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The preservation of a pandemic: Art under quarantine

Museums, zoos and galleries around the world are calling on people to document their Covid-19 lockdown experience

16 May 2020

art

“To preserve the past is to save the future,” said author Nanette L Avery. With life coming to a standstill amid the global lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic is being viewed in a billion ways through a billion eyes.

All over the world people are recording their lockdown experience and all these experiences are increasingly becoming works of art. Keeping this historical period in mind, museums and art galleries are calling people to share their personal experiences of the lockdown period to preserve them as photographic and documentary evidence for the generations to come.

People are wielding their pens, pencils and brushes to portray their anguish towards the future, solidarity towards the lesser privileged, sadness towards those who passed away and joy towards those who come back home. Everything from working from home during the lockdown – whether home now feels like a palace or a prison too is an experience being recorded during the pandemic.

The world has become a large repository of emotions – from fear to gratitude and from love to hope while it is hurling through the pandemic.

The heritage sector is in the process of making what we can call the “pandemic archives” to be viewed as a time that brought about not only significant social, cultural and cultural changes, but also a trying time that the world collectively conquered with resilience and courage.

Calling for pandemic art

Writing for The Telegraph India Sudipta Bhattacharjee said, “Covid-19 and the subsequent global lockdown has already spawned enough material by way of photographs, art, writing and cartoons to merit another exhibition in the coming days. The wealth of documentation has resulted in online journals, websites and crowd-sourced projects to digitally collect people’s reactions to this unprecedented scenario that has befallen the world. A friend in El Paso has created a space to archive thoughts and ideas on how we are dealing with this unique period. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives has invited recollections of how students are experiencing the ongoing situation through digital journal and diary entries, emails, photographs, videos, voice memos and audio recordings, digital art and other memoirs of how the campus community has been affected.”

The St. Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff, along with other UK institutions, is calling on the public to document their experiences – lows and anxieties of this unsettling time. People have also been asked to photograph meaningful objects from their homes and communities for an online gallery. Eventually acquired for the museum’s collection will be artefacts like hand-painted signs, The Guardian said.

 

 

In London, the V&A, has been building up an online exhibition called Pandemic Objects, with curators exploring the significance of some potent physical symbols of the lockdown life – glocves and masks.

 

 

"It's such an extraordinary experience," Beatrice Behlen, senior curator at the Museum of London, told AFP. "When we knew there was going to be a lockdown, we started straight away talking about what we needed to collect something for the future." The Deccan Herald reported the curator as saying that they are looking out not for objects, but for the story behind it. It could be your favourite slippers or a skill you’ve picked up, it must mean something to you.

In India, as a part of the Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts’ series “Surviving SQ” (self- quarantine), artist Pallavi Paul asked people to send around 10-second audio clips of the silence in their confined environments. “It [represents] the churning of the world. It’s devoid of all suggestions of the complex vortex that we find ourselves in,” said Paul. “And we know this is not a silence of leisure. It’s a pregnant silence, fertile, with many possibilities. Things are changing in this silence.”

 

 

Art for social messaging

In an online stay-safe campaign launched by artist S Nagaraj in Coimbatore, people were asked to make a self-portrait wearing a mask and send it to him. He told The Hindu that he got the idea when he read about the Chennai Police making giant paintings on the roads to explain the importance of social distancing.

Dastkar, India’s prominent society for crafts and craftspeople has worked with folk artists to produce artwork to convey the importance of social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands with soap for social messaging, reported BBC. Artists have used the Madhubani style, Phad painting and Pattachitra among others to put emphasize on the message of safety during the pandemic.

 

art

A large number of museums and galleries around the world are investing in the same idea – of collecting “lockdown memories”.

Museums, galleries and zoos come home

For the ones feeling left out of the joy of visiting zoos, museums and art galleries, owners and curators have made sure that they enter people’s homes through online live streaming.

In India, the joy of witnessing the unfiltered activity of animals sans the interference of humans has become an activity to look forward to. Museums are hosting virtual walkthroughs and the idea is proving profitable and fulfilling.

The Alipore Zoo in Kolkata, the oldest in India, has launched a mobile application to help people take a virtual tour – where citizens can see a panoramic view of the zoo, check photos of the animals and know more about an animal they’re particularly interested in.

For the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai, the first to start live streaming of their enclosures two years ago, the online viewership is going solid with its webpage getting almost 60,000 – 80,000 views everyday during the lockdown.

 

 

The National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) has organized panel discussions on Covid-19, DIY activities and observation programs like the Super Pink Moon during the pandemic.

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) Delhi, paid a virtual tribute to Raja Ravi Varma in his 172nd anniversary year.

 

 

The Anglo-Sikh museum in UK used 3D technology to bring to life objects related to Ango-Sikh history – weaponry, coins and Maharani Jindan’s jewellery.  

 

 

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art, too has gone online big time and is sharing artists’ reflection on the pandemic and life in quarantine. Like artist Kajal Deth uses birds as a metaphor for freedom. For her, ‘these times come almost like a reminder from nature that the Earth belongs to all forms of life’.

 

art2

Opening cautiously amid the crisis

With Covid-19 cases slowly on the decline and new rules being put into place, museums all over the world are slowly re-opening albeit with cautions. Museums in Berlin were allowed to reopen on May 4, but many remain closed to figure out logistics and safety procedures, The Art Newspaper reported.

Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, too outlined lockdown easing measures which included reopening museums, cultural venues and libraries on 18 May. However, Conte warned: "If we do not respect the precautions the curve will go up, the deaths will increase, and we will have irreversible damage to our economy. If you love Italy, keep your distance."

Art aficionados abroad who took the risk of going for tours after some museums opened recounted that though it was a relief to see art in person, the experience of viewing wasn’t as relaxing and freeing due to the masks and requirement to observe social distancing, reported NY Times.

Private galleries and museums in India are awaiting orders by the government on when they can re-open. For now, as coronavirus cases in India are on the rise, online tours and online sales are the only way to go. Museumologists say that now virtual museums will suffice, but post the pandemic they will have to find a way to remain relevant and adapt to social distancing rules in an innovative manner.

The process of gathering memories is to make what we can effectively call a coronavirus catacomb – a place that will hold the pandemic memories till the end of time. It is this time that people will speak about, when the world stayed at home to view the world outside.

When viewed days, months, years or even decades later, it is this art that will tell the story of man’s greed, his mistakes, his hope, his courage, his sacrifices and his undying spirit that helped tide through the epidemic.

(Sources – The Tribune, The Hindu, Firstpost, The Print, Hindustan Times)

The preservation of a pandemic: Art under quarantine

Museums, zoos and galleries around the world are calling on people to document their Covid-19 lockdown experience

art

“To preserve the past is to save the future,” said author Nanette L Avery. With life coming to a standstill amid the global lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic is being viewed in a billion ways through a billion eyes.

All over the world people are recording their lockdown experience and all these experiences are increasingly becoming works of art. Keeping this historical period in mind, museums and art galleries are calling people to share their personal experiences of the lockdown period to preserve them as photographic and documentary evidence for the generations to come.

People are wielding their pens, pencils and brushes to portray their anguish towards the future, solidarity towards the lesser privileged, sadness towards those who passed away and joy towards those who come back home. Everything from working from home during the lockdown – whether home now feels like a palace or a prison too is an experience being recorded during the pandemic.

The world has become a large repository of emotions – from fear to gratitude and from love to hope while it is hurling through the pandemic.

The heritage sector is in the process of making what we can call the “pandemic archives” to be viewed as a time that brought about not only significant social, cultural and cultural changes, but also a trying time that the world collectively conquered with resilience and courage.

Calling for pandemic art

Writing for The Telegraph India Sudipta Bhattacharjee said, “Covid-19 and the subsequent global lockdown has already spawned enough material by way of photographs, art, writing and cartoons to merit another exhibition in the coming days. The wealth of documentation has resulted in online journals, websites and crowd-sourced projects to digitally collect people’s reactions to this unprecedented scenario that has befallen the world. A friend in El Paso has created a space to archive thoughts and ideas on how we are dealing with this unique period. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives has invited recollections of how students are experiencing the ongoing situation through digital journal and diary entries, emails, photographs, videos, voice memos and audio recordings, digital art and other memoirs of how the campus community has been affected.”

The St. Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff, along with other UK institutions, is calling on the public to document their experiences – lows and anxieties of this unsettling time. People have also been asked to photograph meaningful objects from their homes and communities for an online gallery. Eventually acquired for the museum’s collection will be artefacts like hand-painted signs, The Guardian said.

 

 

In London, the V&A, has been building up an online exhibition called Pandemic Objects, with curators exploring the significance of some potent physical symbols of the lockdown life – glocves and masks.

 

 

"It's such an extraordinary experience," Beatrice Behlen, senior curator at the Museum of London, told AFP. "When we knew there was going to be a lockdown, we started straight away talking about what we needed to collect something for the future." The Deccan Herald reported the curator as saying that they are looking out not for objects, but for the story behind it. It could be your favourite slippers or a skill you’ve picked up, it must mean something to you.

