Lynching

"Jai Shri Ram": The new battle cry

Print edition : August 16, 2019

A candlelight protest in Ahmedabad, on June 27 against the lynching of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand. Photo: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP

Recent instances of lynching reveal that the slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman” have become new weapons of assault in the hands of Hindutva votaries who use them to harass, intimidate and eliminate minorities and Dalits.

PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi’s second term has not been short of instances of crime and hatred. Unlike his first innings, when the cow was used as a political animal to lynch unarmed Muslim and Dalit men, this time Muslim, Dalit and even Christian men have been assaulted and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. From Jharkhand to Assam, from Mumbai to Delhi, neither small-town India nor the big metropolises are safe from these lynch mobs.

The modus operandi is similar: find a Muslim or a Dalit, attack him. However, unlike post-2014, when the possession of cattle was deemed necessary to lynch the men, this time the mob merely asks their names and attacks them. The revelation of the name is sufficient to invite a series of blows, culminating in the use of hockey sticks, rods and belts as weapons of assault. As in the 2015 lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, and that of Pehlu Khan and Alimuddin Ansari later, the lynchings are recorded on a hand-held camera or mobile phone, and duly uploaded online to create a climate of fear.

In June, Tabrez Ansari, a 24-year-old, was accused of bike theft in Dhaktidih village in Jharkhand’s Saraikela-Kharsawan district. After being asked to reveal his name, Ansari was tied to a pole and beaten for 12 hours by the mob. He was forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”. Even after he had repeated the slogans, he was not spared: blows continued to rain upon a bleeding Ansari. Later, the police took him into custody and produced him in a court that sent him to judicial remand.

Ansari’s lynching evoked widespread protest from the Muslim community and outrage on social media. Even Modi, never one to promptly condemn a lynching incident, took to Twitter to denounce the dastardly action. He, however, asked the masses not to equate the lynching with the State of Jharkhand. Incidentally, Ansari is the 18th victim of lynching in Jharkhand over the past four years. His lynching went viral on social media, with a video of about 10 minutes recording for posterity the sustained and brutal assault on the helpless man asked to hail Shri Ram again and again.

If Ansari was lynched just before Modi began his second innings as Prime Minister, four Christian Adivasis were attacked in the heat of the general election. These men, too, were brutally thrashed by a mob in neighbouring Jairagi village and asked to chant the twin slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”. The victims refused to oblige, which resulted in further thrashing before they were dumped in front of the local police station. Yet again, the police were lax in taking the victim to hospital. Prakash Lakda, one of the victims, succumbed to his injuries.

However, the cries of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman” to instil the fear of God in the victims did not emanate only from Jharkhand. In Assam’s Barpeta district, young Muslim men were forced to chant the slogans after they were intercepted by a mob. They were travelling by an autorickshaw when their vehicle was stopped and they were forced to get down and chant slogans hailing Rama before being compelled to say “Pakistan murdabad” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. As in Saraikela, the attackers uploaded the video online, causing a mild uproar on social media.

Meanwhile, Kolkata reported its first case of attack in the name of Rama. Hafeez Mohammed Shahrukh Haldar, a teacher at a madrasa, was heckled while travelling by train, his attire was made fun of, his beard was pulled, and he was asked to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. When he refused, the vigilantes threw him out of the moving train. Haldar, however, survived.

In Mumbai, Faizal Usman Khan, a 25-year-old Muslim taxi driver, was attacked by a lynch mob when his taxi broke down. As he was trying to repair his vehicle, he was abused and thrashed by the mob, which compelled him to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. In Aurangabad, Imran Ismail Patel, a hotel employee, was attacked by a mob when he was on his way home on his motorcycle and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. He was, however, saved by some eyewitnesses. 

In Delhi, Mohammed Momin alleged that he was attacked by three men in a car in a colony in Rohini, who hit him and forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. In Connaught Place in the heart of New Delhi, a Pune-based doctor, Arun Gadre, was made to chant “Jai Shri Ram” when he was out on a morning walk near the YMCA.

In neighbouring Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh, a 30-year-old Muslim cleric, Imlakur Rahman Ali, was riding his bike when he was attacked. Ali alleged that the mob removed his cap, pulled him down, holding his beard, and forced him to repeatedly say “Jai Shri Ram” with them, and finally warned him with dire consequences if he were to take the same route again. The police registered a case against 12 persons for the assault.

In Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, three madrasa students were thrashed with cricket bats and forced to chant the name of Rama.

The cries of “Jai Shri Ram” travelled from Jharkhand and Assam to Delhi, Mumbai, and finally to Parliament where Muslim MPs were repeatedly heckled by members of the ruling dispensation as they went to take their oaths. Clearly, the law-makers of the country had taken their inspiration from the streets. Or, maybe, it was vice versa. 

Either way, the slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman” have become a new weapon of assault in the hands of Hindutva votaries. It marks, too, a new turn in the usage of the slogan in independent India. There is a clear change in the iconography. And Rama’s name is being used for political convenience. The deity seems to have replaced Gau Mata as a weapon to harass, intimidate and eliminate minorities and Dalits.

Shift in imagery

Incidentally, Rama’s name and image have been used for political purposes in the past too. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a change in the popular greeting of “Jai Ram ji ki” and “Ram Ram ji”. At the height of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the gentle wish of “Ram Ram ji” and even “Namaskar” were replaced in some quarters with the more politically robust greeting of “Jai Shri Ram”. Around the same time, the usual portrayal of Rama as a family man with his consort Sita and brother Laxmana by his side, and Hanuman at his feet, gave way to a more muscular depiction of Rama. The gentle, beatific face of the avatar of Vishnu was relegated to the background. Instead, posters of a muscular Rama on the battlefield hit the market in a big way. In the same way, more recently, the iconography of Hanuman has been changed to suit political convenience. Ever since one can remember, Hanuman worshippers have had an idol of Hanuman with the chest slit open to show Rama inside his heart. Or one of Hanuman sitting in obeisance at the feet of Rama and Sita. Today, a new image of an angry Hanuman covers the windshields of thousands of cars and the space near the headlights of motorcyles.

The noted historian Charu Gupta of Delhi University said: “I think for Hindutva rhetoric to succeed, violence is a critical component. The shift in the imagery of Hanuman is not isolated. The iconography of Rama saw a critical shift in the Rama Janmabhoomi movement. The benevolent, smiling, soft, benign, gentle, tranquil and familial Rama, often seen with Sita, gave way to a singular, muscular, angry Rama. This muscular and angry version of Hanuman too is part of the depiction of a virile Hindutva that celebrates ‘ugra’ rasa.” 

Today, as votaries of Hindutva reign supreme, “Jai Shri Ram” is the mantra driving their hatred. Charu Gupta said: “Again, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has political overtones, associated with victory and aggression that the soft ‘Ram Ram’ or even more so ‘Siya Ram’ (which was prevalent in colonial times) does not have. So tradition is being reinvented and reshaped to be in consonance with a modern Hindutva. ‘Har Har Mahadev’ was the battle cry, never ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in the days gone by.”

The economist Amartya Sen said at a function in Jadavpur University: “I have not heard ‘Jai Shri Ram’ before. It is now used to beat up people.”

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