Misa Bharti gets candid on Rohith Vemula’s suicide and Mahishasur during an interview with Naval Kishore Kumar :
Do you believe that the deprived need both political and cultural rights to achieve the goal of social justice?
While submitting the draft of the Constitution, Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar had warned that if political equality did not result in social, economic and cultural equality, the democratic political structure would give way. What’s sad and disappointing is that those who go to Mhow and pay floral tribute to Ambedkar’s statue haven’t bothered to understand even the essence of the Preamble to the Constitution. The broad philosophy of the modern constitution and Brahmanism’s mythological and narrow philosophy cannot coexist.
Jharkhand former chief minister Dishom Guru Shibu Soren said in a statement that he represents the Adivasis’ own tradition and religion. He said Ravan and Mahishasur were his ancestors, when in Hindu scriptures they have been portrayed as villains. What do you say to this?
See, it’s not just Guruji but a large number of people in different regions of India believe in Mahishasur and other people’s leaders like him, and in myths and lore. According to the Constitution that Babasaheb gave us, every people and section, and every caste and community has the freedom to determine their own method of worship and priorities based on their lore and tradition. The problem is that those who are in power today want to run this nation that has a vast pluralist culture and tradition on the basis of their brahmanical concerns and the Sangh’s [RSS’] rules rather than on the basis of the Constitution.
An ideological war has broken out in the whole country over cultural and religious symbols. On the one hand, we have Shankaracharya’s statement against Sai and on the other, Union Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani’s comments on Mahishasur. Because you represent a party that believes in an ideology centred on social justice, how do you analyse these incidents?
All of us should have an understanding of our historical and cultural legacy. All the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, there are various streams of history, myths and lore. This common heritage has given this nation a special beauty. Adherents of different symbols, traditions and beliefs have together strengthened this heritage. Tinkering with it in any way would weaken the social foundations of our democracy. I also believe that the present government at the Centre wants to have people involved in these tussles over competing myths to hide its own lethargy and failures.
In several of the country’s prestigious institutions of higher education, for example JNU, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad University and BHU, Adivasi, Dalit and OBC students have been trying to reinstate their heroes like Eklavya, Shambuk, Mahishasur etc. These students say that they are inspired by these symbols in their struggles. What is your message to these students fighting for the reinstatement of Bahujan culture?
We know very well that the religious systems or beliefs that have been delivered to us have been written by a small section of people using Manuvadi ink and pen. For thousands of years, knowledge and philosophy were controlled by one or two castes and predictably they built myths and traditions to maintain their grip over power and resources. The villainizing of people’s leaders like Mahishasur is a part of this effort. However, just before as well as after Independence, the castes that had been deprived earlier through a criminal conspiracy got a bigger part to play in education and the world of ideas. Hence, people started scientifically investigating the myths, lore and history. The result was that many beliefs and traditions began to be questioned. I urge my friends who are concerned with restoring a Bahujan culture to keep their initiatives alive and strengthen a pluralist democracy’s quality of striving for equality.
Do you feel that during the last few months the politics over religion has been excessively acrimonious?
The kind of incidents being reported from different parts of the country leaves one with no doubt that the mixing of religion and politics has poisoned public life, especially the political atmosphere. An image of aggression and violence hanging over our democracy can be lethal.
What do you think should be the role of religion in politics?
See, religion and culture enrich human life. Both give society a feeling of wholeness. However, the meaning and concerns of politics are different. We have to accept that in a pluralist nation, politics has to adopt a radically inclusive perspective. In this country with many religions and cultures, politics should be seen an ideology that can take a caravan of all Indians along.
What’s your take on Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the debates in JNU?
Rohith Vemula’s suicide note is a document that should cause our entire civilization and society to introspect. When Rohith says “My birth is my fatal accident” he is not just telling a personal story but the painful story of structural and institutional oppression of all Dalits and backward classes. However the government’s insensitivity in the way it dealt with the incident only shows how it sustains the Manuwadi tradition. People began to stand up for Rohith’s questions in different places, including universities, and JNU was one among them. However, the government created a smokescreen by talking about patriotism and sedition and tried to cover up the real issues of institutional animosity and oppression. There are no two views about patriotism in this country. But the interesting thing is that the contribution of the party that talks the most about patriotism has been zilch in the building of this nation. The truth is that those ruling the country from Delhi have been engaged in an undeclared war against students and the youth.
Mahishasur: Ek Jan Nayak (Hindi) chronicles and explains the Mahishasur movement. Visit http://www.amazon.in/dp/819325841X and get yourself a copy. The English edition will be available soon)