Irfan Engineer and Neha Dabhade
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech at Ayodhya on the occasion of the Pran Pratishtha said, “The construction of this temple of Ram Lalla is also a symbol of peace, patience, mutual harmony and coordination of Indian society. This prestige of Ram Lalla is also the prestige of the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (Indian Express, 2024). On the same occasion, Shri Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsangh Chalak (chief) of RSS, which led the campaign for construction of Ram Janmabhoomi Temple in place of Babri Masjid said, “Shri Ram is the most worshipped deity of the majority society and the life of Shri Ramchandra is still accepted as an ideal of conduct by the entire society. Hence, now the conflict that has arisen as for and against over the dispute should be ended” (Singh, 2024). Both, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shri Mohan Bhagwat, emphasized on values of compassion, unity and inclusion and bringing all disputes and controversies pertaining to the construction of the temple to an end. Lord Ram was presented as unifier of the country. There can be no two opinions about what the Prime Minister and Bhagwat spoke. India needs to be united on the values of inclusion, equality and justice.
Lord Ram is worshipped for being Maryada Purushottam who stands for righteousness, justice and truth. One who upholds dharma, who chose to sacrifice his claim to the throne in order to honour his father’s promise and accepted 14-year exile in forest. Mahatma Gandhi and Kabir’s Ram had all the attributes that human beings must have. In his war against adharma, Lord Ram took everyone along, including smallest creature – squirrel. However, contrary to these attributes, the Sangh Parivar converted the Maryada Purushottam’s calm and serene qualities into a symbol of a belligerent fighter, ready to shoot his arrow and used this image throughout their campaign for Ram Janmabhoomi Temple vilifying Muslim community and targeting them. Lord Ram, to them is an instrument to establish hegemony of one community over other. “Jai Shree Ram” became a slogan of a war of Hindu nationalists against Muslims forcing their targets to chant it if they wanted to escape atrocities and violence being inflicted upon them. It became a slogan of Hindu nationalist processions entering minority inhabited areas to assert their power and establish their domination with belligerent intentions. It also became an instrument to tease the political opponents of the BJP and provoke a reaction, as they did with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. These war cries never appeared like religious chants. Is the Sangh Parivar now sincere about their offer to end all disputes and revert back to hold Lord Ram as symbol of righteousness, compassion, justice and truth? If the answer is in affirmative, it would be welcome and all disputes would end. However, the track record of the BJP led government does not inspire confidence that it is so.
The Centre for Study of Society and Secularism has documented instances of violence that accompanied Ram Navami processions in 2022 and 2023, and the “shaurya” yatras in Muslim inhabited areas and organized under the pretext to collect donations for the construction of the Ram temple. The intention of those in these processions to assert their power and domination over the minority community and the areas inhabited by them was evident from their conduct, behaviour and preparations. The partisan behaviour of the BJP ruled states in inflicting collective punishment on the minority community did not seem like the state was inspired by the Maryada Purushottam and observing its maryadas – the laws and the Constitution of India. We revisit of some incidents documented by the CSSS teams what unfolded during Ram Navami processions in recent years. The Prime Minister and Shree Bhagwat chose to remain silent over such behaviour in the name of Ram by the Hindu nationalists and did not remind them about what Lord Ram stands for. Lord Ram, was transformed into a tool of mobilization leveraging the sentiment of Hindu pride against a constructed adversary—the Muslim community. The processions organised by the Hindu nationalists were often equipped with various weapons, such as swords, rods, trishuls, and sticks, in violation of the conditions upon which administrative permissions for such events are granted. The politically motivated Hindu nationalists would often deviate from the permitted route of the procession and meander into minority inhabited areas looking for trouble and shouting political, and even abusive slogans. In Ujjain for instance, during the procession of Ram Navami, the slogan, “Baccha baccha Ram ka, chachiyon ke kaam ka” rented the air. The subtle meaning of the slogan implied sexual relation between the progeny of Ram (Hindu men) and Muslim women. In Koderma (Jharkhand), those in Ram Navmi processions are seen in a viral video dancing ecstatically and abusing Muslims using the worst anti-women expletive in chorus. These processions are accompanied by loud and even deafening DJ vans and halt outside the mosques for a very long time during their prayer time. This stands in stark contrast to the traditional processions of Ram Navami organised by the residents of specific neighbourhoods, that are also traditionally welcomed by the minorities and offered snacks and drinks.
