Why We Need To Celebrate ‘Mahishasur (or Ravana) Shahadat Diwas’
By V. Arun Kumar
16 September, 2014
“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter…” - Chinua Achebe
Let me first introduce you the turn of events unfolding in Jawaharlal Nehru University with regard to the celebration of martyrdom of Mahishasur (the so called ‘demon’ king). All India Backward Students Association (AIBSF) was organising ‘Mahishasur Shahadat Diwas’ (Mahishasur Martyrdom Day) on October 9, 2014 with a public talk in JNU’s Kaveri hostel. In the evening of October 9, students belonging to Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) (student body affiliated to right wing RSS) enters the meeting and disrupts it by attacking members present in the meeting and destroying the mess property. On the same day evening (before the meeting) JNU administration comes out with an advisory warning individuals/ organisations from ‘hurting religious sentiments’ in an attempt to ensure that the event is conducted. Earlier, a team from Vasant Kunj police station raided the office of Forward Press confiscating the copies of their October issue (a special issue on Bahujan tradition) and arrested few employees based on the complained filed by some individuals associated with right wing Hindu forces. The events that unfolded on the night of October 9th ensured for the first time that a discourse on alternative history and cultural re-interpretation began spreading across the campus. While the campus saw a massive movement to protect the democratic and debating culture, the campus also witnessed a counter movement to protect the ‘Hindu’ culture.
Here, I have given a small report on the events that happened around ‘Mahishasur Shahadat Diwas’ which almost went unreported in our mainstream media because of the fear in brahminical forces that such a reporting many set in motion a discourse on alterative history in the society. They feared that society might start questioning the present brahminical history. Going back to whole issue of ‘Mahishasur Shahadat Diwas’, it is important for all progressive sections to critically look into it. Also it is important to understand how this discourse on alternative history and cultural re-interpretation has opened up fissures in the so called progressive sections inside JNU.
Let me warn you beforehand that if you are reading this article with a brahminical mindset, you can STOP here because this article is against the very existence of yours. This article is also against so called ‘progressive sections’ who argue that they are against the caste discrimination but not against the caste system. The very existence of identity of Brahmins and other Upper castes is based on the oppression of Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis.
History of the Hunt
Writing history is a political project and the history which is present in the dominant discourse is always the history of the victors. Beneath this history lies various strands of histories- the histories of oppressed sections - THE SUBALTERN HISTORIES. The main rationale behind celebrating the martyrdom of Mahishasura is all about putting forward the subaltern history of oppressed. The attempt here is not to create another myth using the alternative history but to contradict the history of oppressors. This history of oppressors continue to oppress a large population of the society and one can only breaking these chains of oppression by breaking the domination of present brahminical history.
The brahminical history portrays the story of Goddess Durga killing the demon Mahishsura. Durga’s story first appears in Markandey Purana, which was written somewhere between 250 AD and 500 AD. Today the killing of ‘demon’ Mahishsura by ‘Goddess’ Durga is celebrated in form of Durga Puja/ Vijyadashami/ Dussehra– the victory of good over evil. The same is the story of killing of ‘evil’ Ravana by Ram in Ramayana – the killing of Rakshasas. One of the subaltern perspective to the dominant brahminical history is that the present history depicts glorification and romanticisation of Aryan invasion and subjugation of native/ indigenous inhabitants. This same history in the form of myth has been continuously used by the upper castes to subjugate Shudras, Adivasis and Dalits through cultural coercion justified in the name of ‘tradition’.
So, what does the subaltern history says? The subaltern history contradicting the present brahminical history argues that Mahishasur was the king of ‘Ashuras’. According to Hembram and Ashwini Kumar Pankaj, a tribal activist and editor of Johar Disum Khabar, a multi-lingual journal published from Ranchi, Mahishasur (also known as Hudhud Durga) was a clan leader of tribals in the Santhal region, who put up a strong fight against Aryan invasion. They argue that “tribals did not pick up weapons against women, children, aged and the weak, the Aryans sent a woman to lure him…. The Aryans came with a proposal of marriage, but they used treachery and a woman called Durga killed Mahishasur," (The Indian Express, Oct 14, 2013).
