UP: On Backfoot Over Caste Census, Does Tulsidas Couplet Row Allow Yogi to Change the Conversation?

Despite criticism from the opposition, the chief minister has been referring to the controversial couplet from Ramcharitmanas time and again. He responded to the opposition's attack by calling them 'anti-Hindu'. 

Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s tenor in repeating a controversial couplet composed by Goswami Tulsidas from the famous epic ‘Ramcharitmanas’ has led many to wonder if he himself endorses the view that is seen as derogatory towards women and the downtrodden castes.

For the second time in the last three days, Yogi sought to raise the pitch on the issue on the floor of the state assembly, while terming all those who question the content as “anti-Hindu”.

Dhol Ganwar Shudra Pashu Nari Sakal Taadana Ke Adhikari” is a controversial verse which literally means not only equating ‘shudra’, women and cattle with a stupid person but also goes on to add that they deserve to be beaten like a ‘dhol (drum)’.

Whether Tulsidas meant it literally or not has been a debatable issue for centuries. A sizeable section today that takes a sympathetic view of the poet’s sensibility has often sought to explain that this was part of a dialogue between Lord Ram and the Ocean, when he prayed before the Ocean to let him cross over to Lanka to free his wife Sita from demon Ravan’s captivity. This section further contends that the controversial verse is not Ram’s view but that of the Ocean which was portrayed as a villain by coming in Ram’s path to fight Ravan.

But Tulsidas’s detractors question the very basis of this verse, which is undeniably an integral part of the Ramcharitmanas.

What kicked up a storm over this verse, some time back, was Samajwadi Party leader Swami Prasad Maurya’s bid to question it. Swami sought the deletion of such controversial lines from the epic, because of the very obvious bias against not only women but also against ‘shudras’ or the downtrodden castes. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took the opportunity to flay not only Swami but also condemn and corner the entire Samajwadi Party (SP) as “anti-Hindu”.

While SP left no stone unturned to plead that in no way did its leadership have any intent to desecrate the Ramcharitmanas, BJP’s overbearing multi-media campaign to run SP down as “anti-Hindu” forced the SP on the back foot. Swami was asked to move away from the centre stage, and even as SP raised the pitch on its demand for a caste census, the party leadership replaced Swami with a young OBC leader Rajpal Kashyap to lead the caste census campaign.

Also read: Why the BJP Is Afraid of a Caste Census

Now the demand for a caste-based census has already put  BJP in a piquant situation. The dominant upper caste bias in the party is bound to oppose any demand for a caste-based census, which would expose how the downtrodden communities have been systematically deprived of their legitimate share in governance.

Under these circumstances, there could be a no better weapon than to brand SP as “anti-Hindu”. No wonder, the UP chief minister made it a point to rake up the issue while speaking on the governor’s address in the state assembly on Saturday, February 25.

In his 130-minute long speech in the Vidhan Sabha, he made it a point to emphatically reiterate how anyone questioning Tulsidas’ verse was “anti-Hindu”. That he simply wanted to label the Samajwadi Party as “Hindu Virodhi” and “opposed to Ram” was clearly evident in the chief minister’s vitriolic against the opposition in general and SP in particular.

However, the bottom line of this sequence of events was the chief minister’s virtual endorsement of the controversial verse. It was writ large in his demeanour, the confidence (or brazenness) stemming from the power of the post he holds, which was evident throughout his speech.