Messages listing the phone numbers of Buddhists who are observing the Ganesh festival have been circulating on social media. These messages make an appeal to Buddhists to reprimand their fellow Buddhists worshiping Lord Ganesh.
Amidst the ongoing Ganapati festivities, some Buddhists who have installed Ganesh idols at their home have complained of harassment and threats of social boycott by the members of their own community who have objected to their participation in the festival.
Messages listing the phone numbers of Buddhists who are observing the festivities have been circulating on social media for the last few days. These messages make an appeal to other Buddhists to call on these numbers and reprimand their fellow Buddhists worshiping Lord Ganesh. The messages claim that participating in the festival was against the teachings of Babasaheb Ambedkar. They remind the Buddhists of the 22 vows of Ambedkar, one of which says, “I shall have no faith in Gauri, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus, nor shall I worship them”.
Sushil Damodar Ingole (28), a resident of Jyoti Nagar, Hingoli district, has lodged a complaint with the Hingoli town police station after he started receiving abusive calls as a result of such messages on social media.
A Buddhist, Ingole teaches science in a private English medium school. “Some swayam ghoshit dharm rakshaks (self-styled religion saviours) from my community are creating problems… I do not celebrate Ganesh festival at home. As part of school activity, I had participated in Ganesh festival in the school last year. I kept that image as my display picture on WhatsApp when the festival started this year. But some persons circulated my cell number on social media saying I have installed Ganesh idol at home. And from August 26, I started getting calls not only from parts of Maharashtra, but also from Orissa and UP, during the day and even in midnight hours. Some of them used abusive language. So, I have filed a complaint with the police on August 27. Cops have warned some of the callers. But the calls have not stopped as my number is still under circulation,” Ingole said.
“I kept Lord Ganesh as my WhatsApp display picture because I respect every religion. I have friends from different religions, even upper caste Hindus who celebrate Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary with me on April 14. Like this, we all should work for promoting communal harmony. I do respect Dr Ambedkar and understand his 22 vows. But the same Dr Ambedkar has given us the Constitution that grants us the right to worship. It should be respected,” said Ingole.
He claimed that in Hingoli, a group of Ambedkarite youths had started “Ganpati Shodh Mohim”, in which they were searching for houses of Buddhists where Ganesh idol is worshipped. The cell number of Bhalchandra alias Bhau Kadam, a noted Marathi film and television actor and comedian, was also circulated on social media. The actor was recently seen on news channels giving information about the eco-friendly “Tree Ganesh” idol installed at his new residence. But, soon, a few people from the Buddhist community started questioning him. Several messages where circulated against the actor, calling him a “traitor” and asking the Buddhists to stop watching his performances.
Speaking to The Indian Express, the actor confirmed that he installed Ganesh Idol at his home for one and a half days, but refused to comment on the alleged objections he faced from the community members. “I have no answer to this. I will not comment on it,” he said.
In another incident, activists of the Bhartiya Bauddha Mahasabha (BBM) went to the house of Dashrath Jagtap, a Buddhist living with his wife and children at Ambarnath in Mumbai, and questioned them for installing Ganesh idol, on August 26. Activists allegedly warned Jagtap family that if they continue to celebrate Ganesh festival, they would not be distanced from the community. Jagtap’s cell number was also circulated on social media.
The next day, on August 27, Jagtap family submitted a letter of apology written on a BBM letter pad at the Lumbini Buddha Vihar saying they have “realised their mistake”. Despite repeated attempts, Jagtap could not be contacted.
Prabhakar Suryawanshi, president of BBM’s Ambernath wing, said his group was only “creating awareness” and not threatening anyone. “Buddha has not prescribed the 22 vows. But Dr Ambedkar prescribed these vows while accepting Buddhism in 1956 at the Deeksha Bhoomi in Nagpur for achieving freedom from mental slavery. We do participate in festivals of different religions, but being Ambedkarites, it is our duty to follow his 22 vows and not worship Ganesh at home. So we went to Jagtap’s house for creating awareness that being Ambedkarites they should not install Ganesh idol at home. There was no social boycott. Buddhism is against social boycott. Also, we did not circulate Jagtap’s contact number on social media. We condemn such acts of circulating contact numbers… Jagtap’s family has voluntarily submitted this apology letter,” he said.
Abhay Sable of Navi Mumbai, another Buddhist, said his family had been celebrating Ganesh festival by installing the Lord’s idol for many years now. “But this is the first time we are receiving calls harassing us throughout day and even in nights. Some persons have also sent highly objectionable messages to the women members of my family whose numbers have been shared in a WhatsApp message. Legal action needs to be taken against those circulating such messages and harassing us,” he said.