Political Sociology of Social Exclusion and
Jat-Dalit Conflicts in Punjab
of Political Science PanjabUniversity, Chandigarh. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
recent spate of Jat-Dalit conflicts in the north Indian state of Punjab
has exploded the myth of the casteless character of the Sikh society. Dalits in
Punjab are no longer better than their counterpart in other
parts of India. However, what distinguished Punjab
from the rest of country is that caste inequity persists here more in terms of
landownership, social identification and dominant cultural patterns than of
Brahmincal orthodoxy. Though over the years the Dalits of Punjab have
strengthened their economic position through sheer hard work, enterprise and
affirmative action but they failed to achieve a commensurate improvement in
their social status. Armed with the weapon of improved economic conditions and
social consciousness, the Dalits mustered enough strength to ask for a concomitant
rise in their social status. Such moves of the marginalized find staunch
critics among the Jats who often view Dalit assertion as a form of challenge to
their dominant status in the agrarian society of Punjab.
This in turn has sharpened the contradictions between Jats and Dalits that
ultimately led to a series of violent clashes between them.
has never been as assertive in Indian politics as it is today. Over the last
few decades, however, it has entered the corridors of electoral politics with
full force. Scholars, of late, have started recognizing the fact that once
caste structures get politicized they help in the deepening of democracy, which
in turn empowers the marginalized (Yadav 1999; Palshikar 2004). Delivering a lecture
on “Democracy and its Critics” organized by the United Nations Foundation,
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen said, “There is a need for caution, however, for
those who believe that invocation of caste in any form in democracy is an evil
force. As long as caste is invoked in speaking for a lower caste or uniting it,
it is good” (Hindu: 16 December 2005). Such a pragmatic view of caste eclipses the common
conjecture predicated on the idea that the onset of the modernity project would
inevitably render the institution of caste invalid as a power index in the long
run. This study is a modest attempt to understand the institution of caste in Punjab
and its implications for the recent spate of Jat-Dalit conflicts in the state.
recent Jat-Dalit conflicts in Punjab have exploded the myth of the casteless Sikh society.
They have brought forth the dormant contradictions between the landless and
socially secluded Dalits, and the landowning and dominant peasant caste of Jats
in Punjab. Dalits in Punjab constitute the largest proportion of the Scheduled
Castes (SC) population in the country (29 percent [2001 census]). Interestingly
enough, Punjab has also been the only state in India where the share of the Dalits in the agricultural land
is the lowest (2.34 percent). In other words, despite the fact of their being
in highest proportion in the population of the agrarian state of Punjab in
the country, a very small number of them are cultivators. Their share in the
trade, industry, financial sector, health, and religious establishments in the
state is also almost negligible (Sharma 2003).
over the years the Dalits of Punjab have strengthened their economic position
through sheer hard work and enterprise. Although the constitutional affirmative
action played an important role in the upliftment of the Dalits, in general,
the monopoly of the Dalits on the leather business in the famous Boota Mandi in
the Doaba sub-region of Punjab, and remittances turned out to be of crucial importance
in overcoming their economic hardships. In addition, they have also been
politicized to a large extant by the socio-political activities of the famous
Ad Dharm movement1 and of the various Ravidas Deras2
(religious centers) that have inculcated a feeling of self-respect among them3.
armed with the weapon of improved economic conditions and social consciousness,
the Dalits mustered enough strength to ask for a concomitant rise in their
social status. However, the Jats interpreted this Dalit assertion as a challenge
to their long established supremacy in the state. This in turn has sharpened
the contradictions between them and the Dalits. The Dalits, who for centuries
have been subjected to humiliation and untold miseries, now learnt to say a
firm no not only to the instances of violation of their human rights, but are
also ready to take up cudgels with their tormentors. Consequently, this has led
to a series of violent caste conflicts between the Dalits and the dominant
peasant caste of Jats in Punjab over the last few years. The Jat-Dalit conflicts thus
signify the emerging Dalit assertion and its serious implications for the
asymmetrically structured agrarian society of Punjab.
Such conflicts are in no way a manifestation of communalism in the state. They
are in fact, signs of emerging Dalit assertion, which has all the possibilities
of snowballing into serious violent conflicts, if kept ignored for a long
paper is divided into four sections. The first deals with the regional
specificities of the state of Punjab and its impact on the phenomenon of caste discrimination
in state. It also underlines the phenomenon of Jat-Dalit conflict formation in
the state. The second section delves deep into the history of the Jat community
in the state and its links with the emergence of the caste system within
Sikhism. What are the patterns of caste discrimination in the Sikh society and
how it forced the Dalits to seek a separate identity is discussed in the third
section. The fourth section documents some cases of Jat-Dalit conflicts in the
pre and post partition Punjab.
Specificities and caste Hierarchies in Punjab
caste is prevalent throughout the country, it has never been monolithic and
unilinear in its practice. Every region has its specific and unique
characteristics that closely impact its socio-political and economic
structures. Thus, for a correct understanding of the phenomenon of caste and
untouchability, specificities of a region hold critical importance. In the following
section an attempt is made to explore the regional specificities of the north
Indian state of Punjab and their impact upon the phenomenon of caste.
phenomenon of untouchability was never considered so strong in Punjab as
in many other parts of the country (Ibbetson1883, rpt. 1970:15). Punjab
has generally been known as a “notable exception” to the widely prevalent view
of caste and untouchability in India owing to various historical factors (Puri 2004a: 1). But
it does not mean that untouchability is alien to this part of the country.
Dalits were never spared of social oppression and economic deprivations in Punjab.
The repeated references to and loud condemnations of caste based
discriminations in the teachings of the Sufi saints and the Sikh Gurus is a
case in point. The social reform movements led by the Arya Samaj, Singh Sabha
and Chief Khalsa Dewan further vindicated the presence of the institution of
caste in the social set up of Punjab. Moreover, the roots of caste hierarchy
were so well entrenched in society of the state that the reformatory measures
undertaken by the all these social reforms movements failed to weed them out4.
However, what distinguished it from the other parts of India is the material factor of the caste based
discriminations in Punjab as against the over all-dominating pattern of
feature that distinguished Punjab from the rest of the regions in the country was the
phenomenon of widespread landlessness among the Dalits and the absolute
monopoly of the Jats on the agricultural land in the state. The hold of Jats on
the land was also reinforced by the Punjab Land Alienation Act (1901) that
deprived the Dalits along with other non-agricultural castes the right to
purchase the land. Since Punjab happened to be primarily an agricultural state, the
ownership of land assumed significant importance in determining social status.
Nowhere in India, are Dalits so extensively deprived of agricultural land
as in the case of Punjab. Despite their highest proportion in the country, less
than 5 percent of them were cultivators (lowest in India, 1991 census). They shared only 4.82 percent of the
number of operational holdings and 2.34 percent of the total area under
cultivation (1991 census). Consequently, till recently the landlessness
rendered a large majority of them (60 percent, 1991 census) into agricultural
laborers and made them subservient to the landowners, who invariably happen to
be Sikh Jats. However, a significant change has taken place over the last few
decades. Dalits have entered into a number of professions, which were
traditionally considered as the mainstay of the artisan castes (Ram 2004a:
5-6). This has led to a sharp decline in the share of Dalits in the
agricultural work force in the state, which in itself has come down from 24 per
cent in 1991 to 16 percent in 2001 (Singh 2005:3)
hold of the Jats on the land was so strong that the lower castes were even
denied the access to village common land (shamlaat). In fact, Dalits
were never considered part of villages, as their residences were located
outside the main premises of the villages. So much so that the land on which
the Dalit houses were built also considered to be belonged to the Jats (Virdi
2003: 2 &11). This kept the Dalits always afraid lest the Jat landowners
ordered them to vacate the land. The abysmally low share of the Dalits in the
land seems to be the major cause of their hardships and social exclusion. It is
also an indication of the historical denial of rights to them (Thorat
2006:2432). The slightest sign of protest by the Dalits for the betterment of
their living conditions often provoked the Jats to impose social boycott on
patterns of domination by the Jats and that of the subordination of the Dalits
also distinguished Punjab from rest of the country in a significant way. In Punjab
the scale of social measurement differs from that of the other parts of the
country. The social measurement scale in Punjab is
not based on the purity/pollution principle of Brahminical orthodoxy. Instead,
it is based on the hold of land, martial strength6, and allegiance
to Sikhism, a comparatively new religion that openly challenged the rituals and
dogmatic traditions of Hinduism and Islam. Unlike the system of caste hierarchy
in rest of the country, the top down rank grading of Brahmin (priest),
Kshatriya (soldier), Vaishya (trader) and Shudra (menial worker) carries no
meaning in Punjab. In Punjab Brahmin is not placed on the top of the caste hierarchy.
The Sikh Jats, who otherwise have been Shudra as per the Varna system, considered themselves socially superior to the
Brahmins (Ibbetson1883, rpt. 1970:2; and Sabherwal 1976:10; Tandon 1961: 77).In
fact, in contemporary Punjab Jats have replaced Brahmins in terms of
domination. The ideological undercurrents of social domination based on the
principles of purity/pollution, and wisdom failed to hold ground in Punjab
due to various historical reasons (Ibbetson1883, rpt. 1970:1-87; Puri 2004a:
1). Interestingly, the phenomenon of the domination in Punjab
clubbed together different sources of power (social, economic, political,
religious, and numerical). These sources, in turn, are invariably concentrated
in the community of Jats. In other words, multiple identities coalesced in the
Jats that make them a dominant community of Punjab.
They are Jats by caste, Sikhs by religion, and landowners by their hold on
cultivation. All these different identities reinforce each other and
thus strengthened the position of the Jat community in the state.
another factor that further strengthened the domination of the Jats in the
state of Punjab was their numerical preponderance in the Sikh religion.
Their large-scale entry into Sikh religion had not only rescued them from the
labyrinth of their lower status in the Hindu society, it also turned them into
a powerful community within Sikhism. According to the records of 1881 Census,
66 percent of those who returned as Sikhs were Jats. The second largest
community within Sikhism was that of the Tarkhans/Ramgarhias (the carpenter
caste) who just constituted 6.5 percent of the total Sikhs in Punjab.
Next to the Ramgarhias were the Chamars/Ramdasias with 5.6 percent, followed by
the Chuhras/Mazhabis who were 2.6 percent. If clubbed together these two
outcaste groups (Ramdasias and Mazhabis) becomes the second largest group (8.2
percent) of Sikhs within Sikhism. Thus the numerical preponderance of the Jats
within Sikhism combined with their Marti and self-willed nature, and monopoly
on the land ‘elevated them well above their humble origins’.
a combination and reinforcement of multiple identities and their concentration
in the community of Jats is, however, conspicuous by its absence among the
Dalits, which weaken their collective strength and unity. Dalits in Punjab
are scattered in multi-identities. Under the impact of Sikhism, while Jats of
Punjab have enhanced their social status and achieved spiritual coherence, the
same could not happen in the case of Dalits who remained divided in different
religious orders. Dalits are found in almost all the popular religions in Punjab.
Their presence in Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity not only proves the
presence of the institution of caste in all these religions, but also weaken
the chances of solidarity among them.
subjugation of the Dalits got further deepened during the course of green
revolution in Punjab. The process of green revolution transformed the
traditional subsistence character of the agriculture into commercial and
mechanical farming. The market oriented agriculture pattern in the post 1960’s
phase favored the landowners, which further marginalized the Dalits and widened
the already existing divisions between them and the dominant peasant caste in Punjab.
Interestingly, it was also during this phase of market-oriented agriculture
that a new middle class of educated Dalits emerged in Punjab.
The advent of this new class among the Dalits coupled with the rise of the
Ambedkarite movement in the region led to the formation of Dalit consciousness
in the state.
emergence of the Dalit consciousness induced the Dalit agricultural laborers to
ask for higher wages in the rural settings of Punjab,
especially in its Doaba sub-region. The Dalit struggle for higher wages often
employed pressure tactics of refusal to work unless the landowners increase the
wages. In fact, it was during this very phase of transition in the agrarian
economy of Punjab that the process of Dalit immigration to Europe, North America,
and the Gulf got streamlined. However, it may be pointed that the emergence of
the process of Dalit immigration from Punjab coincided with
the phenomenon of the influx of migrant labour from Bihar and
Eastern Uttar Pradesh into Punjab. The influx of migrant labour has further sharpened the
contradiction between the dominant peasant castes and the landless Dalits in
that it provided the former cheaper labour compared to the local ones.
Moreover, the changed cropping system under the green revolution patterns of
agriculture squeezed the extant of farm labour to a few peak periods – paddy
transplantation, paddy harvesting-cum-threshing, and wheat harvesting. The
traditional agriculture system, capable of providing almost round the year
regular work, was changed into a commercial agriculture set-up that did not
offer more than 75 days work annually (based on fieldwork, see also Singh
2001:5). In turn, they have to seek employment in other sectors for the rest of
the Dalit laborers, sand witched between the influxes of cheap migrant labour
on the one hand and mechanized farming on the other, began to look for job in
different sectors other than the agriculture. The alternative job opportunities
reduced the dependence of the Dalits on landowners. The social mobility of the
new middle class Dalits coupled with their relative emancipation from the
economic dependence on the landowners led to the emergence of Dalit assertion
in Punjab. The sustainability of this assertion drew strength from
the politicization of caste on the one hand and from the failure of the
asymmetrical caste structures to accommodate Dalits into its social space as
equal citizen, on the other (Judge 2006:11). This new form of Dalit assertion
and its recent exhibition in the form of Jat-Dalit clashes in the villages of Punjab
demands a serious enquiry.
another feature that distinguished the Dalits of Punjab from their counterparts
in other parts of the country is their community wise heavy concentration in
some pockets of the state. Dalits in Punjab have been categorized into 38 castes. Out of these 38
castes more than 80 percent of the total Scheduled Castes (SCs) population
belongs to two major caste groupings of Chamars (leather working castes) and Chuhra
(sweepers). These two caste groups consist of four castes – Mazhabi (30.7%),
Chamar (25.8%), Ad-Dharmi (15.9%), and Balmiki (11.1%). The Chamar caste group
includes: Ad-Dharmi, Jatia Chamar, Rehgar, Raigar, Ramdasias, and Ravidasias.
The Chuhra caste group clubs together Balmiki, Bhangi and Mazhabi castes. The
Chamar caste group is largely confined to the Doaba sub-region of the Punjab
(comprising Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, and Nawan Shahr districts lying
between two rivers, Beas and Sutlej). And the Chuhra caste group is mainly concentrated in
the smaller Majha region and the much bigger Malwa region of the state. At the
district level, Mazhabis are largely concentrated in Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Faridkot, Mansa, and Bhatinda districts of Punjab.
Apart from their heavy concentration in the Doaba sub-region of Punjab,
Chamars are also numerous in Gurdaspur, Rupnagar, Ludhiana, Patiala and Sangrur districts. Among the Chamar caste group,
Ad-Dharmis far outnumber other SCs in Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts in
rural as well as urban settings. Mazhabis in the Chuhra caste group outnumber
other SCs in Faridkot and Ferozepur districts (for more details see Gosal 2004:
26-39). Though, traditionally they have been condemned as polluted and impure
because of their occupational contact with animal carcass and hides, Chamars
are basically chandravanshi by clan and are also considered as the highest
caste among the SCs in Punjab (Deep 2001:7).
Ad Dharmi and Chamar of the Chamar caste group are not only numerically
preponderent in the Doaba sub-region of Punjab,
they also happened to be the most resourceful caste in comparison to the all
other castes among the SCs of Punjab. Chamars and Ad Dharmis of this sub-region
are ahead of the all other Dalit castes in almost all spheres. “Ad Dharmi
Chamars are on the top of virtually every parameter – education, urbanisation,
jobs, occupational change, cultural advancement, political mobilization, etc.”
(Puri 2004:4). The famous Ad Dharm movement of the 1920s also emerged in this
very region of Punjab. In the early 1930s, some of Ad Dharmi Chamars
established a prosperous leather-business town (Boota Mandi) in the outskirts
of Jalandhar city. Ad Dharmi Chamars of the Boota Mandi were among the early
supporters of the Ad Dharm movement. Seth Kishen Dass, a leather business
tycoon of the Boota Mandi, who won the 1937 Assembly election from Jalandhar
constituency in Punjab, financed the headquarters building of the Ad Dharm
Mandal in jalandhar city. Nowadays, this building houses GuruRavidassHigh
Sewing Centre. It is again from this caste group of the sub-region that maximum
emigration took place to Europe, North
America, and the Middle East.
The Ad Dharmies abroad have not only excelled in business and skilled labour
professions, they also established a strong networking of social organizations,
International Dalit Conferences, Ravidass Sabhas and Ravidass Gurdwaras
throughout Europe and North
Jats and Caste
a Sikh majority state. The Sikhs constitute 63 per cent of its total
population. About 72 per cent of the Sikhs in Punjab
live in villages. In villages caste, as occupational division of labour,
constitutes an integral part of routine social life (Kaur 1986: 229). Although
Sikh doctrine does not assign any place to the institution of caste, the same
is not true in its social practice (Puri 2003: 2693). In the Punjab Censuses
between 1881 and 1931, more than twenty-five castes were recorded within the
Sikh community, including Jats, Khatris, Aroras, Ramgarhias,
Ahluwalias, Bhapas, Bhattras, Sainis, Lobanas,
Kambohs, Ramdasias, Ravidasias, Rahtias, Mazhbis,
and Rangretas (Verma 2002:33). Out of these, eleven castes – two
agrarian castes (Jat and Kamboh); two mercantile castes (Khatri and Arora);
four artisan castes (Tarkhan, Lohar, Nai, and Chhimba); two outcastes groups
(Chamar and Chuhra); and one distiller (Kalal) – remain the principal
constituents of the Panth (McLeod 1996: 93-4).
Outcastes groups of the Sikh community, popularly known as Dalit Sikhs, are
divided into two segments:Mazhbis and Ramdasias7. The Dalits
whose profession is scavenging and cleaning are called Mazhbis.“Mazbi means
nothing more than a member of the scavenger class converted to Sikhism”
(Ibbetson1883, rpt.1970:294). Some of the Sweepers who embraced Sikh religion
are also called Rangretas. However, in spite of Mazhbis and Rangreta Sikhs’
meticulous observance of the Sikh religious principles, they are not considered
equals by the upper caste Sikhs. The upper caste Sikhs refused to associate
with them even in the religious ceremonies (Ibid.). In other words, even after
converting to Sikhism, they were not relieved of the taint of hereditary
pollution. The other segment of Dalit Sikhs consists of Ramdasias, also known
as Khalsa Biradar.They are chamars who have converted to Sikhism. Most
of them are Julahas (weavers). They are often confused with Ravidasia chamars
who are mostly engaged in the profession of leatherwork (Ibid: 300).
and Ramdasias are not equal to the Jats, Khatris and Aroras within Sikhism.
Even their status is also lower to Ramgarhia, Ahluwalia and Bhapa (trader
caste) Sikhs.Thus, the change in the caste titles of the Dalits after their
conversion does not make any difference to the dominant castes. The dominant
castes continued to identify them by their earlier titles – Chuhars and
Chamars. Though the Mazhibs or Rangretas abandoned the occupation of
scavenging, they still are classed with Chuhras (Ibettson  1970:268-69).
As far as Dalits themselves are concerned they too continued to observe caste
among them even after their conversion to Sikhism. Within Sikhism, Ramdasia
Sikhs considered themselves superior to the Mazhbi and Rangreta Sikhs. Although
Ramdasias and Ravidasias have originated from Chamars, the former [Sikh]
considered them superior to the latter [Hindu] (Ibid: 297, 302).
the Sikh caste hierarchy, the Jats claim to occupy the top position (Singh 1977:70).
To quote Pettigrew, an Anthropologist who did intensive fieldwork on the Sikh
Jats, “All Jats alike are brought up to be proud irrespective of what they
possess in terms of education, wealth or power. No Jat defines himself as
subservient and none can actually be trampled upon” (Pettigrew 1978:20). Mostly
concentrated in villages, the Jats are primarily landowners and agriculturists
and are also widely considered to be the backbone of the Punjab
peasantry. “So close has become the connection of the Jatts with
peasant-agriculture in the Punjab that, besides being a caste-name, the word Jat
can mean an agriculturalist and Jataki similarly can mean agriculture”(Habib
1996:97). By virtue of their hold on the land they are popularly known as the
dominant peasant caste in the state. “The Jat might be employed as a school
teacher, or service in the military but he sees his primary role as that of an
agriculturist; his connection with land is what he holds most dear and what
identifies him” (Kaur 1986:233). They have also diversified into transport
business and considered employment in the armed forces highly prestigious.
in Punjab are also considered the backbone of the Sikh community.
Although all ten of the historic Sikh Gurus belonged to the Khatri caste,
traditionally the majority of their followers have come from the Jat caste
(Kaur 1986:225). In the Misl (military bands) system of the eighteenth
century the leadership was largely under the control of the Jats and
“eventually it was a Jat misldār, Ranjīt Singh, who secured total ascendancy”
(McLeod 1996:18). The overwhelming majority of the Jats (since 1962) in the
leadership of the Shiromani Akali Dal, the main political party of Sikhs, made
it “virtually a Jat political party" (Puri 2004a:10).
are identified by their appearance based on the five symbols (a Kirpan [steel
dagger], a Kara [steel bangle], Kachha [short breeches], a kanghha
[comb], and kesh [uncut hair]) that they wore in accordance with the Rahatnama
(the Sikh code of conduct). However, Sikh Jats are generally liberal in
observance of the Rahatnama. The majority of them trim their beard, cut
their hair, and many often smoke or chew tobacco. They rarely visit Gurdwaras
(Kaur 1986: 222-23). In spite of their lackadaisical approach towards the Khalsa
discipline, Sikh Jats in their own eyes and in those of others remained Sikhs.
“For others castes it is very different. If a Khatri shaves he is regarded as a
Hindu by others and soon comes to regard himself as one” (McLeod 1996: 98). The
Sikhs who strictly followed Rahatnama belong to the lower class of north
Punjab (Singh 1953: 179).
Khalsa symbols were considered to be associated with the influx of Jats into
the Sikh religion during the eighteenth century (McLeod 1996; Pettigrew
1978:25). However, with the passage of time, they (symbols) became permanent
part of the Khalsa discipline in 1699. Since these symbols were part of the
‘Jat cultural patterns’ much before the entry of Jats into Sikhism, their
adherence by the Jats could not become an identification mark of their being
Sikhs. Even before they became Sikhs they used to keep uncut hair, wore a thick
Kara, and the turban, as a measure of protection in warfare. Hence, the
importance of these symbols did not make much difference to them after their
becoming Sikh. So, in their case it was not the adherence to these symbols that
made them look like Sikhs. They remained Sikhs even without wearing these very
symbols sometimes. In other words, the entry of the Jats into Sikh religion did
not dilute their ‘caste identity’. On the contrary, it got further
strengthened. Jats considered themselves as the savior of the Sikh religion who
defended it militarily throughout its entire turbulent history. In the words of
Pettigrew, “Each Jat felt tremendous pride that it was his section of
the community that had built up the military organization which led to the
establishment of Sikh rule in the Punjab. He felt that prestige lay with the Jats because of
this” (Pettigrew 1978:41, emphasis in original).The Jats often treated other
castes as timid and incapacable of defending themselves. They called Aroras Kiraar
(coward), and commonly applied the term ‘Bhapa (which carries a perceptible
degree of opprobrium) to Khatris and Aroras who migrated from the Pothohar
areas (McLeod 1996:100; and Pettigrew1978: 41).
Jats are generally considered to be of Indo-Scythians stock, and are said to
have settled in the Indus valley, especially in central Sind, in
the seventh century (Habib 1996:94). They were ruled over by the Brahmana
dynasty of Chach that imposed harsh constraints on them (Ibid: 95).
Their appearance became apparent in Punjab by the beginning of the 11th century (Ibbotson 
1970:97; and Habib 1996:95). The entry of the Jats into the Province
of Punjab must have based on their migration from the Sind
(Habib 1996:95). However, for a period of four hundred years between the 11th
and the 16th there is no account of them in the chronicles of Punjab.
The absence of the Jats in the chronicles for such a long period simply shows
their insignificance in the Punjab society. Alberuni, whose historical account covered the
period of 11th century, designated them as “cattle-owners, low Shudra
people” (quoted in Ibid). They were known as people “of an unfeeling temper”
and “hasty disposition”; who were free from the dichotomies of ‘small or great’
and ‘rich or poor’.
to them began to surface again after a long gap of four centuries in “the Āin-I-Akbarī
and its record of Zamindar castes, compiledabout 1595” (Ibid:
96). During the four centuries of their incognito the Jats must have expanded
and metamorphosed from a pastoral to an agricultural community in Punjab
(Ibid). This was, probably, also the period during which cultivation expanded
substantially in Punjab. The introduction of the Persian wheel, reiterated Irfan
Habib, was the main driving force behind the “critical change in the
agricultural situation of the Punjab” (ibid: 98). The expansion of cultivation in the province
of Punjab might have led to the massive shift among the Jats from
pastoral to settled agricultural community. It is safe to say that it might
have also elevated their social status in the political economy of the rural
society of the state. It would not be out of the context to say that what
Green Revolution was to the post 1960s Punjab,
the introduction of the Persian wheel was to the Punjab of
the sixteenth and seventeenth century. In both the cases, it was the Jat
community that remained the main beneficiary of the transformation process in
the rural settings. But, how the pastoral Jat community transformed into a
settled agricultural community and established its control over the land? This
question cannot be answered simply by asserting that since the pastoral Jats
were tending cattle, and cattle are generally reared with the agriculture so
they adopted the agricultural profession. Agriculture is not merely a
profession; it is also an asset that bestows on the owners of the land a
special status of Zamindar. Jats’ hold on the agricultural land,
probably, made them an important community. In the sixteenth century when many
of the Jats turned to cultivation, they “…were not only entirely peasants but,
in so many localities of the Punjab, also Zamindar
…” (Habib 1996: 99; see also Ibbetson  1970:103). Infact, it was their
hold on the land that became a marker of their ‘Jat identity’. Jat and the
profession of agriculture, thus, became synonymous.
their improved economic conditions failed to push them up on the caste scale
within the Hindu social order. Thus to escape the oppressive and suffocating
structures of Hindu social order the Jats of Punjab embraced Sikhism – a newly
emerged religion, free form the hierarchies of caste and gender.(Habib 1996:99;
see also McLeod 1996:13). They saw in this new religion a hope and a promise to
win over the dilemma of the incommensurability between their improved economic
position and humiliating social status. Since Jats constituted a large segment
of the population of the Punjab, their entry into the Sikh religion quickly made them
the preponderant community. Infact, the large-scale entry of the Jats into the
Sikh religion, had not only expanded the base of this new religion, it had also
seriously impacted its social outlook. It introduced elements of militancy and
caste in its organization. The militant outlook of the Panth (Sikh community)
especially after the martyrdom of the fifth Guru Arjun Dev is generally
attributed to, what McLeod called the preponderance of the ‘Jat cultural
patterns’ within Sikhism. The preponderance of such patterns also turned Jats
into a dominant caste within the very religion that purged them of the taint of
their lower caste status. In the due course of time they came to be known as
the dominant caste in whole of the state.So much so that the Punjabi culture
and identity is seen in terms of Jat culture and identity only (Jodhka
2006:13). In the words of Grewal,
due to the present agricultural crisis in Punjab this community is in an
unfortunate and painful condition, but still if anybody asks who is most
powerful in Punjab, we would have to acknowledge that these directionless, Jatt
Sikh families of Punjab, that is committing suicide [sic], are the ruling class
here (Grewal 2006:16).
transformation of the Jats from the pastoral community into an agricultural
one, and their allegiance to the Sikh religion revealed an interesting case of
the empowerment of a lower caste community and the role of religion in that
regard. Infact, what the Jats were fighting for in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, the Dalits of Punjab seems to have been struggling for
the same over the last few decades in the contemporary Punjab.
They have been fighting for an equal share in the sources of power in the state
and for a respectable status in the society. Though they have received some
progression over the years in their economic status due to the constitutional
affirmative action and ventures abroad, their lower social status remained
intact. Unlike the lower caste Jats of the 17th and 18th
centuries, they failed to overcome their social disability by embracing
Sikhism. The Mazhabis of Punjab is a case in point.
Mazbis take the pauhl, wear their hair long, and abstain from tobacco, and they
apparently refuse to touch night soil, though performing all the other offices
hereditary to the Chuhra caste.... But though good Sikhs so far as
religious observance is concerned, the taint of hereditary pollution is upon them
and Sikhs of other castes refuse to associate with them even in religious
ceremonies (Ibbetson  1970: 294).
there is one major factor that distinguished the Dalit case from that of the
Jats in the formative years of their struggle for the improvement of their
social status. Jats were cultivators, landowners, nonchalant and a martial
race. They also outnumbered other communities by their numerical strength
within the Sikh religion. Moreover, the contradiction between the principal communities
of the Khatris – the community to which all the ten Gurus belonged and also the
one, which provided the initial following to the Sikh religion – and the Jats,
was never sharp. Whereas the Jats remain a rural community heavily
committed to agriculture, the Khatris are essentially urban-based and a
mercantile community (McLeod 1996:98). To quote McLeod, “Unlike the Jats
the Khatris have never shown any interest in Sikh identity as a means of
enhancing social or ritual status …” (Ibid: 99). Nor the markers of new
identity ever provoked them.
in the case of the Dalits in Punjab, the situation is entirely different. Dalits in Punjab
are posited in direct confrontation with the Jats over the struggle for social
justice and dignity. Unlike the Jats of the eighteenth century whose opponent
(Khatris) were in no way directly entangled with them in their profession
(agriculture), some of the Dalits of Punjab are still tied with the Jats in the
sector of agriculture. It is in this context that that the Jats, the
landholders, and the Dalits, the landless agricultural workers, find themselves
in a situation of direct confrontation. But there are many Dalits in the state
who have improved their economic conditions by dissociating from their caste
occupations and distancing them from the profession of agriculture. Some of
them have joined Government services, went abroad, and established their own
small-scale servicing units [carpentry, barber, blacksmith shops etc. (for
details see: Ram 2004a: 5-7). In this case they have not only improved their
economic status, but have also liberated them from the subordination of the Jat
landowners. Now, they feel no longer obliged to respect their erstwhile masters
(Jats) in the feudal way. Thus their changed economic relation has not only
improved their economic status, it also propelled them to aspire for a
commensurate social status. This is what that pitted them against the Jats, who
take it hard to digest any such attempt, which would press them to dilute their
dominant position in the rural society of Punjab.
The Dalits’s struggle for equal social status, thus, has led to the violent
caste conflicts between them and the Jats in the state, and has all the
probability of escalating into many more such conflicts in the near future.
Jats and Caste Discrimination
discrimination in Punjab is unique in comparison to its observance in other parts
of the country. The Brahminical tradition of social stratification, as
discussed above, has never been so effective there. The word Brahmin did not
carry a sacerdotal connotation in Punjab. It was used, rather, derogatorily. The down play
of the Brahmins in Punjab by the Sikh Jats might have diminished the
purity-pollution practice to the benefits of Dalits (Sabherwal
1973:256). However, it did not in any way help the Dalits to improve their
centre of power in Punjab revolves around the axle of land. Much of the land is
owned by the Sikh Jats. Although Scheduled Castes in Punjab
constitute high proportion of the population (29%) in comparison to the all India average of 16.3%, their share in ownership of land is
negligible. Their being landless forced them to depend on the land-owning
castes in the absence of alternative jobs in the agrarian economy of rural Punjab in
the pre green revolution phase. Since cultivation required the services of the
Dalits in its various operations, it was not feasible to strictly follow the
system of untouchability based on the principle of purity-pollution. It does
not mean that the Dalits were not discriminated in Punjab.
They were very much discriminated. However, the context of their discrimination
was different from that of the many other parts of India. The practice untouchability in Punjab
was based the scheme of keeping the Dalits bereft of land ownership and
political power in the state. Dalits were forced to confine to their lowest
status in the villages of Punjab lest they dare to ask for a share in the power
structures (Puri 2003: 2698). In other words, despite the absence of the
purity-pollution syndrome, the presence of the deep asymmetrical structure of
power in the agrarian village economy of Punjab
has subordinated the Dalits to the land-owning upper castes (Jodhka 2002:
villages in Punjab like the rest of the country are divided into upper
caste and Dalit settlements. Dalit settlements are located, invariably, on
the side towards which the dirt of the village flowed. Dalits were not allowed
to build pucca (concrete) houses because the land on which they lived
did not belong to them. In the villages, Dalits were often involved in the
unclean occupations - carrying and skinning dead animals, scavenging and
working as attached laborer – Siris. Now a day, such type of work,
is performed on non-jajmani basis. In Malwa region, there are many Dalits who
still have been working as Siris. According to a latest study of 26
villages in Malwa region, 21 had dalits working as Siris (Jodhka 2002:
1816). Another study found six Jats working as Siris with other Jats in
a village in the district of Sangrur (Singh 2001:3). However, the
situation is entirely different in the Doaba region of Punjab
where the majority of the Dalits have dissociated themselves from such types of
menial works. Although Dalit had interaction with Jat-Sikhs, being agricultural
laborers and siris, they used to keep their own tumblers and plates to
take meals or tea or water from the upper caste Sikhs.
upper castes Sikhs are a separate identity and like the upper caste Hindus they
also follow the ideology of a graded human society. … The Sikhs may take
food with the Dalit-Sikhs in Gurdwaras, but they have no bond of fraternity
with them (Singh 2002:333).
quote Singh again, “the impact of Hinduism and caste is visible on the
adherence of Guru Nanak and they monopolized Sikhism and could not accord an
equal social status to the lower caste Sikhs in Punjab”
(Ibid.). Dalit Sikhs in Punjab are cremated on separate cremation grounds along with
their counterparts in the Hindu religion. Even in some villages the land meant
for the cremation grounds in the Shamlaat (common land under the control
of Panchayats) have been grabbed by the upper castes. In such a recent case the
dominant caste persons of the village Todder Majra of the Mohali district of
Punjab grabbed the cremation ground land of the Dalits in the village (Desh
January 2005). This shows that
the social position of the Dalit Sikhs in Punjab is
no better than that of other dalits in elsewhere within Hinduism in the country
Sikhs did not get equal treatment in the Gurdwaras of the upper caste Sikhs.
“Mazhabis were forbidden to enter the GoldenTemple for worship; their offering of karah prasad was not
accepted and the Sikhs denied them access to public well and other utilities”
(Pratap Singh 1933: 146-47, 156-57 cited in Puri 2003: 2697). Dalit Sikhs were
not allowed to go beyond the fourth step in the Golden Temple and the members
of the four-fold varnas were instructed not to mix with them (Oberoi cited in
Ibid). Evidence of untouchability against the dalit Sikhs is vividly reflected
in a number of Gurmatas (resolutions) adopted by the Shiromani Gurdwara
Prabhandak Committee from 1926-1933 (Ibid.). Although removal of untouchability
figured in the Singh Sabha movement, no strenuous effort was made in that
direction. “It was not surprising. For the Jats, who composed 70 % of the
Akalis, and other high castes, caste equality or removal of untouchability was
contrary to their disposition for social domination and hierarchy” (Ibid.).
This has forced the dalit Sikhs to establish separate Gurdwaras, which in turn
has further led to the strengthening of the already existing caste divisions
among the Sikhs8
(Ibid: 2700; Jodhka 2002: 1818; Muktsar 1999 and 2003). Moreover the observance
of caste prejudices against the dalit Sikhs has compelled them to ‘search for
alternative cultural spaces’ in a large number of deras, sects, and
dargahs of Muslim Pirs and other saints (Puri 2003: 2700).
for the last few decades the Dalits of Punjab have “discovered the right remedy
to cure their wounded psyche” in the famous Dera Sant Sarwan Dass situated at
village Ballan in the Jalandhar district of Doaba Punjab (Rajshekar 2004:3). This
Dera, popularly known as Dera Ballan, has become a paragon of Ravidass movement
in Northwest India. It has been playing a leading role in promoting
cultural transformation and generating social consciousness among the Dalit of
the region. The dera has a library on its premises, publishes a tri-lingual
weekly, distributes free Dalit literature, honors Dalit scholars, runs a model
school, and a hospital for the service and upliftment of the downtrodden. It
made concerted efforts for the construction of a separate Dalit identity. The
saints of Ballan developed their own religious symbols, flags, prayers, dress,
salutations and rituals of worship. Of all the major contributions that the
Dera Ballan mad, the construction of a mammoth Temple
of Shri Guru Ravidass’s Birthplace at Seer Goverdhanpur in the vicinity of Varanasi city is the most significant. This temple has acquired,
perhaps, the same importance for the Dalits as the Mecca for Muslims and the GoldenTemple for Sikhs.
Exclusion and Violence in Colonial Punjab
Dalits of Punjab faced stiff opposition and became victim of physical violence
at the hands of the dominant castes during their struggle for dignity and
equality in the colonial period. They were, said an eyewitness, “Chased
everywhere and hounded out of bounds of towns and villages by the Hindus and
quite often they had to hold their meetings and conferences in open fields. One
such incident also took place at Una”(Pawar 1993:77). They were also denied
entry into meadows and common lands to fetch fodder for their cattle, access to
the open fields to answer the call of nature, and were interned in their houses
by the Sikhs and Hindus for no other fault than that of their being registered
as Ad Dharmis in the census of 1931. In Ferozepur district, two chamars
were burnt alive because they registered themselves as Ad Dharmis (Chumber
1986: 51). In Layalpur district, the innocent daughter of an Ad Dharmi was
murdered. In Nankana Sahib, the Akalis threw ash into the langar (food
prepared in bulk for free distribution) meant for those who came to attend the
Ad Dharm meeting. In Village Dakhiyan-da-Prah of the Ludhiana district, the Sikh boys abducted Shudranand from the
dais of the Achhuts’ (Dalits) public meeting. In Baghapurana, many Achhuts
were beaten up and their legs and arms were broken (Bakshi Ram Pandit n.d.
56-57). In many villages of Ludhiana,
Ferozepur and Layalpur, the Achhuts were boycotted for two months. These
Achhuts were living in villages where the Jat-Sikhs or Muslims were in a
dominant position. The Sikh Jats had compelled the Achhuts to record
themselves as Sikhs. However, despite repression and intimidation the Achhuts
did not give in and recorded Ad Dharm as their religion (ibid: 54-56). In
village Ghundrawan of the district Kangra, the Rajputs even smashed the
pitchers of the Ad Dharmi women who were on their way to fetch water. When
denied water from the village pond the Ad Dharmis had to travel for three miles
to fetch water from the river. The ongoing torture at the hands of the Rajputs
ultimately compelled them to leave the village to settle in Pathankot. It was
only after the interference of Sir Fazal-i- Hussain, on the request of Mangoo
Ram9 that their grievance was looked into and eventually they were
rehabilitated in their native village.
face of opposition by the upper caste Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, the leaders of
Ad Dharm had a tough time proving to the Lothian Committee that they were
neither Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims nor Christians (Piplanwala 1986:10-15; and Ahir
1992:9-11). The Sikh representatives claimed that since many of the Achhuts
believed in Guru Granth Sahib and solemnised their marriage ceremonies in
accordance with the Sikh customs half of their population should be added to
the Sikh religion and the other half be merged with the Hindus. Likwise the
Muslim representatives told the Lothian committee that since some of the Achhuts
perform Namaz (offer prayers), keep rozas (long fast kept in a
particular month) and bury their corpses in cemeteries instead of burning them,
they should be divided equally between Hindus and Muslims. Similarly, the Hindu
representatives on the other hand stressed that since the Achhuts
believed in Vedas and perform their marriage ceremonies in accordance with the
Hindu customs no one except the Hindus have the right to seek their allegiance.
Above all, Lala Ram Das of the “Dayanand Dalit Udhar Mandal” (Hoshiarpur) and
Pandit Guru Dev of “Achhut Mandal” (Lahore) informed the franchise committee that there was no
untouchable in Punjab. According to them the untouchables were the
backward class of Hindus who were made at par with the rest through the
performance of Shuddhi. Hence, no separate treatment for the
untouchables in Punjab.
generally were being subjected to strong pressures by Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs
and others, each community seeking to pull them into its own fold, at least for
the day of the census: it was common then to seek to influence census results
as a prelude to political claims (Saberwal 1976:52).
Dalits were put to severe hardships and violence for carving out an identity
for them and asserting for their rights in the colonial period.
Exclusion and Violence in Contemporary Punjab
on the Dalits continued even after India became independent. Moreover, the frequency and
magnitude of such atrocities increased after the 1960s in the wake of the Green
Revolution in Punjab. Over the last few years rarely a day passed when Dalits
are spared of a social boycott by the Jats in the villages of the state. After
the much-publicised violent conflict in the village Talhan, Punjab
has witnessed a large number of similar cases. The pattern of conflicts in all
such cases often remained the same. In almost all the conflicts social boycott
was imposed on the Dalits who were asserting for equal rights in the structures
of power at the village level. Pandori Khajoor village in Hoshiarpur district,
village Bhattian Bet in Ludhiana district, Talhan, Meham and Athaula villages
in Jalandhar district, Patteraiwal village in Abhor district, Jethumajra and
Chahal village in Nawan Shahr district, Aligarh village near Jagraon in
Ludhiana district, Domali and Chak Saboo villages in Kapurthala district, Abuul
Khurana village near Malout in Mukitsar district, Dallel Singhwala, Kamalpur
and Hasanpur villages in Sangrur ard Jhabbar village in district of Mansa are
among the most prominent cases of Jat-Dalit conlicts in the state. In the
following section Talhan and Meham conflicts are taken up for a brief
discussion to analyse the underlying causes of the caste-based oppression in
the contemporary Punjab. In both these cases the issue of contention was dispute
over the control of local religious sites. In the case of Talhan the Dalits
were denied participation in the managing committee of the Gurdwara Shaheed
Baba Nihal Singh, whereas in the case of Meham the Dalits were forced to vacate
their hold on theUdasi Dera of Baba Khazan Singh. Both of the cases
fall in the Doaba sub-region of Punjab.
Talhan conflict was based on the issue of Dalit representation in the
management committee of the Gurdwara Shaheed (martyr) Baba Nihal Singh. The
Dalits were denied access to the management committee of this Gurudwara in village
Talhan. The Gurdwara Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh was built on the tomb of Baba
Nihal Singh, a local carpenter (backward caste) who died while laying Gandd
(wooden wheel)at the base of a well. Since Baba Nihal Singh was
popular for his expertise and died while working for the public cause in the
village, his death was not considered an ordinary event. The fellow village
people in the area declared him a shaheed. They constructed a small smadh
(tomb) in this memory, at the place where he was cremated. Another smadh
was also built nearby in the memory of Harnam Singh, an aide ofshaheed
Baba Nihal Singh, who for years cared for his smadh. To celebrate
the martydom of Baba Nihal Singh, area villagers started organising an annual
fair at the smadh. The popularity ofshaheed Baba Nihal Singh
began to attract a large number of devotees. The devotees brought offerings,
mostly in cash. Subsequently, the smadhs were converted into shrines. In
due course, another structure – a Gurdwara – was raised between the smadhs
and the Sikh holy book was also placed there. The whole site, including the two
smadhs, thus, turned into Gurdwara.
primary motive behind the conversion of the Smadhs into a Gurdwara was
widely seen as an effort to grab the large amount of money received as
offerings at the smadhs by the Jats of the village and the adjoining
areas. TheJats of Talhan (25%), who control most of the agricultural
land in the village and until recently enjoyed unquestioned domination in the
social and political life of the village, established their control over this
Gurdwara through the office of the Gurdwara management committee. This
committee manages a huge annual amount of money, approximately 50 million
rupees ($1.1 million), which the Gurdwara receives in offerings from Punjabi
diaspora and local devotees (Philip 2003). While there may be a difference of
opinion on the exact amount of the offerings, as A. J. Philip has put it,
“There is an agreement that the coffers in the Gurdwara have been overflowing
with cash. Small wonders that anybody who is some body in the village wants to
be a member of the Gurdwara management committee” (Ibid.).
being a majority in the village, the Dalits of Talhan (72%) were kept out of
the membership on the Gurdwara management committee. The numerically
predominant Dalits, majority of who are landless, have achieved a considerable
degree of mobility and autonomy over the last few decades. They have
diversified into non-agricultural employment and found employment abroad. Their
numerical strength, have also added to their importance in the electoral
politics of the village. Consequently, they started vociferously demanding a
share in the structures of power at different levels of Punjabi society, which
hitherto have been dominated by the landholding castes, particularly the Jats.
These demands for a share in the local power structure led to Jat-Dalit clash
Dalits of Talhan employed every available method to seek entery into the
Gurdwara management committee. They requested the Jats of the village to give
them their due share in the membership of the committee in accordance to their
population in the village. The Jats refused. Then, in 1999, the Dalits
approached the local administration and the court of law. But the dispute still
remained unresolved. However, the Dalits continued their efforts to acquire the
membership in the committee. This ultimately led to a fight between the Jats
and the Ad Dharmies in January 2003. Subsequently, the Jats publicly announced
a social boycott of the Ad Dharmies. The non-Dalits residents of Talhan
were asked to severe their social and economic ties with the Dalits. Jats
stopped visiting the shops run by the Dalits in Talhan. They also banned the
entry of the Dalits in their fields. They were not allowed to use the fields
even for latrines, thus forcing them to defecate in open, by the side of the
fight against the social boycott and for representation in the committee, the
Dalits organized a Dalit Action Committee (DAC) under the leadership of L. R.
Balley, a prominent Ambedkarite of the region. The DAC organized sit-ins and
hunger strikes in the village and Jalandhar city. Repeated appeals by the DAC
to the Punjab government for legal action against the boycotters
failed to move the administration (Singh Prabhjot 2003). On 5th June
2003, the conflict took a
violent turn. And soon it snowballed into the adjoining areas. Boota
Mandi, a suburban of Jalandhar city, became the epicenter of the violence. It
was here that an Ad Dharmi, Vijay Kumar Kala, fell victim to the police firing,
an event that suddenly propelled Thalan and Boota Mandi onto the national
scene. Talhan and Boota Mandi were virtually converted into a garrison. And the
village was sealed off for a couple of days.
pressure of Dalit assertion compelled the government to solve the conflict
without further delay, so that it would not turn into a serious political issue
with wider implications. Moreover, it also cautioned the government to take
necessary steps to prevent the victimization of Dalits in other parts of the
state, lest they replicate Talhan. Although the district administration and
police controlled the violence, it took the contending parties 18 days to reach
a compromise, and another two months for the agreement to come into effect.
