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Mr Modi, let a Dalit girl break the coconut at Ram temple

By Dr SUDHIR BISHT
August 03, 2020 17:55 IST
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If the PM gives the historic opportunity of laying the foundation stone of the Ram temple to a Dalit girl, it will send a transformational message to the Dalits in India and will give them a sense of belonging, says Dr Sudhir Bisht.

IMAGE: The statues at the Ram temple site in Ayodhya getting ready for the bhoomi puja on August 5, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo.
 

The laying down of the foundation stone at Ayodhya is a historic occasion for Ram bhakts around the world.

For Hindus it should mark the end for the struggle for a grand Ram temple.

Bhagwan Ram occupies a special place in millions of hearts. Ram was the prince who forsake his claim over kingdom just to ensure that his father kept his pledge.

Ram was the loving husband who travelled from the northern end of India to the southern kingdom of Lanka, to free his wife from the clutches of Ravana.

Ram was the champion of class equality who ate the half-eaten ber of Shabri, his bhakt from the downtrodden caste.

Ram embraced the boatman Kevat, who ferried him across the river and made him his life-long friend.

Ram, the protector, saved the rishis and munis from the onslaught of demons and he elevated the status of the monkeys in his army to the level of human beings.

After wandering about in the forests for 14 years Ram ruled the kingdom of Ayodhya so efficiently that his model of administration has become the touchstone of governance. It is known as Ram Rajya, the rule of Ram that was perfect in all dimensions.

Tragically, Ram had to give up the companionship of his dear wife briefly after he became king. He did it to lay down high standards of social conduct for his people.

I am personally aggrieved at this decision of Ram, but the moot point is that even if Ram did something that gave precedence to popular demand over justice, he did it not for personal gains, but for the larger cause of society.

Ram, the warrior, the giver, the sufferer, the pacifier, the ruler, the highest man among men even though a Vishnu incarnate, has finally received recognition from the highest court in India.

His birthplace shall now have a temple that we Ram bhakts have craved for a long, long time.

The process of construction of a magnificent Ram temple shall begin on August 5. Ram bhakts like me will make this day the most historic day in our lives and shall celebrate it forever.

Can we also use this historic opportunity to give out a powerful statement?

Yes, we can.

Our Hindu darshana or philosophical canvas is broadly divided into six aastik schools of thought. Nyay and Vaisheshika; Sankhya and Yoga: Poorv Mimamsa and Uttar Mimamsa.

The last named darshana is also referred to as Vedant, drawn from the concluding part of the Vedas. It quenches the thirst of those who are Gyan Yogis, travellers on the path of supreme knowledge.

The Vedant school of philosophy is devoid of any 'karm-kand' or the rituals and ceremonies that have come to become the most visible face of Sanatan Dharma.

Vedant lays utmost importance to equality of all human beings. It propounds that all 'jeev-aatman' (souls of the living) are nothing but part of 'Brahm', the ultimate power, the supreme reality.

And yet, in the real world, the followers of Sanatan Dharma are divided into the useless silos of caste. And the caste compartments are not based upon profession but predetermined by birth.

This is the most unfortunate practice of the highly enlightening and truly emancipating Hindu religion.

Over several centuries, the practice of caste system has destroyed the very fabric of Hindusim. Atrocities on Dalits were common place before the advent of the 20th century.

A large number of Dalits and other categories of scheduled caste citizens were forced to live a life of misery and misfortune in India. They were not considered as equal to the men and women of other castes and many generations of Dalits lived horrible lives.

The situation in Independent India is much changed as we find that a Dalit leader like Mayawati could become the chief minister of India's most populous state on four occasions.

The post of the President of our Republic has been adorned by a Dalit. Dalits have occupied top level positions in the civil administration, in the judiciary and in politics.

In spite of all the positive changes, the mindset of many Indians remains caste-centric.

A decade ago, as I stood in a queue to buy Indian Made Foreign Liquor at a retail counter in Uttarakhand, the guy ahead of me and the guy behind me asked me my caste (Brahmin or Rajput?) as we chatted along.

Caste seems to remain one of the most common identity symbols even in these modern times.

The Dalits of India are still looked down upon by many Indians. They may get a tepid welcome inside the living rooms of high caste born Hindus but they are still not considered as equals.

How many high caste families can claim that their best family friends are Dalits?

A high caste man can count a Brahmin or a Bania or a Rajput or a Kayasth as his best friend, but you would often find that that Dalits would be missing from this equation.

My close friend, a Dalit employed as chief engineer in a government department, still agonises when he remembers how badly his grandfather was treated in his ancient village in Bengal.

He once recounted, "My grandfather was at the bottom of the pyramid in the village hierarchy and he was responsible for disposal of all dead animals in the village. He had no authority to refuse to carry out any work in this regard."

"One day when he was suffering from high fever, he was beaten up when he showed up late to do the work that he was assigned to do, by birth!"

Mind you, my friend and his father (who too was an engineer in a government department) claimed the benefits of reservations meant for scheduled caste students and employees. They got their engineering seats in university and perhaps some benefits in their departmental promotions on account of the reservation policy in government service and employment rules, but they both felt that there were occasions when their competence was challenged solely because of their caste.

The lowliness of their caste rankled them all their lives.

As our rural population will dwindle further and as industrial and service sectors will take more and more centrestage in contributing to the nation's GDP, caste barriers shall decline further.

Migration from villages to towns and large cities is already breaking the 'what-is-your-caste' mentality of young Indians.

To give a massive body blow to the caste mentality, the Ram Mandir's bhoomi puja (stone-laying ceremony) must be done by a Dalit girl child. This will send a transformational message to the Dalits in India and will give them a sense of belonging.

Bhagwan Ram broke the barrier when he embraced Kevat, the boatman and shared a fruit with Shabri, the poor woman of low caste.

Prime Minister Modi washed the feet of sanitary staff during the Kumbh Mela in February 2019. He is a social reformer in a distinctive way. He has challenged the status quo in many fields and his action of washing the feet of sanitary workers was a very, very, potent message across the length and breadth of India.

If the PM gives the historic opportunity of laying the foundation stone of the Ram temple to a Dalit girl, it will act like a Mohammed Ali punch on the caste culture that prevents the physical, mental, psychological and spiritual integration of Dalits with the others in Sanatan society.

I rest my case.


Dr Sudhir Bisht, author and columnist, writes from Delhi.

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