‘Religious’ processions with hate-filled Hindi slogans try to tear Bengal apart

Bengalis must look carefully at what is being done to our state, supposedly in the name of religion, by Hindi-slogan shouting outsiders at militant Hindutva group-sponsored Ram Nabomi processions

Photo by Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo by Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
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Garga Chatterjee

The sight of young children thronging the streets of Bengal’s towns is supposed to be an uplifting sight. This has happened in Bengal for a very, very long time indeed, during Saraswati Puja and during the festive days of Durga Puja. However, during the BJP-RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal and other militant Hindutva group-sponsored Ram Nabomi processions, this festive and cheerful sight was converted last year into a scene of shock and dismay when Bengal saw little girls and boys being supplied with swords and made to march amidst hate-mongering slogans on a supposedly ‘religious’ occasion. This was widely condemned across West Bengal.

The shocking scene was repeated this year thanks to the same set of outfits who are hell bent on tearing apart the socio-cultural fabric of Bengal. The West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights has summoned representatives of Bajrang Dal from Purulia district of West Bengal, for engaging children with arms in a Ram Nabomi procession. In the land of the Kanyashree project that aims to take women of Bengal forward, these merchants of hate have a very different future in mind for the women of Bengal. It is important that all sections of Bengalis wake up and look carefully at what is being done to their own state, supposedly in the name of religion.

Ram has always been a fringe god in Bengal, with very few temples in his honour in Bengali areas. For the most part, he is the principal character of the epic Ramayon, whose Bangla version written by Krittibas Ojha in the 15th century continues to be the major image of Ram, notwithstanding Ramanand Sagar’s blockbuster Hindi serial that draws upon the Hindi belt image of Ram. Krittibas Ojha’s Ram—the Ram Bengal knows—is a sensitive person, prone to shedding tears and eating vegetables and foods ubiquitous in Bengal. And that in a way represents how Bengal has historically engaged with outside currents—by Bengalising them.

Since 2014, that rule of engagement is under severe strain, with the Hindutva groups hell-bent upon foisting not only a Hindi-belt Ram on the unsuspecting people of Bengal, but foisting a wholly different form of so-called religious celebration that is rife with hate speech, India flags, Pakistan Murdabad slogans, children walking with dangerous weapons and Hindi speeches and songs in an 86% Bangla speaking land. After hearing one of the “devotional” songs blaring from a Ram Nabomi procession, my friend Ayan Basu quipped that the “Pakistan Murdabad” slogans in the celebration of a millennias’ old entity’s birthday made him very confused whether Ram had fought against Lanka or Pakistan.

The Hindutva groups are hell-bent upon foisting not only a Hindi-belt Ram on the unsuspecting people of Bengal, but foisting a wholly different form of so-called religious celebration that is rife with hate speech, India flags, Pakistan Murdabad slogans, children walking with dangerous weapons and Hindi speeches and songs in an 86% Bangla speaking land

And Bengal has always engaged with the story of Ram with its own take. One of Bengal’s greatest poets Michael Madhusudan Dutta penned Meghnad Bodh Kabyo (a poem on the slaying of Meghnad, Raban’s son) where Raban, valiantly defending his people and his land against unscrupulous invaders from the North, is the hero. And this remains a classic of Bengali literature and in many ways, this reflects the similar take on Ram’s conquest of Lanka that is seen in Dravidian cultural sphere. The Hindi belt has its Ram. Bengal has its own. They are quite different. The Hindutva groups of Bengal want to impose the Hindi belt Ram on Bengal and use him as a Trojan horse for other nefarious motives.

And this it did. In two districts of West Bengal adjoining BJP ruled Hindi-state Jharkhand, multiple communal clashes were triggered by armed Ram Nabomi processions. Sheikh Shajahan, a Muslim Bengali, was killed. Deputy Commissioner of Police Arindam Dutta Chowdhury was critically injured. Multiple other policemen were injured. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s statue was torn down. Police stations were raided by Hindutva gangs with arms in their hand and “Jai Sri Ram” on their lips. Bengal has never seen such a ‘religion’.

After hearing one of the “devotional” songs blaring from a Ram Nabomi procession, my friend quipped that the “Pakistan Murdabad” slogans in the celebration of a millennias’ old entity’s birthday made him very confused whether Ram had fought against Lanka or Pakistan

Bengal is under siege. A political assault from the Hindi belt Hindutva political forces is taking place under the garb of an alien religious and cultural banner. On the day of Ram Nabomi, it was also the date of the worship of Bengal’s own goddess of food and bounty Mother Goddess Annapurna. My mother, a non-vegetarian like many other Bengalis, ate only vegetarian food that day. Her age-old Bengali religious practice demanded so. However, most of the crowds of the Ram Nabomi processions comprised of people who had no concept of Mother Goddess Annapurna. The Hindu Bengalis who joined these processions must now be placing their own Mother Annapurna at a lower pedestal than the recently imported Hindi belt version of Ram in whatever religio-political calculations they have in their heads. And there lies the cultural threat to the Bengali way of life and worshipping.

In all the incidents of armed violence during Ram Nabomi, the only language one heard from the crowd was Hindi

Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, has alleged that the communal violence that was associated with Ram Nabomi this year was engineered by outsiders. It is hard to assess from a distance how true that claim is and it will only be known after investigations. However, a few facts are clear. In a 86% Bangla speaking state, any random normal assemblage of people should have a majority of Bangla speakers, if not an overwhelming majority. However, in all the incidents of armed violence during Ram Nabomi, the only language one heard from the crowd was Hindi.

This can mean one of three things. One, violent Ram Nabomi processions were mostly executed by Hindi speakers and not by Bangla speakers. Two, outsiders were brought in from neighbouring Hindi states to execute such violence—this is especially relevant for the Ram Nabomi associated violent incidents and killings in Purulia and Raniganj, both of which share border with the BJP-ruled Hindi state of Jharkhand. Asansol BJP MP Babul Supriyo even made multiple shameful communal instigations through social media in an age when Whatsapp messages can and have killed innocent people. Three, Ram Nabomi is an event that is so alien to Bengal that its violent vocal expressions are in Hindi and it draws that section of Hindu Bengalis who would forget the Bangla language-centric Goddess Annapurna celebrations and lend their voice to the Hindi-Hindu style Ram Nabomi ‘celebrations’. Or it could be all of the above.

In the last 2-3 years, Bengal has witnessed the Hindutva brigade’s attempt to communalise even Bengal’s very dear Durga Pujo. The ruling Trinamool has hopefully learnt its lesson that in an alien, hate-filled violent saffron turf, its participation does not give it any political mileage but can only bring shame by association.

While I say all this, one thing must be remembered. In the last official register of political support in West Bengal, that is, the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections, BJP won a meager 10% of the votes. In a 70% Hindu majority state, this means that 6 out of 7 Hindus did not vote for the BJP. Thus, when saffronised Delhi media tries to spin a picture of Hindus under siege in Bengal, they insult the intelligence and the socio-cultural ethos of the people of Bengal, especially the Hindus of Bengal. The largest proportion of Hindu Bengalis voted for the Trinamool. The second largest proportion of Hindu Bengalis votes for the Left-Congress alliance. The BJP came a distant third. This was less than 2 years ago. Hindu Bengalis have been Bengalis and Hindus before BJP existed, before the Indian tricolor existed, before Pakistan Murdabad existed. These props were not needed to be a Hindu Bengali. They are not needed now either. The present author is a case in point—a proud Shakto, a proud Bengali. Hail the Holy Mother.

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Published: 29 Mar 2018, 9:43 AM