Archaic practices in modern times

Every year, we celebrate the Dasara festival with pomp and fervour, with numerous colours and flavours in different parts of the country. In Mysuru, the celebrations are organised by the Karnataka state government through the district administration.

The centres of attraction are the palace, the Yuvaraja and his private darbar. The custom of the Yuvaraja prostrating at the feet of priests is characteristic of the rule of a king and not of the rule of law, an essential cornerstone of democracy.

Even 70 years after discarding monarchy, these undemocratic practices are seen as rituals in various parts of the country. Instead of questioning these practices, people participate and support them! Police are the public face of the State’s authority who enforce the law and are supposed to be secular in its conduct.

However, we witnessed the display of many religious deities in the Bengaluru City Police Commissioner’s Office as part of the Dasara festival. This is only one example, one can witness such behaviour from every government department. 

In all the Indian languages we often use the words Rashtrapathi (President), Raj Bhavan (governor’s house), rajadhani (capital city), rajneethi (politics), rajaswa (revenue), rajatantrika (diplomats), raja marga (highway). These words are undemocratic in their etymology.

It is true that the public has trouble finding alternative words? What of the language keepers of society? What about teachers, writers, journalists and filmmakers? They either don’t consider this an issue or are not ready to cast away the outdated and archaic words from public discourse.

The erstwhile President Pranab Mukherjee had urged the public and his colleagues to stop the usage of ‘his highness’ while addressing him. In the past few decades, we switched from using chairman to chairperson and humankind instead of mankind. These examples show language as a fluid body that can be altered according to the passage of time.

In most countries, mythology and moral stories depicting ancient ways of life have long been treated as outdated and have been classified as myths. These mythical pictures and idols from historical periods are no longer worshipped. They have instead become artefacts in museums and archaeological departments.

In India, we still cling on to them firmly. We also glorify them by adding new twists. We accept modernity only in the matter of material goods that increase our comforts in a shallow manner. In the case of cleanliness, rationality, maintaining law and order, social harmony that are supposed to be the true indicators of modernity, we still lag far behind.

In a typical Indian marriage, the bride and groom are dressed like a king and queen. Headgear, jewellery, rituals and processions, pomp and show evoke the memory of a king’s court. If we casually glance through the wedding ceremonies of different parts of the world, we rarely find this kind of glorification in the name of the culture.

In day-to-day interaction, we often get to consciously or unconsciously hear the use of words like swamy, sahukare, odeya, ayya, danigale etc. These, are reminiscent of the way people used to address each other during the time of kings and noblemen in ancient India. Democratically elected people’s representatives publicly touch the feet of religious gurus or swamijees or mahanthas and maharajas whose scandals are proven even in courts. Film stars are not less of deities to their fans. 

So, through the festivals we celebrate, the language we use, religious rituals we practice, private functions we take part in, the way we address and greet each other, the way we become follow film stars or other celebrities, Rajaprabhutva’s lingering presence is making itself known.

Some of us may say that this may be decreasing, however, it is unclear how long it will take to change social psyche completely. Being a responsible citizen of a democratic country, it is time for each of us to contemplate on the strengthening of democratic practices.

 

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Govt. First Grade College, Barkur, Udupi)

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