The Angry Hanuman

Devak delves into the history, cultural ties, and the significance of what at first glance seems like an illustration with no political or social implications attached to it. How does the Angry Hanuman tie in with Hyper-Masculinity, Secularism and much more? Read on to know Devak’s views. 

With staggering intensity in his eyes, intimidating physiognomy and brows furrowed in unprecedented ferocity and fury – the “Angry Hanuman” has been taking over the streets of India. The black and saffron-clad sticker is now a common sight. Be it windshields, t-shirts, flags or even WhatsApp display pictures – the ubiquitous artwork is raging throughout the nation. It now seems to be the new fad, but we must question whether we should reduce such a powerful symbol to just a vogue. It would be naïve to assume that such widespread nature of the picture has no social or political connotations.

The controversial sticker’s origin can be traced back to three years ago in a village in Kerala; where Karan Acharya was asked by a local organization to create a new logo to put on flags for a Hindu festival. In a telephonic interview with News18.com, he has been quoted saying that his portrayal of the Hindu monkey god is not one of anger but of attitude. He is powerful, but not oppressive. However, Acharya admits the problem with art and its infinite ways of interpretation, which probably is the cause behind the uproar about such epidemic use of the picture.

Original intentions at the time of conception may not always be permanent. The perception of a symbol can be of a dynamic nature. Take the swastika, for instance, the ancient symbol for peace and divinity in ancient religions of Eurasia. The symbol lost all its original meaning and became a societal stigma after Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party employed it to spread racism and antisemitism. Similarly, a ‘Hanuman with an attitude’ might metamorphose into the national symbol for an aggressive form of Hindutva.

There have been different perceptions about the pictogram across the country. A few individuals identified it as majoritarian propaganda against the secular fabric of the Constitution of India. One such individual, J Devika, a Kerala-based writer, gave the clarion call for boycotting all cabs, autos that sported the ‘violent’ sticker. The backlash against such protests was also prevalent. C.J. Harikrishnan, a senior journalist, held the opinion that such boycotts were against the freedom of expression guaranteed to every citizen of the nation and the accusations made were baseless to a good extent given the subjective nature of the picture. Hence, denying employment on prejudices and blatant discrimination is a crime by law.

But the question remains: Can majoritarian propaganda of Hindutva hyper masculinity be allowed to proliferate under the armour of freedom of expression?

Another category of response comes under the one given by Padma Pillai, who (under the banner of ‘Ready to wait’ campaign) declared a 50-rupee reward for every auto or taxi she witnessed which exhibited the sticker explicitly.

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Is this the symptom of a disease that would lead to the demise of the composite culture of India? If not, why are we even raising this question in the first place? The answer lies in the status quo. A general sense of insecurity that prevails across the nation has its basis in statements and acts. When Yogi Adityanath claims that India will be a Ram Rajya by 2022 or when a BJP Rajya Sabha Member asserts that history has given Muslims their share of land and thus, Indian Muslims should go to Pakistan or Bangladesh; the delicate façade of unity in diversity shatters more and more. Yet, it is interesting to observe how the weapon of freedom of expression which is often used to uphold minority manifestation is now employed to bombard their arguments, which just further asserts that basic rights are not for the minority or the majority, but the singularity.

Another feature that must be acknowledged out of this craze is the undertone of anger. Gods that represented the epitome of humility now symbolize rage and vengeance. The family ‘Raja Ram’ was transformed to an open-haired ready-to-fight warrior Ram in the 1990 Babri Masjid controversy. News channels that were once accused of being insipid are now setting their discussion panels on fire, literally. The average Indian is getting angrier, fiercer and more radical, and our symbols and gods reflect the same.

The repercussions of an experimental artwork in a small village in Kerala are not single fold but multifaceted. It ignites some basic arguments that this country has faced time and again but failed to resolve. Maybe the ‘Angry Hanuman’ is nothing more than a fad, a speck in the vast history of glorification and admiration. Or maybe it is the face of a new India, but not necessarily an improved India.