Friday, February 6, 2009

The Traditionalist Taliban of India

The self-appointed guardians of "virtue" and "traditional culture" usually make Valentine's Day at least a mild annoyance for many couples, harassing lovers and vandalizing greeting card stores (this year, they will force couples found expressing affection to either marry or declare themselves siblings).

But this time they decided to give Mangalore a little preview of what happens to those who dare to flout their interpretation of Indian traditions, by beating up women in a pub, presumably for the offense of acting in any way resembling Western culture (monolithic and supremely decadent, as they all "know").

While I am not a huge fan of pub culture, this just goes too far. It's not that they assaulted women, but that they are using violence on anyone to force their views of "proper" culture on those who make their own culture. As much as the Hindu religious right likes to favorably compare the religion it politically abuses with foreign "Semitic" faiths in terms of tolerance and freedom, they are turning it into another Taliban-like cult of social and cultural oppression every time they resort to despatching their version of the Mutaween to wage war on harmless expressions of personal liberty.

As if it were not bad enough that otherwise-sleepy Mangalore experienced some religious violence of late, culture war is also coming to town. This is happening despite how the city is finally developing economically and progressing socially. Or perhaps because of it; there will always be some reactionary movement that arises from the collision zone where tradition and modernity run into one another.

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