Will there be any use in searching answer to a question like this? For me, no. There is no point at all. But then, hey, should not we discuss and debate on some speeches made by leaders invoking mythical characters? If one rejects religion and God, does it mean that they should also dismiss discussion on religion? May be not. However, when the intellectual society analyze speeches made by leaders, would not they have to value speeches of leaders based on who the leaders are and what they have been. To take a speech of a leader seriously, such a leader would have already proven record of integrity. Such a record is very weak in case of Narendra Modi in fulfilling the promises made to the nation. Perhaps, he has been maintaining integrity on the words he promised to people near and dear to him or to his ideological masters. But as a Prime Minister of the nation, most of his work is disintegrating the nation. But KanchaIlayya, a well-known Bahujan political thinker on 16th August 2020 wrote an article (When the PMs Ram is Differrent from that of the RSS/BJP) in countercurrents.org calling for a discussion on the positivity of the Modi’s Ram. It has surprised many. So, am I. I don’t think KanchaIlayya would not understand the fact that Narendra Modi had done less to integrate the nation than to divide it. As a scholar, he is more capable of understanding it than many others. If that is the case, what gave him the confidence that Modi would maintain integrity in transforming Ram of Hindutvawadi’s or Hindu’s into Ram of everyone? Where did he get the idea that Modi is capable developing his own Ram that would entirely be different from that of the RSS? What if they are using him to project new Ram with the intention of mollifying natural anger among, the non-Hindus, progressive, secular and democratic forces in Indian as well as abroad against the right-wing authoritarianism in India? What if it is just an empty rhetoric?
Ram does not belong to caste and religious minorities
From Tretha Yuga to Kali Yuga, mythical Ram has always been a Rama of Hindus.Created, propagated, popularized, imposed on others by the orthodox Hindus of precolonial times, he was never been the Ram of anyone other than Hindus. Mythical Ram still exists along with Gandhi’s and Hindutvawadi’s. Gandhi’s ram would not differ much from the mythical Tretha Yuga Ram except that he got relocated into new time and context with some of the Gandhi’s obligations imposed upon him in the Gandhi’s concepts Ramarajya.From 1920s, the Hindutvawadi Ram was emerging. But for obvious reasons, they have to reimagine a Ram who supposed to be anti-Non-Hindus. He should be available, at any time, to be used as a weapon to attack thehistory and culture of non-Hindus, to lynch and murder them. After the laying foundation stone for Ram temple at the Babri Masjid demolished site, a ‘Everyone’s Ram’ or Modi’s Ram was invoked. In all these visualizations of Ram, everyone seems to be quite innovative in allocating or ascribing functions to the idea of Ram so he would help them realizing their agendas and goals.
In its long history, India has witnessed the birth of four religions (Vedic Brahminic Hinduism, Shramanic Buddhism and Jainism and Sikhism) and received, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. While the Jainism was easily appropriated, Buddhism resisted stronglyand when it was subjected to prosecution, it spread into south and east Asian countries. It is having decent existence in India and it is getting new lease of life as many Dalits are seeing as an option. Sikhism too maintains its identity and was bever bowed. For people in all these non-Hindu religions, what is Ram? Do they feel that he belongs to them? has Hinduism ever made them feel that he belongs to them?
Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Sikhasand Jews would have read about him,would have dismissed him, would have worshiped him as part of the secular India and would have discussed and debated about him as educated, aswriters, asreaders and as intellectuals. As Indians, all the non-Hindus would say that Rama is God of Hindus in their country. They might or might worship him but they would not hate him because they are part of secular society. But this does not mean that Rama is belongs to Christians, Budhists, Skihs, Mulsims and Jews as God. He is part of the composite culture of their country. That distinction needed to be recognized. Next is the rationalists, atheists, secularists, humanists and progressivist, and feminists, like the above religious minorities, these people would also have read, written and analyzed about Ram. Compare to the general educated, these people, as intellectuals, would be very critical with their application of scientific rationalism in understanding the social, cultural and political construction of Ram. From this angle, Ram is known to them but they don’t own because their ideology does not allow. Next is Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasis.
