Even if the JNU Row moves out of headlines, let's not forget that beliefs are not monochromatic - Firstpost
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Even if the JNU Row moves out of headlines, let's not forget that beliefs are not monochromatic

As Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) erupts into celebration with the release of the alleged anti-national JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar from jail, the story of academic debate and discussion within the walls of this South Delhi academic institution will recede into the inside pages of daily newspapers.

TV channels will also see the story drop off the list of prime time bulletins.

Mahishasur might be taken off the debating list from JNU campus too, for the time being. But, misconceptions and half-baked discussions on what debates should take place or what issues should concern academia will be debated outside its walls by many whose understanding of academia is either weak or they believe their version of history/myths is the only truth. No version other than the popular one need be celebrated and observed. Alas, they fail to realise that what they believe to be popular may not be popular among sects, communities, social groups or even people spread across India’s geographical spread.

Most of us who grew up when Doordarshan News was the only TV news available will remember that on the day of Vijaydashmi, the final day of Dussehra celebrations, a news item would show visuals of the burning of effigies of demon king Ravan and his two brothers with a message from the president, vice-president and prime minister read out saying, “Vijadashmi, the festival that marks the Victory of Good over Evil was celebrated with tradition gaiety and fervor across the country…”

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Little did I realise that this fact was not true for the entire country until many years later I learnt that in South India, Ravan is not a demon that he was made out to be in North India.

Kamba Ramayan is the Ramayan that people follow in Tamil Nadu where Ravan is shown as a man of high moral fibre and a warrior king. And the villain, according to those whose who follow Kamba Ramayan is Ram because he questioned his wife’s chastity and disowned her. Tulsidas Ramayan is not what many in South India follow.

Beliefs are not monochromatic images the way politicians portray them.

The diversity of beliefs, myths, ideas, thoughts and stories that have evolved and taken a different spin over centuries in tiny tribal hamlets of Andhra Pradesh or Odisha or Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh cannot be debunked as “blasphemous”.

In parts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, Gond tribals worship Ravan as a Gond king killed by Aryan invaders. There are a few Ravan temples across the country.

In Bisrakh village of Noida, Uttar Prades; at Jodhpur and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh are other such temples. In the Darshanan Ravan temple in Kanpur, he is a warrior king and the finest disciple of Lord Shiva.

In Baijnath, Himachal Pradesh, people take inspiration from stories of Ravan’s devotion to Shiva and there is no custom of burning of his effigy or that of his brothers. In fact, sweets are neither distributed nor do people light firecrackers in the belief that effigy-burning would invite the wrath of Lord Shiva.

Similarly, Mahisasur’s story has a different narrative from the one that is followed in Kolkata and other parts of Bengal. Anyone who has visited Mysore would recall taking pictures of Mahisasur on Chamundi Hills in Karnataka.The colourful statue is of a character who is said to have inspired the name of the once famous capital of Wodeyar Rajas.

The Indian Express in its edition dated 28 February carried a front page news report datelined Ranchi with a photograph of tribals worshipping a statue of Mahisasur. Around 10,000 members of Asur, a Primitive Tribal Group, worship him as their ancestor. Their version of Durga’s “victory over evil” has a different narrative.

Academic debate and discussions in social sciences pull out stories of mythologies, legends, beliefs and rituals of every group, big and small. Most people in a world of instant soundbytes and instinctive posts on social media have little appreciation of academic discourse and rigour. They seem to forget that the history of small groups and communities need to be read, analysed and understood. There is nothing called “my way or the highway” in higher academics. People need to enrol or visit universities across the country to appreciate the importance and need for debate and discussion.

Marginalised sections of India who remain hidden from the prying cameras of TV channels have celebrated ideas and worshipped gods and goddesses, who are different and may even be antithetical to beliefs of majority people. These people are not non-Hindus or atheists. Their forefathers lived on this land long, long before many of our ancestors. Their stories are not to be junked and treated with suspicion and fear as some seem to do today.

All these groups, over a period of centuries, became a part of the large Indian family. Celebration of diversity requires respect for everyone and a desire to understand differences and not use voice modulation, theatrics and drama to belittle voiceless and faceless minorities of the country.

Hinduism’s inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity has made India what it is today. If Asurs of Jharkhand cannot be made to change their beliefs, an effort could be made to understand why the much-hated Kaurav prince Duryodhan, has a temple dedicated to him in Kerala’s Kollam district and what attracts hundreds of worshippers to trudge there from different parts of the state and country.

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