Do we really need to celebrate Western festivals like Halloween? That’s a question that has been occupying the minds of many of late. The argument proposed is this: In a country like India, one that is populated by myriad people, languages, cultures and festivals, it’s odd that Indians wish to adopt additional festivals, particularly those that culturally aren’t our own. Taking this argument a notch further, fundamentalists argue that adopting Western festivals would lead to the erosion of our heritage and indigenous festivals. Their’s is an argument I refuse to believe — because as Indians, we take immense pride in celebrating all our festivals in their glory. Diwali just went by and we left no stone unturned. Christmas is on its way and we’re all looking forward to that.
So, should it be our concern if certain people choose to celebrate Halloween? What if festivals like Halloween give us a sense of escapism? What if they give us a platform to explore our imagination, allowing us to be any character that we love, even if it’s for a day?
Over the past few years, Halloween has really taken off in our country. A plethora of fashion magazines have built stories around it. One such publication published a tutorial describing “six fun” Halloween make-up techniques, Instagram saw the hashtag #badbeti come alive with women sharing evocative ‘zombie bride’ photos of themselves. The Indian film industry isn’t too far behind either. A few years ago, it produced a slew of films such as Go Goa Gone, Rock the Shaadi and the Rise of the Zombie one after the other. These films were made for a reason — somewhere the film-makers believed these productions would cater to Indians’ fertile imagination and offer the audience a temporary escape from reality.
Fascination for Halloween is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was in the post-liberalization era that Hollywood films began making their gradual entry into the Indian market. The children who grew up during the early 1990s, were brought up on an unregulated diet of Disney’s cartoons, Marvel superheroes, along with television shows that starred vampires and zombies. Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer? In schools, characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman dominated conversations. The 1990s’ generation was one that grew up loving such characters; it was a generation that wanted to be those characters.
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Cut to 2016 and the children are all grown up. It is no surprise then that the ’90s’ generation wholeheartedly welcomed Halloween with open arms, because it’s a festival that gives them a platform be any character they choose to be.
As a festival though, Halloween is for the elite. It is celebrated by those who are part of the country’s jet-setting upper and upper middle classes. That includes people who belong to families that can: a) afford a television set/s; b) have been educated in English medium schools which makes them verbally equipped to understand and enjoy Western films, shows and comic books; and c) have made multiple trips abroad to learn about the existence of a holiday that involves trick-or-treating — though they may not be aware of the historical narrative that explains birth of this festival in the first place). Let’s not be quick to judge though; there are many who probably aren’t well-versed with the history of our countless Indian festivals either.
Even though Halloween in India may seem Western, classist and possessing characteristics of a fad, should we really spend time judging people or wondering how ridiculous it is? Till now we’ve had the privilege of celebrating an infinite number of festivals on our own accord. That’s a tip of the hat to one of the many things our secular, democratic country offers. Let’s enjoy that freedom rather than questioning it.