Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has said the affinity towards the slogan, ‘Jai Shri Ram’, was a recent development in West Bengal and not part of Kolkata’s culture.
It was not a phrase to which any consequence was attributed earlier “in my days,” he said “It [Jai Shri Ram] is a recent import used as a pretext to beat people up,” he said in an interaction with students of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, where he was a professor of economics in the mid-fifties, on Friday.
Earlier in the day, at a seminar in the city on advancement of education through teachers’ capabilities, Professor Sen said when “someone is asked to alight a rickshaw, told to repeat a particular phrase [and then] hit with stick if the person refused to say so [then] then I am alarmed.”
At least a dozen cases had surfaced since the declaration of the recent general election results when members of a minority community were beaten up in the State allegedly even after saying ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ On Wednesday, an 11-year-old boy was thrashed in Hooghly district allegedly for refusing to say ‘Jai Shri Ram.’
Professor Sen, however, did not mention any particular incident but indicated that such incidents were growing.
“We do not want to discriminate between various castes, religion or communities, but it is increasing,” he said at the seminar.
Later in the evening, in Jadavpur University, where he interacted with eminent social scientist Partha Chatterjee, Professor Sen reiterated the issue of discrimination.
“These days, when I hear that members of a particular community are scared and going out of their houses in this city with an element of fear, then I fail to recognise this city…the city of my pride. We need to ask questions now,” he said.
Professor Sen was interacting with Professor Chatterjee on ‘Kolkata after Independence: A personal memoir’ that is possibly part of his forthcoming autobiography.
‘Hindu Mahasabha introduced similar culture’
He further said in the question and answer session that Bengalis were not connected with “the culture” of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or Ram Navami but this new culture was imported to promote divisive politics in the State.
He argued that the Hindu Mahasabha once introduced a similar culture in the State to create an atmosphere of divisive politics. “For the same reason, this ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan is introduced,” he said.
Prof. Sen extensively discussed his student days in Presidency College [now a university], the excitement in the university area in central Kolkata or the iconic Coffee House, his years as a student with its warmth and the politics of the 1950s.
He also fondly reminisced about his early years in Jadavpur University as a teacher and his days at Cambridge University.
Gandhi Bhavan, the main auditorium of Jadavpur University, was chock-a-block and many could not enter the auditorium to listen to the interaction.
A few who came from the districts were upset and later posted on social media asking why the event could not be hosted in a bigger space.
BJP State president Dilip Ghosh, however, said that “nobody is listening to intellectuals like Amartya Sen.”
He said, “Everywhere, people are raising both their hands to say ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ Communists are finished.”