Accusing Lord Ram of not doing justice in banishing Sita, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, describes (The Indian Express, October 19, 2018) vanquishing of Ravana, rescue of Sita, end of exile and eventual enthronement as “pyrrhic” and portrays Vijaydashmi as “permanent triumph of injustice”! Mehta, in the same breath mentions Valmiki’s “greatness” in leaving questions relating to Lord Ram’s conduct “hanging” and not “sugar coating” the outcome. Mehta ignored the fact that Valmiki was himself a Hindu and Lord Ram an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Yet Valmiki did not hesitate in presenting the Epic as he did. Authority, Revelation or Dogma did not constrain him. Hinduism thus celebrates freedom from servitude and subjection to creed and articles of faith. It is victory over prejudice and intolerance.
Valmiki was aware about the worth Hinduism attached to “pramana” as the means by which a person acquires knowledge. And pramana is not confined to the word or testimony of experts alone but includes perception, inference and deduction trusting the wisdom of the person to reach the right conclusion. Thus even a Pratap Bhanu Mehta will not be called an apostate for describing Lord Ram as being “reduced to pathetic self-doubt over truth” and accusing Him of “not doing justice” which incidentally is a gratuitous denunciation made rather insolently with a half-baked knowledge of the scriptures. Hinduism thus celebrates the autonomy of an individual, gives him dignity and worth and trusts his judgment not forcing him to be part of any herd.
Mehta seems to be oblivious about hermeneutics – the science of interpretation of scriptures – and the use of semiotics including allegories as an aid to interpretation. What is expressed carries a moral meaning, different from what a literal reading may convey, to drive the mind towards lessons of right and wrong as a guide to acceptable standards of behaviour. The message conveyed is that life can never be purged of conflict between values and criticism of a choice of one amongst clashing and sparring values will is inevitable. One must yet show character and have courage of conviction – cultivate a quality of mind as can face difficulty and pain. As a king deferring to the will of the people is obligatory even if it involves sacrificing personal happiness. Mehta calls this “rubbish” as Lord Ram went into exile “against his subjects wishes” ignoring the fact that at that time his father Dashrath not Lord Ram was king! In resolving an ethical dilemma between two choices neither of which can be called immoral a king must assume a transformative role as a leader displaying a commitment to the larger good and derive legitimacy from the trust of the ruled rather than merely from his position as king. Hinduism thus acknowledges there cannot be any empirical truths in the real world. It celebrates independent thinking.
“Triumph turned to tragedy” as Mehta mentioned belittling the significance of Vijaydashmi. It was tragedy for Lord Ram and Sita alone. And it was not only “Sita’s battle and Lord Ram was as much a part of it. For Lord Ram’s kingdom, however, there was no tragedy. Ramrajya – equal rights alike for the prince and the pauper- still prevailed. After all it was a washerman whose comment led to Lord Ram sacrificing his personal happiness and “practising austerity” and maintaining his “absolute fidelity” towards her which according to Mehta “amounts to nothing”! The movement away from absolute monarchy and divine right to are more liberal creed and rejection of authoritarianism – Lord Ram could well have cut the washerman’s head – and caste prejudices amounts to “nothing” for Mehta!
Sita’s banishment is called “reducto ad absurdum of the epic”. If there is a single statement running through Ramayana it is of self sacrifice. I fail to understand how this is disproved by Sita’s banishment. On the contrary it is re-enforced. If there is any argument ad absurdum it is that advanced by Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
Mehta’s piece is a typical example of what is known as a “framing effect”. He framed the presentation to concentrate only on Sita. This is but an instance of attribute framing. The author just concentrates on one facet of an entire epic and does not give equal chance or importance to other aspects which alone can complete the picture. Perhaps he wanted his article to be relevant for the Metoo environment of today and compromised accuracy by adopting a shortcut of focussing on one aspect of a complex issue.
The “battle” is duly joined ON Dussehra Mr Mehta. It will surely continue “after Dussehra”. And the battle will be with mindsets like yours. Vijaydashmi has been and will always remain triumph over injustice!