Kannada lyricist and composer Gangaraju, better known by his stage name Hamsalekha, found himself at the centre of a controversy after his comments at an award ceremony last week criticising late seer Vishwesha Theertha Swami’s efforts to remove caste barriers caused an uproar. The composer apologised for his remarks on Monday, November 15 after a video clip of his talk was shared widely on social media, and politicians, religious leaders and media personalities raised a furore.
The composer had said, “Pejawar Swamy has gone to stay at a Dalit person’s house. This is a statement. He had gone and sat there but can he eat chicken if they give it to him? They will fry up sheep’s blood and serve it, can he eat it? They will serve liver, can he eat it? No. So I felt what is the big deal of him going to a Dalit person’s house.”
He was referring to the late seer’s initiatives to visit Dalit colonies. In 2010, the seer had walked into Dalit colonies in Mysuru and offered Vaishnava Deeksha (initiation) which he felt was one way to end untouchability, and religious conversions.
Hamsalekha's statement was met with outrage on social media. Mysuru MP and BJP leader Pratap Simha said, “Hamsalekha has contributed to the field of music and cinema. He has taken a place in all our hearts. But his comments on the Pejawar seer has saddened and angered me. Before speaking about Pejawar Swamy, Hamsalekha should have thought about it and had some knowledge about it. Pejawar seer was not like other religious chiefs. He went to the houses of Dalits to help bond the society and break the barriers in the society.”
Further condemnations followed from religious leaders like Vishwaprasanna Theertha Swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt, Udupi, who said that the statement did not befit the composer’s stature. It also provoked debate on social media with many supporting Hamsalekha’s right to make the statements while a section of social media demanded an apology from the composer.
Following this, Hamsalekha issued an apology on Monday in a video uploaded on Facebook and stated that he did not intend to hurt anybody through his statements. Despite the apology, a police complaint was lodged in Bengaluru’s Hanumanth Nagar police station against Hamsalekha for his comments. The complainant Krishna Raja said that Hamsalekha’s statement hurt religious sentiments. The police registered a non-congnisable case over the complaint.
Kannada actor and activist Chetan criticised the complaint against Hamsalekha which came days after he issued an apology. “Akhila Bharata Brahmana Mahasabha has filed an FIR against him demanding an outdoor apology. Action must be taken against this caste supremacist group for harassment to silence voices,” he said in a tweet.
On Nov 14, Mr Hamsalekha apologized for his comments on food habits. Issue over.— Chetan Kumar Ahimsa / ಚೇತನ್ ಅಹಿಂಸಾ (@ChetanAhimsa) November 18, 2021
Yet on Nov 17, Akhila Bharata Brahmana Mahasabha has filed an FIR against him demanding an outdoor apology
Action must be taken against this caste supremacist group for harassment to silence voices
The late seer Vishwesha Theertha Swami was an influential personality who mentored many politicians. He was also against the controversial ‘Made Snana’ ritual which involved devotees from marginalised castes rolling over plantain leaves with leftover food eaten by Brahmins.
During one of his terms as the chief seer of the Udupi Krishna Mutt, the late seer was criticised for the practice of Pankthi Beda (segregation of communities in serving food) in the temple. The seer defended the practice and stated that while the temple does not observe discrimination, some Brahmins had asked for a separate place to eat their meals.