Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand. Faizal Usman Khan in Mumbai. Hafeez Mohd Sahrukh Haldar in Kolkata. What’s common in all these people? They’ve been forced to chant "Jai Shri Ram" by a mob threatening to kill them, and in some cases, they have actually succeeded in doing so. What was once a popular greeting is slowly becoming the last thing a mob lynching victim hears before being heckled to death.
Just a few days ago, a video started circulating on social media, which actually projects everything that is wrong with the whole issue. It featured two ministers in the Jharkhand Assembly, CP Singh and Irfan Ansari standing outside the Legislative Assembly, casually talking. Soon enough, out of the blue Singh asked Ansari to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. "Ek baar zor se Jai Shri Ram boliye”, he said. Ansari didn’t oblige, but smilingly showed the red mauli (A sacred thread usually tied by Hindu priests), indicating his appreciation for Lord Ram. He even can be seen saying on camera “Ram sabke hain”, trying to move away from the evident communalism in Singh’s request. However, what started as a light hearted banter soon turned into a heated argument, with Singh even questioning Ansari’s ancestral origins, just because he refused to chant what the minister asked him to. Ansari’s call to discuss development, farmers, and unemployment seemingly fall on deaf ears. The usual.
One wonders if he wasn’t an MLA and the cameras weren’t there, would he have lived long enough to tell the tale? I’d like to believe so, but the stats say otherwise. India Spend’s recent initiative – The Citizen’s Religious Hate Crime Watch found out that as many as 90% of religious hate crimes since 2009 have occurred after Modi led the BJP to power at the Centre in 2014. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Karnataka rank top 3 in the occurrence of hate crimes. To give you an idea of the leadership ruling these states, 66% of the hate crimes have occurred in BJP ruled states. In the cases of violence spurred by instances of forced religious conversations, the victims were 78% Christians in such instances. What’s far more telling to the whole argument is that in cases wherein details of the attackers’ political affiliations were known or reported, as high as 83% of the perpetrators were allegedly associated with Hindutva organizations. The RSS, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Yuva Vahini, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad were found to be most guilty.
If you think that the slogan shouting and name calling is restricted to the streets, allow me to correct you, it has now worryingly entered the parliament as well. Instances of heckling were prevalent when ministers were seen taking oath in the parliament. Chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ could be heard when Asaduddin Owaisi, a veteran of the Parliament was walking up to take his oath. Why is there a need for that when it is not at all related to the occasion? If this isn’t an indicator of forced politicization of a religious chant, I don’t know what is.
To those that will argue on the fact that it is just a religious chant and its use is unnecessarily being taken out of context, let’s have a look at how it originated. For centuries, devout Hindus have used “Ram Ram”, “Jai Siya Ram” or “Jai Ram Ji Ki” as peaceful greetings. The tide turned for the first time when in the late 1980s when the chant was used to mobilize Hindu support during the movement to construct the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. With that “Jai Shri Ram’ converted into a rallying cry of attack, meant to intimidate those who worship differently and as a barometer for one’s patriotism. On 18 June, a chilling video shows Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand begging for his life. Tied to a pole and being forced by the mob first asks him his name and then forces him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”, he even obliges, but sadly that wasn’t enough to save him, as he succumbed to the injuries sustained during the attack 3 days later. When a religious chant is a precursor to the death of a victim and is only used after establishing the identity of the said victim, it surely doesn’t remain just a religious chant.
So what has led to all this? The government’s unbelievable silence on the entire issue is one that gives a free rein to right wing supremacists to take law in their own hands. In 2018, the then Union Minister Jayant Sinha had even “honoured and garlanded” eight accused in the Alimuddin Ansari lynching case in Ramgarh, Jharkhand, while they were out on bail. The alleged inaction of police forces to control the situation further worsens the state. Even in the Ansari lynching case, the family alleged that the apparent apathy of the police, which refused medical treatment to Ansari, led to his death.
You may be apolitical. You may not care about this issue. You may be an atheist and not give much important to the role religion plays in our country. But when something as basic as a pure greeting is politicized, used as a war cry to kill, and threatens to alter the fabric of the nation on which it was built, I think it deserves some of your attention.