Eventually the Dalits of Talhan succeeded in securing representation in the Gurudwara
management committee. Though Talhan conflict was a case of local Dalit upsurge,
it has set a historic precedent in Punjab through Dalit assertion (for more details see Ram 2004b:
Meham conflict is another case of recent Jat-Dalit
confrontation, and a vindication of the existence of the institution of caste
in Punjab. The village Meham has total population
of 1967 out of which 893 (45%) belong to the Dalits. Most of the Dalits belong
to the Balmiki caste. The Ad Dharmi, another Dalit caste, constitutes 20
percent of the total population (Judge 2006:14). The Sikh Jats are also about
20 percent of the total population of the village. Jats, Balmikies and the Ad Dharmies
each have their own Gurdwaras. In fact the Jats have two Gurdwaras. The Baba
Khazan Singh Udasi Dera (the cite of dispute) is the fifth shrine in Meham. As
has been the case in majority of the villages in the Doaba sub-region of Punjab, the Dalits in Meham have also
diversified into various non-cultivation professions. This has not only helped
them abandoned their customary caste based occupations but also liberated them
from the dependence on the lands of the Jats. However, despite the fact of
the Dalits’ dissociation from their hereditary professions and their distancing
from the agriculture they failed to raise their social status in the eyes of
the Jats. This has led to tensions between them.
the context of the Meham conflict is different from that of the Talhan, the
patterns and forms of the oppression of the Dalits are same in both of the
cases. In Talhan, the Jats denied entry to the Dalits in the management of the Gurudwara.
Whereas in Meham, the Sikh Jats forcebly took over the control of the Baba
Khazan Singh Udasi Dera that was being looked after by the Ad Dharmies of the
village for the last six decades. They replaced all the Udasi symbols with that
of the Khalsa, and also objected to the offerings of liquor and the
distribution of the same as a prasad among the devotees at the Dera as it
violates the Sikh code of conduct.
Ad Dharmi retorted back by saying that the tradition of offering liquor at the
smadh in the Dera is in no way violate the Sikh code of conduct as the Dera was
never a site of Sikhism. They reiterated that the issue of Sikh code of conduct
entered into the Dera in 2003 when the Sikh Jats of the village placed Guru
Granth Sahib on the premises of the Dera. Moreover, the presence of the mazaars
(graves) in the precincts of the Dera ruled out the possibility of its
being a Gurudwara. In the Talhan conflict, Dalits also raised the same argument
over the dispute of the grave ofShaheed Baba Nihal Singh. Another
reason of the Jats’ control of the Dera could be the rising cost of the land in
the state and the tremendous increase in the donations and offerings at the
Dera over the last few years due to massive emigration of the Punjabis from the
Doaba sub-region to Europe, North America and the Gulf (Kali 2003). However,
unlike in Talhan, the timely intervention of the police brought the Meham
conflict under the control and the dispute is referred to the court. For the
time being the Dera is placed under a government receiver who has been assigned
the task of the management of the shrine.
conflicts in Talhan and Meham reflect the underlying layers of tensions between
the hitherto all powerful and dominant Jats, and the newly emerged economically
independent class of the Dalits. Whatever be the causes of these conflicts, it
is clear that the Dalits in Punjab, especially in Doaba, had achieved a state of
consciousness to assert for their rights. In contrast, the Sikh Jats, who have
thrived amid the meek silence of the Dalits, are finding it difficult to
grapple with the surging Dalit consciousness. Given the rising level of social consciousness
among the Dalits, the dominant castes are finding it difficult, if not
impossible, to ignore their demands for a share in the socio-economic
structures of power at the local level.
I have attempted to argue in this article is that contrary to the popular view
of the casteless character of the Sikh society in Punjab,
caste discriminations are very much part of its social set up. However, what
distinguished them from that of the other parts of India is their indifference to the purity-pollution syndrome.
Instead, landlessness and the preponderance of ‘Jat cultural patterns’ prove to
be the fundamental cause of the discrimination and the oppression of the Dalits
in the state.
Punjab, Sikh Jats constitute dominant caste. Their domination,
however, is not rooted in the graded system of caste hierarchy. They became
dominant because of their hold over the land, and their numerical preponderance
in Sikh religion coupled with their martial nature. Dalits in Punjab,
for various historical reasons, were deprived of land, and their entry into
Sikhism could not relieve them of the taint of their lower status. Their
landlessness, obviously, made them subservient to the land owning castes,
majority of which happen to be Sikh Jats. However, the improved economic
condition of the Dalits coupled with their rising social and political consciousness
over the years has led to sharpening of contradiction between them and the Jats
in Punjab, especially in its Doaba sub-region. In fact, Punjab
has entered into a volatile situation wherein Jats and Dalits have entangled
themselves in a whirlpool of old mindsets versus rising social consciousness.
This in turn has resulted into a series of violent Jat-Dalit clashes in the
state. What weaves the Jat-Dalit conflicts in Punjab
together despite the difference in the issues and the locations of occurrences
are the similarities of the nature and the pattern of their emergence. They
invariably involve demands of Dalits for a respectable social space in the
socio-political structures of power in the villages of Punjab
commensurate to their improved economic conditions. Such moves of the marginals
find staunch critics among the Jats who often view Dalit assertion as a form of
challenge to their dominant status in the village society.
the fact that agriculture has ceased to exist as a profitable profession for
the last few years, land is still considered as the most essential status
symbol in rural Punjab. Though many dalits have benefited from constitutional
affirmative action, spread of education, social welfare measures and ventures
abroad, a vast majority of them still are landless, very poor and vulnerable.
While many dalits have abandoned their caste-based occupations and have also
distanced themselves from the employment in the agricultural fields, their
social status in the rural economy remained marginal, precisely because of
their landlessness. In rural Punjab, land determined social status. It is a fact.
Dalits did not own land, is another fact. It is also a fact, that dalits have
achieved a significant awareness and political consciousness over the last
seven decades in the history of Dalit mobilization in Punjab.
Now, they cannot be coerced any more to remain confined to the periphery. The
contradiction between old mindsets based on proclivities of caste prestige and honor,
and the emerging Dalit consciousness for equal share in the power structures of
the rural society is fast becoming a fault line between the Jats and the Dalits
of Punjab. The ever-increasing number of caste conflicts in the villages of Punjab is
a clear testimony to the emerging dissension between the Jats and the Dalits.
Dalits have begun vociferously demanding a share in the structures of power at
different levels of Punjabi society, which hitherto have been dominated by the
Jats. Given the intensity of this consciousness on the parts of the Dalits, the
Jats are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to ignore such Dalit demands
without resorting to pressure tactics or force. This, in turn, often led to
caste clashes between Jats and Dalits. A manifestation of Dalit assertion,
these clashes have sharpened the issue of Dalit human rights and have
emboldened the downtrodden to actively engage themselves in the political
process in the state for the realization of these rights.
1 Ad Dharm movement came into existence in 1925. It aimed
at emancipation of the Dalits and their empowerment through cultural
transformation, spiritual regeneration and political assertion. It was the
first movement of its kind in North
India that brought together the
downtrodden to fight for their cause. It laid the foundation of Dalit
consciousness and assertion in Punjab. Mark Juergensmeyer’s seminal work is the pioneer study
of this movement (Juergensmeyer 1988; see also Ram 2004).
2 According to a recent study, the number of such Deras has
exceeded one hundred in Punjab (Qadian 2003). Since the publication of this study many
more Ravidass Deras have been established in the state. In the year 2005 alone,
the saints of Ballan have laid down the foundation stones of12 Ravidass Deras
(calculated from the Begumpura Shaher [Jalandhar] weekly).
3 The Ad Dharm movement helped forge unity among the
different Dalit castes in the state by bringing them together into the fold of
Ad Dharm (an ancient and indigenous religion of the natives of India). This movement specifically focused on the
ethnification of Dalit identity in the region than on treading the path of
Sanskritization to move up the caste hierarchy, as was the case with the Adi
Hindu movement (Jaffrelot 2003:149; and Chandra 1999:159). The Ravidass Deras
provided the Dalits of Punjab the much-needed cultural space to connect them to
their lost cultural heritage. These Deras also provided them the bare minimum
of the infrastructure that required for the ethnification of their newly
conceived Dalit cultural space. All these efforts helped significantly in the
generation of the Dalit consciousness in Punjab.
4 However, the main concern of these movements was to
transform the attitudes of the individuals rather than striking hard on the
asymmetrical structures of the society (Grewal 1994: 116). The socio-religious
movements had never taken up the issue of disproportionate landholdings that
has been the crucial cause of social inequalities and economic deprivations of
the Dalits in the state. Whatever small impact the saints and the
socio-religious movements were able to bring in the minds of the people faded
away with the passage of time.
5 Social boycotts, a form of social exclusion, involve
a ban on the entry of the Dalits in the fields /agricultural lands of the Jats.
Social boycott involves severe deprivations of the landless Dalits who are
dependent on the lands of the Jats for fuel, fodder and even to answer the call
of the nature. The Jat landowners used to employ social boycott, during the wheat
harvesting seasons in the early 1970s, as a weapon of suppression against the
landless agricultural laborers who demanded hike in their wages. Nowadays, it
is being used in the villages of Punjab by the Jats against the agitating Dalits who ask for equal
participation in the formal and informal institutions of power at the local
level. In the words of Judge, “It is the means to remind them that despite
their improved conditions, they continue to be low caste” (Judge 2006:12).
6 The rise of militancy in Sikhism in the sixteenth
century was generally attributed to the martial nature of the Jats (Habib
1996:100; see also McLeod 1996:12) The ranks and leadership of the Khalsa from
this period onwards were deeply predominated by the Jats so much so that the
history of the Sikh religion that follows came to be known as “the history of
the Jat section of the Sikh community” (Pettigrew 1978:26). For counter
arguments on this theme see: Singh (ed.) 1986, especially the sixth part;
and Singh 1985). In the rural areas of Punjab,
one often heard a Jat saying that he would survive even if cut half when
suggested to take medicine in case of sickness.
7 In Islam Chamars are known as Mochies, and Chuhras are
called Musallis and Kutanas. In Christianity Chuhras are named Massihs or
Isais. Some of the Chamars who joined Arya Samaj came to be known as
‘Chaudhary’ and ‘Mahashas’ (Judge 2006: 6).
8 Dalits have separate Gurdwaras in about 10,000 villages
out of a total of 12, 780 villages in Punjab (Dalit Voice,
Vol. 22, No. 17 September 1-15, 2003, p. 20). A survey of 116 villages in one
Tehsil of Amritsar district showed that dalits had separate Gurdwaras in 68
villages (Puri 2003: 2700). Yet another field-study of 51 villages selected
from the three sub-regions of Punjab found that dalits had separate Gurdwaras
in as many as 41 villages (Jodhka 2002:1818); see also Muktsar 1999; and
Muktsar 2003: 21-22.
9 Mangoo Ram (1886–1980) was one of the founders of Ad
Dharm movement. Born in a Chamar family, in village Mugowal, Dist. Hoshiarpur,
Punjab, he immigrated to America (1909) where he came in close contact with the Gadhar
Party (a militant nationalist organization). After his return in 1925, he
organized Scheduled Castes in Punjab against the system of untouchability. During the
Roundtable Conferences in London (1930-32) he sent telegrams in support for Dr. B.R.
Ambedkar as the leader of the untouchables in India instead of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1946, he was elected to
the Punjab Legislative Assembly and remained in legislature till 1952. On 15 August 1972, Prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi honored him with a ‘Tamra Patra’
and pension (Rs 200 per month) for the services he rendered in the Gadhar
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Thi is very special article by Dr. Ronki Ram for www.ambedkartimes.com on its successfully completion of one year. (September 1st, 2007)
LAL SINGH DIL IS NO MORE
LAL SINGH DIL (APRIL 11,1943 - AUGUST 14, 2007)
Lal Singh Dil, Radical Dalit
poet, left an indelible mark on the on-going struggle for equality, social
justice and freedom. Dil bade us all adieu at DMC hospital, Ludhiana,
where he took his last breath at
on 14 August 2007.
Dil was born on 11 April 1943 at his maternal
village. After doing his matric from Samrala, he studied for a year at A.S.College; Khana. He also did Junior
Basic Training for two years. However, the hard economic conditions did not
allow him to continue his studies. Though he was forced to discontinue the
study formally, he did not cease to read his surroundings. He kept on
reflecting on the exploitative system till his last moment. The method that he
chooses for his analysis as well as struggle was poetry. He was one of the most
popular and serious poets of the Naxal Movement in Punjab
of the late 1960s. He was in the forefront of the Naxal Lehar and fell victim
to inhuman torture during his arrest in 1969. He remained in jail for a long period
of time. It was during his imprisonment that his first collection of radical
poetry published in 1971 entitled “Satlej De Hawa". His poetry immediately
became an icon of the revolutionary struggle in Punjab
as well as of the sorrows and sufferings of the poors and Dalits in the state.
After his release from the jail
he went underground where he spent about 15 years of his active life. He did
all sorts of labour to keep his struggle going on. He did not ask any help from
any quarter and gave much to the society. He kept on writing and penned two
more books: "Buhat Saren Suraj" (1982), "Sathar" (1997) and
an autobiography "Dastan". His entire poetry is available in “Nag
Loke" collection. Dil was a very fine comrade. He never liked to receive
fame. He was happy to work incognito. He used to often present in many of the
progressive programmes in different parts of the state, but no one had found
him ever making any effort to make his presence felt. He believed in action
rather in self propagation. He did never complained of about his personal
concerns. He was a reticent but full of burning volcano within. He wanted to
see radical transformation taking place in his very life time and an end to the
sufferings of the poors and the Dalits.
Let us all resolve to
continue his struggle till the goal is achieved that will be the right tribute
to the departed spirit.
Ronki Ram (Dr.),
Dept. of Political Science, PanjabUniversity,
POSTED ON AUGUST 15, 2007
Dr. Ronki Ram has finished this knowledgeable article "Capital Versus Labour: Globalisation, Marginalised and Crisis of Governance"after reasearching for three years. www.ambedkartimes.com Thanks to Dr. Sahib and very proud of him.
CAPITAL VERSUS LABOUR:
GLOBALISATION, MARGINALISED AND CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE
Dr. Ronki Ram DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE PUNJAB UNIVERSITY, CHANDIGARH email@example.com
The process of globalisation
essentially operates in the asymmetrical real world fragmented into developed
and developing regions/states; core and periphery; rich and poor people; and
privileged and the marginalized groups. Given such a wide range of
heterogeneities, its impact on all of them could not be uniform. The impact of
the process of globalisation is generally perceived as inversely proportional
to one’s placement in the socio-economic scale. This study attempts to explore
how and in what way the process of globalisation affected the marginalised
sections of the society and how it was linked with the crisis of
is one of the few concepts in social sciences, which has suddenly acquired a
vast currency in almost all of its disciplines. It has led to the creation of a
large body of literature encompassing varied definitions, interpretations, and
explanations. The term globalisation has been employed to refer to different
processes, structures, interactive networks, rhetoric, and discourses. Each one
of these perspectives has further been categorised into a large number of issue
areas with specific set of rules, norms and episteme. Such a plethora of varied
contents of globalisation, and its multi-dimensional connotations, has produced
enormous shades of meanings with an equally wide range of contexts (Rangarajan
2003). The present study is confined to one such context. That context refers
to ‘pro capital’ and ‘anti labour’ postulates of the process of globalisation.
paper also intends to highlight that as a process, globalisation is a continuation
of a system of capital accumulation and exploitation that started with the
onset of imperialism (from about 1870 to 1914, for details see Abdelal and
Segal 2007; Patnaik 2004). Furthermore, ‘although globalisation had become the
defining feature of the international economy at the beginning of the 21st
century’, it remains considerably less globalised and integrated in
comparison with that of the pre-1914 era (Gilpin 2001:3; see also O’Rourke and
Williamson 2000; McGrew 2005:216). However, this aspect of the phenomenon of
the process of globalisation is often left untouched and its current pattern “…
is significantly exaggerated and thereby fundamentally misrepresented because
globalists fail to locate it in its proper historical context” (McGrew
2005:216; see also Hoogvelt 2001). However, it should not be construed that the
contemporary literature on the process of globalisation contains nothing
essentially new. What makes a major difference between the age of imperialism
and that of the process of globalisation is the pace of speed with which the
events have been taking place in them (Rangarajan 2003). Recent developments in
the field of communication infrastructures, informatics technology and
transportation have restructured the equation of time and space to the extant
that ‘local’ now remains no longer ‘local’ (Pauly 2005: 176-203). As Anthony
McGrew observes, “Although, geography still matters it is nevertheless the case
that globalisation is associated with a process of time-space compression
– literally a shrinking world – in which the sources of even very localised
economic developments, from price rises to corporate restructuring, may be
traced to economic conditions on another continent” (McGrew 2005:210 emphasis in original). The shrinking of the world, and the
recasting of geography, have become possible with the tremendous rise in the
magnitude of the speed with which the events have been unfolding in the
contemporary world that would have been unimaginable only a 100 years ago(Armstrong 1998: 466). The study speculates
that the pace of the speed varies in its impact -- ranging from capital to
labour -- and has something to do with the heightened level of exploitation of
Dalits and the State
central theme of the paper focuses on how the process of globalisation has
affected the lives of the marginalised, who had, hitherto, been looking forward
towards the State for some support to stand on their own feet. Since the very
logic of globalisation is based on the idea that the welfare state is a
hindrance in the way of the global market, it is presumed that the marginalised
need not be supported by the state at all as
they used to be earlier. This has further deepened marginalisation and
exclusion of the marginal groups and communities that were traditionally
vulnerable and excluded (Rangarajan 2003). The rapid pace of transformation in
the context of the market forces in the contemporary world has not only
heightened the exploitation of the marginalised, but also severely limited the
possibilities of their emancipation. Globalisation may have opened up enormous
opportunities but one has to map the emphasis on the ‘opportunities’. In fact,
in the asymmetrical world in which we live, such opportunities open many doors
for the haves by further marginalising the interests of the have nots.
“The global disparity obtains between countries and regions … gets translated
into classes and categories within them. Indeed, it is reflected at the
individual level too” (Oommen 1999).
Capital and the Marginalised
this way, the process of globalisation has favoured the capital and, ignored
with impunity, the labour. In comparison to the ultra mobile capital, labour
flows are stagnant, geographically extensive and reflect “… an almost mirror
image of capital flows insofar as they become primarily South to North” (McGrew 2005:216; see also
Held et al. 1999; Castles and Miller 2002; Chiswick and Hatton 2003). For
instance, in the 1970s and 1980s, the outflow of labour from India was
primarily confined to the Middle East countries, and in the early 20th
century to the then emerging new colonies of the erstwhile British Empire under
the rules of the indentured labour laws. In the opinion of Chiswick and Hatton,
the outward mobility of labour primarily emanated from the developing countries
only (Chiswick and Hatton 2003:74). Even from these countries it is the skilled
labour that moves more frequently from South to North as against the unskilled.
As far as the unskilled labour is concerned, it remains immobile and stagnant.
Although, the pontiffs of the fast expanding caravan of globalisation are over
optimistic about the emergence of ‘integrated distance labour markets’ and the
consequent birth of the ‘common wage rates’ the world over, especially in the
sector of the skilled labour, there is no general consensus about the equity of
flows between capital and labour (McGrew 2005:216; Silver 2003; Galbraith 2002;
Firebaugh 2003; Lindert and Williamson 2003). The opportunities for the poor,
socially excluded, tribal people, women, disabled and other vulnerable groups
have shrunk and marginalisation of certain sections among these groups has been
intensified through the process of Special Economic Zones and arbitrarily
deprivation of land and displacement. The destruction of Mcdonald’s, which was
under construction in rural southwest France in August 1999, under the poster
child fame leadership of Jose Bove, and the recent incidences of violence on
the poor peasants at Nandigram in India, vividly highlight the fast emerging
contradictions between capital and labour (Birchfield 2005:581-82).
– a very loose term – has been employed by different scholars to include
different communities, individuals and social groups under its rubric. Broadly
speaking, it encompasses the deprived sections of the society who have been
subjected to social exclusion, economic deprivation and political isolation. It
also includes gender, since the women are denied equal opportunities and rights
(Bhattacharya [ed] 2004; Sivaraman 2000). In the context of the Indian society,
it comprised Dalits (literally, grounded/oppressed/broken some of them
designated constitutionally as Scheduled Castes), tribals (India’s
indigenous peoples legally known as Scheduled Tribes), economically deprived
groups/individuals (officially termed as Backward Castes), women, disabled and
other vulnerable groups. Dalits is the “politically correct” nomenclature for
the ex-untouchables who traditionally have been placed at the lowest rung of
the Hindu caste hierarchy and were contemptuously called by different names
like Shudras, Atishudras, Achhuts, Antyajas, Chandalas
Pariahs, Dheds, Panchamas, Avarnas, Namashudras,
Adi-Dravida, Ad Dharmis, Mazhabis, Harijans,
Depressed Classes and Scheduled Castes. The ‘Dalit’ is a broad term that
incorporates the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, and the Backward
Castes. However, in the current political discourse, it is mainly confined to
the Scheduled Castes and covers only those Dalits who are classified as Hindus,
Sikhs and Buddhists but excludes Muslim and Christian Dalits (Moliner 2004:2).
Dalits v/s Upper Castes Poor
the present paper, the term ‘marginal’ (marginalised) has been used to refer to
the labourers belonging to the categories of the Scheduled Castes, the
Scheduled Tribes, the economically Backward Castes and also the poor upper
castes. The marginal belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, economically Backward
Castes and the poor upper castes fall in the category of economic deprivation
whereas the Scheduled Castes belong to the category of the socially excluded
and segregated groups. A labourer along with his being subjected to economic
deprivation might be a victim of social exclusion depending on his caste
status. The case of a labourer belonging to an upper caste is different from
that of the lower caste. In the case of the former he might be economically
deprived but in no way socially excluded and segregated, as is the case of
those labourers who belong to the Dalit/ Scheduled Castescategory of
the Hindu social hierarchy. In the case of the Scheduled Castes, it has been
found that along with their economic deprivation they have also been suffering
invariably from social exclusion. The process of globalisation impacts these
different categories differently (Teltumbde 2004: 5). How the process of
globalisation influences the caste based social divisions and their consequent
economic repercussions is an important theme to be taken up a bit more
Dalits have been excluded from social, economic and political rights including
the right to education and employment, other than the traditional forced and
customary undignified labour, precisely because of their birth in the
untouchable castes. They also suffered from social exclusion because of their
geographical segregation. They were forced to live on the outskirts of the
villages towards which the wind blew and sewage flowed. Their houses were
dirty, dingy, dark, and unhygienic where poverty and squalor loomed large (for
a detailed description see Madhopuri 2004). Until 1990, there had been some
improvements in the lives of the Dalits in terms of education and employment
opportunities, increase in wages, fall in poverty, access to land, water,
health, education, housing and other resources owing to the State’s affirmative
action. However, the trend was reverted and sidelined with the onset of the
economic reforms under the process of globalisation. The economic policy in India
has undergone a major transformation since the beginning of the early 1990s,
under the paradigm of liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation. One of
the main concerns of this new paradigm is to facilitate the process of the roll
back of the welfare State and prepare the space for the operation of the
unrestrained market forces and open international trade. This pro-market and
capital stance of the process of economic globalisation has led to the widening
of the gap between the privileged few and the large mass of the marginalised,
and among them the Dalit labourers, daily wage workers and workers in the
informal sector suffer the most. It is pertinent to quote in this context
Harish K. Puri,
In fact the process of
development tended to further marginalize some categories of the Scheduled
Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Judged by even the government statistics on all
parameters – of jobs, literacy, access to drinking water, medical facilities,
housing and even cremation of the dead, this vast segment of Indian people
remained abysmally deprived and oppressed (Puri 2006:10).
has led to discontentment and disillusionment among the marginalised people of
the society to who the main slogan of the World Social Forum – Another World
is Possible – appeals the most, perhaps because they feel that it opens up
the perspective of a world without exploitation and exclusion (A Report from
Mumbai Resistance 2004 and the World Social Forum: 6; see also Asia Gears up
against Globalisation: 1-2). World Social Forum aims at not only building up a
movement against the exclusion of the poor and the powerless from the
mainstream political system, it also lobby for their inclusion (Green and
Griffith 2002:54; see also Varadarajan 2006).
both the Scheduled Caste and the non-Scheduled Caste labourers have been
relegated to the periphery by the forces of the market in the process of
globalisation, it did not affect them uniformly. In fact, the process of
globalisation has never been uniform in its effects across all regions or
economies. Since globalisation is an uneven process, it “…generates a
distinctive geography of inclusion and exclusion such that the notion of a
worldwide or global economy is less geographically inclusive than that of a
planetary or universal economy” (McGrew 2005:210).The way the process of globalisation affects
the life of a Scheduled Caste worker differs significantly from that of the
non-Scheduled Caste one. In a caste-based society, social rank plays an
important role in determining one's economic status. In a system of graded
social hierarchy, lower social status and economic backwardness seems to be
The process of globalisation has further
aggravated this vicious equation of social and economic backwardness. The logic
of economic globalisation favours the rich, who can invest and multiply
capital. Such favoured rich are mostly found among the so-called traditional
‘upper castes’ who have monopolised land and other economic sources in the
country. It has made them prominent in the newly carved out vast private
space of the open market. In other words, it has led to an alliance between the
forces of the market and the upper castes -- much to the disadvantage of the
marginal and the lower castes. Since the implementation of the new economic
reforms, the numbers of jobs have been reduced in the public sector. This, in
turn, has led to an increase in unemployment and poverty. The increase in
unemployment among the Dalits is most discerniblein relation to the constitutional space that signifies their
current mode of existence. This space basically comprise (sic) the provision of
reservations in the state-aided educational institutions and in the employment
of government and public sector companies. Despite the dismal record of their
implementation, there is no doubt that these provision (sic) have played a
crucial role in the advancement and progress of dalits. Globalisation has
variously constrained this space without affecting any change in the
constitution (Teltumbde 2004:5).
In the first
decade of the new economic reforms in India,
the ratio of both unemployment and poverty increased from 28 per cent in 1989
to 48 per cent in 1992. Since Dalits constitute the bulk of the poor and
unemployed, they have suffered most (Jogdand 2002). Their chances of acquiring
jobs in the high-tech industry at home as well as in the multinational
corporations have been getting curtailed since the beginning of the process of
globalisation in India. The system of primary and elementary education in the rural and
urban settings has been subverted almost totally. Since, majority of the rich
upper caste send their wards to the private/convent/public schools, government
schools have been reduced into dysfunctional centres of learning for the poor
Dalits. It is simply out of the reach of the matriculates of such neglected
government schools, where hardly any infrastructure and teachers are available,
to be able to compete for admission in the country’s prestigious Information
Technology (IT) or management schools. Moreover, since the background of a
majority of Dalit undergraduates is in Arts and Humanities, it becomes
difficult for them to meet the job requirements of the multinational
corporations. Even if some of the Dalits aspire to compete in the technology
driven new job market, it would be, perhaps, out of their reach to acquire the
requisite qualifications at exorbitant rates from the various engineering and
management institutes. “The increasing cost of education on the one hand and
drying up of the motivation for education because of no-job prospects created
by globalisation on the other is fast proving the reservation in education
meaningless” (Teltumbde 2004:5).
Moreover, another way through which the process of globalization has
been affecting the lives of the Dalits rather more severely is the
transformation of their traditional hereditary occupations into lucrative
profit seeking competitive avenues where they find themselves incapable of
competing with the so called upper castes who until very recently used to
consider such professions as polluting (Kumar 2002: 81-82). In other words,
when the occupations of sewage disposal, scavenging and raw hides were
performed in the Jajmani (hereditary system of asymmetrical reciprocity
and patronage between landlords and occupational experts) set up bereft of
profit incentive, Dalits were condemned and forced to take them up. But when
the same occupations became profit-generating businesses, Dalits find
themselves at odd in their own tested fields. It is in this context that the
process of globalization perpetuates the system of caste and inequality albeit
in a new form. Instead of liberating them, it further pins them down. Earlier
they were excluded and were condemned as shudras because of their
closeness to the sewages, now it excludes them by way of defeating them in the
profit oriented open market system of the neo-liberal economy. In fact, this
market is open only for those who have the capital to play the profit game on
the chessboard of its unrestrained competition. In this new profit driven game
of the process of globalization, Dalits – normally starved of capital – stand
Yet another way through which the process of globalization severely
affects the lives of the Dalits is the accentuation of the phenomenon of their
exclusion from land. Significant parts of the vast majority of them who live in
villages are landless labourers. Only a small number of them are cultivators
with marginal holdings (Teltumbde 2004:5). The large-scale landlessness on the
part of the Dalits led to their dependence on the
upper caste land owning communities, which in turn further deepened the
caste based inequalities with the burden of asymmetrical class structures. The
neo-liberal economic policies adopted under the regimes of liberalisation, privatisation
and globalisation widen the already existing caste and class divisions between
the Dalits and the dominant castes. As Harish K Puri argues, The most worrying issue now
related to the economic future of the lower castes and lower class people in
the context of the ruling ideas and forces of neo-liberalism because it spelled
a virtual paradigm shift. The state’s welfare role of positive intervention,
which was the mainstay of Nehruvian and Ambedkarite framework, had given way to
market rationality (Puri 2006:11).
In fact, the
forces of neo-liberal economy have not only scuttled the post-1945 Keynesianism
or social democratic agenda of state social welfare, they also substituted it
with corporate farming to cater to the requirements of the global market, and
Special Economic Zones to serve the purpose of the mega commercial centers
under the control of the privileged few. Thus to put the above discussion
succinctly, it can be said that the contemporary process of globalisation
severely deprives the Dalits of the advantages of the new opportunities made
available in the realm of capital and precludes the benefits of the hard earned
constitutional affirmative action.
it does not mean that poverty is found only in the developing countries and
among them within the lower strata of the society. Poverty also afflicts those
who live in the developed world and also those who enjoy higher social status
in the developing world. To quote Dipak Basu, “In the United States, about 12
million people are homeless, one third of the people cannot afford primary
health care, 20 per cent of the people are below poverty line, about 23 per
cent of the people are illiterate with no security of either job or of life”
(Basu 2002).However, it makes a lot of
difference to be a poor and at the same living in a developing world and also
belonging to a low caste. For instance, in Punjab, a poor Scheduled Caste
landless agricultural labourer is distinguished from a poor but dominant caste
landless agricultural labourer (landless peasant labourer) by the fact that he,
along with his being economically deprived, also suffers from social exclusion.
In the case of a Scheduled Caste landless agricultural worker, his being
deprived of land is to a large extent related with his social rank. This, in
turn, also gets reflected in his economic status. In a broader context, the
landlessness of the Scheduled Caste community has serious implications on its
economic life. It has generally been observed that during a clash over wages between
an agriculturist on the one hand, and landless but dominant caste agricultural
labourers and landless Scheduled Caste agricultural labourers on the other, the
agriculturalist imposes social boycott on the landless Scheduled Caste
agricultural labourers in order to deny them an access to his green fields for
fodder as well as to answer the call of nature in a rural setting.
does not apply on an equal scale to the landless dominant caste agricultural
labourers, who lag behind their peer group economically, but enjoy a similar
status socially. “Amusingly enough, the agricultural labourers belonging to
higher castes treated their fellow labourers of Scheduled Castes as social
untouchables” (Chowdhry 1976: 464-65). The prestige system of social status also
affects the lives of the members of the poor upper castes in its own unique
way. The upper caste poor have often found that their so called higher social
status turns out to be a hurdle in their way to take up those jobs which are
usually undertaken by the lower caste people. The spate of suicides among the
farmers in Punjab
is a case in point. These hapless farmers were Jats by caste, which is a
dominant caste in Punjab
similar to the Brahmins in other parts of the country. Whatever be the reasons
behind the act of their suicides, social prestige was an important factor in
almost all the cases. Though in majority of the suicide cases the burden of
indebtedness was the obvious factor, it was not the sole factor. The factor
that pushed them to such a disastrous act was that they did not dare to face
the blot of bankruptcy in a social system in which they enjoy a higher rank
(Iyer and Manick 2000; Bhalla et al. 1998; Shergill 1998; Sidhu 1991; Singh
1993; for an excellent review of agrarian crisis and suicides by farmers in
different states in India see also Ahlawat 2003; Lochan and Rajiv 2006; Suri
2006; Jodhka 2006; Mishra 2006a; Mishra 2006b; Rao and Suri 2006; Mohanakumar
and Sharma 2006; Sridhar2006). In the following section an attempt has been
made to delineate the meaning of globalisation with reference to capital and
Variants of Globalisation
as referred to in the beginning of the paper, has been embellished with various
meanings. It has been projected as a 20th century wonder, which
contains immense potentialities for the elimination of poverty, hunger and
disease.The European Commission in its
Annual Economic Report for 1997 defined globalisation “as the process by which
markets and production in different countries are becoming increasingly
interdependent due to the dynamics of trade in goods and services and flows of
capital and technology. It is not a new phenomenon but the continuation of
developments that have been in train for some considerable time” (European Commission
1997: 45).In this context, it is
primarily associated with ‘a process of intensifying worldwide economic
integration’ (McGrew 2005:209). However, this political-economy-centric view of
globalisation when juxtaposed with the one grounded within the wider social
science literature presents a more complex picture. It is also projected as an
era of universalisation and intensification of transnational flows of images,
people, commodities and capital (Deshpande 2003:152). Though the process of
globalisation is often referred to interchangeably with the notions of
liberalisation, internationalisation, universalisation, modernisation,
westernisation, Americanisation, de-territorialisation, or
supra-territorialisation, none of these terms, argues Scholte, captures its
distinctive features (McGrew 2005: 209; see also Scholte 2000; Scott 1997:5;
Abdelal and Segal 2007).
through the prisms of political economy, cultural theory, political analysis,
international relations, and urban sociology, globalisation resonates
differently in the different contexts (Nasstrom 2003). Given the complex nature
of its subject matter, the phenomenon of globalisation is prone to give rise to
methodological disputes about its apt analysis (Rosenberg 1995).
“The recent discussion within sociology and political science has been careful
to distinguish globalisation theory from the theory of modernisation on the one
hand and from accounts of colonialism on the other. The concept of
globalisation should not act simply as a synonym for a new phase of
modernisation or for Westernisation,” (Scott 1997:3). The theory of
globalisation needs to be saved from being slipped into a trap of reductionist
or determinist that “ ... appear to reduce divergent aspects of a complex
process to some set of fundamental causes or to some single societal sub-system
(e.g., the economy)” (Scott 1997:3). Globalisation needs to be understood as a
multi-dimensional, rather than singular, process and free from the disciplinary
boundaries of a particular field. Equally important is to rescue it from the
prevailing myths and rhetoric about its inevitability and irresistibility
(Scott 1997:1; McGrew 2005:3).
New v/s the Old
is not a new phenomenon, as it is claimed widely. In effect, it is the replication
of the political and economic imperialism of the 19th century
(Harshe 2002: 1407). Moreover, in the 19th century the world was
more integrated than is the case today (Gilpin 2001:3). Equally important is to
critically analyse the objectives of the process of globalisation. The process
of globalisation is not something that has come into operation on its own as a
beneficial God gifted natural source. It is, perhaps, a well planned and well
regulated project aimed at building a uniformed global market for the benefit
of a limited number of individuals/corporations. Its sole aim is to accumulate
capital, which by its very logic creates dens of poverty, disease and squalor
in the periphery, and wealth in the core of the globalising world (Wade 2005: 291-316).
In order to comprehend such diabolic posture of the phenomenon of
globalisation, it needs to be distinguished as an ideology and as a paradigm.
an ideology, globalisation creates a sense of false consciousness in the
periphery. It makes its appearance as beneficial through various popularly
projected images. At the same time, it also builds up the logic to subdue any
opposition to its upward surgence. It emphasises that poverty and low economic
growth were the results of keeping oneself out of the reach of globalisation.
As a paradigm, globalisation provides an epistemological outlook for the
understanding of the world. This epistemological outlook has assigned the
prefix Newto the already existing asymmetrical world. The fact,
however, is that it is not the existential world that has really become new or
newly ordered under the spill of globalisation. What the paradigm of
globalisation was able to do under the prefix New is that it has succeeded in projecting the same old world as
new in a particular way that favours capital over labour. This paradigm of
presenting the old world in the form of something new emanates from a
perspective, held by the privileged few, to scan the uneven structures of the
existing world in such a manner as to project them as ‘new’, ‘ordered’,
‘global’, interdependent’, and ‘homogeneous. Such a paradigmatic approach in looking at the so-called changing
trajectories of the world has more to do with the ‘concrete processes’ of
economy and politics rather than with its projected abstract realities.
However, in the domain of political economy, it is not always essential to
stick to apparent realities. On the contrary, the projected realities have
usually been taken as given; realities that favour capital and the metropolis and
deprive labour and the periphery. Such realities in fact are not generally
acceptable realities at all. (Explain more clearly) It is so because they
emboss the fabricated and artificial homogeneous world on the real and the
existing asymmetrical world.
is another way of subjugating the marginal, the ‘other’. The marginalised are
subjugated through the mirage of the promised /imagined new world. The imagined
world has been made more real than the actual real world is. The real world is
not the one where we live, but the one we have been told about. The panacea to
all our maladies, we are told, lies in getting assimilated quickly into this New
world –the globalising one. It is also said that poverty, failure of the State,
and ethnic insurgencies in Asia, Africa and elsewhere are not the outcome of
the specific factors grounded in the colonial structures of these continents or
in their own current specific domestic situations, but because of their refusal
to open themselves to the currents of the global market. In the words of
Abdul-Raheem, “Western ideologues insist that we must imagine and organise
society in accordance with their values and systems without providing space to
any alternative ideology. In this hegemonic scheme, the rest of us are seen as
non-starters, or at best late comers, whose only destiny is to follow the path
already trodden by the West" (Abdul-Raheem 2000:15).There is nothing sacred about regimes and
institutions as sermonised by the Western think tanks. What democracy, globalisation,
free market, and multilateral institutions mean to them does not equally apply
to the poor South (Manchanda 1997). Nor, is the rich North seriously interested
in the genuine proliferation of the principles of liberalism and democracy. In
the name of democracy and free market economy regimes, the continents of Asia,
Africa and South America were rather further subjected to what Abdul-Raheem
characterised as "recolonisation" (Abdul-Raheem 2000: 15).No doubt the world has changed, but the
governing principles of world politics have not.It is Realpolitik,
which still regulates the transactions among the states and also among the
non-state managers of today's world.The
emergence of the process of globalisation and the triumph of free market over
the planned economy do not imply that politics based on the pursuance of
national interest and power has given place to communitarianism and welfare. It
is claimed that “[t]he process of globalisation has produced much that is new
in the world's economy and politics, but it has not changed the basic ways
capitalism operates. Nor has it aided the cause of either peace or prosperity”
(Magdoff 1992: 39).
to the repetitive claims, the post-Cold War world is very much the same
intransient world of power games and shrewd diplomacy. The so-called New
world is the old place where one has to move cautiously in the given hard-core
choices, and in an environment of no permanent friends and foes. How does one
then understand the United States’ support to the non-democratic Sheikhdom in
the Middle East and to the authoritarian states of South East Asia, whereas
United States, itself, stands for democracy not only within but internationally
also. Democracy as a value is not as important as its use for the promotion of
national interests. "It seems that the West only prefers a ‘democratic’
outcome that does not, as the Americans say, upset the applecart"
(Abdul-Raheem, 2000: 19).To quote
Abdul-Raheem further “[t]hat means democracy with a western veto” (Ibid.). Any
democratic process that helps raise genuine political aspirations, finds no
support from the West if such a process is likely to adversely affect the
status of the West. Thus, in order to qualify for a democratic status one needs
to fulfill the expectations of the West. It does not matter much even if you
are a despot or a dictator provided you do not create any difficulties for the
West. “In the Southeast Asia,
lack of democracy and gross abuse of human rights do not seem to have affected
the growth of capitalism, whereas the Gulf States
with their abundant oil wealth can dispense with democracy and human rights
altogether. Otherwise, why would America
and the so-called Allied powers have gone to war in the Gulf only to restore
feudal family rule” (Ibid: 18). Given a choice between democracy and promotion
of national interest, the latter gets a priority over the former. That is what
the law of power politics advocates. It needs to be taken with a pinch of salt
that free trade is the most important natural torchbearer of the 21st
century. The moot point is who does the process of globalisation favour? How
does globalisation operate in an unequal and anarchic world? What safeguards,
if any, are available to the ex-colonial societies and the marginalised to defend
themselves against the system of domination, embedded in the logic of a world
structured on the principles of power politics? In fact, the process of
globalisation legitimises “the right of the advanced capitalist states and
their citizens to dominate the rest of humanity. It affirms the right of the
capital to move around the globe but restricts the freedom of labour (people).
Those who desire a global humanity must, therefore, struggle to humanise the
globe, such that free human beings can live, work or settle anywhere they
wish?" (Ibid.)It is in this
context that we need to take up the issue of the process of globalisation in
the context of the marginalised in the periphery. Rampant violence, narcotic
terrorism, mounting debts, political apathy and indolence, subordination to
market, controlled print and electronic media, ecological devastation,
marginalisation of the State, nepotism, corruption, the ever increasing rise in
the internal civil strife leading to mass killings, and exodus are a few issues
of crucial concern relating to the marginalised in the periphery.
of the paper is not to prescribe solutions, but to problematise the impact of
the process of globalisation on the societies in the periphery and the
marginalised. The term periphery is used here to reflect on the weaker sections
of the under-developed and developing countries of the Afro-Asian world.
However, even in this very part of the asymmetrical world, the interest of the
miniscule minority converges more conveniently with that of the core of the
rich North rather than with that of their fellow beings in the poor South.
Thus, it is in this context that the term periphery needs to be taken into
consideration while evaluating the impact of globalisation on the
socio-economic and political life of the marginal people divided on caste/class
lines within the non-Western world. The purpose here is not to provide a
blueprint, but to problematise the issue. What we often deal with in the name of
globalisation is less of a phenomenon and more of an ideology and a paradigm.
Such an aberration always keeps one away from understanding the real causes of
poverty and exploitation induced by the process of globalisation in the
Capital, Labour and Globalisation
system of globalisation is not accountable to the people whom it affects. Since
the State, which draws sustenance and legitimacy from the citizens in the
geographically determined boundaries, begins fading in the face of the surging
forces of globalisation, it often finds excuses to exempt itself from its legal
responsibility towards the betterment of its populace, especially the
marginalised. Public policy, based on the State supported social protection,
gave way to deregulation, privatisation, cuts in state’s social welfare schemes
(e.g. Public Distribution System [PDS] in India), restrictions on labour
unions, flexible labour markets, strict laws and quotas restricting immigration
to the countries of the North. Such anti-people policies are not only
encountered by the people of the developing world, the political establishments
in the countries of the developed world equally adhere to them. In this
context, it is appropriate to reproduce here what Amiya Kumar Bagchi says:
rules of the game in the globalisation process changed drastically from the
1970s. The European and United States’
capitalists thought that they must teach the workers a lesson – they must break
the trade unions and put an end to the post-war welfare states of Europe.
Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, was a pioneer in this worker
bashing. Around 1985, I happened to be at a meeting with Sir Alan Walters, one
of the chief economic advisors of Margaret Thatcher. We were talking about the
failure of big strikes in Britain
during Thatcher’s regime. Sir Alan said roughly, “I told Margaret Thatcher,
kick the workers, and go on kicking them till they are down, and kick them even
when they are down” … A similar strategy was pursued by the United States
Government during Ronald Regan’s presidency. As a result, the real wages
ofan average American worker today is
lower than it was in 1979 (Bagchi 2004: 7).
anti-labour policies do not only characterise the governments in Europe and the
United States, but even the governments and left-of-centre parties in Japan,
and Australia have been talking the same language (Wade 2005:292). Furthermore,
through the international financial mechanism of the Multilateral Economic
Organisations (MEOs) like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World
Bank, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), these anti-labour policies are
extended to the domestic realms of the developing countries (Ibid).
The most startling case of non-accountability on the part of the
forces of globalisation is the callousness on the part of the Union Carbide
with regard to the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. According to Harish K
Puri, Much of the information is
hidden from the public. Inspection of the plant by the Indian government
officials was evidently casual; and most likely corrupt. And we know the cost.
Over 10,000 were killed by the leakage of the deadly gas; over 200,000 were
injured and sick, including those born later. Invariably most of these who
became victims happened to come from the low class caste workers and their
families. And, even after 22 years of struggle for justice the culprits have
not been punished (Puri 2006:15).
of justice, of late, has come up as the most important contentious issue of
globalisation. Some of the leading exponents of the process of globalising have
now started echoing the concern that “… in its failure to deliver a more just
global economic order, globalisation may hold within it the seeds of its own
demise” (Higgott 2000:131). James Wolfenson, President of the World Bank
reiterated in his address to the Board of Governors of the Bank in October 1998
that in the absence of ‘greater equity and social justice’ no amount of money
could provide us financial stability. Ethan Kapstein expressed similar views
when he underlined the fact that any economic system widely viewed as unjust
will not endure for long. Of course, these views are not new. They were put
forward much earlier when the present system of globalisation was not even
conceived of.Adam Smith put on record
in his ‘Wealth of Nations’ that no society could survive or flourish if great
numbers lived in poverty (quoted in Higgott 2000:131). If the contemporary
process of globalisation sincerely aims at strengthening the need for strong
governance, then contrary to the pro-capital policies of its neo-liberal
lobbying centres of London and Washington, it has to remove all “barriers to
the movement of people in search of work” and to make stringent efforts towards
the formation of “a single market for both capital and labour” (Jha 1999).
system of justice, which we are familiar with, is understood within the
“Westphalien cartography of clear lines and stable identities”(ibid).
