The Documentary ‘Ram Ke Naam’ Highlights The Illogical Reasoning Of Religious Extremism

In The Name of God or Ram ke Naam is a documentary film made by Anand Patwardhan in the year leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The film follows the journey of BJP leader L.K Advani’s Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. The stage of the film is set at the destruction of a mosque in Ayodhya to build a temple in its place claiming it to be Lord Ram’s birthplace – Ramjanamabhumi. However, along with the main issue, the film traces seeds of communalism, the politicisation of religion and classism.

The film is not opinion-based but reflects the people’s dictum at that time. The filmmaker interviews several people ranging from fanatic members of the procession to temple priests, local junta, and even Government officials. The film makes an interesting view to today’s audience because it serves as evidence of how communal feelings and attitudes began to take shape as a result of right-wing Hindu politics. It is also noteworthy that the title hints to us of how man supports his actions ‘in the name of God’, even though his actions are not the Lord’s command.

The film opens with a poster of God-king Ram holding a bow and arrow marching towards Ayodhya (and towards L.K Advani). The poster animates the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya after “hazaro saal (after a thousand years)” to mark the beginning of a ‘new history’ as people re-establish his birthplace – Ramjanamabhumi. Politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) take the responsibility to carry out this ‘task’.

“All that is needed for the betterment of life is Ram. If there is no Ram, there is no survival,” cry out the supporters of Ramjanamabhumi cause. The ‘Hindu’ claim over Ayodhya and the logic of building a Ram temple on the ‘same’ site, are based on partial accounts of a loose historicity.

The Babri Mosque, built by Babar in 1527, was presumably the site of a Hindu temple that was torn by Baba to give way to a mosque in its place. Upon Colonial occupation, a seed of communal discord was sowed to end the Hindu-Muslim unity. However, for years both communities continued to pray to their respective Gods in close proximity within that area.

On December 22, 1949, as the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) narrative go, Lord Ram appeared in the dream of a priest in Ayodhya. The God-king inspired the priest to install Ram’s idol in the mosque. The District Magistrate of Ayodha, K.K Nayar backed this operation, says a priest. The film begins to reason the logic of these turn of events and seeks an inquiry into the ‘organisers’ involved in the heist.

A clip of K.K Nayar’s higher education qualifications is shown in the film that goes against the rationality of his actions. This short frame dissolves all possibility of good education leading to higher morality and secular views. This is evident throughout the film.

A right-wing Hindu organisation, the VHP has used their logo in campaigns to propagate the temple cause. Patwardhan has strongly suggested the use of visual media to gain popular support for the cause. The film features one scene where a boy with tearing eyes and jaws clenched is glued to a Ram temple audio-visual. The video campaign enacts the miraculous ‘appearance’ of the Lord in Ayodhya but covers up the human hand involved in ‘establishing’ the idol. These visuals hypnotized the masses to cause a hysterical love for their ‘Hindu’ God.

The affiliated bodies of VHP – the BJP and the Bajrang Dal (youth wing of the VHP), play essential roles in the political execution of the cause. The court appointed priest of the Ramjanamabhumi, Pujari Lal Das is a vital character in the film. “VHP members have never made a single offering or prayed at the temple”, he says, even though they fight for the cause.

Pujari Lal Das is perhaps the focal character in the narrative Patwardhan is attempting to construct in the film. Das opines that the whole dispute is VHP’s ‘game’ for economic and political power. Das openly reveals the discomforting conclusion to Patwardhan’s genealogy of this poorly reasoned Hindu cause – the demolition of one holy site to built another one on its ruins. This potentially small issue was exploited by right-wing politics to kick off a nationwide movement to cash in Hindu votes.

Ram’s Vanar Sena (quite literally, an army of monkeys), “can do anything to anyone who opposes them in their mission” declares an electrician, who has taken a sabbatical from work to join the ‘elite’ force for the cause. Patwardhan crafts a narrative for the viewer that does not miss the evolution of the primary ‘Indian’ identity – from being ‘Indian’ to ‘Hindu’ or even ‘BJP’.

The BJP began their Rath Yatra from Somnath and planned to culminate in Ayodhya on October 30, 1990. Their leader L.K Advani leads the campaign on a Toyota decorated to resemble a religious chariot with a BJP logo. An extensive coverage of this campaign in the film suggests how man and his actions can drive religion. The Rath Yatra was meant to attract volunteers or Kar sewaks.

A crucial part of the film lies in the fact that in all of its interviews and clips, no historical claim has ever been backed by evidence. L.K Advani claims in his speeches that Ram’s exact birthplace is the existing site of the mosque. The grand new Ram temple, thus, must be built over it.

However, there are hundreds of Ram temples in Ayodhya claiming the same. A Left leader in the film says, “which part of Ayodhya isn’t sacred with Ram’s divinity?”. Seen in this light, if asked when was Ram born, most supporters of the cause are unable to answer. “Only someone who has immersed themselves in ‘history’ can answer this,” says a Law student-turned kar sewak in the film.

In similar fashion, Muslims were declared to be “tenants” in a Hindu land by a BJP MLA from Haryana and as “trespassers” by others. Patwardhan forces you to wonder why history is a crucial part of any cultural, political or religious belief. The film is an attempt to record the misrepresentation of a certain religious beliefs to evoke a national ‘Hindu’ sentimentality.

Raam ke Naam also portrays the prevalence of classism within the communal forces. One side shows that while amidst popular slogans and nationwide movements people who live on the streets have no knowledge about what is going on around them. The other side is a legacy of political resentments. Upper caste Hindus are resentful of the government to implement the Mandal Commission Report that reserves jobs for backward castes. Thus, they support the opposition party – the BJP, and its Ram temple cause. The conflict was born and bred at the ‘top’ to be disseminated as a political propaganda to the greater population.

“Can the courts decide whether Ram was born or not? All I say is don’t get in the way…. which government can stop it?” says Advani speaking to an audience to justify everything from capitalism to an aggressive anti-Mandal Commission Stand, all in the name of Ram.

The film is a reminder of the illogical reasoning of religious extremism. The Ram temple agenda has sidelined other pertinent issues of society. At a gathering organised by the Leftist parties, their leader rightly points out how this local issue has transcended into a national havoc. “After 43 years of independence, prices are sky high, thousands of youth are unemployed, over half the population is below the poverty line, illness and illiteracy are rampant, but it would seem from recent events that none of these problems exists. The only issue is that of the temple and the mosque,” says the leader.

Anand Patwardhan’s documentary film is a reminder of the rare commodity called truth. The film cannot be completely viewed as resistance to religious ideology but rather a resistance to being a staunch, blind and irrational believer. The film in a way suggests how people are God-fearing and not God loving, and how politicians take advantage out of it.

Religion is used as a tool to create division between two communities and as a platform for political agenda. “In this village,” a lower caste Hindu recalls in the film, “many people have their birthplaces. Yet they are being evicted. On the other hand, there is one Ram. For his birthplace, everyone’s so frantic.”

It is critical to examine Hinduism’s reformation into a modern, consolidated political power, through this film. The Hindus have, in the process of this conflict forgotten their responsibility as the nations vast majority. Tolerance, pluralism, and secularism seem to be a pipe dream in India. Why is it that people, blinded by their love for god, follow leaders who preach hatred? Pujari Lal Das ends in a reply to this question quoting a Doha from the Ramayana, “When the rains are heavy, the grass grows so tall that its difficult to find the right path; so when charlatans speak, the truth gets hidden; but the rainy season is short-lived, when it’s done, people regain their ability to reason.”

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