In India, as a part of the Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts’ series “Surviving SQ” (self- quarantine), artist Pallavi Paul asked people to send around 10-second audio clips of the silence in their confined environments. “It [represents] the churning of the world. It’s devoid of all suggestions of the complex vortex that we find ourselves in,” said Paul. “And we know this is not a silence of leisure. It’s a pregnant silence, fertile, with many possibilities. Things are changing in this silence.”

 

 

Art for social messaging

In an online stay-safe campaign launched by artist S Nagaraj in Coimbatore, people were asked to make a self-portrait wearing a mask and send it to him. He told The Hindu that he got the idea when he read about the Chennai Police making giant paintings on the roads to explain the importance of social distancing.

Dastkar, India’s prominent society for crafts and craftspeople has worked with folk artists to produce artwork to convey the importance of social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands with soap for social messaging, reported BBC. Artists have used the Madhubani style, Phad painting and Pattachitra among others to put emphasize on the message of safety during the pandemic.

 

art

A large number of museums and galleries around the world are investing in the same idea – of collecting “lockdown memories”.

Museums, galleries and zoos come home

For the ones feeling left out of the joy of visiting zoos, museums and art galleries, owners and curators have made sure that they enter people’s homes through online live streaming.

In India, the joy of witnessing the unfiltered activity of animals sans the interference of humans has become an activity to look forward to. Museums are hosting virtual walkthroughs and the idea is proving profitable and fulfilling.

The Alipore Zoo in Kolkata, the oldest in India, has launched a mobile application to help people take a virtual tour – where citizens can see a panoramic view of the zoo, check photos of the animals and know more about an animal they’re particularly interested in.

For the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai, the first to start live streaming of their enclosures two years ago, the online viewership is going solid with its webpage getting almost 60,000 – 80,000 views everyday during the lockdown.

 

 

The National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) has organized panel discussions on Covid-19, DIY activities and observation programs like the Super Pink Moon during the pandemic.

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) Delhi, paid a virtual tribute to Raja Ravi Varma in his 172nd anniversary year.

 

 

The Anglo-Sikh museum in UK used 3D technology to bring to life objects related to Ango-Sikh history – weaponry, coins and Maharani Jindan’s jewellery.  

 

 

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art, too has gone online big time and is sharing artists’ reflection on the pandemic and life in quarantine. Like artist Kajal Deth uses birds as a metaphor for freedom. For her, ‘these times come almost like a reminder from nature that the Earth belongs to all forms of life’.

 

art2

Opening cautiously amid the crisis

With Covid-19 cases slowly on the decline and new rules being put into place, museums all over the world are slowly re-opening albeit with cautions. Museums in Berlin were allowed to reopen on May 4, but many remain closed to figure out logistics and safety procedures, The Art Newspaper reported.

Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, too outlined lockdown easing measures which included reopening museums, cultural venues and libraries on 18 May. However, Conte warned: "If we do not respect the precautions the curve will go up, the deaths will increase, and we will have irreversible damage to our economy. If you love Italy, keep your distance."

Art aficionados abroad who took the risk of going for tours after some museums opened recounted that though it was a relief to see art in person, the experience of viewing wasn’t as relaxing and freeing due to the masks and requirement to observe social distancing, reported NY Times.

Private galleries and museums in India are awaiting orders by the government on when they can re-open. For now, as coronavirus cases in India are on the rise, online tours and online sales are the only way to go. Museumologists say that now virtual museums will suffice, but post the pandemic they will have to find a way to remain relevant and adapt to social distancing rules in an innovative manner.

The process of gathering memories is to make what we can effectively call a coronavirus catacomb – a place that will hold the pandemic memories till the end of time. It is this time that people will speak about, when the world stayed at home to view the world outside.

When viewed days, months, years or even decades later, it is this art that will tell the story of man’s greed, his mistakes, his hope, his courage, his sacrifices and his undying spirit that helped tide through the epidemic.

(Sources – The Tribune, The Hindu, Firstpost, The Print, Hindustan Times)

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Sabrang

Khan Saheb in Kashi

Ustad Bismillah Khan, 1916–2006. In the Ustad’s shehnai lies the note of reason

21 Mar 2020

Khan Sahab

There are moments when I love my job or rather, my business of journalism – even I, a hard-nosed cynical hack of nearly three decades. It is because you love and cherish these moments that you are so grateful you are in this business. How else would I, a hopeless, hopeless philistine, hope to find myself on a rain-drenched terrace in old Varanasi with Ustad Bismillah Khan? As it happens, it was almost exactly the same time last year.

I can fill the rest of this space just describing the beauty of his face, his spirit, his talent, his madness, even his commercialism. To date, he is the only guest who demanded, and was paid – though only a very reasonable tribute – for appearing on Walk the Talk. He said he had a large family to support, even at 91, and could do with whatever money came his way. And when I reminded him, while leaving, that he had to come and perform at my children’s weddings, he said yes immediately. And then quoted the price: five lakh, plus air tickets and stay for seven people. You could touch his innocence with bare hands in the heavy monsoon air.

Khan Saheb let me down on this one though. He will not come and perform at my children’s weddings, whatever the price. But he left me with memories – and lines – that will never go away. What was the difference between Hindu and Muslim, he asked. What, indeed, when he sang to Allah in raga Bhairav (composed for Shiva) and brought to tears the Iraqi maulana who had just told him music was blasphemy, "evil, a trap of the devil". Khan Saheb said, "I told him, Maulana, I will sing to Allah. All I ask you is to be fair. And when I finished I asked him if it is blasphemy. He was speechless." And then Khan Saheb told me with that trademark mischievous glint: "But I did not tell him it was in raga Bhairav."

Why did Khan Saheb not migrate to Pakistan with partition? "Arre, will I ever leave my Benares?" he asked. "I went to Pakistan for a few hours," he said, "just to be able to say I’ve been there. I knew I would never last there." And what is so special about Benares, his glorified slum of a haveli in a grandly named Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan Street that had more potholes than footholds and more heaps of chicken entrails from nearby meat shops than garbage heaps from homes? "My temples are here," he said, "Balaji and Mangala Gauri." Without them, he asked, how would he make any music? As a Muslim he could not go inside the temples. But so what? "I would just go behind the temples and touch the wall from outside. You bring gangajal, you can go inside to offer it, but I can just as well touch the stone from outside. It’s the same. I just have to put my hand to them."

How is that devotion in a week when our parliament was rocked by issues like the forcible, and criminal, chopping of a Sikh boy’s hair in Jaipur and the controversy over state-mandated singing of Vande Mataram in schools to launch the 150th anniversary of 1857? Or when we were all so outraged by the paranoia that caused the Mumbai bound KLM-Northwest flight to return to Amsterdam, the racial profiling of Muslims, particularly Asian-Arab Muslims and so on?

Khan Saheb’s was a talent worthy of a Bharat Ratna and immortality. But he also personified, so strikingly, the fact of how the Muslims of India defy the stereotypes building up in today’s rapidly dividing world. They may be poorer than the majority, or even other, smaller minorities, they may still live in ghettos of sorts, but they are a part of the mainstream, nationally as well as regionally and ethnically, more than Muslim populations are in most parts of the world. A Tamil Muslim, for example, is as much an ethnic Tamil as a Hindu or a Christian and certainly has more in common with his ethnic cousins than with fellow Muslims in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. India’s Muslims work in mainstream businesses where their interests are meshed inextricably with the rest, particularly the majority Hindus, even if they happen to spar occasionally.

That is why, unlike Bush’s America or the western world in general, India cannot even think of the diabolical idea of "Islamic" fascism or terrorism. No country can survive if it starts looking at nearly 15 per cent of its population as a fifth column. That is why India’s view of the war against terror has to be entirely different from the western world’s, more nuanced, more realistic and, most importantly, entirely indigenous.

It is a difficult argument to make in times when it is so tempting to tell America and Europe that see, the people who are terrorising you are the same as the people who have been terrorising us. So far you never believed us. Now with every other terror suspect being traced back to Pakistan and, more precisely, Jaish or Lashkar, accept and acknowledge that we have been in the forefront of the global war against terror for a decade before it hit you. The danger in that approach is, the Americans and the Europeans can choose that approach – though it is not working for them as well – because for them these Muslims are outsiders, different, and therefore candidates for racial profiling. You can racially profile a million people in a universe of 27 crore. Can you profile 14 crore in a universe of a hundred crore? Particularly when most of them, in their own big and small ways, are as integrated in the mainstream, as zealously proud and possessive of their multiple (ethnic, linguistic and professional) identities as of their faith?

That is why the key to fighting, okay, this wave of terror emanating from Muslim anger is to absolutely avoid the "global war on terror" trap.

The terrorists know it. That is why attacks in India, even by angry Indian Muslims, are not directed against some evil global power or its symbols. Nor are they meant to support some pan-Islamic cause, Palestine, or even, for that matter, Kashmir. Their objective, always, is to strike at our secular nationalism. Every single attack has had the same purpose, starting with the first round of Bombay bombings in 1993.

