Religious typecasting – child’s play in India
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Religious typecasting – child’s play in India

Some days ago I happened to visit the famed Doll Museum in New Delhi after almost three decades. My last visit was on the call of duty when I escorted a group of exuberant tourists from what was until then the Soviet Union.

A decade later, while working on the Indian Fleet Street I often ambled half way up the spiraling staircase but never made it past the ticket counter. It was always the case of the ‘right’ companion not being there or not being interested despite being right.

Beyond the stairs and after the door opens, the rooms of the museum follow one another – intertwined like in every museum – galleries flowing into one another. In glass boxes the dolls are delineated either by nation – if they are big or politically significant enough – or by region if they are small.

Even after all these years, the museum retains its educative element for adults and fun dimension for the children. There is a lot to learn and enjoy – different costumes, different features – it is almost like a mini world tour. Except for those poor kids being paraded in school uniforms and escorted by teachers who have a chore to complete before heading home.

Until we reached the Indian section, the going was good. It has dolls arranged mainly in a State wise manner. There are a few thematic sections – brides of India etc,.

I was immediately struck by an odd fact. The dolls did not in any way mirror the religious diversity of India. If the dolls were from West Bengal or Assam, they were clearly depicted as Hindu dolls not reflecting the high percentage of Muslims from the states.

Similarly, brides or bridegrooms from India are portrayed as Muslims only if they are from Kashmir – as if Kashmiri Pandits have never been a significant part of the state population. Or, as if Muslims do not have significant presence in other states.

‘Catch them young’ is the general slogan everywhere. But a visit to Dolls Museum shows the fault lines of Indian secularism.

Unity in diversity is a political slogan but not a matter of introduction at a conceptual level when the mind is young. Almost 40 years ago I was amazed during my first visit to West Bengal that Anwar could be a Bengali and that too not from Bangladesh.

Kids going to Dolls Museum cannot be faulted if in years to come they grow up to believe that culture and religious identity is one and the same. And if they grow up to believe that religious minorities – Muslims, Christians, Parsis – look the same and share the same culture as their co-religionists even if they are originally from different states.

This is the way religion has been allowed to become the main basis of social identity in India. And it continues despite India entering the 65th year of existence as an independent nation whose constitutional basis debunked the two nation theory. He Bhagwan!