By Apoorv Pathak:
As the nation celebrated Dussehra, Lord Ram, who is central to the pantheon of Indian gods and goddesses, was brought back into the limelight. Two of the most popular political figures in the country – Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal, who are usually divided on everything else, came together to chant Lord Ram’s name.
Yes, Lord Ram is an integral part of popular Hindu mythology and consequently Indian culture. But we rarely attempt to scrutinise his ‘moral’ status and the implications it has on our lives. Re-examining his character in light of modern progressive values might alter the image we have of him.
The kind of heroes a society celebrates says a lot about what the society is like. Our imagination of what makes someone a hero is shaped by the virtues and vices of society. These imaginations, in turn affect, and to some degree, determine what constitutes social morality for the next few generations. Society must be cautious of the heroes it chooses to embrace or at least, if nothing else, acknowledge their shortcomings.
I find it troubling to think that any person with a progressive mindset can worship a man who didn’t treat his wife well, a man whose actions were guided by regressive patriarchal notions. How can we celebrate and worship a person who didn’t just participate in shaming his wife Sita, but also added to her misery by forcing her into exile to ‘protect’ his image? If a man, so obsessed with his image, so quick to surrender to social prejudices, is held as an example to young minds, we only make it harder for anyone to challenge the perverse patriarchal mindset that continues to deprive women of their dignity and robs them of their agency. Also, what kind of a parent abandons their unborn children?
The caste system in India is an evil that’s deep-rooted. Lord Ram would, in this case, also be a poor example to give to the current generation. He was a proponent of the caste system. His act of getting Shambuka (a Shudra) killed at the behest of a Brahmin priest who was infuriated that a person belonging to a lower caste was present at a Brahmin-only function, is a glaring example of how he promoted the ways of one of the world’s most oppressive system of discrimination.
The above reasons were exactly why Ambedkar had implored the Indian society to disown a casteist icon like Ram. Now that Ambedkar’s ideas have gained acceptance across political parties, the most we can do is take his advice and act on it.
Not to forget, Ram also enjoyed the privileges of a king. It is a poor example to give to the new generation, in an age where the system of monarchy is against the very idea of equality. Feudal mindsets have saddled Indian society for generations, and when the ‘heroes’ we worship were also complicit in perpetuating feudal practices, the problem only grows.
There are other crucial shortcomings in Lord Ram’s character that one can talk about, but the case that I’m making is not that Ram should be shunned because he was not perfect. One is perfectly ready to look beyond imperfections, but what one can’t accept is that a character who displays the worst form of patriarchal, feudal and casteist behaviour, is even today, an icon that everyone looks up to.
We must all get a reality check; we must continually re-examine and re-assess whom we worship and why we continue to worship them day after day, year after year. With time, we too must evolve and leave regressive and discriminatory systems behind us.