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There’s something common in reactions to Ranbir Kapoor’s jeans, Brexit and Khan Market gang

Ranbir Kapoor recently received flak for wearing ripped jeans to his father Rishi Kapoor’s cremation. The criticism was also a window into the many Indias.

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Among the many reactions to actor Rishi Kapoor’s cremation Thursday, one caught my attention. Ritu Rathaur, who calls herself a “Himachali Thakurian and Civilizational Hindu”, criticised Ranbir Kapoor for wearing ‘torn’ jeans to his father’s cremation.

Two things stand out. One is the obvious poor taste of the tweet and how it ignores that the Kapoor family was asked by the authorities to go straight from the hospital to the crematorium in view of the lockdown, so obviously Ranbir couldn’t change his clothes, even in the unlikely event that clothes were uppermost on his mind on the day his father died. The second is the word “deracination”.

A narrow, lazy view of identity

Deracination means a removal or separation from one’s native environment or culture, especially in terms of racial or ethnic identity, but the way it is used in India, it is less about race and far more about religion, language and clothes.

In India, if you don’t engage with religion and religious customs (and particularly the majoritarian ones), you are called deracinated, because you obviously don’t understand your ‘culture’ and ‘roots’.

The use of the word in India assumes that anyone who is liberal, who speaks and thinks in English, who dresses in Western clothes and isn’t concerned with a narrow and surface-level concept of Indianness, is deracinated. Anyone who talks about global issues and human rights instead of muscular nationalism is not in touch with ‘real India’. Never mind that there are many Indias, each of them equally real and valid — the English-educated liberal elite’s Indianness doesn’t get invalidated because of their privilege, and the white kurta-wearing funeral attendee isn’t more desi than someone who wears jeans, ripped or not.

Also read: Loverboy, brat, troubled star, outspoken patriarch — Rishi Kapoor was all of these and more

It is also a lazy pejorative because, as sociologist Shiv Visvanathan told ThePrint, “When we in India talk about deracination, we are talking of a very superficial way of looking at a person’s Indianness. It’s a failure of our use of language, we didn’t look at the root of the word before using it to describe someone who is just more cosmopolitan.”

It is the same narrow logic that compelled many people, in June 2015, to make snarky comments about why Indians were celebrating when the US Supreme Court legalised gay marriage, and the same argument that is dredged up every four years when someone questions on social media why Indians care who becomes the US president. Because, you know, real Indians should only be concerned with what happens in our country.

It is also the same narrow logic behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s use of the term ‘Khan Market gang’ to describe the capital’s elite class, epitomised by the Nehru-Gandhi family, whose ideas of secularism and diversity, and cosmopolitan, outward-looking ways are at odds with the Right’s obsession with the glories of our (Hindu) past.

In a 2017 article, the BJP’s National General Secretary, Ram Madhav (who also, in 2019, criticised the “pseudo-secular/liberal cartels of Khan Market”), wrote that India’s native genius “is rooted in its religio-social institutions like state, family, caste, guru and festival”, adding that at the time of Independence, conflict arose between a “colonised” Nehru and a Gandhi more attached to native wisdom. “Nehru sought to take the country in the direction of the ideas he had inherited from the colonial masters and from his personal experience in Europe. The crucial formative years after independence were thus dominated by a western liberal discourse that had very little Indian content,” Madhav wrote.

Incidentally, after the BJP’s victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Madhav took party workers out for a celebration – to Khan Market.

R. Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya magazine, says a deracinated Indian is someone whose “mind is almost entirely driven by the English language”. He told ThePrint, “When you think and express yourself in a regional language, you are far more rooted. Not that one can paint everyone with the same brush, but yes, someone who is mentally colonised by the English language is broadly what I would call deracinated. Of course, English is an Indian language, but it should be used only for looking outward. Forcing it as the language with which to look inwards, at regional issues, is problematic.”

Also read: Time Modi & Amit Shah stop abusing Lutyens’ Delhi. They are the new power elite in Capital

Somewheres and Anywheres

In his book, The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and The Future of Politics, British writer and social commentator David Goodhart divides people into Somewheres (those who are deeply rooted in a certain ethnic, linguistic, religious, geographical community and geography, typically conservative, often not well-educated, and wedded to homogeneity) and Anywheres (urban, well-educated, well-travelled, at home anywhere in the world).

