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Statue of Ramanuja: An ironic thread in Telangana’s anti-caste social fabric

AKA the ‘Statue of Equality’, it only symbolises spiritual fascism

In February 2022, the high officials from union and state governments and a religious section of the state of Telangana celebrated the inauguration of the 'Statue of Ramanuja', the founder of Vishishta Advaita School of Vaishnavism in the 11th century. Being widely circulated as the 'Statue of Equality', this assertion leads to a few philosophically fundamental questions. These philosophical questions are intertwined with the socio-political positioning of the statue, which has been mastered by Mr. Akulamannada Chilakamarri Sriman Narayana Charyulu, popularly known as Chinna Jeeyar, and the state government that has brought it into the state of Telangana. The newly formed state of Telangana has always been distinct with its cultural autonomy by virtue of being a part of the Southern Deccan region. Especially, nothing can symbolise solidarity more than the organic contribution from the Dalit, ethnic, Adivasi, Tribal, and Bahujan populations’ everyday lives to the state’s diversity. In this context, the widely circulated notion of the ‘Statue of Ramanuja’ as the ‘Statue of Equality’ might actually be a statue of 'anti-equality', standing tall, spewing casteism and promoting the hegemony of cultural imperialism.

Equality: A Modern Idea

As the statue of Ramanuja is claimed to be the ‘Statue of Equality’, let us now try to decipher the scholarly features or characteristics of equality and see if the statue stands up for at least one aspect of the ideal of ‘Equality’ philosophically. Inequality is an approach to promoting dogmas in a politically civilised state. Anti-discrimination is absolutely necessary for formal as well as substantive equality. Equality does not just mean ‘equal status’ among equals, but it means ‘equality through anti-discrimination, carving a niche for a dignified life as a living being’. In this definitional context, the bone of contention with ‘the Statue of Ramanuja’ is whether, in any rationality, it qualifies to be ‘modern’ and can be called a ‘Statue of Equality’?

The Statue of Equality, Telangana | Shutterstock

 The initiator and promoter of the statue, Chinna Jeeyar, preaches the Advaita Vedanta philosophical schools and the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta philosophical school that stem from ‘Vaishnavism’, a tradition of the Hindu religion. This tradition had preached and popularised India's ‘importance and necessity of the caste and Varna system’. None of the above worked towards or encouraged the ‘annihilation of caste’ or ‘anti-caste’ discourse. It is not just important for us to look into the core principles of these philosophies, but it becomes very relevant as to how the individuals and the communities today take forward these philosophies.Chinna Jeeyar, through his speeches, subtly and sometimes even directly (though it may be called caste-arrogance), expressed that the philosophy he would like to propose is to compartmentalise humans into caste or varna and thereby ascribe equal status to the stratified compartments rather than castes and Varnas.

This is not the modern idea of equality since the modern idea of equality is discussed through scholarship as dignity, anti-discrimination, self-respect and equity.

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Cultural Imperialism
 Historically, the Deccan Telangana region has seen many political and social developments in the Series of Movements in Telangana and the Deccan region.
 The movement of 1946, the Telangana Rebellion (Raithanga Saayudha Poratam), and the movement in the 2010s that led to a separate state formation can be especially mentionable. The former one was very much equivalent with the expression of ‘Independence’ dominantly due to economic exploitation and rights violations, but the latter movement overall evolved with ‘cultural assertions’ and thereby economic exploitation.The newly formed state of Telangana has emerged to be a culturally and economically independent political entity, setting itself free from cultural usurping and economic exploitation by other economically developed states.
 But are we really moving ahead in any way to represent a ‘culturally and economically’ assertive political entity? Education that tries to reflect on the oppression instead of sabotaging the core value of liberation and struggle is one of the ways to promote the modern values in society and instil humanity in humankind is observed in the ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire’. In the words of Gramsci, educators are ‘cultural workers’, and he proposes the idea of an ‘ethical state’ that integrates more often the role of the political and social nature of the state with that of the role of an educator. Culture is so intertwined with education that education itself becomes a tool that could be deployed to progress an alternative culture from the existing culture. In this sense, the schools established by Chinna Jeeyar in the Scheduled Tribal areas are a juxtaposition of ‘Ethnic Culture and the Brahminical culture’. These schools are called ‘Jeeyar Gurukulams’.


Grade 10 graduation, 2019, Jeeyar Gurukulam | Official website

The official website of the Jeeyar Gurukulams situated in these tribal areas demonises the traditional organic lifestyle of the ethnic inhabitants in these areas by assuring emancipation from ‘such way of life’ if admitted to his schools. The website of Chinna Jeeyar’s educational institutions or the Gurukulam (Ashrams) has been designed to promote Gurukulam in the markets such that the ‘ethnic way of life’ is a primitive and barbaric way of life and that a culturally superior education alone like the one imparted in his schools would break them out of that cycle into modernity. But, this kind of education emphasises the socio-cultural phenomenon of promoting Sanskritisation. According to the Xaxa Committee report, ‘aashramaisation of tribal education’ leads to cultural assimilation, which is observed as ‘Cultural Genocide’.

Cultural imperialism through education like this is the effectuation of the ‘Trojan Horse’ effectuation. Jeeyar Gurukulams promote the idea of perceiving the indigenous and Adivasi/ethnic communities as fragments of Hindu society that need to be assimilated and can only exist with referential blessings from Hindu mythologies. This damages the ‘cultural relativism’ on one hand and demolishes the historically independent existence of ‘Adivasi, Tribal, Indigenous’ populations on the other.  

The Statue of Ramanuja, which was ‘purified’ after the Dalit President visited, cannot represent the communistic principles.