<SiteLock

This Diwali, think why we celebrate death

 

Kancha Ilaiah

kancha ilaiahThere are two prominent stories around the celebration of Diwali. One, this is the day on which Ram returned to Ayodhya and coronated himself as king after killing Ravan. It is also the day when Krishna and his wife Satyabhama killed Narakasur, known as the evil rakshasa. It's the death of the enemy that is celebrated.

Perceptions differ from north and south India about Ram killing Ravan and Krishna killing Narakasur. Diwali day just does not remain a day of lighting lamps, wearing new clothes, worshipping whom one considers god, but also burning massive amount of crackers that pollute the atmosphere so much so that even the health of the forces that keep celebrating would also get damaged. The emissions in urban areas on that day rise to the level of choking people. And several people, especially children, die because of fires and pollution.

Let us first see the Ram narrative on which this festival is based. The reason why a festival gets celebrated and the way it is celebrated is very important for building an inclusive society and nation. Nothing wrong if a nation or a section of the nation celebrates Ram's birthday or coronation day. But why burn Ravan's effigies on that day?

Ravan as mythological figure is owned and venerated by a section of Dravida/Shudra/
dalit/Adivasis. None other than Mahatma Phule, Periyar Ramasami Naikar and B.R. Ambedkar presented a different image of Ravan. Should then the office of the Prime Minister hurt the sentiments of historical victims, who were born in castes/tribes that get castigated as bad people or people who respect Ravan.

The Dravidians and dalit-Bahujans across the country treat Ravan as their representative. His action of abducting Sita was seen by them as an answer to mutilating the beautiful body of Shurpanaka, his own sister, by Lakshman at the instance of Ram himself. Further, he did not physically assault Sita at all. They see Shurpanaka and Sita as women who have equal rights for their dignity and self respect. Why demonise Ravan alone?

We know that mythologies are constructed by the dominant caste/class writers, not only to sustain their dominance but to subvert the emerging knowledge and identities of the historically oppressed people. The view that Ravan is a representative of Dravidian/dalit-Bahujan masses has been growing over the years. Of course there are multiple readings of Ramayana and different ways to understand the characters of that story. So also of Ram. The notion of dharma and adharma too differ from class to class and caste to caste. Those who want to worship Ram have the right to worship him, but similarly, those who want to worship Ravan or admire him have the right to do so as well.

A secular state must, thus, maintain its neutrality. If state functionaries attend the burning of Ravan's effigy they are sanctifying the culture of historical partisanism. They are then joining the ranks of the oppressors.

Similarly, Deepawali (as it is called in the south) is also the day when Krishna killed Narakasur. Narakasur is seen as a representative of Dravidian adivasis because he represents black sturdiness, which is a part of Dravidian warrior heritage. Why should any death be celebrated? If terrorists celebrate the brutal killing of Rajiv Gandhi, men who perceived him as the man responsible for deaths and devastation in Sri Lanka, how will we respond? For Indians Rajiv Gandhi was a good man, but for Sri Lankan Tamils he was a bad man. For this historical event the reply is not killing Prabhakaran and celebrating his death in India. Even for Khalistanis who killed Indira Gandhi, she was a bad Prime Minister. If the Khalistanis celebrate the killing of Indira Gandhi with burning of crackers and lighting of lamps how do we feel?

Such events of killing and counter-killing should not become occasions for celebration that will only serve to remind representative groups of their inimical relationship. And even if wrong cultural practices continue as festivals, the state must remain aloof. The images of Ravan and Narakasur and so on were not seen as their heroes by the Dravidian masses till Mahatma Phule's writings and activism came to play a significant role among their lives. Now they treat Ravan, Naraka, Bali as their un-Hindu heroes. Why not the other civil society respect their view of history?

We now have definite scholarly groups to own the representative images of Ravan and Narakasur. At least this must make people re-think the narrative of why we celebrate Diwali/Deepawali as festival of death but not life.

When Christians started celebrating the birthday of Jesus, as a counter the Pharisees who killed him started celebrating his crucifixion day. Gradually they understood the cruelty of their celebration and a day came in human history that the successors of Jesus' enemies began to celebrate his birthday. Now Christmas is the biggest celebration in the world. Let those Indians who like to celebrate Ram's persona fix some day as his birthday and celebrate it with lights, new clothes, good food and so on. So also for Krishna — Janmashtami. Nobody has a problem with that.

It's only the evil, cruel mind which wants to celebrate death. Mahatma Phule was of the view that historically the Shudras and Ati-Shudras never celebrated death or murder. But now Diwali celebration has extended to them too. In a multi-cultural nation we all should protect everybody's right to worship birth, not death. We should celebrate creativity and productivity, not destruction.

The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.

~~~

[Courtesy: The Asian Age, November 1, 2013]

Other Related Articles

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar - From Denunciation of the Vedas to the Negation of Karl Marx and Surrender to Nāstika Buddhism
Sunday, 16 May 2021
Dr Aniruddha Babar “Buddha would never allow violence, but the communists do. No doubt the communists get quick results because when you adopt the means of annihilating a man, they do not remain to... Read More...
How BJP ran TN without getting elected – the story before 2 May
Thursday, 13 May 2021
  Radhika Sudhakar  The story of Tamil Nadu election 2021, as the election itself drew close, was judged by non-brahmins in the state as one that was not going to be who the winner is - the... Read More...
Rest in Power – K. R. Gouriamma!
Wednesday, 12 May 2021
  Bobby Kunhu "There is no escape – we pay for the violence of our ancestors" – Frank Herbert  It has been the fate of every radical social and political activist in history from Jesus... Read More...
How to turn a murder into suicide: Sumitra Bhave's 'Kasav'
Monday, 10 May 2021
Rahul Gaikwad Every now and then one comes across some or the other celebrated so-called progressive leader/writer/activist who turns out to be absolutely shallow, superfluous and even hypocritical... Read More...
The caste of election analysis
Sunday, 09 May 2021
  Bobby Kunhu "Christ is born, my wise Solomon, my wretched pen-pusher! Don´t go picking things over with a needle! Is He born or isn´t He? Of course He is born, don´t be daft. If you take a... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

The Ruling Caste's changing priorities and the Farmer Unrest
Tuesday, 08 December 2020
  Anshul Kumar “History shows that the Brahmin has always had other classes as his allies to whom he was ready to accord the status of a governing class provided they were prepared to work... Read More...
Constitutional provisions and legal rights for protection and well-being of women in India
Thursday, 10 December 2020
  Adv Soniya Gajbhiye Women in any society play a very important role. In Indian society's context her role kept changing and evolving with the enactment of the Constitution and especially since... Read More...
The Karnataka anti-cow slaughter bill is against the poor
Tuesday, 15 December 2020
Dr. Sylvia Karpagam "If India's politicians had any connect with land and farming, they would understand the organic relationship farmers have with livestock, milk, manure and killing of cows. It is... Read More...
Should the proponents of public (government) schools celebrate Global Teacher Prize 2020 to Mr. Ranjitsinh Disale?
Friday, 11 December 2020
Tanoj Meshram Last week, Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher from rural government Zilla Parishad (ZP) school in Solapur district, received Global Teacher Prize from Varkey Foundation. The prize which... Read More...
Racist mainland Indians were more terrifying than Covid
Friday, 18 December 2020
  Chongtham Rameshwori  My phone records 9:21 pm with the first picture of my favourite but unfortunate black T-shirt splattered with the thick pungent tobacco remains over my neck and... Read More...