Westphalien justice presumes a stable political order, based on legitimate
political authority, having a clearly demarcated social space. Since with the
concretisation of the process of globalisation, the territorial boundaries of
politics are becomingunbundled, to borrow Ruggie's
evocative phrase, it becomes inevitable that the conceptual images of justice
conceived in the boundaries of politics fixed by territoriality will become
similarly unbundled (ibid). The conventional accounts of justice have failed to
address the changing nature of social bond. The system of globalisation is not
a social bond at all. It is a blatant system of profit seeking and
self-propagation. It has not been brought out by a contractarian agreement
among the multitudes of large number of so-called fading states. The system of
globalisation has come to be confronted by the people of Afro-Asian world who
have yet to become citizens in real terms (Ram 2001). Before the people of
impoverished states could win the battle of their subsistence against their
native monopoliser and rent-seeker, they have suddenly been exposed to the big
doyens over whom they have no system of pressure. In an era of consumer driven
globalisation, it is not in the fitness of things to quote Karl Marx who even
after one and a half-century sounds fresh in his contents and analysis of the
economic structure of the society. To quote him in detail:
The bourgeoisie has through its
exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production
and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has
drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood.
All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being
destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a
life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer
work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest
zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every
quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions
of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction, the
products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national
seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction,
universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in
intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations
become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become
more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures,
there arises a world literature (Marx and Engels 1848:37-38).
This system of global relations of production,
of exchange and of property has become, to quote Marx again, “…like the
sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom
he has called up by his spells" (ibid: 39). However, what makes Marx’s
analysis of the ever-widening reach of the bourgeoisie society unique is its
class character articulated by him in the following words:
as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion
is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of labourers,
who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as
their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves
piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and
consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the
fluctuations of the market (Marx and Engels 1848:40).
the formation and augmentation of capital is the essential condition for the
existence and furtherance of the bourgeoisie that lay at the foundation of the
process of globalisation. The current process of globalisation does not paint a
different picture. The basic rules of its grammar remain the same (see also
Omvedt 2001). However, what makes a difference, as far as the status of the
labour versus capital is concerned is that, to quote Marx once again,
The modern labourer, on the contrary,
instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below
the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and
pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth (ibid: 45).
He (labourer), in fact, has been completely
abandoned in the labyrinth of uselessness. Globalisation thrives on services
and information technology. Agricultural, industry and manufacturing are no
longer important avenues for it. Finance capital, capital generated through
stock markets and capital earned on the use of information industry has
ultimately replaced the capital generated by the labour. This, in turn, has
further led to marginalisation of the already marginalised section of the
society (Patnaik 2004).
played a trick with Marx. He expected revolution on the basis of his capital
analysis of the bourgeoisie society in the industrial world of Germany
or England, and not in an agriculturally dominated society of Russia.
However due to Lenin’s intervention, the revolution in Russia
became successful at that time. For Marx, proletariats contain the force of
transformation of the bourgeoisie society into socialism. In the manifesto of
the Communist Party, he clearly mentioned that the struggle of the proletariat
with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. “The proletariat of each
country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie”.
Since capital knows no boundaries and expands further and further, in search of
its expansion it becomes imperative for the proletariats of all the countries
to get united to oppose the march of such capital. The manifesto ends with the
following words “The proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains. They
have a world to win”. In reality, workers belonging to different countries
failed to emerge into a global body. On the other hand, capital succeeded in
forging a global network. The success of the capital has been celebrated with
the end of the history thesis. In the absence of a radical alternative to the
arbitrariness of the global capital, the future of mankind seems to zero-in on
barbarism. One may venture into formulating that in the face of ‘the end of
history’ emerges ‘the clash of civilisations’. Efforts are being made now at
the global level to tackle the crisis of communal global terrorism. However,
such types of symptoms of the disease are quite early signs of the maturing
evil of accumulation of capital on the one hand, and poverty on the other. From
the Seattle protests of 1999 to the annual conclaves of the World Social Forum,
surcharged street demonstrations and shouting of anti globalisation slogans
represent deep smouldering embers of the severe crisis that the process of
globalisation faces today.
Globalisation and the Crisis of Governance
the crisis of globalisation, efforts are now being made, since the second half
of 1997, to politically legitimise, democratise and socialise the process of
globalisation (Higgott 2000:133). Is it feasible, at least theoretically, to socialise
the process of globalisation? To socialise globalisation seems to be tantamount
to saying to socialise capital. However, capital by its very nature
intrinsically defies any such attempts. It is basically based on the process of
capital generation through the appropriation of surplus values generated by the
labourers. And, the grammar of capitalism tells us that a surplus value is the
value of labour that is denied to a labourer. Thus, the capital and the utopia
of its equal distribution are basically antithetical to each other. In the
words of Scott, “… not only is globalisation thought not to be tied to any
substantive notion of the ‘Good Society’, it may, according to its critics,
even preclude any discussion of what such a society might look like” (Scott
1997:6). According to the Human Development Report 1997 published by United
Nations Development Programme,
The greatest benefits of globalisation have
been garnered by a fortunate few. A rising tide of wealth is supposed to lift
all boats, but some are more seaworthy than others. The yachts and ocean liners
are rising in response to new opportunities, but many rafts and rowboats are
taking on water- and some are sinking. The ratio of global trade to Gross
Domestic Product has been rising over the past decade, but it has been falling
for 44 developing countries, with more than a billion people. The least
developed countries, with 10 per cent of the world's people, have only 0.3 per
cent of world trade – half their share of two decades ago.
The metaphor of the rising tide lifting all
boats fails to take off when applied in the context of the effect of the
globalisation on the developing countries. In the developing world the tides of
the neo-liberal economy had ended up knocking over some of the smaller boats.
“It has increased the divide between the rich and the poor countries and
further widened the gap between the rich and the poor in the Third
World countries. The number of poor in Africa
has doubled”, said Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz in a lecture on Making
Globalisation Work in Chennai recently (Stiglitz 2007). According to the
1999 version of the Human Development Report, the income gap ratio between the
20 per cent of the world's population in the richest countries and the 20 per
cent in the poorest grew from 30:1 in 1960 to 60:1 in 1990 and 74:1 in 1995.
The poorest 20 per cent of the world's population account for only one per cent
of the total global Gross Domestic Product and 40 per cent of the world's
population lives in absolute poverty. The number of people with income of less
than $ 1 a day increased by almost 100 million to 1.3 billion between 1987 and
1993(Reddy 1999). In the past 18 years,
the per capita income has declined in more than 100 countries. In a large
number of countries, life expectancy is still 40 years. The external debt
burden of the developing countries totals $2.2 trillion, according to 1999
estimates. Of this, two-thirds is public debt. The net material worth of the
world's 200 richest persons increased from $ 440 billion to more than one
trillion in just four years: 1994-1998 (Oommen 1999). “Global inequalities in
income have increased alarmingly in the last hundred years. More than 30,000
children die every day from preventable diseases. Some 90 million children are
excluded from primary education. About 790 million people are hungry and 1.2
billion live on less than one dollar a day” (Raj 2002). The above statistics
shows that the global spread of capital failed to reduce the contradictions
between the poor and the rich nations. “Although a handful of third world
countries, benefiting from the globalisation process, have made noteworthy
progress in industrialisation and trade, the overall gap between core and
periphery nations has kept on widening”(Magdoff 1992:2).
exploitative and inequitable stance of globalisation became factually clear in
the last few years. The Washington Consensus (WC) based neo-liberal project of
globalisation came under severe attack on its durability in the wake of the financial
crisis that hit Asia in the second half of 1997 and soon spread to Latin
America and Russia in early 1998 (Williamson 2003). Another factor that
accounted amongst the significant sources of backlash against the unbridled
nature of globalisation project was the failure of the Organisation for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to establish the multilateral
argument on investment. ‘The battle of Seattle’
was yet another factor that jostled globalisation from its very roots (Higgott
2000:135-136). Along with these events of crisis revelation of globalisation,
another factor which affected the ever surging march of globalisation is “the
development of a perception that global liberalisation brings with it increased
inequality” (ibid: 136). The above cited events and perceptions led to the
lowering of the image of globalisation from its status of inevitability to its
self-demise. This also led to the end of the orthodox Washington Consensus
backed model of globalisation, based on economic liberalisation that dominated
the period between 1980 and 1990, and resulted in the emergence of a 'Post
Washington Consensus' (ibid: 137).
Post Washington Consensus is a response to the challenges to the process of
globalisation. It aims at rectifying the pitfalls of economic liberalisation by
introducing the system of global governance (for an excellent review see
Parkash and Jeffrey [eds.] 1999), what Stephen Gill calls a constitution for
global capitalism (quoted in Higgott 2000:137). The project of globalisation of
1980s and the early 1990s did not have any place for ethics. It was based on
purely the free market principle of profit and maximising self-interest. “The
idea is that capitalism, left to itself, can recover from any crisis and any
public intervention can only make things worse. Thus any public actions are
nothing but distortions of the system which must be minimised” (Basu 2002). The
Post Washington Consensus model has been trying to bring ethical dimensions
into the theory of globalisation. The attempt on the part of Post Washington
Consensus to bring ethical content into the theory of globalisation was not
merely a tactical move to forestall the simmering revolt against economic
liberalisation. According to Edwards “there is genuine concern for bringing in
recognition of the importance of tackling ethical questions of justice,
fairness and inequality” (Higgott 2000:137). The Post Washington Consensus,
thus, distinguished itself from the Washington Consensus by the concepts of
civil society, social capital, capacity building, governance and transparency,
a new international economic architecture, institution building and safety-nets
as against the Washington Consensus mantras of liberalisation, deregularisation
Taming the Neo-liberal Economy
immediate question that comes to mind is that whether the Post Washington
Consensus would make some efforts for setting an agenda to help the
marginalised. Is it possible that the mere chanting of the names of civil
society, social capital, and governance etc. can facilitate the change for the
betterment of the neglected lot of the society? The Post Washington Consensus
fails to chart out the parameters through which the marginals can be brought
into the purview of the civil society, which, as in the case of India,
has still not become inclusive in its character and scope. How can capital
translate the higher statuses into instruments of improvement for the
downtrodden when their own kith and kin feel shy and fearful to openly divulge
their caste identity in the highly inequitable hierarchical structures of the
Indian society? Nothing concrete can be expected for removing the tears from
the hapless faces until and unless something can be done in the form of
structural transformation for dismantling the market based system of domination
on one hand, and the varnabased
system of social hierarchy on the other. In fact, for India
the crisis is not only confined to the forces emanating from the sphere of the
market. It is equally severe, perhaps more, as far as its caste based social
order is concerned. The market and the caste when combined make a deadly
concoction for the crisis managers to tackle effectively.
the absence of an egalitarian alternative to the structures of domination, the
human face of globalisation based on global governance makes no difference for
the marginalised who continue to be afflicted in the gas chambers of gender,
caste and class. The market has failed to liberate them. Moreover, it has
further pinned them down. They are not welcomed in the sphere of market as
equal partners of profit. In other words, the market too practices
untouchability, albeit in a different form. They feel alienated in their own
world of creation. How strong can the global market be, in the long run? It
will not survive until and unless the question of the marginals is addressed
amicably. As Abdelal and Segal argue, “The challenge is to sell the benefits of
ongoing globalisation to a wary public, to make sure those benefits
materialise, and then to ensure they are distributed more equitably” (Abdelal
and Segal 2007:104-5).In fact, the
question of equitable distribution of resources is closely related with the
issue of the immediate and amicable redressal of the cause of the marginals and
the socially excluded (Green and Griffith 2002: 68). They need not be provided
with only cheap articles of provision of minimal use as have been popularly
done in some Indian states. What seems to be essential is to empower them, to
enhance their buying capacity in the real sense of the term, to dismantle the
structures of economic and social dominations, and to remove the stresses of
globalisation. “If we are not concerned of the stresses of globalisation,
ideological counter-currents will emerge. Globalisation is not a bed of roses.
There is a need to be watchful, always,” warned Singapore Foreign Affairs
Minister George Tong-Boon Yeo at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)
Partnership Summit in Bangalore
(The Hindu, March
19, 2007). In other words, a balance needs to be
created between the forces of market and the principles of social justice. It
is in this context that the contemporary process of globalisation, the crisis
of governance, and the issue of empowerment of the marginalised pose a common
and serious challenge to the policy makers which have to be addressed amicably
at the earliest.
Different versions of this
paper were presented at seminars:Globalization
and The Underprivileged: Perceptions, Fears and Consequences, organized by
Department of Sociology, Ch. Charan Singh University, Meerut; Globalisation and Political Economy of
North-West India, organized by Department of Political Science, SGGS
College, Chandigarh; Globalisation, Social Institutions and Values, organized
by Dev Samaj College for Women, Chandigarh;Justice to Weaker Section of the Society, organized by Chandigarh
People’s Welfare Forum and Punjab and Haryana High Court Advocates’ Committee
on Judicial Accountability, Chandigarh; and at a Workshop, The Empowerment of Dalits and Women, organized by Ambedkar Center,
Department of Sociology, P. U. Chandigarh. Comments and observations received
from the scholars helped significantly in improving the arguments presented in
this paper. My thanks to Harish K Puri, Paramjit Singh Judge, and K.C. Sulekh
discussions with who helped me further revise the draft. I am equally grateful
to Seema, Sahaj and Daksh who facilitated my long sittings in the study away
from home. However, for any fault or error, the responsibility lies entirely
with the author.
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POSTED ON JULY 22, 2007 =============================================================================
SOCIAL CATASTROPHE IN THE MAKING:
RELIGION, DERAS AND DALITS IN PUNJAB
RONKI RAM (DR.)
DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
PUNJAB UNIVERSITY, CHANDIGARH
The recent violent clashes between the followers of Dera Sacha Sauda (established in 1948 with its headquarters in Sirsa, Haryana) and different groups of Akalis as well as a spate of other social conflicts between Jats and Dalits in the state seem to have acquired an utmost importance in the current political history of Punjab. The importance of such conflicts surpases the much talked about ‘short-term politics of revenge’ and throws a critical light on their much deeper socio-religious roots steeped into the so-called casteless Sikh society in Punjab. On the one hand, it lay bare the dormant structures of social discrimination that permeates the fabric of the Sikh society and on the other, points towards the neo-conservative Sikhs’ anxiety of dwindling Sikh-Khalsa identity in the state. In fact, the recent Akalis-Dera Sacha Sauda row over the mimicking of iconography of the tenth Master of the Sikhs by Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh, the current head of the Dera, seems much to do with the prevalence of the doctrinally rejected system of caste hierarchy among the Sikhs. Since majority of the followers of various Sacha Sauda type Deras come from the dispossessed sections of the society who at one point of time had embraced Sikhism in the hope of elevating their social status and fortune, their almost exodus from Sikhism towards alternative socio-spiritual space provided by such Deras invite the hostility of the clerics of the mainstream established religious order who interpret it as a serious challenge to the dwindling Sikh-Khalsa identity. Moreover, the frequent politicisation of the Deras makes the issue further complicated. The persistent attempts made by the various Sikh organizations during the recent Akalis-Dera crisis to win over their disgruntled Dalit Sikh followers are a clear case in point.
This paper intends to problematise the recent Akalis-Dera crisis by contextualising it into the larger Dalit question in Punjab and its implications for the religion based politics of the state. Punjab has the distinction of housing the country’s largest proportion of Scheduled Castes (SCs) population (29 per cent) belonging to different religions and castes. There are total of 38 castes among the SCs in the state. Out of these 38 castes, two belong to Sikh religion. The SCs who belong to Sikh religion are known as Mazhabi and Ramdasis or Ramdasia Sikhs. Mazhabis were Chuhras (sweepers) who converted first to Islam from Hinduism, and later to Sikhism. Ramdasias were Julahas (weavers) before their conversion to Sikhism. Ramdasia Sikhs are mostly confined to the Doaba and Malwa sub-regions of the state and majority of them are Sahajdhari Sikhs – those who do not observe the Khalsa outward manifestation. Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bhaujan Samaj Party (BSP), was a Ramdasia Sikh. Ramdasias are also known as Khalsa Biradar. Mazhabis, the devout Sikhs, are mostly concentrated in the Majha (between Beas ans Ravi Rivers) and Malwa (south of the Sutlej River, also known as Cis-Sutlej during the British period) sub-regions of Punjab – the battlefield of recent violent clashes between the Akalis and the Premis (literally lovers’, a traditional metaphor for devotees of the Sufi and Bhakti orders) of the Dera Sacha Sauda. It is also in the Malwa sub-region, the heartland of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), that the Dera Sacha Sauda turned the tables on the SAD by helping the beleagured congress win 37 out of its total 65 seats in the recent vidhan Sabha elections. In terms of numbers, Mazhabis are the most numerous Sikh caste among the SCs of Punjab (who account for 30.7 per cent of the total SC population in the state as per 19991 census), followed by Chamars (25.8 per cent), Ad Dharmis (15.9 per cent), Balmikis – Chuhras and Bhangis (11.1 per cent) to mention only the major castes. In the 2001 census their population was recorded at just a little over 22 lakhs (31 cent of the total SC population of the state). They are also the most deprived section of the SCs of Punjab with the lowest literacy rate (42.3 per cent) and majority of them are agricultural workers (52.2 per cent). Many of them have also been working as Siris (attached labourer). Though the Siri system has ceased to exist in the state, but in the Malwa region some of the Mazhabis still work as Siris. According to a field-based study of 26 villages in Malwa region, 21 had Dalits working as Siris.
Mazhabis embraced Sikhism in the hope of gaining social equality, but even in Sikhism the spectre of untouchability kept on haunting them. They “were forbidden to enter the Golden Temple for worship; their offering of karah prasad was not accepted and the Sikhs denied them access to public well and other utilities”. As late as 1920s they were not allowed to go beyond the fourth step in the Golden Temple and members of the upper castes were instructed not to mix with them. Evidence of untouchability against Dalit Sikhs is vividly reflected in a number of resolutions adopted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) from 1926-1933. Although the Sikh reformers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries preached in favour of removing untouchability, no strenuous efforts were made in that direction. Social opprobrium continues to afflict the Mazhabis and other Dalits. Some of them were of the opinion that Jats treat them as badly in the Gurdwaras as they treated them in their farmlands. In spite of their meticulous observance of Sikh religious principles, they are not considered equal by the dominant Sikh caste, which refused to associate with them, even in religious ceremonies. They continued to face discrimination in the Gurdwaras and are cremated on separate cremation grounds along with their Hindu counterparts. Even in some villages the land meant for the cremation grounds in the Shamlat (common land under the control of Panchayats) have been grabbed by the upper castes. They were also denied proportionate representation in various religious and local social structures in the state. It is the Jats, the dominant peasant caste in the state, who hegemonised over all the Sikh organizations: Gurdwaras, Sikh Deras, SGPC, and SAD. Dalits are often heard of complaining that if Jats refused to consider them equal even after deaths by denying them the right to burn in a common cremation ground then why should they expect from us that we should continue with their mainstream (read Sikh) religion. This has forced the Dalit Sikhs to establish separate Gurdwaras that strengthened the already existing caste divisions among the Sikhs. Caste divisions get further reinforced in the segregated lives that Dalits live in away from the mainstream villages. Their settlements are contemptuously called Thhattis or Chamarlees. Thhattis or Chamarlees are invariably located on the side toward which the sewerage of villages flows. Madanjeet Singh observes “Notwithstanding the media images of Punjab’s prosperity, the region has become the ghetto of caste apartheid”.
It is against this backdrop of blatant social exclusion that a large number of Dalits have been veering away from the mainstream Sikh religion and enrolling themselves into various forms of Deras in Punjab whose success partly “lies in the relationship between Dalit resistance and religious rebellion”. Of late, the Dalits of Punjab have mustered enough strength to challenge the dominant caste and its exclusive hold on the mainstream Sikhism. At least from among the Mazhabis and Ramdasias Sikhs, “a strand of thought has begun to emerge that rebels against the exclusionist and reactionary tendencies that have continued to linger contrary to the mission and ideas of the gurus”. In fact, it was the Mazhabis and Ramdasias who constituted the core of the ‘Bhaniarawala phenomenon’ and the ‘Talhan crisis’ respectively. Again it was the Mazhabis and Ramdasias Sikhs of the Malwa region of the Punjab who figured most in the Sacha Sauda crisis recently. Another probable cause behind the large-scale Dalit followings of the Deras in Punjab could be the absence of a strong Dalit movement of the sort of the famous Ad Dharm led by legendary Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia during the first half of the 20th century. Had the Ad Dharm movement continued in full swing, it could have curtailed the swift flow of the Dalits towards the mushrooming growth of the Deras in Punjab? In fact, it could have even precluded the emergence of such a large number of Deras. In the absence of a strong Dalit movement and with the emergence of caste structures within the Sikh organizations despite the clear Panthic strictures against it, Dalits were but helpless to seek refuge in those organistions and Deras that promise them social equality and dignity.
However, the phenomenon of Deras is not new to Punjab. Rather it was as old as the very process of the evolution of the Sikh faith. Different sects and Deras that emerged at different intervals during the evolution of the mainstream Sikh religion were primarily the outcome of the disgruntled and unsuccessful attempts of the fake claimants to the title of Guru. Bidhi Chand, the dissenter, made first such an attempt during the Guru-period (1552-1574) of third Guru, Amar Dass. He formed the Handalis sect, instituted the worship of Niranjan, ‘the bright God’ and declared himself as the Prophet or Handal. The Handalis endulged in anti-Panthic activities and collaborated with “Muslims in the destruction of Sikh properties and documents. They were penalized and dispossessed by Ranjit Singh, the first Maharajah of the Sikh Empire”. During the fifth Guru-period of Arjan Dev (1581-1606), Dhirmaliye and Mine sects were organized in opposition to the main religious Sikh body and they established their Deras along the Sutlej River. These sects were led by no else a person than by the elder brother (Prithi Chand) of Guru Arjan Dev himself, who also claimed to be Guru. Massandis was another sect that also cropped up during the Guruship of Arjan Dev. The Massandis (from the Masand exogamous gotra of the Khatri trading caste) were personal agents of Guru Arjan who he employed for collecting the offerings for the annual assembly of Sikhs. Later on when they indulged in the anti-Panthic activities, the Guru denounced them publicly. The descendants of Ram Rai, son of the Guru Har Rai (1644-1661), also organized a sect known as Ramraiyas during the Gurus-period. They dissented against the main body of the Sikhs, built a Dera at Dehra Dun (Uttar Pradesh) and attributed Guruship to Ram Rai. Apart from these early sects and Deras of the Gurus times, there were many more sects and Deras that cropped up at different intervals on the long and tortuous journey of the consolidification of the Sikh religion. Some of the more prominent among them were Nanakpanthis, Udasis, Sewapanthis, Nirmalas and the Nihangs also known as Akalis or Shahids. What distinguished the contemporary Deras from their counterparts during the Guruship period of the ten Masters is that in the case of the former their founders were/are not related to the Gurus of the mainstream Sikh body nor they claim Guruship over and above the ten Masters. Even in the recent case of Dera Sacha Sauda crisis, its chief had to render a written apology for mimicking the iconography of the tenth Master. However, one factor that seems to draw a similarity between the earlier and the contempopary Derasd is the presence of the institution of Human Guruship in all of them that goes against the very basic spirit and tenets of mainstream Sikhism.
According to a latest study conducted by the Desh Sewak, a daily published from Chandigarh, there would be more than 9 thousand of such Deras in the total 12 thousand villages of Punjab. Among them the most popular Deras are of Radha Soamis sect, Sacha Sauda, Nirankaris, Namdharis, Divya Jyoti Sansthan, Bhaniarawala, and Ravidasis. Almost all of them have their branches in all the districts of the state and in other states of the country as well. Some of them are very popular among the Punjabi Diasporas and have overseas branches in almost all the continents of the world. These Deras claim to be only spiritual organizations and deny formulating any new religion. They said to believe in the oneness of God and do not adhere to a particular faith, though the heads of some of them (Sacha Sauda and Radha Soamis) wear turban and has long beard in the Sikh style. People belonging to various religions like Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity etc can become their members and they need not to relinquish their previous religious identities. Despite their non-sectarian claims some of these Deras are adhered to along caste lines. There is a close connection between the memerbership of some of them and the particular caste groups. “When some caste members are persuaded to join a particular sect offering certain advantages, usually in terms of upward mobility, others of the same caste may also follow. In some cases, of course, the factor of hereditary descent or assumed hereditary descent from the founder of the sect is involved. Namdharis, Bhaniarawala and Ravidasis Deras are of special interest in that they mostly draw on the affliations of those caste groups to which the founders of these sects belonged. In the case of the Namdharis, it was primarily members of the Ramgharia caste, actually a section of the Tarkhan Sikh caste, who were part of this sect. Bhaniarawala Deras are strongholds of the Mazhabis. In the Ravidasis Deras, again a very large majority of their followers belonged to the two main castes – Chamars and Ad Dharmis – of the Dalits in Punjab.
There is a general impression that 80 per cent of the people of Punjab are affiliated with one or the other type of Deras. These Deras can be categorised into Sikh and non-Sikh ones. The non-Sikh Deras (like Sacha Sauda, Radha Soamis, Divya Joyti, Nirankaris, Bhaniarawala) enjoy a large number of followings among the Dalits [SCs and Other Backward Castes (OBCs)] in the state. Thereby, these Deras are also called Dalit Deras. About 70 per cent followers of Sacha Sauda are Dalits. Among its upper caste devotees a large number come from landless farmers or small time cultivators and shopkeepers who feel alienated by the powerful and moneyed leaders of Sikh organizations such as the SGPC. Among the followers of the Radha Soamis sect the estimated strength of the Dalits is more than 50 per cent and majority of them hail from Dalit concentrated districts of Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr, and Hoshiarpur of the Doaba sub-region of Punjab. Similarly among the Deras of the Divya Jyoti Sansthan headed by Ashutosh the participation of the Dalits is much more in comparison to that of the upper castes. The vast majority of the followers of Nirankaris also come from the non-Jats city dwellers castes. Namdhari Deras attract a large number of its followers from the Ramgarhia community – originally Tarkhan (carpenter) caste, a Backward Caste in Punjab.
As far as Jats are concerned majority of them are the followers of Sikh Deras.It is generally believed that almost all the Sikh Deras are headed invariably by Jat Sikhs. It is rare that the head of a Sikh Dera would be a non-Jat Sikh. Even if there would be one he could not be a Dalit at all. At most Dalit Sikhs participation in Sikh Deras is confined only to the narration of the Sikhs’ sacred texts and performing of Kirtan (musical rendering of sacred hymns). Those who perform Kirtan are known as Raagis, and the professional narrators of the sacred texts who read it in a stylized manner are popularly known as Granthis. Majority of the Raagis and Granthis are Dalit Sikhs. Very few Jat Sikhs take up such professions. Bhai Mardana, a Marassi (lower caste), used to play the rabab (musical instrument) for Guru Nanak, the first Master of the founder of the Sikh faith. In the Sikh Deras, Sikh code of coduct is strictly followed and only Gurubani of Guru Granth Sahib is recited. Whereas in the non-Sikh Deras though Gurubani from Guru Granth Sahib is recited but at the same time other sacred texts are also referred to. In non-Sikh Deras idol worship and devotion towards human Guru is not an anathema like that in Sikh theology. It is precisely due to the presence of such non-Sikh traditions (human Guruship) in such Deras that the phenomenon of non-Sikh Deras came to be known what Meeta and Rajivlochan call ‘alternate guru movement in Punjab’.
This ‘alternate guru movement in Punjab’ with its ‘loose syncretistic practices’ throws a formidable challenge to Sikh-Khalsa identity separate from the Hindu. For the neo-conservative Sikhs the Sikh-Khalsa identity has always been under a challenge and is particularly locked in an existential struggle with its two main adversaries: modernity and apostasy. Modernity is considered to be corrupting the young Sikhs who become lackadaisical in their observance of the Khalsa principles advocated by the tenth Master. Though Bhindranwala tried to assert the Sikh-Khalsa identity by taking up cudgel with a dissident sect of the Nirankaris and preaching hatred against the Hindus, but that could not preclude the move of the Dalits towards non-Sikh Deras. These Deras, in fact, pose a more serious challenge to the mainstream Sikhism. It is argued that Dalit Sikhs’ desertion of the Panth and their entry into various non-Sikh Deras is directly related to the over all control of Jats on the various Panthic organizations. Since all the important Sikh/Panthic organizations are under the conrol of the Jats and they are adamant not to share their management with Dalits, Dalits were forced to build their own separate religious organizations or to take refuge in non-Sikh Deras in the state. The followings of these Deras seem to far exceed that of the Golden Temple-based clerical establishment.
It is in this context that confrontration between Deras and the mainstream Sikhism assumes great significance. These Deras, in fact, represent the disillusions of the dispossessed who at one point of time in their life embraced Sikhism in order to escape the taint of untouchability that was adhered to them in the Hindu social order. However, since their conversion into Sikhism failed to liberate them from the scar of the untouchabilty, they turn towards no-Sikh Deras that offer them perhaps better place. In other words the entry of Dalit Sikhs into various non-Sikh Deras in Punjab represent their social dissent and disillusionment with the Sikh religion Their social dissent propels them to seek a sense of personal worth by getting enrolled into one or other of such Deras. The dynamics of dissent and seeking personal worth through affliations with the Deras is what that made these Deras very popular and consequently brought them into steep confrontation with the long established mainstream Sikh religion in Punjab.
In a recent case of confrontation between the Akalis and the Premis of the Dera Sacha Sauda, the Akalis tried to suppress the dissent through the use of violence and with the help of the state machinery. The Akalis also tried to win back some of their lost followers to the Dera Sacha Sauda, as most newspapers have reported, through forceful re-coversion. But social dissent cannot be simply wiped out either by re-conversion or by the sheer use of force legitimate or otherwise. Forceful suppression of social dissent rather turns it more aggressive. The very Sikh religion is a case in point. It rose in opposition to the rotten evils of caste and gender discrimination, and mindless religious persecution. The dispossessed soon joined its ranks. Untold atrocities against the Gurus and their followers failed to dampen its spirit. Instead, it got further strengthened. However, of late the evil of caste system against which it launched a tirade became its achilles’ heel. The sheen of its egalitarian agenda started becoming dim. It is at this juncture that the non-Sikh Deras enters into socio-religious territories of Punjab. They took on the same agenda of egalitarianism rather more vigorously that used to be an integral part of Sikhism in its pre Misl period. The promise of true egalitarianism pushed both Hindu and Sikh Dalits towards these Deras who feel alienated by the apartheid that pervaded rural Punjab. Since majority of their followers belonged to Dalits of different nomenclatures, these Deras came to be identified alongwith the traditional caste divisions in the state. It seems that all the non-Sikh deras are known as Dalit Deras and the Sikh Deras are called Jat Deras. Thus, it is safe to say that caste underscores the very composition of the various Sikh as well as non- Sikh Deras in Punjab. Thus the real bone of contention in the recent clashes between Akalis of various nomenclatures and the Premis of the Dera Sacha Sauda in Punjab is not just over religion, but caste, which exploded the myth of casteless Sikh society in the state on the one hand and challenged the hegemony of the Sikh-Khalsa identity on the other.
The violent clashes in Punjab are more about identity confrontation between Jats (a former marginal community that has successfully overcomed its lower social status) and Dalits (a contemporary marginal community that failed miserably to do the same). They, in fact, reveal what the Dalits seems to have been struggling for over the last few decades in the contemporary Punjab, probably used to bother the Jats also earlier in the state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, what makes the case of the Jats as an ex-marginal community rather different from that of the Dalits was their being a clean Shudra and free from the taint of untouchability. On the contrary, Dalits were known as unclean shudras whose very touch and sigh were considered to be polluting precisely because of their occupational closeness to the polluting articles. Another factor that might have helped the Jats to overcome their lower status was their corporate social mobility affected through their group conversion into Sikh religion. Moreover yet another factor that might have helped them improve their social status was the absence of sharp contradictions between them and the then upper caste community of the Khatris in the state. Khatris, unlike Jats in the case of social mobility of Dalits, did not oppose the Jats in their attempts towards upward social mobility. On the contrary, the impoving socio-economic position of the Jats perhaps suited Khatris the most in their commercial interests.
However, in contemporary Punjab Dalits find themselves in quite different situation from that of the Jats duing the formative period of their social mobility. First of all, Dalits’ case differs clearly from that of the Jats in the sense that major gap lies between the ‘shudra’ status of the Dalits and that of the Jats. Though Jats were considered Shudras and lower Vaishyas in the medieval times, their social ranking was still much higher in comparision to that of the Dalits who were further pushed down on the social scale of the Hindu caste hierarchy. Jats were Shudras because of their profession, so were the Dalits. But the profession (agriculture) of the Jats was placed on a higher scale in the Hindu caste hierarchy in comparision to that of the Dalits, who were considered polluted as well as polluting because of their professional closeness to the carrion, human excreta and leatherwork. Enough references are available in the literatures on social mobility indicating the importance assigned to the profession of agriculture for uplifting the status of the marginalized groups. So much so that some of the Dalits opted for agricultural labour work in order to escape the social taint caused by their polutted professions. Thus inspite of the Jats and Dalits being both Shudras they belonged to two different status groups within the same broader category (Shudras) in the Hindu social hierarchy.
The Jats of Punjab are primarily an agriculture community. There is no consensus among the scholars about their origins and social rankings. However, they were considered to be egalitarian in their social dealings among themselves. Social hierarchies were alien to them. So was the gender discrimination. They were neither artisans nor menials. Since they were primarily first pastoral and then agriculturalists, they cannot surely be clubbed together with the categories of the artisans and the menials who were distinctly characterized by the ancillary nature of their hereditary professions to agriculture. Jats were also known as pagans who fall beyond the pale of the Hindu religion. Their placement within the Varna system is also disputed. Since every profession that involves physical work is generally consigned into a lower status within the Brahminical Social Order (BSO), the profession of agriculture was not an exception. In fact, in the BSO polughing was considered to be below the status of the upper castes. An upper caste often prefers to die of starvation than to touch the plough that lowers his social status in the rigid caste hierarchy. The fourth Varna (the lowest), popularly known as Shudra, consisted primarily of the artisan and the menial castes. Similarly there is no doubt about the profile of the first (priest), second (soldiers), and the third (traders) Varnas. However, as far as Jats (agricultural caste) were concerned they were not clearly categorized in the Varna order. Their erstwhile social exclusion was based more on the unique social traditions and customs that they followed than on the polluting nature of their profession. Another factor that made the life of the Dalits further miserable was the fact that they were deprived of land ownership. So in an agrarian economy they were forced to depend for their livelihood by working on the land of some one else. That posited them in direct confrontation with the Jats – the dominant land owning caste in Punjab. Unlike the case of Jats versus Khatris in the eighteenth century, the Dalits in contemporary Punjab are entangled with the Jats in a face-to-face contradiction in the sector of agriculture. Their relationship with the Jats is that of landlords versus landless agricultural workers. Despite their largest proportion in the population of the state in the country (29 percent [2001 census]), they own just 2.34 percent share in the agricultural land, the lowest in the country. Their share in the trade, industry, financial sector, health, and religious establishments in the state is also almost negligible. It is in this context that the Jats (the landholders), and the Dalits (the landless agricultural workers) find themselves in a situation of direct confrontation.
However, there are many Dalits in the state who have improved their economic conditions by dissociating from their caste occupations and distancing them from the profession of agriculture. They have strengthened their economic position through sheer hard work and enterprise. Although the constitutional affirmative action played an important role in the upliftment of the Dalits in general, the monopoly of the Punjabi Dalits of the leather business in the famous Boota Mandi in the Doaba sub-region of the state and their ventures abroad turned out to be of crucial importance in overcoming their economic hardships. Some of them have established their own small-scale servicing units [carpentry, barber, blacksmith shops etc. In addition, they have also been politicized to a large extant by the socio-political activities of the famous Ad Dharm movementand of the various Ravidass Deras (religious centers dedicated to the teachings and philosophy of Guru Ravidass). In this case they have not only improved their economic status, but have also liberated themselves from the subordination of the Jat landowners. Consequently, their improved economic circumstances propelled them to aspire for a commensurate social status, which they seek through their memberships of the alternate non-Sikh Deras.
Thus armed with the weapon of improved economic conditions and sharpened social consciousness, the Dalits in Punjab mustered enough strength to ask for a concomitant rise in their social status. They also turn towards various Deras that help them in seeking new and respectable social identity they are terribaly in need of. However, the Jats interpreted such Dalit assertion as a challenge to their long established supremacy in the state and also to their Sikh-Khalsa identity that in turn sharpened the contradictions between them and the Dalits. This has led to a series of violent caste conflicts between the Dalits and the Jats in Punjab over the last few years. Such conflicts are in no way a manifestation of communalism in the state. They are, In fact, signs of emerging Dalit assertion, which has all the possibilities of snowballing into a serious violent conflict.
Mayawati, the BSP supremo, sworn in as 40th Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on May 13, 2007. This is the second socio-cultural revolution in the history of Uttar Pradesh where during the medieval Bhakti movement Guru Ravi Dass, an untouchable poet-saint of very high repute, convinced the Brahmins that it was not caste but ones deeds which are important. Brahmins and Rajput Kings prostrated before him and Ranis and Maharanis of the then rulers and the rulers themselves became his followers. It seems that history was repeating itself when Brahmins and Thakurs among others were touching the feet of BSP supremo Mayawati during the swearing-in ceremony of the new cabinet at Lucknow. Once again Mayawati has proved that hollow prestige based on birth when put on trial in the democratic court of social justice failed to stand any more. But proving that is much easier said than done.
Guru Ravi Dass fought a relentless battle against his tormentors who were adopting all fair and foul tactics to prevent him from entering into the mainstream of the social space.He unleashed a frontal attack on the long tradition of social oppression and untouchability. He took the battle right into the capital of the Brahmanical Social Order (BSO) and lay bare its fraudulent social structure. He employed Bhakti (loving devotion) as a method of protest against social exclusion. In his Bhakti he laid emphasis on compassion for all and absolute faith in God. His method was very daring and noble. He choose to challenge his tormentors by adopting the iconography of their dress code as a symbol of revolt which was not only highly objectionable but was equally deadly for a Shudra of his times. He rejected all forms of religious rituals and sectarian formalities. He challenged the tyranny of Brahmins and defied them by wearing Dhoti (cloth wrapped around the waist), Janeue (sacred thread) and Tilak (sacred red mark on forehead) that were forbidden for the untouchables. Though he attired himself like an upper caste, he did not hide his caste. He continued with his hereditary occupation of making/mending shoes. While adopting the prohibited dress and symbols of the upper castes, and at the same time sticking to his hereditary occupation he, probably, tried to show how lower castes could achieve their human rights without compromising with their separate Dalit identity. His Bhakti method of social protest reflected the democratic and egalitarian traits of his social philosophy. When challenged in their own estate and even in their own fiefdom of Bhakti, Brahmins had no option but to participate in a debate on the shastras thrown open by the Kashi Naresh (King). As Chandrabhan Prasad argues, “Ravidas’s genius found no match. The pandits turned pale, bending before the saint in recognition of his greatness. The saint rode the royal chariot through the lanes of Kashi, the King standing by his side. That was the Dalits’ first war of independence. Kashi was secured. The cow belt Brahmins never recovered from the shock, and were forced to reconcile to the Dalits’ cerebral superiority”.
History was repeated on May 13, 2007. The place was Lucknow, the current capital of power in UP. And the star of the battle was Mayawati. To be more precise this time the battle was not around the shastras but about the numbers in the game of electoral politics. To win in such a fierce modern battle is to prove ones metal. And more so when you have been fighting while sharing the chariot with the ones who were very recently sitting in your opposite camp. Mayawati did very well. She proved her metal and turned victorious. She has reinforced the ‘cerebral superiority’ of the Dalits once again. It is in this context that her grand success in the recently concluded assembly election in Uttar Pradesh can be considered as the second socio-cultural revolution in the heartland of the varnashram order. Mayawati has provided a single-party government after more than 16 years breaking the whirlpool of coalition politics in UP. In fact, Mayawati put an end to coalition politics and ushered into an era of "Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim-Thakur-Vaishya-Bhumihar-OBCs" sarvjan combined rule. This new form of "combined rule of sarvjan" under the leadership of the Dalits is certainly an advancement not only over the tight rope walk of the coalition system that India has been experiencing for the last many years, but also a new beginning of the coming of the marginalized into the center stage of power politics.
Mayawati's Dalit-Brahmin thesis and her emphasis on "sarv samaj" coupled with the social engineering formula would facilitate in laying down parameters for the mitigation of the gap between what Baba Sahib Dr. Ambedkar said "political equality and social and economic inequality" in India. In other words, this new system of‘sarvjan combined rule’ would certainly help in deepening of the roots of democracy in India and inculcating positive feelings among the downtrodden that they too matter in this land where they were for centuries kept socially excluded, politically marginalized and economically deprived. Now they feel encouraged to come forward not to plead or ask for favors because they were neglected but because they are able to provide leadership to safely steer the ship to its destination. It was vividly clear from the oath taking ceremony dais where Smt. Mayawati was occupying the front seat followed by Pandit S.C. Mishra, general secretary of BSP. Is it not really a revolution in Brahmin dominated social set-up in India where they have agreed to not only sit behind Dalits but also to touch their feet? Imagine this even a few years before! Mayawati is absolutely right when she said that behind her great victory lays the philosophy of Phule, Naryana Guru, Periyar, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, and Babu Kanshi Ram. In fact, it is she who tried to put this philosophy into action and translated it into reality.
Whether the Savarnas were falling at the feet of Mayawati out of gratitude or of political expediency is not the point. The real point is that by putting the Brahmins and Thakurs in line and commanding respect, Mayawati has been able to evaporate the Laxman Rekha of Varnashramdharma. She has set the ball of self-respect and dignity of the so-called Avarnas rolling. She has brought the Savarnas and Avarnas on a single platform, of course, led by her. What is even more important is that she achieved all this through democratic way without firing a single shot. And people of all sorts (read castes) stood by her in her battle against social repression and jungle rule. In fact, this is not in any case less than a social revolution. This revolution needs to be replicated in other parts of the country too, if India really wants to shine as a world power in near future. If India wants to march ahead, social exclusion has to be ended first. Untouchability is not a problem of the Shudras only; it is a number one problem of the entire Indian society. It needs to be tackle immediately. Baba Sahib Dr. B.R. Ambedkar sounded a grave warning on November 25, 1949 in the Constituent Assembly on the completion of the Draft Constitution: “On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality… We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so labouriously built up”. Mayawati has fired the first shot. The struggle has to continue.
BSP Supremo Mayawati sworn in as 40th Chief Minister
of the state Uttar Pardesh
On May 13, 2007 BSP supremo Mayawati sworn in as 40th Chief Minister of the State (UP) that is going to play a decisive role in the forth coming presidential election. She has privided a single-party government after more than 16 years breaking the whirlpool of coalition politics in UP. In fact, Mayawati put an end to coalition politics and ushered into an era of "Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim-Thakur-Vaishya-Bhumihar-OBCs" sarvjan combined rule. This new form of "combined rule of sarvjan" under the leadership of the Dalits is cetrtainly an advancement not only over the tight rope walk of the coalition system India has been experencing for the last many years, but also a new begining of the coming of the marginalized into the centre stage of power politics. Mayawati's Dalit-Brahmin thesis and her emphasis on "sarv samaj" combined with the social engineering formula would facilate in layingdown parameters for the mitigation of gap between what Baba Sahib Dr. Ambedkar said "political equality and social and economic inequality" in India. In other words, this new system of combined rule would certainly help in deepening of the roots of democracy in India and inculcatinig positive feelings among the downtrodden that they too matter in this land where they were for centuries kept socially excluded, politically marginalized and economically deprived. Now they feel incouraged to come forward not to plead or ask for favours because they were neglected but because they are able to provide leadership to safely steer the ship to its destination. It was vivdly clear from the oath taking ceremony dias where Smt. Mayawati was occupaying the front seat followed by Pandit S.C.Mishra, general secretary of BSP. Is it not really a revolution in Brahmin dominated social set-up in India where they have agreed to not only sit behind Dalits but also to touch their feet! Imagine this even a few years before! Here Mayawati is absolutely right when she said that behind all this the philosophy of Phule, Naryana Guru, Periyar, Dr. Ambedkar, and Babu Kanshi Ram has been playing the determinant role. And it is she who has put it into action and translated it into reality. In her 49-member Ministry 19 Ministers are of cabinet rank, 21 ministers of state (independent charge)and 9 ministers of state. The caste composition of her cabinet is: three Brahmins, one Muslim, one Thakur, one Bhumihar, one Vaishya, four Scheduled Casdtes and eighy OBCs.Cabinet ministers are: Naseeruddin Siddiqui, Ramveer Upadhyaya, Inderajit Saroj, Lalji Verma, Thakur Jaiveer Singh, Sukhdev Rajbhar, Swami Prasad Maurya, Ved Ram Bhati, Laxmi Narain, Rakesh Dhar Tripathi, Babu Singh Kushwaha, Jai Narain Rai, Phagu Chauhan, Nakul Dubey, Daddoo Prasad, Narain Singh, Sudhir Goel, Ram Prasad Chaudhary and Dharam Singh Saini.
The victory of the BSP in UP has shown the way to power to those who were being denied for centuries. Power game has its own grammer. It seems the followers of Babu Kanshi Ram are now not too late to master it. BSP supremo, Mayawati has proved it. She has meticulously worked out the dynamics of number game. She has not only convinced her own people that united they win and divided they loose, but has also established her credentials among the dwijas who uptill very recently were opposed tooth and nail to the coming of Dalits in to the public sphere. What is even more important is that the people of UP are convinced that if any political party can provide them relief from the mounting atrocities of the erswhile establishment it is the BSP under the strong leadership of the Madam Mayawati. They reposed confidence in her leadership and brought her into power to bring rule of law as well as justice in the beleaguered state of UP. Many are keeping the fingers crossed as to how Madam Mayawati would be able to make a balance between the Dalit emancipatory agenda of the BSP and the political expedency of her power politics. It seems, given her acumen and dexterity in politics, she would be able to tell the world that Dalits are now come of age and that Delhi is not too far from them.Once again Congrats to all of you.
