Odisha vignettes - 2

Radhakanta Barik

As a student of Ravenshaw College in the early 1970s I heard the attacks by Professor Basanta Behura in an annual function of the New Hostel. He being a conservative raised a point regarding the eating of  pakhal and fish as a part of 'apasanskriti'.  Collective memory of people of Odisha has been under attacks by the conservative intellectuals such as Behura and Sriram Dash who started the movement for the change of surnames from Das to Dash for the Brahmins. Both of them were the part of Swatantra Party of kings and queens but today these people are the guardians of the Hindutva forces. In the early 1980s the academia of Sambalpur university and Berhampur university started opposing the pakhal and fish and supported vegetarianism by observing the Tuesday as the day for Hanuman and Friday for  Santoshi Ma. These people the leaders of the Hindutva politics in Odisha. Today the local rich and the priest have been bribed by them to start Hanuman temples  in villages. A doctor with this money started a Ram temple in Niali market of Cuttack District just facing the Muslim community of Niali. It is ironical that doctor was so unpopular that people boycotted the temple . Nearby Niali, in the village Barimunda,  Ram Navaami has been celebrated  for almost  twenty years now by a trader from Bhubaneswar with the help of Hindutva forces. They use money power and muscle power to spread the words of Ram and Hanuman. They want to spread to the rural hinterland with the help of the Ram and Hanuman which is a violent cult aiming to create riots in rural society of Odisha.

The way the RSS has organised its attacks on the cultural map of Odisha it will be difficult to find the local culture traits after some time. The RSS workers came in saffron clothes to villages and mobilised the elite of the villages to change their food habits. At least some villages of Talcher colliery town area have turned into vegetarianism. This is the Constituency of the BJP MP Shri Pradhan who is a minister in the Modi cabinet. They used persuasion for the local elite who forced the common people to accept their dictates by accepting the vegetarian food. These two big villages are located on the bank of river Brahmani  where the locals collect  fish and hide it in fear they may get the attacked by the local RSS pracharaks. Many of them eat in their homes but as if they have committed thefts. The RSS monks went to Kandhamal district where they forced the tribals to attack the houses of the Christians. First the a farming caste emerged from the tribals turned into vegetarianism and they were forced to attack the Dalits who used to be their brothers in the same village because of the  non vegetarian food habits of Christians. These people went to Mayurbhanj where Steins family got killed while they were sleeping with their children in an open jeep. Such a brutalised killing happened on the plea that the Christian missionaries were bribing the poor to change their religion. The RSS people are doing the same today to common Odiya people with the combination of bribe and force to change their food habits and forcing them to worship Hanuman and Ram but there is no action by the state.                                                                                   

In the year 1975 the Ram Mandir got constructed in Bhubaneswar. It took another twenty years to take a group of pilgrims to Ayodhya in the year 1995. Advani's Rath did not come to Odisha as they knew nobody knew of Lord Ram. But everybody knows of the story of Ram from Ramayana and the telling of Ramkatha. The fist group went from Talcher area and was organised by a RSS pracharak who worked in the nearby town Kamakshanagar as a businessman. Around 100 clan members belonging to Senapati family went together carrying their servants and cooks to Ayodhya. It is interesting to note that no woman was present in this first batch of pilgrims. Today they have taken Ram and Hanuman to rural Odisha and are organising the discussion on Hanuman chautisha. Today thousands of babus are standing in the queue for making a darshan to Lord Ram and on Sunday the Odiya babu group eat non veg in their homes. They do not suffer from the pains of being on fast for all the days of  Ramnavami and they came to the temple. This contradiction is the living one where collective memory of pakhal and fish haunt them. Collective consciousness cannot be easily wiped out with the story of Lord Ram. But the green coverage of its land already has got a brush of saffron colour. It is a conflict of popular culture of Odisha with the cult of Ram and Hanuman coming from the North India. As A L Bhasham the leading historian in his book "Wonder that was India" says that Odisha does not represent the Aryan or Dravidian culture it has its uniqueness. Unless people are alert for enriching their own culture these Ram bhaktas are ready to hold the trishul in their hands and will march on the streets of towns of Odisha. It would be a headache for the political establishment to handle the law and order.                                                                                   

