Whether it is a job application form or the way the foundation of Haryana is being celebrated, we seem to be moving towards a majoritarian ethos.
What is one to make of an official job application form at Kurukshetra University in Haryana that asks candidates for teaching and non-teaching jobs how many spouses they have?
Now, the Hindu Marriage Act prescribes as a condition for marriage that “neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage” as does the Special Marriage Act. Thus, it is evident that the question – and the answer it would elicit in case a Muslim applicant has more than one living spouse, as he is allowed under Muslim personal law – may lead to a situation where applicants are discriminated against on the grounds of religion. Since directly asking for a candidate’s religion would raise questions about the institution’s overt intent, is this a novel way of eliciting information that is none of the business of a prospective employer?
One might ordinarily have dismissed this question on an official application form as an expression of administrative whimsicality by some official or department but for the mounting evidence of majoritarianism in the pronouncements and policies of the BJP government of Manohar Lal Khattar.
Apart from the enthusiasm with which Khattar enacted a new anti-cow slaughter law with enhanced penalties and police powers, the remarks he personally made about the need for Muslims to give up eating beef or leave the country, and the statements that his ministers have been making, the state government last year incorporated a Hindu religious symbolism into the official insignia of a state-run program on the occasion of 50 years of Haryana’s foundation. The logo for the Haryana swarna jayanti celebrations, the official “visual symbol” of Haryana, is a shankh or conch, and a representation from the Bhagvad Gita.
There is no explanation for why the symbol of Lord Krishna on a chariot has become the chosen way of representing the 50th anniversary of the formation of Haryana – a state that was carved out of undivided Punjab on a purely linguistic basis. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar tried to explain the logo by saying that “Haryana is considered the land of Krishna, the land of Kurukshetra… Every state has a special feature which should be projected, and we have projected something about Haryana’s special feature.” Perhaps he forgot that the post-independent constitution through which states come into existence or which determined the oath that he took also declares that the state has to be secular and belong equally to citizens of all religions. Imposing a symbol from one religion on all the religious communities of the state is surely a violation of the constitutional requirement that the state remain free from the influence of any one religion. Haryana, after all, according to the 2011 census, has a substantial Sikh (4.91%) and Muslim (7.03%) population.
We have become accustomed to the problematic practice of individuals in government departments using public office spaces to express their religious preferences through posters and stickers, as if it is their private space. This custom has never been challenged despite the impact this public official display of religious symbols might have on the people who follow other religions when they enter these spaces. This becomes more acute in a society with a consistent history of religious violence. Today, the transposition of the private onto the public has reached new levels of sectarianism as religious symbols have become state symbols.
The logo of the Haryana swarna jayanti seeks to universalise what is spoken by Lord Krishna and what is represented through symbols which have largely been followed by one religion. According to Khattar, the logo has been defined as “a white conch shell against a golden backdrop, with embossed images of Krishna’s Gita Sermon, an arrow and the number 50 encompassing the map of Haryana.” This collage of images, he says, “captures the essence of Haryana society, culture and ethos and symbolises the spirit of celebration of the occasion of the Swarna Jayanti celebrations”.
A press release issued by the state government terms the shankh or white conch as “a very auspicious object which is blown before the commencement of any auspicious work.”
One is then compelled to aske a question: Do Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religious communities living in Haryana also blow a shankh before they begin work? The ritualistic practice associated with one religion is being transformed into a universal symbol by the state.
also represented a concrete historical monument located in the state, unlike ongoing efforts to transpose mythology as historical sensibility. When grounded in the contemporary context of majoritarian politics, as with the BJP in Haryana, this kind of symbolism takes on a problematic dimension.
No doubt the Gita, like the texts that are dear to other religions, contains wisdom that Hindus consider universal. In India and across the world, many non-Hindus also consider the Gita to be a book that transcends religion. At the same time, the adherents of Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and other faiths could easily make the same claim about their own texts. And yet, if the government in a state like Jammu and Kashmir, where Muslims are in a majority – or Nagaland and Mizoram, where Christians are the majority – were to create official logos that incorporated visual elements of Islam or Christianity in the name of the universality of their values, the BJP would be the first to accuse them of divisiveness.
Can the conversion of what is an obvious religious symbol into a universal symbol be justified? What is happening in Haryana today is that the government is compelling all citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs, to accept another religion’s God – because by definition, the celebration of the state’s 50th anniversary must involve everyone.
Ravi Kumar is an assistant professor of sociology at South Asian University, New Delhi