Hum Sab Ek Hain – Well, really?
As children, me and my brother used to collect a number of things – coins, bird feathers, wrestling cards, tattoos, even Pokemon tazos. We’d bug our Grandmother all day to give us ten rupees so that we could buy a packet of chips and find another Pokemon tazo in it. We treated these collections as our treasure, hiding it from our cousins whenever they showed up. And it was not just us, every child of our age was busy collecting these simple cheap possessions. But have you wondered what was it that our elders collected when they were kids? The idea is quite absurd, isn’t it? Well not really. They collected calendars. I’m sure you can imagine your Father running around the house with a new calendar print he’d recently bought with the money he managed to save.
Indian Calendar art after Independence was the product of the ‘Nehruvian’ vision and flourished during what is generally called the Nehruvian Period. This period extended beyond the death of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964. It included the leadership of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi as the prime ministers, the Bangladesh war in 1971 and the proclamation of the National Emergency in 1975. The calendar art served as a medium of popularising the idea of India as a secular and ‘multi religious’ entity. Patricia Uberoi in her essay ‘Unity in Diversity? Dilemmas of Nationhood in Indian Calendar Art’ calls it a ‘visual rhetoric’ of nation building : a way of bringing the different religions under the umbrella of a ‘secular’ regime.
Going through my Grandfather’s old trunk, I found a neatly stacked bundle of old calendar prints. Most of them had a common theme, one nation. I sat down next to the trunk and looked at each of them closely. One that attracted my attention the most was a 1990 print of the ‘Ham Sab Ek Hain’ (We All Are One) print designed by Anil Sharma. The calendar portrays the idea of secularism in concern with the four religions – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian. The print ‘co-associates’ four boys of four different religions, linking them to three national emblems – Mother India, the Indian flag and the map of India. The four boys, distinguished with the signs of their particular communities, hold a neat place in each of the four corners. However, the calendar appears to me rather stereotypical, as it strictly demarcates the four religions. The Muslim boy has purposely been demarcated by the typical cap worn by Muslims in India, also called a ‘fez’. The Sikh boy too is wears a kerchief on his head while the Christian boy is ‘anglicized’ and dressed in formal, complemented by a tie and his hair are neatly parted. The Hindu boy, however with his hair left in their natural appearance. In the center is a medallion with the Hindu Mother goddess or Mother India holding the national flag, with the map of India as her abode. In the background are printed mountains and lakes.
What strike me while sitting beside the old trunk, with an old calendar print in my hands was the fact that can something promote secularism by clearly portraying the difference that exists between religions? Well obviously not! The three ‘other’ religions – Muslim, Sikh and Christian – have been shown as having certain signs that differentiate them from not only each other but mostly from the Hindu boy. It is quite clear that the artist attempted to show how close to nature is the Hindu religion, with the Hindu boy having absolutely no recognisable signs to prove he’s a Hindu. Moreover, it is the Hindu deity, the Goddess Durga to whom the four religions pay their respect. She holds in her hand the golden halo and has a lion as her vehicle, and stands proudly on the map of India. And the lakes and mountains behind her are probably the Hindu holy sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. Is it not, then, that instead of promoting secularism, Mother India promotes the nation as a ground play for Hindu hegemony.
Such was the politics of Indian Calendar Art during the Nehruvian period. It served as nothing but a fancy and colourful cover over the hegemony of the Hindu religion. Instead of promoting secularism and passing the great moral message of unity in diversity, this 1990 print alienates the religions from each other and shows the nation to be a Hindu nation. This gives rise to a question, dreadful enough to be ignored altogether – Kya ham sab ek hain? Is India really secular? Is standing by the definition of secularism enough for a country? Are the moral aspects no longer important? Secularism in India has been and still is ‘the freedom to preach and profess the religion of our own choice’ and nothing more than that. It is high time the nation accepts that though our Gods demarcate us from each other, we belong under the same umbrella of humanity.
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