Ram Lalla, a resident of UP by : Antara Dev Sen
So it has happened. Ram has been demoted from a divine being to a mere earthly creature. He even has a birth certificate from the Allahabad high court. Soon he may be expected to acquire a voter identity card from Mayawati and a Unique Identity number from Nandan Nilekani. This court victory for litigant Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman, among others, is just the beginning of his arduous life on earth. In a curious twist of destiny, the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu is now in his worldly avatar as a UP-ite.
Dragged down from his heavenly pedestal by his fanatical followers, Ram has other problems too, as a historical being. He seems to have been born several centuries ago, no one knows exactly when (but they will, they will, just wait!) and is still in his infancy. This young VIP in Ayodhya, residing amidst ruins where the central dome of the Babri Masjid used to be, is Ram Lalla. It was in the name of this infant god that the centuries-old mosque was demolished by his followers. And thousands killed as a result. As an infant, Ram Lalla allowed what he would probably not have permitted as a grown-up Maryada Purushottama.
But while the infant Ram resides in this seat of violence he is reported to have all these heroic exploits as the prince of Ayodhya and Sita’s husband. Is dear Ram Lalla all grown up and married too? Why, there is even the Sita ki rasoi, his wife’s kitchen, right beside his nursery. Can he be both an infant and an adult at the same time? Can he be in several places at the same time? Sure he can, as a god. But as a historical being? When divine beings are reborn as earthlings, their wings are clipped. They cease to be gods. The same Allahabad high court may frown upon this claim of omnipresence from the litigant, accepting it may set a dangerous precedence.As it is the courts set limits to the powers of gods. Recently the Bombay high court has ruled that gods are incapable of playing the share market as it turned down the petition from an association of gods demanding a account. But all these gods had PAN cards, insisted the gods’ counsel, and were shareholders already! Never mind, said the court, the gods did not have the “personal skill, judgment and supervision” required. When a god becomes a legal person, he needs to be judged accordingly.
And one of the powers that Ram has clearly lost in this court case is his divine ability to recreate himself and his world. “Ram is born in countless ways, and there are tens of millions of Ramayanas”, said Tulsidas in the 16th century. Not anymore. Ram has now been cast in stone, imprisoned forever in a unidimensional figure by this week’s historic court verdict.
Last year, when the Liberhan Commission finally released its report on the demolition of the Babri Masjid after 17 years, it made several recommendations. Regarding the authenticity of the claims of Ram Janmabhoomi/ Babri Masjid it said: “The question whether a structure was a temple or a mosque can only be answered by a scientific study by archaeologists, historians and anthropologists. No politician, jurist or journalist can provide a comprehensive answer to such questions… Therefore, set up a statutory national commission of experts to delve into these questions…
” The government curtly replied that it was not necessary to appoint another national commission, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) would be enough.
This week, the court ruled in favour of Ram Lalla based on the findings of the ASI. Senior historians like Irfan Habib doubt the authenticity of the findings, and believe that evidence may have been planted that the ASI could not detect. The courts can only act on whatever information they are given. And our government bodies are not known for efficiency.
I feel for the ASI. What on earth could they do? In 2007, when they were asked to tell us about the Ram Setu, they had their heads bitten off. They had stated that being a science and technology department, they would have to examine the Ram Setu in a scientific manner, not “solely relying on the contents of a mythological text.” So, although ancient mythological and literary texts are culturally important, they are not historical records that “incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the events depicted therein”. It neither accepted nor denied Ram’s existence, and said that the bridge was not manmade, but naturally formed.
Immediately there were charges of blasphemy, ASI officials were suspended, the culture minister almost had to resign and the ASI was forced to change its view in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile the law minister said of course Ram was a historical figure — sure, he existed.
But which Ram was the historical figure? Valmiki’s demigod? Kamban’s god? Tulsidas’s literary deity? Krittibas’s homespun hero? Vimalasuri’s Jain champion? Chandrabati’s householder? The Santhals’ tribal hero? Periyar’s flawed protagonist? North India’s imposing Lord Ram is hardly present in southern India. In the east he is more of a mythical hero than a god, and he practically disappears in the northeast.
In one court judgment we have swept aside our rich heritage of many Rams, each equally dear to the devotees of each region, swept aside thousands of years of cultural history and memory, and fixed on a “historical figure” — the UP-ite Ram Lalla, who is forever in infancy.
This is a sad day for our pluralistic tradition. Giving a third of the land to “Muslims” while “Hindus” get two-thirds may be politically expedient for the moment, but it will not stem the rot of refashioning collective memory. The verdict, well-meaning as it is, has been interpreted by Hindu fanatics as justification for their acts of desecration of the mosque.
Unless the government moves on these criminal acts, and brings at least the culprits named in the Liberhan report to book, there will never be closure. And in his new avatar as an earthly infant, poor Ram Lalla woudn’t be able to protect us either.
– Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org