Vikas Divyakirti, the founding teacher or head coach of Drishti, one of Delhi’s most famous coaching institutes for administrative services, is the latest target of Hindutva’s ire. He has been a celebrity for generations of aspirants to administrative service jobs in Delhi.
Hundreds of administrative and police officers across India know and respect him. But even he doesn’t feel safe now. We must ask Divyakirti to understand what this virulent attack on him means to him. He says that for the first time in his life, his family, children and neighbors fear for his safety. He was told that an FIR had been filed against him somewhere in Uttar Pradesh. Everyone knows how sensitive the Uttar Pradesh police are to issues related to Hindutva sentiments.
We have known this since the arrest of Mohammad Zubair. How risky it was for him to publicize the statement of a Hindutva “holy” who wanted Muslim women to be gang-raped. Police and the state’s attorney general aggressively defended the arrest in court, arguing that even though the ‘saint’ had made an objectionable statement, Zubair had committed a crime in making it public, as it harmed his reputation and feelings of hundreds of thousands of sincere people. followers. After all, he is revered by millions of devotees.
Thus, Divyakirti’s fear that the police could knock on his door at any moment is not unfounded. His fault is that in one of his lectures, in order to explain the tradition of Ramakatha and the point of view of its various creators, he discussed some episodes from the Ramayana of Valmiki and the Ramopakhyan of the Mahabharata and quoted these works to show how the same incident is treated differently by different authors.
Mohammad Zubair had said nothing about himself. He had only quoted the “holy” Hindutva who loved rape. Divyakirti also quoted Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata. He wanted his students to think from the perspective of different narratives. But Hindutvawadis are obviously not at all interested in analyzing the vision of these creators. Indeed, this analysis will clarify the context of the quotations. And then the allegation that Divyakirti insulted Rama and Sita would fall flat.
Reading this threat against Divyakirti, another similar incident came to mind. A few years ago, during a seminar at the University of Jodhpur, Professor Ashok Vohra, then a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Delhi, read an article criticizing Western scholars of Indian traditions. In his article, Prof. Vohra cited the western academics he wanted to criticize. Using these quotes, he tried to explain why he disagreed with them. But a complaint was filed against him with the police for saying reprehensible things hurting the feelings of Hindutva. Poor Vohra sahib even wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, complaining that all he was trying to do was debunk Western claims of scholarship for which he himself was being punished. It is unclear whether the leader berated his followers for their misreading of Professor Vohra. But I remember he had anxious nights for a while.
You will recall a recent incident in which ‘Hindu sentiment’ was hurt by a statement made by the University’s Vice Chancellor Jawaharlal Nehru. She was talking about the views of Bhim Rao Ambedkar. The Vice-Chancellor had contented herself with recalling what Baba Saheb, now venerated by the RSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party, had said about the status of women in Hinduism. But she was attacked for making such reprehensible remarks. Poor VC had to make it clear that if people had an objection, they should argue with Ambedkar saheb, not attack him! The opinions were hers, and all she had done was bring them to light.
There are many such incidents. Divyakirti had also quoted scriptures of Hindus – Ramayan and Mahabharata. That too from their Gita Press editions. The most authentic versions even for the Hindutva lot. He is attacked just for repeating what is written in these texts.
It must be said that he faced this violence calmly and with great restraint. Despite the fear, which is very real, he did not say he was misunderstood or apologize. Putting all the copies of the books in front of him, he calmly challenges the Hindutva disbelievers to come and read these episodes of Ramayana and Mahabharata published by Gita Press and see why Rama refused to accept Sita even after defeating Ravana. How harshly he treated Sita, how cruel his words were to her, who waited impatiently for him! But for the Rame of these two scriptures, his maryada was more important. Even though pure, Sita should not expect to be greeted by Rama since she had been at Ravana’s abode. Now she was untouchable for him!
Divyakirti wants them to read all this and think for themselves. But he also knows that a whole machinery works tirelessly to produce “hurt Hindu feelings”. This machine is not interested in reading, discussion or debate. His job is to manufacture fake hurt feelings. It is a false wound adorned on Hindu souls and shown to the world complaining of wound. But there’s really nothing wrong with that. Everyone knows this game.
It is a matter of satisfaction that many people have shown their support for Divyakirti. You can’t accuse him of being on the left. He is a well-known name in the Indian youth dream industry competing for jobs at the highest levels of government. It is part of the business of providing guidance to pass the entrance exams for different Indian administrative services. During an interview, he explained that it was his duty to provide different readings and all references so that candidates could holistically answer questions that might be asked on the exam.
Questions like: Why does Valmiki create the episode in which Rama berates Sita, or, Why doesn’t Tulsidas, the conservative favorite, include this incident in his Ram Katha? And why in Valmiki’s Ramayana does Rama not even blink his eyes while killing Shambuka, and why does Bhavbhuti’s Ram feel conflicted and his hands tremble at this killing? How does Tulsidas deal with this literary memory of Shambuka’s murder?
These questions will arise in the minds of those interested in the Ramayana. But for those for whom Ram is only a tool or a useful weapon to access political power, what is the point of being interested in this strange course of Ram Katha? Why should they care about the choices of Valmiki, Bhavabhuti, Tulsi or Krittivas? They are not storytellers!
When the history of the different versions of the Ram Katha is written, will we only have one version elaborated by the Hindutvawadis? They are busy seizing properties in the name of the lord, claiming to be “Ram’s guardians”. In Ayodhya, these guards managed to usurp land that belonged to a mosque bearing his name. Ram, nowadays, is no longer an imagination of poets.
But all this is only digression. The 45-second video clip taken from a 3-hour discussion that took place three years ago and which was aimed at arousing Hindu feelings is watched by many Hindus in surprise! They are revolted by what Divyakirti makes Ram say. He couldn’t have done it! This says a lot about the willful ignorance of the devotees of Ram about his own life as it was created by our great poets like Valmiki or Vyasa. But who cares ? They have been busy getting his Janma Bhumi back. They are no longer a reading public. All they know is the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
There is one more thing to say. Divyakirti wants her students to read, analyze and reflect in order to succeed. But there is no longer any need for criticality or analytical power to succeed! When the purpose of education has been reduced to singing the glories of RSS-branded “Bhartiya Sanskriti,” there is no longer any possibility of the type of questions that Divyakirti says would be asked in contests.
Can any exam from any administrative department ask candidates to reflect on the abandonment of Sita or the murder of Shambuk in Valmiki Ramayana from the perspective of Dalits or women? Nowadays, this is impossible. No reviewer will dare or be stupid enough to ask this question. This is why Divyakirti’s suggestion to read the texts is irrelevant when there is no possibility of such questions being asked. Why should a candidate waste their precious time on these books?
All of this should have been understood long ago when the University of Delhi withdrew AK Ramanujan’s essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” after the violence perpetrated by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the FIRs deposed by the Hindutvawadis. University authorities have defended the removal of the text, saying it is not necessary for students to read it. There is so much for them to read! Even if they don’t read this essay, their life will not have been in vain!
Now the police can say the same to Divyakirti or say the same in court in the indictment against him. That the accused wanted to ‘deliberately create trouble’ in the minds of the students by introducing them to these uncomfortable incidents. What could be a greater crime than that?
My friend reminded me of the scene from Satyajit Ray’s movie Hirak Rajar Deshe where the king asks the courtiers, “What to do with the professor?” The courtiers reply that it is dangerous to keep him free. The more you read, the more you will think. And thinking only creates all the problems. The teacher asks us to read so that we think. So why not arrest the professor himself?
(The writer teaches at the University of Delhi)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.