In the Name of the Ten-headed King

A counter-cul­ture move­ment is mo­bil­is­ing trib­als, Dal­its against the ‘slan­der of Ra­vana’

India Today - - STATES - By Ki­ran D. Tare

At a tribal boys’ hos­tel in Nashik on Septem­ber 30, some 150 peo­ple danced around a young man dressed as Ra­vana, chant­ing “Ra­van man­davi (king) ki jai!”. In far­away Vi­darbha, an­other tribal com­mu­nity in Ka­tol forced the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion to can­cel the burn­ing of Ra­vana ef­fi­gies on Dussehra.

A coun­ter­cul­ture move­ment is mo­bil­is­ing trib­als and Dal­its across sev­eral states, in­clud­ing Ma­ha­rash­tra, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh, Jhark­hand and West Ben­gal. The Ma­ha­rash­tra Ra­jya Adi­vasi Bachao Ab­hiyan (MRABA) is unit­ing tribal com­mu­ni­ties and has come out against the “slan­der of Ra­vana”. Be­sides prayers at six lo­ca­tions, it’s push­ing an al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive: “Ra­vana did no wrong ex­cept ab­duct­ing Sita. That too was an act of re­venge, not lust,” says MRABA chief Ashok Bagul. A tribal him­self, Bagul points to fes­ti­vals like Bo­hda and Don­garyadev, ded­i­cated to the Lanka Medha (King of Lanka). In mass mar­riages it or­gan­ises, MRABA has cou­ples seek Ra­vana’s bless­ings. Five such events were re­cently or­gan­ised in and around Nashik.

Nashik, in tribal folk­lore, was part of Ra­vana’s king­dom and gov­erned by his sis­ter Sur­panakha and her hus­band Marich. Lo­cal tribal leader Ramesh Bhoye echoes Bagul: “Ra­vana ab­ducted Sita to avenge the dis­re­spect to his sis­ter”.

While the move­ment is cen­tred around Ra­vana wor­ship, Bagul says the real pur­pose is to get trib­als mool­ni­vasi (orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tant) sta­tus and de­mand their right to re­sources. MRABA cel­e­brates Au­gust 9 as mool­ni­vasi din in keep­ing with the res­o­lu­tion the United Na­tions passed on 13 Septem­ber 2007, es­tab­lish­ing min­i­mum stan­dards for the sur­vival, dig­nity and well-be­ing of indige­nous peo­ples.

The Ra­vana wor­ship, though, has the right wing wor­ried. Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh’s na­tional sam­park pra­mukh Aniruddha Desh­pande says “Ra­vana glo­ri­fi­ca­tion” will cre­ate a cul­tural di­vide in In­dia. Sharad Shelke of Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Van­vasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) crit­i­cises MRABA for “cor­rupt­ing trib­als”. He claims only two of the 45 tribes— Kokana and Bhilla—see Ra­vana as a hero. “The trib­als nar­rate Ramkatha in their songs. In all of them, Ram wins,” he says. VKA is now go­ing about ‘ed­u­cat­ing’ trib­als about ‘their’ sac­ri­fices for the coun­try. It has been or­gan­is­ing lec­tures on how tribes like Ma­gasa in UP and Bhilla in Ra­jasthan stood be­hind the lo­cals against for­eign in­trud­ers.

The new tribal as­ser­tion in Ma­ha­rash­tra is ap­par­ently driven by fears that the Deven­dra Fad­navis gov­ern­ment could di­lute tribal quo­tas, a move the CM him­self de­nies.

RA­VANA WOR­SHIP, THE SANGH WOR­RIES, MAY CRE­ATE A CUL­TURAL DI­VIDE

MAN­DAR DEODHAR

HE’S NO DE­MON Ra­vana puja or­gan­ised in Nashik

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