Ronki Ram (Dr.), Dept. of Political Science,Panjab University, Chandigarh, India Cell: +91 987 286 1290.
Posted on May 11th, 2007 ===================================================================
SPECIAL ARTICLE ON 27TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY
BABU MANGOO RAM AND EMANCIPATION
OF THE DALITS
RONKI RAM (DR.)
DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE PANJAB UNIVERSITY, CHANDIGARH. (INDIA)
Babu Mangoo Ram, a renouned revolutionary and founder of the Ad Dharm movement in Punjab was born at Mugowal, a village in the district of Hoshiarpur, on 14th January 1886.His forefathers were practising the occupation of tanning raw hides.However, his father, Harnam Dass, had abandoned the traditional caste-based occupation of tanning and preparing hides, and taken up the profession of selling the tanned leather on commercial basis.Since the leather trade required the knowledge of English language to read the sale orders, he was eager to have Mangoo Ram receive education to free him from the begar (forced labour), which he had to do in lieu of English orders read for him by the upper caste literates.Initially, Mangoo Ram was taught by a village Sadhu (Saint), then after studying at different schools he joined a high school at Bajwara, a town few miles away from his home.Being a chamar, he had to sit separately from the other upper caste students.In fact, he used to take a gunny bag from his home for sitting in a segregated place outside the classroom.In 1905 Mangoo Ram left the high school to help his father in leather trade.For three years he helped his father develop leather trade into a thriving business.However, in 1909 he left for America to follow into the footsteps of his peer group in the Doaba region.
Interestingly enough even in America Mangoo Ram had to work on the farms of a Punjabi Zamindar who had settled in California. In other words, even in America he had to experience the same relations of production as back home in India. How a shudra immigrant worker, who works on the land of an Indian upper caste landlord settled abroad, feels and experiences work conditions and its resultant relations of production is an altogether a separate question.However, while in California, Mangoo Ram came in close contact with the Ghadar Movement - a radical organisation aimed at liberating India from the British rule through armed insurrection.In fact, he participated in the weapon smuggling mission of the organisation.He was arrested and given the capital punishment but was saved from the death sentence by a chance as someone else in his name was executed. The news of his supposed death reached his village.According to the tradition of his community, his widow, named Piari married his elder brother.Mangoo Ram, on reaching India, remarried and had four sons from his second wife named Bishno.
After his return from abroad where he spent as many as sixteen years, Mangoo Ram did not find any change in Indian society that was still infested with the disease of untouchability. He said
While living abroad, said Mangoo Ram, I had forgotten about the hierarchy of high and low, and untouchability; and under this very wrong impression returned home in December 1925. The same misery of high and low, and untouchability, which I had left behind to go abroad, started afflicting again. I wrote about all this to my leader Lala Hardyal Ji that until and unless this disease is cured Hindustan could not be liberated. In accordance with his orders, a program was formulated in 1926 for the awakening and upliftment of Achhut qaum (untouchable community) of India.
Having settled in his native village, he opened up a school for the lower caste children in the village.Initially, the school was opened up, temporarily in the garden of Risaldar Dhanpat Rai, a landlord of his village.Later on, Lamberdar Beeru Ram Sangha, another landlord of the same village, donated half-acre land for the purpose of formally opening up the school.The school had five teachers including Mangoo Ram. One of the teachers of the school was a Muslim, Walhi Mohammad and one was Brahmin, who was later on converted into a Shudra. The conversion ceremony comprised of an earthen pot (Douri), which contained water mingled with sugar balls (Patasha) and stirred with leather cutting tool (Rambi). Thus the prepared sweet water considered as holy was given to Brahmins to baptize them into Shudras (Interview with Chatter Sain, 27 April 2001).Now a days, the school land has been declared as Shamlat (common land), and no remnants of the building exist except the old dilapidated structure of the well meant for drinking water in the school.It was in that school that the first official meeting of the Ad Dharm movement was held on June 11-12, 1926. There is another version about the school that traced its origin to the support provided by the Arya Samaj.However, given his close association with the Ghadar movement in California, Mangoo Ram’s relationships with the Arya Samaj was not as close as that of Vasant Rai, Thakur Chand and Swami Shudranand.Moreover, his personal experience of being treated as an equal in America, particularly by his fellow Ghadarites, inculcated in him an intense desire and inspiration for equality and social justice. This led him to lay the foundation of the Ad Dharm movement to streamline the struggle against untouchability.Soon he emerged as a folk-hero of the dalits who started rallying around him, particularly in the dalit concentrated areas of the Doaba region.However, after a while the Ad Dharm organisation got factionalised resulting in a split in 1929 into two groups: one headed by Vasant Rai and the other by Mangoo Ram. There emerged two independent organisations: the Ad Dharm Mandal with its office in Jalandhar was headed by Mangoo Ram and the All Indian Ad Dharm Mandal with its headquarters in Lyalpur was headed by Vasant Rai. The All India Ad Dharm Mandal got disbanded and merged with the organisation led by Dr Ambedkar in 1933 and after some years the same fate fell on Ad Dharm of Mangoo Ram, who closed the office of the Ad Dharm Mandal and changed its name to Ravidass Mandal. However, close associates of the Ad Dharm movement contested this observation.They said that Ad Dharm Mandal was not changed into Ravidass Mandal.In fact, later on, RavidassSchool was opened up in the premises of the Ad Dharm Mandal building.So it was RavidassSchool, which merely came to occupy the space of the Ad Dharm Mandal building rather than its being taken over by Ravidass Mandal. (Interviews with: late Chanan Lal Manak, Jalandhar, May 29, 2001; K.C. Shenmar I.G. (P) Pb. (retd.) Chandigarh, April 28, 2001).
The Vasant Rai group of the Ad Dharm Mandal was thoroughly soaked into the ideology of the Arya Samaj.In fact this group was lured back by the Arya Samaj. Although the Arya Samaj dominated section of Ad Dharm Mandal withdrew itself from the Mangoo Ram’s group in 1929, the latter played an active part in the politics of Punjab for a period of two decades from 1926 to 1952.
Mangoo Ram set a clear agenda for the emancipation of the Dalits and their upliftment. The agenda was: restore their lost indigenous religion and provide them with a sense of self-respect and dignity. The method to achieve this agenda was: cultural transformation and spiritual regeneration. Mangoo Ram was not in favour of embracing any other existing religion. He was in favour of strengthening the Adi (the original) religion of the indigenous people of this country. His views on Hindu religion were very clear. He was of the opinion that since Dalits were not born Hindu where is the need to leave that religion and to embrace some other one. Mangoo Ram thought it appropriate to empower Dalits by carving out a separate Dalit identity on the basis of their indigenous religious strength (Ad Dharm).
In the poster announcing the first annual meeting of Ad Dharm Movement, Mangoo Ram devoted the entire space to the hardships faced by the untouchables at the hands of the caste Hindus. He also made an appeal to the Achhuts to come together to chalk out a program for their liberation and upliftment while addressing the Chamars, Chuhras, Sansis, Bhanjhras, Bhils etc. as brothers, he said,
We are the real inhabitants of this country and our religion is Ad Dharm. Hindu Qaum came from outside to deprive us of our country and enslave us. At one time we reigned over ‘Hind’. We are the progeny of kings; Hindus came down from Iran to Hind and destroyed our qaum. They deprived us of our property and rendered us nomadic. They razed down our forts and houses, and destroyed our history. We are seven Crores in numbers and are registered as Hindus in this country. Liberate the Adi race by separating these seven crores. They (Hindus) became lord and call us ‘others’. Our seven crore number enjoy no share at all. We reposed faith in Hindus and thus suffered a lot. Hindus turned out to be callous. Centuries ago Hindus suppressed us sever all ties with them. What justice we expect from those who are the butchers of Adi race. Time has come, be cautious, now the Government listens to appeals. With the support of sympathetic Government, come together to save the race. Send members to the Councils so that our qaum is strengthened again. British rule should remain forever. Make prayer before God. Except for this Government, no one is sympathetic towards us. Never consider us Hindus at all, remember that our religion is Ad Dharm.
The way, the leaders of Ad Dharm chose to restore dignity and freedom to the untouchables was to completely detach them from Hinduism and to consolidate them into their own ancient religion - Ad Dharm - of which they had become oblivious during the age-old domination by the ‘alien Hindus’. In fact, the task of the revival of their ancient religion was not an easy one by virtue of the fact that during a long period of persecution at the hands of the Savarnas, the untouchables had forgotten their Gurus and other religious symbols. In fact they were never allowed to nurture an aspiration to have their own independent religion. They were condemned as profane and were declared unfit to have their own theology. Thus to revive Ad Dharm was tantamount to developing an altogether a new religion for the Achhuts. Mangoo Ram’s appeal that the Dalits were the real inhabitants of this land made an enormous psychological impact on the untouchables who were treated as, even inferior to animals in Indian society. The appeal inspired them to come out of their slumber and fight for their freedom and liberty. The Ad Dharm provided a theological podium to sustain and reinforce the new Dalit identity. For centuries, they were bereft of any identity and remained in the appendage of the hierarchically graded Hindu society.
Before 1920’s, especially before the rise of Ad Dharm movement, the untouchables in Punjab hardly envisaged the idea of seeking a separate identity. The growing communal politics and resultant unrest within Punjab in the 1920’s coupled with the emergence of Dalit organisations in different parts of the country, offered them a good opportunity to carve out such an identity. In the pre-partition Punjab, untouchables constituted one-fourth of the total population. Since scheduled castes did not have their separate religion, they were being counted as Hindus. In a system of communal representation, Muslim leaders were thinking that the Achhuts, who were never considered as equal by the caste Hindus, should be separated from them and equally divided between the Hindus and Muslims.
It was not only Muslims who alone had such an approach, even the Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus also wanted to absorb them into their respective religion for political benefits. In the absence of any other alternative open to them, a large number of the Achhuts of Punjab converted into Christianity (especially the chuhras of Sialkot and Gurdaspur), Sikhism (in Sialkot and Gurdaspur), and Islam (Rawalpindi, Multan and Lahore division).
Consequently, the Hindus in the province had been reduced from 43.8% in 1881 to 30.2% in 1931 while the Sikhs increased from 8.2% to 14.3% and the Muslims from 40.6% to about 52% and in the British territory the population of the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims in 1931 was 26.80%, 12.99% and 56.4% respectively (Census of India, 1931, Vol. xvii, Punjab Part i, p. 291).
Obviously, it alarmed the Arya Samaj to put an end to the conversions of Achhuts lest it turned out as a political suicide for Hindus. Lala Lajpat Rai’s “Achhut Udhar Mandal” at Lahore, Swami Ganesh Dutt’s “Antyaj Udhar Mandal” at Lahore and Lala Devi Chand’s “Dayanad Dalit Udhar Mandal” at Hoshiarpur came up in response to these conversions.As a matter of fact, the Arya Samaj started Shuddhi campaign to bring the converted Achhuts back into the Hindu-fold. This also brought the Arya Samaj into confrontation with the Sikhs and the Muslims. “In a famous incident in 1900, Sikhs rebelled at the Arya Samaj’s practice of publicly shaving lower caste Sikhs and offering them Shuddhi”.
It was at this stage that Ad Dharm entered into the volatile territories of communal politics in Punjab.
The emancipatory project launched by Mangoo Ram inspired the lower castes to make efforts for their upliftment. Ad Dharm posited emphasis on the social equality of the Dalits and stressed on creating social and cultural awakening amog them. Ad Dharm movement aimed at securing a distinct identity for the dalits, independent both of the Hindu and Sikh religions. Sikhs and Hindus treated the dalits discriminately. But at times of counting their strategic strength they project the dalits as if they belonged to them. The central motif of the Ad Dharm movement was to highlight that untouchables constitute a qaum (Community), a distinct religious community similar to those of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and that the qaum had existed from time immemorial On this account the Ad Dharm movement resembles the other Adi movements, which consider the low castes as the original inhabitants of India who had been subjugated by the Aryans. The Aryans, they allege came from outside and established their rule and made them subservient to them. The Ad Dharm movement aimed at making the dalits realise that they have three powers: Communal pride (Qaumiat), Religion (Mazhab) and Organisation (Majlis). All these three powers of the untouchables were lying buried under the burden of untouchability. Mangoo Ram, the founder of Ad Dharm movement exhorted the untouchables to come forward to assert for their rights through building on these three main sources of their power.
During the 1931 census, Ad Dharm movement succeeded in registering a large number of low castes in Punjab as Ad Dharmis separate from Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In the 1931 Punjab census, a total of 418,789 persons reported themselves as Ad Dharmis almost equal to that of the Christian population of the region. Since the centerof the Ad Dharm movement was in Doaba region, nearly eighty percent of the lower castes of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts reported themselves as Ad Dharmis (ibid.:77). It was for the first time in the history of lower castes that they had come forward to officially declare themselves as separate and independent of the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim religions. This was, perhaps, the beginning of the dalit assertion in North India. It got further impetus in the first election that took place in 1937 after the promulgation of the Government of India Act of 1935. Ad Dharm Mandal contested election in all the eight reserved seats and won all except one. In the 1945-46, Punjab Legislative Assembly elections on the eve of independence Ad Dharm also registered its presence by contesting in alliance with the Unionist Party. Mangoo Ram, the founder of Ad Dharm was one of the elected candidates.
Ad Dharm movement was instrumental not only in helping the lower castes to get registered as a distinct religion in the 1931 census and providing them the platform to enter into the State Legislature, it also went a long way in bringing a cultural transformation in their life. In fact, Ad Dharm movement, as has been mentioned above, aimed at facilitating a cultural transformation in the life of lower castes that, under the impact of the centuries old system of degradation, had actually internalised a sense of being low and polluted. Mangoo Ram wanted to liberate them from such a state of mind and also to inculcate in them the feeling of dignity and self respect whereby they could start thinking about them as equal to the so-called twice-born people. Report of the Ad Dharm Mandal, 1926-1931 lists a number of moral principles and duties, which the followers of the Ad Dharm are required to adhere to for creating spiritual regeneration and cultural transformation in their lives. Among the most important moral principles and the duties mentioned in the report are:
The basic principles listed in the Report are: (1) The essential teachings of the Ad Dharm will always be the same: no one can change them. They can stay alive and persist only through the help of a guru. (2) Every man and woman belongs to the faith, but they may not know it. To live without a guru is a sin. (3) A guru should be someone who truly and rightly knows the teachings of the previous masters. He should be able to distinguish between falsehood and truth. He should be able to bring peace and love within the community. (4) Everyone should be instructed by the lives of previous masters; progress comes from following the masters’ examples. The practices of previous masters should not be abandoned. This leads to progress. (5) There should not be any discrimination in regard to eating with other castes. (6) Ad Dharmis should abstain from theft, fraud, lies, dishonesty, looking at someone else’s wife with bad intentions, using anything which brings intoxication, gambling, and usurping other persons’ property or belongings. All of these things are against the law of nature and therefore the law of Ad Dharm. (7) Every Ad Dharmi has the duty to teach his children current knowledge and also to teach them to be obedient to the present king. (8) Every Ad Dharmi should read the Ad Prakash and act upon it. This is a foremost duty. (9) Ad Dharm does not believe in the caste system or any inferiority or superiority of this sort. (10) To learn and seek knowledge, and to learn and seek progress is compulsory for every man and woman.
The twelve duties mentioned in the Report are as follows: (1) to publicize and propagate Ad Dharm. (2) To take pride in Ad Dharm. (3) To promote the use of name of the community and to use the red mark, this is its sign. (4) Ad Dharmis should try to retrieve any property of fellow Ad Dharmi that has been usurped. (5) We should distinguish among Hindus, Ad Dharmis, and other communities of India. (6)Those books, which have created the problem of untouchability and led to discrimination - books such as the Laws of Manu and other Shastras – should be completely boycotted and abandoned. (7) We should celebrate the festivals of our gurus and follow our faith to the utmost. (8) Abandon idolatry. (9) Receive education for ourselves and others in the brotherhood. (10) Boycott those who curse us as “untouchables” or discriminate against us. (11) Bring all demands of Ad Dharmis before the government. (12) Abandon expensive marriage and practice of child marriage.
The fifty-six commandments included in the Report are: (1) Each Ad Dharmi should know everything about the faith. (2) For the betterment and salvation of one’s body – physical and spiritual – one should recite the word soham. (3) Each Ad Dharmi should remember Guru Dev for half an hour each morning or evening. (4) When Ad Dharmis meet, their greeting should be “jai Guru Dev.” (5) We should be true followers of the founders, Rishi Valmiki, Guru Ravi Das, Maharaj Kabir, and Bhagwan Sat Guru Nam Dev. (6) a guru is necessary, one who knows about previous gurus and has all the capabilities of being a guru. (7) The wife of a guru should be regarded as one’s mother, the guru’s daughter as one’s sister. (8) Devotion to one’s wife should be a part of one’s faith, for therein lies salvation. (9) Every Ad Dharmi should abstain from theft, fraud, lies, dishonesty, and usurping the property of others. (11) One should not cause someone else heartache. There is no worse sin than this. (12) Every Ad Dharmi should enthusiastically participate in Ad Dharmi festivals and rituals. (13) There should be equally great happiness at the birth of both boys and girls. (14) After the age of five, every boy and girl should be given proper religious teaching. (15) Extravagant expenses at weddings are useless. Every marriage should be conducted according to rituals of our tradition. (16) Ad Dharmis should marry only Ad Dharmis. To marry someone outside Ad Dharm is not legal, but if someone does marry an outsider, he or she should be brought into the faith. (17) All Ad Dharmis, both men and women, should be obedient to their parents. (18) After the death of both parents it is the duty of each Ad Dharmi to cook food and distribute it among the poor. (19) The dead should be cremated, except for those under the age of five, who should be buried. (20) Ad Dharmis do not follow any other lawexcept their own. (21) In the Ad Dharm faith only one marriage is allowed, but a husband may marry after the death of his wife. Also, if the first wife does not bear children, the husband may take another wife, provided he has the consent of the first wife. If this happens, the first wife remains a legal wife, with all the rights she had before. (22) Ad Dharmis should marry their children to the Ad Dharmis of the surrounding areas. (23) A girl should be more than twelve years old at the time of the marriage. The boy should be four years older than the girl. (24) It is illegal to receive money for a bride; on the other hand, there should not be a dowry. Those who sell their daughters commit a very great sin. (25) Offerings and sacrifices for prayers should be given only to those holy men who are Ad Dharmi and who have shown themselves to follow Ad Dharmi principles religiously. (26) It is necessary for each Ad Dharmi to provide primary education to both boys and girls. (27) The girls should be educated especially in household work such as sewing and needlework. (28) Young girls and boys should not be sent out to cut grass and gather wood. (29) It is the duty of parents not to allow young widowed daughters to remain in their household, because a young widowed daughter is a cause of disgrace. (30) If an Ad Dharmi widow with children wants to hold a commemoration of her deceased husband, but cannot afford it, then the Ad Dharm Mandal of Jullundur and its members will help her. (31) It is not good to cry and beat oneself at a death or funeral. To do so is to anger Guru Dev. (32) Among the Ad Dharmis sons and daughters should receive an equal inheritance. (33) To eat the meat of a dead animal or bird is against the law of Ad Dharm. (34) To use wine or any other intoxicants is a sin, except in the case of sickness. (35) It is legal to eat food offered at – Ad Dharm marriages, but the food should be decent, and not leftovers. (36) Cleanliness is important. It guaranteed good health. (37) It is forbidden to practice idolatry and worship statues, and one should not believe in magic, ghosts, or anything of the sort. (38) All Ad Dharmis should forget notions of caste and untouchability and work toward the unityof all people in the world. (39) Each Ad Dharmi should help a fellow Ad Dharmi in need. (40) One Ad Dharmi must not work at a place where another Ad Dharmi works until the first Ad Dharmi has been paid his wages. (41) If Ad Dharmis enter into a dispute with one another, they should attempt to come to some agreement by themselves or within the community. If no agreement is accomplished, they should refer the case to the Ad Dharm Mandal, Jullundur, and the Executive Committee will take action. (42) Ad Dharmis should open shops and business in every village. (43) Every Ad Dharmi should be a missionary for the faith. (44) Ad Dharmis should call themselves such and register in the census as “Ad Dharmi”. (45) A Red turban on the head is mandatory, for it is the color of our ancestors. (46) Every Ad Dharmi should work hard for the progress and peace of the community. (47) Ad Dharmis hould organize themselves into cadres called martyrdom cells. They should work hard on the Ad Dharm’s projects. (48) Each Ad Dharmis hould separate himself form Hindus, Sikhs, and members of other religions. (49) Each Ad Dharmi should be a good citizen, a patriot loyal to the present government, and should follow the law of the land. (50) Ad Dharmis have the obligation to consider the Ad Dharm Mandal of Punjab, city of Jullundur, as their rightful representative, and to recognize that the programs of the AD Dharm are for their benefit. (51) It is the duty of every Ad Dharmi to trust the Ad Dharm Mandal of Jullundur, and to share its work. (52) All local branches of the Ad Dharm should be certified by the Ad Dharm Mandal of Jullundur, and those, which are not certified, should not be considered genuine.(53) All Ad Dharmis should save their fellow Ad Dharmis from fraud and selfishness on the part of other communities. If such a situation arises, the Mandal should be informed. (54) Each Ad Dharmi should report any difficulty concerning the community to the Mandal in Jullundur. (55) Ad Dharmis should subscribe to the qaum’s newspaper, Adi Danka. They should receive it regularly, read it regularly, a nd help support it regularly. (56) Anyone violating the laws of the Ad Dharm or of the guru, or who insults these laws in one way or another, will be liable to punishment, even the greatest punishment – being banished from the community.
The main emphasis of these commandments, principles and duties, in the opinion of Babu Mangoo Ram, was to strengthen the social, cultural and religious life of the Dalits so that it could help them build Dalit Solidarity and empowerm.
Dr. Ambedkar was an iconoclastic social reformer who at the very formative years of his career realized what it meant to be an untouchable and how struggle against untouchability could be launched. The social reform movement of the caste Hindus could not win him to its side because of his existential understanding of the pangs of untouchability.The issue of untouchability, for social reformers, was a mere problem. This problem was exterior to them in the sense that it affects only the untouchables. They themselves had never experienced the sinisterous blows of untouchability.Though they were sympathetic to the cause of Dalits, but they belonged to the camp that imposed this inhuman system of social segregation on the Dalits.
Baba Sahib’s analysis of the origins of the untouchability and his action plans for its eradication were different from the approach and practice of the caste Hindu social reformers. What distinguished Baba Sahib from the other social reformers was that he looked at the problems of the Dalits from below, from a vantage point of the deprived and oppressed.This perspective led him to think differently from the dominant stream of social and political thought of his time.His major works on: Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development; Annihilation of Caste; Who Were the Shudras; The Untouchables: Who Were TheyandWhy They Became Untouchables? are testimonies to his independent and original thinking.He smashed the mythological basis of untouchability and laid bare its economic roots. He built a strong case against the ‘Janam’ (birth) thesis of the untouchability which foreclosed all the ways for Dalit emancipation.He exhorted its victims to oppose it tooth and nail.He said, “It is disgraceful to live at the cost of one’s self respect.Self-respect is most vital factor in life.Without it, man is a mere cipher. To live worthily with self-respect one has to overcome difficulties.It is out of hard and ceaseless struggle alone that one derives strength, confidence and recognition”. He drew a distinction between merely living and living worthily.For living a worthy life, Ambedkar said, society must be based on liberty, equality and fraternity. For Ambedkar, social tyranny is more oppressive than the political tyranny and “a reformer who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies government”
Ambedkar was one who defied society.In the beginning of his social reform crusade, he tried to get respect and equality for the Dalits by bringing reforms within the social set up of Hinduism.He continued his struggle for empowerment of the Dalits by seeking changes within the fold of Hinduism till 1935.When he realized that the salvation of Dalits was not possible while living within the fold of Hinduism, he started his scathing criticism and tirade against Hinduism and ultimately sought the emancipation of Dalits and its empowerment from outside the Hindu religion. Hence his conversion to Buddhism.For Ambedkar the issue of Dalit liberation was the foremost issue and he emphasized that Dalits themselves have to come forward for its realization. Thus, Ambedkar provided a subaltern perspective to see clearly the chameleon of Indian caste-ridden social set-up deceptively appearing in crimson colors and the ways to guard the interests of the Dalits.
Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar made stringent efforts to transform the hierarchical structures of Indian society for the restoration of equal rights and justice to the neglected lot by building up a critique from within the structure of Indian society.His was not a theoretical attempt but a practical approach to the problems of untouchability.He tried to seek the solution to this perennial problem of the Indian society not by making appeals to the conscience of the usurpers or bringing transformation in the outlook of the individual by begging but by seeking transformation in the socio-religious and politico-economic structures of the Indian society by continuous and relentless struggle against the exploitative system where he thought the roots of the untouchability lay.He thought that until and unless the authority of the Dharam Shastras is shaken which provided divine sanction to the system of discrimination based on the caste hierarchy, the eradication of untouchability could not be realised. He was of the opinion that untouchability emanated neither from religious notions, nor from the much-popularised theory of Aryan conquest.On the contrary, it came into existence as a result of the struggle among the tribes at a stage when they were starting to settle down for a stable life. In the process, the settled tribes employed the broken tribesmen as guards against the marauding bands. These broken tribesmen employed as guards became untouchables.
Dr. Ambedkar’s views on Indian nationalism in opposition to the dominant discourse of Hindu nationalism as represented by Raja Rammohan Roy, B.G. Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Golvalkar and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on the one hand, and Communist-secular-socialist nationalism represented by M.N. Roy, R. P. Duta, T. Nagi Reddy and E.M.S. Namboodripad on the other, are not only distinct but also original.Hindu nationalism in essence aims at strengthening the Brahamanical supremacy in the post-colonial India.The communist-secular-social nationalism though based on abolition of class, its ideologues like that of the Hindu nationalism also belonged to the upper-castes and were myopic to the Dalits tribulations.
Dr. Ambedkar’s conception of nationalism articulated and synthesized the national perceptions and aspirations of the downtrodden.Ambedkar’s alternative form of nationalism, popularly known as ‘Dalit-Bahujan-nationalism’ incorporated the subaltern philosophy of Jyotirao Phule and Periyar E.V. Ramaswami Naicker.It constructed an anti-Hindu and anti-Brahamanical discourse of Indian nationalism.It aimed at establishing a casteless and classless society where no one would be discriminated on the basis of birth and occupation.Within the Dalit-Bahuhjan framework of Indian nationalism, Ambedkar built up a critique of pre-colonial Brahmanism and its asymmetrical social set up based on low and high dichotomy of graded caste system.This system of inegalitarianism led to the process of exploitation by the unproductive Brahamanical castes of the various productive castes.
Ambedkar’s understanding of the question of the identity and existence of the nation was based on his incisive analysis of the oppressive character of the Hindu community. Since the dominant Hindu discourse of Indian nationalism remained indifferent towards removal of the caste system; and the economic analysis of the communist secular socialist school also failed to highlight the issue of caste in its mechanical interpretation of class, Ambedkar – himself an untouchable and victim of untouchability – formulated his own framework from the perspective of the untouchables for the understanding of the system of caste and untouchability.The foundations of dalit-Bahujan nationalism lie in this framework developed by Ambedkar. It aimed at restructuring the Indian society into a casteless and classless and egalitarian Sangha (Ilaiah 2001: 109).Annihilation of caste was its central theme.Caste for Ambedkar was nothing but Brahmanism incarnate. “Brahmanism is the poison which has spoiled Hinduism” (Ambedkar 1995: 92).Ambedkar realised that any form of nationalism whose roots were steeped into Hinduism could not be a solution to the problem of dalits.Any discourse of nationalism bereft of annihilation of caste was just not acceptable to him.The agenda of annihilation of caste was so important to him that it became a central point of his struggle against colonial rule.In the first Round Table Conference, he minced no words in criticizing the British government for its failure to undo untouchability.
Swaraj without extinction of caste had no meaning for Ambedkar. In his undelivered speech to the Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore, he said, “In the fight for swaraj you fight with the whole nation on your side. In this, you have to fight against the whole nation and that too your own. But it is more important than swaraj. There is no use having swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending swaraj is the question of defending Hindus under the swaraj. In my opinion, only when the Hindu society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery”. Thus, it was Ambedkar’s subaltern perspective, which distinguished his conception of swaraj from that of the protagonists of the various shades of the national freedom movement. In his editorial in the Bahishkrit Bharat, Ambedkar wrote on 29 July 1927 “If Tilak had been born among the untouchables, he would not have raised the slogan ‘Swaraj is my birthright’, but he would have raised the slogan ‘Annihilation of untouchability is my birthright’”.
Guru Ravidass, one of the famous untouchable saint- poets of the 15th-16th century, is by far the most revered among the scheduled castes, especially Chamars, Chambhars, or Charmakars of northwest and central India. Although they occupy the very bottom of the social hierarchy, the Chamārs and other Untouchable groups who worship Guru Ravidass do not passively accept their inferior status. Their worship of Ravidass is the manifestation of a dissident socioreligious ideology. The mere mention of his name evokes a sense of confidence and self-respect among them. So much so that a large number of them prefer to be identified as ‘Ravidassia’ rather than be known by their customary caste titles colored with derogatory connotations. Although in the past Ravidas’s low status may have presented a problem, his present-day admirers strive to affirm it, not deny it.They are popularly known as Ravidassia Dalits or Ravidassi Adharmis. In Punjab some of them are often confused with the Dalit Sikhs.
Guru Ravidass is known as a leading star of the Bhakti movement, especially the nirguna sampradaya or sant parampara (sect or tradition of devotees of a formless God) of the later medieval centuries in Northern India.He was a cobbler, saint, poet, philosopher and social reformer. Together with Namdev and Kabir, Ravidas is one of the few Bhaktas to cross language barriers and become important in several parts of India.His popularity can be known from a variety of names attributed to him by his followers in different regions and languages.He is known as Raidasa, Rohidasa, Ruidasa, Ramadasa, Raedasa, Rohitasa, Rahdesa, Rav Das and Rab Das. His poetry has universal appeal. It is full of radical fervor and boundless love for the formless God. Although the poetry of Ravidass is rich with references to the adoration of and longing for God, it also gave significant space to the “hope for a better world and a fight against exploiters, power-holders and oppression going on under the name of religion. His poetry reflected his vision of the social and spiritual needs of the downtrodden and underlined the urgency of their emancipation.He, therefore, is regarded as a messiah of the downtrodden. They revere him as devoutly as Hindus revered their Gods and Goddesses, and Sikhs their Gurus. They worship his image and showed their faith in his spiritual power. His hymns were recited every morning and night, and his birthday was celebrated as a religious event. They raise slogans like Ravidass Shakti Amar Rahe (the spiritual power of Ravidass live forever) during his birth anniversaries.
Ravidass was born in Chamar caste, also known as Kutbandhla, one of the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh. Chamars are known by their profession of leather and tanning. They were oppressed and their touch and sight were considered polluting by the upper castes. Ravidass revolted against this inhuman system of untouchability. He adopted Bhakti as a mode of expression for his revolt. His Bhakti-based method of revolt was very novel and daring. It was novel because of its emphasis on compassion for all and absolute faith in God. The principle of compassion for all reflected the egalitarian traits of his social philosophy and struggle. His concept of the absolute faith in the formless God showed the apathy of the elites of his times towards the plights of the downtrodden for whose emancipation he had to seek refuge in no one else but God. His method was daring in the sense that he choose to imitate the Brahmins in order to symbolize his revolt which was not only highly objectionable but was equally deadly for a Shudra of his times. He challenged the tyranny of Brahmins and defied them by wearing Dhoti (cloth wrapped around the waist), Janeue (sacred thread) and Tilak (sacred red mark on forehead) that were forbidden for the untouchables. Though he attired himself like an upper caste, he did not hide his caste.He continued with his hereditary occupation of making/mending shoes. He, probably, tried to show that while adopting the prohibited dress and symbols of the upper castes, the lower castes could still keep their identity intact. Thus Ravidass provided an alternative model for the emancipation of the Dalits much (six centuries) before the articulation of the concept of sanskritization. What made the image of Ravidass a catalyst in the emergence of Dalit consciousness was his being a Shudra and at the same time a saint of very high repute.
The process of sanskritization facilitated the ambitious lower castes to improve ‘its position in the local caste hierarchy’ by pretending to look like the higher castes that enjoy ‘great prestige’ in the hierarchically organized Brahminical social order. Since the caste is given and cannot be changed, the lower castes were left with no option but to imitate the culture of the upper castes. What made the emancipation project of Ravidass different from that of the sanskritization was his emphasis on acquiring social respect without crossing over the caste boundaries. He did not want to pretend to appear like an upper caste to ride the bandwagon of social prestige. On the contrary, he exhibited his protest against the social oppression by putting on the prohibited dress and symbols of the upper castes. By imitating the appearance of the upper castes he did not want the lower castes to abandon their caste to climb up the ladder of the caste hierarchy as in the process of sanskritization. The lower castes need not to be assimilated into the fold of higher castes. They had to, rather, assert for their human rights by challenging the caste hierarchy while being firm in their very caste group. He wanted to dismantle the norm of varnashram dharma (fourfold division of Hindu society based on graded rank system in caste hierarchy) by showing that lower castes were not beyond the pale of spiritual knowledge on the one hand and on the other that Brahmins were in fact hollow figures pumped up with false pride and hypocrisy. In fact, he used caste to cut the steel frame of caste based social order – the only way of Dalit emancipation.
Thus, Ravidass gave a new meaning to Bhakti by projecting it as a method of social protest against the centuries old entrenched structures of Brahminical domination. He rejected all forms of religious rituals and sectarian formalities. He also commented graphically on the cursed and abject living conditions of millions of fellow downtrodden. Some scholars were of the opinion that though the devotional songs and hymns of Ravidass reflected the sufferings of the downtrodden, they lack the reformatory zeal and bitter condemnation of Brahminism and caste system that animated the poetry of Kabir and Tukaram. Though there is a difference in tone between the poetry of Kabir and Ravidass, both convey the same message. The poetry of Ravidass is known to be full of humility and devotion. But at the same time it is equally imbibed with reformatory zeal and concern for the downtrodden. Instead of bluntly snubbing the arrogance of higher castes, he undertook to raise the dignity of his own caste and profession, so that the higher castes could come to realize the shallowness of their self-imposed superiority. He advocated self-help for eliminating sufferings of the Dalits. His vision for self-help is clearly reflected in one of the legends about his refusal to make use of a Paras (a mythical stone that turns iron into gold) to get rich. He lent purity and respect to kirat (manual work), which also found special mention in the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikh faith. In fact, Ravidass’s life and poetry provided a vision to the downtrodden to struggle for their human rights and civic liberties.
The Bhakti approach of Ravidass was a non-violent struggle for the emancipation and empowerment of the Shudras. Though he combined humility with Bhakti, his concept of formless God reflected an altogether different picture. Ravidass’s God was not humble at all in the typical sense of the term. He was graceful.He was not indifferent to the downtrodden.His God was rather bold who was not afraid of anyone.He elevated and purified the so-called untouchables. Aaisee lal tujh binu kaunu karai. Gareeb niwaaju guseea meraa maathai chhatar dharai… neecho uooch karai meraa govind kaahoo te na darai [refrain My Beloved, besides you who acts like this? Protector of the poor, my Master. You hold a royal umbrella over my head]. Ravidass further said Meri jaati kut bandhlaa dhor dhouwanta nithi baanaarasi aas paasaa. Ab bipar pardhan tihi karih danduouti tere naam sarnaaie Ravidass daasaa [My Caste is Kutabådhalā, I cart carcasses constantly around Benares. Now Brahmans and headmen bow down before me, Ravidās the servant has taken refuge in Your Name. It is in this context that his non-violent struggle based on Bhakti assumed special importance for the emancipation of the Dalits. He did not only adopt non–violence in his struggle against the social oppression, but also motivated the oppressors to abandon the path of violence.His low caste but high spiritual status posed a challenge to the Brahminical structures of domination.The traditional Brahminical institution of varnashram dharma failed to confront Ravidass’s pragmatic and revolutionary reasoning based on equality, dignity and fraternity.Instead, the Brahmins attempted to undermine his low caste profile by appropriating him in the Hindu fold.They concocted stories to project him as a Brahmin in his previous life.
According to one of such stories, Ravidass was a Brahmin in his previous birth. But due to his bad habits of meat eating and the untouchable status of his co-wife he had to be born as a Chamar. Another story tells that Ramananda, his so-called Guru, cursed him in his previous life to be born in a family of untouchables on account of his accepting offerings from a local money lender who had dealings with leather workers. This itself indicates the degree of purity-pollution behaviours observed even by Brahmin ascetics. Moreover, this account also reinforces conventional opinions of Chamars as being extremely polluting. Ramanand curses his disciple not for taking food directly from chamars, but from a person who merely does business with them. Yet even such indirect contact is enough to render the food impure.The story does not end here, however. It further informs that the baby Ravidass refused to accept the milk of his low caste mother. He accepted the milk of his mother only when Ramanand supposedly reminded him of his misbehavior in the previous life.Another story about his co-option in the Brahminical fold narrates that he had a golden sacred thread under his skin, though it was invisible on his body.When Brahmins declined to eat while sitting in the same row with him during a feast given in his honor by Jhali, the queen of Chittor, he left the room. But as they sat to dine, they found an image of Ravidass appearing at the side of each of them. The story also tells that he cut open his chest and revealed the sacred thread that lay within – a clear proof of his being a real Brahmin.
Thus challenged by the surging popularity of Ravidass, among the lower and upper castes alike, Brahmins knitted layers of mythological narratives about his mythical high caste in his previous life. This was done, probably, to preclude the lower castes from rallying around his name. Yet another device adopted by the twice born to diminish his popularity was to present him as a Guru of the Chamars only. This was the final masterstroke to minimize his influence on the society as a whole. Though Ravidass was himself a chamar, his egalitarian social philosophy won him many disciples among the upper castes too. Jhali, Queen of Chittor; Mirabai, Rajput princes and daughter-in-law of King of Mewar, Sangram Singh; Prince Veer Singh Dev Vaghela of Rewa of Madhya Pradesh; and Prince of Kanshi were the most prominent among them.
Dalit activists and academics condemned the process of Brahminisation of Ravidass. They ridiculed the so-called Brahminical narratives and interpretations about Ravidass and also refused to accept Ramanand as his Guru. Ravidass never mentioned the name of Ramanand in his most authentic bani recorded in Adi Granth.Instead he mentioned the names of saint Jaidev, saint Namdev and saint Kabir.Some radical Dalits claim that his Guru was Sardanand, and emphasize his ability to defeat Brahmins time and again in debates. Thus the process of Brahminisation had not only failed to assimilate Ravidass in the fold of the upper castes, it further strengthened the bond of the Shudras with him. The latter took pride in being known as Ravidassias with Ravidass becoming the paragon of their struggle for social equality and dignity.
Ravidass envisioned an egalitarian model of state for ensuring human rights and civil liberties for all alike. He called his ideal state as Begumpura (free from sorrows). In his ideal state no one would be discriminated against on the basis of caste and religion and everyone would be free from the burden of taxes and worries of food. His ideal state would be free from the graded system of caste hierarchy. There would be no segregated colonies for the downtrodden and they would be free to move around without caste prejudice. In other words, in Begumpurathe evil of untouchability would cease to exist. Though Begumpura was an ideal state as visualized by Ravidass, it was not a mere figment of his mind.In fact, its articulation was based on in-depth understanding of the socio-economic and political conditions prevailing during his lifetime.He lived during the period when Shudras were doubly oppressed by their political masters along with the members of higher castes; and by the Brahmins, the custodians of Hindu religion .
He had no hope from any quarter regarding the improvement of the conditions of the downtrodden. In one of his hymns he thus articulated Dardu dekh sab ko hasai, aaisee dasaa hamaaree. Ast dasaa sidi kar talai, sab kirpa tumhari. [Everyone laughs seeing my poverty, such is my state. The eighteen perfections are in the palm of my hands, all through Your grace]. In fact, his entire poetry echoed a loud protest against slavery on the one hand and boundless love and devotion to the formless God on the other. He believed that God created all human beings and resided in all of them. If the same God pervaded the entire humanity, then it is foolish to divide the society on the basis of caste. He thus condemned the division of mankind on the basis of caste. He said, Jo ham shehri so meet hamara [whoever is my fellow citizen, is my friend] . It is in this context that the egalitarian social philosophy of Ravidass expressed in the mode of poetry became the manifesto of the Dalit consciousness in Punjab. The establishment of a large number of Ravidass Deras by the Dalits in Punjab and in other parts of India over the last few years is a case in point. Ravidass became very popular among the Punjabi Dalit diasporas as well, who have also constructed Ravidass shrines in order to assert their separate caste identity.
The number of Ravidass Deras has been multiplying very fast. It has taken the form of a sort of a socio-cultural movement for the emancipation of the Dalits. Led by the saints of Dera Sach Khand Ballan, this movement is silently sweeping the Punjab countryside offering a new hope to the untouchable, particularly the Chamars. It has generated a sense of confidence in them and provided them an opportunity to exhibit their hitherto eclipsed Dalit identity. The movement of Ravidass Deras reflects the fast changing socio-cultural scene of Punjab where the once powerful and revolutionary Sikh religion is failing to meet the needs of the oppressed who discovered the right remedy to cure their wounded psyche in the Ballan experiment. The secret of the success of this movement lies in the strategy of the saints of Ballan to sells Dr Ambedkar’s socio-cultural revolution packed in an ingenious religious capsule. Ravidass Deras are, perhaps, the only religious centers where religious and political figures (Ravidass and Ambedkar) are blended and projected publicly. These Deras thrive on the elements of social protest expressed in the poetry of Ravidass and the teachings of Ambedkar.These Deras, in fact, have been functioning as missions to sensitize the Dalits and to facilitate their empowerment. In order to look different from the shrines of Hindu and Sikh religions, and to distinctly project their separate religious identity, Ravidass Deras have formulated their own religious symbols, ceremonies, prayers, and rituals.
Dera Ballan: The Centre of Spirituality and Social Service
Dera Ballan (situated at village Ballan, seven miles North of Jalandhar city on the Pathankot road) is popularly known as Dera Sant Sarwan Das. Sant Pipal Das, father of Sant Sarwan Das (February 15,1895-June 11,1972), founded it in the beginning of the twentieth century. Sant Sarwan Das lost his mother (Shobhawanti) when he was only five years old. His father left home in search of ‘truth’. He took the child, Sarwan Das, with him on this mission. It was during the course of wandering that they reached the place where Dera Ballan is now situated. Pipal Dass found that place most suitable for spiritual pursuits. The place, in the outskirts of village Ballan, was a thick forest. The father-son duo spent days in the forest and took shelter in a mud house in the village during nights.Later on, a landlord (Hazara Singh) of village Ballan donated some land to them in the forest where they built a thatched hut to begin with. “It soon became the goal of pilgrimage for lower caste and other villagers from all over central Punjab, and from its inception it was a center for the veneration of Ravi Das”.
It shot into prominence during the Ad Dharm movement. It was instrumental in bringing social consciousness among the Dalits of Punjab. Mangoo Ram, the founder of the Ad Dharm movement visited the Dera Ballan and sought its support in popularizing the image of Ravidass among the Dalits of Punjab. The association of the Derawith the Ad Dharm movement further becomes clear from the fact that Sant Sarwan Dass, the then head of the Dera Ballan (October 11,1928-June 11,1972), offered juice to Mangoo Ram to open his fast-unto-death undertaken by him as a counter measure to that of Mahatama Gandhi’s fast against the communal award in 1932. Although this movement petered out after the first general election in independent India, “…deras such as that of Sarwan Das remain popular destinations for pilgrimage in the Punjab”. Dera Ballanalso hosted the mammoth Dalit conference (13th December, 1970) organised by Mangu Ram Jaspal, namesake of the famous Mangoo Ram, to revive the Ad Dharm movement. It was during this conference that the legendry Mangoo Ram and many other prominent leaders of the Ad Dharm movement commended the contribution of saints of Dera Ballan towards the emancipation and empowerment of Dalits.
Sant Sarwan Das received early education from his father and learnt Sanskrit from Sant Kartanand of nearby village Kishangarh. He was in his early thirties when Sant Pipal Das died (1928). By that time he had already become a known figure not only among the people of Ballan but also of the neighboring villages. However, what distinguished him from other holy men of his time was his devotion and veneration for Ravidass. The dissemination of Ravidass Bani (philosophy in the form of poetry) was one of his missions. Ravidass appealed to the lower castes for many reasons. He belonged to the Chamar caste and was probably the pioneer in the field of Dalit literature. The fact that Sant Sarwan Das was a chamar himself and a follower of the faith of Ravidass made him and his Dera instantly popular among the Chamars who consider Ravidass their spiritual mentor. Sant Sarwan Dass was an emissary of Guru Ravidass in the true spirit. Under his stewardship, the dissemination of the teachings of Ravidass became one of the most important missions of the Dera Sach Khand Ballan. He himself laid down foundation stones of various Ravidass Deras and sponsored construction of rooms in the Shri GuruRavidassHigh School [Jalandhar], Arts and Crafts Training College [Jalandhar], Shri GuruRavidassTechnicalCollege[Phagwara], Primary school [Raipur- Rasoolpur], Bhagwan Ravidass Ashram Nirmala Chowani [Haridwar], and High School [Village Ballan].