Sharad Pawar made a bold confession to me earlier this month that he parachuted from Delhi into a riot-torn Bombay then figured immediately that the terrorist plot was to kill a large number of people in Hindu localities to trigger large-scale mob attacks on Muslim areas where automatic weapons and grenades had been stored with their agents. Once the mobs were stopped with these automatic weapons it would lead to a carnage that would be uncontrollable. It is for that reason that, he says, he lied on Doordarshan that there had been 12 blasts (where there had been 11) and added the name of a Muslim locality as the 12th. Today we can all rue the fact that judgement in the case of those blasts is still awaited, 13 years later (this article was written in 2006). But we should also cherish the fact that in eschewing any rioting and actually returning to work the very next morning, Bombay had defeated the larger design of the terrorists.

Every attack since then, the temples at Ayodhya, Akshardham and Varanasi, Raghunath temple in Jammu, even the bombs at Delhi’s Jama Masjid, had the same purpose: widening that divide. But it is tougher in India where any notion of ‘Them versus Us’ is an impossibility given how closely communities live, work and do business together. It is one thing to say that we have learnt to live with diversity for a thousand years. It is equally important that we internalise the idea of diversity, equality and fairness that is in our Constitution and in the process of nation building make the very idea of a global war against ‘Islamic fascism’ totally alien and ridiculous for India.

There is a war on for us and there is no getting away from the fact that some of those on the wrong side today are fellow, angry Indians, and we have to deal with them firmly and effectively. But we will need to evolve an idiom and a strategy entirely our own, in tune with a society which loves equally Ustad Bismillah Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar, who both sing and pray to Allah and Shiva, Krishna in ragas composed for either. Today India enjoys great respect in the world because of its unfolding economic miracle. If India can get this nuance right, it could be the toast of the world tomorrow for an even greater socio-political miracle, a secular but deeply religious nation that defeated terrorism while taking its 14 crore Muslims along.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

Archived from Communalism Combat, August-September 2007, Anniversary Issue (14th), Year 14    No.125, India at 60 Free Spaces, Music

Khan Saheb in Kashi

Ustad Bismillah Khan, 1916–2006. In the Ustad’s shehnai lies the note of reason

Khan Sahab

There are moments when I love my job or rather, my business of journalism – even I, a hard-nosed cynical hack of nearly three decades. It is because you love and cherish these moments that you are so grateful you are in this business. How else would I, a hopeless, hopeless philistine, hope to find myself on a rain-drenched terrace in old Varanasi with Ustad Bismillah Khan? As it happens, it was almost exactly the same time last year.

I can fill the rest of this space just describing the beauty of his face, his spirit, his talent, his madness, even his commercialism. To date, he is the only guest who demanded, and was paid – though only a very reasonable tribute – for appearing on Walk the Talk. He said he had a large family to support, even at 91, and could do with whatever money came his way. And when I reminded him, while leaving, that he had to come and perform at my children’s weddings, he said yes immediately. And then quoted the price: five lakh, plus air tickets and stay for seven people. You could touch his innocence with bare hands in the heavy monsoon air.

Khan Saheb let me down on this one though. He will not come and perform at my children’s weddings, whatever the price. But he left me with memories – and lines – that will never go away. What was the difference between Hindu and Muslim, he asked. What, indeed, when he sang to Allah in raga Bhairav (composed for Shiva) and brought to tears the Iraqi maulana who had just told him music was blasphemy, "evil, a trap of the devil". Khan Saheb said, "I told him, Maulana, I will sing to Allah. All I ask you is to be fair. And when I finished I asked him if it is blasphemy. He was speechless." And then Khan Saheb told me with that trademark mischievous glint: "But I did not tell him it was in raga Bhairav."

Why did Khan Saheb not migrate to Pakistan with partition? "Arre, will I ever leave my Benares?" he asked. "I went to Pakistan for a few hours," he said, "just to be able to say I’ve been there. I knew I would never last there." And what is so special about Benares, his glorified slum of a haveli in a grandly named Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan Street that had more potholes than footholds and more heaps of chicken entrails from nearby meat shops than garbage heaps from homes? "My temples are here," he said, "Balaji and Mangala Gauri." Without them, he asked, how would he make any music? As a Muslim he could not go inside the temples. But so what? "I would just go behind the temples and touch the wall from outside. You bring gangajal, you can go inside to offer it, but I can just as well touch the stone from outside. It’s the same. I just have to put my hand to them."

How is that devotion in a week when our parliament was rocked by issues like the forcible, and criminal, chopping of a Sikh boy’s hair in Jaipur and the controversy over state-mandated singing of Vande Mataram in schools to launch the 150th anniversary of 1857? Or when we were all so outraged by the paranoia that caused the Mumbai bound KLM-Northwest flight to return to Amsterdam, the racial profiling of Muslims, particularly Asian-Arab Muslims and so on?

Khan Saheb’s was a talent worthy of a Bharat Ratna and immortality. But he also personified, so strikingly, the fact of how the Muslims of India defy the stereotypes building up in today’s rapidly dividing world. They may be poorer than the majority, or even other, smaller minorities, they may still live in ghettos of sorts, but they are a part of the mainstream, nationally as well as regionally and ethnically, more than Muslim populations are in most parts of the world. A Tamil Muslim, for example, is as much an ethnic Tamil as a Hindu or a Christian and certainly has more in common with his ethnic cousins than with fellow Muslims in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. India’s Muslims work in mainstream businesses where their interests are meshed inextricably with the rest, particularly the majority Hindus, even if they happen to spar occasionally.

That is why, unlike Bush’s America or the western world in general, India cannot even think of the diabolical idea of "Islamic" fascism or terrorism. No country can survive if it starts looking at nearly 15 per cent of its population as a fifth column. That is why India’s view of the war against terror has to be entirely different from the western world’s, more nuanced, more realistic and, most importantly, entirely indigenous.

It is a difficult argument to make in times when it is so tempting to tell America and Europe that see, the people who are terrorising you are the same as the people who have been terrorising us. So far you never believed us. Now with every other terror suspect being traced back to Pakistan and, more precisely, Jaish or Lashkar, accept and acknowledge that we have been in the forefront of the global war against terror for a decade before it hit you. The danger in that approach is, the Americans and the Europeans can choose that approach – though it is not working for them as well – because for them these Muslims are outsiders, different, and therefore candidates for racial profiling. You can racially profile a million people in a universe of 27 crore. Can you profile 14 crore in a universe of a hundred crore? Particularly when most of them, in their own big and small ways, are as integrated in the mainstream, as zealously proud and possessive of their multiple (ethnic, linguistic and professional) identities as of their faith?

That is why the key to fighting, okay, this wave of terror emanating from Muslim anger is to absolutely avoid the "global war on terror" trap.

The terrorists know it. That is why attacks in India, even by angry Indian Muslims, are not directed against some evil global power or its symbols. Nor are they meant to support some pan-Islamic cause, Palestine, or even, for that matter, Kashmir. Their objective, always, is to strike at our secular nationalism. Every single attack has had the same purpose, starting with the first round of Bombay bombings in 1993.

Sharad Pawar made a bold confession to me earlier this month that he parachuted from Delhi into a riot-torn Bombay then figured immediately that the terrorist plot was to kill a large number of people in Hindu localities to trigger large-scale mob attacks on Muslim areas where automatic weapons and grenades had been stored with their agents. Once the mobs were stopped with these automatic weapons it would lead to a carnage that would be uncontrollable. It is for that reason that, he says, he lied on Doordarshan that there had been 12 blasts (where there had been 11) and added the name of a Muslim locality as the 12th. Today we can all rue the fact that judgement in the case of those blasts is still awaited, 13 years later (this article was written in 2006). But we should also cherish the fact that in eschewing any rioting and actually returning to work the very next morning, Bombay had defeated the larger design of the terrorists.

Every attack since then, the temples at Ayodhya, Akshardham and Varanasi, Raghunath temple in Jammu, even the bombs at Delhi’s Jama Masjid, had the same purpose: widening that divide. But it is tougher in India where any notion of ‘Them versus Us’ is an impossibility given how closely communities live, work and do business together. It is one thing to say that we have learnt to live with diversity for a thousand years. It is equally important that we internalise the idea of diversity, equality and fairness that is in our Constitution and in the process of nation building make the very idea of a global war against ‘Islamic fascism’ totally alien and ridiculous for India.

There is a war on for us and there is no getting away from the fact that some of those on the wrong side today are fellow, angry Indians, and we have to deal with them firmly and effectively. But we will need to evolve an idiom and a strategy entirely our own, in tune with a society which loves equally Ustad Bismillah Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar, who both sing and pray to Allah and Shiva, Krishna in ragas composed for either. Today India enjoys great respect in the world because of its unfolding economic miracle. If India can get this nuance right, it could be the toast of the world tomorrow for an even greater socio-political miracle, a secular but deeply religious nation that defeated terrorism while taking its 14 crore Muslims along.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

Archived from Communalism Combat, August-September 2007, Anniversary Issue (14th), Year 14    No.125, India at 60 Free Spaces, Music

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Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine. Annie Weaver translates "Oh Damascus,"  a short story by the undertranslated Syrian writer Ghada Al-Samman. Andrew Leber and Elisabeth Jacquette translate excerpts from "Memoirs of an Iraqi Dog," a novel by the Iraqi writer Abdul Hadi Sadoun. Sinan Antoon translates eight poems by the Palestinian poet Zakaria Mohammed. John Halaka reviews "Eltifaf-Bypass," a series by the Palestinian artist Rafat Asad.