West Bengal's experience of the recent armed rallies on the occasion of the Ram Navami gives a warning to the Odisha government that the way Ram- Hanuman cult is spreading to different towns and rural hinterland , it threatens the social harmony and culture of Odisha. It is a political project designed by the Hindutva forces who want to make Odisha the second Gujarat. They tried with a large scale communal conflict between Christians and tribals of Kandhamal which did not produce the desired result. They are pumping their money and muscle power to build the Hanuman temple in the towns and villages. This agenda can be called religious cum political agenda. They do not believe in religion or culture of a society otherwise they could have done a second reading of Jagannath Das' "Bhagavat" which is a text with multiple meanings. Balaram Das' Ramayan which creates different meanings which are not being approved by the Hindutva forces. They have gone for importing the Ram- Hanuman cult to Odisha which dominated by Jagannath dharma. They are bribing the local leader and priest with money for construction of the Hanuman temple. Hanuman is not a part of religious pantheon of Odisha. It is a political design of the BJP who wants to use people of Odisha as fodder to create riots across the State for dividing the society. We have 50% of our people belonging to Dalits and tribal communities. If we add the lower OBC such as Kumbar, Badhei and Kambar etc. then the figure will touch around 70%. But in Odisha caste identities are not important and people relate to one another bhai, bahin, mausa or mousi . This is the strength of the bhaichara tradition prevailing in Odisha. A leading anthropologist Prof L K Mahapatra has written a book on culture of Odisha where he looks at intangible characteristics of our culture and finds the richness of this bhaichara tradition. This is the cultural capital of a society. Being poor one can be rich tomorrow but cultural capital sustains our unity of purpose that being identified as an Odiya eating  pakhal- fish and wearing dhoti and gamacha and talking to the other as bhai or bahin without inquiring his or her caste. This is the strength of our society having trust among diverse caste groups we should not allow to get destroyed by the spread of Ram- Hanuman cult, a violent cult.

Everybody recognises the point that construction of temples related to Ram and Hanuman has got the backing of a political party like the BJP which is interested to have an entry into politics of Odisha. Ram Navami is the occasision for the Hindutva forces to initiate the lumpen youths into violent politics. They went in hundreds in various towns of Odisha. It is reported that in Sambalpur a Rambhakta carried a sword last year. It seems that all these people participating in the procession will carry swords and trishuls. Their politics of hatred will spread all over Odisha and disturb the peaceful state into a violent state. The state has come out of poverty trap and planned to go for the next stage of creating productive capital where the state will confront the spectre of violence which will create fear in the minds of businessmen who will fly away. This has happened in the case of UP as the state today has experienced negative growth because of the Ram Mandir issue. The only industrial town of UP was Kanpur which experienced the large scale riots which pushed the flight of capital to other states such as MP or Delhi. Moreover the cultural map of Odisha is going to be changed completely. Two years back I was a Visiting Professor to Ravenshaw University where I found that students would not go to the Chandi mandir but to illegal Hanuman temples in the city. The gods and goddesses of Odisha are peace loving. If you look at the eyes of Cuttack Chandi or Sambaleswari both emit love whereas Hanuman or Ram has been created in such a manner that they violence. Instead of Ram with a smiling face they have created Ram with an arrow looking violent. Instead of Hanuman as a bhakta of Ram, he has been created with a violent image. Language of violence is the language of Hindutva which is not accepted by the people of Odisha. Here the state must step in and see that no more temples in the name of Hanuman or Ram get created with the finances from the Hindutva forces. To convert people to another religion is a criminal act if money is involved. Here there is proof that they use money and muscle to create temples of Hanuman. Let us stop these illegal activities of the Hindutva forces in the state of Odisha.                                                     

Cultural map of Odisha has got disfigured by the RSS think tank as they found it difficult for an easy entry into Odisha politics. Despite the fact that some of the leading lights of the Congress Party had a close association with the RSS. Mahatab and Gopabandhu Das both had an association with the organisation. H K Mahatab, in his autobiography 'Sadhanara Pathe' admits regarding his involvement in the organisational politics of the RSS. Gopabandhu Das the founder of Utkal Congress left the party and founded the Hindu Mahasabha in 1928 before his death. Both of them were intellectual stalwarts and political leaders of the province but could not give a concrete foundation to either the Jana Sangh or BJP. In Naveen Babu's first two terms the BJP became an alliance partner in both the governments. Today they are ruling in the centre but have hardly any base in Odisha. This explains the strength of a society and cultural vibrancy of our people. They function as a rootless dala in the ponds of Odisha. They have plucked the lotus flower from the pond but the character of the party is like the rootless dala of the ponds. With an intelligent political design they want to attack the cultural map of Odisha. This needs to be exposed by us. Every community has right to have their cultural memory.                                                                                 

