they can only offer their ideas.
Suhel Seth: They go and beat people...
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: We try to convince people.
Karan Thapar:: When Deepak Gaikwad Sahib, who is the convenor of Bajrang Dal, says he wants to ban beauty contests and will personally disrupt them, where does he get the right to do so?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Beauty contests are not part of Indian culture and the dress people wear there is not part of Indian culture either.
Tavleen Singh: Indian culture didn’t have blouses for women...
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: They were in a development stage.
Tavleen Singh: I am very proud of Indian culture. I really believe that my problem with an organisation like the VHP is that it insults you. I think we have a strong civilisation and a very strong culture. Your understanding of Indian culture is so limited as to feel threatened by Michael Jackson and Valentine’s Day.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I think I said before that I do not see anything wrong in that. But they are not part of Indian culture. Let me clarify one point. You mentioned about the ill-treatment meted out to Indian women. Go to the Muslim world to see the treatment meted out to women.
Tavleen Singh: Are we to emulate them?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I am just stating that you forget that the status of women is much worse outside.
Tavleen Singh: No. What I said was we’re one of the worst and you are reminded of the Muslims?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: That’s what I’m saying. That’s what you forget.
Suhel Seth: Dalmia Sahib, please explain what is Indian culture and what is western culture? Why do you send your children to English schools and not Hindi medium schools? Yet you find it convenient to say that western culture is bad. We have not forgotten our culture but educated senior people like you sit in judgement.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: We have a right to express our views to the people.
Suhel Seth: But you are beating up people.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I do not believe in beating up people.
Tavleen Singh: Even after 50 years, you have done little to improve educational institutions or bring them at par with English institutions like Doon School.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: The VHP has done a lot in backward areas and in the field of health.
Karan Thapar:: Let’s not talk about work done in the social environment by the VHP. Let’s come to the subject: A moment ago you spoke about western women being ill-clad. Do you have a problem with girls wearing jeans and short skirts? Many of your colleagues want to stop them from wearing jeans.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I am saying that it’s not a part of our Indian culture.
Karan Thapar:: What’s skirt and jeans got to do with Indian culture?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Our culture proscribes exhibition of body.
Tavleen Singh: Then men too should stop wearing pants.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: In our culture, men wear dhotis.
Tavleen Singh: Then one must wear dhotis.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: You are not understanding the point I wish to make.
Karan Thapar:: What is the point you wish to make?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: If something is useful in western culture and we adapt it, there is nothing objectionable. But we cannot let western culture overpower us to the point that we forget our own culture. That’s not right.
Tavleen Singh: Who will decide?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: The people.
Suhel Seth: The BJP is at the Centre. You are at times its supporter and at times the critic? Why don’t you ask them to make a culture index — what’s Indian culture and what is non-Indian? Why don’t you talk about Indianness?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: That’s what the VHP is doing. Indianness paida karna ka kaam hi VHP kar rahi hai (The VHP is working at giving birth to Indianess).
Karan Thapar:: Is the problem really one of Indian culture or is it to do with the fear that the sexual liberation of the West could become a revolution here in India and undermine the way we are used to living? By sexual liberation, I mean enjoyment of sex for the sake of sex. Does that worry you? Is that something you see as alien?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: The second part is not worrying at all. But you have to work within some boundaries.
Karan Thapar:: Why is there a need for boundaries?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Otherwise it will become an animal’s life. If you want that any man can grab a woman, then it’s an animal’s life.
Tavleen Singh: If the woman is willing?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Willingness or unwillingness — it’s not clear at the outset.
Karan Thapar:: Is sexual liberation approved in our sanskriti?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Wherever you want — that’s not allowed. Only in wedlock.
Suhel Seth: Our kings had many wives...
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: There were political reasons for that too.
Tavleen Singh: Our sanskirti allowed many wives. The English restricted us to monogamy.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Even Akbar married a Hindu.
Karan Thapar:: How do you interpret the central message of the Kama Sutra.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I have already told you that there is nothing objectionable in the enjoyment of sex.
Karan Thapar:: But you spoke about limits?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Is not possible to enjoy within limits?
Suhel Seth: I think Dalmia has given a fantastic slogan. It’s not about Hindutva. It’s about going out and enjoying sex like you never have before.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: When did the VHP say that people should not enjoy sex? Have we said it? There are many in the VHP who have not married and they do not know what is sex.
Suhel Seth: Why don’t you issue a memo that only those who enjoy sex can join your organisation?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: It’s their freedom of choice too.
Karan Thapar:: On the one hand, you are espousing the joy of sex, on the other you object to girls in jeans and skirts?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I am just stating that it’s not part of our culture.
Suhel Seth: His logic is if they wear saris, they should have sex; if they wear jeans, they are Westerners and should be shunned?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: By doing this you are inviting people to rape you.
Suhel Seth: You mean a woman in a saree will not be raped?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I’m saying you are alluring people...
Tavleen Singh: What about sarees worn with blouses barely there?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Behenji, that’s not part of our culture.
Tavleen Singh: What about Naga sadhus?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: That’s different. I’m talking about normal citizens.
Karan Thapar:: A girl in jeans puts a man out of control?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: It does allure.
Karan Thapar:: Hindus don’t have control?
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: Why should you create allurement? Rape cases badhenge. Then you will ask for rapists to be hung.
Suhel Seth: You cannot live in a time vacuum where an entire culture is threatened by a pair of jeans.
Vishnu Hari Dalmia: I have already said what I had to say.