top of page
  • Aditya Roy

Controversy Erupts Over Ram Mandir Consecration Celebrations And Ram Ke Naam Screening


Ashoka University is a microcosm of India’s political dichotomy; perceived by the political right as a hyper-liberal bubble of privilege, and by the left as an adulator of the ruling government. Embodying this contradiction, two contrasting events took place within twelve hours on Monday — a live screening of the consecration of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple followed by a Bhajan Sandhya and Aarti in celebration, and, a screening of Anand Patwardhan’s national award-winning 1992 documentary Ram ke Naam (In the Name of God), which explores the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s campaign to sanction the construction of a ‘Ram Mandir’ at the site of the Babri Masjid.


The Edict interviewed some students associated with both events and a few other students in attendance. Sources who wished to remain anonymous have been given a numerical identifier based on the order of interviews taken.


Historical Context


The Ayodhya Mandir-Masjid dispute finds its origin in the mid-nineteenth century, first coming into the limelight during the Hindu-Muslim riots incited in 1853 when Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious denomination, claimed that a Hindu temple was demolished to construct the mosque. In independent India, the dispute took a legal turn after idols of the deity Ram were purportedly placed under the dome of the Babri Masjid on the night of 22nd December 1949. 


The dispute triggered massive political and social polarization, with significant events including L.K. Advani's Rath Yatra from Somnath launched in 1990 to amplify the demand for the Ram Mandir. The yatra concluded in Ayodhya with clashes between Kar Sevaks and the police, resulting in some volunteer casualties. In 1992 the mosque was demolished by Kar Sevaks affiliated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) amongst other organisations. 


After a nearly 70-year legal battle, a five-judge constitutional bench granted the disputed land to the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, established by the Government of India, which oversaw the construction and management of the temple. The judgement also ordered an alternative five-acre plot in Ayodhya to be awarded for the construction of a mosque. The Uttar Pradesh government subsequently allotted the land to the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf board.


The previous Monday, i.e. 22nd January 2024, marked the prana-pratishtha (consecration) ceremony of the deity Ram Lalla in the temple. 


Ram Mandir Prana-Pratishtha Screening & Bhajan Sandhya & Aarti


Between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM, a group of students organised a screening of the Ram Mandir consecration in the Residence Hall 1 common room. This was followed by another independently organised bhajan sandhya [an evening of devotional music] and aarti [a Hindu worship ritual] event from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM at the bleachers adjacent to the football field. 


The event recorded a turnout of over 100 attendees within its two-hour timespan. A significant proportion of the attendees was composed of first and second-year undergraduate students, as well as Young India Fellows (YIFs). 


Student One, an organiser of the bhajan sandhya and aarti, told The Edict, “This started a vague idea amongst friends and our main reason behind organising this event is to celebrate the commemoration of the Ram Lalla deity in our own way.”


When asked about using a secluded outdoor space in the university to organise the event, they claimed that they had requested a venue like Takshila, but were denied permission as the event would go against the guidelines for the organisation of religious events in public university spaces under Student Life Office (SLO). 


The Edict understands that this could be due to the evaluation and procedure rules of Pre-event procedure in the Policy Of Religious And Cultural Festivals 2022 — "Festival events must not entail any religious content or rituals, but solely their spirit, essence and cultural aspect."


Expressing their disappointment with the student reaction, student One reported feeling “truly unhappy” as they had experienced “hostile treatment of any ‘Hindu’ activity on campus because of which students are always fearful, and either censor or hide our faith to avoid hateful reactions from others.”


Prakhar Singhania (UG’24), an attendee, elaborated on why 22nd January was a special day to him: “Being a staunch believer of Hinduism who worships daily at home, I view religion as a school.” Prakhar also mentioned that festivals like these allow devotees to “revise the values delivered by Ram Bhagwan”.


A group of organisers added that event posters describing the context behind the celebration were found torn. The Edict understands that out of the 8 posters put around campus, the majority of them were torn down. 


We were also presented with evidence that, on an open WhatsApp group of the Democracy Collective, taking down posters of the Bhajan Sandhya and Aarti was discussed by some members. 


When questioned about the above accusation, Student Five, associated with the screening, pointed The Edict to similar incidents whereby posters put up by the Democracy Collective and the Social Justice Forum advertising ‘political’ events have been frequently “torn” or “taken down” by students and university administration.


Members of the Social Justice Forum (SJF) have, in the past, publicly discussed the difficulties associated with having posters for events organised by them — such as the memorial for student activist Rohith Vemula and journalist Gauri Lankesh, held on the Monday following DEMCOL’s screening, torn down. 


