The sight of young children, including little girls, thronging the streets of Bengal’s towns is a sight that is supposed to lift many minds. During Sarawati Puja and during the festive days of Durga Puja, that has happened in Bengal for a very, very long time indeed.
However, during the BJP-RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal and other militant Hindutva group-sponsored events, this festive and cheerful sight was converted into a scene of shock and dismay last year when Bengal saw little girls and boys being supplied with swords and made to march amidst hate-mongering slogans on a supposedly “religious” occasion.
This was widely condemned across West Bengal.
The shocking scene was repeated this year thanks to the same set of outfits who are hell-bent on tearing apart the socio-cultural fabric of Bengal. The West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) has summoned representatives of Bajrang Dal from Purulia district of West Bengal, for engaging children with arms in a Ram Nabomi procession.
In the land of the UN award-winning Kanyashree project that aims to take women of Bengal forward, what these merchants of Hindutva-sponsored hate have in mind is a very different future for the women of Bengal.
Ram has always been a fringe god in Bengal with very few temples in his honour in Bengali areas. For the most part, he is the principal character of the epic Ramayan
, whose Bangla version written by Krittibas Ojha in the 15th century, had been, and continues to be, the major image of Ram.
The Ram Bengal knows, is a sensitive person, prone to shedding tears and eating vegetables and foods ubiquitous in Bengal.
Since 2014, that rule of engagement has been under severe strain, with Hindutva groups hell-bent upon foisting not only a Hindi-belt Ram on the unsuspecting people of Bengal, but foisting a wholly different form of so-called religious celebration that is rife with hate speech, flags of India, “Pakistan Murdabad” slogans, children walking with dangerous weapons, and Hindi speeches and songs in a 86% Bangla speaking land.
After hearing one of the “devotional” songs blaring from a Ram Nabomi procession, my friend Ayan Basu quipped that the “Pakistan Murdabad” slogans in the celebration of a supposedly millennia old entity’s birthday made him very confused whether Ram had fought against Lanka or Pakistan.
One of Bengal’s greatest poets ever, Michael Madhusudan Dutta penned Meghnad Bodh Kabyo
(the poem on the slaying of Meghnad, Raban’s son) where Raban, valiantly defending his people and his land against unscrupulous invaders from the North, is the hero. And this remains a classic of Bengali literature, and, in many ways, this reflects the similar take on Ram’s conquest of Lanka that is seen in Dravidian cultural sphere.
In the last few years, Bengal has witnessed the Hindutva brigade’s attempt to communalize even Bengal’s very dear Durga Pujo
The Hindi-belt has its Ram. Bengal has its own. They are quite different. The Hindutva groups of Bengal want to impose the Hindi-belt Ram on Bengal and use him as a Trojan horse for other nefarious motives.
And this it did. In two districts of West Bengal adjoining BJP ruled Hindi-states, multiple communal clashes were triggered by armed Ram Nabomi processions. Sheikh Shajahan, a Muslim Bengali, was killed. Deputy Commissioner of Police Arindam Dutta Chowdhury was critically injured. Multiple other policemen were injured. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s statue was torn down. Police stations were raided by armed Hindutva gangs with “Jay Sri Ram” on their lips.
Bengal has never seen such a “religion.”
Bengal is under siege. A political assault from the Hindi belt Hindutva political forces is taking place under the garb of an alien religious and cultural banner. On the day of Ram Nabomi, it was also the date of the worship of Bengal’s own goddess of food and bounty Mother Goddess Annapurna. My mother, a non-vegetarian like any other Bengali, ate only vegetarian food that day. It was her age-old Bengali religious practice that demanded so.
However, most of the crowds of the Ram Nabomi processions comprised of people who had no concept of Mother Goddess Annapurna. The Hindu Bengalis who joined these processions must now be placing their own Mother Annapurna at a lower pedestal than the recently imported Hindi belt version of Ram in whatever religio-political calculations they have in their heads. And there lies the cultural threat to the Bengali way of life and worship.
Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, has alleged that the communal violence that was associated with Ram Nabomi this year was engineered by outsiders. It is hard to assess from a distance how true that claim is, and it will only be known after investigations. However, a few facts are clear.
In an 86% Bangla-speaking state, any random normal assemblage of people should have a majority of Bangla speakers, if not an overwhelming majority. However, in all the incidents of armed violence during Ram Nabomi, the only language one heard from the crowd was Hindi.
This can mean one of three things: One, violent Ram Nabomi processions were mostly executed by Hindi speakers and not by Bangla speakers.
Two, outsiders were brought in from neighbouring Hindi states to execute such violence -- this is especially relevant for the Ram Nabomi-associated violent incidents and killings in Purulia and Ranigunj, both share border with BJP-ruled Hindi states. The Asansol MP, BJP’s Babul Supriyo even made multiple shameful communal instigations through social media in an age when WhatsApp messages can and have innocent people get killed.
Three, Ram Nabomi is an event that is so alien to Bengal that its violent vocal expressions are in Hindi and it draws that section of Hindu Bengalis who would forget the Bangla language-centric Goddess Annapurna celebrations and lend their voice to the Hindi-Hindu style Ram Nabomi “celebrations.”
Or it could be all of the above.
Ram Nabomi’s violent divisive avatar is not alone. In the last few years, Bengal has witnessed the Hindutva brigade’s attempt to communalize even Bengal’s very dear Durga Pujo.
The ruling Trinamool has hopefully learned its lesson that in an alien, hate-filled violent saffron turf, its participation does not give it any political mileage but can only bring shame by association.
While I say all this, one thing must be remembered: In the last official register of political support in West Bengal, that is, the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections, BJP won a meagre 10% of the votes.
In a 70% Hindu majority state, this means that 6 out of 7 Hindus did not vote for the BJP. Thus, when the politically saffronized Delhi media tries to spin a picture of Hindus under siege in Bengal, they insult the intelligence and the socio-cultural ethos of the people of Bengal, especially the Hindus of Bengal.
The largest proportion of Hindu Bengalis voted for the Trinamool. The second-largest proportion of Hindu Bengalis votes for the Left-Congress alliance. The BJP came a distant third.
This was less than two years ago. Hindu Bengalis have been Bengalis and Hindus before BJP existed, before the Indian tri-colour existed, before “Pakistan Murdabad” existed.
These props were not needed to be a Hindu Bengali. They are not needed now either. The present author is a case in point -- a proud Shakto, a proud Bengali.
Garga Chatterjee is a political and cultural commentator. He can be followed on twitter @gargac.