India has a complicated social structure, where multiple faiths, beliefs and theologies co-exist, often contradicting each other.
If we divide the society into the mainstream and the sub-altern, the latter is considered an 'anti' of the former, something unconventional and not common. It demands a political discourse or dialogue that is both effective and sensitive.
What is the sub-altern?
A postcolonial theory, the term refers to population or community that is socially, politically and geographically outside of the mainstream power structure of the colony and of the colonial homeland.
These are identified as groups that are excluded from a society's established structures for political representation and therefore denied the means by which people have a voice in their society. The JNU row has truck the chord accross verticals and has touched upon every aspect of the theology in a brief span of time.
Subalterns in the Indian discourse
Time and again, we have been discussing the marginalised and the suppressed- be it the women, the Dalits, the SC/STs and the OBCs. Post the JNU row, Kashmiris too now hold the flagstaff, given the embroiling debate that is going on in the Parliament and the nation. Forget the issues of the Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced to flee from Kashmir and who could also have been a part of the sub-altern discourse, but for the lack of their marketing.
The Sub-altern in this context can be divided into national and anti-national, the right wing and the left wing, dalits and non-dalits, he Centre and the opposition, Kashmiri and the non-Kashmiri, Durga and Mahishashur.
The Parliament saga
Education minister Smriti Irani valiantly defended her party on Day 2 of the Budget session, justifying her statements on the Rohith Vemula case and the JNU row. All went well until the point, she quoted from a text that described the 'Mahishashura Martyrdom day'.
Little did she know its value for the STs and the 'Asura' tribes. In her 30 minute rendition, she said,"And may my god forgive me for reading this "Durga Puja"-a major celebration in eastern India- "is the most controversial racial festival, where a fair skinned beautiful goddess Durga is depicted brutally killing a dark-skinned native called Mahishasura".
She further added,"Mahishasura, a brave self-respecting leader, tricked into marriage by Aryans. They hired a sex worker called Durga, who enticed Mahishasura into marriage and killed him after nine nights of honeymooning, during sleep."
"Freedom of speech, ladies and gentlemen," Irani declared after reading out the pamphlet, "Who wants to have this discussion in the streets of Kolkata? I want to know."
"What is this depraved mentality?" she asked. "I have no answers for it."
But, the sub-altern discourse has one. The Asura tribe with over 10,000 members in it have a different connotation of the Durga Puja festival. The tribe has been classified as the "Vulnerable Tribe Group" by the Indian government. And their language-spoken by 7000 people- has been considered as definitely endangered by the UNESCO.
A member from the north Bengal tribe said," We believe that the Devi Mahatmya story of the Markandeya Purana, which describes the birth of Durga and her nine-day long battle with Mahishasura, is biased. According to the Asurs, the birth of Durga from the conjoined powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva was a "crooked conspiracy" hatched because their king Mahishasura was blessed with a boon by Brahma that no man or god could kill him. The devas are the invaders who came to earth and killed our ancestors. We don't like to see the Durga Puja. We have a separate puja ceremony remembering and mourning our forefathers on Mahalaya, Sashthi, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami [the six days of Durga Puja]," a member of the tribe from northern West Bengal."
Another story leads one to Karnataka's Mysuru city, which is said to be named after Mahishasura. It is actually known as Mahishasurana Ooru (Mahishasura's Country). In fact, the temple of the city's guardian deity-Chamundi-has a giant statue of Mahishasura.
Certainly, Smriti should have been more careful with her words this time since a majority of vote banks lie in the tribal areas of West Bengal. It is to be seen whether or not the speech maneuveurs the results of the upcoming elections in West Bengal.
How the subaltern will decide India's political fate
Consider the Kashmir issue. Given the peace process upheld by Atal Behari Vajpayee between 1999 and 2004, the present NDA government is in a fix. Abolishing Article 370 had been placed in the back burner by him and dialogue between the Kashmir separatists and the Pakistanis were initiated. Vajpayee had put in place a number of correctional measures in the issue, despite his differences with the ideology of the party.
Modi's leadership, on the other hand, is considered rigid. He, however has stuck to his ancestor's penchant of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat' to deal with the Kashmir issue.
He has been tactful enough not to mention the abolition of Article 370 and has chosen dialogue over authority and discussed the pros and cons of an independent Parliament and a State.
Kashmiris, although uncertain, have believed Modi's words and hence the jugged formation of a PDP-NDA alliance at the Parliament after the elections.
Similarly, the handling of the Dalit scholar's suicide in HCU and the JNU row form an important criteria for BJP winning the next time (not to forget the tribal votes that the party may have lost already).