No Valentine Day
February 4, 2009
Every year when Valentine Day is coming up, the newspapers fill up with mentions of the Shiv Sena.
The Shiv Sena (Army of Shiv) is a political party founded by Bal Thackeray in the sixties. At the core of its spirit is the idea that Maharashtra, where Bombay is, belongs to Maharashtrians, its real “sons of the soil”.
As the economic capital of India, Bombay doesn’t count only Maharashtrians. A lot of people have been coming to Bombay from all over India, ever since it was created in the 16th century, to make a living. They have worked hard and some of them have made a fortune. Even though I tend to avoid generalizations, it is a commonly accepted fact that in India certain communities rule certain trades. In Bombay, and especially in the sixties when the Shiv Sena appeared, most white-collared jobs were held by South-Indians, while Gujaratis and Marwaris, the businessmen of India, owned most industries. A lot of Maharashtrians were reduced to menial jobs and resented the outsiders who had taken over their city.
For Bal Thackeray, all non-Maharashtrians should go back to where they hail from. The Shiv Sena‘s first targets were South-Indians, Gujaratis and Marwaris, but with the shift in the migration scheme of Bombay, he soon expanded his xenophobia towards the North: Pakistanis of course (to this day, the Pakistani cricket team is not allowed to play in Bombay), Muslims in general, and North-Indians in particular. He gradually went from a specifically native Maharashtrian line to a broader Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) militancy. Which granted him, incidentally, a few fruitful political alliances.
To his credit, the Shiv Sena has done a few good things. During its governance, the road infrastructures of the city were notably improved, with expressways and flyovers built by the dozen. The Shiv Sena also gets brownie points for his slums policy: the first schemes of emancipation, where slum-dwellers were allotted houses, were Thackeray’s doing. More generally, the party wouldn’t be so popular if it, somehow, didn’t address many people’s deepest concerns and fears. These fears are undeniably real, the question is: is this a responsible way to answer them?
Since its very beginning, the Shiv Sena has made the headlines by preaching violence. They regularly threaten businessmen, burn shops, attack TV channels and were indicted by the Congress government for actively supporting and coordinating the anti-Muslim riots of 1993.
North-Indians are Bal Thackeray’s targets of the month. Trains and trains arrive to Bombay every day from the poorer states of North-India like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh full of men driven away from their villages by debt and despair. These people, says Uncle Bal, steal good Maharashtrians’ sons jobs. Truly, if these guys steal anyone’s job, it’s not Bal Thackeray’s sons’. Unless Uddhav, who now runs the party, secretly wishes he sold samosas at Victoria Station. Which I somehow doubt.
Bal Thackeray wants quotas for Maharashtrians. He has already managed to do so by violence, but he might get a law passed too. In the meanwhile, he has done some profoundly meaningful things, like changing Bombay’s name to “Mumbai” and forcing all the shops in Bombay to have their name written in Marathi – not Hindi, and certainly not English.
Because there is one thing worse than being North-Indian in Bal Thackeray’s eyes. It is being a Westerner. A devilish creature for the Shiv Sena. According to them, we are the bearers of low morals, vulgarity and corruption. Our women are harlots and, our men… well, somehow it’s always the women, but I’m sure that if pressed, Balji would come up with something.
However, like any retarded controversial political leader, Bal Thackeray makes interesting exceptions. In 1996, Michael Jackson gave a concert in Bombay. He was invited to the politican’s house.
To sum it up, because this is supposed to be a post and not a novel: the Shiv Sena is a militant far-right nativist party. In their fight against all things non-Maharashtrians (and by cunning extent, non-Hindus), they have targeted…Valentine Day. A commercial and indecent import from the West, Valentine Day is an insult to good Hindus. It encourages public displays of affection and extra-marital relationships. As a result, on Valentine Day, all over India, mobs of orange-clad Shivsainiks (the Shiv Sena youth activists) go to parks and chase, preferrably with sticks, the couples strolling there. Especially if the girl is holding a rose. Unmarried couples meet in parks every single day of the year, but I guess the rose business identifies them as Western apostates. Shivsainiks, who usually don’t have a job to keep them busy doing useful things, also like burning card-stands and flower-carts on Valentine Day.
Last year, in reply to Bal Thackeray’s Valentine Day’s phobia, anti-Shiv Sena activists launched the delightful pink chaddi campaign. I loved it.