To chant or not to chant 'Jai Shri Ram' is becoming an existential question these days.
TMC’s first-time MP from Bengal, Nusrat Jahan, recently said during a public event, “Aap Jai Shri Ram gale mil kar bolo, na ki gala daba kar” (Chant 'Jai Shri Ram' and embrace. Don’t chant 'Jai Shri Ram' and strangle)
This sums up the essence of the debate around chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'.
It’s the usage and the intent that’s defiling an otherwise innocuous slogan.
Is it being used as a war cry?
Well, I fail to remember any recent incident where 'Jai Shri Ram' was used as a friendly greeting. But without much pressure on my not-too-sharp memory, a series of videos race through my mind where unarmed people, crying or begging, young or old, were forced by an unruly group of men to chant it — or bear the consequences.
No, it's never justifiable. Never. (Photo: India Today)
It is becoming a chant to be wary of since there is video evidence of it having been appropriated by these aggressive contractors of religious nationalism who have turned it into a war cry.
And it has been directed against minorities and Dalits.
There are figures regarding this put out by different agencies.
It has been a matter of concern for a lot of people in society who want a peaceful coexistence, where religion is not worn on your sleeve and remains a matter of personal belief.
About 49 people of our society, who have earned enough credibility in their respective fields, wrote to the PM recently, voicing this concern and requesting that violence in the name of religion be stopped at the level of the highest executive. They wrote, “Jai Shri Ram is sacred to many, the name of Ram should not be defiled in this manner.”
As soon as this letter went public, it unleashed an upsurge of hate directed against these very people — mostly branding them as 'anti-nationals'.
The right words: Dissent is not anti-national. It's the duty of thinkers and artists. (Photo: India Today)
Some reputed national(ist) TV channels were up in arms as well, taking it upon themselves on behalf of the nation to expose these ‘pseudo-liberals’ who do not apparently speak up when Hindus are lynched. There is an unending list of hate tweets directed against those 49 citizens who dared to question mob lynchings in the name of religion.
They have been declared 'anti-nationals' not just by Twitter warriors and wannabe actors like Payal Rohtagi and filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri who is more (in)famous for the usage of 'urban Naxals' than his films, but also by governor Tathagata Roy who reportedly tweeted that none of these people has ever breathed a word against 'Allahu Akbar', a war cry that claimed a thousand times more casualties than 'Jai Shri Ram'.
Though the PM has spoken of inclusiveness and condemned these killings, his lawmakers are gung-ho about chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’, apparently to create a fear psychosis.
The question then is — is the message strong enough or does more need to be done?
Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh reportedly called the likes of Aparna Sen, Ramachandra Guha, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, etc., 'anti-national' and said they were acting as stooges of the Opposition. The Lok Sabha MP said that these people would face protests by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadre wherever they would go. He also accused them of turning a blind eye when BJP workers were allegedly being attacked in West Bengal for chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'.
It is true that the Mamta Banerjee's government went to the other extreme in Bengal, arresting anyone who chanted 'Jai Shri Ram' — to the extent that there were jokes doing the rounds on social media that in Bengal, if you wanted to call the police, don't dial 100 — just chant 'Jai Shri Ram'!
There is no doubt that 'Jai Shri Ram', in itself, is not a communal slogan, but its use to spread hate and violence is. Unfortunately, it is being defiled by so-called Ram bhakts themselves time and again.
Remember the war cry by the mobs during the final push to the Babri mosque demolition? It was 'Jai Shri Ram'. It is being used even today during many incidences of lynching — be it in the name of theft, cattle smuggling or beef-eating.
Why is this beautiful slogan being allowed to be defiled?
Deja Vu: 'Jai Shri Ram' is not communal. Its political usage has been. (Photo: India Today)
In the most recent incident, two Muslim men in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad city were allegedly threatened and forced to chant 'Jai Shri Ram' on July 21.
On June 18, a Muslim man, identified as Tabrez Ansari, was beaten up in Jharkhand. The video showed a mob forcing him to chant 'Jai Shri Ram' and 'Jai Hanuman', which he did — yet, he was mercilessly beaten up, only to die four days later.
Sorry to use a Bollywood cliché here, but as I write this piece, I am reminded of the lyrics of a popular song from the Hindi cult film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
“Dekho o deewano tum ye kaam na karo, Ram ka naam badnam na karo!”
Because that’s exactly what’s happening today.
Twitter is abuzz with the hashtag of 'Jai Shri Ram'. And a picture montage of 12 Hindu men, women and children who were allegedly lynched by Muslims is being circulated widely.
Questions are being asked of the now so-called “intolerance lobby” on their silence when Ankit Saxena was killed in Delhi by Muslims, or when BJP workers were killed in Bengal for chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'.
These killings were equally loathsome and there is no room for their justification or defence. But why these people were not raising their voice then does not mean they or anyone else should not raise their voice now or ever.
At the risk of sounding secular in a much clichéd way, it’s imperative to point out that in my parents’ house where namaz is being offered five times a day, the beautiful rendition of ‘Hey Ram’ by Jagjit Singh could also be played with no one objecting to it as being inappropriate or communal.
The call of ‘Allah O Akbar’, when sung by Bismillah Khan, is nothing but spiritual, but it can turn provocative when used as a war cry.
A society where there is no dissent, no unease at injustice, is intellectually dead. It is the duty of writers, artistes and historians to be ever watchful of a status quoist approach to please the government of the day.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the much-celebrated filmmaker whose contribution to India’s glory is far, far more than the nationalist brigade screaming their lungs out on Twitter and television screens claiming to have busted the secular lobby, is being labelled 'anti-national'. Shubha Mudgal, the renowned classical vocalist, Ramachandra Guha whose world view may or may not be palatable to you but whose body of scholarly work commands respect — their dissent is being labelled 'anti-national'.
Kaushik Sen, the actor who is one of the signatories to the letter sent to the PM, has complained of receiving death threats for doing so.
Dissent is essential to democracy. The society we live in is heterogeneous.
What better example than Hinduism itself?
There cannot be a forced universal chant of 'Jai Shri Ram'.
Bengal also reverberates with 'Jai Ma Durga' or 'Jai Kali' while Vrindavan dances to 'Radhe Krishna' — to each its own. With love, not hate.