Kabir Das

June 24 marks the birth anniversary of a revolutionary poet and saint whose rebellious rhymes will always remain relevant.

Kabir was born to a Muslim family of weavers in Varanasi, India in 1398.

He denounced orthodoxy of both Islam and Hinduism, and was highly critical of blind faith and the brutal caste system within Hindu society.

He grew up as a poet, whose body of work inspired Sikh gurus who included his verses in their holy scriptures of Guru Granth Sahib.

Some of his poems were no less than a war cry that inspired many radicals to take up arms to fight against injustice and repression.

He mainly stood for the poor and marginalized, which incited the Hindu and Muslim clergy to team up against him, and provoked the then-Delhi emperor Sikandar Lodi to punish him. However, Kabir survived several attempts by Lodi to get him executed. This was primarily because he had a huge following even among those who worked for the king.

Ironically, his birthplace is now the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose actions are the mirror image of Lodi.

Not only have attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents grown under his ruling Hindu nationalist BJP government, the Hindu orthodoxy that Kabir challenged has captured the centre stage of Indian politics.

Yet Modi has been trying to appropriate Kabir. On Thursday, while paying tribute to the saint on his birth anniversary, Modi said that the path shown by Kabir will continue to inspire generations to move ahead with brotherhood and goodwill.

What could be more contradictory than someone like Modi saying this, when his government has locked up scholars who stand up for the underdog, following in the footsteps of Kabir. The list is long, but just a few instances are enough to suggest that he has no moral right to even talk about Kabir.

Anand Teltumbde, the grandson-in-law of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a towering social justice activist and the architect of the Indian constitution, whose family is believed to have been influenced by Kabir, has been incarcerated for the past one year on trumped up charges for merely questioning the power. Teltumbde is a renowned writer and columnist who exactly practiced what Kabir had preached.

Likewise, Prof. G.N. Saibaba, a former Delhi University who is disabled below the waist, continues to be jailed under inhuman conditions for raising his voice against repression of minorities and the poor.

Elderly revolutionary poet Vara Vara Rao is also detained, to silence any voice of reason and dissent.

Maybe, we need to remind Modi, that it was Kabir who said; “The brave is the one who fights for the oppressed.” By persecuting Teltumbde, Saibaba, Rao and many more like them, Modi is simply repeating what Lodi did centuries ago.

Gurpreet Singh is a journalist


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