Repeating this popular story about Maharishi Valmiki can land you in jail

It is one of the most repeated stories and chances are that you might have also either heard it or have used it at some point of time, most certainly approvingly. And the story is: Maharishi Valmiki was a dacoit, and was known as Ratnakar, before he became a sage and wrote Ramayana.

According to legend, Ratnakar, supposed to be born in a so-called low-caste, was rechristened as Valmiki and given the status of Maharishi (great sage) and a great Brahmin by Narada Muni after Ratnakar performed tapasya (deep meditation).

However, the Valmiki community, especially those living in Punjab, don’t like that part of the story that says that Maharishi Valmiki was any dacoit at any point in his earlier life.

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If you repeat this part of the story, even approvingly without meaning disrespect to Maharishi Valmiki, and especially at a mass media platform, you will attract the wrath of some activists belonging to the community.

The same has happened to TV actress and host Rakhi Sawant, who could be arrested for calling Maharishi Valmiki a murderer (well, she sensationalized, out of habit, and turned the ‘dacoit’ part of the story into a ‘murderer’). She repeated this story to make a point about how someone indulged in criminal activities came become a great sage, and thus people should be given second chances in their lives, but ended up offending members of the Valmiki community.

She was repeating the story on some TV channel in July last year to make a point that just like Valmiki (Ratnakar) can become a sage, Mika Singh – the Bollywood singer who had once forcibly kissed her and who uses abusive language on Twitter – can also change and become a better person.

Shatabdi stopped by Valmiki community
Train stopped to protest against Rakhi Sawant in July 2016

Members of the Valmiki community were reportedly offended over her referring to Maharishi Valmiki’s past as criminal (and not over the comparisons with Mika Singh, which we thought was more ridiculous). A case was registered against Rakhi Sawant under IPC 295 for offending religious sentiments. Protesters had even stopped a train in Punjab demanding her arrest.

According to latest reports, a team of Punjab Police has now left for Mumbai to arrest Rakhi Sawant, against whom an arrest warrant was issued by a local court in Ludhiana. The warrant was issued after the actress couldn’t attend hearings at the court even after repeated summons.

However, this is not the for the first time that Valmiki community has taken to courts against people who repeat this story. Way back in 2009, a case was registered against TV channel Star Plus and producers of a serial Bidai, where this story was repeated, even though approvingly.

The case is still going on and the activists vow to take it to logical conclusion. Last year, even the Supreme Court refused to give relief to the TV channel and producers. While hearing the same case, the High Court had observed that there was no credible evidence to suggest that Maharishi Valmiki was a dacoit in his earlier life.

“From Vedic literature, up to 9th century AD, there is no reference as such that Maharishi Valmiki led a life of a dacoit or highwayman,” the judge is reported to have to have said, which arguably has now become a precedent and the activists of Valmiki community don’t take lightly any reference to the same.

Apart from cases against the Star Plus and Rakhi Sawant, Valmiki community protesters had got the Arshad Warsi starrer The Legend of Michael Mishra banned in Punjab as the movie too had a dialogue that repeated the story about Maharishi Valmiki being a dacoit once.

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