Human language

A Netflix top 10 show with a violent and fascist twist

Indian Matchmaking“, the second season of which dropped August 10 on Netflix, perfectly exploited an array of stereotypes about indian culture, while presenting himself as “authentically Indian”. Perhaps that is why it has maintained its place in the top 10 most-watched shows in the United States since its release.

So what could be so wrong with a quirky, pushy aunt and a few harmless stereotypes?

The show’s regressive portrayal of Indianness is characterized by everything from the blatant sexism with which Sima Auntie treats her clients to its overwhelmingly Hindu cast.

While “Indian Matchmaking” is called a quaint and wholesome spectacle, which innocently celebrates “Indian culture”, it instead reinforces Hindu supremacy, toxic masculinity, sexism, casteism, northern dominance, white supremacy and the erasure of minorities (such as Muslims and Dalits) from Indian identity. If we look beyond the glowing fetishization of a colorful culture that tickles and amuses Western viewers, we can actually see something far more sinister. And it is dangerous to confuse these worldviews as benign and charming – and as inextricably Indian – when they are, in fact, carefully crafted and designed to oppress minorities and women.

For starters, there’s the show’s awkward little glitch – which follows the journey of five new (and a few old) cast members as they search for spouses with the help of a matchmaker (“Sima de Mumbai”) – which both symbolizes and reinforces the same social forces that underlie the fascistic tendencies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its popular far-right arm, the RSS.

It’s not that deep, will you say? Well, let’s break it down. The show’s regressive portrayal of Indianness is characterized by everything from the blatant sexism with which Sima Auntie treats her clients to its overwhelmingly Hindu cast. This version of Indian culture forms the perfect and necessary basis for contemporary Indian authoritarianism: chauvinistic and synonymous with high-caste Hindus of northern India, excluding ethno-religious minorities.

The institution of arranged marriages in India – and around the world – was designed to preserve existing power structures, keeping wealthy families and upper castes in the same pool and, conversely, excluding the poor. At this point, Sima Auntie, the matchmaker (with an incredibly low success rate) and focal point of the show, is working with her five new clients this season, four of whom are Hindus (none of whom are from lower castes) and only one of whom is Sikh.

For those familiar with the culture, the show is full of coded language to that effect. “I think it’s just cool to see how many of the same people, you know, the same communities that I’m from, like, just here looking to meet someone,” Avinash, Aparna’s cousin (from the first season), said during a mix hosted for Sima Auntie. Those familiar with the South Asian coded language would immediately know how to interpret the “same communities”. And, of course, the show does not feature or mention any Muslims, which is about 15% of the population of India.

The BJP rewrote Indian history through a Hindu nationalist lens, analogous to the Christian nationalism espoused by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and like-minded right-wing American politicians.

For context, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been accused of fascist leanings and ideology for years. Modi was not even allowed to visit the United States before becoming Prime Minister because he had been accused of human rights abuses in his capacity as Chief Minister of Gujarat, after overseeing Hindu riots which killed about a thousand Muslims in 2002, some of whom were massacred and burned. Everything changed when Modi became Prime Minister, at which point the United States could not very well exclude the leader of one of its so-called most powerful allies and the “the greatest democracy.”

Using revisionist history and violence, the BJP has rewritten India’s history through a Hindu nationalist lens, in which Muslims are seen as un-Indian and therefore undesirable, analogous to the Christian nationalism embraced by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and American politicians from the right sharing the same ideas.

Any authoritarianism worth its salt reinforces existing power structures, and the BJP has fallen short. Its superstructures support colorism, India’s version of white supremacy, where fair-skinned Indians with European features are hailed as embodying ideal standards of beauty. Many studies have concluded that having fair skin, especially for women, works as a kind of currency that can make her more likely to find a job or get married. “In India, colorism is a customary practice perpetuated by cultural beliefs and values, social institutions and the media,” a study published in Advances in Developing Human Resources reported in 2015. “Within the South Asian community, it has a long history with ties to the caste system and social hierarchies,” Alisia (Giac-Thao) Tran, author of another study on colorism, published by Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology in 2016, told the BBC. Colorism can also have devastating effects on mental health.

At one point in “Indian Matchmaking”, Akshay, one of Sima Auntie’s clients, asks his astrologer to tell him about all the good things that come his way to boost his self-confidence while looking for a mate. “You are going to marry a very good girl,” replies astrologer Navnath Patil. Yes, she will be smart, but more importantly, “she will have a round, blond face, like the moon.”

Then there is casteism, in which upper-caste Hindus continue to hold the most power in just about everything from industry to politics, a system that many anti-caste activists have embraced. . accused the BJP of reinforcing. As mentioned, none of the characters in “Indian Matchmaking” are from lower castes, which contributes to the cultural and political erasure of lower castes, who have historically been oppressed and exploited.

Surendra Singh, a BJP member of the Legislative Assembly, said in 2020 that rape could only be stopped if parents “inculcate good values ​​in their young daughters”.

And, finally, there is the endemic sexism and chauvinism of the BJP, which has produced and supported outrageously regressive notions of gender. Surendra Singh, BJP member of the Legislative Assembly, said in 2020 that rape could only be stopped if parents “inculcated good values ​​in their young daughters”. In her encounters with her clients, sexism and chauvinism flow out of Sima Auntie as seamlessly as chai from a hot pot. She flatters her male clients, who present long lists of “biographical data” (or criteria) they look for in their partners, describing them as “good boys” and “flexible”.

“I think Arshneel is a very nice guy and very down to earth, soft-spoken, very gentle, and by the face we can, I mean, judge that he’s a very cute boy and, uh, very flexible,” Sima Auntie says in episode four. Conversely, she describes her clients with equally lengthy lists of biographical data as difficult and inflexible. Later in the episode, when another of his clients, Viral, says she wants physical attraction in her match, Sima Auntie replies, “So, Viral, don’t you think you’re superficial?”

While the show’s second season made meager attempts to course-correct after critics accused the first season of being problematic (for example, Sima Auntie is less likely to praise women for their fairnesseven if the show’s astrologer can’t help it), the show still finds itself rooted in the very regressive ideologies that have driven and sustained the fascist tendencies and concomitant violent cultural transformation in India.

The political project of rewriting the history of a nation can take several forms. More recently, we have found explicit attempts in the United States, of the absurd fight against critical race theory at book ban. But it’s the softer, more subtle initiatives — perhaps in the form of a seemingly innocuous and fun TV show about finding love — that can be far more pernicious. They are more difficult to identify and therefore to oppose, and very often we do not even know when they occur.