NEW DELHI: With Parliament all charged up, the autumnal home-coming of ‘Maa Durga’, in her Mahishasuramardini (slayer of demon Mahishasura) avatar, got advanced. All the interference with the celestial calendar took place after the Opposition on Friday demanded an apology from HRD Minister Smriti Irani for having read out a “blasphemous” poster allegedly put up in the JNU in which the goddess had been mentioned in derogatory terms.
This heightened discourse happened during the heat of a debate in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, when Irani, defending herself against charges of mishandling situations in Hyderabad University and in JNU, in the Upper House quoted from documents to prove the culpability of the students arrested from JNU.
Sticking to her feisty performance, a cornered Irani angrily told the RS that she “was a practicing Hindu and a worshipper of Maa Durga” and it was not she but the JNU students, whose right to free speech the Opposition was defending, who should be blamed. But the issue by then had flared up to the extent where Dalit ethnography was pitted against Hindu mythology. With the perception of Mahishasura as a heroic king worshipped by tribal-Dalit communities in Karnataka cited to counter the mainstream portrayal of Durga as the vanquisher of a demon. Even the etymology of Mysore — Mysura — was gone into by the Opposition leaders, just to show up Irani’s limited understanding and knowledge of the diversities prevalent in the country.
For allegedly misrepresenting Durga, Irani came in for fire not just in the RS, but in the Lok Sabha as well. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi alleged that Irani had dragged the goddess into her speech with an eye on the Bengal elections. “While you accuse others of using a “bachcha” (Rohith Vemula) for politics, you do not blanch with fear while dragging goddess Durga into your deplorable politics,” he said.
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