Dalits, ‘former’ untouchables, are integral part of Hinduism. But some of them shifted to Buddhism, Islam and Christianity in course of time. Now they are known as Neobuddhists, Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. They have been converting as soon as these alternative theologies began to emerge and appear better than Hindu religion. From 6th century BC, Dalits were converting Budhism, from 9th century AD, Dalits were converting to Islam and 18th century AD Dalits were converting to Christianity. After independence, the constitution denied the religion-based reservations to them. So, their conversion before independence and after was for ‘social dignity’ and ‘religious and spiritual equality’ is needed to be understood as such but after knowing that their conversion would deny the constitutional entitlements that are guaranteed to the Hindu Dalits needed to be seen as courageous act. If they have felt hat Ram is theirs and they were made to feel that he belongs to them, why would they have converted? Conversion of Dalits into all these religions is a solid evidence to argue that they never felt the Ramwas theirs. Anti-conversion arguments like they are lured into or ‘rice bag’ conversions do not stand ground and it only exposes the regressive attitude of Hindus. They, on one hand, gives us the impression that they are worried that Dalits, part of Hinduism, converting into other religions are weakening the religion but on the other hand they criminalize and punish Hindu Dalits who for their reasons are still staying with Hindu religion for violating the purity of caste and social norms. Therefore, for converted Dalits, Rama is a rejected God and alien or rather made to be rejected by the custodians of the Hindu religion. They, of course, would know about Rama as part of the culture of the Hindus who are their co-citizens. They would read, write, debate, criticize and discuss as well. They would not worship him. So, he does not belong to them.
For Bahujan’s or erstwhile Sudras, Rama might be their god. They are 52 % within the 79.8% of Hindu majority. Less than 2% from the 52% would have converted to other religions. So roughly 50% of them areSudras who are called as Backward Castes and Other Backward Castes. However, agricultural and industrial development introduced by the colonial government has changed the status of some of the Manu’s Sudra i.e. the servants of Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaisya into rich peasants, business community and into new middle class. They could be roughly around 10%. They sanskritised and Brahmanised themselves and now act as custodians of Hindu culture including the caste and religion. They are part of caste Hindus which includes Vaishyas as well. For this 10 %, Ram is not only God but also forms part of their socio-cultural and religious identity. Rest out of the 40%, at least 30% are the uneducated and innocent rural mass. They are small scale farmers, lives on caste based traditional occupations and landless labor. They are traditionally part of Hindu religion. Therefore, Rama belongs to them. Finally, 10% of Bahujans are educatedintellectuals and conscious of their history and discrimination and their position in the caste system and as numerical category. They understood that their development as producing community is negligible. Despite being demographic majority their share in political power, industry, in the high-ranking employment, in higher education and so on is very minimal. After realizing this discrimination, they realized that the castes above them are using the Manu’s caste formula to the discriminate them. They are highly educated and they are politically and socially conscious of their rights. Theyspeak for the 30% voiceless Bahujans or become their voice and spread consciousness among their people on how and why despite being a numerical majority they are being discriminated. Their movements for equality are giving results. And they are politically becoming aggressive in claiming new historical and political identity.
In fact, they are the first to claim ancestry to the Phule’s Kshatriyas or Periyar’s Dravidian people who were defeated by the invaded Arayans. In 2011, the All India Backward Students Forum in Jawaharlal Nehru University countered Dussera festival in the university and released poster on Mahisasur that claimed that he was the Asur king of Ancient Banga kingdom and was assassinated Durga, the Aryan agent. This is an indication that the rights conscious intellectual and political Bahujan would not subscribe to the Aryan Hinduism and they were making a conscious departure at this point. For them, Ravan like that of Mahisasur, Narakasur and Hiranykaship were all their ancestors who were killed by Aryans. If so, Ram would not belong to them. Unfortunately, they are minority now. Big task in front of them is to convince the entire 52% Bahujans that their ancestors are Asuras not Sura’s like Ram. Ironically, many young and uneducated Bahujans are the foot soldiers of the Hindutva armies. It would be very difficult for task for the intellectual Bahujans. But not impossible. At the moment, the 30% Bahujans are carrying the burden of Hindutvawadi Ram. Therefore, until they are convinced, both the Hinduvtwadi Ram and Modi’s Everyone’s Ram would also be their Ram. But we know that it is not their conscious choice. This 30% Bahujans are now coming under the influence of the conscious intellectual Bajuhans. Therefore, their transformation would not take much time.
Then comes Dalit Hindus. like that of Hindu Bahujans, these people too are part of the larger Hindu culture. They are 16.6 % up to 2001 according to 2011 census. At least, 5% middle class Dalits went through the process of Brahmanisation and Sanskritisation. They would not know who is Ambedkar what he did to them expect they use reservations brought by in getting access to education, employment and political power. They strictly adhere to Hindu traditions and customs. For them, Ram is near and dear like any other Hindus.There are 7 to 8% of Dalits who are uneducated Hindu Dalit masses who are part of the Hindu religion. They are the most vulnerable to caste violence, humiliation and abuse. Yet, they for want of God, spirituality and culture would remain in Hinduism. They see caste and Hinduism as to different entities. They want caste to be eliminated but want to remain in Hindu religion.Unfortunately, some young uneducated Dalits from this portion are working in right-wing originations. Their economic vulnerability and innocence are one of the reasons for them to join in these organizations which would never treat them equally. For them, Ram is given choice not a conscious choice.
