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Countering ‘Jai Sri Ram’ with ‘Jai Bhim’

 

Pardeep Attri

On Tuesday (18 June 2019), when Asaduddin Owaisi, member of parliament from Hyderabad and president of AIMIM, approached to take oath in parliament slogans of 'Jai Sri Ram', 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and 'Vande Mataram' were shouted by sitting BJP MPs, creating nuisance and intimidation. Such provoking and intimidation of a leader of a minority community was done purposely and worries you about the direction Indian lawmakers are taking. After winning the elections, that saw an extremely divisive campaign led by BJP, such behavior from BJP MPs should not surprise anyone. But such heckling of MP should still be questioned by the right-minded. It is becoming much more common: BJP MPs shout 'Jai Sri Ram' slogans in the parliament, during the swearing-in ceremony of President Kovind, the same slogans were shouted by BJP MPs.

Owaisi-Slogan

Owaisi didn't hold it back for long and ended his oath-taking ceremony with 'Jai Bhim', 'Jai Meem', 'Takbeer Allahu Akbar', and 'Jai Hind'. Apart from this, other MPs while taking oath uttered various kinds of slogans while ending their oath ceremony, such as 'Jai Mata Di' to 'Jai Maa Kaali', 'Jai Hind' to 'Jai Bangla' and 'Om Namah Shivay' to 'Mandir Wahi Banayege', turning parliament into a circus, as if there was some competition going on to utter the best slogan. These are not merely the slogans but represent the ideology that these MPs represent.

While letting go of all this drama in the parliament, on Thursday same week, speaker Om Birla said that parliament is not for slogans and would not allow religious chants to go on inside the parliament--an assurance which came too late. In the whole episode, one slogan and person which caught the attention of media and social media was Asaduddin Owaisi's utterance of 'Jai Bhim'.

Background of 'Jai Bhim'

Ask any Dalit what does 'Jai Bhim' mean to him/her and one will get replies from, 'everything' to 'life'. 'Jai Bhim' is understood and perceived by people in different ways. It is a greeting used mainly by the followers of Dr Ambedkar and it literally means 'Victory to Bhim' (Bhim standing for Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar not Bhim of Mahabharata!). The 'Jai Bhim' slogan became popular even when Ambedkar was alive. More than a mark of respect, 'Jai Bhim' is a slogan calling for human equality and dignity and spirit of fighting for liberty, equality and fraternity as advocated by Ambedkar.

The 'Jai Bhim' greeting was coined by Babu L. N. Hardas, who was an adherent follower of Ambedkar and was Chief Secretary of the Independent Labor Party (ILP, the political party started by Ambedkar) and in charge of C.P and Berar. In 1937, Hardas won the assembly election from Nagpur in 1937 on ILP's ticket and he was one of the signatories on behalf of the Dalits of the much talked 'Poona Pact'.

"How 'Jai Bhim' originated is narrated by P. T. Ramteke in his research paper titled " 'Jai Bhim' chejanak -- Baboo Hardas L. N.", which was his dissertation for M.A." It is also believed that the 'Jai Bhim' slogan is older than 'Jai Hind'.

The 'Jai Bhim' slogan, which had a humble beginning and was initially used among only Dalits, has gained much attention in recent years, for multiple reasons, with Dalits replacing 'Ram-Ram' with 'Jai Bhim' to various political parties using it for their political gains and Dalit-Bahujan social organizations such as BAMCEF promoting it in every nook and corner of India. 'Jai Bhim' has become a symbol of assertion and fight against oppression to reclaim equal rights.

'Jai Bhim' to Counter 'Jai Sri Ram'

The use of 'Jai Sri Ram' (Hail Lord Ram) is not very old, it mostly gained popularity during the 'Ram Janam Bhoomi' agitation, and gained momentum with the rise of Hindutva politics with the BJP exploiting it well. In recent Lok Sabha elections, BJP used it to polarize communities in West Bengal and benefitted from the angry slogan, which has a history of switching from 'Jai Siya Ram' to 'Jai Sri Ram'. A few days after the drama in parliament, the fight reached social media with hashtags #SayNoToJaiSriRam and #SayNoToAllahuAkbar, which were trending on Twitter. Not only on social media but the streets are becoming red with blood with mobs forcing Muslims to chant 'Jai Sri Ram' while lynching and beating them. A Muslim man in Jharkhand was forced to chant 'Jai Sri Ram' and beaten to death around the same time as the slogan shouting competition in parliament was going on. Ultimately, 'Jai Sri Ram' is becoming a slogan to show minorities their place in society and ruling parties are letting it happen under their noses--this would have deadly consequences in the future.

Owaisi on the other hand understands well that to counter the ideology of 'Jai Sri Ram', he needs to come to the ideology of 'Jai Bhim', 'Jai Bhim' being the antidote to 'Jai Sri Ram'. In 1990s, similar counter slogans were popularized by BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh - Mile Mulayam Kanshi Ram, Hawa Mein Ud Gye Jai Sri Ram [Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram came together and BJP (representing 'Jai Sri Ram' ideology of Brahminical supremacy) disappeared] - understanding that SC/ST/OBCs need to come together to fight against Brahminical forces. BSP has adopted 'Jai Bhim' as a slogan and though the slogan 'Jai Bhim' is not forced on anyone, it has attracted a fatwa against its usage among BSP workers.

