Rescue Ramayana from our fanatic secularists?
Read all Ramayana versions, but why insist on making it textbook ??
By Prof. Inder Kapahy?
A question begs itself to be asked. All those ‘eminent’ historians, self admittedly left wingers, who used to debunk Rama and Ramayana as figments of imagination, with no historicity, why are they so keen to teach, and that too compulsorily, ‘300 Ramayanas’ by AK Ramanujan. Have they forgotten their mocking questions: Where is the birth certificate of Rama: Where is his engineering degree, etc.
The answer is simple. AK Ramanujan’s essay purportedly lays claim to informing the reader of diverse tellings of the Ramayana. But the basic purpose of his essay is revealed in his concluding remarks. “Now is there a common core to the Rama’s stories, except the most skeletal set of relations like that of Rama, his brother, his wife, and the antagonist Ravana who abducts her”, he asks. His message is clear. The characters of Rama, Sita, Laxmana, Hanuman, Ravana do not leave any universally accepted moral message. He casts doubts even over the sanctity of the diverse tellings of Rama’s stories being labeled as ‘Ramayana’. “Some shadow of a relational structure claims the name of Ramayana for all these tellings, but on a closer look one is not all that like another. Like a collection of people with the same proper name, they make a class in name alone”, he informs. Now can this conclusion be considered as the celebration of the diversity of Ramayana as some left wingers want us to believe the Ramanujan’s essay portrays!
Those who are clamouring for the reinduction of the Ramanujan’s essay as a compulsory prescribed text make clever attempts to divert attention away from the actual contents of the essay. Strategically and tactically they keep the focus on the eminence of AK Ramanujan, the need for intellectual freedom, education encouraging questioning minds, autonomy of university systems and teachers, aversion to hooliganism in the domain of academics, existence of diverse cultural beliefs, existence of hundreds of Ramayana’s tellings, etc. Nobody in his right mind will disagree with this. But please! Making one essay a compulsory reading is antithetical to all tenets of academic freedom. It amounts to Talibisation, albeit of the left variety, of cultural history and historiography.
A left oriented professorial coterie is wielding enormous power in our university systems, particularly in the departments of History and Political Science. The induction in the late 1960s of Nurul Hassan, an otherwise political lightweight who drew no adverse political attention towards himself, began the process of appointing committed Marxists and Communists to positions of power in the institutions of higher learning and in the state funding agencies like the UGC. This process continued unhindered for nearly a decade. Liberal academics feel stifled but chose to remain silent owing to inordinate power of appointments and promotions exercised by the coterie. The mortal fear of being dubbed right reactionaries, fascists, hindutavawalas, etc force many into a suppressed silence. Leftists have developed political abuse into an art form. That is why most remain aloof even though they are convinced that left led forces are keen to weaken the faith of our youth in our cultural beliefs and in our religions icons.
AK Ramanujan was undoubtedly an eminent literateur and translator of folklores. But his essay ‘300 Ramayanas: 5 examples and 3 thoughts on translation’ is eminently unsuitable to be prescribed as an essential text for any section of students in history. All examples are chosen to lampoon the icons and articles of faith respected by crores of Indians. Diversity of many tellings of Ramayana is only an external façade. Take for example theAhalya episode. Any person who has read Valmiki or Kampan or Tulsidas Ramayana would know that the moral conclusion of the episode is the redemption of the sinning Ahalya by Rama. But the celebrated essay details only the seduction of Ahalya by Indra. Is it fair and appropriate? Similarly the essay pits Jainas against Hindus; “…..Jainas consider themselves rationalists – unlike the Hindus, who, according to them, are given to exorbitant and blood thirsty fancies and rituals…”. The essay ascribes popularity of Hanuman in Thailand, not because he is a devout celebate Rambhakt but because “here Hanuman is quite a ladies man, who doesn’t at all mind looking into the bedrooms of Lanka and doesn’t consider seeing another man’s sleeping wife anything immoral, as Valmiki’s or Kampan’s Hanuman does”. Now is our student required to be compulsorily taught that in South East Asia Ramayana owes its popularity to voyeuristic propensities of Sri Hanuman. The essay further informs us that, according to a Santhal telling of Ramayana, “Sita is seduced both by Ravana and Laxmana”.
This brings us back to the original question. Why this maniac insistence upon the induction of this essay as a compulsory (the singularly suggested) reading. The preface by Paula Richman, who edited the book “Many Ramayanas” (OUP), of which the Ramanujan’s essay is a part, provides the answer. EV Ramaswamy was a well known anti North India (read anti-Rama because he maintained that Rama and Ramayana are the principle tools of North India’s hegemony) founder of the Dravida movement. Paula admits that “when I actively analysed his (Ramaswami’s) reading of the story of Rama, however I found much of it strikingly compelling and coherent if viewed in light of his anti-North Indian ideology”. Further she takes pride in the fact that essays collected by her in the book “grew in the direction of a study of tellings of the Ramayana that refashion or contest Valmiki’s text”. In the preface to the Ramanujan’s essay she says that the Doordarshan’s rendering of Ramayana, viewed and appreciated by unprecedented numbers of viewers in late 1980s, “possessed a dangerous and unprecedented authority”. It is thus obvious that the purpose of including the essay was only to lessen the impact of ‘Ramayana’and not to celebrate its diversity.
Before concluding it is essential to mention that Ramanujan’s essay has not been ‘banned’, as is propagated by the uninformed cacophony raised by a section, but is only excluded from the compulsion reading. Any student is free to read and quote from the essay. The Academic Council of Delhi University, comprising learned Deans, Heads, Professors, elected teachers and renowned academic administrators took this academically sagacious decision after a detailed discussion and debate. The evenly divided opinion of the ‘experts’ was also before the Academic Council. Only eight members out of more than hundred present dissented with the majority decision. The Council was under direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to formulate its collective view on the issue. The Hon’ble Court did not want only the History Department’s view but the view of the Council which is the highest statutory body to take decisions on syllabi and readings. The Supreme Court has been informed of the Council’s decision.
The insistence of a well-entrenched coterie to reinduct the disputed essay only reflects its desire to maintain its hegemonic control over history syllabi and readings. The collective mind of this coterie is colonised by anti-Hinduism. Even though it is the beneficiary of huge official patronage, and even though it camouflages into communal biases in ‘progressive’ jargons, this coterie has complete disconnect with the sentiments of common people. Suppressed volcanic anger at their stranglehold over some social science disciplines constitutes biggest threat to academic freedom and intellectual autonomy.
To finally conclude it must be emphasized that for centuries it is known, and accepted, that there are hundreds of tellings of the Ramayana. But the epic has a permanent place in the collective psyche of people throughout the world for the moral message it conveys. The Hindi phrase ‘Apni Apni Ram Kahani’ aptly describes the universality of the epic, Ramayana should please be spared the protection of our divisive ‘eminent’ historians.
(The writer is a professor at Kirorimal College of Delhi University and can be contacted at [email protected])