Sabrang

How ‘Bura na maano Holi hai’ has undermined the consent of women in India

From casually normalizing abuse to giving Holi a communal colour by targeting minority women, the festival has become more of a nightmare than a celebration

10 Mar 2020

holi

The festival of colors, Holi is here and soon all over one message is set to boom across – ‘Bura na maano, Holi hai (It’s Holi, take no offense).” However, we have been slow to realize what a travesty of consent the above slogan is. Starting by being normalized through Bollywood, the idea of a woman’s consent washed off faster that the color on her. From then to now has come such a time that this festival is now been given a communal colour by the right-wing saffron brigade.

We tell you why the celebration of Holi in its current form is a threat to women throughout India.

For decades, the slogan, “Bura na maano Holi hai”, is being seen as a free pass by some to take advantage of women. They see it as a free pass to touch women inappropriately, either forcefully smearing color on them by approaching them on roads or aiming balloons with ingredients apart from water, at their breasts and genitals. It is during this celebration – one that signifies good over evil – that women have reported being groped, molested and in some cases, raped by men.  In 2018, in New Delhi, a woman was pelted with semen filled balloons on her way home, reported PAPERMAG. In a 2018, Guardian repor, a young woman was attacked by a group of men on the day of the festival, but she was casually dismissed by a policeman on complaining saying they couldn’t do anything about it. A 1996 report by Delhi University on sexual harassment showed how instances of sexual assault peaked during Holi, with 60.5% women on campus telling of aggravated violence on the day of the festival. In 2016, the Delhi Police’s control room received 21 calls complaining of rape and molestation, including three rape cases that were reported by minors on the festival.

To top it all, this normalization of not seeking consent, has seeped in from Bollywood. Writing about women’s chunaris (stoles) and cholis (blouses), Bollywood, through its song, dance and music slyly shoved in close up shots of women’s wet bosoms in songs with heroes like Rajesh Khanna singing, “Chaahe bheege terei chunariya, chaahe bheege re choli, khelenge hum holi” and Priyanka Chopra singing to her own husband Akshay Kumar in Waqt, “Jaa re jaa, don’t touch my choli. Uff ye holi”.

Another reflection of a man taking pleasure from a woman’s harassment on Holi comes through this song from Mohabbatein, where the lyrics say –

Soni soni akhiyon wali
Dil de jaa ya de jaa tu gaali
Ja Kudiye jo kar le
Gora badan tera rang diya
(O one with the beautiful eyes,
Either give me your heart or give me abuses,
Go do whatever you can,
I have coloured your fair body.)

Another song from the 90s, Ang se Ang Lagana, went something like this –

Rapat likhaado rapat likhaado thane meh
Hum bhar denge jurmaana
Ang se ang lagana
Sajan humein aise rang lagana
(File the FIR, file the FIR,
I’ll go to the station to pay the fine,
Touch every part of my body with yours,
O beloved, colour me thus.)

In all these songs, women are objectified and aggressive male sexuality is on display with the man picking the woman up without her will or overpowering her in some other way. Writing for Feminism in India, Shrishti Malhotra mentions that most of the songs begin with the male actor dancing and coloured, while women actors making their entry completely free of colour. If playing with colours is symbolic of people freely enjoying their sexuality and not being coloured symbolises sexual control, then these songs portray men as having no sexual control – for this control is irrelevant. However, for the sake of their individual and societal ‘honour’, women have to be careful about that control, relinquishing it when pushed to the brink by the leading men’s harassment misrepresented as charm.

And now, given the current atmosphere in the country, the saffron brigade, mostly from the Hindi belt in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have started to give the festival a communal colour.

One such example is the rampant dissemination of a song by Sandeep Acharya who calls himself to be Hinduvadi. His song targets Muslim women saying even if you come out on the streets with your brother, we will forcibly smear colour on you.

The song has spread like wildfire on popular social media apps like TikTok and Facebook with sexist and misogynistic captions.

Many Muslims in India don’t play Holi by choice. Not just Muslims, even practicing Catholic nuns, Jain Sadhvis and Khalsa Sikhs don’t celebrate the festival. Practicing Muslims who are in their religious attire which is worn for prayers don't play holi because having clean clothes and clean body is precondition for Namaz.

In 2019, when the brand Surf Excel came out with an advertisement promoting the sentiment ‘Rang Laaye Sang’ (colours bring us together), by depicting a Hindu girl cleverly getting her friends to douse her in colours so that her Muslim friend could safely go for namaz, Hindutva supporters slashed the ad for promoting ‘love jihad’. People are still talking about it in 2020.

 

 

The current call of smearing colour on burqa clad women without their consent is just a regressive fantasy of some who wish to impose their power and supremacy on minorities and women.

The result of such a campaign is that though being visually wrong, it is being spread among people who innocently forward it as a step towards communal harmony, without understanding the actual intention behind it.

This. 

https://twitter.com/iBhupendraHarit/status/1237033115228364802

The disgust cannot be put into words anymore.

Forcibly touching anyone without their consent is criminal. Holi is not an excuse for sexual abuse. The licentious behavior by men is the curse of the society. With this thought turning communal in nature and no one to check its spread, it will result in social destruction that will be beyond control and ruin the psyche of the nation.

 

Related:

Video asking to harass Muslim women on Holi surfaces on social media

How ‘Bura na maano Holi hai’ has undermined the consent of women in India

From casually normalizing abuse to giving Holi a communal colour by targeting minority women, the festival has become more of a nightmare than a celebration

holi

The festival of colors, Holi is here and soon all over one message is set to boom across – ‘Bura na maano, Holi hai (It’s Holi, take no offense).” However, we have been slow to realize what a travesty of consent the above slogan is. Starting by being normalized through Bollywood, the idea of a woman’s consent washed off faster that the color on her. From then to now has come such a time that this festival is now been given a communal colour by the right-wing saffron brigade.

We tell you why the celebration of Holi in its current form is a threat to women throughout India.

For decades, the slogan, “Bura na maano Holi hai”, is being seen as a free pass by some to take advantage of women. They see it as a free pass to touch women inappropriately, either forcefully smearing color on them by approaching them on roads or aiming balloons with ingredients apart from water, at their breasts and genitals. It is during this celebration – one that signifies good over evil – that women have reported being groped, molested and in some cases, raped by men.  In 2018, in New Delhi, a woman was pelted with semen filled balloons on her way home, reported PAPERMAG. In a 2018, Guardian repor, a young woman was attacked by a group of men on the day of the festival, but she was casually dismissed by a policeman on complaining saying they couldn’t do anything about it. A 1996 report by Delhi University on sexual harassment showed how instances of sexual assault peaked during Holi, with 60.5% women on campus telling of aggravated violence on the day of the festival. In 2016, the Delhi Police’s control room received 21 calls complaining of rape and molestation, including three rape cases that were reported by minors on the festival.

To top it all, this normalization of not seeking consent, has seeped in from Bollywood. Writing about women’s chunaris (stoles) and cholis (blouses), Bollywood, through its song, dance and music slyly shoved in close up shots of women’s wet bosoms in songs with heroes like Rajesh Khanna singing, “Chaahe bheege terei chunariya, chaahe bheege re choli, khelenge hum holi” and Priyanka Chopra singing to her own husband Akshay Kumar in Waqt, “Jaa re jaa, don’t touch my choli. Uff ye holi”.

Another reflection of a man taking pleasure from a woman’s harassment on Holi comes through this song from Mohabbatein, where the lyrics say –

Soni soni akhiyon wali
Dil de jaa ya de jaa tu gaali
Ja Kudiye jo kar le
Gora badan tera rang diya
(O one with the beautiful eyes,
Either give me your heart or give me abuses,
Go do whatever you can,
I have coloured your fair body.)

Another song from the 90s, Ang se Ang Lagana, went something like this –

Rapat likhaado rapat likhaado thane meh
Hum bhar denge jurmaana
Ang se ang lagana
Sajan humein aise rang lagana
(File the FIR, file the FIR,
I’ll go to the station to pay the fine,
Touch every part of my body with yours,
O beloved, colour me thus.)

In all these songs, women are objectified and aggressive male sexuality is on display with the man picking the woman up without her will or overpowering her in some other way. Writing for Feminism in India, Shrishti Malhotra mentions that most of the songs begin with the male actor dancing and coloured, while women actors making their entry completely free of colour. If playing with colours is symbolic of people freely enjoying their sexuality and not being coloured symbolises sexual control, then these songs portray men as having no sexual control – for this control is irrelevant. However, for the sake of their individual and societal ‘honour’, women have to be careful about that control, relinquishing it when pushed to the brink by the leading men’s harassment misrepresented as charm.

