In defence of Vibheeshan

It is said that the Ramayana forms the moral backbone of Indian society. But that theory doesn't hold up on many fronts. For example, Ravana has a better reputation among Hindus than Vibheeshan does. Ravana is seen as strong and wise while Vibheeshan, who chose to do the right thing despite the fact that it meant going against his blood, is seen as weak and not worth emulating.

This, despite the fact that Vibheeshan sided with good. Despite the fact that he helped good win the war against evil. Our dislike for Vibheeshan therefore, would seem to be a reflection of our belief that community matters more than morality. That sacrificing good is okay as long as you're doing it for your family, your people, your group.

In present times, we see two kinds of upper caste people engaging with social issues. The first is the one who imagines himself the giver. He "gave" people rights, he "gave" women freedom, he "gave" India modernity. He gets angry when he doesn't get credit for his heroism.

The other kind is the saviour. He will "save" people from oppression. He will "save" people from discrimination. He gets offended when it is pointed out to him that he is part of the oppressive system and says "I'm not like that'.

The thing that these two have in common is to be the hero of the story. Both want credit, both want recognition, both want admiration. But perhaps the most important thing a modern, privileged, upper caste Indian needs to realise is that no matter how he spins it, he is never going to be the Ram of this Ramayana. He's not even going to be a member of the vaanar sena. The only thing he can be is a Vibheeshan.

The only thing he can do is raise his voice against the unequal system of which he is an integral part. A part he cannot whitewash over with rhetoric and grandstanding and bombast. A part he must acknowledge before he can abandon. A rakshas can fight the good fight, but not with denial.

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