Religion and Nationalism in India: The Case of the Punjab

By Harnik Deol | Go to book overview

6


Transformation in social communication and religious controversy

Dialogues in vernacular languages

It is often argued that widely available and influential media such as the press and electronic media produce inclusive and exclusive forms of nationalist identities that recharge nationalism with varying degrees of symbolic significance. As has been shown in Chapter 3, the historic process of equating linguistic and religious identity was facilitated by print capitalism in the nineteenth century in British Punjab. This last chapter looks at the contribution of popular mass media, such as the vernacular press, cassettes and television, in the generation and maintenance of modes of nationalist discourse. The vast expansion in the number of people reading newspapers, listening to radiocassettes and watching television confirms that the media were central to the process of identity formation in Punjab. This bears out the contention that transformation in social communication is vital for facilitating nationalism. Although the press has been long-established in Punjab and although there is a significant literate population, there is a paucity of literature on this subject. The available research on media studies in India focuses mainly on television and on the English-language press; the role of the vernacular press in the socio-political sphere has been virtually overlooked.

Messages of popular appeal can be transmitted equally by radio, television and the press. All India Radio (AIR), the national service, was set up in 1936, and since 1947 it has been under the tight control of the central government. The state governments or independent companies have no right to run their own stations. Only AIR produces religious broadcasts, which are carefully monitored to prevent accusations that particular religious groups are favoured. In recent years, Akali Dal leaders have demanded that Sikh religious sermons be given wider coverage. Virtually the same holds true for the television medium, or doordarshan as it is popularly referred in India. The serialization of the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic poem, in seventy-eight episodes, which was broadcast on national television between January 1987 and July 1988, had remarkable repercussions. According to one estimate, the televised tale attracted a huge audience of some 80-100 million (Lutgendorf 1990:136). The success of the dramatization of Hindu religious tales facilitated the campaign of the Hindu radical right regarding the Ayodhya

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