Ram Navami – the birthday of Hindu mythological hero Lord Ram – should ideally bring solace and introspection. But, over the years, the festival has been associated with communal tensions.
On April 9, this Ram Navami, shocking communal violence raged in six Indian states. Reports of violence and arson, attacking establishments and properties of Muslims came from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Karnataka and Delhi.
The day also witnessed violence at India’s iconic Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, where members of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) fought battles with liberal groups. The right-wing groups were protesting against serving non-vegetarian food in hostels.
Every year, Hindus observe Ram Navami by taking out massive processions in almost every city of India. Many Hindus observe this nine-day festival by either fasting or abstaining from eating non-vegetarian food. Unlike Muslims, who don’t eat anything from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramazan, Hindu fasting allows drinking water and eating fruits and some vegetables.
While the purpose of the processions should be to recall sacrifices of Lord Ram, this festival over the years has begun to be associated with violent rallies to assert Hindu nationalism. As they cross minority-dominated localities, music and chanting Jai Shree Ram (Hail Lord Rama) becomes louder. Rather than creating an atmosphere of religious fervour, these processions showcase strength of the Saffron Brigade and their attempt to instill fear among the religious minorities.
This Ram Navami was no different. Processions were organised across the country, and violence erupted between Hindu and Muslims in several cities. “As it generally happens, Hindu goons either enter Muslim localities and make provocative statements or try to misbehave with Muslim women. This invites violence and riots erupt,” a former Director-General of Police Vibhuti Narayan Rai tells TFT.
Shockingly, even before violence could be probed and charges fixed against the perpetrators of violence, the administration demolished Muslim houses and shops in Madhya Pradesh, where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys a majority. Allegedly, Muslims occupying these properties pelted the procession with stones. “Nowhere does the Indian constitution or any law mention this method of imparting punishment, where families can be made homeless and their houses demolished for pelting stones. Such methods of mob justice are taking the county in the reverse direction,” said Rai, an expert in probing communal riots.
This year, the festival was used to settle scores with Muslims and the students of JNU, who have resisted the rise of right-wing forces. While pressing the RSS agenda of making India a vegetarian state, the students from ABVP protested against serving non-vegetarian food in the university hostel on Ram Navami. Over two dozen students got injured in the clash.
Interestingly, the Saffron Brigade tend to forget that several upper-caste Hindus perform sacrifice animal on this day as a ritual.
Raking up communal tempers in the name of Lord Rama is not new in India. But what is intriguing is the narrative of angry Lord Rama that the right-wing Hindu groups, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have used to brainwash people.
Lord Rama is projected as an ideal, righteous and tolerant character in the epic Ramayana. Unlike his younger brother Lakshman, he did not lose his temper, except for once.
In the epic story, there is only one episode where Lord Rama gets angry when he had ordered his soldiers, comprising monkeys and apes, to build a bridge, known as the Adam’s Bridge, or Rama’s Bridge or Rama Setu, to the kingdom of Lanka, so he could rescue his beloved Sita from the demon-king Ravana. According to the Ramayana, after failing to convince the god of the sea to pave way for his army to cross over, Rama is believed to get angry, and takes out an arrow from his quiver to set the sea on fire.
The Hindu right-wing groups have forgotten all other virtues of Ram. They are using this single imagination to tailor their narrative to promote intolerance. But this image fits perfectly well in the Hindutva narrative and has been exploited by the RSS-VHP since the time they began a campaign to build Ram Mandir at the place of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in the early 1990s.
Poet and philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal described Lord Ram in his verses as:
Hai Raam Ke Wujood Pe Hindustan Ko Naaz
Ahl-e-Nazar Samajhte Hain Uss Ko Imam-e-Hind
India is proud of the existence of Rama
Spiritual people consider him a prelate of India
Ejaz Uss Charagh-e-Hadayat Ka Hai Yehi
Roshan Tar Az Sehar Hai Zamane Mein Sham-e-Hind
This alone is the miracle of this light of righteousness
That brighter than world’s morning is the evening of India