The Dera Ballan has meticulously kept sant Sarwan Dass’s legacy of spreading the Bani of Guru Ravidass with zeal till date and has actually accelerated its efforts in this direction manifold in India and abroad. It has taken the message of Guru Ravidass to virtually every corner of India and abroad, and has generated a sense of cohesive belongingness among the Dalits. The construction of Guru Ravidass Mandirs (Temples) in Seer Govardhanpur (Varanasi), Hadiabad (Punjab), Sirsgarh (Haryana), Pune (Maharashtra), Haridwar (Uttranchal), and Una (Himachal Pradesh) is a clear indication of the concerted efforts of the Dera Ballan towards the popularization of the social egalitarian philosophy of Ravidass. The participation of the saints of Dera Ballan in sant sammelans (congregations of saints) organized by the devotees of Guru Ravidass in different places in Punjab and outside showed their deep concern for the propagation of the Bani of Ravidass. The saints of Ballan also regularly visited their devotees abroad in order to enlighten them of the Bani of Ravidass. In year 2005, the present head of Dera Ballan, sant Niranjan Dass accompanied by sant Ramanand, visited Greece, Italy, Spain, Holland, and Germany from March 20 to May 31; and U.S., Canada and U.K. from July 1 to August 31. His latest journey to EuropeItaly, Greece Germany, Holland and England) was during April-May 2006. This was his 4th international religious visit to Italy and probably 14th to U.K. Sant Garib Dass, predecessor of Sant Niranjan Dass, also visited England six times, America four times, and Canada two times. The Dera has prepared a number of cassettes, compact discs (CDs), and video compact discs (VCDs) of the Bani of Ravidass for wider circulation among its followers. Some of the most popular cassettes are: ‘Mission Guru Ravidass Ji’ (Mission of Guru Ravidass), ‘Kanshi wich chan chariya’ (Moon in Kanshi), ‘Begampura Shaher Ka Nau’ (City Named Begumpura), ‘Rabb Dharti Te’ (God on the Earth), ‘Satguru Da Updesh’ (Sermon of the Guru), ‘Kanshi Ballan Wich Farak Na Koe’ (No Difference between Kanshi and Ballan), ‘Har ke Naam Bin’ (Without the Name of God), ‘Amrit Bani Shri Guru Ravidass Ji’ (Immortal Bani of Guru Ravidass), ‘Duniya de Loko Nek Bano’ (Become nice, Peoples of the World), ‘Jai Satiguru Ravidas’ (Victory to Guru Ravidass), ‘Darshan Satguru de Kar Lau’ (Be face to face with the Guru), ‘Begumpur de Wasia’ (Residence of the Begumpur), ‘Guru Da Jehrey Nam Japde’ (Those who Remember the Name of the Guru), and ‘Ban ke Messiah Aya’ (Came as a Messiah). ‘Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe’ (This Life is for You), ‘Begampure Diyan Raunkan’ (Festivities of Begumpura), ‘Shri Guru Ravidass Amrit Bani Dohae' (Couplets of the Immortal Bani of Guru Ravidass), and ‘Satsang Mahina Cheet’ (company of the saints in first month of the Hindu calendar) are some of the most popular VCDs. The six-volumes set of ‘Amrit Bani of Guru Ravidass Ji’ is the most popular among the CDs. They are available at Dera Ballan on nominal rates and are also given as souvenir to the devotees. During one of my visits to the Dera Ballan, Sant Surinder Dass Bawa was kind enough to gift me a set of these cassettes (based on the information culled from various volumes [2003-2005] of Begum Pura Shaher, Trilingual weekly publication of the Dera Ballan). The Dera has also composed a Gurbani programme based on the Bani of Sant Ravidass. The program is called ‘AmritBani: Shri Guru Ravidass ji’. It is being telecast every Friday, and every Saturday, on D.D.1 channel of Jalandhar Doordarshan since October 13, 2003. This is the first program of its kind. This program has a unique importance for the Dalits who in the past were forbidden to read and listen the sacred text. Now they feel proud of projecting their religion on national television network at par with the other mainstream religious bodies. It has contributed significantly in building their self-esteem and confidence that in turn has sharpened their social and political consciousness. (
Primary education and healthcare were the two other main concerns of Sant Sarwan Dass, which further strengthened the surging popularity of the Dera Ballan among the Dalits. He encouraged Dalit children to study and helped them financially. He opened an informal primary school within the premises of the Dera. He taught the poor children Panjabi and trained them in reciting Gurbani (sacred text of Guru Granth Sahib) correctly. He used to feed them with rice pudding and fried loafs on every Sunday – a diet that was really a luxury for the poor Dalit children – in order to boost up their mental faculties and physical strength. There is a general belief among the followers of Dera Ballan that whosoever was taught by Sant Sarwan Dass became an officer in Government service.He used to denounce those parents who did not educate their children as their enemies. He urged the poor people to educate their children so that they could earn their livelihood in a respectful way and help their families and community to lead a dignified life. All the chiefs of the Dera who followed him made concerted efforts towards the fulfillment of these vital concerns for the upliftment of the downtrodden. In fact, they turned these concerns into the missions of the Dera Ballan. To fulfill one of these missions, Dera Ballan founded ‘SantSarwanDassModelSchool’ at Hadiabad (Phagwara) in April 2004 to provide quality education to the Dalit children on nominal fee. The school is housed in a magnificent building equipped with modern instruments and materials, and has its own fleet of buses for the conveyance of the students. The medium of instruction in the school is English. What distinguished this school is that along with formal education in different streams of knowledge, students are also informed about the missions of Guru Ravidass and Dera Sach Khand Ballan. Thus, this school does not only provide quality education in a Dalit friendly environment, but also acts as an agency for generating Dalit consciousness.
Sant Sarwan Dass had also established an Ayurvedic medical center in the Dera for the benefits of the downtrodden who could not afford treatment and medicine in the market. His noble endeavor at the Dera was expanded into a full-fledged hospital (SantSarwanDassCharitableHospital) at Dehpur-Kapoor village Adda Kathar on the Hoshiarpur-Jalandhar road (district Jalandhar). Sant Garib Dass, the then chief of Dera Ballan, founded the hospital in 1982. A humble beginning was made with a small dispensary in 1984. Soon after, it expanded into a two hundred-bed hospital equipped with latest medical technology. The hospital is famous for its expertise in surgery in the region. A team of doctors from U.K. held a 10-days(March 16-25, 2005) medical camp in the hospital. The camp had the sanction of Medical Council of India, Department of Health, UK, and British Medical Association. The camp got wide coverage in the western print media that brought the hospital on the international map. The detailed account of the camp was carried in two publications: ‘Trust News’ of Calderdale and Huddersfield National Health Service (NHS) and the ‘Evening Courier’. It provided round the clock emergency services, and has its own chemist shop, which provided medicines at reasonable rates. For the convenience of the patients and their attendants indoor catering facilities and spacious retiring halls are also provided. Very nominal fee is charged from the patients to partially meet the hospital expenditure, which is about 2.5 million rupees per month. At a time when public health services have almost turned dysfunctional, SantSarwanDassCharitableHospital has come out as a great relief for the downtrodden who are incapable of fending for them. Moreover, since 1977 the saints of Ballan have been regularly organizing free eyes operation camps in the Dera in the month of February every year with the support of Swarn Dass Banger, a non-resident Indian (NRI) settled in England. Swarn Dass Banger has also donated 10 million rupees for the construction of SantSarwanDassMemorialEyesHospital in the village Ballan near the Dera. Swarn Dass Banger has also donated 2.5-acre prime land adjacent to the Dera where a mammoth Satsangh Bhawan (religious congregation hall), centrally air-conditioned with a capacity of accommodating 50000 people at a time, is under construction. Seth Brij Lal Kaler, another NRI from England, has also donated 10 million rupees to the Dera Ballan Sant Niranjan Dass, the present chief of Dera Ballan, laid the foundation stone of the EyesHospital on November 10, 2004. The provision of excellent medical facilities in the rural sectors of Punjab made the Dera Ballan an exceptional religious site for the downtrodden, where spiritual and social services are combined together.
Another important feature of the Dera Ballan that brought it in the forefront of the cause of the Dalits’ upliftment was its deep interest in literary activities. The Dera has a very rich library on its premises. The library contains books on the life and philosophy of Ravidass, Baba Sahib Ambedkar, Bhakti movement, the Ad Dharm movement, Dalit literature, and the missions of the Dera Ballan. All the writings and speeches of Baba Sahib Ambedkar are available in the library. The books are made available to the readers on nominal charges and even free of cost. Some of the books are also given to the devotees as a souvenir along with the framed calendar prints of the Dera Ballan and Ravidass temple (Seer Goverdhanpur) with the images of Guru Ravidass and B.R. Ambedkar embossed on them. Mark Juergensmeyer’s book, Religious Rebels in the Punjab: The social Vision of Untouchables (Delhi: Ajanta, 1988) is one of the books that are widely distributed among the devotees. This seminal work of Juergensmeyer is a pioneer study of the Dalit movement in Punjab. This book also documents important information about the Dera Ballan.The Dera also publishes, and sponsors books on Dalit literature. In addition, the Dera also confers honours on Dalit scholars in acknowledgement of their literary contributions towards the upliftment of the downtrodden. Till now, it has honored forty-four such Dalit scholars with gold medals. In addition, the Dera has also been publishing a 12 page trilingual (Panjabi, Hindi, and English) weekly 'Begum Pura Shaher' since August 15, 1991. This weekly was founded by Sant Garib Dass, fourth head of the Dera Ballan, to highlight the problems of the downtrodden and to educate them about the missions of Guru Ravidass. 'Begum Pura Shaher’, the sole mouthpiece of the Dalits who were highly under-represented in the mainstream print and electronic media, has become a source of social consciousness and a symbol of self-respect among them. The BharatiyaDalitSahityaAcademy (IndianDalitLiteraryAcademy) honored itschief editor, Sant Ramanand, with the 20th National Dalit Literary Award (2004) for the contribution it made in the field of journalism for generating Dalit consciousness in the region. The Academy has also organized a two days National Dalit Introspection Camp (9-10 June 2006) at the Dera Ballan to discuss the commonalities among the thoughts, missions, and objectives of Buddha, Ravidass and Ambedkar. Among the prominent participants who attended the Camp were Dr. Mata Parsad, former Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Babu Parmanand, former Governor of Haryana, Dr. Satya Narayan Jatiya, former central minister of social justice and member of parliament of India, Chanderpal Sallani, former member of parliament of India, Bavanrao Gholap, former social welfare minister of Maharashtra and member of the State Legislative Assembly, and Dr. J. S. Sabar, chair Guru Ravidass, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. The participation by such a large number of renowned personalities in the Dalit Introspection Camp – a rare occasion of its kind at a religious site – lendcredence to the missions of the Dera Ballan for the upliftment of the Dalits. In a hierarchically structured society based on the caste system of low and high, the literary chapter of the Dera Ballan proved to be of immense importance in building confidence among the downtrodden who were often discriminated in the mainstream literary circles.
Of all the major contributions made by the Dera Ballan, the construction of a mammoth ‘Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Mandir’ (Temple of Shri Guru Ravidass’s Birthplace) at Seer Goverdhanpur, a locality in the city of Varanasi, is the most significant. The saints of Ballan traced the birthplace of Ravidass to a location in the village Seer Goverdhanpur, on the outskirts of Varanasi, near the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Sant Hari Dass of Dera Ballan had laid down the foundation stone of the temple in 1965 (June 14). The construction of the temple was completed in 1994. Babu Kanshi Ram, the BSP supremo, performed the ceremonial installation of the golden dome atop the temple. K.R. Narayanan, the then President of India, performed the opening ceremony of the huge monumental gate on the way to the temple, on July16, 1998. Dalits from India and abroad helped build the temple. This temple has acquired, perhaps, the same importance for Dalits as the Mecca for Muslims and the GoldenTemple for Sikhs. Every year on the anniversary of Ravidass’s birth, the temple attracts millions of devotees from India and abroad. The Dera Ballan made special arrangements for the pilgrimage of of Ravidass devotees to their Mecca at Seer Goverdhanpur (Varanasi). Special trains were arranged from Jalandhar city in Punjab to Varanasi especially for attending the celebrations of the birth anniversary of Ravidass at Seer Goverdhanpur. This temple serves an important purpose in reminding the Dalits of the cultural revolution led by Ravidass in Varanasi, the headquarters of Hindu religiosity. Its unique contribution lies in symbolizing a Dalit history of struggle for equality and dignity, and a vision for the future. In the land of castes and religions, the ‘Temple of Shri Guru Ravidass’s Birthplace’ has become an important cultural-religious site for the assertion of distinct identity for the Dalits where they can move about with their heads high and without the fear of being measured on the scale of caste hierarchy. In fact, this temple has turned out to be a center of spirituality,social service and Dalit empowerment.
AND DALIT CONSCIOUSNESS IN PUNJAB
Dr. Ronki Ram
Punjab has been a site of invasions, conflicts, agitations and martyrdoms. It has also been a boiling cauldron for various social and political movements. Its history is rich with innumerable instances of people’s upsurge against the tyrant systems. However, what makes the case of Punjab, a unique, is that its tirades against the system of oppression and violence remained always progressive and secular. They were not against a particular caste or community but against systems of tyranny and oppression.
It is interesting to note that in all of the struggles and movements, the contribution of the lower castes and the untouchables was second to none. The share of these deprived sections of the society was equally tremendous in the sphere of Bhakti movement. One can quickly count the names of Dhanna, Sadna, Sain and Ravidass who were among the prominent stars of the Bhakti movement.Their share is equally remarkable in the struggles of the Khalsa against the then system of oppression and injustice. The popularity of the Rangrtas (scavengers converted to Sikhism) has been established by a rhyme Rangreta Guru Ka Beta (the Rangreta is the son of Guru). This rhyme is attributed to the Rangretas on account of the valorous act of bringing the severed head of Guru Teg Bahadur from Delhi to Anandpur Sahib, the seat of 9th and 10th Master of the Sikh faith by a Rangreta Sikh named Jeeta.
Yet another movement which rose in the 1920s in the Doaba region of Punjab brought together all the Scheduled Castes (then known as Depressed classes) on a single platform to fight against the system of social oppression, economic deprivation and political indifference. Though this movement laid the foundation of dalit consciousness in Punjab, it could not succeed in getting the serious attention of scholarship. However, Mark Jurgensmeyer’s pioneer work (Juergensmeyer 1988) remained the only reference to the share of Punjab in the ‘Adi Movements’ in India. This movement is known as Ad Dharm movement. It draws its inspiration from the Bhakti movement, especially from Kabir, Ravidass and Namdev. It also assigns equal importance to the teachings of Valmiki. What makes this movement the most relevant case for study is its being a purely low caste character and its fight against social structures of domination. Ad Dharm was the only movement of its kind in the North-Western region of the country that aimed at securing a respectable place for the scheduled castes through cultural transformation and political assertion rather than seeking patronage from above. Another important feature of this movement was that it intended to bring social transformation and spiritual regeneration in the lives of the downtrodden. Although, this movement ceased to exist in its vehement form after the first general election in independent India, its emphasis on social transformation and political assertion against structures of social inequality and oppression continues to attract the Ad-Dharmis and other scheduled castes of Punjab. At present, the movement finds its sustenance in Punjab through the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Ambedkarite organizations.
Ad Dharm Movement: The Genesis
The beginning of the 20thecentury witnessed a series of political developments, which among others led to the formation of Adi movements in different parts of the colonial India. The main objective of these movements was to liberate the downtrodden, poverty-stricken-oppressed classes, contemptuously branded as untouchables, from the most oppressive and obnoxious practice of Untouchability meticulously observed by the Savarna Hindus, and to bring the former at par with the socio-cultural level of the twice born so that they could lead a life of dignity with a sense of equality. The Ad Dharm movement was one of them.
Although, the abolition of Untouchability was also on the agenda of the protagonists of social reform movements (Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj and Singh Sabha), they wanted to achieve it without changing the basic structure of caste system (Manuqu 2003:5). Since these movements were operating on the social reform front of the nationalist struggle, they could not totally devote themselves to the removal of Untouchability. The immediate goal of the nationalist movement was to liberate the country from the British imperialism. Hence,
[t]he ultimate result was that neither the Nehru Ian secularism nor Gandhi an ‘Ramraj’ could provide an Indian identity that was libratory for the dalit and low castes... (Omvedt 1994: 92; see also Suresh 1998: 364).
The most virulent opposition to the system of caste emanated from the lower caste movements. For these movements, the immediate important issue was caste domination, not Western hegemony; social emancipation, not political autonomy. The struggle against imperialism and other such issues were of secondary importance (Kothari 1998: 50-51). These anti-caste movements, of course, constitute an inseparable
...part of the broader revolutionary democratic movement in India, alongwith the national movement and communist-and socialist-led working class and peasant movements (Omvedt 1994: 13; see also Kshirsagar 1994: 2-3).
The main exponents of thesemovements were, among others, Jyotiba Phule, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, Naraynaswami Guru in Kerla, Achutananda in U.P. and Mangoo Ram in Punjab.
The present paper confines to the Ad-Dharm movement in Punjab. It aims at exploring the social situations and political configurations in colonial Punjab during the 1920s which led to the rise of this movement. Another objective of the study is to document the present status of the movement in Punjab.
It would be appropriate to focus on certain aspects relating to the rise of this movement in 1926 and its so called demise in 19461. What were the circumstances in which the Ad Dharm movement was originated? Who were its protagonists? What objectives did they seek to achieve? What were the tactics and strategies they adopted for the realization of these objectives? Whether such objectives sharpened the struggle against social oppression or led to blunt the very struggle itself? Was it really a struggle against social oppression or only a ploy to gain some incremental change for meager benefits? To whom the Ad Dharm considered its sympathisers and also its adversaries? What status did such sympathisers and adversaries hold in the socio-economic and politico-administrative setting of the Indian society? What is its present status? What are its goals and objectives? And how it intended to realise them?
Ad Dharm: Socio-Political Settings
Ad-Dharm movement was born out of a volatile social and political background in the early 20thecentury. Although, the similar socio-political situations were prevalent throughout the length and breadth of the country, the presence of various communal organisations in Punjab makes the case of the latter a peculiar one. The communal organisations like Arya Samaj, Christian Church, Sikh Khalsa Diwan and the Ahmadiyya movements were active in their endeavors to promote their respective communal interests.
It was exactly during this period of socio-political uncertainties that the British government passed the Land Alienation Act of 1900, Indian Counsel Act of 1909 and The Government of India Act of 1919. These acts provided further impetus to the ongoing competition among the various communal organisations (Mohan 1992: 164-8). Although, the Land Alienation Act of 1900 was aimed at preventing the transfer of land from the hands of agriculturist castes into the non-agricultural money-lending castes, it has by its very nature debarred many castes to own land.
Untouchables, who were already kept deprived of land according to the Varna-Vivastha system of the Hindu caste hierarchy, were now legally debarred from land ownership (Puri 2003:2695). The system of separate electorates introduced in 1909 and 1919 further exacerbated the communal and separatists stance of politics (Tanwar 1999: 29).It brought serious implications in the province of Punjab where Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had their respective political organisation to strive for their vested interests (Malhotra 1976:74-88). Since Scheduled Castes did not have their own organisation to articulate and defend their interests, they became the center of attention of all the communal organisations. Each of these organisations was trying to woo them on its side to secure an edge over the others in terms of numbers. This was, perhaps, the first time in the history of the Scheduled Castes that their numerical strength became important in the calculation and formulation of social and political forces. The provision for separate electorate also raised their expectation to enter into political arena as an independent force rather than to be used, by the Arya-Samaj, Congress or Alkalis, as a pawn on the chessboard of electoral politics.
Moreover, the adoption of the removal of Untouchability by the Indian National congress as an integral part of its policies in 1917 provided a further impetus to the scheduled castes in their efforts to seek a respectable place in the Indian society. The California based Ghadar Movement was another important political development whichfascinated the youths of Punjab who were eager to bask in an egalitarian system free from discrimination and colonial tutelage.” These revolutionaries exhorted the people to rise” (Malhotra 1970:21) The Babbar Akali movement was yet another significant political development that catapulted Punjab into the vortex of revolt against injustice and foreign rule. In addition, another important social and political movement that swept the cities and countryside of Punjab was the loud appeals of Arya Samaj to restructure the Indian society on the basis of equality and social justice. Ghadar movement and the Babbar Akali movements were revolutionary and militant movements in comparison to the non-violent and passive postures of the Indian National Congress and Arya Samaj.
Interestingly enough, the Ad Dharm movement, particularly, some of its key protagonists had close affiliation with the Arya Samaj before they became active in the movement. Obviously, the rise and growth of the Ad Dharm had to be deeply influenced by the Arya-Samaj.
The Arya Samaj had provided young untouchables with ideas of social equality not only by allowing them to attend its schools but also by creating service organizations such as the Dayanand Dalit Udhar at Hoshiarpur and Achhut Udhar at Lahore (Juergensmeyer 2000: 222).
The trio that initially conceived the idea of the Ad Dharm movement consisted of Vasant Rai, Thakur Chand and Swami Shudra Nand. They were also active in the Arya Samaj Movement.Vasant Rai “had worked with the Arya Samaj as a teacher before taking up with the Samaj’s orthodox Hindu opposition, the Sanatan Dharm” (Juergensmeyer 1988:38).Swami Shudra Nand was a missionary of the Samaj and Thakur Chand, though a dalit like Vasant Rai and Shudra Nand was called pundit because of his association with the Arya Samaj. They were either pracharaks (preachers) or Updeshaks (missionaries) of the Arya Samaj. Even after their absorption into the newly formed Ad Dharm movement Arya Samaj offered them important role in the movement to lure them back. Mention may be made here that they quit the Ad Dharm movement and returned to the Samaj.2
Mangoo Ram And Ad Dharm
Mangoo Ram literally took the movement to the doorsteps of the untouchables in the Doaba region and soon emerged as a cult figure of the dalits in Punjab. He was born at Mugowal, a village in the district of Hoshiarpur, on 14th January 1886.His forefathers were practicing the occupation of tanning raw hides.However, his father, Harnam Dass, had abandoned the traditional caste-based occupation of tanning and preparing hides, and taken up the profession of selling the tanned leather on commercial basis.Since the leather trade required the knowledge of English language to read the sale orders, he was eager to have Mangoo Ram receive education to free him from the begar (forced labour) which he had to do in lieu of English orders read for him by the upper caste literates.Initially, Mangoo Ram was taught by a village Sadhu (Saint), then after studying at different schools he joined a high school at Bajwara Kalan, a town few miles away from his home.3 being a Chamar, he had to sit separately from the other upper caste students.In fact, he used to take a gunny bag from his home for sitting in a segregated place outside the classroom.In 1905 Mangoo Ram left the high school to help his father in leather trade.For three years he helped his father develop leather trade into a thriving business.However, in 1909 he left for America to follow into the footsteps of his peer group in the Doaba region.
Interestingly enough even in America Mangoo Ram had to work on the farms of a Punjabi Zamindar4 who had settled in California.In other words, even in America he had to experience the same relations of production as back home in India. How a Shudra immigrant worker, who works on the land of an Indian upper caste landlord settled abroad, feels and experiences work conditions and its resultant relations of production is an altogether a separate question.However, while in California, Mangoo Ram came in close contact with the Ghadar Movement - a radical organisation aimed at liberating India from the British rule through armed insurrection.In fact, he participated in the weapon smuggling mission of the organisation.He was arrested and given the capital punishment but was saved from the death sentence by a chance as someone else in his name was executed (Ahir 1992:2).The news of his supposed death reached his village.According to the tradition of his community, his widow, named Piari married his elder brother.Mangoo Ram, on reaching India, remarried and had four sons from his second wife named Bishno.5
After his return from abroad where he spent as many as sixteen years, Mangoo Ram did not find any change in Indian society which was still infested with the disease of Untouchability. He said
While living abroad I had forgotten about the hierarchy of high and low, and Untouchability; and under this very wrong impression returned home in December, 1925. The same misery of high and low, and Untouchability which I had left behind to go abroad started afflicting again. I wrote about all this to my leader Lala Hardyal Ji that until and unless this disease is cured Hindustan could not be liberated. In accordance with his orders, a program was formulated in 1926 for the awakening and upliftment of Achhut qaum (untouchable community) of India.6
Having settled in his native village, he opened up a school for the lower caste children in the village.Initially, the school was opened up, temporarily in the garden of Risaldar Dhanpat Rai, a landlord of his village.Later on, Lamberdar Beeru Ram Sangha, another landlord of the same village, donated half-acre land for the purpose of formally opening up the school.The school had five teachers including Mangoo Ram.7 Now-a-days, the school land has been declared as Shamlat (common land) and no remnants of the building exist except the old dilapidated structure of the well meant for drinking water in the school.It was in that school that the first official meeting of the Ad Dharm movement was held on June 11-12, 1926. There is another version about the school which traced its origin to the support provided by the Arya Samaj (Juergensmeyer 2000: 224).However, given his close association with the Ghadar movement in California, Mangoo Ram’s relationships with the Arya Samaj was not as close as that of Vasant Rai, Thakur Chand and Swami Shudra Nand.Moreover, his personal experience of being treated as an equal in America, particularly by his fellow Ghadarites, inculcated in him an intense desire and inspiration for equality and social justice. This led him to lay the foundation of the Ad Dharm movement to streamline the struggle against Untouchability.Soon he emerged as a folk-hero of the dalits who started rallying around him, particularly in the dalit concentrated areas of the Doaba region.However, after a while the Ad Dharm organisation got factionalised resulting in a split in 1929 into two groups: one headed by Vasant Rai and the other by Mangoo Ram. There emerged two independent organisations: the Ad Dharm Mandal with its office in Jalandhar was headed by Mangoo Ram and the All Indian Ad Dharm Mandal with its headquarters in Lyalpur was headed by Vasant Rai.8
The Vasant Rai group of the Ad Dharm Mandal was thoroughly soaked into the ideology of the Arya Samaj.In fact this group was lured back by the Arya Samaj. Although the Arya Samaj dominated section of Ad Dharm Mandal withdrew itself from the Mangoo Ram’s group in 1929, the latter played an active part in the politics of Punjab for a period of two decades from 1926 to 1952.9
Mangoo Ram set a clear agenda for Ad Dharm movement.The agenda was to create a new religion for the lower caste. Lower castes were treated shabbily by the Hindus who for political motives considered them as part of their religion. Arya Samaj was making frantic efforts to bring the Shudras back into the Hindu fold who had proselytised into Islam, Christianity and Sikh religion (Malhotra 1976: 74-88; Sharma 1985). Arya Samaj and the Christian church were not the only organisations which were trying to win over the lower castes. Sikhs and Muslims were equally interested in bringing them into their respective religions. Mangoo Ram thought it appropriate to intervene at this juncture to espouse the cause of Dalits by carving out a separate identity of their own.
In the poster10 announcing the first annual meeting of Ad Dharm Movement, Mangoo Ram11 devoted the entire space to the hardships faced by the untouchables at the hands of the caste Hindus. He also made an appeal to the Achhuts to come together to chalk out a program for their liberation and upliftment while addressing the Chamars, Chuhras, Sansis, Bhanjhras, Bhils etc.as brothers, he said,
We are the real inhabitants of this country and our religion is Ad Dharm. Hindu Qaum came from outside to deprive us of our country and enslave us. At one time we reigned over ‘Hind’. We are the progeny of kings; Hindus came down from Iran to Hind and destroyed our qaum. They deprived us of our property and rendered us nomadic. They razed down our forts and houses, and destroyed our history. We are seven Crores in numbers and are registered as Hindus in this country. Liberate the Adi race by separating these seven crores. They (Hindus) became lord and call us ‘others’. Our seven crore number enjoy no share at all. We reposed faith in Hindus and thus suffered a lot. Hindus turned out to be callous. Centuries ago, Hindus suppressed us, sever all ties with them. What justice we expect from those who are the butchers of Adi race. Time has come, be cautious, now the Government listens to appeals. With the support of sympathetic Government, come together to save the race. Send members to the Councils so that our qaum is strengthened again. British rule should remain forever. Make prayer before God. Except for this Government, no one is sympathetic towards us. Never consider ourselves as Hindus at all, remember that our religion is Ad Dharm.12
The way, the leaders of Ad Dharm chose to restore dignity and freedom to the untouchables was to completely detach them from Hinduism and to consolidate them into their own ancient religion - Ad Dharm - of which they had become oblivious during the age-old domination by the ‘alien Hindus’. In fact, the task of the revival of their ancient religion was not an easy one by virtue of the fact that during a long period of persecution at the hands of the Savarnas, the untouchables had forgotten their Gurus and other religious symbols. In fact they were never allowed to nurture an aspiration to have their own independent religion. They were condemned as profane and were declared unfit to have their own theology. Thus to revive Ad Dharm was tantamount to developing an altogether a new religion for the Achhuts. Mangoo Ram’s appeal that the dalits were the real inhabitants of this land made an enormous psychological impact on the untouchables who were treated as, even inferior to animals in Indian society. The appeal inspired them to come out of their slumber and fight for their freedom and liberty. The Ad Dharm provided a theological podium to sustain and reinforce the new dalit identity. For centuries, they were bereft of any identity and remained in the appendage of the hierarchically graded Hindu society.
Before 1920’s, especially before the rise of Ad Dharm movement, the untouchables in Punjab hardly envisaged the idea of seeking a separate identity.The growing communal politics and resultant unrest within Punjab in the 1920’s coupled with the emergence of dalit organisations in different parts of the country, offered them a good opportunity to carve out such an identity. In the pre-partition Punjab, untouchables constituted one-fourth of the total population. Since scheduled castes did not have their separate religion, they were being counted as Hindus. In a system of communal representation, Muslim leaders were thinking that the Achhuts, who were never considered as equal by the caste Hindus, should be separated from them and equally divided between the Hindus and Muslims.13
It was not only Muslims who alone had such an approach, even the Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus also wanted to absorb them into their respective religion for political benefits. In the absence of any other alternative open to them, a large number of the Achhuts of Punjab converted into Christianity (especially the Chuhras of Sialkot and Gurdaspur), Sikhism (in Sialkot and Gurdaspur), and Islam (Rawalpindi, Multan and Lahore division) (Bakshi Ram Pandit n.d.:23).
Consequently, the Hindus in the province had been reduced from 43.8% in 1881 to 30.2% in 1931 while the Sikhs increased from 8.2% to 14.3% and the Muslims from 40.6% to about 52% and in the British territory the population of the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims in 1931 was 26.80%, 12.99% and 56.4% respectively (Census of India, 1931, Vol. xvii, Punjab Part i, p. 291 as quoted in Malhotra 1976: 75).
Obviously, it alarmed the Arya Samaj to put an end to the conversions of Achhuts lest it turned out as a political suicide for Hindus. Lala Lajpat Rai’s “Achhut Udhar Mandal” at Lahore, Swami Ganesh Dutt’s “Antyaj Udhar Mandal” at Lahore and Lala Devi Chand’s “Dayanand Dalit Udhar Mandal” at Hoshiarpur came up in response to these conversions.As a matter of fact, the Arya Samaj started Shuddhi campaign to bring the converted Achhuts back into the Hindu-fold (Bakshi Ram Pandit n.d.:23). This also brought the Arya Samaj into confrontation with the Sikhs and the Muslims. “In a famous incident in 1900, Sikhs rebelled at the Arya Samaj’s practice of publicly shaving lower caste Sikhs and offering them Shuddhi”(Juergensmeyer 1988: 27).
It was at this stage that Ad Dharm entered into the volatile territories of communal politics in Punjab. There was no one to welcome it (Virdi April 2001:10).However, they received some support from the British government as it had helped in weakening the growing unity in the country (Chandra et al 1989: 290-291 and 408-410). Anyhow, “The Ad Dharmi pugnacity before independence, then, was both social and political; the latter would no doubt have brought at least to high-caste minds thoughts of imperialist ‘divide and rule’” (Saberwal 1976:71).
Dominant Castes, Violence and Ad Dharm
The Ad Dharm faced stiff opposition and its followers fall victim to physical violence at the hands of both Hindus and Sikhs. In fact, the Ad-Dharmis were beaten up when they organised meetings. They were
[c]hased everywhere and hounded out of bounds of towns and villages by the Hindus and quite often they had to hold their meetings and conferences in open fields. One such incident also took place at Una (Pawar 1993:77).
They were also denied entry into meadows and common lands to fetch fodder for their cattle, access to the open fields to answer the call of nature, and were interned in their houses by the Sikhs and Hindus for no other fault than that of their being registered as Ad Dharmis in the census of 1931. In Ferozepur district, two Chamars were burnt alive because they registered themselves as Ad Dharmis (Chumber 1986: 51). In Lyalpur district, the innocent daughter of an Ad Dharmi was murdered. In Nankana Sahib, the Akalis threw ash into the langar (food prepared in bulk for free distribution) meant for those who came to attend the Ad Dharm meeting14. In Village Dakhiyan-da-Prah of the Ludhiana district, the Sikh boys abducted Shudra Nand from the dais of the Achhuts’ public meeting. In Baghapurana, many Achhuts were beaten up and their legs and arms were broken (Bakshi Ram Pandit n.d. 56-57). In many villages of Ludhiana, Ferozepur and Layalpur, the Achhuts were boycotted for two months. These Achhuts were living in villages where the Jat-Sikhs or Muslims were in a dominant position. The Jat-Sikhs had compelled the Achhuts to record themselves as Sikhs. However, despite repression and intimidation the Achhuts did not give in and recorded Ad Dharm as their religion (ibid.54-56).In village Ghundrawan of the district Kangra, the Rajputs even smashed the pitchers of the Ad Dharmi women who were on their way to fetch water. When denied water from the village pond the Ad Dharmis had to travel for three miles to fetch water from the river. The ongoing torture at the hands of the Rajputs ultimately compelled them to leave the village to settle in Pathankot. It was only after the interference of Sir Fazal-i- Hussain, Chief Commissioner, on the request of Mangoo Ram that their grievance was looked into and eventually they were rehabilitated in their native village15. In face of opposition by the upper caste Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, the leaders of Ad Dharm had tough time at the Lothian Committee16 to prove that they were neither Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims nor Christians (Piplanwala 1986:10-15; and Ahir 1992:9-11). The Sikh representatives claimed that since many of the Achhuts believed in Guru Granth Sahib and solemnised their marriage ceremonies in accordance with the Sikh customs half of their population should be added to the Sikh religion and the other half be merged with the Hindus. Likewise the Muslim representatives told the Lothian committee that since some of the Achhuts perform Namaz (offer prayers), keep rozas (long fast kept in a particular month ) and bury their corpses in cemeteries instead of burning them, they should be divided equally between Hindus and Muslims. Similarly, the Hindu representatives on the other hand stressed that since the Achhuts believed in Vedas and perform their marriage ceremonies in accordance with the Hindu customs no one except the Hindus have the right to seek their allegiance. Above all, Lala Ram Das of the “Dayanand Dalit Udhar Mandal” (Hoshiarpur) and Pandit Guru Dev of “Achhut Mandal” (Lahore) informed the franchise committee that there was no untouchable in Punjab.According to them the untouchables were the backward class of Hindus who were made at par with the rest through theperformance of Shuddhi.Hence, no separate treatment for the untouchables in Punjab.
Untouchables generally were being subjected to strong pressures by Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others, each community seeking to pull them into its own fold, at least for the day of the census: it was common then to seek to influence census results as a prelude to political claims (Saberwal 1976:52).
In addition, insinuations and condemnations were also hurled at the Ad Dharm Mandal by the various religious groups in a bid to scandalise the movement. The leaders of Ad Dharm were alleged to have hob-nobbed with the Muslims during the crucial time of communal representation where Hindus and Muslims were juxtaposed against each other. The Ad-Dharm’s political alliance with the Unionist Party during the Punjab Assembly elections, first in 1937 and then again in 1945-46 was an eye sore both for the congress andthe Hindu Sabha17. The Hindu leaders did not like the Ad Dharmis’ growing links orassociation with the British government.In fact, the Ad Dharmis were supported by the British secretly in the 1937 election who
... gave them cars for their campaign. In public meetings, they would attack the various aspects of Hindu society, and if this led to violence, the government used to protect them (Saberwal 1976:70-71).
As regards the Ad Dharm’s closeness to Muslims, it was more of political expediency rather than a blind alliance. It was, in fact, Mangoo Ram, who categorically said no to the mandarins of partition (Chumber 1986:52; Sain 1985:37). But on the issue of communal representation for the Achhuts, he showed keen interest in its implementation for the Achhuts.When Gandhi sat on fast-unto-death at Poona against the separate electorate for untouchables, Mangoo Ram followed suit declaring “Gandhi if you are prepared to die for your Hindus, then I am prepared to die for these untouchables”. On this Mangoo Ram was accused of being a casteist.
The rift between the liberal Gandhian and radical untouchables was not healed, however, since each continued to perceive the other as an obstacle to achieving intercaste harmony. Gandhi thought the untouchables’ militant separatism was reinforcing the concept of caste and the untouchables thought Gandhi was trying to whitewash existing differences and to deny untouchables their legitimate base of power. Both the perceptions were to some extent correct (Juergensmeyer 2000:230).
Gandhi pleaded on behalf of the Shudras and tried to live like a Bhangi among them to experience what hardships they faced. But Mangoo Ram was one of them.He was a Chamar who experienced the pangs of untouchability. Thus, his response to the epic fast against separate electorate was not merely pragmatic but also an existential one.When Dr. Ambedkar compromised with Gandhi and the Poona Pact was signed, Mangoo Ram rang up Dr. Ambedkar in an angry mood and expressed his anguish as to why he agreed to the Pact. Dr. Ambedkar said that he had to sign the Poona Pact on human grounds to save the life of Gandhi (Moon 19991:88). The Ad Dharmis perceived that the scheduled castes had lost much more than what they gained in the Poona Pact (Chumber 1986: 51).That is why Mangoo Ram continued his fast even after the Pact was signed.He broke his fast only after the declaration was made by the government that eight seats were reserved for the untouchables in Punjab.The fast undertaken by him continued for 28 days from 20th September to 17th October, 1932 until the Pact was received at Jalandhar. Mangoo Ram used to say “those people (Hindus) who had humiliated us for thousands of years how we could trust their promise” (Mugowalia 1986: 35). Thus the followers of Ad Dharm movement were put to severe hardships and violence for carving out an identity for them and asserting for their rights.In spite of all types of pressures and hardships, the Ad Dharmis succeeded in registering ‘Ad Dharm’ as a separate religion for the lower castes in Punjab in the 1931 census.
Ad Dharm And Dalit Identity
A close study of the objectives set forth by the Ad Dharm founders and the methods adopted by them shows that they endeavored to establish a religious identity for the lower castes than building up the subaltern consciousness.The Ad Dharmis wanted to remove the stigma of untouchability from the face of their community and secure equal rights and respect for the lower caste people.However, the methods and ways adopted by the Ad Dharm leaders ended up with creating another religion. The Ad-Dharmis were asked to salute each other in the name of Jai Guru Dev (Victory to the divine guru) and inresponse to that the reply was Dhan Guru Dev (blessed be the divine guru).These greetings were meant to differentiate them (the untouchables) from the other religious communities having their own specific nomenclatures to accost each other within their own social circles.For example, the Hindus address each other by ‘Namaste’, Sikhs by ‘Sat Sri Akal’ and Muslims by ‘Salaam’ (Juergensmeyer 1988: 53).The salutation of Jai Guru Dev and Dhan Guru Dev as a response to that provided a separate identity to the Ad-Dharm, a new religion of Shudras.
Sant Ravidass was projected as a spiritual preceptor and Guru. Bhagwan Satguru Namdev, Maharaj Kabir and Rishi Valmiki were also included in the theology of Ad Dharm. The Sanskrit phrase sohang18 (I am that) was adopted as a mantra by the new religion, Ad Dharm. It is still being used in the wall calendars showing Guru Ravi Dass’s picture.As far as the salutations are concerned, they have become memorabilia of the Ad Dharm movement.
The protagonists of the Ad Dharm movement also strived to provide their new religion with a sacred book called Ad Prakash, the original light.The purpose of such a move was to institutionalise the newly created religion.Mangoo Ram expressed his will among his closest circle that on his death only the sacred couplets from the Ad Prakash should be chanted.So after his death, only the Ad Prakash was recited on the death ceremony.At that time only a hand written copy of the Ad Prakash was available. Subsequently, Sant Isher Dass of village Nandgarh of District Hoshiarpur compiled the holy book19. Thus the Ad Dharm movement provided a new sense of identity to the untouchables which they lacked earlier.In fact, the Ad Dharm developed into a qaum (a community) similar to those of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.
The Ad Dharm made substantial contribution to the social and political life of dalits in Punjab. It tried to generate awareness among the Dalits for bringing a cultural revolution in the society perforated with the evil of low and high caste dichotomy.Although, a large number of social organisations had sprung up since the early twenties for the benefits of the untouchables, all of them were patronised by the upper castes and failed to bring any significant change as faras the trajectories of varna system and caste configuration of the Indian society were concerned. Given the obnoxious contents of the social taboos and the anti-dalit social practices, it was adventurous for the untouchables to think about forming an organisation to fight for the cause of social liberation. Why Ad Dharm had to project Dalits as a separate qaum with an independent religion was not only a sociological issue but had deep political undercurrents in an in egalitarian social system where some people were excluded from the mainstream on the basis of their birth. Interestingly enough, their being untouchable was more pronounced in terms of denying them the benefits of facilities available in the civil society and less in terms of seeking their menial services.
However, with the introduction of the adult franchise the untouchables have no longer been ‘untouchable’ so far as their votes are concerned. But they are hardly encouraged to aspire for the seat of power. The game of numbers has made it imperative for the Hindus to have claim on the untouchables.Even in the instruction guide for the 1931 census mention was made that
[A] ll Chuhras who are not Muslims or Christians, and who do not return any other religion, should be returned as Hindus. The same rule applies to members of other depressed classes who have no tribal religion (1931 Census, Punjab, Vol. 20, Chap. 11, p. 289, as quoted in Juergensmeyer 1988:73)
The emancipator project launched by Mangoo Ram inspired the lower castes to make efforts for their upliftment. The scope of the project, as vividly enunciated in the resolution passed in the first meeting of the Ad Dharm posited emphasis on the social equality of the Dalits and stressed on creating social and cultural awakening rather than merely seeking jobs and other benefits from the government.The Ad Dharm Report20 listed ten basic principles and twelve duties of the Ad Dharm organisation and fifty-six commandments to be followed by the Ad Dharmis. The main emphasis of these commandments, principles and duties was on the cultural, social and religious aspects of the life.The Report also includes twenty-five resolutions passed in the first Ad Dharm Conference in 1926.The government was requested to provide special schools and scholarships for the untouchable children (resolutions 7, 10, 11); proper representation in elected bodies and government departments (resolution 17); to eliminate rayit-namma and not to apply the Land Alienation Act to the untouchables (resolution 13). The Ad Dharm Mandal led by Mangoo Ram was able to raise the religious and organisational status of the untouchables beyond imagination21. The new constitution of independent India , adopted on 26 January, 1950, incorporated special provisions for Dalits to raise their social status and to help them to come at par with the rest of the society. In fact, the voice for such special provisions were first raised by the Ad Dharm in 1926 and subsequently documented in its report in 1931. In 1950, Mangoo Ram requested his qaum to relieve him of active social service life and called upon young Ad Dharmis to come forward to take the flag of dalit liberation.22
However, for two decades, i.e. from 1950 to 1970, Ad Dharm movement remained dormant for reasons best known to its leaders. In fact, most of the Adi movements in different parts of the country ceased to play an active role in the post-colonial India until 1970. Some of their leaders either joined the Congress or, for some time, carried out their political struggle under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar. Some scholars believed that the Ad Dharm movement was eventually absorbed into Dr. Ambedkar’s Scheduled Castes federation and finally transformed into the Republican Party of India (Ahir 1992:5; and Saberwal 1976:68). It has also been said that in 1946 the Ad Dharm Mandal handed over the charge of political struggle to Dr. Ambedkar’s Scheduled Castes Federation and confined itself to the social and religious matters affecting the Scheduled castes (Juergensmeyer 1988:153).
However, facts do not support such an analysis. After the 1937 Punjab Assembly elections, in which the Ad Dharm won all but one reserved seats, the low lying factionalism within its organisation came onto the surface. The main factional confrontation was between Seth Kishan Das and Master Gurbanta Singh. Seth Kishan Das was a rich man of the famous Boota Mandi, 23 whose financial support to the Ad Dharm Mandal was no secret. He was also in the good books of Mangoo Ram, President of the Mandal. Master Gurbanta Singh was an Arya-samaji turned congress sympathiser who had also served Ad Dharm at one time as a General Secretary. He projected himself as a real representative of the untouchables being one of them as a poor man. Whereas, Seth Kishan Das, a wealthy leather merchant, in his view, could not empathise with the poor untouchables. He contested 1937 Punjab Assembly election as a congress nominee from the Jalandhar reserved seat against Seth Kishan Das who was supported by the Ad Dharm Mandal. Master Gurbanta Singh was defeated by Seth Kishan Das with a big margin. This further widened the gulf between them. In the meantime, Seth Kishan Das formed the Achhut Federation, a Punjabi version of Dr. Ambedkar’s Scheduled Castes Federation. Mr. Gopal Singh Khalsa, an M.L.A. from the Ludhiana reserved seat, joined him as a Vice-President. Seth Kishan Das formed Achhut Federation without taking Mangoo Ram into confidence that, in turn, got enraged by his behaviour. Master Gurbanta Singh exploited this opportunity and stepped into the Ad Dharm Mandal. He managed to come closer to Mangoo Ram. However, Master Gurbanta Singh had also formed “Ravidass Naujawan Sabha” and carried out for some time ‘Ravidass Jaikara’, as the publication of the Sabha. Bhagat Singh Mal, Pritam Singh Bala, Karam Chand Shenmar were some of the prominent members of the Ravidass Naujawan Sabha. He, in fact, reportedly wanted to emulate Mangoo Ram by forming an organisation and a publication to match ‘Adi Danka’, the weekly newspaper of Ad Dharm24. In the 1946-47 Punjab Assembly election, Mangoo Ram put his weight behind Master Gurbanta Singh who was a congress nominee against Kishan Das of the “Achhut Federation”. This time, Master Gurbanta Singh defeated Seth Kishan Das.
However, by now the leadership of the Ad Dharm Mandal got scattered into different political segments, thanks to the allurement of political offices. Mangoo Ram himself got elected to the Assembly with the support of the Unionist Party from the Hoshiarpur constituency. The “Ad Dharm Mandal” building, which was constructed with the financial support of Seth Kishan Das, came under the control of Master Gurbanta Singh who eventually became the custodian of its property and Chairman of Ravidass High School.
