Meaning Changed

Growing up with (Jai) Siya Ram!

Nisha Biswas

If you are born in Uttar Pradesh or in any other north Indian states, your acquaintance to Ram is similar to those of a new-born going familiar with the outer world. One understands Sita Ram, Siya Ram, Sitapat Ram, Siyavar Ram etc. are the words for Ram conjoining his wife Sita, protagonist of a minimum of 300 Ramayanas written so far, based on the original Sanskrit Ramayana by Valmiki, written supposedly 3000 years back, like you learn Ma, Amma, Ammi, Mommy etc. refer to them other.

In Uttar Pradesh, in particular, where I was born and spent a long span of the formative years of my life, most popular form of Ramayana was Ramcharitamanas of Tulsidas. Nearly every Hindu household and in few of other religions too had it, in various forms and shapes. Children, like us, had a fun time during summer vacations when many families held Akhand Ramayana Path, where the whole Ramayana was to be sung uninterrupted with a challenge to complete the recital in 24 hours. We children were not supposed to and were also not much interested in recital, instead played around and feasted on the plentiful delicacies available at our disposal throughout the day and night. Every year we used to wait for this gala event.

There were also all women Kirtans or Satsangs, where a group of women met on a fixed day of the week for singing Bhajans. It was a great socializing event where women talked about themselves, their problems, issues bothering them along with singing Bhajans. As I understand it today, back then it was a support group meeting pinched with a salt of Bhajans. My grandmother was a regular in one such group. Occasionally, when she was pleased with any of us, she took that child with her. And we kids were supposed to sit quietly throughout the Kirtan. Apart from an out of turn rendezvous, the other attraction was the laddoos or boondi distributed as Prasad. Moment of Arti was a moment of rejoice, and with great vigor we kid shouted Siyavar Ramachandra ki Jai, Pavansuta Hanuman ki Jai at the peak of our voice and were often justly rewarded by an extra laddoo or an extra amount of boondi.

In those years, words like Sita Ram, Jai Siya Ram, were the greetings like Namastey or Good Morning and were responded accordingly. Salam came in our vocabulary later when we learnt to greet Shafik Mian, a colleague of Bauji, my father. And the word so intriguing, that we children ran around him in circle repeating 'Salam Shafik Mian! Salam Shafik Mian!' and went on and on till we were reprimanded. Shafik Mian, it seems did not mind our prank and matched our 'Salam' with his.

In brief, Ram mostly conjoined with Sita, his wife, was just an innocent way of greeting with no religious or political colours to the extent that people of other religions, too, did not hesitate to respond accordingly, some fifty years back. Then as we grew and some of us took to atheism, greetings like SitaRam or Jai Siya Ram were responded by a big Hooo…n.

In the meantime, Ram too was mutating, it was leaving Sita behind and was becoming Raja Ram. Ram Ram or Jai Sri Ram were new greetings. Now Ram was not invocated with Sita, having inseparable qualities of kind and grace. It became the warrior Ram, the central slogan of Ramjanambhoomi Movement leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid.

During this period, I came to Calcutta and made my home in Kolkata, I made acquaintance with Michael Madhusudan Dutta and his greatest literary work Meghnad Badh Kabya, an alternative view of Ramayana, from Meghnad's point of view. That brought me to Three Hundred Ramayanas of A K Ramanujan and Ranganayakamma's Ramayana, The Poisonous Tree, a Marxist Feminist version of Valmiki's Ramayana. I also came across Du Saraswathi, a Kannada Dalit writer, theater person and activist performing Santhimmi's Ramayana, the story of Sita who does not die but lives to create life. Saraswathi's Sita is the first single mother, the first deserted wife and her Ram is an uncaring husband with a fragile male ego.

As Ram, bereft of Sita, was becoming more and more masculine, a political trope; so was my political awareness. To please the unhappy Muslim orthodoxy over Shah Bano Case, where the Supreme Court made it mandatory for a Muslim man to give maintenance to his divorced wife under the provisions of Criminal Law, the then Congress government under Rajiv Gandhi enacted Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, reversing the effect of Shah Bano Verdict. The 'Muslim Women Act' was the beginning of communal Politics in a so called secular contemporary India. Rajiv Gandhi then went to please the population of the other end of the spectrum by pursuing the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Bir Bahadur Singh, to open the locks of Babri Masjid and allow religious rites inside the disputed structure, which were locked in 1950 after the idols of baby Ram had appeared miraculously inside the mosque. Sangh Parivar did not miss the opportunity and demanded a temple at Ram Janamsthan.

