Vikas Divyakirti, the founding teacher or head coach of Drishti, one of Delhi’s most famous clerical service training institutes, is the latest target of Hindutva’s wrath. He has been a celebrity for generations of aspiring clerical service jobs in Delhi.
He is known and respected by hundreds of administrative and police officers across India. But even he feels insecure now. You have to ask Divyakirti to understand what this virulent attack means to him. He says that for the first time in his life, his family, his children and his neighbors are worried about his safety. He has been told that an FIR has been filed against him somewhere in Uttar Pradesh. Everyone knows how sensitive the Uttar Pradesh Police are in matters related to Hindutva sentiments.
We know this from the arrest of Mohammad Zubair. How risky it was for him to release to the general public the statement of a Hindutva ‘saint’ who wanted Muslim women to be gang-raped. Police and the state attorney general aggressively defended the arrest in court, arguing that even if the ‘saint’ had made an objectionable statement, Zubair committed a crime in publishing it because it damaged his reputation and the feelings of thousands of sincere followers of him After all, he is revered by millions of devotees.
So 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 classes, in order to explain the Ramakatha tradition and the point of view of its different creators, he discussed some episodes from Valmiki’s Ramayana and Mahabharata’s Ramopakhyan and quoted from those works to show how the same incident is treated differently by different writers.
Mohammad Zubair had not said anything on his own. He had only quoted the rape-loving Hindutva ‘saint’. Divyakirti has also quoted from Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata. He wanted his students to think about the point of view of different narratives. But the Hindutvawadis are obviously not at all interested in the analysis of the vision of these creators. That’s because that analysis will clarify the context of the quotes. And then the accusation that Divyakirti had insulted Rama and Sita would collapse.
Reading about this threat to Divyakirti, another similar incident came to mind. A few years ago, at 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, Professor Vohra quoted the Western academics he wanted to criticize. With the help of these quotes, he tried to explain why he did not agree with them. But a complaint was filed against him with the police for saying objectionable things that hurt Hindutva’s feelings. Poor Vohra sahib even wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, complaining that all he was trying to do was discredit Western claims to scholarship for which he himself was being punished. It is not known if the leader admonished his followers for his misinterpretation of Professor Vohra. But I remember him having anxious nights for quite some time.
You will recall a recent incident where ‘Hindutva sentiment’ was affected by a statement by the vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was talking about the views of Bhim Rao Ambedkar. The vice chancellor limited himself to remembering what Baba Saheb, today revered by the RSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party, had said about the condition of women in Hinduism. But she was attacked for saying such objectionable things. The poor VC had to clarify that if people have any objections, they should argue with Ambedkar saheb, not attack her! Her views belong to him, and all she had done was bring them out again.
There are many such incidents. Divyakirti had also quoted the holy scriptures of the Hindus: Ramayan and Mahabharata. That too from his Gita Press editions. The most authentic versions even for the Hindutva lot. He is being attacked just for repeating what is written in those texts.
It must be said that he has faced this violence calmly and with great measure. Despite the fear, which is very real, she did not say she was misunderstood, nor did she apologize. Placing all the copies of the books in front of him, he calmly challenges the rascals of Hindutva to come and read those episodes in Ramayana and Mahabharata published by Gita Press and see why Rama refused to accept Sita even after defeating Sita. Ravana. How harshly he treated Sita, how cruel were her words to her, she who had been looking forward to it! But for the Rame of these two scriptures, his maryada was more important. Even if she is pure, Sita should not expect to be received by Rama since she was in Ravana’s abode. Now she was untouchable to him!
Divyakirti wants you to read all this and think for yourself. But he also knows that a whole machine is working ceaselessly to produce ‘hurt Hindu feelings’. This machine is not interested in reading, discussion or debate. His job is to fabricate fake hurt feelings. It is a fake wound adorned on Hindu souls and shown to the world complaining of pain. But there is no real pain there. Everyone is aware of this game.
It is a matter of satisfaction that many people have come out in support of Divyakirti. He cannot be accused of being a leftist. He is a household name in the dream industry of India’s youth who compete for jobs at the highest levels of government. He is in the business of providing advice on cracking the entrance exams for different Administrative Services of India. In an interview, he explained that it was his job to provide different readings and all the references so that candidates could answer the questions likely to be asked on the exam holistically.
Questions like: Why does Valmiki create the episode in which Rama rebukes Sita, or why Tulsidas, the favorite of conservatives, does not include this incident in his Ram Katha? And why, in Valmiki’s Ramayana, does Rama not even blink an eye as he kills Shambuka, and why does Bhavbhuti’s Ram feel conflicted and his hands tremble at this murder? How does Tulsidas deal with this literary memory of the Shambuka murder?
These questions will arise in the minds of those who are interested in the Ramayana. But for those for whom Ram is just a useful tool or weapon to gain political power, what is the need to be curious about this strange journey of Ram Katha? Why should they care about the options 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 have only one version made by the Hindutvawadis? They are busy hoarding property in the name of the lord, claiming to be the ‘guardians of Ram’. In Ayodhya, these guards have managed to usurp a piece of land that used to belong to a mosque in their name. Ram, in our days, is no longer an imagination of the poets.
But all this is a digression. The 45-second video clip taken from a 3-hour discussion that took place three years ago and intended to incite Hindu sentiments is viewed by many Hindus with surprise. They are disgusted by what Divyakirti makes Ram say. He couldn’t have done it! He says a lot about the willful ignorance of Ram’s devotees about his own life as created by our great poets like Valmiki or Vyasa. But who cares? They have been busy recovering their Janma Bhumi. They are no longer a reading public. All they know is the catchphrase ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
There is one more thing to say. Divyakirti wants his students to read, analyze and think in order to succeed. But there is no longer a need for criticality or the power to analyze for success! When the purpose of education has been reduced to singing the glories of RSS-branded ‘Bhartiya Sanskriti’, then there is no possibility left of the kind of questions that Divyakirti believes would be asked in competitive exams.
Can any examination of any administrative service ask examinees to reflect on the abandonment of Sita or the murder of Shambuk in Valmiki Ramayana from the point of view of dalits or women? Today, this is impossible. No examiner will dare or be foolish enough to ask this question. That is why Divyakirti’s suggestion to read the texts is irrelevant when there is no possibility of asking such questions. Why should any candidate waste precious time on these books?
All this should have been understood long ago when Delhi University removed AK Ramanujan’s essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” after the violence carried out by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and FIRs put forward by the Hindutvawadis. University officials defended the removal of the text, saying it is not necessary for students to read it. There are so many things for you to read! Even if you didn’t read this essay, your life would not have been wasted!
Now the police can say the same to Divyakirti or tell the court on the charge sheet against him. That the defendant wanted to ‘deliberately create disturbances’ in the minds of the students by presenting them with these uncomfortable incidents. What could be a greater crime than this?
My friend reminded me of the scene in the Satyajit Ray movie. Hirak Rajar Deshe where the king asks the courtiers, “What to do with the master?” The courtiers reply that it is dangerous to keep him free. The more you read, the more you will think. And thinking alone creates all the problems. The teacher asks us to read so that we think. So why not arrest the teacher 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.