A cursory glance at these developments in the Ad Dharm conjured up a pessimistic image about the Ad Dharm movement as if it had ceased to exist in the late forties. But what one needs to keep in mind while analysing the scope of the movement, is that movement is too big a phenomenon to be confined within the boundaries of a compact organisation or a political party. Political organisations and political parties may branch out from the domain of a movement. And the movement may for some time go into a gestation period to resurface again.
Hardly if ever, does a social movement sustain a uniform ally high level of mobilised action. It alternates between periods of intense activity and relative calm, during which period it may devote itself to organisational problems. Therefore, a period of relative calm need not apply its dissipation (Mukherji 1977:47)
The “Achhut Federation” and the emergence of an articulate dalit leadership which eventually joined the congress was, in fact, the product of the Ad Dharm movement. The coming up of the Achhut Federation and joining of the congress party by some of the Ad Dharmis should not be interpreted as the demise of the Ad Dharm movement. Even when the movement was in low ebb, Mangoo Ram and his associates like Sant Ram Azad and Chanan Lal Manak remained steadfast on the principles and sustenance of Ad-Dharm movement.
Even in 1970 when efforts were made by Mangu Ram Jaspal, another Ad Dharmi of the Doaba region who had returned from England to settle in Jalandhar, to revive the movement, the veteran Mangoo Ram promptly came forward to help resuscitate the movement. Some other distinguished Ad Dharmis, who remained loyal to the movement even during its gestation period, wrote series of articles in the Ravidass Patrika of the new Ad Dharm movement. The new Ad-Dharm movement got resurged and revamped on December 13, 1970 under the banner of “Ad Dharm Scheduled Castes Federation”.
There were striking similarities between the “Ad Dharm Mandal” and the “Ad Dharm Scheduled Castes Federation”. As a matter of fact, Mangoo Ram commented that “‘we’re back to where we were in 1925' “(Juergensmeyer 1988:263). Until the objective conditions or contradictions which initially propelled the movement were altered or resolved, the goals and ideology remained intact to reemerge at the slightest opportunity.
...[w]hen the existing structures in a society show certain inconsistencies with reference to the achievement of certain goals or when the goals themselves are inconsistent with the needs of the constituents of the system, objective conditions for their manifestation is (sic) prepared. When these conditions lead further to maturation collective mobilisation may take place in response to general discontent. ... Such mobilisation for collective action continue to persist until such times as when the objective conditions change in a direction so as to render the continuance of such a collective mobilisation redundant. Such a situation may arise when the collective mobilisation has achieved its major objective, or when the major objective of the movement itself becomes irrelevant (Mukherji 1977:42).
The main objectives of the Ad Dharm movement were to carve out an independent identity for the untouchables and to blot out the stigma of untouchability. Although, the Ad Dharm movement played an effective role in mobilising dalits on these vital issues, the shift in the then political arena, induced by the electoral system, forced the movement to adjust itself with the changed political scenario. As the majority of the Ad Dharm leadership got involved in the electoral process to gain political power25, it eventually diluted its emphasis on the goals of removal of untouchability and the construction of a separate identity. As a result the ‘objective conditions’ remained unchanged. In spite of legal provisions enshrined in the new constitution, the traditional authority structures of hierarchy resisted and stalled the process of transformation.Mangoo Ram said:
... our people in the government are still treated like slaves. They fear their superiors and high caste people.(Juergensmeyer 1988: 258). In other words, the evil of untouchability has not been eradicated from the complex social structure of the society. “Physical untouchability has given way to the mental untouchability”26.
Moreover, the goal of constructing a communal identity for the untouchables by developing a separate religion, though partly achieved in the 1931 census, was rolled back in 1932 by the Poona Pact. Henceforth, from the status of a religion, Ad Dharm was reduced into a category of caste27. So, instead of elevating the status of the untouchables, it had a negative impact on the dalit mobilisation. A new caste was added to the already long list of Scheduled castes. Chamars were further categorised into Chamars and Ad Dharmis.
The new Ad Dharm movement in the seventies was organised against this background. It pledged to revive the spirit of social and cultural transformation, as ignited by Mangoo Ram in the 1920’s. Efforts were also made to keep away from the vicissitudes of power politics which had marred social and cultural stances of the original Ad Dharm movement.The Ad-Dharm Scheduled Castes Federation reiterated on the importance of communal identity of the Ad Dharmis as a separate qaum.In fact, the revived movement was more theological. Religion was employed as a rallying point for harnessing the allegiance of the untouchables. The construction of RavidassTemple in Benares and highlighting the Ravidass temple (Dera Sach Khand) in village Ballan near Bhogpur town of Jalandhar was the focal point of the new Ad Dharm movement. The first conference of the revived movement was held at a religious place – Dera SachKhand Ballan.It focused on the renewal of the qaumi identity. However, in due course some material demands were also included. Land reforms and raising the income limit from Rs.3600 to 6000, for defining poverty, were among the most important demands in this regard (Juergensmeyer 1988: 261).
The revived Ad Dharm movement attempted to widen the scope of Ad Dharm religion by including in its fold, the Chuhras (sweeper caste), Mazhbi Sikhs, Ramdasias, and the Ambedkar Buddhists. In order to enlist the support of the Chuhras, who got estranged from the Ad Dharm, (Saberwal 1976:68) Valmiki, the patron saint of the sweeper caste, was assigned special importance in the revived movement.
Although the “Ad Dharm Scheduled Castes Federation” adopted the well-tried-out formulae of dalit mobilisation, it could not succeed in eliciting the same level of response. The practice of untouchability, the most important ‘structural factor’ (Oommen 1977:16) in mobilising untouchables in 1920s, has been bridled to a significant extent. Moreover, the articulate leaders of the Scheduled castes were co-opted in the congress system which operated like an umbrella to incorporate various shades of political orientations and organisations. Moreover, what the Ad Dharm was aspiring for during the British regime, the congress delivered the same in the post colonial phase.Even Mangoo Ram had acknowledged it and said
Dhanwad karna congress raj wala chotte waddhe da bhaid mitta ditta. Mahatama Gandhi ji bauhat upkar kitta girian kauman nu saath mila ditta. (Thanks to the congress regime for bridging the gap between the lower and the higher. Mahatama Gandhi ji did a lot of social service to bring the downtrodden at par with the other communities) 28.
However, before the revived Ad Dharm movement lost in the whirlpool of militant fundamentalism in Punjab in the 1980s, fresh efforts were made to keep the struggle alive by publishing souvenirs, journals, and weekly news bulletins to glorify the various aspects of the movement. In January 1985, the Mangoo Ram Mugowalia Souvenir Committee released a souvenir29 in commemoration of the 99th birth anniversary of Mangoo Ram. The purpose of the souvenir was to generate awareness among the scheduled castes about the protagonists and sympathisers of the Ad Dharm Mandal. Moreover, as a sequel to the Adi Danka of the 1920s and Ravidass Patrika of the 1970s, a Punjabi monthly named Kaumi Udarianwas launched from Jalandhar in December 198530. It endeavored to give wide coverage to the different aspects of the Ad Dharm movement of the 1920s and its contemporary relevance. In January 1986, a special issue of the Kaumi Udarian was published on the birth centenary of Babu Mangoo Ram. Likewise on 12 January 1997 the “Bahujan Samaj Bulletin” (a weekly newspaper of the Bahujan Samaj Party) also focused on various themes of the Ad Dharm movement. It was, in fact, through the columns of souvenirs, journals and news bulletins that many of the rare official documents of the “Ad Dharm Mandal” were made public. In addition, on 14 April 1986, the Ambedkar Mission Society, Punjab, posthumously honored Babu Mangoo Ram with the title of Kaumi Messiah (saviour of the community).The important factor which distinguished the revival of the Ad Dharm movement in the 1980s, particularly under the BSP, was that it laid less emphasis on the appeal of religion to seek support for the movement. It ispolitics which has now acquired the centre stage pushing religion into the background. No doubt the movement right from the very beginning had shown interest in gaining political power for purposes of bringing about the basic social transformation31 as witnessed during the Assembly elections in 1937 and 1946-47.The Ad Dharmis found it convenient to use religion as a strategy to political power. However, the real objective of the Ad Dharm movement was to create an egalitarian social structure where Ad Dharmis would be proud of their community and feel free to aspire for equal opportunities.
With an aim of achieving the same objective, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has become active in Punjab since 1985. Of late the Party has claimed that “the ideology of Ad Dharm has become the spine, heart , brain, eyes, feet, and arms of the struggle of the BSP” (Bahujan Samaj Bulletin 12 January 1997:8). In 1996, it won three of the thirteen parliamentary seats and recorded leads in as many as seventeen assembly constituencies in Punjab (Verma 1999). Kanshi Ram, founder of the BSP, was elected to Lok Sabha (1996) from the Hoshiarpur constituency , wherefrom 50 years ago Babu Mangoo Ram, founder of the Ad Dharm movement, got elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1946. More interestingly, it was again in Hoshiarpur that the BSP celebrated 75th year of the AD Dharm movement on 28 February 2001. On this occasion, Kanshi Ram in his address exhorted the “Bahujan Samaj” to follow the principles of the Ad Dharm movement of which the BSP has, now, become the torch-bearer.
The pamphlet32, issued by the BSP, also emphasised that the Party had taken forward the mission of the Ad Dharm movement. It reiterated that although Dr. Ambedkar tried to give political freedom to the downtrodden by granting them the right to vote in the constitution, but in actual practice it could not be realised fully. Further, the Pamphlet stressed that the ‘Manuite regimes’ have conspired to deprive the dalits of their hard earned rights by proposing to amend the constitution. The BSP, which drew inspiration from Ad Dharm and Dr. Ambedkar, strongly condemned such moves and sought support in its tirade against the Manuite government.
Simultaneously, the efforts have also been made to revive the spirit of the Ad Dharm movement abroad. Begumpura Times Quarterly, a bilingual publication of the “Ad Dharm Brotherhood Intl. Wolverhampton, U.K.” (Started in 1999) has carried a series of articles on various aspects of the Ad Dharm movement and the steps taken for its revival. The Ad Dharm Brotherhood Intl. also celebrated the Platinum Jubilee of the Ad Dharm movement at Shri Guru Ravidass Community Centre, Wolverhampton, on 11 June 2000. Earlier, on 25 July 1976, it celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the Ad Dharm in U.K. where Babu Mangoo Ram was invited as the chief guest and also honored with a pension of Rs. 1000 per month (Sain, 1985:37).
In India, the Platinum Jubilee function of the movement was organised at the Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Hall, Jalandhar on 11 June 2000.On this occasion, Mr. Chumber released the report of “Ad Dharm Mandal” 1931 (in Punjabi and Hindi) 33 which included the names of 500 members and 55 missionaries of the Mandal. The purpose of publishing the names of the members and missionaries was to acknowledge their contributions to the upliftment of the dalit community and also to generate an active interest among the younger generation of their families.The report also made a call to the scheduled castes to record Ad Dharm as their religion in the 2001 census as was done in the 1931 census.A similar appeal was made by the Ad Dharm Brotherhood Intl., U.K.Mention may be made here that the Ad Dharm movement of the 1920s had also received support from the immigrant Ad Dharmis settled in New Zealand, Fiji, Singapore, U.K. etc. (McLeod 1986:110: see also Manak 1985:8). As the ideology and principles of the Ad Dharm movement greatly influenced the dalits of the Doaba region, most of the immigrants who supported the movement from abroad also hailed from this very region. The present BSP, under the leadership of Kanshi Ram, which claims to fight for the rights of dalits in the framework of the Ad Dharm movement, has high hopes from the Doaba region. Moreover, given the significant number of Scheduled Castes in Punjab (28.31% as per 1991 census), there is a possibility of the emergence of alternative dalit politics.
What stumbled the dalits in Punjab to emerge as a political alternative despite their numerical strength is that they have not been able to consolidate themselves as a homogeneous group.In fact, they form a conglomerate of thirty-seven distinct dalit castes34 with different sub identities and diverse religious affiliations.The rules of the caste grammar treating one caste as superior to another are equally followed by the scheduled castes in the state.A study based on the field work has found that 76.6 percent of the dalit respondents ranked Ad Dharmi at the top of the hierarchy of the scheduled castes in Punjab.Being conscious of their superior status the Ad Dharmis practice endogamy to maintain their distinctness from the other dalit castes.Further, the study reported that 91.6 percent of the Ad Dharmis had married within their own caste (Kamaljot 1996: 33-35).Another empirical study reveals that among the Valmikis and the Ad Dharmis in Punjab there exists a substantial measure of active caste consciousness which further precluded them forging unity to fight out the socio-economic and political backwardness (Saberwal 1973: 256).
According to 1981 census, in terms of their numerical strength the Mazhabis, the Sikh counterparts of Valmikis also known as Chuhras, were 13,66,843; Chamars (also called Ramdasias, Ravidasies etc.) 12,21,145; Ad Dharmis 6,80,132; Valmikis 5,32,628; Dumnas 1,24,929; Bazigars 1,20,250; Meghs 78,405; Bawarias 62,624; Sansis 61,986; and Kabirpanthis 56,888 followed by rest of the scheduled castes in varied smaller denominations (Jodkha 2000: 400-401; see also his 2002).Out of the thirty seven castes, the Punjab government declared thirteen as the ‘Depressed Scheduled Castes’.Seven of these thirteen Depressed Scheduled Castes are identified by the Punjab government as the ‘De-notified Tribes‘ or the ‘Vimukta Jatis’ who were declared by the colonial administration as ‘Vagrant and Criminal tribes’.These thirteen castes together constituted only 11 percent of the scheduled caste population (ibid : 394).Chamars, Mazhabis, Ad Dharmis and Valmikis together constitute nearly three-fourth of the total scheduled castes population of Punjab.
Apart from above, the factor of economic inequalities among the dalits in the state is no less significant.The Ad Dharmis of the Boota Mandi in Jalandhar who control the leather industry are the richest among the scheduled castes of Punjab.Moreover, a group of scheduled castes has established its hold over the surgical tool manufacturing units in the Jalandhar town.Likewise, a small number of scheduled castes households also own cultivable land (around 0.40 percent of the total holdings in Punjab) which makes them different from most other dalits whose mainstay of livelihood depends on the income as manual and landless labourers.Similarly, some sections of the scheduled castes, particularly the Chamar and Ad Dharmis have acquired administrative positions in the state administration.
The above analysis shows that dalits of Punjab constitute a motley group of castes, economic strata and religious identities.Besides, the dalits lack an all-Punjab leader to mobilize them across religious and regional variations.It was precisely because of these intra-dalit cleavages that they could not emerge as a cohesive force to reckon with in the politics of Punjab. In the absence of a common platform, some of the dalits and their local elites seek their salvation through different political outfits including the Congress and the Akali Dal.
What we have tried to argue above is that the dalit consciousness is a consciousness of seeking justice and equality which was born in the early 20thecentury. Another aspect of dalit consciousness which needs to be underlined is that it has never been an exclusive domain of dalits only. Intermittently it continued to receive inputs from non-dalit quarters as well.Be it a phase of Bhakti movement, Sufis, Indian renaissance or of national freedom movement, there is an ample proof of efforts being made by non-dalits in the direction of eradication of untouchability.However, almost all of them thought it appropriate to take measures for the removal of untouchability without doing away with the in egalitarian social structure. This has led to a sharp division between the orientation of the dalits and the higher caste protagonists of social reform movements. The rise of Ad Dharm movement and Gandhi-Ambedkar dispute are testimonies to such polarization between the dalits and the twice-born.This division in turn further strengthened the process of consolidation of dalit consciousness in a framework of ‘we’ and ‘others’. The issues of caste and untouchability instead of emerging as a common social problem with a unified response across the length and breadth of Indian sub-continent have taken on a path of confrontation and antagonism. Dalit consciousness grew along these fault lines.Indian freedom struggle failed to provide an environment for the emergence of a politics based on consensus and common concerns. This was probably the main reason for the continuance of the ideology and principles of theAd Dharm movement in Punjab through the efforts of the BSP.
More curiously, dalits became victim of their own dalit consciousness, which instead of transcending caste and caste based hierarchies strengthened caste identities. Until very recently they (dalits) were condemned as untouchable because of their being low caste, now they have been given favours constitutionally, too because of their being low caste. Hence as far as the social status of dalits is concerned no significant change has really taken place.The blatant untouchability of yesteryears got transformed into a subtle form.Once a Scheduled Caste succeeded to raise his economic status by making use of reservation, he absolutely finds no avenues to concomitantly raise his social status also. He then desperately seeks new identities in borrowing religions and sometimes even borrowing respectable sub-caste titles.Such borrowed identities haunt him incessantly because his new incarnation failed to get recognition in the hierarchical social set up.
It is in this context that the contribution of the Ad Dharm movement becomes crucial. It helped the scheduled castes to seek social recognition through the process of cultural transformation on the one hand and spiritual regeneration on the other. It carved out a new identity for them. It gave them a new name: Ad Dharmi. The very title of Ad Dharmi instills in the minds of the scheduled castes a sense of pride. It reminds them of their pristine rich heritage. It also realised them as to how they were deprived of freedom and liberty and made subservient to the twice born. The Ad Dharm movement succeeded in raising the consciousness of the downtrodden people of the Doaba region of Punjab in particular and of the entire state in general. It gave them gurus to believe in, a qaum to belong to and a sense of history to relate with. It envisions them the possibility and potentiality of a social change whereby the scheduled castes could think and make efforts to improve their lot. The process of cultural transformation and spiritual regeneration started by the Ad Dharm movement under the leadership of Mangoo Ram continued to reverberate the cities and villages of Punjab into the 21st century through different platforms and political formations.
[I am grateful to Professor P.S. Verma for meticulously going through the various drafts of this paper.His scholarly comments and incisive criticism helped in improving the arguments raised in the paper.To late Chanan Lal Manak, I.D. Pawar, K.C. Shenmar, K.C. Sulekh, Chattar Sain, C.L. Chumber and Sant Baba Surinder Das I owe a special debt for helping me in locating and providing source material on the Ad Dharm movement. My thanks to Professors: H.K. Puri, Paramjit Singh Judge and Late Pradeep Kumar who provided critical inputs in preparation of the draft. My special thanks to Seema Goel for helping me in various ways in the preparation of the paper. However, for any fault or error, the responsibility lies entirely on the author].
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.<!--[endif]-->Some of the close associates of the Ad Dharm movement, however, did not approve the closure of the movement in 1946. They were of the opinion that Ad Dharm continued to play an important role for the upliftment of theuntouchables even after 1946. In 1946 Mangoo Ram got elected to the Punjab Assembly and remained there to espouse the cause of the Ad Dharmis till the first general elections in independent India.By that time, Mangoo Ram had grown fairly old. According to Chanan Lal Manak, a close associate of the movement, Ad Dharm could not produce any one of the caliber of Mangoo Ram to replace him.The rank and file of Ad Dharm was more interested in their individual vested interests rather than in the upliftment of the Dalits as a community.However, Mangoo Ram till his death did not surrender the Herculean task that he had taken on his shoulders for the dalit consciousness and their upliftment. Interviews with Ishwar Das Pawar, Chandigarh, April 23, 2001; Chanan Lal Manak, Jalandhar, May 1, 2001; and Chattar Sain, son of Mangoo Ram, Garshankar (Distt. Hoshiarpur), April 27, 2001.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.<!--[endif]-->Interviews: Chanan Lal Manak, Jalandhar, May 1, 2001; K.C. Sulekh, Chandigarh, July 1, 2001.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->3.<!--[endif]-->Interview with Chattar Sain, son of Mangoo Ram, Garshankar (Distt. Hoshiarpur) April 27, 2001; see also Ram 1971: 4).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->6.<!--[endif]-->A signed pamphlet by Mangoo Ram in the name of his qaum, entitled Panjab De Achhut panth Nu Vadhai: Meri Walon Sandesh (Congratulations to the Untouchable Brotherhood of Punjab: My Message ), reproduced as such in Monthly Kaumi Udarian(Punjabi), vol. 1, no. 2, January 1986,pp. 23-24(Jalandhar, ed. C.L. Chumber).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->7.<!--[endif]-->One of the teachers of the school was a Muslim, Walhi Mohammad and one was Brahmin, who was later on converted into a Shudra. The conversion ceremony comprised of an earthen pot (Douri) which contained water mingled with sugar balls (Patasha) and stirred with leather cutting tool (Rambi). Thus the prepared sweet water considered as holy was given to Brahmins to baptize them into Shudras (Sain, n.3).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->8.<!--[endif]-->The All India Ad Dharm Mandal got disbanded and merged with the organisation led by Dr Ambedkar in 1933 and after some years the same fate fell on Ad Dharm of Mangoo Ram,who closed the office of the Ad Dharm Mandal and changed its name to Ravidass Mandal (Juergensmeyer 2000: 232). However, close associates of the Ad Dharm movement contested this observation.They said that Ad Dharm Mandal was not changed into Ravidass Mandal.In fact, later on, RavidassSchool was opened up in the premises of the Ad Dharm Mandal building.So it was RavidassSchool which merely came to occupy the space of the Ad Dharm Mandal building rather than its being taken over by Ravidass Mandal. Interviews with: late Chanan Lal Manak, Jalandhar, May 29, 2001; K.C. Shenmar I.G. (P) Pb.(retd.) Chandigarh, April 28, 2001.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->9.<!--[endif]-->In 1952, Mangoo Ram was offered a ticket by the Congress to contest the assembly elections as its nominee.As he refused to contest the election on the Congress ticket, it was given to Kartar Singh of village Ligari of Hoshiarpur District.(Sain, n.3).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->10.<!--[endif]-->Mugowal Zila Hoshiarpur De Ad Dharm Skool da Wadda Bhaari Diwan: Pehla Salana JalsaMuwarka 11-12 June Aittwar, Somwar 1927 Mutabak 30-31 Jeth 1984 (Mugowal, Hoshiarpur District, in the Ad Dharm School: First Annual Huge Public Meeting, 11-12 June, Sunday-Monday 1927, as per theLocal Calendar 30-31 of the first month of the Year 1984). However, in various writings about Ad Dharm the year 1926 is referred to as the year of the First Annual Meeting of the Ad Dharm. Reproduced as such in Monthly Kaumi Udarian (Punjabi), vol. 1, No. 2, January 1986, pp 21-22.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->11.<!--[endif]-->Swami Shudra Nand and Babu Thakur Chand.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->12.<!--[endif]-->The text is in the form of poetry (in Punjabi), translated by the author and Seema Goel.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->13.<!--[endif]-->However, no record is available to substantiate this thesis (Juergensmeyer 1988:23).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->16.<!--[endif]-->The Lothian committee (Indian Franchise committee) was constituted in December 1931 under the Chairmanship of the Marquees of Lothian, C.H., and Parliamentary under Secretary of State for India. It consisted of 18 members. Dr. Ambedkar was one of them. The committee began its work, of hearing the views of the parties concerned and the provincial franchise committees constituted by the respective Provincial Legislatures, at Delhi on 1st February 1932. It conducted its enquires in Lahore on 31st March and 1st April, 1932. Ad Dharm Mandal and Dayanand Dalit Udhar Mandal represented the depressed classes of the Punjab before the committee. The Ad Dharm Mandal delegation consisted of eighteen members including Mangoo Ram (President) Hazara Ram Piplanwala (General Secretary), Hans Raj (Vice-President), Ram Chand Khera (Editor, Adi Danka), Pt. Hari Ram and Sant Ram Azad (Ahir 1992:8-9).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->17.<!--[endif]-->In 1937 Assembly elections in Punjab eight seats were reserved for the scheduled castes. Ad Dharm contested on all seats with the help of Unionist Party. Ad Dharm candidates won seven seats. One seat (Hoshiarpur) went to Congress candidate, Moola Singh who defeated Hazara Ram Piplanwala of Ad Dharm with a margin of seven votes (Manak May 1971: No. 8).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->18.<!--[endif]-->As spelt on the top of the letter pad of Ad Dharm Mandal. One such letter is in the possession of K.C. Shenmar I.G. (P.) Punjab (retd.) on which Mangoo Ram gave him testimonial. K.C. Shenmar has kindly passed on the photocopy of the testimonial to the author.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->19.<!--[endif]-->Ad Prakash Granth contains 1248 pages which include hymns of Guru Ravidass, Maharishi Valmiki and Kabir, apart from many other Adi Gurus (Banta Ram, Joginder Bains, Shri Ad Prakash Granth Trust, Hoshiarpur; Sain, n.3).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->20.<!--[endif]-->The report of the Ad Dharm Mandal, 1926-1931 was published on May 15, 1931 in Urdu.Mark Juergensmeyer and Surjit Singh Goraya translated it into English (Juergensmeyer 1988).C. L. Chumber translated it into Hindi and Punjabi (Chumber 11 June 2000).The Hindi and Punjabi translation include the name of the five hundred members of the Ad Dharm Mandal and its fifty five missionaries which were not included in the English translation.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->21.<!--[endif]-->Interview with K.C. Shenmar, IG(P) Punjab (retd.), Chandigarh, April 28, 2001.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->23.<!--[endif]-->Boota Mandi, also known as Ramdasspura, is situated on Nakodar road in Jalandhar. It has been inhabited by Ad Dharmis who had come from different villages to settle there for leather works and trade.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->24.<!--[endif]-->Interview with K.C. Shenmar, Chandigarh, July 9, 2001.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->25.<!--[endif]-->Interview with K.C. Sulekh, Chandigarh, July 12, 2001.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->26.<!--[endif]-->Interview with K.C. Shenmar, Chandigarh, July 14, 2001.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->27.<!--[endif]-->Ad Dharmi is one of the thirty seven castes listed as Scheduled Castes (Census of India 1991, section 17, Punjab).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->28.<!--[endif]-->Pamphlet, n. 6, cf (Juergensmeyer 2000:232, fn. 21).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->30.<!--[endif]-->Jalandhar was the head quarter of the Ad Dharm Mandal. Adi Danka and Ravidass Patrika were also published form there.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->31.<!--[endif]-->n. 10, p. 22.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->32.<!--[endif]-->The pamphlet was made available to the author by C.L. Chumber.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->33.<!--[endif]-->The Report of the Ad Dharm Mandal 1926-1931, translated by C.L. Chumber in Hindi and Punjabi and circulated through Adi Dharm Weekly (Jalandhar), 11 June 2000.
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Dr. Ronki Ram Department of Political SciencePanjab University, Chandigarh E.mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
DALIT ASSERTION AND CASTE CONFLICTS IN
Dr. Ronki Ram
Department of Political Science
Untouchability lives within boundaries. The boundaries are made of Hindu sacred texts known as 'Dharam Shastras'. Untouchability ceases to exist as and when these boundaries are dismantled. This is what Ambedkar emphasised in his proposed inaugural speech at the 'Jat-Pat Todak Mandal' of Lahore in 1936. However, he was never allowed to deliver his speech precisely because of its anti-Dharam Shastric contents. Much water has flown since then, particularly after the independence, down the lanes and by-lanes of Indian social structures. But the curse of untouchability and caste related problems has not been totally exorcised. Although the blatant observance of purity-pollution principle has scaled down to a considerable extent after the adoption of Indian constitution, in political space it has taken an altogether a new shape. Caste has never been so assertive in Indian politics as it is today. This has, in turn, led to caste violence in various parts of the country. Punjab is no exception. It has recently witnessed serious caste clashes in rural as well as in urban settings of its Doaba region.
Although caste and untouchability is prevalent throughout the country but it has never been monolithic and unilinear in its practice. Every region has its specific and unique characteristics. In order to understand the phenomena of caste and untouchability one needs to give due importance to the cultural specificities of the different regions. This study is a modest attempt to understand the phenomena of untouchability and caste violence in Punjab. The article is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the sources of untouchability, caste and domination and the state of untouchability in Punjab.It also reflects briefly on the role of the upper caste social reformers in the eradication of untouchability. It is proposed that untouchability has not only been articulated in the sacred Hindu texts but has also received popular support in the writings of Orientalists and British scholar-administrators. In the second part, Ad Dharm movement and the rise of dalit consciousness in Punjab is discussed. In the last part, an attempt has been made to document and analyse caste violence in Punjab.
Untouchability and Burdens of History
Before taking up the issue of dalit consciousness, it may be pertinent to probe into the genesis of the logic of a society based on the hierarchical grading of caste. What makes such a probe a difficult task is the most complex character of the Indian Society.In fact, it would be appropriate to call Indian Societies rather than a singular Indian Society. The term Indian Societies is used to refer to academic trifurcation of India into pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial.Pre-colonial India is referred to as pre-modern and pre-British India (Quigley 1999: 123). As far as colonial and post-colonial categories are concerned, their analysis is relatively unproblematic. It is more so in reference to post-colonial than the category of colonial India. Colonial India turns problematic when one takes up the issue of Mughal rule in India.Whether India during the long spell of Mughal rule should be considered as another colonial India, although in a different sense from that of British colonial India, or simply to be studied as a part of the category of pre-colonial India is altogether an independent research theme with significant bearings on the question of caste. However, the pre-colonial India invites more polemics and methodological complexities than one can think of by its customary use. The very prefix pre is vague and indeterminate when juxtaposed with the term colonial in relation to mapping out historical stretch of India's past.The word colonial has fixed historical as well as administrative connotations which lend it authenticity in reference to time and territory.So colonial India is both temporally and spatially demarcated. It has its objective beginning as well as its stipulated pin-pointed end.But the same is not all about the pre-colonial India. The most controversial about the pre-colonial India is its historical life.
This is most apparent in the current debate on the periodization of Indian history. ...It has long been maintained that the Indians were an a-historical people, since there was no recognizable historical writing from the Indian tradition similar to that from Greece and China (Thapar  2000: 19-20).
Another equally important issue pertaining to pre-colonial India is who were its original inhabitants and to which racial stock did they belong to.This issue has come to assume most important place in the debate on the origin of caste in India (Kosambi 1998: 80-109; Majumdar 1998: 16-32).The main contributions to the debate are different interpretations in the writings of orientalist, European sociologists and anthropologists, dalit scholars, and non-dalit academics (Fuller 1997;Gupta 2000; Schweitzer 1989).Ironically, this debate did not assign equal status of academic merit to the early Indian historical tradition. "Traditional Indian historical writing with its emphasis on historical biographies and chronicles was largely ignored" (Thapar  2000: 2).Sincethere has been no authentic historical writing to map out the periodization of ancient Indian history, mythical narratives and fairy tales constitute the historical tradition of pre-colonial India popularly known as the Itihasa-purana tradition. The Itihasa-purana tradition of pre-modern history of India has serious implications in interrogating (Gupta 2000) and interpreting (Quigley 1999), the institution of caste in Indian society. Although in
[t]he historiographical pattern of Indian past, which took shape during the colonial period in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries...[t]raditional Indian historical writing...was largely ignored (Thapar  2000: 2).
But the institution of caste and the large body of ancient text, otherwise pejoratively referred to as mythical, reflecting on the origin of caste, remain the most reliable literature for the writings of orientalists.
Whatever seemed alien to the European perspective of contemporary India was often visualized as a survival from earlier times and the presumed continuity was imbued with historical authenticity.More frequently the social institutions from the past were believed to persist virtually unchanged into the present and made it legitimate for those studying contemporary Indian society to concern themselves with the text of earlier periods (Ibid.: 23).
This approach leads to represent caste as a permanent, timeless and `traditional' socio-cultural institution which in fact did not exist in ancient Vedic India (Gupta 2000: 204).
Descriptions of caste are almost as old as recorded history itself. Greek scholars travelling with Alexander the great in 4th century BC not only commented on it but had themselves been made aware of its existence by the accounts of even earlier Greek adventurers associated with Persian expeditions into northwestern India.Greeks subsequently connected with the Seleucid court and the Bactrian small kingdoms that succeed Alexander rendered accounts of it. So did Chinese-Buddhists pilgrims centuries later and European travellers during the mercantilist age. British civil servants during the Raj wrote volumes on India's dominant social structure.And what is remarkable of course is how consistent such descriptions were over more than two millennia (Gould 1987:2-3).
In fact, what has provided permanency to caste which did not exist in the pre-colonial Vedic India was the wide spread currency of the theory of Oriental Despotism (Wittfogel 1970).The central themes of this theory were the unchanging nature of society, absence of change, self-sufficient village communities, divine origin of the King, absence of private property in land and the despotic orientation of governance.
Inevitably, the major historians of the late nineteenth century in India, who also happened to be the administrators, assumed the correctness of the theory as a pre-condition to their understanding of the Indian past (Thapar  2000 : 7).
The long historical time span of pre-British India was projected as being static with no transformation in its social patterns, political processes, and economic transactions.If there were any change it was "an occasional change of dynasty" (Ibid.: 14).Social fabric of the society remained static.
So strong was the pre-conception of the unchanging character of Indian society that the generalizations based on the sources of Vedic period (1000 BC) were considered adequate for the pre-colonial period upto the eighteenth century AD (Ibid.:55).
The presumed static nature of pre-colonial Indian society helped caste structure to remain intact over such a long period of time.
Who were the beneficiaries of the above discussed system of the immutability of caste ensconced in a static social system?As far as the internal social set up of the Indian society is concerned, it was the pure castes as against the untouchables (Polluted and who can pollute others) who stand benefitted from this peculiar arrangement. It also went a long way in favour of British rulers who garnered tremendous support from this system in the form of Aryan theory to legitimize their rule.The theory of Aryan race equally benefited the new middle class elite in India who accosted the British taking over of India as "a reunion of parted cousins, the descendants of two different families of the ancient Aryan race" (Keshab Chander Sen as quoted in Ibid.: 87). Even this in turn further differentiated the new middle class elite from the lower classes who, in accordance with the logic of Aryan theory were believed to be non-Aryan (Ibid.: 29).
Caste as a socio-cultural institution enjoyed the most favoured status of being commented upon across the millennia by the authors of Dharmasastras (Shrirama 1999); foreign travellers and pilgrims (Dahlquist 1962; Beal 1957; Weeler and Macmillan 1956; Kaul 1979; Woodcock 1966; McCrindle 1877; Legge 1886; Sachuau 1964); and offices of the rulers who came to rule this sacred and fabulous land, at different intervals during the last two millennia, popularly known as India.Amongst the various commentators on caste two deserve serious consideration by virtue of their significant contribution not in terms of understanding the institution ofcaste but helping it further getting entrenched in the Indian society. Dharmasastra literature constitutes the earliest legal commentary on the institution of caste which led to its ancient consolidation in the form of legally sanctified system of stratification. To quote Emile Senart "...`Hindu society is regulated by religious custom and the law-books are essentially collection of religious precepts'" (1930:91 as quoted in Beteille 1997:155).The second group of commentators consisted of orientalists and British officials, popularly known as 'scholar administrator' "who had long and extensive experience in the Indian Civil Service and had not found their arduous activity incompatible with scholarship" (Bougle 1971: IX).They had contributed to the collection of Census data and produced seminal works on caste and tribes in India (Hutton 1946; Ibbetson 1883; Nesfield 1885; Risley 1891, rpt. 1908; and Senart 1896, rpt. 1930). According to Andre Beteille
[c]olonial administrators wrote a great deal about caste, and much of what they wrote was biased as is indeed the case with official writing anywhere. For a hundred years they set about identifying, enumerating, describing, classifying and ranking the different castes and communities in the subcontinent. The decennial censuses played some part in bringing to public attention the division and ranking of castes. It is for this reason that it was decided not to enumerate castes in the censuses after the new Government took office on Independence ( Beteille 2002).
Ancient Indian historiography, as constructed by orientalists and British officials, was motivated by colonial designs (Dirks 2002: 8, 28-42). Colonial historiography gave birth to a pre-colonial India which lacked social and historical change and had neither historians nor historical records.In other words, a timeless India became a pre-colonial India which had come to assume peculiar connotations suitable to alien rulers as well as to the emerging Savarna new middle class elites (Fuller 1997: 4-12; Quigley 1999: 12-20; Thapar  2000: 23-59). Similar attempts had already been made in the ancient times through the writings of Dharmasastras and Smritis.The main postulates of the Dharmasastra discourse and the colonial discourse were to project hierarchical structure of Indian society based on the unchanging principle of purity/impurity in consonance with disjunction between status and power (Dumont 1988). Thus the Dharmasastra tradition and the colonial discourse came together to providetheoretical inputs to the institution of caste based on the opposition of pure and the impure. Dalits were born out of this discourse.
Caste and Culture of Domination
Here caste is taken as a category of a social set up, organized for the purpose of providing comforts, and socio-economic and political advantages at one end; and squalor, subjugation and humiliation on the other.Although social divisions of such kinds may not be ruled out across different civilizational and cultural settings the world over, but the magnitude in which such distinctions and segmentations are internalized in Hindu civilization is a unique case in its own form (Bougley 1971; Risley 1891, rpt. 1908; and Senart 1896, rpt. 1930).What makes it further a distinguished case to be analysed rather more analytically, is the contextual distinctness of the category ‘caste’ in the Indian society.
The social set up based on its hierarchical structure is pre-colonial which makes it different from various other core issues clinging to the bosom of colonial and post-colonial Indian polity and society.Although caste was not the only institution to reflect on the social organization of pre-colonial India, as there were many other political institutions (Heesterman 1985; and Hocart 1950), caste has come to assume the status of dominant explanatory framework for the understanding of hierarchical structure of Indian society (Inden 1986; 1990; Dirks 1987; Quigley 1999).In fact the caste in Indian context is not only the theme of society, it is also, rather more significantly a theme in polity, ideology and economy. As far as economy is concerned a protracted debate is on in India on class-caste frontiers. For the Marxists, class provides a rational platform for the analysis of social, political and economic settings of society.Whereas caste obfuscates such an analysis, nevertheless,class-caste framework is an important issue (Gould 1987: 29-72; Gupta 1981; D'Souza 1967:192-211) but of scope of the paper we could not take it further.
Manusmriti sets the tenor of divisive society which in a downward spiraling affect led to the extreme social segregation of a part of our society and further reduced it into pariah and asprustha.Kingsley Davis rightly said
...the Hindu social order ... is the most thoroughgoing attempt known in human history to introduce absolute inequality as the guiding principle in social relationships. Such an attempt cannot completely succeed, any more than an attempt to introduce absolute equality . (Davis 1951:170).
But caste has become an integral part of Hindu society which in turn occupies a prominent space in the cultural milieu of Indian subcontinent so much so that even other religious communities could not but get soaked into the inegalitarian mode of Hindu caste structure (Ibid: 165-66). The Mazhbis of Punjab is a case in point.
The Mazbis take the pauhl, wear their hair long, and abstain from tobacco, and they apparently refuse to touch night- soil, though performing all the other offices hereditary to the Chuhra caste ....But though good Sikhs so far as religious observance is concerned, the taint of hereditary pollution is upon them and Sikhs of other castes refuse to associate with them even in religious ceremonies(Ibbetson  1970: 294).
Eventhe conversion of a Shudrainto Muslim religion hardly relieves him of his humiliations (Ibid.: 300; see also Bagha 2001:19; and Hutton 1963:39 & 204).
Moreover, in the initial years of proliferation of Christianity in Punjab, the curse of caste on the shudras remained unabated.It was they (shudras) who had to approach the missionaries for converting them into Christianity than the other way round as in the case of upper caste (Juergensmeyer 1988: 184). Christian missionaries thought of the lower castes "...as beyond the reach of the method they preferred - intellectual arguments and moral persuasion" (Ibid.).What came in the way of the missionaries not to make use of moral persuasion and intellectual argumentas methods of approaching and winning the confidence of lower castes seem to be probably the prejudice on their part that the lower castes were really incapable of rational orientation andunamenable to moral appeal. To quote Juergensmeyer
...lower caste requests for conversion not only baffled the missionaries but embarrassed them: they saw no sensible or moral reason for keeping the lower caste out, yet feared that allowing them in would sully the Church's reputation.In a brisk exchange of letters between the mission field and various denominational head offices, a number of missionaries warned about the consequences of `raking in rubbish into the Church' (Ibid.:184).
The indignation of being a shudra continued to follow the entry of lower caste into the Church. The upper caste converts were distinguished by the title of `Convert'..."whereas recruits from the lower caste were known as mass movement Christians or simply Christian" (Ibid.:187).To quote him further
it was only these lower caste Christians who adopted foreign names such as Samuel, Paul Masih... and the like; upper caste converts retained their ties to the caste system by continuing to use their Hindu or Sikh names Ibid.: 187-88).
In other words, the adoption of foreign names by the lower castes has doubly affected the identity of these converts in the sense that they could be easily singled out by the natives as belonged to the shudra caste by virtue of their new names which only low caste had taken on.As far as the Christian missionaries were concerned, they could also, by the same logic of foreign names, easily identify who was shudra convert.Another way of distinguishing the upper caste converts from that of the lower caste was the mechanism of sitting arrangement in the Church, whereby the upper caste converts were allowed ... "to sit at the front of the Church so that they would use the communion implements first, before they became polluted by the Christians of lower castes" (Ibid.: 188; See also Chandra et al 1999: 448).
The British rulers and their predecessors did not consider it appropriate to take measures to improve upon the social conditions of colonial India. On the contrary, the main thrust of colonial state was on maintaining law and order rather than social transformation in the colonial settings (Suresh 1998: 94).
Colonial rule attempted to restructure the brahminical caste into anglicized neo-brahminism and created structures to sustain the essential caste relations in a modified form.While it attempted to break several brahminical practices like `Sati' and the prohibition of widow re-marriage by introducing new laws, it did not attempt to break the caste system (Ilaiah in Chatterjee 1998: 268).
Max Muller, a great orientalist was of the opinion that
(c)aste cannot be abolished in India, and to attempt it would be one of the most hazardous operations that were ever performed in a political body. As a religious institution caste will die; as a social institution, it will live and improve (Muller 1869).
However, the overall proliferation of modernization irrespective of its underlying ideology led to the germination of awareness among the deprived groups as a result of which caste conflicts became a regular feature of Indian social set up, especially in Maharashtra, South India and Northwest India.
Untouchability and Power Dynamics
Untouchability has invariably remained attached with the notion of power in its varied dimensions.The concept of power in India needs to be seen in a peculiar sense as far as its socio-political and economic aspects are concerned.Power was seen as a sacred category. Its sacredness depends ultimately on something which has to be excluded from the purview of its sacred boundaries.Power sails between the boundaries but its affects are felt within the boundaries.Untouchability has provided - in a metaphorical sense - the building blocks for such boundaries.For a dalit to cross such boundaries amounts to committing blasphemy. They were simply asked to be continuously shut within their ghettos.In fact it was the sacred facade of power which led to the evolution ofuntouchability rather the other way round.Untouchability is the offshoot of power.The sacred structure of power led to its institutionalization. It was not that untouchability provided stanchion to power. Untouchability has been projected as antithetical to power. Since untouchability is profane, it can not be the custodian of power; power being a sacred. In other words, the structure of power which emerged in India keeps no space at all for the dalits to share that power.Their position somewhere resembled that of the slaves in Aristotle's Athens. Hence they have to be condemned to bear the shocks of power.In such a unique sacerdotal notion of power one need not be an entrepreneur of power.One needs to be a custodian of purity and sanctity.In ancient India the Brahmin held the key to power by way of projecting himself as the epitome of purity.Interestingly his purity has something to do with his projection of himself as a person who voluntarily abnegates (Schweitzer 1989; Thapar 2000 : 876-945; Gupta 2000).The more the renouncer you are the more purer you would be.More the purer you are the more powerful you would be.The institution of "Raj Purohit" in ancient India is a case in point. Even in contemporary India one can find such a phenomenon in existence where Gurus, Saints, and Babas shower blessings for the acquisition of power.What these Babas have been doing in India the Pope used to do the same in the West until the Treaty of Westphalia.But Pope need not be the renouncer in the similar sense as the sacred men in India used to be.The sacred connotation of power and its being surrounded by purity and abnegation was so powerful that even the efforts on the part of the dalits to break the fetters of untouchability required them to put on the mask of purity emanating from abnegation. Tukaram, Chokhamela, Ravidass, Balmiki, to name only the most prominent, were the dalit renouncers who made significant contribution for the amelioration of the down trodden.In other words, even the sufferers of untouchability had to follow the route similar to that of upper castes to fight against their odds.These dalits turned renouncers and gurus were the progenitor of the voice of protest and reforms against hierarchy based on purity-impurity.They were the initiators of the dalit consciousness. Their voice was heard not because of their being the leaders of the dalit community but for their being renouncer and so holy-men.
Untouchability in Punjab
Untouchability in Punjab is unique in comparison to its observance in other parts of the country.The Brahminical tradition of social stratification has never been so effective there. The word Brahmin did not carry a sacerdotal connotation in Punjab.It was used, rather, in a derogatory sense (Saberwal 1976: 10; Tandon 1961: 77). The Jat-Sikhs, who otherwise have been Shudra as per the Varna system, considered themselvessocially superior to the Brahmins. Brahmins, whereas in rest of the country, enjoyed the highest status in the Hindu caste hierarchy.The downplay of the Brahmins in Punjab by the Jat-Sikhs might have diminished the purity-pollution practice to the benefits of dalits (Saberwal 1973:256).However, it did not, in any way,help the dalits to improve their socio-economic status.
Punjab is a Sikh majority state.The Sikhs constitute 63 per cent of its total population. Among them the percentage of Jat–Sikhs is the highest.About 72 per cent of the Sikhs live in rural Punjab. Although Sikhism does not assign any place to the institution of caste in its ‘doctrinal principle’ but the same is not true in its ‘social practice’ (Puri 2003: 2693). “Caste as occupational division of labour was, and is, very much a part of village life” (Kaur 1986: 229). Sikh religion is not an exception. In the Punjab censuses between 1881 and 1921 there were more than twenty-five castes within Sikh community (Verma 2002:33).Among the Sikhs, Jat-Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs, Arora Sikhs, Ramgarhia Sikhs, Ahluwalia Sikhs, Bhapa Sikhs, Bhattra Sikhs, Ramdasia Sikhs, Ravidasia Sikhs,Rahtia Sikhs, Mazhbi Sikhs, and Rangreta Sikhs are some of the most distinct caste communities.
