In a collectivistic culture like that of India, value systems derived from institutions are central to social functioning. Personal success is less valuable than the success of the community at large, and concepts of competition, aggression etc. may also be set in a communal framework. The perception of India having a primarily joint family system is now being slowly disintegrated with the resurgence of property division, working in Multi-National Companies, and climbing the ladder of social and economic mobility, mainly in urban centres. The breakdown of the joint family system has been revealed to be a myth because India has had many indigenous nuclear families, and has also witnessed the existence of female headed households especially in conflict-prone regions. In other words, industrialisation and urbanisation modelled on Western notions of development have also striven to feed into the soft power of the country dominating the world order at present—the United States of America. Preferring American fast food chains over traditional Indian cuisine with regional differences, enjoying Hollywood films and American TV series etc. can no longer be interpreted as a system of choices because these choices are also being manufactured by the market. The underlying principle of most of these preferences is that the Western understanding of ideal lifestyles is somehow superior to the one espoused by our own culture. Hence, speaking English is a class construct in the Indian consciousness designed by the global dominance of this language of trade and commerce, exchange of ideas, and migration of people in search of jobs or education. Critics of this process of neo-colonialism argue that this erases the century-old benefits of our own systems, which has led traditionalists to favour Hindi speaking or yoga as ‘Indian culture’. This reaction has its own slowly opening can of worms. Praising PM Modi for not displaying the ‘inferiority complex’ of English-speaking cuts across the soft power of the West and affirms India’s stance as a rising power in the global matrix. However, this is becoming conflated with Indian identity as a whole, projecting a global image of Hindi as India’s national language. When this conflation wreaks havoc on the nature of the Indian nation-state by equating one language, one culture, and one practice with India as a whole, that is when the problem arises. The power vested in an overwhelmingly North Indian, upper caste, upper class, Hindi speaking, and aggressively masculine Hindu status-quo is now sending ripples of disturbance across different ideologies.
A revivalist tradition foregrounding Ayurveda, yoga, cleanliness or swachhta, vegetarian diet etc. is closely entwined with the creation of the Hindutva determined nation-state, because all these practices also subscribe to the status quo described above. Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali brand enjoys its acceptance of the capitalist ideology (of the West, but now a global system) to storm over the Indian market in products as distant from ‘ayurveda’ as its version of maggi noodles, shampoo and so on. Yoga is similarly being permanently etched into the nation-state by compelling all government employees and school students to perform it on national holidays. Yoga is also derived from a discourse about Aryan Hindu gods, which is probably why it is more acceptable than promoting kalaripayattu (Kerela), mallakhamba (Maharashtra and Hyderabad originally), Porok-Panim Sinam (Arunachal Pradesh) etc. Yoga can be performed by everybody and in any setting, which also adds to its brand value. Cleanliness is a task that is traditionally linked with caste privilege, essentially implying that it is the lower castes and Dalits who are responsible for keeping the surroundings clean through many degrading systems like manual scavenging, manhole cleaning and so on, most of which survive to this date. Thus, supporting cleanliness as a practice all Indians should espouse irrespective of caste is an interesting subversion of the caste hierarchy. But, the question we must ask about this well-meaning policy is that how many upper castes have wholeheartedly accepted this idea? How many Brahmins do you see cleaning the streets? Vegetarianism is set on caste and class privilege because it has been read as an upper-caste habit slowly adopted by the lower castes through Sanskritisation, as has been explained by renowned sociologist M. N. Srinivas. Having access to vegetables and pulses to make them staple food is also strongly influenced by region, because many regions in India are not geographically conducive to the farming of vegetables, and have easier access to fish or meat.
Therefore, it can be argued that the policies being advocated as ‘nationalist’ in the recent past employ a unique mixture of Western soft power and dominant Indian ideology.
-Contributed by Tript
Picture Credits: holidify.com