In the Ram Navami procession in Vadodara organized by Hindu right wing in 2023, the participants of the procession shouted slogans, “Hindustan mein rehna hoga to jai shri Ram kehna hoga” and “hum aayenge toh nazar niche Karni padegi”. The participants in the Shobha Yatra vandalised the Dhuldoyawad Masjid and Hazrat Kalu Shahid – Balu Shahid Dargah. They also shouted the aforesaid slogan.
The provocative and demeaning slogans during Ram Navami processions and loud DJ music, serves as a deliberate strategy to incite and provoke the Muslim community into some sort of a reaction. Given the abusive slogans, loud music in front of mosques for long period, it is not possible for the community to restrain every Muslim from reacting. The participants in the processions use even a minimal reaction from Muslims to such provocations as a pretext for launching violent attacks on the Muslim residents. The years 2022 and 2023 witnessed a staggering 28 communal riots directly linked to Ram Navami processions. Disturbingly, the state apparatus, instead of quelling the violence, aid and abet the rioters by either being silent spectators or actively using force on the Muslim community. Police actions in the aftermath of these riots have been widely perceived as one-sided, resulting in the disproportionate arrest of Muslims, a significant number of whom are innocent. Their homes are raided. In Vadodara, Muslim women were assaulted. The local administration demolish the homes of Muslims as witnessed in Vadodara, Himmatnagar, Khambhat, Ujjain, Indore, etc. The properties owned or occupied by Muslims are declared as “illegal” and demolished without following the due process of law, and without notices, hearings etc.
“Jai Shri Ram” once a benign greeting now has become a war cry. The invocation of “Jai Shri Ram,” culturally an innocuous salutation, has undergone a transformation into a rallying cry with ominous connotations. This evolution is underscored by the haunting imagery of Tabrez Ansari, who was tied to a pole amidst a jubilant crowd cheering. The assembled mob, comprised of men, women, and children, demanded that the injured Tabrez chant “Jai Shri Ram.” Despite his compliance, Tabrez succumbed to grave injuries inflicted upon him during a lynching perpetrated by the mob. In another incident, Shahrukh Halder, a madarsa teacher, was beaten up and thrown off a moving train for refusing to say “Jai Shri Ram”. There are other such incidents where this chant was used to humiliate and kill non-Hindus.
Such instrumental use of Lord Ram by those in the Ram Navmi processions organised by Hindu nationalists and their belligerent behaviour has not come from nowhere. The Hindu nationalist ideology, as propagated by the Sangh Parivar misrepresents and distorts history wherein the Muslim rulers are presented as oppressors of Hindus who were out to destroy the Hindu culture, demolish their temples, forcibly convert the Hindus and sexually assault Hindu women. That is why the Prime Minister once asserted that Hindus were enslaved and colonized for over a thousand years. The Prime Minister also asserted once, contrary to facts, that all terrorists are Muslims, subtly associating terrorism as an instrument rooted in Islam. The BJP leaders, including the Home Minister Shri Amit Shah in Bihar, asserted that if the party loses elections there will be celebrations in Pakistan – a country, which the Hindu nationalists are taught to treat as an enemy state. This subtly establishes that Indian Muslims are loyal to Pakistan and that country is where they belong. Muslims are often called upon to migrate to Pakistan. It is the persistent vilification of Muslims as enemies of Hindus that has misled those under the influence of Hindu nationalist ideology and made them violent towards Muslims. In order to end the conflict, a Ram temple in Ayodhya alone would not be sufficient. What we need is that the Hindu nationalists learn truth from historical and cultural facts and respect the cultural, religious, ethnic, linguistic and social diversity of the country. Will the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple in Ayodhya inspire the Hindu nationalists to reconcile, accept, and adhere to truth? Will it inspire them to overcome their ideologically constructed resentment of Muslims? Will they learn from Lord Ram his serenity, calm, adherence to truth and not be attached to power and hegemony? All communities and peoples need to do so. We hope that the Prime Minister and Shri Bhagwat condemn instrumentalization of Lord Ram as a symbol of hegemony and exclusion as manifested during the Ram Navmi processions in the past.
Indian Express. (2024, January 22). Retrieved from Indian Express: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/pm-modi-ram-mandir-speech-highlights-9121495/#:~:text=%E2%80%9COur%20Ram%20has%20arrived%20today,centuries%2C%E2%80%9D%20said%20PM%20Modi.&text=Prime%20Minister%20Narendra%20Modi%20Monday,PM%20Modi%20said%20in%20Ayo
Singh, A. K. (2024, January 21). Times of India. Retrieved from Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ayodhya-reconstruction-an-occasion-to-move-on-end-the-bitterness-bhagwat/articleshow/107026633.cms?from=mdr