The Jat-Sikhs in Punjab substituted the Brahmins.
The Jat is in every respect the most important of the Pánjab peoples….The Jat of the Sikh tracts is of course the typical Jat of Pánjab, … Politically he ruled the Pánjab till the Khalsa yielded to our arms.Ethnologically he is the peculiar and most prominent product of the plains of the five rivers.And from an œconomical and administrative point of view he is the husbandman, the peasant, the revenue-payer par excellence of the Province. …But as a rule a Jat is a man who does what seems right in his own eyes and sometimes what seems wrong also, and will not be said nay by any man. …The Banya with his sacred thread,his strict Hinduism, and his twice-born standing, looks down on the Jat as a Sudrá.But the Jat looks down upon the Banya as a cowardly spiritless money-grubber, and society in general agree with the Jat.(Ibbetson 1883, rpt. 1970: 102-103).
Jat-Sikhs are primarily agriculturists and land-owners. They are mostly concentrated in villages. They have also diversified into transport business and considered employment in the armed forces as prestigious. “The Jat might be employed as a school teacher, or service in the military but he sees his primary role as that of an agriculturist; his connection with land is what he holds most dear and what identifies him” (Kaur 1986:233). Jat-Sikhs are the backbone of the Punjab peasantry (ibid.). Although all the ten Gurus belongedto the Khatri caste, they found majority of their followers in the Jat caste (Ibid.: 225). According to 1881 census, 66% of Sikhs were Jats followed byRamgarhias (6.5%) and Chamar Sikhs (5.6%). Khatris’ share was only 2.2% (Mcleod 1976: 84 as cited in Ibid.).Although Sikhs are prominently identified by a set of diacritical features which they are supposed to follow according to Rahatnama ( the Sikh code of conduct), the Jat Sikhs do not always observe them strictly.Majority of them trim their beard, cut their hair, and many often smoke or chew tobacco; very few wear the kirpan (steel sword), kachh (knee length drawers), karra (steel bangle or bracelet) and kangha (comb). They rarely visit Gurdwaras (Kaur 1986: 222-23).Majority of the Jats are non-baptised Sikhs.However, the baptised ones faithfully observe all the injunctions mentioned in the Rahatnama. Jat-Sikhs are generally liberal in observance of Rahatnama.In spite of their lackadaisical approach towards the Khalsa discipline, Jat Sikhs in their own eyes and in those of others remained Sikhs (Mcleod 1976: 98).The Sikhs who strictly followed Rahatnama belong to the lower class of north Punjab (Singh 1953: 179).
Within Sikhism, dalit Sikhs are divided into two segments.The dalits whose profession is scavenging and cleaning are called Mazhbis and Rangretas. Mazhbis and Rangretas were chuhras who converted to Sikhism (Ibbetson 1883, rpt. 1970:294).“Of course a Mazbi will often have been returned as chuhra by caste and Sikh by religion; …Mazbi means nothing more than a member of the scavenger class converted to Sikhism” (Ibid.). Mazhbi Sikhs are almost confined to the Majha sub-region of Punjab.They make good soldiers and some of the regiments in British army were wholly composed of Mazhbis.
“The Rangreta are a class of Mazbi apparently found only in Ambala, Ludhiana and the neighbourhood, who consider themselves superior to the rest.The origin of their superiority, …, lies in the fact that they were once notorious as highway robbers!But it appears that Rangretas have very generally abandoned scavengering for leather work, and this would at once account for their rise in the social scale (Ibid.).
Their popularity in the Sikh religion has been established by a rhyme Rangreta, Guru ka Beta (the Rangreta is the son of the Guru), attributed to them on account of their valorous act of bringing the severed head of Guru Teg Bahadur from Delhi to Anandpur Sahib, the seat of the 9th and 10th Masters of the Sikh faith.However, in spite of Mazhbis and Rangreta Sikhs’ meticulous observance of the Sikh religious principles, they were not considered equal by the other Sikh castes who refused to associate with them even in the religious ceremonies (Ibid.). In other words, even after converting to Sikhism they were not relieved of the taint of hereditary pollution .
The other segment of dalit Sikhs consists of Ramdasias and Ravidasias. They are chamars converted to Sikh religion.Religious conversion also changes the caste name.In some cases a change of religion is also accompanied by a change of occupation (Ibid: 294).A scavenger is known as chuhra in Hinduism; Musalli and Kutana in Islam; and Mazhbi and Rangreta in Sikhism.A leather-worker is known as chamar in Hinduism; Mochi in Islam and Ravidasia in Sikhism.Weaver chamar is known as Julaha in Hinduism; Paoli in Islam; and Ramdasia in Sikhism.Ramdasias are also known as Khalsa Biradar.
The Ramdasias are confused with Raidasi or Rabdasi chamars.The former are true Sikhs, and take the Pahul.The latter are Hindus, or if Sikhs, only Nanakpanthi Sikhs and do not take the Pahul; and are followers of Bhagat Rav Das or Rab Das, himself a Chamar. They are apparently as true Hindus as any Chamar can be, and are wrongly called Sikhs by confusion with Ramdasias.(Ibid.: 300).
Most of the Ramdasias are Julahas (weavers). Whereas Ravidasia Sikhs are mostly engaged in the profession of leather work. Though there is a wide distinction between the Ravidasias, typical leather workers (Chamars) and the Ramdasias, typical weavers (Julahas), “yet they are connected by certain sections of leather-working classes who have taken to weaving and thus risen in the social scale…” (Ibid: 296). Ramdasia (weavers) and Ravidasia (leather worker) are probably of the same origin. However, the distinction between them has arisen from divergence of occupation.
The Mazhbis, Rangretas, Ramdasias and Ravidasias are not equal to the Jat-Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs and Arora Sikhs within Sikhism in terms of their status.Even their status is also lower to Ramgarhia Sikhs, Ahluwalia Sikhs and Bhapa Sikhs (trader caste). Thus the poison of caste has also penetrated into the religion of the followers of Guru Nanak as well (Singh, Balwant 2002: 332). Moreover caste hierarchy is also being practiced among the dalit Sikhs. Ramdasia and Ravidasia Sikhs are considered superior to the Mazhbi and Rangreta Sikhs. Although Ramdasias and Ravidasias originated fromChamars, the former considered them superior to the latter (Ibbetson 1883, rpt. 1970: 297, 302).
The evolution of Sikh community proceeded through a complex dynamics of interaction between religious principle, tribal cultural patterns of the dominant caste of Jats and their power interests.This resulted in the evolution of a Sikh caste hierarchy, distinct from and parallel to that of Hindu caste system (Puri 2003: 2693).
However, what makes caste discrimination in the Sikh community different from that of the Brahamanical social order is the absence of purity-pollution frame of relations.The centre of power in Punjab revolves around the axle of land. Much of the land is owned by the Jat-Sikhs.Although Scheduled Castes in Punjab constitute high proportion of the population (28.3%) in comparison to the all India average of 16.32%, their share in ownership of land is negligible.They cultivate only 0.4 per cent of all the landholdings occupying 0.72 per cent of the total cultivated areaof the state (1991 census and All India Report of Agricultural Census 1990-91).Their being landlessness forced them to depend on the land-owning castes in the absence of alternative jobs in the agrarian economy of rural Punjab.Since cultivation involves dalits in its various operations, it was not feasible to strictly follow the system of untouchability based on the principle of purity-pollution as was observed in rest of the country.It does not mean that the dalits were not discriminated in Punjab. They were discriminated by the Jat-Sikhs. They were forced to remain confined to their lowest status lest they dare to ask for a share in the power structures (Puri 2003: 2698). Untouchability did exist in Punjab and its practice was tied with the scheme of keeping the dalits away from land ownership and political power in the state.Thus dalits in Punjab, though relatively spared from the overt impact of purity-pollution syndrome, the asymmetrical structure of the agrarian rural economy has made them subordinated to the land-owning upper castes.In fact “the Scheduled Caste population of the region has been comparatively more vulnerable in the economic structure of the village” (Jodhka 2002: 1815).
The villages are divided into upper caste and dalit settlements.Dalit settlements are located, invariably, on the side towards which the dirt of the village flowed.Dalits were not allowed to build pucca (concrete) houses because the land on which they lived did not belong to them. The residential land on which they lived was claimed to be owned by the Jat-Sikhs (Virdi 2003: 2 &11).Till 1952, the dalits along with other non-agricultural castes were deprived of landownership by the Punjab Land Alienation Act (1901), even if a few of them have the means to purchase the land (Puri 2003: 2695).In the villages, dalits were often involved in the unclean occupations. Such occupations were like carrying and skinning dead animals, scavenging and working as attached labourer – Siris.Although such type of works, now-a-days, are performed on non-jajmani basis.In Malwa region, there are many dalits who still have been working as Siris.According to a latest study of 26 villages in Malwa region, 21 had dalits working as Siris (Jodhka 2002: 1816).However, the situation is entirely different in the Doaba region of Punjab where the majority of the dalits have dissociated themselves from such types of menial works.Although dalit had interaction with Jat-Sikhs, being agricultural labourers, and siris, they used to keep their own tumblers and plates to take meals or tea or water from the upper caste Sikhs. Many of the lower castes like Chamars and Chuhras converted to Sikhism in the hope of social equality. Even in Sikhism, the specter of untouchabilitykept on haunting them.
“The upper caste Sikhs are a separate identity and like the upper caste Hindus they also follow the ideology of a graded human society. …The Sikhs may take food with the dalit-Sikhs in Gurdwaras, but they have no bond of fraternity with them” (Singh Balwant 2002: 333).
To quote him further, “the impact of Hinduism and caste is visible on the adherence of Guru Nanak and they monopolised Sikhism and could not accord an equal social statusto the lower caste Sikhs in Punjab” (Ibid.).Dalit Sikhs in Punjab are cremated on separate cremation grounds along with their counterparts in the Hindu religion. Even in some villages the land meant for the cremation grounds in the Shamlat (common land under the control of Panchayats) have been grabbed by the upper castes.“Therefore the Dalit Sikhs in Punjab are in no better position than the other dalits within Hinduism”(Ibid.: 334).
Dalits Sikhs did not get equal treatment in the Gurdwaras of the upper caste Sikhs. “Mazhabis were forbidden to enter the Golden Temple for worship; their offering of karah prasad was not accepted and the Sikhs denied them access to public well and other utilities” (Pratap Singh 1933: 146-47, 156-57 cited in Puri 2003: 2697). Dalit Sikhs were not allowed to go beyond the fourth step in the Golden Temple and the members of the four-fold varnas were instructed not to mix with them (Oberoi cited in Ibid). Evidence of untouchability against the dalit Sikhs is vividly reflected in a number of Gurmatas (resolutions) adopted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee from 1926-1933 (Ibid.).Although removal of untouchability figured in the Singh Sabha movement, no strenuous effort was made in that direction.“It was not surprising. For the Jats, who composed 70 % of the Akalis, and other high castes, caste equality or removal of untouchability was contrary to their disposition for social domination and hierarchy” (Ibid.).This has forced the dalit Sikhs to establish separate Gurdwaras which in turn has further led to the strengthening of the already existing caste divisions among the Sikhs1 (Ibid.: 2700; Jodhka 2002: 1818; Muktsar 1999 and 2003).Moreover the observance of caste prejudices against the dalit Sikhs has compelled them to ‘search for alternative cultural spaces’ in a large number of deras, sects, dargahs of Muslim Pirs and other saints2 (Puri 2003: 2700).
Punjab has been a stronghold of pirs and saints, who vehemently campaigned against the system of segregation on the basis of birth.They preached unity of mankind. Farid and Bulle Shah of Sufi tradition, and Ravidass, Kabir, Nanak and Dhanna of the Bhakti tradition played a prominent role in diluting the substance and practice of untouchability in the state.Social reform movements led by the Arya Samaj, Singh Sabha and Chief Khalsa Dewan further bridled the impact of untouchability in Punjab.However, even these movements and saints could not succeed in stamping out the roots of the evil of untouchability in Punjab.“The saints have never … carried on a campaign against caste and untouchability. They were not concerned with the struggle between men.They were concerned with the relation between man and God.They did not preach that all men were equal.They preached that all men were equal in the eyes of God – a very different and a very innocuous proposition which nobody can find difficult to preach or dangerous to believe in” (Ambedkar 1995 3rd edn.: 109).The religious and social reform movements were primarily concerned with the humane and civic sense of society by transforming and elevating the individual rather than striking hard on the asymmetrical structures of the society (Grewal 1994: 116).The issue of disproportionate landholdings which has been the crucial cause of social inequalities and economic deprivations had never been taken up by the social and religious movements.In other words, the agency was prioritised over the structure.The persistence of inegalitarian structure, with the passage of time, had led to the evaporation of social and moral reforms brought by these movements. The principles and social code of conduct formulated by such movements got routinised into hard-shell traditions and rules to be strictly obeyed by the followers.These movements themselves in turn got routinised into new religious orders or political organisations.Religion has become exclusive and been paraded as an index to the deep rooted social divisions based on economic differentiation. The followers of Nanak, Ravidass and Kabir are not only Nanakpanthis, Ravidasias and Kabirpanthis in the strict sense of the term, they also represent a distinct social and economic class different from each other.
Untouchability and Upper-caste Social Reformers
The period of revival of art, literature and Vedic secular learning, popularly knownas Indian renaissance, sets a new era for the development of rational and scientific outlook as far as social customs, traditions and religious notions about the regulation of community life were concerned. “The nineteenth century witnessed a cultural-ideological struggle against the backward elements of traditional culture, on the one hand, and the fast hegemonizing colonial culture and ideology on the other”(Chandra et al 1989:87).In fact, the Indian renaissance was not simply a revivification of India's past but a response to the intrusion of external forces as well.Moreover, its leaders had to deal with the new conditions created by modern science and technology (Bishop 1982: 1).Literature abounds on various issues of social importance being taken up during the Renaissance period in our society. Widow remarriage, tirade against Sati and caste were more prominent among them.
Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) is considered as the protagonist of social reform movements in India.The other prominent figures of such movements were Dwarka Nath Tagore (1794-1846), Davinder Nath Tagore (1817-1905), Keshav Chander Sen (1838-1884), Ishwar Chander Vidyasagar (1820-1891), Swami Dayanand (1824-1883), Swami Vivekanand (1863-1902), M.G. Ranade (1842-1901), B.G.Tilak (1852- 1920), Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and Shri Aurbindo (1872-1950).It is interesting to note that all of them belong to the Savarna castes (Khare 1984: 4).Their perceptions about the caste system and its resultant structure of untouchability are a view from above.None of them had experienced the pangs of being a Shudra.Their understanding of the evil of untouchability was thus based upon articulation and formulation of a problem external to their very being rather as their own problem.Although Raja Ram Mohan Roy endeavoured to remove the evil of casteism first through an association called Atmiya Sabha and then through an organization called Brahmo Samaj but nowhere in his writings he cared to envisage aclear programme for the removal of hierarchical caste system. Rajaji and his Brahmo Samaj "...continued to identify, if not with `Hinduism' as such, with an Aryan `Golden Age'..." (Omvedt 1994: 91).Questioning the logic of caste system and its anti-progress stance, Gopal Krishna Gokhale said,
The classes of the West are a perfectly elastic institution, and not rigid or cast-iron like our castes.Mr. Chamberlain, who is the most masterful personage in the British Empire to-day, was at one time a shoemaker and then a screw-maker.Of course, he did not make shoes himself, but that was the trade by which he made money.Mr.Chamberlain today dines with Royalty, and mixes with the highest in the land on terms of absolute equality.Will a shoe-maker ever be able to rise in India in the social scale in a similar fashion, no matter how gifted by nature he might be?A great writer has said that castes are eminently useful for the preservation of society, but they are utterly unsuited for purposes of progress.And this I think is perfectly true.If you want to stand where you were a thousand year ago, the system of castes need not be modified in any material degree. If, however, you want to emerge out of the slough in which you have long remained sunk, it will not do for you to insist on a rigid adherence to caste.Modern civilization has accepted greater equality for all as its watchword, as against privilege and exclusiveness, which were the root-ideas of the old world (Gokhale 1920: 900-901).
Though Gokhale echoed a loud concern for the downtrodden, he did not make any concrete effort for the eradication of untouchability (Weiner 2001: 200). B.G. Tilak while speaking in the first Depressed Classes Conference held in Bombay on 25 March 1918, said "(i)f a God were to tolerate untouchability, I would not recognize him as a God at all" (Varma 1995-96: 213).However, he showed his inability to work for the cause of Shudra precisely because of the priority he accorded to the attainment of Swaraj (Ibid.).For him, given the foreign rule in India, any effort in the direction of social reforms would rather further strengthen the grip of Britishers.Tilak was not against social reforms per se. It was out of sheer expediency that he had to defer social reforms till India achieved political freedom. M.G. Ranade's position in relation to political freedom versus social reforms was totally opposed to that of Tilak.He considered that reactionary and dogmatic features of Indian social set up provided an easy passage to alien conquerors as well as hindrances in our way to get India liberated.Accordingly, he gave priority to social reforms over Swaraj. It was on this issue of political freedom versus social reforms that Indian National Congress got divided between moderates and extremists.It seems that the real issue of difference among the moderates and extremists was not one of social reforms but the modus operandi of winning freedom.For both of them social reforms constituted an important agenda.But what social reforms they wanted to bring into the social body of India is a question relevant for dalit discourse. Both moderates as well as radicals did not want to overthrow the Hindu social system as such.What they wanted was to "lop off diseased overgrowth and excrescences and ... restore vitality and energy to the social organism" (Ranade as quoted in Omvedt 1994:90).Hinduism of a Vedic age was their reference point. Social evils in their view were the late entry.These evils were based on Brahmanic superstitious traditions which had defiled the post-Vedic social fabric of Hindu religious system (Tripathi 1994: 3-8 and Reincourt 1961: 31-55). Thus for the twice born leaders of the freedom struggle the issue of Untouchability could be taken only within the framework of Hindu social system by purging it off its post-Vedic popular Hinduism, based on superstitions. Even Mahatma Gandhi who was steadfast in his determination for the eradication of untouchability (Chandra et al 1989:87-88, 230-234 and 290-295; Malhotra 1979:34-44; and Sarkar 1983: 328-330) did not seek its realization in the dismantling of caste system.
Gandhi was not against caste as such.... (His) point was not to abolish caste but to make caste system horizontal, not vertical in the sense of inegalitarian and exploitative, with untouchability even unapproachability as the ultimate consequence (Galtung 1992: 3 and see also Suresh 1998: 362).
He advocated moral revolution or change in the outlook at the individual level within the ‘unchanged social structure’ (Robb 1997: 1).For the Arya Samajist the answer to untouchability lies in the assimilation of the Shudras into the Hindu social system wherein all Hindu castes are considered as descendants of Vedic Aryans (Omvedt 1994:91).
Ad-Dharm Movement and Dalit Consciousness in Punjab
Although the abolition of untouchability was also on the agenda of the protagonist of social reform movements, they wanted to achieve it without changing the basic structure of caste system. Since these movements were operating on the social reform front of the nationalist struggle, they could not totally devote themselves to the removal of untouchability. The immediate goal of the nationalist movement was to liberate the country from the British imperialism.Hence
[t]he ultimate result was that neither the Nehruvian secularism nor Gandhian `Ramraj' could provide an Indian identity that was liberatory for the dalit and low castes... (Omvedt 1994: 92; see also Suresh 1998: 364).
"Understandably the most virulent opposition to caste came from lower caste movements" (Chandra et al 1989:88). For these movements, theimmediate important issue was caste domination, not western hegemony; social emancipation, not political autonomy. The struggle against imperialism and other such issues were of secondary importance (Kothari 1998: 50-51).The main exponents of these movements were, among others, Jyotiba Phule, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, Naraynaswami Guru in Kerala, Achutananda in U.P. and Mangoo Ram in Punjab.
It was against this background that the main framework of dalit movements and their ideologies were conceptualized and formulated.The objective of the dalit movements was to liberate the downtrodden, poverty-stricken-oppressed classes, contemptuously considered as untouchables, from the most oppressive and obnoxious practice of untouchability observed meticulously by the Savarna Hindus, and to bring the former at par with the socio-cultural level of the twice-born so that they could lead a life of dignity with a sense of equality.These anti-caste movements of course, constitute an inseparable “…part of the broader revolutionary democratic movement in India, along with the national movement and communist - and socialist - led working class and peasant movements” (Omvedt 1994:13; see also Kshirsagar 1994: 2-3).
Ad Dharm movement in Punjab3 is one of the anti-caste Adi movements of the 1920’s in India. Ad Dharm draws its inspiration from the Bhakti movement especially from Ravidass, Kabir and Namdev. Ad Dharm also assigns equal importance to the teachings of Balmiki. What makes this movement the most relevant case for the study of dalit assertion is its being purely a low caste character and its tirade against the structures of social domination. Ad Dharm was the only movement of its kind in the North-Western region of the country that aimed at securing a respectable place for the Scheduled castes through cultural transformation, spiritual regeneration, and political assertion rather than seeking patronage from above.
Ad Dharm movement aimed at securing a distinct identity for the dalits, independent both of the Hindu and Sikh religions. Sikhs and Hindus treated the dalits discriminately. But at times of counting their strategic strength they project the dalits as if they belonged to them (Piplanwala 1986: 10-15; Ahir 1992: 9-11). The central motif of the Ad Dharm movement was to highlight thatuntouchables constitute a qaum (Community), a distinct religious community similar to those of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and that the qaum had existed from time immemorial (Juergensmeyer 1988: 45). On this account the Ad Dharm movement resembles the other Adi movements4 which consider the low castes as the original inhabitants of India who had been subjugated by the Aryans. The Aryans, they allege came from outside and established their rule and made them subservient to them. The Ad Dharm movement aimed at making the dalits realise that they have three powers: Communal pride (Qaumiat), Religion (Mazhab) andOrganisation (Majlis) (Ibid.:46). All these three powers of the untouchables were lying buried under the burden of untouchability. Mangoo Ram5, the founder of Ad Dharm movement exhorted the untouchables to come forward to assert for their rights through building on these three main sources of their power.
During the 1931 census, Ad Dharm movement succeeded in registering a large number of low castes in Punjab as Ad Dharmis separate fromHindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In the 1931 Punjab census, a total of 418,789 persons reported themselves as Ad Dharmis almost equal to that of the Christian population of the region. Since the centerof the Ad Dharm movement was in Doaba region, nearly eighty percent of the lower castes of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts reported themselves as Ad Dharmis (ibid.:77). It was for the first time in the history of lower castes that they had come forward to officially declare themselves as separate and independent of the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim religions. This was, perhaps, the beginning of the dalit assertion in North India. It got further impetus in the first election that took place in 1937 after the promulgation of the Government of India Act of 1935. Ad Dharm Mandal contested election in all the eight reserved seats and won all except one. In the 1945-46, Punjab Legislative Assemblyelections on the eve of independence Ad Dharm also registered its presence by contesting in alliance with the Unionist Party. Mangoo Ram, the founder of Ad Dharm was one of the elected candidates.
Ad Dharm movement was instrumental not only in helping the lower castes to get registered as a distinct religion in the 1931 census and providing them the platform to enter into the State Legislature6, it also went a long way in bringing a cultural transformation in their life. In fact, Ad Dharm movement, as has been mentioned above, aimed at facilitating a cultural transformation in the life of lower castes who,under the impact of the centuries old system of degradation,had actually internalised a sense of being low and polluted. Mangoo Ram wanted to liberate them from such a state of mind and also to inculcate in them the feeling of dignity and self respect whereby they could start thinking about them as equal to the so-called twice-born people. Report of the Ad Dharm Mandal, 1926-1931 lists a number of moral principles and duties which the followers of the Ad Dharm are required to adhere to for creating spiritual regeneration and cultural transformation in their lives. Among the most important moral principles and the duties mentioned in the report are :
Ad Dharmis should abstain from theft, dishonesty, looking at someone else’s wife with bad intentions, using anything whichbrings intoxication, gambling, and usurping other persons’ property or belonging. Texts like the Law of Manu which treat untouchables as slaves should be banned and removed. All the untouchablebrotherhood should forget about castes and quarrels and get along together. They should not fight with each other rather all untouchables should start eating together and have social relations with each other. All girls and boys of untouchable brotherhood should have compulsory primary education. The girls should be educated especially in household work such as sewing and needle work. Young girls and boys should not be sent out to cut grass and gather wood. Ad Dharmis should abandon expensive marriage and the practice of child marriage. There should be equally great happiness at the birth of both boys and girls. It is illegal to receive moneyfor a bride. Ad Dharmi should marry their children to the Ad Dharmis ofsurrounding areas. All Ad Dharmis should be obedient to their parents. It is not good to cry and beat oneself at a death or funeral. To eat the meat of a dead animal or bird is against the law of Ad Dharm. Cleanliness is important. It guarantees good health. It is forbidden to practice idolatory and worship statues, and one should not believe in magic, ghosts or anything of the sort. All Ad Dharmis should forget notions of castes in untouchability and work towards the unity of all people in the world. Each Ad Dharmi should separate himself from Hindus, Sikhs and members of other religions (Report of the Ad Dharm Mandal 1926-1931, trans. (Hindi) Chumber 2000: 1-54; (English) Juergensmeyer 1998: 290-308).
Thus through the moral codes of conduct, the Ad Dharm movement tried to bring a sense of self respect among the lower castes of Punjab. It also made efforts for forging unity among the different lower castes by bringing them together in the fold of Ad Dharm, a new and distinct religion for the dalits. However, Ad Dharm was not a new religion in the real sense of the term because the protagonists of the Ad Dharm movement consider Ad Dharm as an ancient and indigenous religion of the original inhabitants of this region. All these,multifarious efforts of the Ad Dharm movement in the field of politics, religion, and culturehelped in the rise of consciousness among the dalits who started asserting for their rights and share in the power. All this had led to a series of violent caste conflicts in the pre-partitioned Punjab between the dalits and upper castes. The main reason behind the caste conflicts was not the factor of communalism rather it was a sense of assertion on the part of the marginal who woke up from their slumber of impotence to ask for their rights. This in turn has challenged the dominant positions of those who were in the command of the things till date. They staged violentopposition to the dalits seeking their share in the power. In the next section, an attempt has been made to document the caste clashes during the Ad Dharm movement in Punjab.
Dalit Assertion and Caste Violence
The Ad Dharm faced stiff opposition and its followers fell victim to physical violence at the hands of both Hindus and Sikhs. In fact, the Ad Dharmis were beaten up when they organised meetings. They were
[c]hased everywhere and hounded out of bounds of towns and villages by the Hindus and quite often they had to hold their meetings and conferences in open fields. One such incident also took place at Una (Pawar 1993:77).
They were also denied entry into meadows and common lands to fetch fodder for their cattle, access to the open fields to answer the call of nature, and were interned in their houses by the Sikhs and Hindus for no other fault than that of their being registered as Ad Dharmis in the census of 1931. In Ferozepur district, two chamars were burnt alive because they registered themselves as Ad Dharmis (Chumber 1986: 51). In Layalpur district, the innocent daughter ofan Ad Dharmi was murdered. In Nankana Sahib, the Akalis threw ash into the langar (food prepared in bulk for free distribution) meant for those who came to attend the Ad Dharm meeting14. In Village Dakhiyan-da-Prah of the Ludhiana district, the Sikh boys abducted Shudranand from the dais of the Achhuts’ public meeting. In Baghapurana, many Achhuts were beaten up and their legs and arms were broken (Bakshi Ram Pandit n.d. 56-57). In many villages of Ludhiana, Ferozepur and Layalpur, the Achhuts were boycotted for two months. These Achhuts were living in villages where the Jat-Sikhs or Muslims were in a dominant position. The Jat-Sikhs had compelled the Achhuts to record themselves as Sikhs. However, despite repression and intimidation the Achhuts did not give in and recorded Ad Dharm as their religion (ibid.:54-56).In village Ghundrawan of the district Kangra, the Rajputs even smashed the pitchers of the Ad Dharmi women who were on their way to fetch water. When denied waterfrom the village pond the Ad Dharmis had to travel for three miles to fetch water from the river. The ongoing torture at the hands of the Rajputs ultimately compelled them to leave the village to settle in Pathankot. It was only after the interference of Sir Fazal-i- Hussain, Chief Commissioner, on the request of Mangoo Ram that their grievance was looked into and eventually they were rehabilitated in their native village15. In face of opposition by the upper caste Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, the leaders of Ad Dharm had tough time at theLothian Committee16toprove that they were neither Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims nor Christians (Piplanwala 1986:10-15; and Ahir 1992:9-11). The Sikh representatives claimed that since many of the Achhuts believed in Guru Granth Sahib and solemnised their marriage ceremonies in accordance with the Sikh customs half of their population should be added to the Sikh religion and the other half be merged with the Hindus. Likwise the Muslim representatives told the Lothian committee that since some of the Achhuts perform Namaz (offer prayers), keep rozas (long fast kept in a particular month ) and bury their corpses in cemeteries instead of burning them, they should be divided equally between Hindus and Muslims. Similarly, the Hindu representatives on the other hand stressed that since the Achhuts believed in Vedas and perform their marriage ceremonies in accordance with the Hindu customs no one except the Hindus have the right to seek their allegiance. Above all, Lala Ram Das of the “Dayanand Dalit Udhar Mandal” (Hoshiarpur) and Pandit Guru Dev of “Achhut Mandal” (Lahore) informed the franchise committee that there was no untouchable in Punjab.According to them the untouchables were the backward class of Hindus who were made at par with the rest through the performance of Shuddhi.Hence, no separate treatment for the untouchables in Punjab.
Untouchables generally were being subjected to strong pressures by Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others, each community seeking to pull theminto its own fold, at least for the day of the census: it was common then to seek to influence census results as a prelude to political claims (Saberwal 1976:52).
In addition, insinuations and condemnations were also hurled at the Ad Dharm Mandal by the various religious groups in a bid to scandalise the movement. The leaders of Ad Dharm were alleged to have hob-nobbed with the Muslims during the crucial time of communal representation where Hindus and Muslims were juxtaposed against each other. The Ad Dharm’s political alliance with the Unionist Party during the Punjab Assembly elections, first in 1937 and then again in 1945-46 was an eye sore both for the congress andthe Hindu Sabha. The Hindu leaders did not like the Ad Dharmis’ growing links orassociation with the British government.In fact, the Ad Dharmis supported by the British secretly in the 1937 election who
... gave them cars for their campaign. In public meetings, they would attack the various aspects of Hindu society, and if this led to violence, the government used to protect them (Saberwal 1976:70-71).
As regards the Ad Dharm’s closeness to Muslims, it was more of political expediency rather than a blind alliance. It was, in fact, Mangoo Ram, who categorically said no to the mandarins of partition (Chumber 1986:52; Sain 1985:37)But on the issue of communal representation for the Achhuts, he showed keen interest in its implementation for the Achhuts.When Gandhi sat on fast-unto-death at Poona against the separate electorate for untouchables, Mangoo Ram followed Suit declaring “Gandhi if you are prepared to die for your Hindus, then I am prepared to die for these untouchables”. On this Mangoo Ram was accused of being a casteist.
The rift between the liberal Gandhian and radical untouchables was not healed, however, sinceeach continued to perceive the other as an obstacle to achieving intercaste harmony. Gandhi thought the untouchables’ militant separatism was reinforcing the concept of caste and the untouchables thought Gandhi was trying to whitewash existing differences and to deny untouchables their legitimate base of power. Both the perceptions were to some extent correct (Juergensmeyer 2000:230).
Gandhi pleaded on behalf of the Sudhras and tried to live like a Bhangi among them to experience what hardships they faced. But Mangoo Ram was one of them.He was a Chamar who experienced the pangs of untouchability. Thus, his response to the epic fast against separate electorate was not merely pragmatic but also an existential one.When Dr. Ambedkar compromised with Gandhi and the Poona Pact was signed, Mangoo Ram rang up Dr. Ambedkar in an angry mood and expressed his anguish as to why he agreed to the Pact. Dr. Ambedkar said that he had to sign the Poona Pact on human grounds to save the life of Gandhi7Mangoo Ram continued his fast even after the Pact was signed.He broke his fast only after the declaration was made by the government that eight seats were reserved for the untouchables in Punjab.The fast undertaken by him continued for 28 days from 20th September to 17th October, 1932 until the Pact was received at Jalandhar. Mangoo Ram used to say “those people (Hindus) who had humiliated us for thousands of years how we could trust their promise” (Mungowalia 1986: 35). Thus the followers of Ad Dharm movement were put to severe hardships and violence for carving out an identity for them and asserting for their rights. (Moon 1991:88). The Ad Dharmis perceived that the scheduled castes had lost much more than what they gained in the Poona Pact (Chumber 1986: 51).
Caste Violence: Talhan and Boota Mandi
The case of caste violence in Talhan8 and its consequent effect in Boota Mandi9 is a case of dalit assertion. Why caste violence in Talhan spilled over into Boota Mandi?It needs to be addressed for the analysis of caste violence in Talhan, in particular, and of dalit assertion in Punjab, in general. It requires a detailed account of Boota Mandi township and of other factors that provides a background for the dalit consciousness in Punjab.
The dalits, who for centuries have been subjected to humiliation and untold miseries, now refused to submit themselves to the similar instances of violation of their human rights. Since independence they have earned new economic position with hard work and have also acquired political consciousness to guard their interests.Although the contribution of constitutional affirmative action in terms of reservations in education, jobs and legislation have played a significant role in the upliftment of the dalits, the case of Ad Dharmis in village Talhan and Boota Mandi is a unique one. Ad Dharmis of Talhan village overcame their poverty and squalor through ventures abroad. Whereas the Ad Dharmis of Boota Mandi also known as Ramdaspura, have been a story of self made riches by their entrepreneurship in the trade of leather. In fact Boota Mandi township, in the vicinity of Jalandhar city on the Nakodar road, is a vivid example of the dalit upward mobility from the adjoining villages.
Boota Mandi and Dalit Consciousness
Boota Mandi was brought on the map of dalit politics by the two main sub-castes- Kaler and Mahey- ofthe Ad Dharmis who were forced to leave their ancestoral villages under hostile social and economic conditions. The Kaler and Mahey Subcastes cameto this place which provided them an access to military contracts in the Jalandhar Cantonment for supplying leather for Boots. The name Boota Mandi cropped-up from the leather trade established by Seth Kishan Das and Mr. Sundar Das.Seth Kishan Das belonged to the Kaler sub-caste. Kalers were tenant cultivators in village Nangal, five miles away from the Boota Mandi.They migrated to this suburb of Jalandhar cityto try their luck in leather trade. Mr. Sundar Das belonged to the Maheysub-caste whose ancestoral village was Dhanal, four miles away from the Boota Mandi. Almost all the Kaler and Mahey families from village Nangal and Dhanal, respectively, joined Seth Kishan Das and Mr. Sundar Das in the newly established leather trade in Boota Mandi. Later on many other sub-castes of the dalits from various villages in the vicinity of Jalandhar also came to Boota Mandi after learning about the success of the recently established business of leather trade by the Kalers and Maheys. Seth Kishan Das, aChamarturned Ad Dharmi during the famous dalit movementspearheaded by Babu Mangoo Ram a former Gadharite, preferred to utilise his wealth for raising the social and political consciousness of the Ad Dharmis in this part of the country. He financed the headquarter’s building for the Ad Dharm in Jalandhar.Now-a-days RavidassHigh School and Sewing Training Centre for girls is being run in that building. He was also the one who pioneered to give a practical shape to the call of Baba Saheb, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar for the establishment of All-India Scheduled Castes Federation. He became the founder president of the Punjab unit of the All-India Scheduled Caste Federation. Baba Saheb Ambedkar took dinner at his residence at Boota Mandi on October 27, 1951 during his Punjab tour. In fact,the residence of Seth Kishan Das had become a meeting place of all the prominent dalit personalities of Punjab (Ramdasspuri n.d.: 68). During his Punjab tour, Baba Saheb Ambedkar addressed large gathering of masses at Jalandhar (October 27, 1951), Ludhiana (October 28, 1951) and Patiala (October 29, 1951). In Jalandhar at Ramdaspura (Boota Mandi) Ambedkar addressed a gathering of lakhs of people in the eveningof October 27, 1951 (Balley 1971:382). In Ramdaspura(Boota Mandi), where Ambedkar delivered about two hour long lecture, ‘Ambedkar Bhawan’ was constructed in 1972 as a memorial to perpetuate sacred memory of the Messiah of the downtrodden. ‘Ambedkar Bhawan’ has become a centre of dalit activities. The road, leading to Boota Mandi, on which it is situated is named as Dr. Ambedkar Marg (Nakodar road).
Another factor that played a significant role in raising the dalit consciousness in Punjab in the 30’s and early 50’s was the contribution of two weekly papers, Adi Danka and Ujala. Adi Danka was published by Ad Dharm Mandal, Jalandhar. Ram Chand Khera, an Ad Dharmi, was its editor.Adi Danka was the official weekly of the Ad Dharm, published both in Urdu and Punjabi.Gurdass Ram Aalam, Sant Ram Azad, Chanan Lal Manak, Sansar Chand, Charan Singh Saffri and Bhagat Ram Mandhali were among the prominent contributors to Adi Danka (Sain 1985: 36).Gurdass Ram Aalam and Chanan Lal Manak set the trend of radical dalit poetry in Punjab through the columns of this weekly.“It succeeded in bringing enthusiasm and consciousness not only among the Ad Dharmis of Punjab but also among those who had settled abroad” (Manak 1985: 8). However, it was discontinued in the mid 40s when the Ad Dharm movement became dormant.During 1930s, Ravidass Jaikara, another Punjabi weekly was also published from Jalandhar. Master Gurbanta Singh, a prominent Ad Dharmi of Doaba, who won the Assembly elections in 1946 with the support of Ad Dharm, was its editor10.After the closure of Adi Danka, Ujala was launched.Its first issue was released onApril 14, 1948, on the birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar. Ujala was the only dalit paper of its kind published by Kartara Ram Madhas, a prominent Ambedkarite of the Boota Mandi (Sulekh 1994: XXV). K.C. Sulekh, General Secretary of the Punjab unit of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, was its editor. “He was the pioneer journalist amongst the Dalits who has the privilege to work under the direct guidance of Baba Saheb Ambedkar” (Balley 2003:3). Sulekh11 has also translated Ambedkar’s book ‘Mr.Gandhi and The Emancipation of The Untouchables’ in Urdu in 1946 (Sulekh 1994: XXIX). Ujala was published in Urdu but later on many issues were brought out in Punjabi also. Ujala was the only voice of the dalits at that time in North India amidst the upper caste controlled press. It brought an awakening in the dalit consciousness through carrying out Ambedkar’s philosophy and views of the prominent dalits (Sulekh n.d.: 108). After K.C. Sulekh joined Government service, Mr. Leal of Boota Mandi took the charge of editorship of Ujala in 1952. Ujala was followed by Hamara Jeewan, Bheem Patrika, Ravidass Patrika and Kaumi Udarian.Hamara Jeewan and Ravidass Patrika both were Punjabi weeklies and published from Jalandhar.Hamara Jeewan was launched immediately after the Ujala was established.Mota Singh, General Secretary of Punjab unit of Scheduled Castes Federation of India (1946-48), was its editor.Ravidass Patrika was started in 1970s by an NRI Ad Dharmi, Mangoo Ram Jaspal12, who left England to settle in Jalandhar. Bheem Patrika, a vernacular monthly paper, and Kaumi Udarian a monthly journal in Punjabi were also published from Jalandhar. Bheem Patrika was founded by Lahori Ram Balley13 in 1958. Kaumi Udarian was launched in December 1985.C. L. Chumber, also an Ad Dharmi, was its editor.In fact all these publications followed in the footsteps of Ujala which had become not only an exemplary mouthpiece of the dalits in Punjab but also a centre of dalit social activists and literary personalities.Thus Boota Mandi virtually became the vibrant nerve centre of all types of activities, social, religious, political and literary, for the dalits.
Seth Kishan Das's progeny carriedon meticulously the process of dalit consciousness initiated by him through actively participating in the political arena of Punjab politics. His grand-son, Mr. Avinash Chander contested Parliament and State Assembly elections. Mr. Sundar Das's son Mr. Khushi Ram also served as councillor in the Jalandhar Municipal Committee. The present Mayor Mr. Surinder Mahey is his grandson. A casual visit to the Boota Mandi convinces one that this town presents a vivid impression of a particular community's stronghold and success. The Ad Dharmi community has proudly established centres of Ambedkar and religious places of Guru Ravidass and Buddh Vihars. They have also established education centres, libraries and community centres in the name of Ambedkar, Buddha and Ravidass. One of the Mohalla (residential area) in the Boota Mandi has been named as Siddhartha Nagar. All these names evoke a sense of an independent identity which the lower castes in the Doaba region of Punjab were in search of since the beginning of the Ad Dharm movement.
Guru Ravidass, DeraSach Khand Ballan and Dalit Consciousness
Guru Ravidass has been projected as the spiritual master of the Ad Dharmis.He was revered as devoutly as Hindus revered their Gods and Goddesses and Sikhs their Gurus. However, Ad Dharmis did not subscribe to the philosophy of reincarnations as is believed by Hindus. They simply believe in the spiritual power of Guru Ravidass. They raise slogans 'Ravidass Shakti Amar Rahe' (the spiritual power of Ravidass live forever) during the Ravidass jayanti. The figure of Ravidass, the fifteenth Century poet-saint became the icon of dalit assertion in Punjab. It was during the Ad Dharm movement that the image of Guru Ravidasshas been systematically projected to shape the newly conceivedcultural space for the Ad Dharmis (Omvedt 2003: 192).Boota Mandi took the lead in that regard. What made the image of Ravidass a catalyst in the emergence of dalit consciousness is his being belonging to one of the lower castes. He was born in Chamar caste, also known as Kutbandhla, one of the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh. Chamars are known by their profession of leather and tanning. They were oppressed and badly treated by the upper castes. Ravidass revolted against the system of untouchability. He rejected the caste system based on the hereditary principle of higher and lower status. He revolted against the tyranny of Brahmins and defied them by wearing Dhoti (cloth wrapped around the waist), Janeue (sacred thread) and Tilak (sacred red mark on forehead) which were forbidden for the untouchables. He advocated the method of self help for eliminating sufferings of the dalits. His vision for self help is expressed in on eof his hymns as “So kat jane peer prai ja ke untre darad na pai” (only the sufferer knows where it hurts, the mere observer has no idea). He envisioned an egalitarian model of state(Begumpura), where no one would be discriminated on the basis of caste and religion and everyone would be free from the burden of taxes and worries of food. Ravidass said “Aesa chahun raj me, jahan mile saban ko unn, ouch neich sab sam wase, Ravidass rehe parsan” (I want a kingdom where everybody has enough to eat, higher and lower live together in harmony and Ravidass shall be happy). His aproach was unique. He used Bhakti and sacred hymns as a medium for raising the consciousness of the downtrodden against the system of oppression. He was a protagonist of equality, oneness of God, human rights and universal brotherhood. He condemned the division of mankind on the basis of caste. He said that all human beings were created by God and God Himself resides in all of them. If the same God pervades the entire humanity, it is then foolish to divide it in the name of caste. He said, “tohee mohee mohee tohee antar kaisa…”. He neither identified with nor patronised any particular caste. He said that who believed in oneness of mankind and did not believe in caste was his friend (Jo ham shehri so meet hamara).He said Hevisited North India twice and met Guru Nanak Dev first at 'Chuharkana', now known as Nankana Sahib and at Sant Ghat of Kali Bein in Sultanpur Lodhi. Forty hymns and one couplet of Guru Ravidass have been inscribed in Guru Granth Sahib (Jassi and Suman 2000: 25, 28). His popularity is being kept alive in Punjab among the lower castes through the network of shrines and pilgrimage centres popularly known as deras constructed in dedication to his memory. One of the most famous such deras is in village Ballan, seven miles North of city of Jalandhar on the Pathankot road. It is known as 'Dera Sach Khand', Ballan. An equally famous Ravidass dera14is in village 'Chak Hakim', near the town of Phagwara. These two Ravidass deras shot into prominence during the Ad Dharm movement.The spiritual space of these deras was also utilised for the creation of cultural orientations and social consciousness among the dalits. Thus the deras dedicated to Ravidass "not only provided foci for spiritual life, they functioned as lower caste centres as well" (Juergensmeyer 1988:84). ‘Dera Sach Khand’ Ballan has taken specific initiatives in the direction of cultural transformation and social consciousness of the dalits in Punjab. The dera has a library on its premises and also sponsors a vernacular weekly 'Begum Pura Shaher' published from Jalandhar. The dera distributes free literature on Ravidass and on the dalit issues. In the ‘Begum Pura Shaher’ a detailed account of deras dedicated to the philosophy of Guru Ravidass is being serialised to document the rising consciousness among the dalits in the region.
The main contribution made by the ‘Dera Sach Khand’ Ballan in the direction of raising the dalit consciousnessis the construction of a mammoth ‘Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Mandir’ at Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi. Sant Sarwan Dassof Dera Ballan took the task of spreading the ideals of GuruRavidass among the lower castes. He made strenuous efforts to make Bani (aspiritual poetry) of Ravidass popular among the dalits and made them to understand its inherent meaning. Sarwan Dassthought the job to be incomplete until the place where Guru Ravidass gave the sermon of 'Begum Pura' was traced out. He made great efforts in locating the place where Ravidass was born. Sant Sarwan Dass assigned the task to a selected group of people under the guidance of Sant Hari Dass. The group went to Varanasi, surveyed the area near the BanaresHinduUniversity. A location in the village Seer Goverdhanpur, on the outskirts of Varanasi, near BHU, is confirmed as the birthplace of Guru Ravidass. The plot of land was purchased and foundation stone of ‘Ravidass Janam Asthan Mandir’ was laid on Monday, June 14, 1965 by Sant Hari Dass alongwith a large number of devotees of Dera Ballan. The lower caste people from within the country as well as abroad helped in various ways in the construction of the temple. They did so in the name of Guru Ravidass, whom they consider the harbinger of their identity. Help for the construction of the temple came from the devotees of the Ravidass residing in U.K., Canada and other foreign countries15. They were keen to see the project completed and contributed in their respective individual capacities.
