Vishwambhar Nath Mishra is a noted environmentalist, teaches electronics engineering at Banaras Hindu University and is the mahant of the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, established in the 16th Century in Banaras by the poet-saint Goswami Tulsidas, who wrote the Ramacharitamanas. In a telephone interview with Newsclick, Mishra talks about the weaponsiation of Rama, the Hindu deity, with the use of the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan.
Why do some Hindus chant the name of Rama and what is the significance of the slogan, Jai Shri Ram, in that context?
In religious terms, one thing is very clear: If Rama is remembered alone, it does not bring much advantage to the one who is chanting his name. Some people will chant ‘Rama-Rama-Rama’, but the way Rama is to be addressed is always ‘Sita-Ram’. This is because Sita, his wife, and Rama are not separable.
Then why have the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ at all?
Jai Shri Ram has only come to exist via politics. It is a fact that the moment someone chants Jai Shri Ram, the mental and emotional state of a person changes. This slogan does not invoke a feeling of bhakti or devotion. And people do not seem to realise what is happening to them! Put simply, the Jai Shri Ram chant is not in sync with the form or character of Rama.
Why do you say so?
Because who is Rama? He is to be understood as mahapurusha or great character and parameshwar or tallest deity. Naturally, a Ram bhakt must follow a certain code of conduct that tallies with Rama’s character. Therefore, one who is devoted to Rama is not supposed to encroach or transgress against another person. He is supposed to desist from doing anything that causes pain or emotional distress to another. The idea of a Ram bhakt is not to invade in the name of Rama.
Why does what you state represent the idea of bhakti and not what those who chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’?
The Ramacharitamanas explicitly states that Rama resides in every person and that Rama is everybody’s janaka or progenitor. Therefore, if everything exists because of him, then how can there be differences between a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Christian or anybody else?
More so, it states that Rama loves everybody and the one he loves most are human beings. The reason he loves them the most is that he has given them the power to think. They have buddhi or intelligence, the power to think. Let us consider another example: Today, we are witness to the phenomenon of honour killings, where a person who loves is also the one who takes away a life. This is also unacceptable, because it is against the basic notion that if we do not have the power to give life, then we have no right to take life either.
Then how is ‘Jai Shri Ram’ proving effective in driving a wedge in society?
This is a feature of the ‘new’ society that is being created. In it, the symbol of Rama is being used, through the Jai Shri Ram slogan, to divide people. Imagine that you have created a new society. None of the rules of the actual society are followed in it. How do you unite people in this so-called new society? You give it some new religious slogan and you show them the fear of the ‘Other’ and exploit religious figures by getting people to chant their name mechanically.
What do you mean by chanting mechanically?
The Jai Shri Ram chant does not make people feel Ramji ki masti, or the conviviality or frolic that they should experience in their devotion to Rama. Without that emotion, when they say Jai Shri Ram, they are merely using the name of Rama. It is akin to someone who commits a crime and then hides behind religion to justify it. Yeh kayaron waali baatey hain—such behaviour is an attribute of cowards.
Violence in the name of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is increasing. What can be done?
This slogan has become an excuse to attack those who do something we do not like. But India is so large and a wonderful place… It has survived the worst conditions and toughest circumstances and it knows how to overcome perils. These acts [of aggression] are done by people who do not have a heart or the ability and inclination to think about society as a whole or of the long-term impact this will have. They think only of their immediate benefit. They live isolated in their shells and cannot see beyond their own interests, likes and dislikes.
Does religion offer a solution?
The idea is to keep ones’ heart clean. They [those attacked by mobs chanting Jai Shri Ram] are our own people, even if we do not like something they do. It is exactly like a family. Not everybody in a family has the same likes or dislikes. Nor do they eat the same food or share the same interests. But there is something internal and intrinsic to us all that binds us and that is prem, or love and affection.
Why do people seem to be responding to Jai Shri Ram rather than to the forces that bring people closer?
The biggest reason this is happening is that it helps divert from the real issues. The country is reeling under a slowing economy. The problems on the economic front are many and it does not look like they are going to go away soon. Everywhere businesses are collapsing. The best diversion from this is to float a mechanical religious slogan, which is what has been done.