Why Hindu Nationalism and Globalisation Resemble McDonald’s

What is the core idea of Hindu nationalism? That Hinduism is “A” way of life, and that it is the only way for India. It should look and feel the same. It has to be consistent. Standardised

What is the core idea of globalisation? That cultural and economic integration is the ONLY way by which societies can progress. It should look and feel the same (management books, economics textbooks, The Economist). It has to be consistent. Standardised. (Globalisation is not the same as trade between different parts of the globe, which has been in existence for centuries — this is a post-IMF phenomenon.)

What is the core idea of McDonald’s? That burgers and fries need to be made and packaged in ONE way. All variations refer back to the original. They should look and feel the same regardless of which city in the world they operate in. Everything has to be consistent. Standardised.

Each of these comes with a single story — that of standardisation. The single story of Hindu nationalism has the potential to kill the very specific diverse practices and myths of the multiple populations of this nation which include the likes of Gonds, Garos and Irulas. The single story of globalisation has the potential to eliminate or make irrelevant local traders, craftspeople and the unique ways of buying and selling in different parts of the world. The single story of McDonald’s has the potential to kill local cuisines like vadapav and porotta-beef. The porotta and beef you get in Kerala thattukadas vary from one joint to another. But the McDonald’s idea of food and its huge material success is about consistency and predictability, which influences others to buy into this story. And then authentic diversity on the street gets repackaged in five-star hotels as sanitised street food for bourgeois hipsters.

Hindu Nationalism vs Local Lived Realities

Let’s take Hindu nationalism, an abstract, totalising notion. Let’s understand for once that this notion is not always in opposition to liberal values, which too can sometimes be a single totalising story. The enemies of Hindu nationalism include contradictory stories, local practices, Ravan worship — in essence, the real lived diversity. For example, Onam, a local festival in Kerala, celebrates the annual return of an Asura king who ruled over an egalitarian kingdom. But that is not exactly “The Way”, and therefore it should rather be Vaman Jayanti where Vishnu’s Vamana avatar triumphs over Asura arrogance. Or take the case of Sabarimala where RSS supports entry for women of all ages in a “Hindu temple in Sabarimala” whereas, for Aiyyappa devotees in Kerala, it is an anathema. “A Hindu temple” is an abstraction because no two temples are the same, neither in looks nor in terms of worship. Most real temples have local deities. You see this even in Christianity. The Velankanni church in Tamil Nadu is not just another Christian church, it is where people go to seek the intervention of Velankanni Matha and not just a generic Mary, mother of Jesus.

Image Credit: Reuters

Since there is no practice in Onam that excludes any section of the population, you retain the prevalent story at least in Kerala, not replace it with a more acceptable Hindu version — at least for now, despite strong attempts by the BJP to spin it around. In Sabarimala, it’s not just a story, there’s also practice. The story, as well as practice, excludes women of menstruating age. Exclusion is considered a social issue. Therefore, at the Hindu national level, there seems to be a consensus that this judgement that allows women entry is part of the social reformation within Hinduism. They believe that women should be allowed the right to worship in any Hindu temple. On this, both Sunil P. Ilayidom, a secular left intellectual, and T G Mohandas, a popular BJP spokesperson in Kerala, seem to have similar views.

However, shouldn’t Sabarimala ideally be an internal issue for Sabarimala Aiyyappa devotees, both women and men, exactly like how the exclusion of men in Attukal Bhagvati and Chakkulathukavu temples should be internal issues for their devotees? If women devotees of Sabarimala Aiyyappan think the current practice is one that excludes them, they have the right to resist that and if required seek external intervention to sort the issue. Why should it be an issue for those who don’t believe in Aiyyappan? Remember, for the faithful, this is not just any Aiyyappan but specifically Sabarimala Aiyyappan. And there’s a huge difference between the Ayyappa temple of Borivali in Mumbai and the one in Sabarimala.

However, both those on the left and the right seem to equate this issue with the temple entry movement in the 1930s. But remember, that movement began in 1924–25 with the protest of Dalits, who were not allowed to use the public road in front of Vaikom Temple. It was a movement by real people who suffered real oppression.

Therefore, at the cost of sounding like a reactionary, this is what I have to say: If you are not a genuine devotee of Sabarimala Aiyyappan, you need to keep quiet. Leave it to the real women devotees to decide whether going there or not going there stands against their faith. Why deny them their agency and treat them as though they don’t understand what it means to be empowered.

On the other hand, if we want to apply our generic liberal principles to local issues like this, we are no different from Hindu nationalists or the American globalists who won’t hesitate to bring down even elected local governments to “install” liberal democracy. Fight the real oppression that is around you. In real public life. But don’t fall for a single grand narrative. Because equality doesn’t mean standardisation.