Dussehra (Vijaya Dashami) is once again here and will be celebrated with traditional pomp and gaiety all over the country. It is a moment for every Indian to spend some time reflecting on the significance of the festival and ask ourselves whether we have truly internalised the meaningful values which this great festival embodies.
On Dussehra, we celebrate the triumph of good over evil; of how Lord Ram defeats the demon king Ravan who typifies all that is evil. India’s great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata provide us with gripping narratives of the festival.
We need to look around today to see how the forces of evil seem to have plunged a deadly weapon into the heart of India.
In Faridabad two innocent dalit children are burnt alive by the higher castes; in Dadri, a man is lynched because of some rumours that he ate beef; in Mumbai, a motley group of Shiv Sainiks violently hold the State to ransom and prevent the improving of relations with Pakistan; intellectuals like Pansare, Dabholkar and Kalburgi, who demonstrate courage to take on right-wing forces, are killed; human rights defenders who take a stand against powerful vested interests on behalf of the minorities, the dalits, the adivasis are subject to constant harassment; Godse, the one who killed Mahatma Gandhi, is ‘honoured’; women continue to be on the receiving end of a male chauvinistic society (‘Ram’ no longer wants to protect and save ‘Sita’ today); children are not spared: if not sexually abused, several of them are condemned to hard labour; one can go on and on, ad nauseam.
There is a silver lining though: several of India’s top intellectuals which include litterateurs, historians, poets, sociologists, journalists and others have visibly and vocally stood up against the forces of evil. These are citizens with impeccable credentials which include a high degree of credibility, objectivity and impartiality. Several of them have had the courage to return Government awards and recognitions which were well-deserved; but they do so only because they conscientiously feel that the Constitutional rights (particularly freedom of speech and expression) are today being grossly violated.
Dussehra then, this year, should be a special moment of grace for all Indians, when one is called in no uncertain terms to take the side of good, of truth and of justice against the forces of evil, that are making every attempt to destroy all that is sacred to the people of India. One can no longer think that dealing with these forces of evil is the prerogative of just a few; every right-thinking Indian citizen needs to wake up at this moment and to remind ourselves that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing”.
As we burn and purge the ‘Ravan’ within us and in society, let us fervently pray in the words from the “Brihadaranyaka Upanishad”:
“Lead me from the unreal to the real;
Lead me from darkness to light;
Lead me from death to immortality”
*Director of Prashant, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace