Press Trust of India|Jun 22, 2022
‘To affirm constitutional politics’: What are DU prof Ratan Lal's posts on YouTube about?
Long before the Gyanvapi shivling post, DU professor Ratan Lal had started a YouTube channel to share the ideas of BR Ambedkar, other Bahujan icons.
NEW DELHI: Composed, usually against a background of books and with a gamcha around his neck, Ratan Lal, a history teacher at Delhi University’s Hindu College stands before a camera to talk about BR Ambedkar and topics related to the Bahujan community on his YouTube channel, Ambedkarnama.
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Launching his pieces with the catchphrase “Kaam ki Baat - Laal ki class”, he talks in detail about the intolerance against Dalits, BR Ambedkar's thoughts and ideas, and the significance of Buddha Jayanti, unemployment, EVM machines, and more.
Long before a Facebook post brought the police to his door, Lal had started posting videos on his Youtube channel in which he discussed the attacks on Dalits, court cases against students and opposition leaders like Jignesh Mevani, attacks on Muslims during the Ram Navami celebrations this year and more. Lal started posting videos on Ambedkarnama at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and during a nationwide lockdown imposed to control it.
He began his short video podcast series with one on the round table conference attended by BR Ambedkar and rights of the depressed classes. That was published on April 21, 2020, and has garnered over 8,000 views. Today, his channel has 1.44 lakh subscribers and 13.6 million views.
On Tuesday, Lal wrote a Facebook post questioning the finding of a shiv-ling in the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi. On May 18, an FIR was lodged against Lal. The decades-old mosque, adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, currently faces a legal battle. On Friday, the Supreme Court transferred the case to the Varanasi district court so that it can be heard by an “experienced judge”. He was arrested on Friday night and after a day of protests at police stations and DU’s North Campus, was granted bail.
‘Thoughts, ideas of BR Ambedkar’
The channel description reads thus: “Our vision is to reach out to a larger audience spreading the ideas and thoughts of Dr B R Ambedkar and other Bahujan icons. Our mission is to affirm social justice politics and constitutional politics and spread ideas related to it to a greater audience through various means.”
In his last video posted hours after the FIR was lodged, Lal called this an attempt to stifle the voice of Dalits and proclaimed that he will not remain silent. “Every evening dharma gurus from both faiths come and debate on this topic which is really meant for art historians,” said Lal in his last uploaded video.
Soon after his arrest, a section of students and teachers in DU’s North Campus and even beyond came out to express solidarity with the history teacher.
Picking up from instances in Rajasthan, Muzzafarnagar, and Lucknow University’s Ravi Kant, a Dalit professor who was attacked by a student on the university campus in the presence of a security guard, Lal discussed growing intolerance against Dalits in India on his channel.
Kant was assaulted over his remarks during an online debate on the Gyanvapi Mosque issue and also had a case filed against him. In an interview with Kant, Lal discusses the attack by students and calls for a detailed investigation into whether those who attacked were actually students at Lucknow University.
In another video, Lal draws a comparison between the arrest of Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani, Jawaharlal Nehru University scholar Umar Khalid and union minister Anurag Thakur. Mewani was arrested for two tweets, one of which criticised prime minister Narendra Modi during his Gujarat tour this year. While Mewani was put in jail for tweets, during the hearing of Thakur’s case on hate speech during the Delhi riots, Delhi High Court said: “If something is said with a smile, then there is no criminality”. Lal proceeds to plaster on a fake smile and critique PM Modi’s spending on a plane, car and suit while claiming to be a “fakeer” (renunciate).
Gyanvapi mosque shivling controversy
Lal, following the Gyanvapi mosque case, brings in JP Singh, a senior journalist from Allahabad to discuss the case as it unfolds. Since his post on Facebook became viral, the channel has featured his interviews with different news channels on the issue. Talking to one Lal said: “There has been an attempt to terrorize people like professor Ravi Kant and me. There is a clear possibility of threat but there is no point in being afraid. I wrote to PM Modi and administration that there will be a threat on my life.”
Talking about the Facebook post Lal clarified; “My intention was not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. A historian is supposed to establish valid links and in that sense, I wrote about those who were defeated in annexation. These are indicators of history. If sentiments were being hurt then it should have hurt both Hindus and Muslims. I did not write that it is not a shivling.”
Videos that frequently critique majoritarian narrative, especially Hindutva ideology, have hundreds of comments, most appreciative but also the occasional threat. One of the comments in Kant’s interview said: “Strict action must be taken against Ravikant. This man is Anti-Modi, Anti-Brahman.”
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