LT GEN BHOPINDER SINGH (RETD) | 10 SEPTEMBER, 2019
Culture-vividness as opposed to the supremacist instincts of caste nature
The complete family name is Raghuvanshi – missing in my name only on account of practical brevity. Most of the family members use it, and the no-brainer name for our family WhatsApp group, christened four years ago, is unsurprisingly Raghuvanshis.
From crusty old soldiers, engineers, academicians to wonder-eyed millennials, the meeting point of our collective identities could only be Raghuvanshis, with a picture of our patriarch – and my grandfather’s – rather serious face as the irreplaceable display picture.
While the members of my generation can certainly expound on the ‘purity’ of the lineage, drilled in as it were, as a symbol of our pride that we trace back to the Ikshvaku dynasty and the reign of Raghu, progenitor of Lord Ram. Our faith and tryst with divinity was duly sanctified by the Pandas at Haridwar, who further traced back the familial-genealogical roots to Ayodhya, birthplace of Lord Ram.
However, the younger lot are clearly less concerned, convinced or impressed about the explanations professed at the forty-odd Raghuvanshi villages in our surroundings, over a thousand kilometers away from Ayodhya!
Observance and respect for the Raghuvanshi lineage in terms of its culture-vividness for our new generation, as opposed to the supremacist instincts of casteist nature, as was our generation’s wont, is a welcome evolution.
In an unwitting ode to the times that be, the Raghuvanshi WhatsApp membership has also diluted its puritanical impulse and necessities, and happily expanded its membership to non-Raghuvanshi family members, those who married in or those who married out – yet the link to Raghuvanshis is still the common denomination!
Thankfully it is more in the spirit of a family, and not so much in terms of dogmatic differentiation.
‘Raghu kula reet sada chali aayi, praan jaaye par vachan na jaaye’ (the descendants of Raghu have for eons maintained, that a word given was to be defended to death) – this was an emotional leitmotif invoked repeatedly by the family elders as a means of character building. Some abided by it, some didn’t, but the expectation of a vachan or word-given was an inviolable halo that surrounded our behavioural consciousness, over all other values.
This spirit continuing took a tentative 15 year old to the National Defence Academy, who was then bloodied and baptised into a fiery regiment befitting the ‘lineage’ – and a 19 year old subaltern joined the famous Rajput Regiment in 1965.
The regimental ethos was Kshatriya-code-compliant à la Raghu’s vansh: ‘Victory of death in battle has been the religion of the Rajput since times immemorial, it is his character that he knows no fear.’
The Indian Armed Forces are a wondrous revelation: an institution steeped in history, heritage and age-old values, yet always progressive and forward looking. It is an institution that teaches the importance of spirit, values and ethos in the most non-discriminatory way. The soldier lays down his life in the name of his paltan or at best the regiment: Sepoy Kamal Ram (Victoria Cross), the pride of the regiment and ethnically a Gujjar, died to uphold the name of the ‘Rajput’.
The regiment beams with pride at the raw gallantry of its Naik Jadunath, Maj Randhawa, Lt Col Avasthy, Maj Vardarajan and others, a veritable smorgasbord of India’s diversities, with Rajputs, Gujjars, Brahmins, Jats, Bengalis etc., all putting their lives at the altar of living up to a being a ‘Rajput’.
An important lesson in the still-stuffy years of the 20th century when India went about to fructify its proverbial tryst with destiny, where history was important but the future more so.
Racial-societal denominations are an undeniable reality in an India that lives many centuries at the same time – yet, the choice to retain what is worth retaining, and shed that which is best relegated to the harlotry of history, is a very important choice to make.
The first Commanding Officer of my battalion was Lt Col K.M.Cariappa (later Field Marshal), a proud ‘Rajput’ who used his good sense, wisdom and foresight to propose an ‘all-class’ integration into the regiment, an experiment that I had the privilege to implement much later as Commanding Officer in the early eighties, to embellish the battalion with India’s diversities.
Today, 17th Rajput bashes on regardless, and many of us who are in the winter of our lives often wonder if the other honour that ‘Kipper’ Field Marshal K.M.Cariappa bequeathed to us – the suffix to the battalion, ‘Barhe Chalo’ (Press Forward) – implies a lot more than its simplistic military import would suggest?
Having sheathed the sabre into the scabbard and suffixed my name as a ‘Veteran’, the proud ‘Rajput’ and ‘Raghuvanshi’ has a decidedly more liberal, expansive and ‘inclusive’ interpretation of both the terms, that subscribes to the superiority of the ‘spirit’ and values more than any vacuous, pompous and imperious notions of ‘purity’.
We owe it to our children and the nation to go beyond the rigidities of the past, and celebrate the richness and culturalism of our denominations, which are not the preserve of a select few, but the collective pride of all.
In this context the recent query of the Supreme Court to ascertain the presence of any Raghuvanshis, as the direct descendants of Lord Ram, was surprising. Many erstwhile royalties joined in the chorus that followed, to share the zealously guarded records that trace their descent from Ayodhya.
But what did the courts want to know? And what exactly was implied in the lineage records?
Seemingly, both the query and the response on Raghuvanshis was rooted in pietistic moorings that militate against evolutionary forces, which necessitate the celebration of the ‘spirit’ as opposed to the asserted ‘purity’ of lineage.
Being a Raghuvanshi myself does not make my credentials to lay claim on Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva any less than others’, or less than the claim on Lord Ram by any other adherent – surely, God wouldn’t discriminate amongst its adherents in the 21st century!
Today, India must insist, personify and glorify its constitutional profundities that are inherently liberal, progressive and forward-looking. Matters of faith, ethnicity or even castes are personal matters that need to be nuanced with the times as they are. At least, the Lord Ram that I have come to believe in, would subscribe to a Raghuvanshi like that.
Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry.