Our controversial Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma has again stirred an uproar by his most recent outrageous comment – “Girls wanting a night out […] is not part of Indian culture.” Such regressive, misogynistic statements are the last thing we need in India where crime against women is such a sensitive issue. When we must be striving towards women’s empowerment, why has an ignorant, chauvinist been foisted on us as a so-called ‘culture minister’?
This is the same person who questioned the integrity of all Indian Muslims when he claimed that “despite being a Muslim”, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was “a nationalist and a humanist”. In times that are calling for open-mindedness and common sense, why are our ministers making these irresponsible remarks?
India, as a multicultural nation, thrives on cultural, religious, linguistic diversities. To reduce it to “Hindi. Hindu. Hindustan.” would be a grave mistake which can arrest the development of the country and destroy our conglomerate culture.
Not only Mahesh Sharma, but the entire Modi government declares patriotism and adherence to the “Indian culture”. However, in truth, what they seem to follow is the narrow, sexist, bigoted ideology of the RSS. Why else should a minister say: “I respect Bible and Quran but they are not central to the soul of India in same the way as Gita and Ramayana are.” Is that what patriotism entails? Is that how our government intends to uphold India’s composite culture?
Our culture minister has also stated: “My (Indian) values and books should be read before you read novels. Before the youth go to gain wisdom from Thailand, Dubai and Singapore, they must gain wisdom from our own museums and heritage.” The explicit xenophobia apparent in these comments are not only detrimental to the development of the country, but also a dangerous notion to foster.
A man who swears allegiance to RSS – a right-wing communal outfit – may be expected to make such illiberal and injudicious comments, but a Union Minister should know better. Or is this propaganda in the shiny wrapper of patriotism?
If the government remains nonchalant and the people don’t watch out, we shall all be responsible for creating a whole generation of chauvinistic bigots with a jingoistic mindset and a distorted worldview.
The parochial opinions of our ministers merely reflect the deep-seated bigotry still prevalent in the Indian society. Instead of practising caution in what they say, our ministers keep on expressing their blinkered outlooks while our government continues to endorse in such myopic views.
The NDA government is implicitly practising brute majoritarianism and silently reinforcing the reactionary ideology of the RSS. We must realise that these are the people who are deciding what our future generations will learn. And to that effect, Mr. Sharma has already spoken of revamping the institutions under the Cultural Ministry. Whether that is a promise or a threat we have yet to see.
Ignorance and intolerance are a dangerous combination, but more so in a culture minister. A cultural minister should appreciate and respect the various cultures prevalent in this country, rather than impose prejudiced personal opinions in the name of heritage. Our culture is not merely what our past dictates, but also what we can learn and incorporate from the global values of the 21st century. If a cultural minister cannot cultivate liberality and pursuit of knowledge among the citizens of his country, then perhaps it is time for him to step down.