& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mukkabaaz - 1

If Uttar Pradesh were to be an independent country, it’d be the fifth largest country in terms of population.

One of the most ingenious arguments against the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in two and eventually three countries that I’ve heard was offered by a friend in Toronto who is a Punjabi from Pakistan. He said Partition divided the two most populous and cultural homogenous regions of the Indian subcontinent – the Punjab and Bengal between two newly-independent countries (India and Pakistan) in 1947.

According to this argument, the idea of Partition germinated in the then United Province, and its direct fallout was to propel Uttar Pradesh to a preeminent position of political influence in independent India.  This is evident in the number of prime ministers that the state has given to India (eight out of 14, and nine if you count Modi, who is elected from Varanasi). 

Punjab and Bengal were politically more progressive, where the confluence of cultures was a lifestyle choice that was never touted as exceptional. It was a way of life. In Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, the religious fault lines ran (and run) deep.

UP's Ganga-Jamuni tahzeeb undoubtedly contributed to the formation of a syncretic identity that dominated the cultural and social discourse at least in the initial post-Independence decades, but caste has been an integral part of the social fabric in Uttar Pradesh, and the Hindi belt. 

Caste has often skewered the social discourse and made it toxic.  Since the late 1980s, especially in the post-Mandal India, caste has intensified its stranglehold on the region, turning Uttar Pradesh into a cauldron of angry caste politics.

The subalterns – the lower castes – have had to find different, innovative means to circumvent the dominance of upper castes and rise above the narrow confines of social hierarchy that is both rigid and stifling. The simultaneous rise of Mandal and Mandir politics brought a demographic awareness of the caste and its electoral significance.

Despite the political mobilization of the lower castes, a process that has now been going on for over two decades, the social dynamics of caste have seen little fundamental change.  Socially and culturally, the upper caste dominance remains largely unchallenged especially in everyday life of the people. The influence of Hindutva has, it’d seem, actually enhanced the dominance of the upper caste in the society.

It’d, therefore, seem inconceivable to many unfamiliar with the social composition of northern India in general and Uttar Pradesh in particular that even today, more than a decade-and-a-half in the 21st century, caste constriction is a stark reality.

Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz is supposed to be a film about boxing. Indeed, it is that. But at its core, it’s a film about caste. Caste and its horrors.

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