Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hate in public, love in private

The Geo-politics of Nepal and Bangladesh makes them very much
dependent upon India. (Map doesn't depict exact national boundaries.)
In the last week of March, I travelled through three countries – Nepal, India and Bangladesh. The travel was hectic – 12 hours bus ride from Kathmandu to Kakarbhitta, the eastern border of Nepal and travelling around 100kms in the Indian land before entering the Bangladesh through Burimari port and then another 12 hours bus ride to Dhaka. But that worries me the least - I am fond of travelling. Travel gives me immense opportunities to learn about the places and people that only existed in geography and social studies books.

In this trip, I happened to think about what the people of these three countries share in common. While the countries are diverse on their own, many cultural similarities exist and the people share similar lifestyle. India and Bangladesh are historically bound to each other –as they used to be single country until 1947. India also helped Bangladesh during their war of liberation in 1971 when they fought with Pakistan and finally broke away as independent nation on Dec. 16 of the same year. For Nepal too, India was the source of enlightenment and pilgrimage and remains to be the major source of jobs. Nepal is almost totally dependent upon India for foreign trade. Moreover, the feeling of Southasia regionalism binds people of this area to some extent.
However, the relationships between Nepal and Bangladesh with India are defined by the feeling of some sort of hegemony of the latter, called as India's 'big brotherness'. Consequently, there are equally strong 'nationalist' movements in Bangladesh and Nepal. In Bangladesh, this movement is led by the rightist and Islamic parties while contradictorily in Nepal, such movement is led by the leftist parties. Among the nationalistic diatribes, attack on India's hegemonic Hindi language defines major characteristic of nationalist movement. In fact, Hindi is also highly criticized within India for undermining and subverting local languages.
As a person grown in predominantly communist area of Nepal, I was taught to resist the influence of this language. However as I grew up, I developed a peculiar type of love towards this language – I very much liked Hindi songs; watching Hindi films whether in theatres or Indian TV channels constituted major part of my leisure time activities; and I started to identify myself with the stars of Hindi movies which is called Bollywood as the industry. That was the point when I could no more resist the hegemonic position of Hindi.
However, as I went to Dhaka for media studies in 2008, I had to question my preferences. Despite being closer with India in many aspects, Hindi movies were banned in theatres and first attack many of the Bangladeshi friends and even teachers made on us was that Nepal is not totally sovereign. Two reasons they would give us are - Hindi movies are publicly shown in theatres; and Indian currencies are accepted in Nepal. Yes, both of these points were true. This would make me feel remorse. Moreover, as Bangladesh is the youngest South Asian nation, Bangladeshis are more concerned about and proud of their language and culture. Language and cultural movement was integrally tied up with the independence movement of Bangladesh.
Expansion of Hindi in this region is an impact of globalization. As the biggest and most powerful nation of Southasia, the global popular culture first focused on infiltrating the Indian culture. After the liberalization of media market in the beginning of 1990s, private TV channels started bringing this global culture to the houses of middle class Indians. Though the Indian movie industry popularly called Bollywood was already serving the interest of globalizing forces, it was television that hugely expanded this influence. Hybrid versions of Hindi language like Hinglish (Hindi+English) were expounded and local languages started to become the hybrid of the three i.e. Hindi + English + local language. Now, powerful Bollywood industry and ever expanding Indian TV channels are expanding this culture across the borders of India to the countries like Nepal and Bangladesh too.
Certainly, with the global expansion of capitalism, cultural homogenization which helps Multi-national companies maximize their profit by producing and selling similar products across the world, is happening in the fastest pace. One world, one language and one culture would be the most profitable for these economic empires. In this context, it was worth celebrating Bangladeshi resistance of the hegemonic encroachment of Hindi language and predominantly Indian culture, at least publicly.
However, as I further explored Bangladeshi lifestyle, I was shocked to discover that the situation was no different – many Bangladeshis loved Hindi movies and therefore, cable TV channels would broadcast most of the Hindi movies on the same day of release in India! Moreover, as in Nepal, Bangladeshi housewives also loved Hindi TV serials, many youths wanted to identify themselves with the Bollywood stars and Indian Television were very popular.
Bangladesh is changing at a fast pace. To catch up with the global capitalist expansion, economic liberalization is rocketing up. That has forced people change their lifestyle and cultural engagements too. Striking example of this tolerance to globalization is that though Hindi movies are banned in theatres, Hollywood movies are not. People thronged to the multiplexes to watch Transporter 3 or Speed 2 even if these were shown in theatres after two years of original release or they might have watched them in DVDs multiple times.
Trend of watching Hollywood movies in theatres or Bollywood movies and Hindi serials in TV channels is more prevalent among the educated elites. This gives them a sense of being tied up with the global system and false consciousness of being a 'Global Citizen'. People in the lower rungs of the society will have additional feeling of pride of looking like the elites or a false consciousness of climbing the social ladder. This is not only about the language but more about the cultural encroachment. The western culture promoted as global by the media is affecting sub-regional cultures like Indian or Arabic and sub-regional cultures promoted by regional media industries like Bollywood are having toll on the local cultures like that of Bangladesh and Nepal.
Such love for Hindi was reinforced in my recent trip too. My bus trip started from Kathmandu listening to Hindi songs, which is not the matter of surprise for any Nepali. It certainly will not be different in India but striking for me was that during over 36 hours bus travel in Bangladesh, the music would not be different! Moreover, whenever they knew that I was a foreigner from Nepal, immigration authorities, shopkeepers in a popular tourist destination, hotel owner and even the begging children would speak in Hindi even if I spoke to them in Bangla. This was out of the general feeling that Hindi is widely understood and spoken in Nepal but that also makes Hindi acceptable, understood and spoken in Bangladesh too. This forced me to ask myself is hegemonic expansion of Hindi language truly irresistible? How long can this awkward feeling of hate in public and love in private last? However, it can be concluded that such vertical impact of global-regional-local culture will continue as long as the capitalism becomes successful to give people an illusion that it is bringing them prosperity and happiness.

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