Goodhart uses these terms to explain, and justify, the demand for Brexit in the UK, citing the sense of threat to their identity that the Somewheres feel due to immigrants, despite the fact that they are in a majority over the Anywheres.

The terms can easily be transplanted to India, with the whole ‘Hindu khatre mein hai’ narrative of the BJP. In India, the Anywheres are also in a minority, but they do hold some sway over public thought, be it in the media, in cinema, literature, big business or the civil services. And yes, they do need to confront the fact that there is a disenchantment with them that has led to Narendra Modi’s consecutive landslide electoral victories.

It is not enough to just call all the Somewheres bigots and cocoon oneself in a bubble. It is also not enough to call all the Anywheres deracinated and out of touch with reality and cocoon oneself in that bubble.

Also read: Why does the Right-wing want to ‘occupy’ Delhi’s liberal hotspot Khan Market?

It is similar to the fear that the institutions of marriage and family are breaking down – but why is every change seen as bad? Marriage as it stood, as a patriarchal construct, was in need of a breakdown and overhaul to accommodate a changed gender dynamic. Family was a very narrow idea, and the nuclear unit, and now live-in partners, are changing that and it’s a good thing. These upheavals are not threats. These are signs that something that needed to change is finally changing.

To go back to the attack on Ranbir Kapoor’s clothes, Visvanathan says that “the Kapoor family actually carries the tradition of the ‘deracinated’ Indian, what with bringing to India the idea of Charlie Chaplin, the proletariat and clown, as the hero. Rishi Kapoor also always carried himself with ease, didn’t take himself too seriously, and it’s the same with Ranbir. The Kapoors did not adhere to standard nationalist models, they broke stereotypes”.

Views are personal.

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  1. Agreed. The Print always try to bring up the issue out of nothing. One or two tweets probably was there commenting on Ranbir’s dress but it was not trending. The print has negativity. Author please go and lick your wound in the dark

  2. I don’t think we should be judging someone by the clothes they’re wearing. He was at the hospital with Rishi Sir untill his last breath. So do you think a person who has just lost his beloved father, should first go change his clothes and then do the rituals.
    ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’

  3. I don’t think we should be judging someone by the clothes they’re wearing. He was at the hospital with Rishi Sir untill his last breath. So do you think a person has just lost his beloved father, should first go change his clothes and then do the rituals.
    ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’

  4. I can understand his state of mind of Ranbir n compulsions of advise of authorities to go straight to crematorium in the same clothes
    Filthy minds think like this

  5. Yeah and the print is the torch bearer against so called narrow and surface level Indianness. The two words that are alien to this author herself. All you understand is how to criticize everything that’s connected to Sanatan culture.

  6. A very loosely written shallow article , you can criticize where it is due, but an article on a person’s clothes being criticized, is this the print or The Sun I am reading , u can do. better things rather than pulling out a tweet written in poor taste to generalize something without using apt analogy. I have been a “religious” follower of news published in print please don’t degrade your standards.

  7. Yes, its totally irritating that how people stoop to such a mean that start showing their real colour and interferein someone else’s matter.
    Whatever ranbir sir did was not at all wrong as per the situation

  8. Despicable! The fact that the author sees an opportunity even in this tragedy to make a snide comment on Modi and his supporters just because a loony said something ridiculous gives you a good enough peek into the authors sick mind!

    Khan market gang and the atrocious trolling of Ranbir Kapoor does not have a single solitary overlap, you sick*!

    • Mr Rohit Raina: You behave like a Pakistani! In Pakistan, you can get lynched if someone simply alleges that you insulted the Prophet Mohammad. All hell breaks loose and both citizens and the state authorities do their best to get you killed. People like you have made PM Modi into some sort of infallible Prophet figure who must never be criticised. And should someone criticise the PM, the Rohit Rainas of India suddenly don a Pakistani hat and indulge in their own intellectual “guarakshaking” and rush to the defence of their Gujarati Prophet.


  9. This is too much stupidity concentrated in a short article. The derision shown towards the “less educated”, “non-English speaking” unwashed dirty Hindooo pajeets, who are not fit for anything more than washing the poo of the “well educated’, “English speaking” kings, is something to behold.

  10. Ok. BJP’s definition is surface level and narrow per author. What is it according to the ‘Idea of India’ crowd? Over to the high priest of secular fundamentalist, Mani Shankar Aiyar: ‘An Indian is one who accepts as Indian anyone who says s/he is an Indian’. I for one can’t accept such a loose definition of who is an Indian.

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