There is a common thread running between some of the hate crimes against Muslims that have taken place in the past one month - the slogan “Jai Shri Ram”.
- Last week, 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari was beaten up, forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and then lynched in Kharsawan, Jharkhand.
- On Sunday, Faisal Usman Khan, a cab driver in Mumbai, was allegedly beaten up by three men who forced him to chant Jai Shri Ram.
- Earlier this week, Shahrukh Halder, a madarsa teacher, claimed a group of men beat him up and threw him off a moving train for refusing to say “Jai Shri Ram”.
- In Haryana’s Gurgaon, Mohammad Barkat is said to have been beaten up and forced to chant Jai Shri Ram.
- A hijab-wearing Muslim girl was harassed by men chanting Jai Shri Ram in North Bengal.
- Mohammad Momin was hit by a car in Rohini, Delhi allegedly because he refused to chant Jai Shri Ram.
These are incidents from across the country but reveal a clear pattern – that the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” is being used to harass Muslims.
But it’s not just these hate crimes. In the Lok Sabha as well, BJP MPs heckled Muslim MPs like Asaduddin Owaisi as well as MPs belonging to the Trinamool Congress (Hindus as well as Muslims) by shouting Jai Shri Ram during the oath-taking ceremony last week.
Why has Jai Shri Ram emerged as a slogan for majoritarian assertion and bullying of minorities, be it in the Parliament or by a mob?
In an article in Scroll.in, journalist Shoaib Daniyal writes, “The most remarkable political use of Ram came during the 1920s peasant movement in Awadh under the leadership of Baba Ramchandra....As part of his efforts to mobilise peasants, Ramchandra urged the replacement of the salutation ‘salaam’, which was usualy used by a social inferior to address his superior with the more egalitarian ‘Sita Ram’”.
According to journalist Dhirendra Jha, who has done extensive research on the Ram Mandir movement, the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” gained popularity in the 1980s essentially due to its political usage.
“The widespread use of the slogan can be traced to the Ram Janmbhoomi agitation initiated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the 1980s.”Dhirendra Jha, author
Jha is the author of Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva and the co-author of Ayodhya: The Dark Night.
He identifies two major milestones in this respect. The first was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s first Dharma Sansad in April 1984.
According to the minutes of the VHP’s Dharma Sansad, one of the six resolutions it passed was for the “return of Shriram Janmabhumi, Kashi Vishvanath and Shri Krishna Janmasthan to Hindus”. It highlighted the “creation of awareness about Ram Janmabhumi” through a Rath Yatra as the main achievement of the Dharma Sansad.
The Bajrang Dal was established later that year to further these efforts.
The second milestone was the third VHP Dharma Sansad that was held in Allahabad (now Prayagraj) on the occasion of the Mahakumbh in January 1989.
“The 1989 Kumbh was a major turning point. The Sangh Parivar mobilised people in a major way during it using Lord Ram’s name. Jai Shri Ram was widely used in that Kumbh,” Jha told The Quint.
According to him, the 1989 Kumbh Mela was significant both because of the how RSS took centre-stage as well as the manner in which Lord Ram’s name was invoked in an unprecedented manner.
The Dharma Sansad was a high profile affair, with Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati also in attendance.
A key aspect of the session was how the mission of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya was seen as integral to the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra.
“Along with the announcement of 5-point Do and Don’t for the purpose of re-establishment of Bharat as Hindu Rashtra, the model design of Shriram Mandir was also accepted with a view to pre-empt the disintegration of Hindu society (sic)...”Minutes of VHP Dharma Sansad, 1989
It was with this that the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ became a key tool for “preserving the unity of Hindu society” and “laying down the path for the Hindu Rashtra”.
Sidelining of Sita
One key aspect of the political invocation of Lord Ram was the sidelining of his wife Sita. This is best symbolised by how the traditional invocation of “Jai Siya Ram” or “Siyavar Ramchandra ki Jai” gave way to “Jai Shri Ram”. The other greetings are still used but in a political context it is always “Jai Shri Ram” that dominates.
According to Jha, “Ram’s status as a warrior assumed primacy over all other aspects as it works better for political mobilisation in a patriarchal society”.
He points out that “for several devotees, such as the Sakhi Sampraday, invoking Ram without Siya is unthinkable. Many devotees got disillusioned with the Ram Mandir movement because of this”.
The sidelining of Sita was also important in the context of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement for one more reason: The entire emphasis of the movement was on the birth of Ram Lalla, that is a time much before his marriage to Sita.
A huge role in popularising “Jai Shri Ram” as a slogan was played by the Ramanand Sagar’s TV series Ramayan, that was telecast on Doordarshan in 1987-88.
According to Jha, both Ram’s status as a unifying Hindu figure as well as the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ received a huge boost with the serial.
“These adaptations of sacred epics tended to create a national Hinduism.”Christophe Jaffrelot in The Hindu Nationalist Movement and India Politics
However, 30 years later, “Jai Shri Ram” has assumed a completely different dimension in terms of popular culture.
A Bhojpuri film was released in 2017 called Pakistan Me Jai Shri Ram, which shows the hero, naturally a Ram devotee, enter Pakistan and kill terrorists chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. The ending sequence of the film resembles a Hindutva fantasy. The hero, who briefly appears as Lord Ram, kills the chief of the terrorists. But before he does that, he rants against Pakistanis having “multiple wives” and “divorcing them using Triple Talaq when their lust is satisfied”.
It does seem that “Pakistani” is a dog whistle for targeting Indian Muslims. This becomes quite clear when an Indian Muslim who is depicted as a traitor is shown being lynched by a mob chanting Jai Shri Ram. The film was popular and has over seven million views on YouTube.
There is also an entire genre of music that glorifies Lord Ram and targets minorities. For instance, the song Har ghar bhagwa chhayega, Ram Raj jab aayega by Laxmi Dubey is hugely popular.
Another song goes “Ayodhya Ram ki hai, Rehman kahaan se aa tapke” with shouts of “Jai Shri Ram” in the background.
Another song which directly targets Muslims goes, “'Jis din jaag utha Hindutva to yeh anjam bolega, topi wala bhi sar jhuka kar Jai Shri Ram Bolega (The day when Hindutva awakens, this will be the consequence, even a skullcap-wearer will bow his head and say Jai Shri Ram.)”
Many of these songs were played in Ram Navami processions that eventually culminated in attacks on Muslims in Bihar last year. Often the slogans become more aggressive when the processions pass through Muslim-dominated areas.
It is clear that the rise of Jai Shri Ram as a slogan owes a great deal to the political project of uniting Hindus against imaginary Muslim enemies. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the slogan has now come to be associated with hate crimes against Muslims and is being used to heckle minority MPs in Parliament.