Almost a decade ago, on an autumn evening in October, a group of us from the Presidency College Debating Society lounged around while deciding upon the topic for the finals of the national debate that we had passionately resurrected in the name of the poet who was the harbinger of Bengali Renaissance — Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, a man seeped deeply in science and freedom.
Only days before, on September 30, 2010, the Allahabad High Court had passed its judgment on the disputed site in Ayodhya, trifurcating the contested land. As 20-year-olds, mostly unaware of the complex history of the dispute, and driven by what will draw an audience for the final, we decided, “This House Believes That The Demolition of Babri Masjid Was Justified”. A motion that was ratified by a Surana, a Kundu, a Ghosh, and an Aadnan, among others.
A lot of water has flown through the Sarayu since then.
My first tryst with Ram, like most Indians, was reading the unabridged Ramayana by Valmiki, in Bengali. It was introduced to me as a child by my grandmother. A hardbound thick book that has gone through multiple rebindings because it has been read from cover to cover many times by my grandparents, my parents, and then me. I remember reading it and re-reading it, fascinated by a story.
I don’t remember 1992 and its fallout. I read about these incidents, including Rajiv Gandhi’s political adventurism in 1986 and 1989, extensively in the last decade. In this cacophony, the child in me that used to love the story of Ram kept getting sidelined and almost forgotten. This, in my opinion, was the second casualty of the political movement for many Indians, the first being the idea of India.
Last year, when the Supreme Court passed its judgment on the disputed land in Ayodhya, I was angry. Thankfully I have always held a job that has taken me to the corners of the country and the population that don’t create noise in our TVs and social media. My interactions and readings about my countrymen about their many challenges, seldom escaped politics, and more precisely the politics of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. And in that I saw and heard — how scores of Indians, ordinary Hindus with no connection with what transpired in 1992, from a place of pure love, whole-heartedly wanted the Ram Mandir.
I started understanding that the “collective consciousness of the nation” never wanted to raze the Babri Masjid, but wanted a recognition for their Ram Lalla, whom they adore as the childlike god of everything just and aspirational. In many ways, it was our collective failure, that the imperfections of Nehruvian secularism blinded us to the latter till violent forces appropriated them. We kept on clubbing every clamour for a Ram Mandir with the violent movement and its political offspring. Our collective intellectual imagination couldn’t fathom a solution beyond the binary. And in doing so, we allowed the resurrection of a modern Hindutva movement that swallowed and obliterated love and tolerance of Ram for the petty political machismo of a few. The bhumi pujan of August 5, 2020 is a chance to reconcile from many of these historical mistakes.
It is important to ensure that the masterminds of the conspiracy to raze the mosque are brought to justice if we want to uphold India’s credentials as a secular civilised Republic. However, it is important not to conflate the bhumi pujan as legitimacy of the razing. Because to concede that is to concede to the all-encompassing Hindutva propaganda of hate for Muslims without recognising a space for Hinduism and a non-exclusionary love for Ram.
And how can I deny this love for Ram to the many Indians, and to myself? Only a few weeks back I found myself telling my partner the story of Surpanakha, Jambubaan and Sugrib. Unknowingly, I found myself mildly rebuking her for not having read the Ramayana. The next time I am in Kolkata, I plan to rebind the neglected copy of Ramayana that I read as a child.
I want to reread it again. I would love to retell the story of Ram to my children. How the deity as a child had to balance true Rajdharma of tolerance and love at a young age, the story that unified the imagination of a religiously divided country but was betrayed by the political class of various colours resulting in irrevocably damaging my country.
If anything, this is why we should keep religion out of our politics and vice versa.
The writer is a development professional
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