Ganesh Chathurthi Procession – A political tool !
The festivals celebrated in India are just like any other in the world. It brings people together, communities together. They are the shining days that give hope and happiness for people in otherwise mostly mundane lives. So, people from all religions look forward for their festival days and plan most of their lives around their festivals.
There are very few festivals that are as controversial and as tense as Ganesh Chathurthi. The festival of Ganesh Chathurthi itself is not the cause for concern but what follows later is something to ponder upon. Ganesh Chathurthi festival ends with a procession where Lord Ganesh idols are taken in a procession and immersed in a sea or a river or in any body of water.
It is in the procession where the problems begin. The Ganesh Chathurthi procession is used as a political tool in many occasions and it is purposefully taken in minority residents’ neighbourhood. The minority people are taunted, tantalized and provoked wilfully by some anti-social elements to create a communal disharmony. There are usually a lot of tension and fear around areas that are identified as sensitive during the procession days.
Before we dwelve deep into how Ganesh Chathurthi procession is politicised, let’s look at the history to find out how Ganesh Chathurthi festival that has been around for centuries took the current form.
In the late 19th century British India, when the Age of Consent Act 1891 was enacted following the death of a child bride Phulmoni Dasi in Calcutta (now Kolkata), there were opposition from various conservative Hindu outfits to this reform. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was one such opposing figure. The Act was intended to set the minimum legal age of marriage as 12, which were unacceptable to the conservative Hindus as it violated their religious doctrines.
Tilak decided that he need to get people rally behind him in his fight against the Age of Consent Act. He found that Ganesh Chathurthi festival that people celebrate in their homes is an ideal opportunity to gather people in a public place. Tilak gathered people under the guise of celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi festival as a community and started giving speeches against the Act to garner their support. Although unsuccessful in his attempt, the response Tilak received motivated him to continue using the festival as a public event rather than a personal event, which has been the case historically. So, it was in the late 19th century and early 20th century Ganesh Chathurthi has become a public celebration.
In the case of Tamil Nadu, Ganesh Chathurthi was not a wide spread public celebratory event till the 1980s. It is during this period that the right wing conservative organisations like Hindu Munnani have started encouraging people to celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi as a public event in Tamil Nadu. As it gained more and more prominence over the years, Ganesh Chathurthi took a similar approach as in other parts of the country where it is used an opportunity to incite violence.
In 1990, Ganesh Chathurthi procession turned violent in Triplicane, Madras (now Chennai) as it entered the Muslim dominated areas of Triplicane. The processionists allege that a slipper was thrown at them from a mosque and they responded in kind. They also allege that they were stopped midway twice during their procession as Muslims were praying inside the mosque and more outrageously, the processionists claimed that Muslims allegedly raised Pro-Pakistan slogans, which if not done by them, would not have resulted in violence and vandalism.
Incidentally, Madurai, Coimbatore and various other parts of Tamil Nadu has witnessed comparable events, though in varying degrees of unrest. Similar modus operandi can be found in other parts of the country as well.
As mentioned earlier, there are very festivals in India that create such tension in chaos in the soceity as Ganesh Chathurthi. It has been purposefully choreographed by few fringe outfits to be that way, which for the most part has been ignored by the majority population.
The reason why it fails to kick off in Tamil Nadu in such a way that they expect is because the fabric of social harmony is quite strong due to the inclusive politics of Dravidian movement and also the respect, love and the unity of the Hindu-Muslim brethern as seen time and again.