SP Leader's Comments On Ramcharitmanas: What Book-Burners Do Not Understand In The Blaze Of Ignorance

SP Leader's Comments On Ramcharitmanas: What Book-Burners Do Not Understand In The Blaze Of Ignorance

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Feb 1, 2023 09:21 PM +05:30 IST
SP Leader's Comments On Ramcharitmanas: What Book-Burners Do Not Understand In The Blaze Of IgnoranceCopies of a scripture being defiled in Uttar Pradesh
  • The societal descriptions and values in Hindu sacred texts which are not central to its main value system, belong to the norms and social values of the time the text was composed in.

    To essentialise a scripture or Hindu society to such descriptions is a characteristic feature of Macaulayism.

The recent burning of copies of Sri Ramcharitmanas by supporters of politicians belonging to Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP) shows the deep malaise that is at the root of Indian polity.

It is the perversion generated by cultural illiteracy as well as pseudo-progressive pretensions.


Those who try to gain such popularity through obscene burning of books - that too a literary classic and a religious sacred text like Sri Ramcharitmanas, are simply betraying their own perversions and associating them with progressive values.

Another cause for such proud exhibition of resentment is the inability to contextualise a text in its historical realm. The societal descriptions and values in Hindu sacred texts which are not central to its main value system, belong to the norms and social values of that particular time.

To essentialise the Ramcharitmanas, or Tulsidas, or Hindu society to such descriptions is a characteristic feature of Macaulayism.

Sita Ram Goel, that great seer of Hindu intellectual renaissance pointed out:

An intellectual inclination to compare Hindu ideals and institutions from the past not with their contemporaneous ideals and institutions in the West but with what the West has achieved in its recent history-the 19th and the 20th Centuries;
Goel, Hindu Society Under Siege

In reality Sri Ramcharitmanas was a text of emancipation of the society through spiritual liberation of the individual.

It propounded a Bhakti which consolidated a society which already had in it seeds of literary renaissance; it brought about a democratisation of high literature and spirituality; and it effected a social cohesion for patriotism.

A good example of this kind of understanding can be seen in the introduction written by Aleksey Petrovich Barannikov (1890—1952) for his translation of Sri Ramcharitmanas to Russian.

Soviet intellectual life was at the time facing Nazi invasion from outside and Stalinist purges were slowly gaining momentum.

For Barannikov, Tulsidas democratising spirituality for his people facing Mughal aggression and persecution provided spiritual solace and offered deep insights.

Barannikov saw how Tulsidas wrote in 'vernacular' Hindi and how he insisted on the Vaishnava Darshan of equality while at the same time also recognising the Chatur Varna. Very insightfully, Barannikov does not considers this apparent contradiction as a fault but sees it as a national necessity. When society had to fight against an aggressor, it has to manage its own inner fight for social equality.

This Soviet scholar provided a better contextual understanding of Tulsidas. Remember, that he and his society had faced more injustice, violence and misery than the riffraff who burnt copies of the sacred text for cheap glory.


Unfortunately, these elements also take their inspiration from Dr. Ambedkar, who participated in the famous burning of Manu Smriti in 1927.

It was a symbolic act of protest when casteism was at its most virulent and powerful form.

Dr Ambedkar was 37 then. Not too long ago, he had seen the worst forms of humiliation meted out to him by an unkind Hindu society in daily walks of life.

So it is perfectly understandable from the point of view of a young (or middle-aged) Ambedkar to get involved in such an act.

It should be noted that in the next decades after 1920s, book-burning had become associated more with the Nazi burning of books of Jewish authors. But one wonders if Ambedkar would have endorsed such book-burnings in his later life.

Fortunately, here we need not speculate. One just has to go through the discussions and debates on Hindu Civil Law bill and one will find that the same Dr. Ambedkar who participated in burning the Manu Smriti and who had elsewhere only harsh words for it, pointing out the need for scholarship in Smritis by law makers of India and that too in a positive context—as understanding of Smritis aides one in securing property rights for women.

Dr. Ambedkar said this in the Parliament decades after he participated in that infamous burning of Manu Smriti:

There is no doubt that the two Smritikars whom I have mentioned— Yagnavalkya and Manu, rank the highest among the 137 who had tried their hands in framing Smritis. Both of them have stated that the daughter is entitled to one-fourth share. It is a pity that somehow for some reason custom has destroyed the efficacy of that text: otherwise, the daughter would have been, on the basis of our own Smritis, entitled to get one-fourth share. I am very sorry for the ruling which the Privy Council gave. It blocked the way for the improvement of our law. The Privy Council in an earlier case said that custom will override law, with the result that it became quite impossible to our Judiciary to examine our ancient codes and to find out what laws were laid down by our Rishis and by our Smritikars. I have not the least doubt about it that if the Privy Council had not given that decision, that custom will override text, some lawyer, some Judge would have found it quite possible to unearth this text of Yagnavalkya and Munusmriti, and women today would have been enjoying, if not more, at least one-fourth of the share of their property.
emphasis added

Notice how he speaks of Smritis as 'our own Smritis' and repeatedly speaks of Rishis and Smritikars as 'our'. Notice how he states we would have progressed had our legal luminaries actually looked into what the Smritis actually had in mind and progressed on those lines.

It is unfortunate that the perverted political parlance of India characterized Dr Ambedkar by only by his acts of desperation and frustration while effectively hiding his clarion call to make deeper studies into the heart of our culture and tradition.

Burning books is a medieval practice. It is ugly and uncivilised. Burning a sacred book like Sri Ramcharitmanas, which actually had helped save India from a fate like that of Talibanised Afghanistan or Pakistan, is a foolish act of civilisational as well as societal suicide, to put it mildly.

If one cannot delve and drink deep the spiritual nectar of Sri Ramcharitmanas, then as the poet says, 'gently pass' but do not demean yourself to your posterity.

You may have obtained momentary glory of the camera, but will be shamed forever by generations to come.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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