And now, given the current atmosphere in the country, the saffron brigade, mostly from the Hindi belt in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have started to give the festival a communal colour.

One such example is the rampant dissemination of a song by Sandeep Acharya who calls himself to be Hinduvadi. His song targets Muslim women saying even if you come out on the streets with your brother, we will forcibly smear colour on you.

The song has spread like wildfire on popular social media apps like TikTok and Facebook with sexist and misogynistic captions.

Many Muslims in India don’t play Holi by choice. Not just Muslims, even practicing Catholic nuns, Jain Sadhvis and Khalsa Sikhs don’t celebrate the festival. Practicing Muslims who are in their religious attire which is worn for prayers don't play holi because having clean clothes and clean body is precondition for Namaz.

In 2019, when the brand Surf Excel came out with an advertisement promoting the sentiment ‘Rang Laaye Sang’ (colours bring us together), by depicting a Hindu girl cleverly getting her friends to douse her in colours so that her Muslim friend could safely go for namaz, Hindutva supporters slashed the ad for promoting ‘love jihad’. People are still talking about it in 2020.

 

 

The current call of smearing colour on burqa clad women without their consent is just a regressive fantasy of some who wish to impose their power and supremacy on minorities and women.

The result of such a campaign is that though being visually wrong, it is being spread among people who innocently forward it as a step towards communal harmony, without understanding the actual intention behind it.

This. 

https://twitter.com/iBhupendraHarit/status/1237033115228364802

The disgust cannot be put into words anymore.

Forcibly touching anyone without their consent is criminal. Holi is not an excuse for sexual abuse. The licentious behavior by men is the curse of the society. With this thought turning communal in nature and no one to check its spread, it will result in social destruction that will be beyond control and ruin the psyche of the nation.

 

Related:

Video asking to harass Muslim women on Holi surfaces on social media

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Holi: Poetry, syncretism, and dilemmas

While many people (including the Prime Minister) are declaring that they would not celebrate Holi this year due to COVID-19; the good, bad, and ugly that colour Holi celebrations in India still mandate discussion.

10 Mar 2020

holi

Aaj rang hai, hey Maa rang hai ri
Moray mehboob ke ghar rang hai ri

(“There’s colour today, O mother, there’s a glow today,
In my beloved’s home there’s new colour today.”)

Amir Khusrau’s qawwali blasts through the speakers downstairs as residents loudly discuss and justify not letting their kids play Holi in the street on March 10, 2020. The children had already bought balloons which they were planning to fill with coloured water for Holi. They have been told very strictly that they will all stay inside their houses to avoid risk. As the adults read Whatsapp messages to each other (some of them factually inaccurate), I ask the kids who they were planning to throw the balloons at. As the music player switches to, “Aaj na chhodenge bas hamjoli, khelenge hum Holi, Chaahe bheege re teri chunariya, chaahe bheege rey choli” (“Today we will not let you go, o playmate, we will play Holi, even if your scarf is drenched, even if your blouse is drenched”), the children giggle and tell me they threw balloons at passersby on the road last year. 

This is nothing new. I have myself been the target of many such balloons over the years. Men and boys would roam the roads on their bikes, shouting profanities and throwing colour and balloons filled with water (and other things) at unsuspecting girls. Holi in Haryana had taught me to never (EVER) step outside on the day, and one day after- because of leftover supplies of colour and leftover effects of liquor. Drinking bhaang (traditionally prepared as a milky concoction with marijuana leaves) and general hooliganism that have come to define the festival for most people, have obscured the beauty and abandon we expect from a festival that is literally the celebration of love, heralding the spring season, and the victory of good over evil.

The festival itself, has been celebrated for centuries, not just by Hindus, but also by Jains and Newar Buddhists of Nepal. Sikhs are also linked to this festival. Guru Gobind Singh Ji – the tenth and last human guru of the Sikhs – modified Holi into a three-day extended festival called Hola Mohalla that celebrates martial arts. The festival was started the day after Holi in Anandpur Sahib, where Sikh soldiers would train in mock battles, compete in horsemanship, athletics, archery and military exercises. People from all corners of Punjab visit Anandpur Sahib in large numbers every year for the festivities.

In Mughal India, Holi was celebrated as Eid-e-Gulabi during the reigns of Emperors Akbar and Shahjahan. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar even wrote a song about Holi, albeit referencing an eve-teasing scenario which is also a common template for Bollywood’s Holi themed songs. While there may be subtlety in the lyrics, it is the overall treatment and choreography of such Bollywood songs that sometimes endorses outright harassment of women.

On the other hand, Holi has inspired deeply mystic and spritual poetry as well. Amir Khusrau wrote,

Kheluungii Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye,
Dhan dhan bhaag hamare sajni,
Khaaja aaye aangan mere”

 
(I shall play Holi as Khaaja has come home, blessed is my fortune, o friend, as Khaaja has come to my courtyard).

Famous Sufi saint Bulleh Shah illustrated the syncretic nature of the festival beautifully in his poetry,

Hori Khelungi, Keh Bismillah.
Nam Nabi ki ratn chadi, boond padi Allah Allah.
Rang rangeeli ohi khilave, Jis seekhi ho Fanaa fi Allah.
‘Alastu bi rabbikum’ Pritam bole, Sab sakhiyan ne ghunghat khole.
Qaloo Bala, yun hi kar bole, ‘la ilaha illallah’
.”
 
(I will play Holi beginning in the name of the Lord, saying Bismillah.
Cast like a gem in the name of the Prophet,
Each drop falls with the beat of Allah, Allah,
Only He may play with these colourful dyes,
Who has learnt to lose himself in Allah.
‘Am I not your lord?’ asked the Lover,
And all maidens lifted their veils,
Everyone said, ‘Yes!’ and repeated “There is only one God’)

Even in contemporary times, the syncretism emerges in beautiful pockets around the country. 63-year-old Mohammad Gyassuddin of Varanasi is the fifth generation artisan who crafts the Shahi Pagdi (also known as Akbari Pagdi) for the Baba Bholenath idol in Kashi Vishwanath temple. The Bholenaath (Shiva) idol is worshipped by a huge number of devotees on Holi, and Gyassuddin feels honoured that his family has been entrusted with the job of decorating and crafting the Pagdi (turban) for so many years. He is a firm believer of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb and says, “कोई भी हिन्दू-मुस्लिम नहीं चाहता है, सब लोग दो वक्त की रोज़ी-रोटी चाहते हैं और कुछ नहीं कुछ राजनीतिक लोग हैं जो अपनी रोटी सेंकना चाहते हैं, वही लोग लड़ाई लगाते हैं” (“Nobody wants Hindu-Muslim conflict, we just want two meals a day and a way to earn it, Some political forces have vested interests, so they create conflicts.”)

Delhi is still reeling from the devastation brought by Delhi Pogrom 2020. COVID-19 is leading to cancellations of public events and gatherings, even as the people rendered homeless struggle in relief camps. Here in Mumbai, parents want to cancel Holi celebrations because of the health risk to their children, the same parents who did not bat an eye when their children endangered strangers on the roads by throwing water balloons in previous years. Hordes of men will harrass women and girls in the name of, “Bura na mano, Holi hai” (“Don’t mind, it’s Holi”), this year too, despite COVID-19 scares. Viruses, after all, cannot teach the value of consent. Women like me who have had past experiences of sexual harassment during Holi will be cloistered safely inside a house that was not the target of a Pogrom. Holi is inherently supposed to be messy and chaotic, while inspiring joy and freedom. This year, the mess has another colour- the red of the spilt blood of our citizens. This Holi, let us hold on to it’s inherent beauty, or whatever is left of it, and hope to see the day when we can all celebrate the colours of harmony and mutual respect again.

 

Related articles:

1. The colourful history of Holi and Islam

2. Is the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, so intrinsic to Delhi, being made irrelevant?

3. Video asking to harass Muslim women on Holi surfaces on social media

 

 

Holi: Poetry, syncretism, and dilemmas

While many people (including the Prime Minister) are declaring that they would not celebrate Holi this year due to COVID-19; the good, bad, and ugly that colour Holi celebrations in India still mandate discussion.

holi

Aaj rang hai, hey Maa rang hai ri
Moray mehboob ke ghar rang hai ri

(“There’s colour today, O mother, there’s a glow today,
In my beloved’s home there’s new colour today.”)

Amir Khusrau’s qawwali blasts through the speakers downstairs as residents loudly discuss and justify not letting their kids play Holi in the street on March 10, 2020. The children had already bought balloons which they were planning to fill with coloured water for Holi. They have been told very strictly that they will all stay inside their houses to avoid risk. As the adults read Whatsapp messages to each other (some of them factually inaccurate), I ask the kids who they were planning to throw the balloons at. As the music player switches to, “Aaj na chhodenge bas hamjoli, khelenge hum Holi, Chaahe bheege re teri chunariya, chaahe bheege rey choli” (“Today we will not let you go, o playmate, we will play Holi, even if your scarf is drenched, even if your blouse is drenched”), the children giggle and tell me they threw balloons at passersby on the road last year. 

