By Anushree Poddar
An average Hindu family in India does all they can to make sure that they inculcate their rich culture and Hindu traditions in their children. Every child knows about the Ramayana and is conditioned to believe that Lord Ram is the epitome of righteousness. Little does a child know that the heroic Ram, who defeated Ravan in the 5th Century BCE, can be used as a tool today in the 21st Century to instigate political violence.
In the light of the recent events surrounding the utterance, or non-utterance, of the words ‘Jai Shri Ram’, there has been a lot of violence against Muslims, or anyone who has refused to utter ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on being threatened. The violence has amassed a lot of attention from media and compelled politicians to comment on the severity of the issue. While these comments may prima facie appear to be neutral, an in-depth analysis of the comments reveals how they are framed around political interests. Coming from the leading politicians in the country, these comments have implications of toxic religiosity and islamophobia and simultaneously challenge the very roots of secularism subconsciously leading to the formation of a corrupted public opinion. “Contrary to many of the predictions of secularization theory, religion seems to be at the heart of political contests in avowedly secular nation-states” (Crosson, 2019). In India, which is one such secular nation, the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has caused a series of lynching against Muslims who refused to utter the words. The incidents are brutal, unjust and motivated by an unhealthy hyper-religious outlook.
WEST BENGAL: A STATE VS UNION BATTLE OF TWO RELIGIONS
According to The Hindu, “In the wake of the controversy over the arrest of 10 persons who shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ near the convoy of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool chief on Sunday clarified that she had no problems with slogans, but had issues with the BJP’s design to mix religion with politics.” She claimed her party’s slogan to be ‘Jai Hind’ unlike BJP’s religious slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Mamta Banerjee’s extreme reaction was not received well by the people and the instances of people shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in convoys or public interactions increased. Her suspicion that these slogans are an evil design of the ruling party does not provide a reasonable ground for imprisonment. Not only is it unjust but it also gave the ruling party an opportunity to rightly accuse Banerjee of intolerance and injustice.
Consequently, as per the reports of The Economic Times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Mamta Banerjee of putting innocent people to jail for hailing Lord Ram and chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. PM Narendra Modi was in Jhargram, West Bengal in May for an election rally. He asked the crowd if it was a crime to hail Lord Ram in West Bengal and said that he would rather be jailed for chanting Jai Shri Ram so that he can serve the innocent people in jail, evoking loud cheer from the crowd. Further, he commented, “In front of Ram, the pride of many people has been shattered. How long will you (Banerjee) hold on to your pride.”
On Banerjee’s accusation that BJP is using Ram as a polling agent, Modi retorted, “Ram is in our veins, in our culture. Ram is our inspiration. That’s why our party is based on nationalism.” Modi’s comment is indeed an unclear link between religion and politics. Holding one religion’s deity as an inspiration and linking it with national identity is preposterous. The nation does not only comprise of Hindus but various other religions also who Modi completely disregarded. Modi’s comment subconsciously corrupted the minds of the people by using religion to evoke nationalist feelings.
According to Hindustan Times, on June 13 2019, Tripura BJP Women’s Wing Chief Papia Datta commented, “West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her “goons” have converted the state into a ‘mini Pakistan’,” and started a nationwide movement to send postcards saying ‘Jai Shri Ram’ to her. While some believe that Mamta Banerjee is establishing Muslim supremacy in Bengal, the Tripura Women’s Wing Chief’s comment that West Bengal is becoming a ‘mini Pakistan’ is characterized by islamophobia which is so strong that they started a nationwide movement. While the movement’s success lies in Mamta Banerjee’s intolerance, the goal of the movement is baseless and imposing. These comments and movements had a mass appeal from Hindus, but the torture of Muslims got a green signal. Hindu extremists seemed to have gained the ruling party’s backing for tormenting Muslims and coercing them into saying ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
On June 20, 2019, Hafiz Mohammed Shahrukh Haldar, a twenty-three-year-old Madrasa teacher, was thrown out of a local train in West Bengal after he was hit on his right eye and his kurta was torn by members of the Hindu Samhati when he refused to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’. As per the online edition of The Telegraph, he was questioned for wearing a kurta, a skullcap and keeping a long beard. While Mamta Banerjee condemned the mishap and announced a compensation of Rs 50000 for Haldar, she received severe criticism for her religious intolerance.
‘JAI SHRI RAM’ VIOLENCE
On June 22, 2019, another Muslim man Tabrez Ansari died in a hospital in Jharkhand after he was lynched by a mob for not chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. According to NDTV India, “Tabrez was tied to a pole and beaten for hours. Videos of the beating that have been widely circulated show his attackers forcing him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’. He was handed over to the police only once he fell unconscious.” “He was mercilessly beaten as he was Muslim. I don’t have anybody, no in-laws. My husband was my only support. I want justice,” said Tabrez’s wife Shahista Parveen.
On June 24, 2019, a 25-year-old Muslim taxi driver Faisal Usman Khan was beaten up in Thane, Maharashtra. “The accused started hitting me with wires and when I screamed out loud ‘Ya Allah’, I was told to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ if I wanted to be spared,” Khan told The Wire. One after the other, Muslims in various parts of the country were beaten and lynched in the name of religion. The damage was done, and the Prime Minister had no option but to commiserate with the victims of these events.
“For non-Hindus, India and Hinduism are often difficult to understand, much less to comprehend numerous gods, thousands of castes, hundreds of languages and dialects, … unfathomable ethical norms and social conventions. …Beyond a core of common beliefs, there is bewildering diversity,” (Schlensog, 2007). Hinduism and nationalism have been mixed and correlated since time immemorial from the independence struggle to date. With a staunch Hindu nationalist ruling party, violence against Muslims continue. It is disheartening to know that an entire community lives with a constant fear of being beaten, lynched and killed in their very own country. Yes, they are Muslims, but they are also Indians. Indeed, Lord Ram did attain victory over Ravan but are the evils actually dead?
Anushree Poddar is a 2nd-year student at Jindal Global Law School.
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- Image source: Asianet