Student One concluded the bhajan sandhya and aarti by emphasising the students associated with the event are not “bigots. . . who are here to spread hatred.” 


In a point similar to the one raised in their event advertising poster that stated, “With sincere warmth, we invite persons from all religions, backgrounds, and dispositions to join us in the celebration of Lord Shri Ram.”


They further called for people from all faiths and ideologies to come together to celebrate what was, in their view, a ‘historic moment of harmony.’


Democracy Collectives Screening: Ram Ke Naam


The Democracy Collective (DEMCOL), an independent body of faculty and students on campus, organised the screening of Anand Patwardhan’s 1992 documentary Ram Ke Naam  (In the Name of God) at 8 PM in the Residence Hall 2 TV Lounge. The event was aimed at spreading awareness regarding the history and political context behind the Ram Mandir debate. Held an hour after the Aarti ended, the screening drew a turnout of roughly 70 people. 


The screening commenced with a student reciting Aamir Aziz’s famous poem Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega, composed in response to the controversial CAA and NRC acts. Subsequently, Ram ke Naam was screened. 


The documentary lays out the history of places of worship in Ayodhya and discusses the peaceful coexistence of mosques and temples in the region for centuries. 


It features testimonies from priests directly involved in the reported placement of Lord Ram idols within Babri Masjid in 1949. Additionally, it also includes perspectives from various residents in the region, both Hindus and Muslims, who opposed the demolition of the mosque. 


Student Two (UG’24), an attendee, claimed regarding the larger Ram Mandir campaign, that it is a “display of hyper-masculine, jingoistic Hindu nationalism.” 


The screening concluded with Navya Asopa (UG'24) and Student Three, a fellow organiser, expressing disappointment over the events prevalent on campus celebrating the consecration, stating [these were] rejoicing in the “end of state secularism.”


DEMCOL SG Thread


On Monday, 29th January, a week after both events, the Ashoka University Student Government (AUSG) forwarded an email from DEMCOL to the faculty and student body, raising concerns over the administration’s purported “pushback” against their organisation of the Ram ke Naam screening.


The email included allegations against officials from the Registrar’s Office, and the Director of Student Affairs (DSA), reportedly ambushing a member of the collective — a Muslim student. In the email, DEMCOL alleged the student “. . . was not previously informed about the agenda of the meeting, nor were other members from the collective called alongside for support and action." 


The Collective highlighted the purported hypocrisy of the administration in attempting to stop the screening, while the bhajan and aarti were taking place with admin members as attendees of the event. They claimed the event was “directly in violation” of the Policy Of Religious And Cultural Festivals 2022  at Ashoka University, which disallows any events with religious content or rituals on campus. 



The Edict approached the Registrar's Office, the DSA, and the Residence Life team for comment regarding the above accusation. 


In response, Mr. Sachin Sharma, Registar, Ashoka University, pointed us to the clarificatory email sent out by Vice-Chancellor Somak Raychaudhary early on Thursday morning (01st February), wherein allegations of partial treatment are disputed:  “. . . both groups planning events on campus were spoken to, as both had delayed reaching out to the administrative team for requisite permissions. [...] Conversations regarding the posters were had with both groups, as these had been put up before permissions had been given. Even so, no posters were removed by the administration.”


The organisers of the bhajan sandhya and aarti confirmed information along similar lines to The Edict


The administration, however, neither confirmed nor denied the accusations of intimidation of an individual student. In his mail, the VC denied that the administration coerced the organisers to cancel the screening. 


In an interview with The Edict, organisers of the bhajan sandhya and aarti responded to the allegations put forth by DEMCOL. They had sent out an email to the Office Of Student Affairs (OSA) requesting a classroom. They finally received a response on the date of the event, and were called to meet the administration. They stated, “The admin insisted for us to not have the event in the official university space in the first place.”


Moreover, they asserted that there was no clearly stated objective of the meeting beforehand which is similar to the experience that DEMCOL members had. The organisers also claimed that to have the bhajan sandhya and aarti they insisted on organising it as an independent event not involving any university-affiliated departments. Thereby adhering to the guidelines stated in the Policy Of Religious And Cultural Festivals 2022, "This policy is only applicable for festivals organised under the Student Life Office and is not a pan-University document."


The organisers added, “The university administration, understanding that doing so in one's dorm room wouldn't be plausible, simply requested that [they] have the event in a location as private as possible so as not to cause any disturbance.” 


Refuting allegations of receiving administrative support, they claimed that the admin refused to even provide mics and speakers to them as utilities for the pooja.