Around 4% of Dalit Hindus are educated intellectual Ambedkarites. They are atheists, rationalists, progressivists and humanists. They follow the path of Ambedkar, Phule, Narayana Guru, Ayyankali, Periyar and other ideological masters. Like their masters, they are radical in rejecting the Hindu religion and its discriminatory caste system. They produce counternarratives on the Vedic/puranic Brahmanical narratives in which their history is either placed in the margins or ahistoricised. Therefore, they are bound to be aggressive, assertive and radical in rejecting Hinduism in its totality. Like that of intellectual Bahujans, Ambedkarites too would claim ancestry to the Nagas/Dravidians.Candrasekar Azad, one of the daring dalit leaders in contemporary times has added Ravan to his name. Thus, for them, Ram is killer of Sambooka and Ravana. Therefore, Ram do not belong to them.
Finally, the Adivasis or tribal communities in this country. They are far away from Hindu religion. they have their folk religions. They are not let alone. All organized religions have made efforts to assimilate them. Hinduism and Christianity are two major religions which are focusing on them. They are 8.2% in India population. They are also vulnerable to the influence of the religious forces. At least, 3% of them are educated intellectuals who are simultaneously fighting for their rights and identity as well. Adivasi is the word that is very consciously used to claim ancestry to the first comers into this land. this naturally place them outside the Hindu religion. They are conscious about it and they are demanding them to recognize as such. They also believe that all asuras and rakshasas are their ancestor. In North West India they are celebrating Ravana, Mahisasura and Narakasura. They filing cases on those who are burning effigies of Asuras on Dussera and Diwali. They are educating their children on the history of Asuras and Rakshas and they treat them as historical figures but not as mythological demons. Thus, Ram does not belong them to too.
Thus, this is the situation and position of the caste and religions minorities in relation to Ram. One would be surprised see as to what in the speech of Modi offered KanchaIlayya to expect that Modi was talking about his own Ram who, perhaps, is going to be everyone’s. But to entertain such a thought, Modi as a Chief Minister of Gujarat and as a Prime Minister of India should already have had the proven record of making everyone feel that he is CM and PM of everyone. Prior to August 5th Ram was not everyone’s. Muslims, Dalits and Christians were lynched or killed in the name of beef, cow, calf and Ram as well. if so, how is that the he is going to offer new Ram from 5th August?
Why should he be everyone’s?
A Christian would not want Ram to his/her God. So is the case with the Muslims, Jews and Sikhs. Proposing Ram as everyone’s in a multi-religious and multi-cultural India by Prime Minister is unconstitutional and unfair. It is against the secular ethos of the nation. In fact, very presence of Prime Minister in Bhoom Pooja of Ram temple needs to be problematized. Instead, we are made to discuss about what spoke. Unfortunately, Hindu majority in this country is taking undue advantage in violating the constitutional obligations in maintaining distance between religion and the government. Almost all those who belong to Hindu religion in government establishments, intentionally, normalize their involvement in Hindu religious, rituals and festivals, despite knowing the government establishments are secular public spheres. They equalize the Hindu religion and culture with national culture.
If Ram is to everyone’s, so is Buddha, Jesus and Allah in India. Ram alone cannot be everyone’s and the rest of the Gods cannot be limited to followers of those religions. Will any leader of this country would say so? Guess, not. It is it quite normal to propose Ram as everyone’s but it would abnormal to propose rest of the Gods as everyone’s because Ram belongs to Hindu majority. This is the RSS line. Mohan Bhagawat and Subramanya Swamy have already spoke about this. Mohan Bhagawat said that everyone who is residing in India is a Hindu. In 2019, while speaking on Christmas Day he said that all Indians i.e. 1.3 billion people, are Hindu. A Hindu is one who lives in this (Indian) land and must worship Bharat Mata and also love the soil and water. He further said that while registering names in the National Register for Citizens against the religion column, Muslims should write as Muslim-Hindus, Christians as Christian-Hindus, Sikhs as Sikh-Hindu and Parsis as Parsi-Hindu. He gave the liberty of worshipping their own Gods but along it that he wants them to worship Bharat Mata, a God RSS constructed. Modi’s concept of ‘Ram is Everyone’s’ is also the same.It has to be seen as an imposition instead of seeing it as some short of democratisation of Ram or transforming Hindu religion into an egalitarian theology.
Originally published in Periyarwritings.org
Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao (Srisri),M.A,Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University