Jagannath Dharma

Destroying a Pluralistic Culture

Radhakanta Barik

Jagannath Dharma is perhaps the most pluralistic and inclusive in nature where all castes and communities have an access to the temple. British rule based on the rule of law violated this pluralism in Jagannath temple at Puri. In line with the practices in Hindu temples in other parts of India they started imposing restrictions on Dalits and tribals with the help of the priestly community of the temple. It is notified in English at the entry to the temple that these communities cannot enter into the premises of the temple. This angered the Dalits and tribals of Odisha. Among the scheduled castes, Bauris own some land and are literate. They went on protest against this prohibition imposed by the British rulers. It was a long march led by the Bauris on 1 Match 1881 when they went to the temple and demanded an entry but it is interesting to note here that there was no attack on them by the other castes. At the temple gate the police of the colonial state fired at them. It seems that the other castes implicitly supported their action. The police put away 15 of them on the charge that they wanted to destroy the deities in the temple and they suffered three months’ imprisonment. It will be welcome if the Chief Minister of Odisha removes the plate where the notice is written and recruits the temple priests from qualified people belonging to all castes to bring back the glory of the temple prior to 1881.

Article 25 of Indian Constitution defines Hinduism is different from Islam, Christianity. This is a loose definition as Hinduism is pluralistic in nature. Jagannath Dharma is completely different from Hinduism practised in Northern India where caste hierarchy is rigid. In Odisha there is no caste hierarchy but social space in each locality is controlled by a specific caste. The clubbing Jagannath Dharma with Hinduism of Northern India has done great harm to Hinduism in general and Jagannath Dharma in particular. In the same Article there is a clause on forcible conversion which needs to be looked carefully in the context of the spread of the Ram-Hanuman cult in whole of Odisha. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) projecting itself as a guardian of this cult which is wrong and the forcibly coverting people of Odisha to worship these gods which have no place in cosmology of Odiyas. They are bribing and threatening those who oppose them. They should face the trial under the Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. Constitution if necessary requires an amendment for saving the Jagannath Dharma.

On 7 April, the Ahmedabad-Puri express moved without engine for 13 km. This train earlier symbolised the poverty of Odisha as it had no reserved bogey nor first class or second class coaches. The train was supposed to carry migrant labourers from Odisha specifically from Banpur-Ganjam belt. The train got filled up at Berhampur with people carrying their jute bags with some utensils and a tin trunk with some clothes. The middle men used to take them for a commission of 25% of their wages. They worked in textile mills of Surat. Mostly they were the male members leaving their women and children back at home. 2002 riots of Gujarat created fear in their minds which made them return to the state. Once they refused to go to Gujarat and the labour minister came to persuade them to return, Gujarati mill owners prefer long distance migration by which they can keep their control over the labour who do not speak the local language. Bremen's study shows that Gujarati business class and land owners always prefer a long distance labour migration to keep a control over them with low wages and no trade union rights. Now-a-days the same train has reserved and AC coaches and they mirror the changes that have occurred in the social and economic conditions of Odisha.

In a survey among the 100 agricultural labourers of whom 70 were Dalits and 30 belonged to the other castes one saw interesting trend that 70 Dalit labourers have not added to their assets but their income has increased. While in the case of the 30 belonging to other castes, 25 families have augmented their assets, specifically land. This brings the question of land to the forefront of political struggles and the state has to play an important role in allocating land lo the Dalits otherwise their hunger for land will remain forever. The study showed that in 1950s an agricultural labourer belonging to Dalits of Kerala got a piece of homestead land which pushed them to educate their children which made Kerala a model state. The same thing happened in the case of Kashmir. West Bengal and to some extent Odisha under the emergency regime of Nandinit Satpathy. It is interesting to note here that those having land among Dalits have pushed their children to be educated and got the better quality of jobs such as IAS, IPS or state civil services. At present the demand of Dalits for land is a genuine demand which will change the balance of social forces in rural India. There is no need for the SC and ST act in old form which brought the Dalits to the streets. This act needs to be amended by the Indian parliament if not by the Supreme Court of India.

14 April is observed as Pana Sanrkati, an all-embracing Odiya festival. This festival reminds one that pana needs to be taken during the summer months of April and May. It is made of boiled rice which is not permitted in the temples which explains the rustic and robustness of Odiya culture. This is the starting of the Odiya year. Sometimes raw mango is added to pana. This brings the conflict between the raw and cooked which brings out the difference between Hinduism of Northern India and Odisha. But the RSS has twisted it by propagating that 14 April is the day of hanuman who has no place in cultural milieu of Odiyas. One has to defend Odiya culture against the RSS design of disfiguring local culture.

There is an interesting political map of various states of Indian federation. The map is designed in terms of insecurity among women, minorities and Dalits and tribals. The map covering the saffron colour consisting of the Northern and Western India are really not safe. The states of the South and Odisha and Bengal from the East are really safe. Law and order machinery has become vulnerable to forces unleashed by the Hindutva poison. By creating a feeling of insecurity they want India to be ruled by a leader who is inclined towards fascism.

Malika, a medieval Odiya text by a saint poet who predicted that the earth is going to collapse under the pressures of crimes committed by the members of the ruling party. This text is rarely cited by scholars for the fears it may create in the minds of the public. Today the ruling party at the centre has a party president facing criminal charges. This did not happen during the period of Vajpayee. Those days a Party President took some money which was reported in Tehleka and he was removed. Today the corporate houses want to earn illegally for which the party has been funded more than thousand crore. They want the destruction of the Green Tribunal to monitor the environmental laws and they have got clearance for illegal mining. In their regime crimes can happen because of the food one eats. Dalits and minorities are under the pressure from the illegal actions of this party. According to Malika, the spiritual text, the earth cannot bear such a huge pile of crimes committed by the ruling party people against girl child and women.

Prof Radhakanta Barik

Vol. 50, No.48, June 3 - 9, 2018