'Jai Shri Ram'.
Three simple words which many people today don’t like to say — at least, non-Hindus.
But, as a kid growing up in Delhi, my father would always tell me to say 'Namaste' to a Hindu, 'Sat Sri Akaal’ to a Sikh, ‘Aadab’ to Muslims and ‘Good Morning' to Christians. These words were not religious for us, but a matter of respect. In the ’80 and ’90s, one could easily hear a Muslim or Christian say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ — and it was no big deal. I too said these words, with innocence and great cheer, as a kid.
I still remember running from the Church grounds to reach home as the TV serial Mahabharata was about to start at 10 AM. None of us in the family had missed even one episode. For us, the Mahabharata was just like any other grand and gripping tele-serial, but also one which gave us an insight into the Hindu religion, much of the intricacies of this not being known to us as kids or to our parents.
The Mahabharata: A grand serial which captivated us all. (Photo: Youtube)
This show had the same importance for us as Bible Ki Kahaniya on Doordarshan, which was watched with the same fanfare by both Hindus and Muslims. As a student going to St Columba’s School, our first zero period was the catechism class. Christian students were taught from the Bible, while Hindus were taught from the Bhagavad Gita. Muslim and Sikh students had the choice to attend either between the two classes. I still remember going along with my friend to know about the Hindu religion to his class, and then he came along with me to read the Bible, without any fuss whatsoever from the teacher.
We were not divided — none of us asked our fellow classmates when we played gully cricket if you are a Hindu or Muslim. None of us ever thought of saying, don’t come and play with us. For us, we needed 11 kids — irrespective of who they were. Our playfield was the temple ground, and even the pujari would stand and watch us play or run to give us the cricket ball which had gone into the temple.
Those were the days when the famous movie star Rajesh Khanna had come to be chief guest to inaugurate a Ramlila, and we all excitedly thronged the event. We barely got a glimpse of him, yet we waved madly in the crowd. The first words he said were — ‘Jai Shri Ram’ — and everyone replied with the same gusto, including my family members and I.
Rajesh Khanna had us all saying, 'Jai Shri Ram' with gusto. (Photo: Twitter)
The words were more Indian for us than a religious phrase belonging to someone else.
Living in Delhi, we got our first glimpse of the RSS too, when our neighbours would wear khaki shorts, white shirts and weilding sticks in their hands, would chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ as they moved around. But significantly, we were never afraid of them — they welcomed us to their place and would be as courteous as anyone living in that small locality. Our locality celebrated all festivals together — they would bring sweets to our home on Diwali and we would give them Christmas cake. Almost everyone in our neighbourhood would come and greet us with joyful 'Merry Christmas!' on December 25.
We lived as one. As Indians.
But what suddenly changed us?
I think it was 1984 and the pogroms against Sikhs. The 1984 riots, for the first time, terrified us. Mobs running from one house to the other, some looting shops... we looked on as helpless observers and my uncle made a cross sign in front of our main door. I asked him, but why are you doing this?
1984: The pogrom which changed India forever. (Photo: India Today)
He said, ‘We are Christians and the mob won’t attack us’. We had Sikh neighbours who also made a cross sign in front of their door to stay safe.
The peace was short-lived.
Then came 1992 and the Babri Masjid demolition — terrible riots hit many parts of the capital. So did more politics to divide Hindus against the rest of the Indians living alongside them.
We were terrified.
‘Jai Shri Ram’ seemed like no longer three words which could be said by anyone, but instead, words which could only be uttered by Hindus.
An open divide could be seen in a country where most of us had lived as one people just a few years back.
Some years later, the burning of the Sabarmati Express happened. The divide opened even wider, even though we still shared Christmas cake and we still got Diwali sweets. Now, definitively, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ was a slogan only said by Hindus. Most people other than Hindus were terrified of those in khaki shorts. This gap widened further with the BJP winning elections in 2014 and again, in 2019.
Now, Muslims may be lynched just because they can't say ‘Jai Shri Ram’. I want to ask my fellow Hindus and Indians, do you remember that these words are meant to spread love?
Sometimes, I pray, give us our India back where ‘Jai Shri Ram’ was more Indian than religious.
Also read: Hear The Hindu Voice: Simply chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' doesn't make a person a Hindu fanatic. But MPs chanting this are evading their jobs