Swag, Tiger and Being Secular in Contemporary India


First things first. I am not a Salman Khan fan. Nor is this meant to be a review of Tiger Zinda Hai. But it does take off from a song of that film which is particularly relevant to the toxic climate of communal hatred in which India is currently shrouded. Throughout the last year there have been hundreds of sporadic incidents of violence perpetrated by the thugs of the Hindutva Brigade including the assaults and murders of people over suspicions of possessing or consuming beef, for belonging to Dalit-Bahujan communities, for simply trying to observe one’s own religion and at times for no apparent reason at all. Consider, for example the recent attack on Christmas Carollers in Satna in Madhya Pradesh. Goons of the Hindutva Brigade attacked them, falsely accused them of forced conversion, burnt the car of priest and to top it all, the police arrested the carollers and the priests without taking any action against the ones responsible for such blatant vandalism. This latest assault is complemented by similar incidents which have happened elsewhere across the country, for example in Aligarh and in parts of Karnataka, as part of a rising trend of such violence which has rapidly increased over the last couple of years. Such events not only signify the increasing threat posed by ever-growing religio-fascist organisations in India but also the shocking callousness of the administration that either actively protects these groups or allows them to continue with their atrocities through sheer passivity. And it is during these occasions that one hopes for a kind of muscular secularism which can actively resist these hooligans by collectively combating their menace with civic volunteer groups of their own in various localities who will stand up to them without either fear or passivity. Candle light vigils and silent marches cannot do much against the shameless and inhuman assaults of those who are far too insensitive and despicable to understand appeals to humanism and compassion. This is where Tiger and his swag come in. In one of the songs of the film we have the protagonists, Tiger and Zoya, Indian and Pakistani respectively, declaring:

Chahe jo aaye leke dil mein ishq mohabbat

Sabko gale laganaa apni culture ki hai aadat.

Swag se karenge sab ka swagat.

The strength, the courage and the flamboyance symbolised by the characters, both in the original Ek Tha Tiger and this one, are perhaps what is needed by seculars in India who cannot turn any longer the other cheek in hope of a peaceful solution. At times, the best step forward is not just to proudly hold on to your beliefs but also to instil enough fear in those who are trying to terrorize you. At times you need to be assertive enough to show that not only will you not be intimidated but that those who are trying to intimidate you better watch their backs. In other words, you need to be secular with swag.

And this swag is needed not just to ward off the shadow armies of hate that are marauding across the land. But you need it to counter the vicious ideas that are being spewed even by a minister of the central government who recently claimed that secular people are confused about their parentage and that everyone should only identify themselves in terms of their religion and caste. This represents the kind of parochial, unidimensional thinking which is the hallmark of RSS and the current regime. They neither understand the plurality of human identities nor do they have any respect for India’s prolonged tradition of accommodation, hospitality, tolerance and diversity. From the days of the Harappan civilisation, which had active ties with Mesopotamia and Rome, to the age of Ashoka who actually had ministers and bureaucrats that enforced religious tolerance to the glorious heights of the Mughal empire which fostered a syncretic culture that accommodated multiple religious traditions to the Twentieth century visions of Tagore and Ambedkar – India has been a land of acceptance and harmony, something that Bajrangi Bhaijaan also demonstrated interestingly. And when ministers try to negate and distort that history we need to roar with Tiger and claim:

Chahe jo aaye leke dil mein ishq ibadat

Sabko gale laganaa apni culture ki hai aadat.

Swag se karenge sab ka swagat.

Unless we keep on asserting these values, we will never be able to bring to justice the murderers of Gauri Lankesh or rid India of individuals like Shambhu Lal Regar who murdered in cold-blood a labourer named Mohammad Afzarul from Malda in Bengal and even made a shocking video of it or incarcerate for life those hundreds who are making Shambhu out to be a hero and even collected money to ensure legal assistance for him. Some of these people even dared to take to the streets to protest against his arrest. All of these events are symptomatic of a pervasive and vicious atmosphere of hatred that has been seeping into the fabric of the Indian polity for several years and is leading to a virtually cancerous outbreak of atrocities with the overt or covert support from different branches of regional or central administration. No wonder then that Nathuram Godse is getting a temple in Gandhi’s India while everyone looks the other way even as emboldened supporters of Godse continue to advance their murderous machinations. So do we become martyrs like Gandhi for believing in secular ideas or do we come out swinging, making the spiritual descendants of Godse and Golwalkar quiver in their khaki shorts? For the very sake of our survival as a secular, democratic nation, the latter seems almost indispensable. So this holiday season, wear your santa hats, go to the movies, have your cake and pudding and do all that your heart desires and the constitution approves to spread joy and love, because as Irshad Kamil informs us

Insaan hai insaan jag mein jab tak ishq salamat

Sabko gale laganaa apni culture ki hai aadat.

Swag se karenge sab ka swagat.

This could well be our New Year motto; let’s put the swag in secular.


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