Historical understanding/ Mythological teaching and feelings of nationalism/superiority/patronisation in children after consumption of animated epics of Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc are the base of media consumption for many Indianchildren in their growing years and the effects on them- in terms of the focus on particular religion, region and language haven’t been extensively studied. However, to a population as huge as ours, all of which are told one story, the complication of telling only that one story need to be analysed- whether it is the media wave that creates these ideas or just reinforces cultural symbolism that has existed for a greater period of time.
The recent spate of events leading to the release of the movie, Padmaavat, has underwhelmed the critique of the film itself and the callous portrayal of marginalised characters and the glorification of Rajput caste identity. The creation of art and content which has constantly berated one section and glorified another is simply a reflection of Indian society and brings us back to the conundrum of – Does society imitate art and media? Or does art and media reflect society? To trace the consumption of such media, one can take a trip down memory lane and recount the Indian movies we saw, books we read, and shows we watched. The names that pop up are the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, Amar Chitra Katha, Panchatantra, Jataka Tales, Chhota Bheem, Daily soaps etc. It’s important to realise, how our consumption of Indian media, even at a childhood level was catered to through an exclusively Hindu lens. The lack of representation is appalling and an effort to sideline narratives from the mainstream, inorder to perpetuate the underlying yet still evident privilege of the Savarna Hindus in Indian Society. The effects of these are toxic to society, as we create children with no empathy, with strong handed down identities, that they did not discover for themselves but were fed and one cannot deny the perils of a single story.
A quick glance at the 465 Amar Chitra Katha titles and you are made aware of the biases. Apart from Babasaheb Ambedkar, there is no prominent Dalit leader who has been depicted, and the other minorities are as neglected. The vast range of Hindu mythology presented through Amar Chitra Katha also easily skips the narratives of indigenous tribes and of the lower castes, often making sure that they’re used in stories merely as props or that self inflicted violence towards them is glorified. This perpetuates the harmful notion of Karma, in relation to caste hierarchies. The most popular example of this being Eklavya from the Mahabharata.
The reason why the popularization of a single narrative like this is harmful, is because to a highly diverse and heterogeneous population like Indian society, or to be more concise and to focus fully on a hindu society- a society based on a religion that is unique for polytheism and it’s belief in thousands of gods, it is impossible for only some (biased) stories to surface and to be expected to cater to everyone. However, again it’s impossible for this lack of representation to be a media phenomenon and is evidently, a deeply rooted extension of dominant society’s erasure of Dalit, Tribal and other minorities’ struggles, as seen in traditional political, cultural and social establishments. The cultural considerations of colourism and racism and regional stereotyping as seen in popular media were given birth to inherent biases created by the caste system, and eventually we started painting our gods blue, because we’re too scared to call them dark, we’d rather paint them in an alien colour.
Everyday soaps are also majorly Hindu-based and minorities are used only ever as props. You’ll once in a blue moon find a Mrs. Braganza on a T.V. show who stereotypically wears floral dresses and says “What men.” And that’s all she ever says and there again is a narrative that’ll never be introduced because the dominant ideology would like to distance itself from it if not banish it. All of these shows, based on hagiographic accounts long proven to be full of inaccuracies or propagandistic oral narratives, glorifies an image of Hindu masculinity, whether divine or mortal, as the shield to ambitious foreign conquerors keen to occupy a Hindu heartland.
The late 1980s saw a significant moment in the relationship between Hindutva and popular media when television serials such as Ramayan and Mahabharat were broadcast immediately after the Babri Masjid was opened to Hindu worship. These mythological narratives from a pre-Islamic past helped consolidate a particular kind of Hindu identity in an atmosphere of communal tension. Both these shows circulated highly charged religious imagery that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement appropriated to argue for bringing back a vision of a Hindu utopia, or Ram rajya. One can’t overlook the impact of these mythological serials on the public psyche in that decade. Moving on, children remakes of these just further prove the pushing in of such biased narratives at such an early age without the provision for other narratives to be voiced. There were no prominent cartoons about Jesus, Dalit Wars, Muslim Kings or even Buddha for that matter. Hence, it wasn’t the show that started the struggle, like you see in contemporary media movements against trump or rape culture. These were power movements that used media content as extensions to further their propaganda. There always existed Ramleelas and temples with statues of Ram with recitals of his deeds (Pre-existing phenomenon). This particular action was about taking the Ramleela to the house of a non-spectator, in hopes to influence and channel feelings of nationalism and to establish identitarian pride.