29 March was the day for the celebration of Mahavir Jayanti who founded Jainism. Kalinga king Kharavela got inspired by Jainism and built 16 caves in honour of the saints of Jainism. These caves are  historical sites for tourists and scholars. But it ironical that a local landlord under the aegis of the RSS built a Hindu temple next to it. Some of the enlightened villagers protested against the construction of a temple. The Archaeological Survey of India protested against the construction of the temple. The case went to the Supreme Court where the local landlord lost the case. But Jainism is a part of psyche of Odiya people who are peace loving people. But the RSS wants to disfigure this beautifully carved caves representing the Jainism. The RSS does not tolerate pluralism of Hinduism where many thinking trends live side by side. They believe in the violent cult of Ram- Hanuman and worked hard in making this violent cult to spread different corners of Odisha. They have spread to Bengal where on Ram Navami the BJP MP carrying sword and arms organised a riot. The MPs of BJP organised the riots in two important districts of Bihar on the same day. Prior to these events, in an address by Modi as the PM addressed the MPs belonging to his party and suggested them to go back to their constituencies and take up  public issues. These MPs understood the indication given by Modi and Amit Shah in the Parliamentary Board meeting that they would organise the riots against the minorities and Dalits for polarization of people. We should remain alert to foil their attempts in communalising the atmosphere in Odisha.

In the case of UP the Dalits and backwards joined the hands in 1993 for the first time as both of them do not use the greeting  Jai Shri Ram. Today the BSP and SP are joining hands to defeat the BJP with the same message. But in the case of Odisha Jagannath cult integrates diverse social groups of a society. This study has been conducted by      Prof. Kunal Chakravarty, a leading ancient historian of JNU. This is a unique Dharm in the case of Odisha. Jagannath being a tribal god, tribals of Odisha identify with the deity. Dalits through a powerful saint Bhima Bhoi look at the Jagannath. The backwards and the other castes look at Jagannath Dharm as their own. This is an integrative Dharma being challenged by the RSS's cultural design by which Hanuman and Ram  temples have sprung up in every town for the last two decades. On the way to Shanti Stupa, Dhauli they have built a temple to disturb the Buddhist thinking of Odisha as Buddhism is the substructure on which Jagannath Dharma stands today. Moreover a new massive temple has been built with the patronage of Ram Dev on the highway from Bhubaneswar to Cuttack .On the occasion of of the state's foundation day (1April), we should look at our past and question of the plethora of Ram and Hanuman temples in different parts of Odisha.

In the morning prayers coming from the ramparts of the Jagannath temple is a popular song written by Salabeg ,a Muslim saint whose dead body is buried in the city of Puri. This brings a composite culture of Odisha where each community shares the same cultural space. Such a vibrant cultural memory is under attack from the Ram- Hanuman cult from the Northern India with a political agenda. Our language and literature are getting threatened by the Hindi speaking walas. Two years back I was teaching the Ravenshaw University where student leaders used Hindi songs, dances and announcements in Hindi in both college and hostel functions. There are people amongst Odiya writers who speak for  Sankritisation of Odiya language. A leading poet Hara Prasad Das spoke that 90 percentage our vocabulary come from Sanskrit. On the contrary it comes from desi bhashas such as Sambalpuri, Santhali and Kuki etc. Sarala Das's Mahabharat, Fakirmohan's novels, Kalindi Panigrahi's novel and stories and Gopi Mohanty's Paraja speak out these words from diverse sources. Odiya language and literature will grow only with the growth of Sambalpur sahitya, santhali and Kuki sahitya grow simultaneously where the hidden wealth in cultural sense is still unexplored. The RSS and BJP slogan that Bharatbarsa is our motherland and Sanskrit is our mother tongue needs to be challenged by us. A BJP MLA from Nilgiri took oath on the floor of the assembly in Sanskrit and some years back there was a poster in the Ravenshaw College regarding this. We protested the then Principal and who took action against the posters. There is a threat to our language, culture and religion from the Hindutva forces under the leadership of the RSS and the BJP. On the occassion of the state's foundation day we must make our protest heard on the streets, in speeches and in writings.

Apr 13, 2017

Prof Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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