In the Name of God
A purely opinionated piece, you can call this a rant if you want.
Every year during the month of Karkkidakom (according to the sidereal solar calendar that Malayalis traditionally follow), my grandmother would wake up early in the morning, light the puja lamp and then ritualistically read the Adhyatma Ramayanam, a retelling of the Ramayana believed to have been composed by Ezhuthacchan sometime around the 17th century. Karkkidakom, which usually falls during July-August is generally believed to be an inauspicious time for Malayalis with regard to the heavy rainfall destroying the crops. My grandmother says that bad things happen during this time of the year, events that bring no peace or prosperity.
On August 5 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened a new leaf in the history of “Modern” India by laying the foundation stone to the controversial Ram temple in Ayodhya, in the presence of the right-wing soldiers Yogi Adityanath and Mohan Bhagwat (of course Amit Shah was deeply missed and I’m sure he regretted it). I’m sure Mr. Advani regretted not being invited as well, sidelined rather ruefully despite being the stalwart of the entire Mandir Wahin Banayenge campaign and the subsequent Kashi-Mathura Baaki Hai slogans that resounded throughout the initial half of the 1990s.
Even though he elaborated upon how the bhoomi pujan ought to be considered on par with our Independence Day, Modiji did everything in the power of his 56-inch chest to make sure that the fifth of August was his day, a celebration of his nationalist agendas. His fellow bhakts (and certain Congress members too) as well as the bhakt-media were complicit in ensuring that the limelight remains on him, perhaps more than the deity Ram Lalla, who fought hard to win the case at court. Watching our Prime Minister perform the ceremony with the most ardent concentration almost reminded me of the coronation scene in the blockbuster hit film Baahubali 2: the Conclusion. There were also quite a lot of memes circulating across social media about how Modiji in his glorious corona protection-gear (read: mask) resembled the divine Hanuman, Lord Ram’s most fervent follower.
In lieu of all this, I decided to watch Anand Patwardhan’s magnificent (and quite controversial) documentary Ram Ke Naam (1991), which was released before the demolition of the mosque by the karsevaks of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on the 6th of December 1992. During an interview for the documentary, one of the members of the Bajrang Dal called themselves akin to “Lord Ram’s Monkey Army” and upon being asked what their purpose is, he answers: “To deal with whoever opposes the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, we can do anything to them!”
On the morning of the bhoomi pujan I walked down to the drawing room of our house and saw my 80-year old grandmother excitedly watching the news where the Prime Minister was giving a magnanimous speech about how justice has been restored to the 130 crore citizens of the country who have been waiting for this singular moment in the history of our nation, in the history of Hinduism. In the run for converting what was once a secular country (“pseudo-secular” in bhakt-terms) into the primal example of a Hindu-Rashtra, Modiji has deliberately forgotten the people who have been constantly speaking up against the bigotry of the BJP and the supremely intelligent bhakts, the people who have been locked up within the punitive walls of prison life for writing, speaking, teaching and in every way imparting the philosophies of equality. When Modiji cleverly chose this date and said “the weight of centuries is ending today”, my mind internally quoted Arundhati Roy from an article she had written for The Wire that I had read that afternoon — “Is it to rub salt into Kashmir’s wounds, or is it to put balm on India’s?”
I watched my grandmother proudly say “finally” and I felt ashamed of the impact the right-wing forces in our country have created right down to the root level, to a point where people are unable to view Hinduism and Hindutva as separate entities. We are living in a world where privileged people of my age, who study in the best colleges in the country, shamelessly say “Why are you talking to (insert person’s name). They’re (insert caste name)”. It used to be alarming to find how the finest of the literate choose to practise humanity on a token basis. But times have become such that yesterday, I was not even shocked to see people who I studied with, people who used to make me feel inferior in intellect when I was younger, put up statuses and stories on social media lauding the Centre’s initiative to finally bring home justice to the “Hindus in threat”. I feel like laughing when I see videos of people crying about how the image of Hindus is tarnished by the non-bhakts and that Hindus are in danger. In a country where Muslims are lynched for eating beef, for carrying some form of meat that turns out to be not-cow meat but only after the deed is done, when content like this gets circulated, it is a feeling of raw helplessness that plagues one for quite some time.
The question of whom the land belongs to was never solely an issue of religion but also of casteist ideologies. This is starkly visible in the documentary, when a karsevak belonging to the upper-caste expresses his disappointment with the Mandal Commission Report and talks about how job reservations for the socially backward communities has angered the savarnas — “their anger translates into support for the Ram temple”. Pujari Laldas,who was appointed by the court as the head priest of the temple in 1981 said ,“Those who speak of a Hindu nation and spread violence in the name of Ram are from upper castes and they all love the good life… They merely exploit people’s religious feelings in order to maintain their own lifestyles.” Laldas, a critic of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was shot dead a year after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
The last segment of Ram Ke Naam is a monologue by a tribal woman about how people are fighting for the birthplace of Lord Ram, whom nobody has seen (and frankly doesn’t need a home to stay in because religious logic says that God exists everywhere, in everything) whereas so many people belonging to the backward communities are being evicted from their homes over the whole land conflict.
According to A.K Ramanujan’s essay Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation, there are over three hundred different versions of the Ramayana. There is a version of the Buddhist Jataka, called the Dasrath Jataka where Ram is Sita’s brother; there are versions of the Ramayana where Ravana is the father of Sita, one where Ayodhya is in Thailand, one where Ram is believed to have been born in Afghanistan. IInterestingly, even Modiji talked about these different legends in his speech. It is quite ironic then to be so adamant about building a temple at this same spot at the cost of so many lives. Sanskritization and the extended focus of British colonialism on Sanskrit texts have led us to regard Valmiki’s Ramayana as the supreme theological Hindu text, the truest version of the Ramayana, when there are numerous different myths and legends surrounding Lord Ram in different parts of the world. How can one then be sure that the exact same spot where the Babri Masjid stood is where Lord Ram was born without any visible evidence of it? How is it justified to endanger lives and vandalise buildings over a myth that has been passed down over generations and spread by a political party, no matter what one’s faith is?
A judicial system that has turned a blind eye towards a total curfew and communication siege and enabling the perpetrators of violence who vandalized and destroyed an over 450-year old building over hearsay, instigating riots and subsequently the deaths of thousands of people across the country over the name of God is nothing less than deplorable. If one were to be an ardent follower of Lord Ram (whose existence at any point of time in the history of history I personally do not believe in), one certainly wouldn’t want human blood on their hands. And they certainly wouldn’t want to be a mere puppet in the hands of communalism that preys on dividing people on the basis of faith.
The ushering in of a “New India” was carried out in the presence of figures like Narendra Modi, Yogi Adityanath and Mohan Bhagwat suggest the Hinduization of the vision of India that the present government at the centre is aiming at. When over 60,000 cases of covid-19 are being reported on a daily basis across the country, when the coasts are rampaged by rains and potential flood warnings, when an entire state has been stripped of its fundamental rights and militarized to a point beyond scary, when teachers, students and poets are pointlessly kept in jail with zilch concern for their health and welfare, when our borders are in a state of uncertainty, when the economy is crashing worse than ever, the greatest concern of the BJP government is to lay the foundation stones to a temple dedicated to an entity whose existence remains solely on myths, paper and in faith. I wonder if by doing so, PM Modi has surrendered all our problems to Lord Ram during these trying, inauspicious times, in hopes of him solving it one-by-one for us because clearly whatever is happening in our nation seems to have gone out of the government’s hands.