Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Render Unto Shiva That Which Is Shiva's..." - On Auckland City Council's Rescheduling Of Diwali

There's an old saying derived from the words of the New Testament: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but render unto God that which is God's".

Now as with just about any Biblical statement, there's a bewildering array of multifarious interpretations which are often ascribed to it.

The simplest, however, is that there's a necessary separation between secular and ecclesiastical/spiritual authorities. And for good reason. Although whereas most modern secularists would cleave to the opinion that such a partition is desirable lest religious or ecumenical concerns start to contaminate the nation's politics ... my father, the Rev. Rolinson, has often taken a different view - that a separation of religion and politics is also good because otherwise, politics and political considerations can serve to warp and contaminate religion.

This sort of attitude might, at first, seem somewhat curious. We're used to thinking of exceedingly religious folk as zealots hell-bent on infringing upon the secular public sphere in order to pedantically push their own pet opprobiums into legislative reality. For the average anti-abortionist American Teabagger, for instance, the notion of a protective barrier (if semi-permeable membrane, albeit) between Church and State is anathema.

However, so too is such a buffer regarded by the governing authorities of the People's Republic of China - who, after all, are so suspicious of (independent) organized religion as to indulge in setting up their own pet/pocket Catholic Church, and to attempt to bend the skeins of metaphysics to the laws of man by issuing reincarnation licenses for Llamas.

In other words, just as secularists feel there is something to fear in allowing religion too great a role or control over political concerns ... so too might the religious legitimately feel resentful of secular authority barging its way in and re-arranging their affairs to suit.

That way, sacrilege lies.

It was in this sort of spirit that I was rather disappointed to learn that Auckland City Council is once more planning on holding Diwali in mid-October.

Which is odd, because it's the first day of Navratri today - a festival which customarily precedes Diwali by some twenty days, and which won't wind up till the 22nd of October, in a little over a week's time.

In other words, according to the fiat of the Auckland Council, it's possible to move around the days and the dates of official recognition for religious festivities in order to better suit what I'm sure is a busy local-governance agenda.

This makes about as much sense as the Mayor deciding to convene Christmas in July so as to boost economic activity in the city during the customary mid-year retail slump.

The reasoning advanced for the date-swap, that of being able to get performers for India for the public celebrations, only makes sense insofar as we consider the importance of civic celebration of Diwali not for its own importance ... but rather, as a friend put it, "so white people can turn up and feel 'cultured'."

That isn't good enough. Particularly given this is an even *worse* timeline snafu than a similar shifting of dates which occurred last year; and especially given the nominal commitment to "undertake diligent investigation into alternative dates [...] outside of 13-22 October" which the Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development agency had promised.

So in other words, what appears to have happened here is Auckland Council's decided to co-opt a religious/cultural event for civic (and possibly secular) purposes, done it at a time and in a manner that's most convenient to them regardless of the actual significance of the day and the date.

Then, when called upon this by Hindus and members of the Indian community, they've deflected criticism by promising 'consultation' and 'accommodation' of the views of the people whose festival they're 'borrowing' (or, more accurately, 'appropriating') in the first place ... only to eventually brush this aside and go ahead and do exactly what they'd already planned to do anyway, in response.

That ain't cool.

Now for the record, I'm generally all for the greater inclusion of important occasions into our civic calendar (not least because the closest thing I've pretty much ever seen to a civic spirit and community engagement amongst Aucklanders is the annual Chinese Lantern Festival held in Albert Park at the start of each year).

But if you're going to do it ... have some decency and some respect. LISTEN to the perspective, views and concern of the Aucklanders whom you're borrowing (or, better yet - and more fulsomely - *adopting*) the practice from, and take heed.

Because ultimately, it's *their* festival - not yours.

And to do anything else ... especially in a manner that almost deliberately robs the occasion of its true - contextual - significance ... is more akin to cultural appropriation and window-dressing than it is to any genuine engagement or incorporation of a community and its beliefs.

This year, I'll be celebrating Diwali after Navratri.

It would have been nice had Auckland Council done the same.

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