This is nothing new. I have myself been the target of many such balloons over the years. Men and boys would roam the roads on their bikes, shouting profanities and throwing colour and balloons filled with water (and other things) at unsuspecting girls. Holi in Haryana had taught me to never (EVER) step outside on the day, and one day after- because of leftover supplies of colour and leftover effects of liquor. Drinking bhaang (traditionally prepared as a milky concoction with marijuana leaves) and general hooliganism that have come to define the festival for most people, have obscured the beauty and abandon we expect from a festival that is literally the celebration of love, heralding the spring season, and the victory of good over evil.

The festival itself, has been celebrated for centuries, not just by Hindus, but also by Jains and Newar Buddhists of Nepal. Sikhs are also linked to this festival. Guru Gobind Singh Ji – the tenth and last human guru of the Sikhs – modified Holi into a three-day extended festival called Hola Mohalla that celebrates martial arts. The festival was started the day after Holi in Anandpur Sahib, where Sikh soldiers would train in mock battles, compete in horsemanship, athletics, archery and military exercises. People from all corners of Punjab visit Anandpur Sahib in large numbers every year for the festivities.

In Mughal India, Holi was celebrated as Eid-e-Gulabi during the reigns of Emperors Akbar and Shahjahan. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar even wrote a song about Holi, albeit referencing an eve-teasing scenario which is also a common template for Bollywood’s Holi themed songs. While there may be subtlety in the lyrics, it is the overall treatment and choreography of such Bollywood songs that sometimes endorses outright harassment of women.

On the other hand, Holi has inspired deeply mystic and spritual poetry as well. Amir Khusrau wrote,

Kheluungii Holi, Khaaja ghar aaye,
Dhan dhan bhaag hamare sajni,
Khaaja aaye aangan mere”

 
(I shall play Holi as Khaaja has come home, blessed is my fortune, o friend, as Khaaja has come to my courtyard).

Famous Sufi saint Bulleh Shah illustrated the syncretic nature of the festival beautifully in his poetry,

Hori Khelungi, Keh Bismillah.
Nam Nabi ki ratn chadi, boond padi Allah Allah.
Rang rangeeli ohi khilave, Jis seekhi ho Fanaa fi Allah.
‘Alastu bi rabbikum’ Pritam bole, Sab sakhiyan ne ghunghat khole.
Qaloo Bala, yun hi kar bole, ‘la ilaha illallah’
.”
 
(I will play Holi beginning in the name of the Lord, saying Bismillah.
Cast like a gem in the name of the Prophet,
Each drop falls with the beat of Allah, Allah,
Only He may play with these colourful dyes,
Who has learnt to lose himself in Allah.
‘Am I not your lord?’ asked the Lover,
And all maidens lifted their veils,
Everyone said, ‘Yes!’ and repeated “There is only one God’)

Even in contemporary times, the syncretism emerges in beautiful pockets around the country. 63-year-old Mohammad Gyassuddin of Varanasi is the fifth generation artisan who crafts the Shahi Pagdi (also known as Akbari Pagdi) for the Baba Bholenath idol in Kashi Vishwanath temple. The Bholenaath (Shiva) idol is worshipped by a huge number of devotees on Holi, and Gyassuddin feels honoured that his family has been entrusted with the job of decorating and crafting the Pagdi (turban) for so many years. He is a firm believer of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb and says, “कोई भी हिन्दू-मुस्लिम नहीं चाहता है, सब लोग दो वक्त की रोज़ी-रोटी चाहते हैं और कुछ नहीं कुछ राजनीतिक लोग हैं जो अपनी रोटी सेंकना चाहते हैं, वही लोग लड़ाई लगाते हैं” (“Nobody wants Hindu-Muslim conflict, we just want two meals a day and a way to earn it, Some political forces have vested interests, so they create conflicts.”)

Delhi is still reeling from the devastation brought by Delhi Pogrom 2020. COVID-19 is leading to cancellations of public events and gatherings, even as the people rendered homeless struggle in relief camps. Here in Mumbai, parents want to cancel Holi celebrations because of the health risk to their children, the same parents who did not bat an eye when their children endangered strangers on the roads by throwing water balloons in previous years. Hordes of men will harrass women and girls in the name of, “Bura na mano, Holi hai” (“Don’t mind, it’s Holi”), this year too, despite COVID-19 scares. Viruses, after all, cannot teach the value of consent. Women like me who have had past experiences of sexual harassment during Holi will be cloistered safely inside a house that was not the target of a Pogrom. Holi is inherently supposed to be messy and chaotic, while inspiring joy and freedom. This year, the mess has another colour- the red of the spilt blood of our citizens. This Holi, let us hold on to it’s inherent beauty, or whatever is left of it, and hope to see the day when we can all celebrate the colours of harmony and mutual respect again.

 

Related articles:

1. The colourful history of Holi and Islam

2. Is the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, so intrinsic to Delhi, being made irrelevant?

3. Video asking to harass Muslim women on Holi surfaces on social media

 

 

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Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

16 Jan 2020

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

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Punjab’s Robinhood Dulla Bhatti: Why Lohri is celebrated

Every Lohri, Punjabis sing the songs of Dulla Bhatti and build a bonfire for the community. The story behind this is complex, endearing, and dates back to the legend of India’s very own Robinhood.

11 Jan 2020

PunjabImage Courtesy: rgyan.com

Most people know of Lohri as a festival of the Punjabis where they build a bonfire, dance, offer jaggery and grains to the fire and of course, indulge in lots of dancing. The story behind these traditions is in fact a tale of valour, rebellion, and revolution, initiated by Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti fondly referred to as Dulla Bhatti.

Dulla’s father and grandfather were Muslim-Rajput landlords (zamindaars) in Lahore who opposed the taxation system levied by the Mughal empire under Emperor Akbar. They refused to pay the new taxes to the local ‘Faujdar’ (military officer appointed to collect taxes). There were frequent skirmishes between the Bhatti landlords and the Faujdar’s armies where the Bhattis pushed back and defeated the Mughal forces. Ultimately, Emperor Akbar called for their arrests and execution. They were executed 4 months before Dulla was born.

What happened from this point onwards is part folklore, part history. Some theories believe that when Prince Salim was born, an astrologer convinced Akbar that the only way the Prince would grow up to be a strong ruler was if he was nursed by another woman whose son was born on the same day as the Prince. This woman was none other than Dulla’s own mother Ladhi who is said to have given birth to Dulla on the same day as the Prince.

It is said that in their early years, both Dulla and Salim (who would grow up to be Emperor Jehangir) were raised in the same household by Ladhi. Another legend also says that while it was typical to touch jaggery to the newborn’s mouth as the tradition of ‘Gudhti’, Ladhi touched a shining sword to Dulla’s mouth at birth, because she knew he would grow up to avenge his father and grandfather.

As the years went on, Ladhi hid her husband and father-in-law’s weapons in a closed room and kept their history a secret from the headstrong teenage Dulla. When Dulla and his friends created mischief in the village by damaging women’s water pots with their catapults, a village woman taunted him by saying, “Why do you show your strength here to women and poor people? If you are so strong, go and avenge your father”. This made Dulla ask his mother to tell him the truth and she finally opened up the secret room full of weapons. Dulla’s young blood and courage led him to form a band of highway robbers along with his friends using these weapons. They would steal from the rich traders and distribute the goods to poor villagers.Dulla became a saviour for the poor.

One such poverty-stricken Brahmin landed at Dulla’s camp with a special plea. He had two young and beautiful daughters Sundari and Mundari, who were betrothed in another village. He was too poor to afford a wedding, let alone two. Meanwhile, the local Mughal officials had their eye on the girls and a delay in their weddings would mean that they could be carried off any moment by the soldiers to be kept as slaves. Desperate to save his daughters, the Brahmin implored Dulla for help.

Dulla vowed that he would make sure the two girls would be safely wed to their betrothed and told the Brahmin, “Your daughters are my daughters”. He started a donation campaign in the neighbousring villages and people donated jaggery and grains in small and large amounts for the double wedding. On the wedding day, Dulla lit huge bonfires along the path to ensure safe passage for the wedding party.

This is why Lohri is celebrated by lighting bonfires and offering jaggery and grains. The famous folksong “Sundar-Mundriye” is sung with gusto:

 

(Original in Punjabi)

(Translation)

Sunder mundriye ho!

Beautiful girl Sundari and Mundari

Tera kaun vicharaa ho!

Who will think about you

Dullah Bhatti walla ho!

Dulla of the Bhatti clan will

Dullhe di dhee vyayae ho!

Dulla's daughter got married

Ser shakkar payee ho!

He gave one seer of sugar!

Kudi da laal pathaka ho!

The girl is wearing a red suit!

Kudi da saalu paata ho!

But her shawl is torn!

Salu kaun samete!

Who will stitch her shawl?!

 

Chache choori kutti!

 

The uncle made choori! (dish prepared with roti, desi ghee and sugar)

Zamidara lutti!

The landlords looted!

Zamindaar sudhaye!

