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Haryana’s ‘Swarna Jayanti’ Logo Reflects Official Embrace of Majoritarianism

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.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates Haryana’s year-long jubilee celebrations. Credit: PTI

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?

A section of the Kurukshetra University application form. Credit: Author

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.

Haryana swarna jayanti logo. Credit: Pravasi Haryana Divas

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.

The entrance gate of the city Kurukshetra Haryana with the chariot of Arjun on it. Credit: Twitter

To be sure, imagery from temples have been used in government emblems in states like Tamil Nadu and Odisha. However, these visual motifs were grounded in history and were used as artefacts from the specific geography, without any intent to impose one religious belief on the rest of population. These symbols also

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

  • alok asthana

    Of course, there is majoritaianism by BJP. That is why right thinking and truly national Indians, including die hard hindus, hate BJP.

  • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

    This Sociology Professor is unaware that
    1) Muslims can be identified just from their names
    2) Some Hindus have more than one spouse. Only if there is a complaint by a spouse is the anti polygamy law enforced. Levirate marriage was once normative in Haryana and still occurs. Few Muslims are polygamous. It is a hateful stereotype.
    3) Haryana, like India, has always been about ‘majoritarianism’. Indians were so intolerant of the small British minority which was very kindly ruling over them and extracting wealth that they demanded that they ‘Quit India’. Since independence there has been a reorganisation of the States based on majoritarianism.
    4) Kurukshetra is the most important and well known attraction in the State. Lord Krishna’s conch is a good symbol. It makes sense. The State benefits by promoting an important ‘teertha’. Furthermore the Bhagvad Gita is a classic of World Literature. Great philosophers and savants from all over the world have been influenced by it. No doubt, if the people of Haryana lacked martial spirit, only a small minority there now would retain the same Religion as that which was enunciated by Lord Krishna. A Professor of Sociology may well deplore the circumstance. It may be that non Hindus feel very sad when they see Hindu symbols. However, if they are from Haryana, they won’t feel scared. Why? That soil does not produce cowards.
    5) Kurukshetra is historically connected to Haryana. This is not a modern fabrication. The fact that no historical structure has been left standing to attest to this is irrelevant. The Ashoka Wheel was not recognised or remembered for many years. It is a religious symbol. It is part of the National flag. The Ashokan Lion Capital is also Buddhist but is the Indian National emblem.

    The Professor asks- ‘Can the conversion of what is an obvious religious symbol into a universal symbol be justified?’. The answer is yes. The Indian Constitution permits this and thus there is a justification in Law.

    The Professor says- ‘by definition, the celebration of the state’s 50th anniversary must involve everyone.’ This is false. There is no such requirement in law or custom.

    The Professor thinks the BJP’s actions are normative. Thus, he thinks a possible BJP objection to Christian or Muslim imagery which may at some future time be introduced by Christian or Muslim majority states can give rise to a categorical imperative forbidding some action here and now. Why? Is Narendra Modi really the reincarnation of Immanuel Kant? Does the Professor believe that the RSS functions like Dworkin’s ‘Judge Hercules’ who is able to interpret the law in so harmonious a fashion that it never suffers any temporal tear or wrinkle?

    Political activism is not incompatible with an academic vocation. Indeed, where reasoned arguments and meticulous research are brought into play, activism and academic excellence can go hand in hand. However, stupid and ignorant polemics of a puerile type serves no purpose other than to bring the Academy into disrepute.