India: Ram and the mob

hinud fundamental

How many Indians today would know that Allama Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet, not just has a whole poem dedicated to Lord Ram, he also hails him as ‘Imam-e-Hind’, the spiritual leader and guide of all Indians? In the much acclaimed nazm titled ‘Ram’ from his ‘Bang-e-Dara’ anthology, the poet wrote:

Hai Ram Ke Wujood Pe Hindostan Ko Naaz/Ahl-e-Nazar Samajhte Hain Uss Ko Imam-e-Hind

(India is proud of the existence of Lord Rama/People with vision consider him spiritual leader of India)

Perhaps the most influential of Urdu poets, Iqbal had been a descendant of Kashmiri Brahmins who embraced Islam and settled in what is Pakistani Punjab today. A passionate champion of pan-Islamism and a world sans borders and bonds, Iqbal was also proud of his Indian heritage. After all, he penned the soul-stirring ‘saare jahan se acha Hindostan hamara,’ the much loved Indian anthem.

For Iqbal, Ram, the most popular of Hindu religious icons, with his strong sense of righteousness, fairness and valour represented the best of Indian culture and Hinduism. No wonder he saw the religious-mythological figure as a hero of all Indians. The following lines are perhaps the best poetic tribute ever offered to Ram:

Aijaz Uss Charagh-e-Hidayat 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)

Talwar Ka Dhani Tha, Shujaat Mein Fard Tha/Pakeezgi Mein, Josh-e-Mohabbat Mein Fard Tha

(He was expert in sword craft, was unique in bravery/Was matchless in piety and in the enthusiasm of love)

Indeed, the whole poem is a powerful ode and moving lyrical tribute to someone who is loved and worshipped by nearly a billion Indians.

But Iqbal is hardly unique in this earnest expression of love and reverence for Ram. Indian literature, especially Urdu and Persian literature, is full of many such examples of Hindu religious figures being celebrated by Muslim poets and writers. Ram is held in high esteem and celebrated by Muslim authors and poets for noble values such as his unquestioning devotion to his family, sacrificing power for principles, and steadfastness in the face of great odds.

In mixed societies of northern India where people once lived in complete peace and harmony, ‘Ram, Ram bhayya’ had been a common greeting and not just among Hindus but between Hindus and Muslims as well with no eyebrows being raised anywhere.

When this whole controversy over Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was manufactured by the Hindu Right in the 1980-90s and soon turned into an explosive, never-ending agitation, claiming that the 16th century mosque stood at the exact place where Lord Ram was born, it left many Muslims genuinely bewildered. They found it hard to believe how the religious and spiritual icon that many of them had long admired and respected had been hijacked by the Hindutva forces and turned into their “enemy.”

Every time, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and assorted cousins of the BJP, which grew from a two-member outfit in parliament to the all-powerful party of power today, marched with those massive portraits of Ram and models of the proposed Ram temple, the heartwarming lines of Iqbal’s timeless tribute to the Hindu deity would ring in my ears like some ancient chant.

Today, when innocent and utterly helpless Muslims are being hunted and killed like animals in broad daylight across the length and breadth of this great country amidst the chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, it is all the more ironic how Ram and his much loved name and teachings have been appropriated by the fringe.

Ram is known as ‘Maryada Purushottam’ (pure and peerless among men) – one who couldn’t err and is the ultimate epitome of propriety and nobility for his followers. Now his sacred name is being used to kill and inflict the most heinous of crimes on the most vulnerable members of society.

As a BBC report this week noted with irony, “Hindu lynch mobs have turned Ram’s name into a murder cry.”

The question is: how long will reasonable and God-fearing Hindus, who constitute the majority in the world’s largest democracy, stand around and do nothing while the Parivar drags their hallowed icons through mud and makes a mockery of their faith?

If I were a Hindu, I would be most outraged and aghast at the way this great faith is being held to ransom by extremists for political expediency. I would be most disturbed by the way my faith is being wantonly used and abused by forces that have nothing to do with religion, just as I had once been disturbed by the way Islam had been exploited by extremists.

So what explains the silent indifference of the sane and reasonable majority of the Hindus? Why is it not speaking out visibly and effectively to stop this madness that seems to have captured the country that had once been feted for its religious tolerance and cultural diversity?

With the lynching of 22-year old Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, who had been beaten for nearly 18 hours by a bloodthirsty mob before being locked away in a police station and denied desperately-needed medical aid, the number of innocent people who have been offered at the altar of Hindu pride in this ‘new India’ now stands at 112.

Of course, there have been many voices of sanity by courageous activists like Harsh Mander, Teesta Setalvad, Prof Apoorvanand, Prof Ram Puniyani, Sanjiv Bhatt, Vrinda Grover, Prof Manisha Sethi, Arundhati Roy, the late Justice Rajinder Sachar, Kavita Krishnan and numerous others who have often paid a heavy price for listening to their conscience. But they have been few and far in between and can at best be counted on one’s fingertips.

When will these solitary voices of reason turn into a national chorus against bigotry and hate?

Indeed, instead of punishing the governing BJP for these relentless killings and hate crimes against Muslims that have brought shame to India with the world media questioning the very future of Indian democracy, voters seem to have rewarded the saffron party handsomely. No one seemed to pay any attention to the many issues raised by the opposition led by the Congress party of Rahul Gandhi who has quit in frustration.

So it is perhaps understandable if Prime Minister Modi, who ran a viciously sectarian campaign, with his unique dog-whistle politics perpetually targeting the usual suspects, appears even more blasé and self-assured. He may have, in view of the growing global concerns on the continuing Muslim witch hunt, come up with some more clever slogans like “sab ka vishwas” in what was promptly billed as an “outreach to minorities”; it appears to be more like business as usual in the foreseeable future.

Why would the BJP and its leadership change when it continues to be rewarded again and again by voters for pursuing the self-same zero-sum politics of Us versus Them?

Email: Twitter: @AijazZaka
The writer is a former editor.