India is a unique nation in that its ancient history lies not but in tomes of reportage and dry facts but is encapsulated in the rich itihas of its epics and tales of the times of yore. A living, relatable history of a people whose historical legacy is rich in culture and tradition. Instead of trying to maintain the few bits of information about obscure kings and long-forgotten kingdoms, the Indian thinkers and writers synthesised the collective story of the people into unforgettable compositions. And these compositions would be usually around figures who changed realities dramatically, in their age. Sri Ram happens to be one such figure who has stood out as a behemoth in Indian thought and identity-formation over millennia. It is entirely possible that there was once a historical king in the kingdom of Ayodhya who had the sequence of events described in the Ramayan, albeit in slight different ways: the vanaras may have been jungle dwellers, Ravana’s ten heads may have represented the knowledge he had rather being actual heads and the story of the Ramayan may have been a story of the clash of civilisations, a clash between the Aryans and communities such as the Rakshas (who may have been just an indigenous communitys more than ‘demons’ per se).
Regardless, the faith that I share with millions of people of Sri Ram’s presence should be enough to make him worthy of an unparalleled place in the Indian psyche. Be it the moral ideals he stood for as Maryada Purushottam or his role and the philosophical rigour of Yoga Vashishta, Sri Ram still remains as alive as once is said to have been in the lands of Ayodhya.
Or is he?
Jai Sri Ram, the popular slogan to celebrate him, his life and teachings, has become a political tool. Today politicians use it like any two-penny catchphrase and it is saddening to see him become the centre of political mobilisation rather not than of value-building. I am proud of his legacy and have no qualms in using this particular slogan either, but not for petty electoral gains. Hindus have faced persecution for centuries but the way to get back into prominence is not empty namecalling but action, Karma and collective efforts to establish a true Ram Rajya.
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement has dragged on for far too long. I want to see the recognition of the spot that Ram is said to have been born at, but the method of getting there is counterproductive. If Ram had got back at Kaikeyi or Ravana in their way, he would not have remained Ram. If Babur brought down a grand temple at the site and we respond similarly, are we truly being devotees of the tolerant and liberal Sri Ram? Are we being truly Dharmic? In the Valmiki Ramayana 6.115 are the famous words
“A superior being does not render evil for evil, this is the maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct.
A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others.”
Are we truly following this? I would reckon not.
This is troubling and unsettling since it is like standing up for Gandhian principles with himsa (violence) not ahimsa (non-violence) as he sought. But we are where we are and we have to move forward. What has disturbed me lately is the amount of politicisation around Sri Ram that has happened. Not only has their been violence on innocents within this war-cry of sorts but there has been an increasing trend of fake news to try and besmirch the good name of Sri Ram. Recently, in the Chanduali district of Uttar Pradesh, where a Muslim youth was allegedly immolated for not chanting Jai Sri Ram. This has been categorically proven to be false.
What worries me is the apparent trivialisation of the idea and identity of Sri Ram, who has been an anchor for Indian society’s for ages. Calling him has become farcical in some circles and it is really unfortunate that this is the case. Yes, not only is Sri Ram a good unifier of the Hindu voice but also a subject of the faith of millions of people. However, and even then, there needs to be an understanding and balance in the use of his legacy and image. Sri Ram is known in places as far away as Thailand where a Thai Ramayana known as Ramakirti is popular and where the monarchs are called Rama with the current king being King Rama X. It is Ram that people across the length and breadth of India relate to. His legend has attracted commentaries and secondary literature and also inspired performance arts. Rama legends are also found in the texts of Jainism and Buddhism!
While it is understandable to stand up for Hindu interests, along with interests of all other communities, it must not be at the expense of others in a manner that breaks the harmony of society or is unconstitutional. At the same time, one must be guarded against attempts at trying to use the slogan to falsely implicate Hindu organisations by using fake news. Religion and politics must not mix since I feel spirituality is a very personal matter and should not be a poll plank to win elections. I hope the Ram Janmabhoomi issue will be resolved by the mediation panel, which consists of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, someone whom I greatly admire. I hope Sri Ram will remain on the Indian constitution as he does now, without his name being tainted by random acts of violence in his name. The best way to pay your obeisance to him and stand up for his legacy today is by establishing a sustainable model of development in India. By truly creating a Ram Rajya. Where the poorest of the poor are fed and clothed. Sri Ram was someone who would embrace a leper, eat half-eaten berries of a poor woman and not break principles to attain power. If we want to be his champions, we must learn from this!
Let us not politicise Sri Ram anymore, please!