Let me make one thing clear- the issue is not about Aryans coming to Indian subcontinent. In general no one can claim as an original inhabitant of Indian subcontinent and same is true everywhere. If one goes with largely accepted ‘Recent African Origin Theory’ or ‘ Out of Africa theory’ then even the ‘original inhabitants’ can’t be called as the original inhabitants. History of human evolution is about history of human migration. The modern Homo sapiens who originated from African continent travelled across the globe to settle in different regions. The issue here is how the history has been hijacked by the dominant brahminical forces clearly associated with Aryans and used for continues subjugation of subalterns.
The basic contention of this subaltern history is pretty clear- AUSRAS, DANAVAS and RAKSHASAS depicted in history ARE NOT EVILS or DEMONS. THEY ARE HUMANS. Neither the course of history can be changed, nor can the thousands of years of subjugation be undone. But the future of subjugation and oppression can be changed if the Castle of Brahminical discourse is attacked at its historical base using the weapon of subaltern histories.
Back to JNU, one can see two important impacts of recent scuffle that took place during Mahishasur Diwas. Firstly, the controversy has set in motion a debate around Mahishsur and Durga. During the past three Mahishasur diwas celebrations, the event ended with the end of celebrations. No much discussion on the issue was visible in the campus. The scuffle and attack on the democratic culture of JNU ensured the trickling down of debate over the celebration of martyrdom across the JNU student community. With the debate raging, it now the responsibility of the revolutionary forces to channelise these fire against the brahminical structures.
The second impact is that this has brought out contradictions inside the ‘progressive sections’ exposing the deep rooted brahminical mentality. Many in the ‘progressive sections’ are feeling that their [brahminical] ‘sentiments’ have been hurt with the celebration of Mahishasur diwas. The events have exposed the ‘pendulums’ who oscillate between the progressiveness and conservativeness. These clear contradictions are boon in disguise as it helps in filtering out the brahminical elements inside the progressive sections.
Also the Mahishasur diwas has shown how the Gramsican concept of hegemony works. Right wing forces have brought in forefront many people from the subaltern sections to oppose that idea behind Mahishasur diwas and for propagating the brahminical history.
On the left (Socialist/ Communist) front also these fissures are visible. Some have refused to take the Oct 7 issue beyond “the attack of democratic and debating culture of JNU” and to question the dominant brahminical history. A socialist / communist has to seriously think over inculcating atheism in his/her intellectual exercise and appetite or else he/she will keep revolving around the vicious cycle of religion ending up in internalizing social and religious dogmas in his/her praxis.
Another important point that has to pointed out here is that the alterative history behind Mahishasur Diwas is not THE alternative history but ONE OF THE alternative histories. Subalternity is not a heterogeneous concept it further have its own hierarchical structure. Beneath the Dalit or Shudra subalternity lies the question of subaltern women, who will have their own history. One can easily question where are the subaltern women in the subaltern history that depicts Mahishasur?? So point is not about accepting any one subaltern history but of inculcating CRITICALITY and DIALECTICS in one’s intellectual exercise of looking at history. Why criticality and dialectics are important? These are important because any revolutionary struggle minus criticality and dialectical understating will reproduce and internalise the dogmas that exists in the structure against which we are fighting.
The customs that has its roots in Brahmanism can’t exist, because mere existence of this is oppression. Celebration of martyrdom of Mahishasur and Ravana is a symbol of resistance against the brahminical oppressions. It is a symbol of resistance of Shudras, Dalits, Adivasis and all subalterns against the oppression that is going on for thousands of years. We should support celebration of martyrdom of Mahishsur and Ravana till the time the system continue to celebrate the victory of Ram and Durga.
V. Arun Kumar is currently pursuing his MPhil in International Organization from Jawaharlal Nehru University and is also associated with a left wing student movement. Email: email@example.com
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