When The Edict asked them about the location error in their poster, which showed that the event was supposed to take place in Takshila instead of the bleachers, they explained that they had printed the poster while awaiting OSA approval. They conceded, “In the future, we would like to take permission well in advance and be in contact with OSA so such a situation doesn't come up.”


Faculty Criticism of Admin + Comment from Professor Khan


Professors from across twelve departments within Ashoka took to the forum to express their dismay over the alleged unequal enforcement of rules, and selective censorship. Most faculty statements centred around the danger of university administration allegedly singling out one group of students while cooperating with another. Moreover, they called for transparency and clarification over the unequal treatment of two student groups.


As discussed previously, VC Somak Raychaudhury claimed in an email that no differential treatment was conferred, stating: “the purported difference in treatment to different student requests … is explicitly incorrect.” He added that events organised by private bodies aren’t restricted, but “subject only to mild conditions”. 


While Raychaudhary’s emails specified neither event received an official venue and were not granted permission to put up posters, he did not mention the nature of these ‘mild conditions.’


He asserted that “Both events were held peacefully … with no restriction or interference by the administration,” but did not address concerns over the allegations of a student being ambushed by the administrative body & “Jai Shree Ram'' flags on Ashoka shuttles, a private entity of the transportation department associated with the University.


The email sent via SG stated, “The student called for the meeting was told that their involvement was tracked down to an email that they sent to the document centre with the Ram Ke Naam poster. This constituted unnecessary surveillance and a violation of an expectation of privacy.” 


In his last email, the VC stated, of the independent event being organised by DEMCOL, “no names were shared, attempts were made to find out who to speak to.”


Replying to the AUSG email thread, Professor M.A.A. Khan wrote, "Just to provide some visual context for those who haven't seen these images. Photos of the religious event and the posters are attached below. Please do read the text of the invitation to the religious event." 


The tweet, originally posted by Mr. Sharan Setty, an editor of Swarajya Magazine on X (formally Twitter) contained images taken at the end of the aarti, disclosing the identities of students present at the ceremony. 


A few students and faculty members debated over the correctness of Khan sharing the images of students associated with the event on a public email thread. 


Professor Krittika Bhattacharjee stated that she does not “appreciate the assumption all students in the picture are of the same kind” and pointed out that different students come from diverse family backgrounds and have varied information networks. Building on this point, she cautioned against assuming someone's intentions of being at the event and equating, "the willingness to be photographed with an endorsement of the text of the tweet."


She called for the administration to offer an in-person explanation of the nature of their meeting with the Demcol student member. 


Student Four, an attendee visible in the picture, revealed that they had not consented to the picture being published on social media, and were unaware of a Swarajya magazine editor having possession of it. They stated, “It is vital to respect the privacy of individuals, which can be invaded if photos are shared with no prior permission.” The existence of the image shared in a public forum without their consent was ‘an alarming development.’


When asked about their views about the image being shared in the email thread, they added, “It is disappointing to see that one of the respected professors of our own university has shared it on the student mail. [This] can have adverse effects on our further studies at Ashoka.”


The organisers stated that the photo was taken spontaneously by the attendees of the event and “was not intended for the purpose of circulation to any social media platform.” They also expressed confidence that none of the organisers had shared the image on a public forum. 


Student One reiterated similar points to Student Four. They said, “It is extremely shocking that a professor, and that too, a Head Of Department (Political Science), as someone with great power would so inconsiderately share these photos on a university-wide public email thread with absolutely no care or concern for the possible ramifications students could face simply for being present in the picture”. 


Student Six, who was also in the picture added, “We do not feel safe anymore and are concerned about being seen as ‘inferiors’ for holding a certain type of ideology which is against the spirit of equality and the liberalism which the university stands for.” 


The Edict raised the aforementioned concerns to Professor Khan, who, in response, highlighted that he had shared an image that was  “already online and in the public domain.” Khan clarified his reasoning behind sharing the image: “The photo needed to be shared because it showed … worship rather than just celebration, and as far as I understand any form of group public worship is not allowed according to Ashoka policy.”


He emphasised that it was not his intention to “target students, or imply anything about those who participated.” 


In response to inquiries about the turn of events that led to the photo’s appearance on Mr Sharan Setty X's (formally Twitter) account, the organisers of the Bhajan event mentioned that the images were shared on a private Whatsapp group that they were using to share information about the event. They explained that someone in the 60+ member group had shared it onwards without obtaining their consent.


Khan further asserted that he has “no problem with a prayer ceremony being held by any group, but rules should apply equally to everyone,” as, “in the past many students and others have been flatly denied permission to hold group prayers because of this rule. For those who were not familiar with the matter, the photo actually proved that it was a prayer ceremony and not a celebration.”


647 views0 comments

Comentários


bottom of page