<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

Need for Political Power for Depressed Classes: Babasaheb Ambedkar
Thursday, 21 January 2021
(Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's speech at the Plenary Session, Fifth Sitting of the Round Table Conference on 20th November 1930) "Mr. Chairman, my purpose in rising to address this conference is... Read More...
'The Khalistan Conspiracy': An Eyewitness Account of Targeting of Sikhs in the 1980s
Thursday, 14 January 2021
Jaspal Singh Sidhu Tragic happenings of the 1980s continue to perturb the Sikhs. Most of them want to know what actually took place behind the smokescreen erected by the power of the day. In this... Read More...
Cancel Culture and Saviour Syndrome
Monday, 11 January 2021
  Anand Silodia A few days ago, Richa Chadha shared the poster of her new movie, ‘Madam Chief Minister’, and it was immediately criticized for the depiction of the dalit protagonist. The... Read More...
Textures of being - The Mappila verses by Ajmal Khan
Friday, 08 January 2021
Umar Nizar "Where do coconut trees go When their roots are declared illegal". -Ajmal Khan, `Mappila Verses’ Poetry as a tool of resistance has been wielded by personas ranging from the Hebraic to... Read More...
Why so Serious Men?
Friday, 08 January 2021
  Ankit Ramteke Oh, it is a movie about caste issues, progress, and all that. How nice! Do you know the talented Siddiqui is playing an assertive but cunning Tamil Dalit? Wow, As a caste-less,... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Lineage and Caste in Islam
Sunday, 20 September 2020
  Shafiullah Anis   (Round Table India and SAVARI have been hosting a series of online talks by activists and thinkers on issues of importance to the Bahujan. This is the... Read More...
Can you unlove your stars?
Wednesday, 19 August 2020
  Amarnath Sandipamu  Please read the previous part of this article here. Manufacturing a star A film is a cultural product that takes shape through the labours of over 24 departments... Read More...
Statement of Solidarity for Dr. Maroona Murmu from the Faculty of Presidency University
Monday, 07 September 2020
We, the undersigned teachers of Presidency University, Kolkata, are shocked to know about the recent attacks on Dr. Maroona Murmu, Associate Professor of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.... Read More...
Running with the wolves, Hunting with the hounds
Wednesday, 26 August 2020
  Kanika S This essay explores the role of business archives in serving the business interests, and how history – distinct from the past – is created and revisions to it (or alternate... Read More...
The twice born parasite
Thursday, 30 July 2020
Dhamma Darshan Nigam The COVID-19 pandemic has made clearly visible the deep chasm of inequality in the Indian society: it is our Bahujan folks who are suffering the most. However, for the... Read More...