Landlords are beaten up!

Bade bhole aaye!

Lots of simple-headed boys came!

Ek bhola reh gaya!

One simpleton got left behind!

Sipahee far ke lai gaya!

The soldier arrested him!

Sipahee ne mari itt!

The soldier hit him with a brick!

Bhaanvey ro te bhaanvey pitt!

Whether you cry, or bang your head later!

Sanoo de de Lohri, te teri jeeve jodi!

Give us Lohri, long live your pair (to a married couple)!

As Dulla’s reputation spread across the neighbouring areas, the landlords grew bolder and stopped paying taxes, as the Faujdars themselves were unable to enter Dulla’s territory. However, Dulla’s rebellion came to an abrupt end when after repeated defeats in the battlefield, the Mughal officers offered to meet and make a peace treaty with him. But this negotiation meeting turned out to be a trap and the officers poisoned his food which made him unconscious and thus he was captured, and eventually hanged to death in 1599. The famous Sufi mystic Shah Hussain recounted Dulla’s dying words, “No honourable son of Punjab will ever sell the soil of Punjab".

To this day, the people of Punjab remember this brave warrior with a heart of gold. On the morning of the Lohri day, young children team up to visit every house in their locality and sing the ‘Sundar-Mundriye’song that commends Dulla and his giving of the Lohri gift to his daughters, as a suggestion to the owner of the house to give them presents in the same way. Normally, the children are given small amounts of money to buy treats, sweets like gajak or rewri or eatables such as popcorn, til (sesame) seeds, peanuts, sugar or jaggery. If the gifts please them, they sing:

"Dabba bharaya leera da (Box filled of cloths strips)
"Ai ghar ameera da (This house is of the rich)"

But if they do not receive anything from a house, they chant:

"Hukka bhai Hukkaa (Hukka! Oh! Hukka!)
"Ai ghar bhukka (This house is full of misers!)"

This year as you wish someone a Happy Lohri, do remember the young revolutionary who was called a ‘dacoit’ by the Emperor but was beloved by the poor as their champion, their Robinhood - Dulla Bhatti.

Punjab’s Robinhood Dulla Bhatti: Why Lohri is celebrated

Every Lohri, Punjabis sing the songs of Dulla Bhatti and build a bonfire for the community. The story behind this is complex, endearing, and dates back to the legend of India’s very own Robinhood.

PunjabImage Courtesy: rgyan.com

Most people know of Lohri as a festival of the Punjabis where they build a bonfire, dance, offer jaggery and grains to the fire and of course, indulge in lots of dancing. The story behind these traditions is in fact a tale of valour, rebellion, and revolution, initiated by Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti fondly referred to as Dulla Bhatti.

Dulla’s father and grandfather were Muslim-Rajput landlords (zamindaars) in Lahore who opposed the taxation system levied by the Mughal empire under Emperor Akbar. They refused to pay the new taxes to the local ‘Faujdar’ (military officer appointed to collect taxes). There were frequent skirmishes between the Bhatti landlords and the Faujdar’s armies where the Bhattis pushed back and defeated the Mughal forces. Ultimately, Emperor Akbar called for their arrests and execution. They were executed 4 months before Dulla was born.

What happened from this point onwards is part folklore, part history. Some theories believe that when Prince Salim was born, an astrologer convinced Akbar that the only way the Prince would grow up to be a strong ruler was if he was nursed by another woman whose son was born on the same day as the Prince. This woman was none other than Dulla’s own mother Ladhi who is said to have given birth to Dulla on the same day as the Prince.

It is said that in their early years, both Dulla and Salim (who would grow up to be Emperor Jehangir) were raised in the same household by Ladhi. Another legend also says that while it was typical to touch jaggery to the newborn’s mouth as the tradition of ‘Gudhti’, Ladhi touched a shining sword to Dulla’s mouth at birth, because she knew he would grow up to avenge his father and grandfather.

As the years went on, Ladhi hid her husband and father-in-law’s weapons in a closed room and kept their history a secret from the headstrong teenage Dulla. When Dulla and his friends created mischief in the village by damaging women’s water pots with their catapults, a village woman taunted him by saying, “Why do you show your strength here to women and poor people? If you are so strong, go and avenge your father”. This made Dulla ask his mother to tell him the truth and she finally opened up the secret room full of weapons. Dulla’s young blood and courage led him to form a band of highway robbers along with his friends using these weapons. They would steal from the rich traders and distribute the goods to poor villagers.Dulla became a saviour for the poor.

One such poverty-stricken Brahmin landed at Dulla’s camp with a special plea. He had two young and beautiful daughters Sundari and Mundari, who were betrothed in another village. He was too poor to afford a wedding, let alone two. Meanwhile, the local Mughal officials had their eye on the girls and a delay in their weddings would mean that they could be carried off any moment by the soldiers to be kept as slaves. Desperate to save his daughters, the Brahmin implored Dulla for help.

Dulla vowed that he would make sure the two girls would be safely wed to their betrothed and told the Brahmin, “Your daughters are my daughters”. He started a donation campaign in the neighbousring villages and people donated jaggery and grains in small and large amounts for the double wedding. On the wedding day, Dulla lit huge bonfires along the path to ensure safe passage for the wedding party.

This is why Lohri is celebrated by lighting bonfires and offering jaggery and grains. The famous folksong “Sundar-Mundriye” is sung with gusto:

 

(Original in Punjabi)

(Translation)

Sunder mundriye ho!

Beautiful girl Sundari and Mundari

Tera kaun vicharaa ho!

Who will think about you

Dullah Bhatti walla ho!

Dulla of the Bhatti clan will

Dullhe di dhee vyayae ho!

Dulla's daughter got married

Ser shakkar payee ho!

He gave one seer of sugar!

Kudi da laal pathaka ho!

The girl is wearing a red suit!

Kudi da saalu paata ho!

But her shawl is torn!

Salu kaun samete!

Who will stitch her shawl?!

 

Chache choori kutti!

 

The uncle made choori! (dish prepared with roti, desi ghee and sugar)

Zamidara lutti!

The landlords looted!

Zamindaar sudhaye!

Landlords are beaten up!

Bade bhole aaye!

Lots of simple-headed boys came!

Ek bhola reh gaya!

One simpleton got left behind!

Sipahee far ke lai gaya!

The soldier arrested him!

Sipahee ne mari itt!

The soldier hit him with a brick!

Bhaanvey ro te bhaanvey pitt!

Whether you cry, or bang your head later!

Sanoo de de Lohri, te teri jeeve jodi!

Give us Lohri, long live your pair (to a married couple)!

As Dulla’s reputation spread across the neighbouring areas, the landlords grew bolder and stopped paying taxes, as the Faujdars themselves were unable to enter Dulla’s territory. However, Dulla’s rebellion came to an abrupt end when after repeated defeats in the battlefield, the Mughal officers offered to meet and make a peace treaty with him. But this negotiation meeting turned out to be a trap and the officers poisoned his food which made him unconscious and thus he was captured, and eventually hanged to death in 1599. The famous Sufi mystic Shah Hussain recounted Dulla’s dying words, “No honourable son of Punjab will ever sell the soil of Punjab".

To this day, the people of Punjab remember this brave warrior with a heart of gold. On the morning of the Lohri day, young children team up to visit every house in their locality and sing the ‘Sundar-Mundriye’song that commends Dulla and his giving of the Lohri gift to his daughters, as a suggestion to the owner of the house to give them presents in the same way. Normally, the children are given small amounts of money to buy treats, sweets like gajak or rewri or eatables such as popcorn, til (sesame) seeds, peanuts, sugar or jaggery. If the gifts please them, they sing:

"Dabba bharaya leera da (Box filled of cloths strips)
"Ai ghar ameera da (This house is of the rich)"

But if they do not receive anything from a house, they chant:

"Hukka bhai Hukkaa (Hukka! Oh! Hukka!)
"Ai ghar bhukka (This house is full of misers!)"

This year as you wish someone a Happy Lohri, do remember the young revolutionary who was called a ‘dacoit’ by the Emperor but was beloved by the poor as their champion, their Robinhood - Dulla Bhatti.

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One Country, Many New Years

As we enter the year 2020, let us explore the unique New Year traditions across different parts of India and appreciate the strength of our diversity.

02 Jan 2020

Indian Cultures

The big 2020 is finally here, and as the world crosses this milestone, India will celebrate various New Year festivals in the months to come. Though the exact dates may vary, most of these festivals fall in March/April of the Gregorian Calendar. The regions which follow a Solar Calendar consider New Year as the ‘Sankranti’ of the first month of Solar cycle commonly known as ‘Vaisaakh’. Generally, this day falls during 14th or 15th of the month of April. Those following Lunar calendar consider the period between two ‘Purnimas’ (full moons) as one month and the month of Chaitra (corresponding to March-April) is considered the first month.Local calendars in India fall under both these categories like Nanakshahi calendar, Parsi calendar, Hindu calendar, Islamic calendar, and many more.

