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Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
Tomorrow, in the Indian Republic of ‘Jai Shri Ram’
Is it that slowly but inexorably, Republic Day will cede place to the 'new epoch,' the dawn of a Hindu nation?
Published:
January 26, 2024 03:56 AM GMT

Updated:
January 26, 2024 02:53 PM GMT

The Constituent Assembly formally closed its proceedings on Nov. 26, 1949, and two months later, on Jan. 26, 1950, promulgated the Indian Constitution, whose preamble declares this country as “a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.”

This is the origin of Republic Day.

Does it have a future? Or is it that slowly but inexorably, Jan. 26, 1950, will cede place to Jan 22, 2024, the beginning of a kaal chakra (new epoch), and the dawn of a HinduRashtra (nation)?

It’s a dodgy question to pose and an even more difficult one to answer.

The Constituent Assembly, composed largely of Hindus with a sprinkling of other communities, determined that domicile and not identity would be the determinant for citizenship, and so it was civic nationalism that was chosen, not ethno-nationalism — unlike, say, Israel or Pakistan.

With the success of the Bharatiya Janata Party in government, however, these basic constitutional guarantees are called into question. Consider the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which threatens to disenfranchise millions of citizens belonging to minority communities. Anti-constitutional?

In recent years, the northern part of the country has been in turmoil over the appropriation of a medieval mosque, claimed to have been erected on the very site of Lord Ram’s birthplace.

After much rancor, struggle and litigation, the Ram Temple has come up — an impressive and ornate structure in marble and sandstone, and the pride of every Indian, both here and abroad. It was opened on Jan. 22.

To many, however, the Ram Mandir is not just a symbol of devotion. It also stands for the resurgence of this nation after centuries of colonialist oppression.

A recent report that India will soon become the third largest economy in the world corroborates this feeling and is a vindication of what we once were, and can well become again.

Today, there are frequent allusions to India’s “civilizational greatness,” referring to a time when she led the world in thought, spirituality and quality of life.

The reference is thus to an intellectual grounding in depth and width, an ethical compass that guides public action and private ambition, in accord with the traditions of this great land.

These values rest upon political self-confidence and an economic prosperity widely shared by all.

In 1947, despite most of the country being desperately poor and illiterate, the constitution gave the democratic franchise to all its citizens in one go. Today democracy thrives, and the government brags that India is the largest democracy in the world.

Not quite! The historian Ramchandra Guha says that India is just a “30-70” democracy, for autocracy has returned to haunt us. Today we have a government that clamps down on all dissent and free speech, charging those who do so with “sedition,” and being “anti-national.”

Reflecting on the significance of the “Ram Rajya” (Ram’s rule) today, political scientist Suhas Palshikar describes this new age in terms of three great “erasures.”

Firstly, the erasure of plurality. In olden times, poets and sages felt free to “shape their own Ram,” not only depending upon different geography but even in criticism of Ram’s deeds. A scholar has even commented on the “Three Hundred Ramayanas,” which the folk traditions revered and celebrated.

No longer.

The new Ram of Ayodhya is a muscular deity who brooks no rivals and demands single-mindedness in devotion as well as in polity.

It has become impossible today to imagine a critique such as the Father of the Indian Constitution Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Riddles in Hinduism, and we are far away indeed from Mahatma Gandhi’s Ram-Rahim/Ishwar tera naam (God’s name being both).

The new Ram represents a new era of official and legalized segregation (“apartheid”?) rather than the challenge of coexistence. The beginnings of ethno-nationalism?

Secondly, the erasure of coexistence. For some decades now we have been seeing fierce campaigns against the co-mingling of the youth of different communities (“love jihad”), the prohibition of mixed housing, even more stringent sanctions against marrying Dalit spouses, and calls for economic boycott of a minority community.

The new Ram builds on this legacy. The welcome greeting “Ram-ram” or “Jai Ramji ki” has already been replaced with the more aggressive “Jai Shri Ram,” underscoring the fact that Hindu identity is superior to anything else.

The third erasure is perhaps the most tragic: the erasure of guilt.

The temple was built over the vandalism of a mosque, which in turn was probably built over the earlier destruction of another temple.

Public surveys between 1992 and 1996 reveal that many Hindus felt uneasy about the destruction of a place of worship, but that this scruple has all but vanished today.

The conclusive act was the Supreme Court ruling of November 2019 which gave the final stamp of approval to the Ram Mandir’s construction.

Any lingering hesitancy has been swept away with the pageantry of the pran pratishtan (inaugural ceremony) and the conviction that Bharatvarsha (the true name for India) has indeed entered a new epoch as a world teacher and global arbiter.

So, as said before, we stand at a parting of the ways. Will we as a people choose the way of democratic freedom with its implications of social equality, and respect for diverse communities?

Or will we recede into a mythical past, smug in our knowingness, with a better life reserved only for a privileged few? 

The time to decide is now.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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8 Comments on this Story
GOPAL K
Why you are so i tolerant. We area very tolerent society. That doesnotmean we forget Goan iquisition or killings if hundredz if svhool students in canada
JUDE NORMAN
What about the centuries of discrimination against the backward classes in Indian society? Doesn't that bother you?
GOPAL K
Then why you discriminated blacks every where.And your narratives is not true either
JUDE NORMAN
Christianity condemns discrimination in any form or place.Separate the wrongs of a section from the theology. But classification of Hindu society based on birth is part of your belief system.
MADHAV
This guy is completely wrong and reeks of Hinduphobia. In th annals of history, Christianity, and it's gazillion denominations, have been anti-Hindu. So, I question the integrity of this individual and call this write up a bunch of lies.
JUDE NORMAN
So if your views don't align with RSS ideology they are tantamount to Hinduphobia? And you take the high moral ground and claim to be tolerant.
CHHOTEBHAI
The writer has expressed the bitter reality of today and needs to be complimented. Let me also some of those who have passed adverse comments on this story of the philosophical principle that "An affirmation of one thing is not the negation of another". So the Catholic Church in no way negates its past mistakes. We need humility to approach the truth.
CHHOTEBHAI
Yesterday was Republic Day that I celebrated with fervour. I saw more triangular saffron pendants in public spaces than the rectangular tricolour! What message does that convey?
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UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia