I grew up in a city where about 1 in 5 of the population is Muslim. I grew up with quite a few Muslim friends. I have enjoyed almost every aspect of the Islamic culture of India. The beautiful lyrics of the songs of Bollywood movies, the outstanding food without which Indian cuisine is incomplete, the breathtaking architecture and personal contributions of many Muslims from Mirza Ghalib to Javed Akhtar. Yet, I know virtually about the festivals of the religion. All I could say that we had holidays 😀 and you could get some really awesome food after the holy month of Ramzan.
Contrast this with the celebration of Christmas in urban India today. More kids in the Indian middle-class (regardless of religion) might know about Santa Claus than maybe even the Pandavas of Mahabharata. Although, with Ekta Kapoor now belting out her K-ised Mahabharata, I am sure many kids will be having nightmares about Arjun and Bhima. How many (outside the Muslim middle class) would know who the Prophet Mohammed was or even remember the names of the Muslim festivals ? On the other hand, the celebration of Christmas has become ubiquitous in urban India. Christmas is even celebrated in Delhi with gusto, a city with a miniscule (about 1.2 %) Christian population.
The Hindu middle-classes have a strange relationship with India’s urban Christians. They are seen by many as the providers of good quality English education, as sophisticated and ‘English’, to be emulated, and also vicious proselytizers and outsiders by some. So most of the celebration of Christmas is in good faith. And indeed a welcome development. Sharing each other traditions is what being a multi-cultural society is all about. Of course, even many of the Hindu festivals have been secularized, especially Diwali and Holi. No surprise, they are the most fun.
But what about Islamic festivals ? To be fair, Islamic festivals dont seem very amenable to ‘secularization’, because they seem to be more about contemplation than celebration. They are much more intense, with stuff like fasting for a month being involved. Not that India’s increasingly obese middle-classes dont need some loss of weight, but come on, that takes some serious devotion. However, there seems to be very little ‘joy in the air’ or even knowledge when an Islamic festival arrives. The Indian media can definitely do more than show some Muslims praying and blaberring out propoganda like ‘PM greets Muslims on Eid-ul-Fitr’.
But perhaps Muslims themselves would not want a secularization of their religions ? They seem to take their religion more seriously than most others. Also, apart from developed nations with large immigrant populations like the US (2%) , UK (7%) and countries that suppress religion China (3%), Russia (13%) Muslims dont seem to be a minority anywhere except India (14%). So there arent many country’s to compare to. And I can tell you that only Christmas has been secularized in the US, I dont see many white Texans greeting me with a Happy Eid, although I am frequently (mis)identified as a Muslim.
Also, one cannot discount the political climate of India today. Relations between various communities are very tense today, mainly because of chauvinist organizations like the RSS, Bajrang Dal and the politicians affiliated to such organizations.
All I can say is that I look forward to the day when one of the Eids is celebrated with the same gusto as Diwali and Christams. Obviously, one should not dilute the religious and spiritual significance of these festivals, but for a lot of people (esp. the young) they are a chance to celebrate and have fun. And writing from a country with virtually no enthu for religious celebrations, I can attest to how much one should have fun at very festival one can.