Most New Year days correspond with the harvest season as India has historically been an agricultural country. Vaisaakhi is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in North India to mark the New Year. For Sikhs, it holds added significance as this was the day chosen by the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- to establish the ‘Khalsa Panth’. Vaisaakhi is celebrated with much aplomb, dancing, singing, wearing new colourful clothes and attending kirtan in Gurudwaras like the Golden Temple. Vaisaakhi celebrations also remind us of the sombre history of Jallianwalah Bagh massacre which happened on this day in 1919.

Maithili New Year (also known as Jude Sheetal or Pahil Boishakh) is the celebration of the first day of the Maithili new year. It is celebrated in Bihar and parts of Nepal that fall under a common region known as Mithila. This day usually falls on 14 April on Gregorian calendar and Maithils celebrate by cooking Hilsa fish and rice. This is also called Nirayana Mesh Sankranti and Tirhuta new year. The occasion is celebrated in keeping with the Maithil Panchang, a calendar used in the Mithila region. This coincides with Pohela Boishaakh celebrated in West Bengal. Colorful displays of arts and crafts, along with music shows mark the ‘Nobobarsho’ (New Year) celbrations.

The famous Bihu dance is performed to celebrate Bohag Bihu (Assamese New Year) which lasts for seven days usually beginning on 14th April. This festival also adheres to the marking of a New Year by the harvest season and coincides with Vaisaakhi. The same day is also celebrated as Vishu festival in Kerala, Mangalore and Tulu Nadu (the regions where the language Tulu is spoken) where the first month of the year is called Medam. The day is celebrated with fireworks, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi), and the eating a special meal called Sadhya which is traditional meal prepared with multiple sweet and savoury dishes, typically served on a Banana leaf.

Ugadi or Yugadi is the New Year celebration of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. It is observed in these regions on the first day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Chaitra. Traditional sweets and 'Pachadi' (sweet syrup) – made with raw mangoes and neem leaves – are served with the Ugadi meal. On the same day, the Marathis celebrate the New Year asGudi Padwa by decorating Maharashtrian households with ‘Gudis’ which literally means flags erected around the household. Gudi Padwa is also associated with the arrival of spring and the harvesting of Rabi crops.

Nowruz (also known as Navroz/Navroz) is the Iranian and Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. In India- Parsis, Kashmiri pandits, Zoroastrians, and some Muslim communities, celebrate Nowruz. Nowruz is the day of the vernal (spring) equinox (equinox occurs when the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator) and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar.It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. On equinox, the day and night become exactly equal in terms of number of hours. On this day, families gather to observe the rituals and celebrate the coming of spring together.

The Islamic New Year (Arabic: Raʿs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah), also called the Hijri New Year or Arabic New Year, is the day that marks the beginning of a new Hijri year, and is observed by Muslims on the first day of the month of Muharram. Since the Islamic calendar (which follows the lunar cycle) is usually 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, the date of Islamic New Year can vary. In 2020, the day will fall on 19th-20th August.

Sindhis mark the New Year with the celebration of Chetri Chand (also known as Cheti Chand). The festival date is based on the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, it being the first day of the year and the Sindhi month of Chet (Chaitra). It typically falls on or about the same day as Gudi Padwa, Bohag Bihu, and Ugadi. The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in Sindhi community it also marks the birth of Uderolal in year 1007, after they prayed to Hindu god Varun Dev to save them from the persecution by the tyrannical ruler Mirkhshah. Uderolal (also known as Jhulelal) confronted and reprimanded Mirkhshah and became the champion of the people in Sindh, both Hindus and Muslims. Among his Sufi Muslim followers, Jhulelal is known as "Khwaja Khizir" or "Sheikh Tahit". Uday Chand, Amar Laal and Laal Sain are a few other names Jhulelal is addressed by.

There are many traditions with different names that mark the New Year for Indian people in various regions. Though the calendars, the languages, the rituals and their significance may be diverse, many festivals overlap, and so does the celebration. As we enter 2020 according to the Gregorian calendar, let us feel excited in anticipation of our very own local New Year festivals coming up in a few months and hope to celebrate together without the boundaries of caste, class and religion. Everyone deserves a ‘Happy’ New Year, let’s make it happen with compassion and love.

One Country, Many New Years

As we enter the year 2020, let us explore the unique New Year traditions across different parts of India and appreciate the strength of our diversity.

Indian Cultures

The big 2020 is finally here, and as the world crosses this milestone, India will celebrate various New Year festivals in the months to come. Though the exact dates may vary, most of these festivals fall in March/April of the Gregorian Calendar. The regions which follow a Solar Calendar consider New Year as the ‘Sankranti’ of the first month of Solar cycle commonly known as ‘Vaisaakh’. Generally, this day falls during 14th or 15th of the month of April. Those following Lunar calendar consider the period between two ‘Purnimas’ (full moons) as one month and the month of Chaitra (corresponding to March-April) is considered the first month.Local calendars in India fall under both these categories like Nanakshahi calendar, Parsi calendar, Hindu calendar, Islamic calendar, and many more.

Most New Year days correspond with the harvest season as India has historically been an agricultural country. Vaisaakhi is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in North India to mark the New Year. For Sikhs, it holds added significance as this was the day chosen by the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- to establish the ‘Khalsa Panth’. Vaisaakhi is celebrated with much aplomb, dancing, singing, wearing new colourful clothes and attending kirtan in Gurudwaras like the Golden Temple. Vaisaakhi celebrations also remind us of the sombre history of Jallianwalah Bagh massacre which happened on this day in 1919.

Maithili New Year (also known as Jude Sheetal or Pahil Boishakh) is the celebration of the first day of the Maithili new year. It is celebrated in Bihar and parts of Nepal that fall under a common region known as Mithila. This day usually falls on 14 April on Gregorian calendar and Maithils celebrate by cooking Hilsa fish and rice. This is also called Nirayana Mesh Sankranti and Tirhuta new year. The occasion is celebrated in keeping with the Maithil Panchang, a calendar used in the Mithila region. This coincides with Pohela Boishaakh celebrated in West Bengal. Colorful displays of arts and crafts, along with music shows mark the ‘Nobobarsho’ (New Year) celbrations.

The famous Bihu dance is performed to celebrate Bohag Bihu (Assamese New Year) which lasts for seven days usually beginning on 14th April. This festival also adheres to the marking of a New Year by the harvest season and coincides with Vaisaakhi. The same day is also celebrated as Vishu festival in Kerala, Mangalore and Tulu Nadu (the regions where the language Tulu is spoken) where the first month of the year is called Medam. The day is celebrated with fireworks, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi), and the eating a special meal called Sadhya which is traditional meal prepared with multiple sweet and savoury dishes, typically served on a Banana leaf.

Ugadi or Yugadi is the New Year celebration of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. It is observed in these regions on the first day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Chaitra. Traditional sweets and 'Pachadi' (sweet syrup) – made with raw mangoes and neem leaves – are served with the Ugadi meal. On the same day, the Marathis celebrate the New Year asGudi Padwa by decorating Maharashtrian households with ‘Gudis’ which literally means flags erected around the household. Gudi Padwa is also associated with the arrival of spring and the harvesting of Rabi crops.

Nowruz (also known as Navroz/Navroz) is the Iranian and Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. In India- Parsis, Kashmiri pandits, Zoroastrians, and some Muslim communities, celebrate Nowruz. Nowruz is the day of the vernal (spring) equinox (equinox occurs when the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator) and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar.It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. On equinox, the day and night become exactly equal in terms of number of hours. On this day, families gather to observe the rituals and celebrate the coming of spring together.

The Islamic New Year (Arabic: Raʿs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah), also called the Hijri New Year or Arabic New Year, is the day that marks the beginning of a new Hijri year, and is observed by Muslims on the first day of the month of Muharram. Since the Islamic calendar (which follows the lunar cycle) is usually 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, the date of Islamic New Year can vary. In 2020, the day will fall on 19th-20th August.

Sindhis mark the New Year with the celebration of Chetri Chand (also known as Cheti Chand). The festival date is based on the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, it being the first day of the year and the Sindhi month of Chet (Chaitra). It typically falls on or about the same day as Gudi Padwa, Bohag Bihu, and Ugadi. The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in Sindhi community it also marks the birth of Uderolal in year 1007, after they prayed to Hindu god Varun Dev to save them from the persecution by the tyrannical ruler Mirkhshah. Uderolal (also known as Jhulelal) confronted and reprimanded Mirkhshah and became the champion of the people in Sindh, both Hindus and Muslims. Among his Sufi Muslim followers, Jhulelal is known as "Khwaja Khizir" or "Sheikh Tahit". Uday Chand, Amar Laal and Laal Sain are a few other names Jhulelal is addressed by.

There are many traditions with different names that mark the New Year for Indian people in various regions. Though the calendars, the languages, the rituals and their significance may be diverse, many festivals overlap, and so does the celebration. As we enter 2020 according to the Gregorian calendar, let us feel excited in anticipation of our very own local New Year festivals coming up in a few months and hope to celebrate together without the boundaries of caste, class and religion. Everyone deserves a ‘Happy’ New Year, let’s make it happen with compassion and love.

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