What and where is this Ram Setu?
Rama Setu (or Rama's bridge), also known as Adam's Bridge outside
India, is a chain of limestone shoals, between the islands of Mannar, near northwestern Sri Lanka, and Rameswaram, off the southeastern coast of India.
It is 48 km long and separates the Gulf of Mannar (southwest) from the Palk Strait (northeast).
So why is it called the Rama Setu?
Well, technically it links India to Lanka. The Ramayana says that Lord
Hanumana's monkey-brigade had anchored the rocks to the sea bed, and thus
created the chain of rocky shoals which was used by Lord Rama to cross-over to
Ravana's Lanka in order to rescue Sita. So the legend. As recently as 2002, some
propagandist Hindu groups had tried to misuse NASA imagery which was touted as
"proof" of the Ramayana narration about how the bridge had been built.
But why did the government have to come into all this?
The controversy has been raging for close to over 150 years. Way back in 1860,
one Alfred Dundas Taylor of Indian Marines had conceived of a Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project to create a ship channel across the Palk Strait.
The government of India appointed the Sethu Samudram Project Committee in 1955, headed by Dr. A. Ramasamy Mudaliar, which was charged with the duty of examining the desirability of the project.
It was finally approved in 2005 and the cost of the project is estimated to be
Rs 2,427 crore
It envisages dredging up 82 million cubic m of the Palk Strait -- the shallow ocean floor near the Dhanushkodi end of
Rama Setu -- to create a 44.9 nautical mile (83 km) long deepwater channel linking the shallow water of the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar.
that would allow ships to pass through instead of having to go around the island of Sri
Lanka. It is estimated that this would save up to 30 hours' shipping time by cutting over
780 km off the voyage. The deadline for the project is November 30, 2008.
Were the Sangh parivar the only ones to protest?
Well, all sorts of people have been protesting. While the Sangh parivar's
protests have been on religious grounds, on the fear that the project will
destroy the existing Ram Setu, many environmentalists -- including known
secularists such as Justice Krishna Iyer -- have been protesting against the
project because it's feared that the large amount of dredging could damage coral reefs in the
area. Environmentalists argue that the costs and benefit of the projects have
not been properly carried out and that it might cause geological imbalance with
no significant saving in costs or increase in trade.
But how does Lord Rama come into the picture? Doesn't it have something to
do with the ASI?
Yes, the issue had been controversial for some time and is before the Supreme
Court already. ASI was brought in to plead that the "bridge" is
actually a natural formation. Instead of staying with the plethora of scientific
facts available that testify to this, the ASI went on to say that legend or
mythological texts can't be seen as "historical record". Which was
perhaps fair enough, but then instead of sticking to the wealth of evidence in
support of its claim -- including the disclaimer from NASA! -- the ASI went on
to say that this isn't proof of the "existence of characters or
That was enough for the VHP to pounce. And Sri Lal Krishna Advani of course
only needed an opportunity to remind his core constituency of what a great Ram-bhakt
he is. That a disgruntled leader of a party, with a clear bankruptcy of issues
and ideas to engage with, should move from Ram Janambhumi to Ram Karambhumi
shouldn't have surprised anyone. That the elections are in the air was all the
more of a reason -- and it was true to form for the Congress to have handled it
with its exceptionally immaculate sloppiness and then suddenly to remember "Ram naam" No surprise then that L.K.
Advani had a field day mocking the Congress in Agartala when he argued, "Why is there
a picture of Ram and Krishna in the Constitution if Ram or Krishna did not exist? And why
did Gandhiji, the father of the nation show us the dream of 'Ramrajya'? Were all
these fictitious?" All such unnecessary rhetoric and bombast and disruption
over an issue that needed merely
to be dealt with historical and scientific facts but was allowed to be
hijacked and politicised.
So what is the latest on it?
Well, at a hurriedly-called press conference, Law Minister H R Bhardwaj announced that the offending paragraphs would be withdrawn and a fresh
affidavit would be filed before the apex court hearing the petitions against
construction of the Sethusamudram canal project off Rameswaram. "We are
filing a supplementary affidavit tomorrow in the Supreme Court," Bhardwaj
says. "Lord Rama is an integral part of Indian culture and ethos and cannot
be a matter of debate. The existence of Rama cannot be doubted. As Himalaya is
Himalaya, Ganga is Ganga, Rama is Rama. There is no requirement of any proof to
establish the existence." Oh, well, then why not ensure that no scope is
provided for such debates to be initiated via affidavits, and that too in the
Supreme Court in the first place?
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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