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Urdu is not the enemy, bigotry is

Furore over Fabindia ad is an attack on India's rich, composite culture and constitutional values.

Written by Mina Anand | New Delhi |
Updated: October 24, 2021 9:38:31 am
Fabindia’s “crime” was using an “Urdu” phrase to promote a “Hindu” festival, of “de-Hinduising” Diwali. (“Jashn-e-Riwaaz” means a celebration of traditions). (Fab India/Twitter)

The current atmosphere is vitriolic in its divisiveness. Reactionary and sectarian forces keep raising their ugly heads. A recent example is of the furore over the Fabindia advertisement; and its speedy removal. Let’s check this out, as the issue goes to the core of Indian culture and secularism. Fabindia, an all-India clothing and furnishing brand known for its ethnic products, posted a promotional tweet advancing its 2021 Diwali Collection. The “contentious” caption read as follows: “As we welcome the festival of love and light, Jashn-e-Riwaaz by Fabindia is a collection that beautifully pays homage to Indian culture.” Fabindia’s “crime” was using an “Urdu” phrase to promote a “Hindu” festival, of “de-Hinduising” Diwali. (“Jashn-e-Riwaaz” means a celebration
of traditions).

Social media imploded. Tweets poured in accusing Fabindia of “hurting Hindu sentiments”, “Abrahamisation of Hindu festivals”, and the like. Following the uproar, Fabindia withdrew its “controversial” tweet. Were Hindu sentiments appeased? Fabindia has caved in to an outrageous outcry; to voices that are caveman-like in their ignorance and backwardness.

However, the matter cannot end here. We must speak out against bigotry and small-mindedness. Hindu customs are in no danger. They have survived, grown, and flourished through the centuries. What is actually being attacked are the famed Indian principles of tolerance and inclusivity.

Incidentally, I am a Hindu, and take pride in Hinduism. But, more importantly, I am a proud Indian, with great admiration for our cultural ethos and dynamic Constitution, which reflects the unique Indian philosophy.
Article 51-A (f) of the Constitution states that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen, and particularly the duty of the state “to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture”.

It is pertinent to note that the Constitution speaks of cherishing and protecting our “composite” culture — a legacy of the blending of great minds, traditions and beliefs. The Constitution does not talk of “Hindu” culture. Nor did Fabindia, in its impugned caption. The company rightly spoke of “Indian” culture.

In this context, it’s apposite to quote Jawaharlal Nehru. In The Discovery of India, he wrote: “It is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.”

Referring to the special characteristics of Indian Culture, the Supreme Court, in the Kerala Education Bill case, highlighted India’s distinctive cultural values, paraphrasing from Tagore’s A Hymn to India: “Throughout the ages, endless inundations of men of diverse creeds, cultures and races — Aryans and non-Aryans, Dravidians and Chinese, Scythians, Huns, Pathans and Mughals — have come to this ancient land from distant regions and climes. India has welcomed them all. They have met and gathered, given and taken and got mingled, merged and lost in one body. India’s tradition has thus been epitomised in the following noble lines: ‘None shall be turned away from the shore of this vast sea of humanity that is India.’”

The Supreme Court affirmed: “It is thus that the genius of India has been able to find unity in diversity by assimilating the best of all creeds and cultures.”

To come back to the Fabindia matter and the “Urdu” phrase that caused a hue and cry, it is significant to record that Urdu is an official language of the Indian state, listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Urdu is an inherent element of the Indian “composite culture”; a “rich heritage” that the Constitution exhorts us to “value and preserve”.

It is relevant to recall here the words of Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India: “Urdu language is a cultural heritage of all Indians. It does not belong to one religion, but to the entire country.” “Urdu is one of the most beautiful languages spoken around the world”. (January 2017)

Festivals in India are celebrated in a spirit of oneness. Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Holi, are some examples of festive togetherness. People of all faiths join in these festivities, visit each other’s homes, feast, make merry. Children, especially, know no boundaries.

Diwali is a festival of lights. Let light fall on darkened minds and let’s rejoice, intermingling with faiths and traditions of all kinds.

This column first appeared in the print edition on October 23, 2021 under the title ‘We are many’. Mina Anand is a Bangalore-based lawyer and writer.

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