With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi due to arrive in the UK, protesters of the Awaaz Network projected an image of Modi holding a sword with an “Om morphing into the Swastika” next to him. This has triggered a lot of outrage and offended feelings among many.
I see it as missing the woods for the trees. I am reminded of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons with their black humor that can show an innocent Syrian refugee child, one of many Syrian refugees no one wants, washed up on the beach, dead just short of reaching safer shores while a MacDonald’s poster beckons garishly. Black humor it is called. No one took joy from seeing that innocent dead there in the middle of an otherwise beautiful photograph. No one enjoyed being reminded about it by a cartoon.
Today, there are those who look at the Om morphing into a Swastika and are going into eloquent flights of offense taken. On behalf of “Hindus who revere the symbol”, of course, rather than saying “that offended me”. As though those doing it were not Hindus with their own sentiments about the symbols – whatever they may be. I think, like that cartoon, the poster that Awaaz Network projected on the British Parliament is a description of reality.
This is what is happening today. People’s faith is indeed being morphed into something dark. That is how from revering and worshiping a cow, our “faith” is manifesting as lynchings. That is how countless people with Hindu beliefs are being harnessed to power a political movement. That is how countless people are being conditioned to defend symbols and prevent “offences” to them – EVEN AS THEY OPPOSE THOSE DOING THE CONDITIONING.
The obscenity is not in stating it, the obscenity is in doing it. The poster merely points out that this is happening. I don’t think anyone at all missed the meaning of the poster. In choosing to fixate on the specific use of the symbol and delegitimizing its use, we see even those normally opposed to Modi in effect implying “no, he isn’t that bad”. Because that is what it amounts to, to object to that poster.
Finally, in an atmosphere of overabundance of religious touchiness in India, I would say that even if it actually were an insult, a little responsibility would be welcome in not encouraging a wider audience to learn to take offence.
There is a need to recognize that taking offence is also contagious. When you are supposedly spreading tolerance, the constant stimulation of noticing intolerance will trigger touchiness in the same way one on a diet at a food festival may be tempted to try something that they wouldn’t normally. It is up to the evolved mind to recognize where strong emotions arise from, and determine how they may be expressed without being sucked into a game you claim to oppose.
This is not to say that one may not have unfavorable opinions, but the independent mind should attempt to be relatively free of knee jerk reactions triggered by provocation. There are a million ways to object and yet, we find supposedly liberal people providing reasons that are not all that different from those who habitually react with disapproval to perceived insult to religions.
With the same result, probably the reason Awaaz Network chose to project this. It got a lot more attention and triggered a lot more discussion than the average anti-Modi content. Because it speaks an unpleasant truth. A truth that is so unpleasant, that many would shy of voicing it even in criticism. And those who disapprove, as usual, provided it the power to reach more people.
When you don’t understand, you react.
When you understand, you respond.