Patna: Undeterred by the controversy over his remarks that texts like the Ramcharitmanas are divisive and promote casteism, Bihar education minister Chandra Shekhar has said that the 16th century epic by Bhakti poet Tulsidas identifies “certain castes that deserve to be beaten up”.
“I have the original Ramcharitmanas published by the Gita Press when it cost just Rs 8.50. It names certain castes and says they deserved to be beaten up. It also dubs certain castes as ‘paapi’ (sinners),” Chandra Shekhar told ThePrint Tuesday, insisting that none of his statements can be construed as wrong or “anti-Hindu”.
“I don’t know what the fuss is about. I have maintained that distortions in the Hindu religion have been because of our ancestors. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has gone a step ahead and said that the distortions were caused by the pandits (priests).”
“In Ramayana, Lord Rama sat with a Dalit woman called Shabari and ate fruits tasted by her. Lord Rama gave a powerful message on integration of society but then who put divisive words in religious discourse? Even today, the children of Shabari have to face social stigmas,” he said.
Chandra Shekhar also recalled the instance when a temple in Darbhanga was “washed clean” after a visit by then CM Jitan Ram Manjhi in 2014. “In the 1970s, a tall Dalit leader like the late Jagjivan Ram had to face humiliation when a statue he inaugurated was washed using ‘gangajal’ by some Manuwadis (proponents of Manusmriti) in Varanasi. The social divisions created by books are still impacting Hindu society. For speaking the truth, I have been threatened that my tongue will be chopped off,” he said.
The Bihar education minister also pointed out that the 2011 Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) suggests that there are around 47,000 castes within Hinduism. “There is no caste in the US, China, France or any other country on the planet. It is only in India that we find Hindus divided along caste lines,” he said, reiterating that he would stick to his stand no matter the consequences.
Even B.R. Ambedkar burnt copies of the Manusmriti because Dalits and women were forbidden to read it, he said.
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Chandra Shekhar ‘ill-informed’: JD(U) MLA
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader, addressing the 15th convocation of the Nalanda Open University on 12 January, had termed texts like the Ramcharitmanas and the Manusmriti as “divisive” and said they “promote casteism and hatred against Dalits and women”. In the context of the Ramcharitmanas, Chandra Shekhar quoted it as saying that “Dhol, Gawar, Shudhra, Pasu, Nari sakal taran ke adhikari”.
On how his remarks snowballed into a controversy, he told ThePrint, “Once the controversy arose, my critics say that I have distorted the meaning of ‘taran’. The book I have has the meaning of the word as ‘beating up’.”
Among those who supported Chandra Shekhar’s remarks were former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi and former Bihar assembly speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary.
But with his cabinet colleague’s remarks having stirred up a political storm, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar had made his displeasure known by saying that one should not “demean any religion”.
Asked about the controversy, Janata Dal-United (JDU) MLA Sanjeev Kumar told ThePrint Tuesday that the education minister was “ill-informed” and “should concentrate on his department and not mislead the people on Ramcharitmanas”.
Criticism of Chandra Shekhar for his remarks continued well into March with MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) staging a walkout from the assembly Monday over the Speaker’s decision to turn down their demand for an apology. “The education minister is quoting just one line when the Ramayana has many instances where social unity has been emphasised,” BJP MLA Haribhushan Thakur ‘Bachol’ told ThePrint.
After the BJP boycotted his address on the allocation for education in Bihar’s annual budget, Chandra Shekhar had said on the floor of the House, “I stand by what I have said about the Ramcharitmanas. I have brought inside the House original books and I am ready to debate inside the House. The distortion in the Ramcharitmanas has to be cleaned out. Unfortunately, those who were making a hue and cry over the issue have fled the House.”
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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