Protecting and upholding whose 'culture'?

Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 1:50pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA

Let us face it. We are a nation of prudes and hypocrites. We take public stands on morality that belie our culture, and do so vehemently crying that we condemn anything that is against our culture. So, whose culture are we talking about? Is there a pan India, pan religious, pan caste or gotra culture? If an ancient Naga tribal went head hunting, would it be our culture? Or if Kerala had a matrilineal system within families, would that be our culture? Can we definitively say that it is not, or that it is, and only that is our culture? Of course not. And that is the point of being a diverse nation. Everything we believe in and its exact opposite is ok, somewhere in the country. Every rule is against the rules of some community, or the other. And yet, we pontificate loudly from the pulpit that what ‘our’ understanding of India is, IS.

Many years ago, while producing a TV serial called Bharatiyat, Indianness, we found that most of what people generally thought of as typically Indian, was not Indian to start with. When asked to name a couple of things that were typically Indian, people came up, most often, with the sari and the food. Yet, our food as we understand it today didn’t even exist two centuries ago. For the chilli, so much a part of the cuisine of every part of the country had not been brought to us. The rich used expensive pepper for that spicy taste in our food, and the poor did without it. Yet, today we can’t imagine cooking without chilli. Likewise with tea, coffee, tomatoes, wheat and much more that make up for our staple food. Similarly, for centuries Indians, both men and women, wore wrapped, unstitched clothes. A look at old sculptures and paintings, whether in the temples or in early cave paintings, testify to the fact. There was no loose flowing bit of garment. Women, if they wore a top covering, wrapped it around their breast with the end tucked in. Both men and women wore a wrapped or tied lungi-like garment below the waist. With the coming of Alexander the Great, came his commander and his wife. In Greece, garment was tied with an end thrown over the shoulder with the rest flowing down the back. And the Indian version of this, the sari with a pallu, was born. Yet, the protectors of ‘our’ culture know none of this.

And so is the case with sex. We had it all, same sex, multiple sex, heterogeneous sex, sex with animals, group sex. But who decided which of these is ‘Indian’ and which is not? Reading our mythologies will reveal what Hindu gods were upto. Reading the Kamasutra, and seeing our ancient temples, make it clear for all but the blind, that all of that was present. Heterosexuality as the predominant acceptable form must have surely been to continue civilisation and not for love or pleasure. So, people who applaud the recent Supreme Court judgment against decriminalising gay relationships in the name of upholding Indian values are ignorant about our culture, and about our constitutionally promised freedom of choice. One of the spokes people of BJP has been quoted saying that same sex is usually forced, and injures one party. In fact, heterosexual sex does that more often, as marital and other rape figures prove. And, what about ‘good’ family elders raping the young of their family to ‘taste the fruit they have sown rather than have another enjoy it’?

Each of us carries an understanding of ‘Indianness’ in us, be it true or false. And, we all have the right to love, in our way and whoever we choose. There can be no ruling on either of those. But the Khap Panchayats don’t think so. Nor, this time around, does the Supreme Court.

Mallika sarabhai
The writer is a noted danseuse and social  activist


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