AIMIM, which contested election along with Prakash Ambedkar led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), performed quite well in Maharashtra because of Dalit and Muslim votes, wresting the Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat from the Shiv Sena. With Maharashtra state elections also due soon, it is vital for AIMIM to uphold a similar performance as in the Lok Sabha elections, where it increased its number to two seats. Further, with SC/STs and Muslims making almost 35% of Maharashtra's population, Owaisi knows what is at stake and the importance of 'Jai Bhim' to fight against right-wing politics.

In the last few years, the situation of Dalits and Muslims has gone worse with Sachar Committee report labeling Muslims as new Dalits in Indian society. During the same period, there has been a surge in right-wing political parties with step-motherly treatment for Dalits and Muslims rising.

A few months ago, while talking to my Muslim friend from Uttar Pradesh I asked him, why don't Muslims unite and fight against the oppression as Dalits are trying? His answer was Muslims are afraid that they would be labelled as terrorists and put behind bars. Can one see the helplessness? He is one of the most intelligent persons I have ever met but cannot even speak or write against the oppression because he and many others like him are scared. What kind of India are we in the process of making that its citizens are not allowed to even express themselves? We can't develop or 'make in India' by excluding most of its population.

For uttering 'Jai Bhim' to having 'Ambedkar song' ringtone on mobiles have led to a Dalit's murder so there must be something in 'Jai Bhim' that makes the so-called upper castes uncomfortable. It is important to make casteist people uncomfortable. Every whisper, every word, against Brahminism counts so keep on speaking against Brahminism to end it. Every 'Jai Bhim' counts and anyone who wants to counter the ideology of Brahminical supremacy needs to understand that.

The alliance between Dalits and Muslims is not new, Dr Ambedkar was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal with the help of the Muslim League. The only ideology that could counter such hatred and fearmongering is the ideology of 'Jai Bhim' that scares RSS and BJP. The strength that Dalit-Muslim unity brings could shape the future of India for better and defeat Brahminism, given that discrimination against the Pasmanda lower castes among Muslims) by Muslims is different, but anyone trying to build a bridge between Dalits and Muslims has to pass through the test of how well one can address the discrimination faced by lower castes in the Muslim community, as well.

"Now that 'Syed' Owaisi has become the biggest anti-caste warrior in sarzameen-e-india, shouldn't he first ask how many Pasmanda (SC,ST,OBC) Muslims in his own party. How many Pasmanda Muslims in AIMPLB, Waqf board, AMU, Jamia, etc?", asks Twitter user Kungfu Pasmanda.

In the past, Owaisi has stood against reservation for Pasmanda Muslims stating that, "the repercussions on the caste-based reservation in Muslims would be severe once it was implemented, Owaisi said it was against 'Islam and Shariat'."

Owaisi's own record of suppressing the question of Muslim caste within his politics is important and is missing. His opposition to OBC reservation for Pasmanda Muslims and chanting of Jai Bhim are indicate a conflicting mix of politics that cannot be termed as emancipatory. The Pasmanda movement has also critiqued the minority body politic over its co-constitutive nature by reviving emotional religious symbolism over the questions of bread and butter.

So, till the time the so-called upper castes among Muslims continue to deny rights and equal opportunities to so-called lower castes among them, no attempt to bring Muslims and Dalits together would work. Otherwise, it would be same as trying to bring Brahmins and Dalits together and we have seen such experiments failing in Uttar Pradesh. In future endeavors, if Prakash Ambedkar and Owaisi want to go ahead with the Dalit-Muslim unity project while using Jai Bhim as a tool to counter the Hindutva project, they must come to understand that it's the masses from each of the discriminated communities that matter and they must focus on them, not just use them as foot soldiers but bring them to the center stage.

The resurgence of Bahujan politics and the 'Jai Bhim' war cry against political and socio-cultural discrimination play the role of a binding force that can bring masses together to march for equality.

Dalits and Muslims need to understand the common enemy is the ideology of Brahminism, an ideology that imposes rules and regulations to exploit others and benefit from that exploitation. It is the need of the hour that the 'Jai Bhim' ideology that sees everyone as equal bring together different communities which believe in equality and fight the ideology of oppression, otherwise none will survive for long under Brahminism!

On one side, there is an ideology that believes in maintaining the social structure of caste as it is and on the other hand, there is an ideology that believes in dismantling the whole social structure of India that is based on caste. So, aligning with all those who are discriminated and are suffering becomes important if one desires to overcome the uphill task of dismantling the caste structure and 'Jai Bhim' shows the way. 'Jai Bhim' slogan would continue to inspire, bring together and guide all those fighting against the Brahminical system.

~~~

 

 Pardeep Attri blogs at http://drambedkarbooks.com/ and tweets at @AmbedkarCaravan

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