In 1989, Sangh Parivar began collecting the consecrated bricks with RAM written on them, the Ram Shilas, to lay foundation of Ram Janamsthan Mandir in Ayodhya. BJP and RSS took several hundred thousand of Ram Shilas made of local earth in different places. Regular processions of cadres carrying these bricks, worshipped and consecrated by the local Pujaris and village elders, wrapped in saffron cloth were seen throughout the country to be taken to the spot at Ayodhya. The earth dug up at Ayodhya was brought back and redistributed in a heroic effort to unite all Hindus in nationhood, more a political stance than the conventional understanding. Not only the then Congress Government allowed VHP to lay the foundation stone of Ram Mandir in 1989, its two senior leaders Buta Singh, the then Home Minister of India and N D Tiwari, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh graced the occasion. The decision of Rajiv Gandhi government gave impetus to the brewing Ram Janmabhoomi movement to become a huge one, surpassing the manageable limits.

In 1990, in retaliation to VP Singh's decision to implement some of the recommendations of Mondal Commission, BJP leader L K Advani launched Rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in September. Though Advani was stopped in Bihar, communal riots that started from Kota in Rajasthan, just after the Shila Puja spread to Gujrat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh leading to BJP winning Assembly elections in these states in 1990. The unstoppable Sangh Parivar caused demolition of Babri masjid on December 6, 1992 a new phase of murderous riots began. The worst incidents took place in Mumbai, Ahemdabad, Benaras and Jaipur. Incidentally, it was the death of Prabhudas Vaishnani, one of 133 people arrested in Jamjodhpur town of Jamnagar on October 1990 for communal rioting in protest of the arrest of Advani, for which an IPS officer named Sanjiv Bhatt was sentenced for life a few weeks back.

The well-planned mobilization through Rath Yatra and Ram Shila Pujan, leaving behind a trail of blood and communal violence culminated in demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

During the decade the greetings 'Sita Ram', 'Jai Siya Ram!' etc. were transformed to political slogan of 'Ram Ram' and 'Jai Sri Ram' making people forget their hunger, unemployment, castist tortures and many other ailments faced in day to day life by chanting these words. A macho Ram took the place of Maryada Purushottum Ram, the epitome of right thinking and right action, the so called relentless warrior of justice, inspiring devotion and piety in the hearts of Hindus now inspires frenzy and fear.

The communal frenzy, so created, is continuously being fanned by Sangh Parivar and its leaders. The last five-year rule of BJP in Centre and in other states have seen mob lynching by Gau-Rakshaks that began with Pehlu Khan in Rajsthan, has culminated in lynching of Muslims and forcing them to shout the slogans like 'Jai Sri Ram!', 'Bharat Mata ki Jai!' and 'Bande Mataram!'. Not only on roads, but this year we heard these slogans to heckle the elected Parliamentarians of other faith or parties while taking oath in the sacred house of Parliament, completely violating the basic fabric of the very constitution that they took oath of bearing full faith and allegiance. There was no leader in Parliament to remind Pratap Chandra Sarangi, that refusing 'Vande Mataram' is not the disqualification of being citizen of this constitutionally secular country and also that Constitution is and will always be above Bharat Mata, a character created by the Sangh Parivar.

A day after the BJP won the landslide victory a slew of violent incidents took place. On May 22, three Muslims, including a woman were brutally thrashed over the suspicion of carrying beef. They were forced to chant 'Jai Sri Ram'. In Gujrat a mob of 200-300 upper caste men attacked the house of a dalit couple over a face-book post saying that Dalits are allowed to use village temple for dalit wedding ceremony.

With the oath taking and sloganeering on 18th June, a new spate of violence began. On the same night, Tabrez Ansari became the 18th victim of Mob violence in Jharkhand in last three years. Tabrez was forced to chant 'Jai Sri Ram' and 'Jai Hanuman'. Before that, just a day after the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, took oath four construction labours were beaten up in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh for allegedly eating meat near a place of worship. Two days after the attack on Ansari, 26-year-old Shahrukh Haldar, was asked by the mob to chant 'Jai Sri Ram' and was pushed out of a running train in West Bengal. In the same week, on the night of June 27th Faisal Usman Khan, was assaulted and almost lynched and was forced to chant 'Jai Sri Ram' in Thane of Maharashtra. On the same day, Mohammad Momin was attacked by three men and was asked to say 'Jai Sri Ram' in Rohini Sector 20 in Delhi.

It gives me immense pain to realize that the sweet greeting words like Jai Sia Ram or Ram-Ram, significantly meant for the colloquial expression of love have turned into an expression of religious symbolism which infuriates frenzy and fears in the minds of people belonging to other religions, castes and political thinking. The violence is so much so normalized that the perpetrators are proud of circulating these videos in social network platform. In such a scenario, where the religion and faith that so far considered a sacred affair, is being under attack by political hooliganism, childhood greetings are being converted into the instruments of hatred to treat the people of different religion, food habit and political thinking. Right minded people from all spheres of life should come together to save the sanctity of these greetings and help stop using these words for generating hate and crime and distracting people from the real problems of employment, education, health, labour and farming. !!!!A 'Jai Sia Ram' in true sense!!!

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Vol. 52, No. 5, Aug 4 - 10, 2019