The first phase of the temple was constructed by year 1972. For managing the affairs of Ravidass temple,"Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Public Charitable Trust" was constituted with the headquarter at ‘Dera Sach Khand’ Ballan, Jalandhar and its branch office was established at ‘Janam Asthan Mandir’ Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi. ‘Dera Sach Khand’ Ballan also coordinates the ecclesiastical affairs of the various other Ravidass deras in India and abroad. However, all the major Ravidass institutions in India and abroad have separate Trusts to manage their affairs. In the United Kingdom, the trust was named ‘Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass Charitable Trust’ (Regd.), U.K. It was at the request of the UK Trust that a huge monumental gate in the memory of Guru Ravidass was raised at Lanka Crossing in Varanasi city on the way to the ‘Ravidass Janam Asthan Mandir’. The second phase of the construction of mandir was completed in 1994 and the ceremony of installation of Golden Kalash atop the mandir dome was performed by Babu Kanshi Ram in the presence of the then incharge of the ‘Dera Sach Khand’Ballan, Sant Garib Dass on April 7, 1994. The monumental gate approaching the mandir at Lanka Crossing was inauguratedby the then President of India K.R. Narayanan on July 16, 1998. The‘Ravidass Janam Asthan Mandir’ at Seer Goverdhanpur has acquired, perhaps, the same importance for dalits as Mecca for the Muslims and Golden temple for the Sikhs. The ‘Ravidass Janam Asthan Public Charitable Trust’ encourages the publication of literature about Ravidass. The dera at Ballan also helps the poor dalit students by sponsoring them monetarily. It is also constructing SantSarwanDassModelSchool at Hadiawad in Phagwara where poor children will be provided free education. In addition, the dera honours dalit scholars for literary contributions for the upliftment of the downtrodden. Tillnow, it has honoured fifteen such dalit scholars with gold medals (Bahadur 2003:3). It has acquired a unique importance among the dalits of the Doaba region who look forward to it for spiritual guidance, public utilities and advice for managing their cultural spheres. The dera is running a two-hundred bed hospital at Kathar, on the Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur road, where poor patients get free medical aid. It costs the dera about Rs.twenty-five lakh every month (Kauldhar 2003: 5 & 8). All this has contributedsignificantly in building dalit consciousness and strengthening the dalit identity in the region. Every year on the Ravidass Jayanti, the dera makes special arrangements for the pilgrimage of the devotees of Ravidass to their Mecca at Seer Goverdhanpur. Special trains are arranged from Jalandhar to Varanasi exclusively for Ravidass Jayanti celebrations. Such spiritual cum cultural activities further provides impetus to the process of the rise of dalit consciousness initiated during the Ad Dharm movement and subsequently carried on by the social and political efforts of the wealthy Ambedkarites of the Boota Mandi.It is against this background of dalit consciousness generated over a period of six decades in the Doaba sub-region of Punjab that caste violence in Talhan and its repercusions in Boota Mandi could be understood in a proper perspective.
Talhan: The Conflict
Violence started in Talhan on June 5, 2003 after a five month long drawn conflict between Jat-Sikhs and Ad Dharmis.The conflict was on the issue of dalit representation in the management committee of a local smadh turned Gurdwara.However, Boota Mandi became the epicentre of violence.It was in Boota Mandi that an Ad Dharmi, Vijay Kumar Kala, was killed in the police firing which suddenly brought Talhan and Boota Mandi on the national scene.Since Boota Mandi has become a hot bed of dalit activities from the Ad Dharm movement onwards, it is naïve to expect that the radical Ambedkarites of this township, to whom Dr.Ambedkar once said, ‘chop off the hands and smash the heads of those who molest your women folk’ (Sulekh 1994: XXI), could remain indifferent to the plight of their brethren in the adjoining rural areas.
Talhan is situated at a distance of fifteen kilometers from the Jalandhar city and about twenty kilometers from the Boota Mandi.It is one of the big villages in Doaba.Its population is about 10,000.Dalits constitute majority of the population (72%).The rest of the population is of Jat Sikhs and other communities such as Ramgarhias [Carpenters], Lohars [Blacksmiths], Jheers [water carriers], chhimbas [tailors] and kumhars [potters] (Philip 2003; Sharma, Reeta 2003; Jodhka and Louis 2003: 2924: Judge 2003).Almost all the dalits are Ad Dharmi scheduled castes (Jodhka and Louis 2003: 2924).They are largely clean-shaven and worship Guru Ravidass.However, they also swear by Sikhism (Sandhu 2003).The village distinctly exhibits prosperity.Huge and stylish houses in Talhan witness richness of the inhabitants of the village who have emigrated in large numbers to Europe, North-America, and the Gulf.The literacy level in the village is as high as 95%.The village has a senior secondary government school (ibid.). There are three main Gurdwaras in the village along with the Smadh turned Gurdwara Baba Nihal Singh.The main three Gurdwaras reflect on the caste divisions in the village which follows a religion that forbids division on such lines (ibid).Jat Sikhs have their own Gurdwara.There is a also a Gurdwara of Ramgarhias.Dalits too have their separate Gurdwara constructed in the name of Ravidass.These Gurdwaras are not simply a place for worship and religious congregations of the respective caste communities.In fact, they are an index of the assertion of caste identities (Jodhka 2001; 2002;Jassi 2003: 6).Each Gurdwara has its own management committee.However, as far as the Gurdwara Baba Nihal Singh is concerned, the management committee has become a bone of contention between the Jat Sikhs and Ad Dharmis of the village.The committee of this Smadh turned Gurdwara is dominated by land-owning Jats from Talhan and the adjoining villages.Though dalits constitute majority of the population in the village, none of them has ever been included in the management committee.Whereas other caste communities of Talhan and adjoining villages in the area are granted representation in the financially rich management committee.The committee manages an annual amount of about Rs. Five crore that the smadh of Baba Nihal Singh receives in the form of offerings from its rich NRI and local devotees (Sharma, Reeta 2003; Philip 2003; Sandhu 2003).There may be a difference of opinion on the exact amount of offerings.“But there is an agreement that the coffers in the Gurdwara have been over flowing with cash. Small wonder that anybody who is a somebody in the village wants to be a member of the Gurdwara Management Committee” (Philip 2003).The richness of the Gurdwara is visible from the mammoth building in which it is housed.The building has spacious air-conditioned halls. One of such halls has a capacity of simultaneous recitation of Guru Granth Sahib by as many as fifty-five Granthis (professional readers of the holy Granth) in one go.The Gurdwara “has a well-appointed Kotha Sahib (resting room) for Guru Granth Sahib where tranquility is disturbed only by the purr of the air-conditioners” (ibid).The annual offerings of the smadh turned Gurdwara is spent on development work of the village done under the supervision of the management committee.Dalits allege that Jats spend more money on their own areas.Money is spent discriminatly.The electricity and water bills of the Jat households, it is alleged, were paid by the management committee from the money collected at the smadh (Sandhu 2003).However, the version of the Jat Sikhs member of the committee gives entirely a different picture.They claim that a large amount of the money is spent on the maintenance of the Gurdwara and on various development activities undertaken for the whole village.Moreover, the members of the committee claim to have given Rs.2.5 lakh to the dalits for the construction of Ravidass Gurdwara (Jodhka and Louis 2003: 2924).Irrespective of such claims and allegations, the fact is that dalits of Talhan have never been granted membership in the management committee of the Gurdwara.
Although Jat Sikhs have monopolized the management committee in spite of their being in minority in the village vis-à-vis the dalits, Baba Nihal Singh himself did not belong to the Jat Sikh community. He was a Ramgarhia Sikh of Tarkhan (carpenter) caste, which is a backward caste in Punjab. He was an ordinary person, who practiced his caste occupation.He also used to lay Gandd (wooden wheels) at the base of the wells in order to maintain a natural flow of ground water in the wells.His expertise in laying Gandd earned him fame during his life time.His fellow villagers admired him for his professional dexterity.He did not live in Talhan.He belonged to a village called Dakoha near Talhan.He died while laying a wooden wheel in a well near Talhan. Since Baba Nihal Singh was popular for his expertise in laying the Gandds and died while performing his job, his death was not considered as an ordinary event. Rather it was considered as a martyrdom, by the villagers of the area.Thus from Baba Nihal Singh he became Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh. Shaheeds (martyrs) are not only the ones who die for the country while fighting in the battle field. Those who die while functioning for public utilities are also known as Shaheeds.In PunjabShaheeds are remembered and venerated.Smadhs (tombs) are raised in their honour on the place where their bodies are laid to rest and annual fairs (melas) are organized in their honour.Since Baba Nihal Singh was remembered as a Shaheed, a smadh was also built on the place, near Talhan, where his body was laid to rest.To celebrate his martyrdom, villagers of the area started organizing a annual fair at the smadh. After the death of Harnam Singh, an aide of Baba Nihal Singh who used to take care of the smadh, another smadh was also built in his name near the smadh of Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh. The popularity of Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh attracted a large number of devotees, who brought offerings mostly in cash.Subsequently smadhs were converted into shrines.In due course an other structure was raised in the middle ofsmadhs and Guru Granth (Holy Book of Sikhs) was placed there.Since Sikh religion forbids worshipping smadhs, the placing of Guru Granth in between the smadhs was, in fact, contrary to the basic tenets of Sikhism.The main motive behind the construction of a Gurdwara in-between the smadhs was to, perhaps, grab the large amount of money received in the form of offerings at the smadhi by the dominant upper caste of the village and the adjoining areas (Anand 2003: 5).If the Jat Sikhs put their claim on the smadh by converting it into a Gurdwara ‘with help from some outside Sikh religious organisations’, how can they legitimately convince the dalits not to ask for a share in the committee simply because they do not belong to the Jat Sikh community.Ad Dharmis revered Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh almost as much as Jat Sikhs and used to participate in all the events at the Gurdwara with same enthusiasm (Jodhka and Louis 2003: 2924).However, when the dalits asked for a fair representation in the committee, it “… evoked a stony, if not violent response from the Jats” (Philip 2003).
Dalits could not have come forward for demanding a representation in the committee had the Gurdwara been not become a symbol of power by virtue of its economic strength on the one hand and spiritual popularity on the other.Recently there has been a strong tendency among the dalits to demand a share in the structures of power at different levels of the society which have earlier been dominated by the land holding castes particularly the Jats (Sharma, Reeta, 2003).Ad Dharmis’ demand for a share in the committee is also rooted in that tendency.Now demands of the dalits for a share in the socio-economic structures of power could not be wished away either by evoking purity-pollution principle or by the blatant use of muscle power. Dalits have become wise enough to escape the traps of theocratic mechanisations and rituals adopted by the upper castes to keep them away from the power.Ad Dharmis of the Talhan village vehemently refuted the arguments of the Jat Sikh members of the committee of Gurdwara Baba Nihal Singh that they could not be given membership simply because of their not following the Sikh Maryada (code of conduct) properly.Ad Dharmis retorted back “…if clean-shaven Jats could become members of the committee, why could not they” (Jodhka and Louis 2003: 2924).
Caste violence in Talhan did not erupt suddenly.It has a history of protracted conflict between the dalits asserting for their right and the Jat Sikhs who have been finding it difficult to adjust with the changed social and economic conditions. The conflict started in Talhan a few years ago on the demand of the dalits for representation in the management committee of the Gurdwara Baba Nihal Singh.They approached the court in 1999.Filing cases and counter cases could not help resolve the conflict. The conflict took a new turn on January 20, 2003 when the Jat Sikhs publicly announced a social boycott of the Ad Dharmis. On the preceding day there was a fight between the Jats and Ad Dharmis on the eve of the election of the management committee. The Ad Dharmis who were demanding representation in the committee were beaten up and chased away by the Jats with the help of the police (Jodhka and Louis: 2925). They also tore down the portrait of Sant Ravidass. A few days earlier, the management committee also terminated the services of 39 dalit women who used to prepare Langar [food prepared in large quantity for free distribution] (Judge 2003).
Ad Dharmis organised a Dalit Action Committee (DAC) under the leadership of Lahori Ram Balley, a prominent Ambedkarite of Abadpura near Boota Mandi, to fight against their social boycott and for representation in the management committee of the Gurdwara. DAC organized dharnas and hunger strikes at Ambedkar Chowk in JalandharCity and village Talhan. Ad Dharmis of Boota Mandi also participated in the dharnas and strikes.A team of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes visited Talhan on February 5, 2003 and confirmed the social boycott.The team ordered that “Kewal Singh and Bhupinder Singh be externed from the village for 6 months” (Grewal 2003).Additional Director, Social Welfare Department, Punjab, also provided documentary evidence of the social boycott of the dalits (ibid 2003).The DAC demanded that the Commission’s directive be obeyed and legal action under Section 295 A, IPC and Section 3, 9, 10 and 14 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, be initiated against those named in the FIR dated February 7, 2003 (Grewal 2003).In spite of all the efforts of DAC the informal social boycott of the dalits continued that started about four months ago.On May 17, 2003 DAC staged a protest by showing black flags outside the venue of the divisional meeting of the senior police and civil officers being chaired by the Chief Secretary against the failure of the state government to resolve the issue pertaining to the alleged social boycott of the dalits in Talhan (The Tribune 18.6.2003).Even after the above mentioned meeting of the senior officers the conflict in Talhan continued unabated.On May 27, 2003, DAC in its memorandum threatened “(t)ill now our struggle has been peaceful, but if the Punjab government does not understand our peaceful overtures, we will resort to direct action for which preparations are being made (Grewal 2003).Although on June 3, 2003 a compromise was worked out between the contesting parties through the efforts of the officers of the district administration, it could not last even for two days.It was against this backdrop that violence erupted in Talhan on June 5 and quickly snow-balled into Boota Mandi.
The site of the beginning of the violence was the Mazaar (grave) of Sufi Pir Baba Fateh Shah Qadri. The Mazaar is located in the North-west of Talhan. It is about akilometer from the Smadh Baba Nihal Singh. It has three graves, a tomb and a small structure where a Muslim family lives (Singh, Prabhjot 2003). At the Mazaar a mela is organised, every year on June 5, by an emigrant Jat Sikh from Talhan. People of all the castes of Talhan and of adjoining villages participate in the mela (Ibid.; Balley 2003a:11). It was at the mela where violence erupted at , on June 5, and continued unabated for six hours. Thereafter, it was followed by violent clashes in Boota Mandi and other nearby towns like Phagwara and Kartarpur. It is alleged that the violence was caused by the Jat Sikhs, who asked the dalits to leave the mela (Balley 2003a:11). Some reports say that the clash was sparked-off, when dalit boys passed comments at Jat-girls singing devotional songs on the stage at the mela (Judge 2003). Whatever be the cause of the violence, at least it is clear that dalits have now achieved a state of consciousness which not only empowered them to say a firm ‘no’ to their hitherto tormentors but also encouraged them to ask assertively for equal share in the structures of power. Whereas the Jat Sikhs who have, till recently, been thriving at the meek silence of the dalits, are obviously finding it difficult to digest the emerging dalit assertion.
Although the violence was controlled by the district administration and police, it took eighteen days for a compromise to take place between the contending parties. Curfew remained clamped, in sensitive areas, in Talhan and Boota Mandi during all these days. On June 13, police arrested five members of the DAC and an equal number of persons belonging to Jat Sikh community, including Kewal Singh and Bhupinder Singh against whom an FIR was registered on February 7,2003. After the arrests, negotiations started between both the parties at the PAP Complex, Jalandhar, under the leadership of ADG Police, D.R. Bhatti. A compromise was worked out. In fact, it was the same compromise that was signed on June 3, 2003, but could not be implemented because of the violence on June 5. In the compromise, it was agreed that two dalits would be included in the committee. However, a condition was attached that they should have ‘Sikh Saroop’(Sikh appearance). The other terms of the compromise included the withdrawl of all the cases related to Talhan clash, public apology with the Bhog (completion of recitation of Sikh holy book) of the Adi Granth for social boycott and scrilege of Guru Ravidass. The agreement was signed by both the parties. On June 16, the arrested persons were released. On June 22, all the clauses of the agreement were fulfilled in the presence of the sangat (gathering of people at a religious place) gathered at the smadh of Baba Nihal Singh. However, it took almost two months for the agreement to, actually, get implemented.On August 17, 2003 one of the two dalit nominees, Amarjit, was unanimously elected as the vice-secretary of the Sehajdhari committee of the Jat dominated Management committee of the Gurdwara Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh. The Sehajdhari committee is a decision making committee. It comprises all office bearers of the management committee. Amarjit was elected after he obtained ‘Sikh Saroop’. He has taken Amrit (Holy water) at the historic Gurdwara at Anandpur Sahib on August 13, 2003 and has grown a flowing beard (Singh, Varinder : 2003).
Though the Jat Sikhs were adamant on the ‘Sikh Saroop’ of the dalits for inclusion in the committee, a Jat, who was president of the committee for many years, did not keep such a ‘saroop’. It seems that the adamant attitude of the Jat Sikhs towards the dalits was, in fact, a face saving strategyin view of the indomitable fight put up by the dalits during the Talhan conflict for securing justice and dignity. The pressure of the dalit assertion has also compelled the Government to solve the Talhan imbroglio without further delay, so that it could not turn into a serious political issue having wider implications. Moreover the rise of dalit assertion has cautioned the Government to take necessary measures to prevent the victimisation of dalits in other parts of Punjab lest they replicate Talhan. Mention may be made that duringthe Talhan crisis and after the recent Panchayat elections in Punjab as well, in as many as fourteen villages the cases of social boycott of the dalits were successfully resolved by the Government (Balley 2003a:11; Virdi 2003a:6-7). Thus Talhan has created a history in Punjab. It has set an example of dalit assertion. Talhan was not a case of caste problem as has been popularly projected. Nor it was solely caused by theallurement of the wealth at the smadh. Infact it was a case of dalit assertion against caste domination and untouchability in Punjab. It sharpened the question of dalit human rights and civil liberties in Punjab. The dalit assertion that has come on the surface during the Talhan crisis contains the seeds of dalit emancipation in the real sense of the term. It is in this context that Talhan has become an important case for the understanding of the violation of the human rights of the dalit in the rural settings of Punjab which boasts of a caste free society.
What we have argued above is that untouchability is rooted in the legal and literary discourse of Dharam Shastra literature. It got further reinforced by the rationalistic discourse of the Orientalists. However, in Punjab, the impact of the Brahmanical principle ofpurity-pollution and of the Varna Vyavastha has never been so strong as in many parts of India. Although the ritualistic and ceremonial underpinnings of untouchability were weak in Punjab, owing to the cultural specificities of the region, the gravity of social oppression and economic deprivation of the dalits has never been weak. Untouchabilityin Punjab was more associated with the asymmetrical structures of the agrarian rural economy than with the syndrome of purity-pollution.
The seeds of dalit consciousness were sown in Punjab in the early 1920s. The Ad Dharm movement provided the necessary background for the rise of dalit consciousness in the colonial Punjab. After 1940, the Punjab unit of All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the Punjab unit of Republican Party of India carried on the legacy of the Ad Dharm movement. The process ofpoliticization of the dalits in Punjab and their empowerment has also been promoted by the social, cultural and spiritual activities undertaken by Ravidass deras, especially Dera Sach Khand Ballan in Jalandhar district in the Doaba sub-region of Punjab. Dalit consciousness has never been an exclusive domain of dalits only. It continued, intermittently, to receive supportfrom non-dalit quarters as well. Be it a phase of Bhakti movement, Sufis, Indian renaissance or of national freedom movement, there is an ample proof of efforts being made by non-dalits in the direction of amelioration of untouchability. However, almost all of them, thought it appropriate to take measures for the removal of untouchability without doing away with the inegalitarian social structures. This has led to a sharp division between the orientation of the dalits and the upper castes protagonists of social reform movements. The rise of Ad Dharm movement and Gandhi-Ambedkar dispute are testimonies to such polarization between the dalits and the twice –born. This division, in turn, further strengthened the process of proliferation of dalitconsciousness in a dichotomous framework of ‘we’ and ‘others’. The issue of caste and untouchability,instead of becoming a common social problem with a unified response across the length and breadth of Indian sub-continent has taken on a path of confrontation and antagonism. Dalit consciousness grew along these fault lines. Indian freedom struggle failed to provide a conducive environment for the peaceful resolution of caste based conflicts in the post colonial India.
Talhan caste conflict, in fact, is not the first of its kind as has generally been reported both in the media and academia. Caste violence, in colonial Punjab, during the Ad Dharm movement is a case in point. Ad Dharmis were subjected to physical violence and sever hardships. Their only fault was, they dared to assert for civil rights. In fact, whenever, the oppressed raised voice for emancipation from social oppression and economic deprivation, they faced stiff and violent opposition from those who were in command of economic resources and bracketed with higher social status. They may be Brahmins, Rajputs or Jats. It does not make much of a difference. What is important is not a particular caste, but the economic set up of the concerned region and the resultant configuration of social forces and relations between the dominant castes and the dalits. In the case of Punjab, Jat Sikhs constitute dominant caste Their domination, however, is not rooted in the graded system of caste hierarchy. They became dominant because of their hold over the land. Dalits in Punjab, for various historical reasons, were deprived of land.Their being landlessness, obviously, made them subservient to the land owning castes, majority of whom happen to be Jat Sikhs. Although employment opportunities were created for the dalits under the system of caste based reservation since the promulgation of the constitution of independent India, their social status has not been raised accordingly in the rural Punjab where majority of them reside. In addition, inspite of, the progressive stance ofSikh religion which forbids division of mankind on the basis of parochial and ascriptive values, Punjab could not succeed in overcoming the reactionary and obscurantist tendencies of caste based social setup. Although agricultural has ceased to exist as a profitable profession for the last few years, land is still considered as the most essential status symbol in rural Punjab. Though many dalits have benefited from constitutional affirmative action, spread of education, social welfare measures and ventures abroad, a vast majority of them still remained very poor and vulnerable. While many dalits have abandoned their caste based occupations and have also distanced themselves from the employment in the agricultural fields, their social status in the rural economy remained marginal, precisely because of their landlessness. Moreover, their increasing hold on the electoral structures of power at the grassroots has not yet converted into their empowerment.Reservation in the Panchayati Raj institutions failed to improve their lot significantly. Although they were elected to reserved posts of Sarpanches and Panches in village Panchayats, even in some cases from the general seats as well given their numerical strength, they were not allowed to function independently and fearlessly. In many cases, Government had to intervene to help them assume the elected offices.
In rural Punjab, land determined social status.It is a fact. Dalits did not own land, is another fact. It is also a fact, that dalits have achieved a significant awareness and political consciousness over the last seven decades in the history of dalit mobilization in Punjab. Now, they cannot be coerced any more to remain confined to the periphery. The contradiction between old mind sets based on proclivities of caste prestige and honour, on the one hand, and the emerging dalit consciousness for equal share in different social structures of power, on the other, is fast becoming crucial. The rise of a large number of separate dalit Gurdwaras and community centres, and the ever increasing number of caste conflicts in the villages of Punjab is a clear testimony to the surging dalit assertion for equal rights and dignity. It is in this context that Talhan caste conflict cannot be seen as a sporadic case of spontaneous violence. In fact, it alludes to a deep-rooted crisis born of general neglect andviolation of human rights of the downtrodden in Punjab which needs serious attention for its peaceful redressal.
[This is a revised and enlarged version of the paper presented at the International Dalit Conference, Vancouver, Canada, May 15-18, 2003. I thank Prof. P.S. Verma for extremely helpful discussions in the course of formulating different parts of the paper. My thanks to Late Prof. Pradeep Kumar who helped me in understanding the different dimensions of dalit politics. I also acknowledge the critical inputs from the participants of the International Dalit Conference, especially Dr. K.P. Singh, Prof. John C.B. Webster, Mr. Chander Bhan Prasad, Dr. Ambrose Pinto S.J., Prof. Eleanor Zelliot, Dr. Laxmi Berwa, Mr. Jai Pal Birdi, Mr. Chanan Chahal and Mr. Arun Kumar, in helping me refine the arguments considerably. To Late Chanan Lal Manak, K.C. Sulekh, Lahori Ram Balley, G.S. Bal, K.C. Shenmar, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, I.D. Pawar, Chatter Sain, C.L. Chumber, Dr. Som Nath Bharti, and Sant Surinder Dass Bawa, I owe special debt for providing me source material on the Ad Dharm movement. Long discussions with Professors Harish K. Puri, P.S. Judge and the seminarians of the Wednesday Seminar, Deptt. ofSociology , PanjabUniversity, Chandigarh, helped me sharpen my formulations. To Seema Goel, I owe a special debt for helping me in various ways in preparation of this draft. However, for any fault or error, the responsibility lies entirely on the author].
Dalits have separate Gurdwaras in about 10,000 villages out of a total of 12, 780 villages in Punjab (Dalit Voice, Vol. 22, No. 17 September 1-15, 2003, p. 20). A survey of 116 villages in one Tehsil of Amritsar district showed that dalits had separate Gurdwaras in 68 villages (Puri 2003: 2700). Yet another field-study of 51 villages selected from the three sub-regions of Punjab found that dalits had separate Gurdwaras in as many as 41 villages ( Jodhka 2002:1818); see also Muktsar 1999 ; and Muktsar 2003: 21-22.
Some of the most important Deras are: Radha Soami Satsang Beas; SachaSauda, Sirsa; Dera Wadbhag Singh, Una. Dera of Piara Singh Bhaniarwala is an emerging sect of the followers of Piara Singh Bhaniarwala who considered himself a holy man. There are many such persons who considered themselves spiritual and have established their deras all over Punjab. They command a large number of followings among the dalits. For details see Puri 2003: 2700.
Ad Dharm movement came into existence in 1925. Ad Dharm was a movementagainst the system of untouchability. It aimed at emancipation of the dalits and their empowerment through cultural transformation, spiritual regeneration and political assertion. It was the first movement of its kind in North India where the downtrodden were brought together to fight for their cause. It laid the foundation of dalit consciousness and assertion in Punjab. Mark Juergensmeyer’s seminal work is the pioneer study of this movement (Juergensmeyer 1988).
<!--[if !supportLists]-->4.<!--[endif]-->Adi movements appeared in 1920s in different parts of India. Adi Dravida movement in Madras, Adi Andhra in Andhra Pradesh, Adi Karnataka inKarnataka and Adi Hindu in Uttar Pradesh (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998:.3, 215-16; Juergensmeyer 1988:24-25 & 274).
Mangoo Ram was one of the founders of Ad Dharm movement. He was born on January 14, 1886 in a Chamar family, in village Mugowal, Dist. Hoshiarpur, Punjab. His father had a business of selling hides. In 1909, Mangoo Ram immigrated to America where he came in close contact with the Gadhar Party (a militant nationalist organization). On his return home in 1925, he started organizing Scheduled Castes against the system of untouchability and founded the Ad Dharm movement. In January 1928, he led a deputation of 150 prominent Ad Dharmis to the Simon Commission and gave memorandum for equal rights for the dalits (Manak 1985:6). In 1932, he also met the Lothian Committee at Lahore and pleaded that dalits were neither Sikhs, Hindus, Christians or Muslims. They were, in fact, the indigeneous people of India. Their religion is AD Dharm. He also sent telegrams during the Roundtable Conferences in London (1930-32) pledging Ad Dharm support for Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as the leader of the untouchables in India instead of Mahatama Gandhi. In 1946, he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly and remained in legislature till 1952. On 25 July 1976, he was invited as a Chief Guest by Ad Dharm Brotherhood, UK, of the Ad Dharm Golden Jubilee celebrations. Ad Dharm Brotherhood, UK, honoured him with a pension of Rs. 100 per month which he received till his death (Sain 1985:37). On 15 August, 1972, Prime minister of India , Indira Gandhi honoured him with a ‘Tamra Patra’and Rs. 200 pension per month for the services he rendered in the Gadhar Party for India’s freedom. He died on April 22, 1980.
In 1937 Assembly elections in Punjab, eight seats were reserved for theScheduled Castes. Ad Dharm contested on all seats with the help of Unionist Party. Ad Dharm candidates won seven seats. One seat (Hoshiarpur) went to Congress candidate Moola Singh, who defeated Hazara Ram Piplanwala of Ad Dharm with a margin of seven votes.For details see Manak 1971.
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Talhan is a village. It falls in Jalandhar district in Doaba sub-region of Punjab. Doaba is the central part of Punjab. It consists of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahar.
Boota Mandi is a suburb of Jalandhar city, on Nakodar road. Ad Dharmis constitute majority of its population.
Ravidass Jaikara was discontinued for sometime and again revived in 1963 byCh. Jagjit Singh, son of Master Gurbanta Singh. At present it is being publishedfrom Jalandhar. Mr. Surinder Kumar Banger is its editor and is published by Mr. Jagat Singh.
K.C.Sulekh is a commited and dedicated Ambedkarite. He is endowed with sharp insights and critical mind. He wields an incisive pen. He is a prolific writer and a critical commentator on dalit issues. He met Dr. B.R.Ambedkar many times. When Babasaheb addressed a mammoth gathering at Jalandhar in October 1951, K.C. Sulekh was the incharge of the stage from where Babasaheb delivered his lecture. He also accompanied him during his Punjab tour to Ludhiana and Patiala.
Mangoo Ram Jaspal is an NRI Ad Dharmi of village Haryana near Hoshiarpur, Punjab. He returned from England and got settled in Jalandhar in 1970. He took active interest in reviving the Ad Dharm movement in Doaba region of Punjab and convened a Conference on December 13, 1970 at Dera Sach Khand Ballan and revived Ad Dharm Mandal as Ad Dharm Scheduled Castes Federation.
Lahori Ram Balley is a renowned Ambedkarite of Doaba region of Punjab. He embraced Buddhism. He played a significant role in popularizing B.R. Ambedkar’s writings in North India. Under his Bheem Patrika publication he did not only publish Babasaheb’s writings in English but translated them in Hindi and Punjabi.He also wrote extensively on Ambedkar and Buddhism. His contribution in the agitation of Republican Party in Punjab in 1964 is well known.
Sant Hiran Dass of this dera established Ravidass Sabha in 1907 and published his collection of Ravidass’s poems under the title “Rae Das Ki Bani” [Allahabad: Belvedere Press, 1908]. For details see Mark Juergensmeyer 1988: 87.
Ad Dharmis abroad have established Guru Ravidass Sabhas wherever they have settled. They gather at these Sabhas quite often. Such gatherings are not only confined to religious activities, political matters and issues relating to dalitconsciousness and emancipation are discussed seriously. Following organizations have given Millennium Awards to Sant Niranjan Dass, the present head of Dera Sach Khand Ballan. Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, 282, Western Road, Southall, Middlesex, London;Shri Guru Ravidass Temple, Sacramento, California, USA; Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, Pittsburg, California, USA; Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, Bay Area Fremont, California, USA; Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, Vancouver, Canada’ Shri Guru Ravidass Temple, 61-01, Broadway Woodside, New York-11377,USA; Shri Guru Ravidass Marg, Astoria, New York, USA;Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, (Medway) Strood Kent, UK; Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, The Lane (Ash Burnham Rd.), Bedford MK 40 IED UK (Jassi and Suman 2001:19-20). Recently on May 25, 2003 Shri Guru Ravidass International Oganisation for Human Rights (regd.), Italy, has invited Head of Dera Sach Khand Ballan and Sant Ramanand on the 626 Birth Anniversary of Guru Ravidass (Begumpura Shaher, No. 16, August 18, 2003: pp. 4 & 9).
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From Servitude to Assertion: Ambedkar’s Subaltern Approach to Nationalism And Dalits Liberation Ambedkar and Dalitisation of Untouchables:
Dr. Ronki Ram
Traditionally, according to the Hindu code of conduct, the untouchables were placed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy and were known by different names in different parts of the country. They were called Shudras, Atishudras, Chandalas, Antyajas, Pariahs, Dheds, Panchamas, Avarnas, Namashudras, Asprusthas, etc. etc.
The hierarchical and inegalitarian structure of Indian society came into existence during the period of manusmriti.The manusmriti set the tenor of social discrimination based on birth.This, in turn led to economic degradation and political isolation of the untouchables now popularly known as Dalits. Dalits are the poor, neglected and downtrodden lot.Their social disabilities were specific, severe and numerous. Their touch, shadow or even voices were considered by the caste Hindus to be polluting. They were not allowed to keep certain domestic animals, use certain metals for ornaments, eat a particular type of food, use a particular type of footwear, wear a particular type of dress and were forced to live in the outskirts of the villages towards which the wind blew and dirt flowed. Their houses were dirty, dingy and unhygienic where poverty and squalor loomed large.They were denied the use of public wells. The doors of the Hindu temples were closed for them and their children were not allowed into the schools attended by the children of caste Hindu. Barbers and washer men refused their services to them. Public services were closed to them. They followed menial hereditary occupations such as those of street sweepers, scavengers, shoe makers and carcasses removers.
Generally the term dalit includes those who are designated in administrative parlance as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes. However, in common political discourse, the term dalit is so far mainly referred to Scheduled Castes. The term Scheduled Caste was used for the first time by the British officials in Government of India Act, 1935.Prior to this, the untouchable castes were known as depressed classes. Mahatma Gandhi gave them the name Harijans meaning children of God.Gandhi himself did not coin the name. He borrowed the name from a Bhakti movement saint of the 17th century Narsinh Mehta.The name Harijan became popular during 1931 amid conflicts between Gandhi and Ambedkar on the issue of guarantying communal political representation to the dalits.Gandhi took this move as a step towards the disintegration of Hindu society. By terming the untouchables as Harijans, Gandhi tried to persuade caste Hindus to shed their prejudices against the achchutas i.e. untouchables.The purpose to adopt this new nomenclature of Harijan for the untouchables was to induce change in the heart and behaviour of the Hindus towards untouchables. At the same time, it was hoped that this new name would be accepted by the untouchables who would too try to cultivate the virtues which it connotes. To quote Gandhi “…probably, Antyaja brethren would lovingly accept that name and try to cultivate the virtues which it connotes… may the Antyaja become Harijan both in name and nature” (Gandhi 1971: 244-5).The term Harijan got further recognition as an emancipatory nomenclature in the formation of Harijan Sewak Sangh, an organisation established for the purpose of upliftment of the dalits under the aegis of the Congress. A weekly ‘Harijan’ was alsostarted by Gandhi to provide voice for the cause of the downtrodden.However, Ambedkar did not find any substance in the change of name for the redressal of the structural hindrances that stood menacingly in the way of the their all around amelioration. To him it did not make any difference whether the downtrodden were called achchuta or Harijan, ‘as the new nomenclature did not change their status in the social order’ [Shah 2001a: 21].
The term dalit was used by no less a person than Ambedkar in his fortnightly called Bahishkrit Bharat (Guru 2001: 100). Though Ambedkar did not popularise the word dalit for untouchables, his thoughts and actions have contributed to its growth and popularity. The word dalit is a common usage in Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and many other Indian languages, denoting the poor and oppressed persons. It also refers to those who have been broken, ground down by those above them in a deliberate way (Shah 2001b: 195-196). “It includes all the oppressed and exploited sections of society. It does not confine itself merely to economic exploitation in terms of appropriation of surplus. It also relates to suppression of culture – way of life and value system – and, more importantly, the denial of dignity. It has essentially emerged as a political category. For some, it connotes an ideology for fundamental change in the social structure and relationships” (Shah 2001a: 22). The word dalit indicates struggle for an egalitarian order (Zelliot 2001a: 232) and provides the concept of pride to the politically active dalits (Zelliot 2001 b: 130). The word dalit gained currency through the writings of Marathi writers in the early 1970s.“Dalit writers who have popularised the word have expressed their notion of dalit identity in their essays, poems, dramas, autobiographies, novels and short stories. They have reconstructed their past and their view of the present. They have expressed their anger, protest and aspiration” (Shah 2001a: 22).
“Dalit” is a by-product of the Ambedkar movement and indicates a political and social awareness.Ambedkar adopted a different approach and philosophy for the emancipation of Scheduled Castes.He wanted to liberate the dalits by building an egalitarian social order which he believed was not possible within the fold of Hinduism whose very structure was hierarchical which relegated the dalits to the bottom.Initially, he tried to seek emancipation of the dalits by bringing transformation within the structure of Hinduism through his efforts for opening the temples for the dalits and multi-caste dinners. However, Ambedkar came to realise soon that such an approach would not bring the desired result for the amelioration of the inhuman condition of the dalits. He asserted that the dalits should come forward and fight for their own cause. He gave them the mantra – educate, organise and agitate. He did not have faith in the charitable spirit of the caste Hindus towards the untouchables as it failed to bring any change in the oppressive social order.Ambedkar did not have any faith in Mahatmas and Saints whose main emphasis was not on the equality between man and man.Their philosophy, according to him, was mainly concerned with the relation between man and God.
Baba Saheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, himself a dalit, made efforts to transform the hierarchical structures of Indian society for the restoration of equal rights and justice to the neglected lot by building up a critique from within the structure of Indian society. His was not a theoretical attempt but a practical approach to the problems of untouchability. He tried to seek the solution to this perennial problem of the Indian society not by making appeals to the conscience of the usurpers or bringing transformation in the outlook of the individual by begging but by seeking transformation in the socio-religious and politico-economic structures of the Indian society by continuous and relentless struggle against the exploitative system where he thought the roots of the untouchability lay.He thought that until and unless the authority of the Dharam Shastras is shaken which provided divine sanction to the system of discrimination based on the case hierarchy, the eradication of untouchability could not be realised. It was his subaltern perspective, a perspective from below which helped him to come to the conclusion that untouchability emanated neither from religious notions, nor from the much-popularised theory of Aryan conquest. He believed that it came into existence as a result of the struggle among the tribes at a stage when they were starting to settle down for a stable community living. In the process, the broken tribesmen were employed by the settled tribes as guards against the marauding bands. These broken tribesmen employed as guards became untouchables.However, Ambedkar could not provide answer to the problem as to why only these broken tribesmen were confined to the one part of the village in the setting towards which the wind blew and the dirt of the village flowed. Ambedkar’s tirade against untouchability was a tirade to make these people conscious of their rights, and to prepare them to agitate and win their rights.
Dalit Liberation: Subaltern Approach
With the entry of Ambedkar into the Indian political arena during 1920s, the issue of social reforms achieved a new dimension. He was of the opinion that until and unlessthe downtrodden themselves came forward to fight their own battle, no one else could alleviate their grievances. No one else could know better than them about their own state of affairs. Ambedkar impressed upon the people to understand their own affairs themselves. Self-awakening, he believed, could provide them necessary strength to fight against evils in society. “Ambedkar (started) exorcising the spirit of despair from the minds of dumb millions who had been forced to live the lives of sub-human beings. Here was a liberator preaching them the grand universal law that liberty is neither received as a gift; nor begged for a charity it has to be fought for. Self-elevation is not achieved by the blessing of others but only by one’s own struggle and deed. Those inert, dormant masses lacked courage and needed a vision and a mission. Ambedkar was now inspiring them to do battle for their human rights. He was driving them to action by acting himself Ambedkar was displaying energy by his own action; arousing their faith by showing faith” (Keer 1971: 73-74). Although low-caste protest movement which started with Jyotirao Phule in the 19th century continued in western India with leaders like Vithalji Ramji Shinde, Shivram Janba Kamble, Gangaram Kishnajee and others, they could not pull out the victims of the Brahmanical system of social gradation from their forced ghettos to fight for themselves.However, the movement started by Jyotirao Phule was more nearer to the real goal of dalit liberation than that of the movements led by the Brahmin liberal reformers like Ranade, Gokhale and Karve who concentrated more on inducing reforms in the different settings of Hindu dominated society rather than its total transformation. It was Dr. Ambedkar who provided for the first time to the dalits a system of struggle which they could consider as their own.Although Phule had done the same before him in the 19th century, yet Phule like him did not belong to the untouchable caste. Phule was born in Mali-Kunbi caste broadly considered Shudra but not ‘untouchable’, while Ambedkar was born in the Mahar community which is an untouchable caste.Another factor which distinguished Ambedkar from Phule was that the latter studied at local mission school but had no opportunity available to study abroad.Ambedkar’s stays abroad during his higher education exposed him to English political institutions, liberal democracy and the system of rule of law, which cultivated in him a faith in parliamentary democracy as the best means for achieving the socio-economic liberation of the under- privileged sections of the Indian society.He was equally concerned with the cause of the freedom of India from the colonial rule. Ambedkar said “I will demand what is right full for my people, and I will certainly uphold the demand for swaraj” (Ibid. 145).However, Ambedkar was always concerned to highlight the cause of the downtrodden and ever ready to redeem the same. At the first Round Table Conference, he said that “One fifth of the total population of British India was reduced to a position of worse than that of a serf or a slave. He then declared to the surprise of all that the untouchables in India were also for replacing the existing government by a government of the people, for the people and by the people. He said that this change in the attitudes of the untouchables to British Rule in India was surprising and a momentous phenomenon. And justifying his stand, he observed with a rise in his voice and a glow in his eyes: ‘when we compare our present position with the one which it was our lot to bear in Indian society of pre-British days, we find that, instead of marching on, we are marking time. Before the British, we were in the loathsome condition due to our untouchability.Has the British government done anything to remove it? Before the British, we could not draw water from the village well. Has the British government secured up the right to the well?Before the British, we could not enter the temple. Can we enter now? Before the British, we were denied entry into the police force. Does the British government admit us into the force? Before the British, we were not allowed to serve in military. Is that career now open to us?To none of these questions can be given an affirmative answer. Our wrongs have remained as open sores and they have not been righted, although 150 years of British rule have rolled away’ ” (Ibid. 149-150). He continued “of what good is such a government to anybody. We must have a government in which the men in power will give their undivided allegiance to the best interests to the country. We must have a government in which men in power, where obedience will end and resistance will begin, will not be afraid to amend the social and economic code of life which the dictates of justice and expediency so urgently call for” (quoted in ibid.: 150).So from the above it is clear that for Dr. Ambedkar, political freedom was as important as the social transformation of Indian society.
In his speech delivered at Bombay on 12 June 1951, Ambedkar said that the Scheduled Castes should come forward to cooperate with other communities in strengthening the newly won freedom.But at the same time he cautioned his fellow beings to keep in view the interest of their community. He was sure that the Scheduled Castes could not capture political power by joining the Congress. To win, guard and promote the interests of the untouchables, he emphasized that they should consolidate themselves under their own political party (Bakshi 1992: 60).Ambedkar was of the firm belief that “howsoever, the caste Hindus worked hard for the welfare of the untouchables they did not know their mind. That was why he was fundamentally opposed to any organisation started by the caste Hindus for the upliftment of the Depressed Classes” (Keer 1971: 43). His principal objective was to achieve a respectable place of existence for the downtrodden sections of the society to which he himself belonged. But at the same time he was also not ready to compromise with the cause of the Indian Freedom. He too wanted swaraj but the contents of his conception of swaraj were more versatile than that of the Savarna leaders of the Indian Freedom movement. He accepted the responsibility of framing a constitution for independent India. He said, “I feel now that it was the golden opportunity for me and my community. By framing the constitution, I convinced the Hindus, who were abusing me and my party for the last twenty years as anti-nationalist, that they were entirely wrong. We are as staunch a nationalist organisation as any other” (quoted in Bakshi: 1992: 60). However, Ambedkar’s joining of the Congress government created a great amount of confusion among the Scheduled Castes. In clarification of his joining the government he said, “I have joined the central government but have not become a member of the Congress and have no intention to do so. I was invited by the Congress to join the central government and I had joined it unconditionally. I shall come out any time.I think it is useless to stay there. Our condition is such that it is necessary that our men should be in the administrative machinery. There is no fear of just legislation, but even good laws may be badly administered and if the government is composed of persons who are by tradition against the interests of the Scheduled Castes, then there can be no hope for us” (quoted in ibid.: 62). It was his subaltern perspective which made him to think practically that the administration was unsympathetic to the Scheduled Castes because it was completely run by the officers who were relatives of the oppressors or were known to them. Had these officers belonged to the Scheduled Castes they would have given proper protection to their brethren. He was of the opinion that the high caste tyranny and oppression could be averted only if more of the Scheduled Castes could find places in the administration. This could be achieved by being inside the government rather than by sitting outside. Ambedkar, a firm believer in the parliamentary form of government, impressed upon the Scheduled Castes and Backward Castes, who together formed majority of the population of the country, to come forward to capture political power in the system of adult franchise.He said, “People do not seem to buck up courage because they are overwhelmed by the belief that the Congress government is there for ever. I said, this is a wrong impression.In a popular democracy, no government is permanent and not even the government established by the two of the tallest congressmen, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel.If you organise, you can even capture that government” (quoted in ibid. 66).Ambedkar was not only a visionary; he tried his level best to translate his vision into a practical reality. With the purpose of breaking the ‘ladderless multi storied tower of Hindu society’ he formed the Independent Labour Party in 1936 so as to have a broad alliance of peasants, workers and Scheduled Castes.In 1942, he formed another political party for defending the interests of the Scheduled Castes. That party was known as Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF).Although the SCF could not make a significant mark in the electoral politics, it provided an alternative to the dalits to think about capturing the political power by organising themselves into a political organisation.After the death of Ambedkar, his close associates formed the Republican Party of India (RPI) in deference to the wishes of their mentor and saviour.Ambedkar hoped that “the Republican Party would be a vehicle for all who sought to achieve the great goals surpassing the narrow confines of the Scheduled Caste Federation” (Omvedt 2001: 150).It shows that Ambedkar wanted to consolidate the downtrodden into a significant political force to guide them to achieve a dignified place in the Indian society. During his long journey of political struggle, he had come to realise that the issue of dalit liberation and empowerment could never be genuinely taken up by the caste Hindus.
The dalits themselves have to come forward to take up the herculean task of their emancipation and empowerment.He had no hopes from the caste Hindus to get any help in such a project.He was greatly disillusioned after his experiences of Mahad agitation in 1927 where inspite of the resolution of Bombay State Assembly to declare all public places open to untouchables, the high caste Hindus violently resisted the untouchables’ attempt to drink water at the public pond. Yet, in another struggle to seek special rights for the Scheduled Castes during the Round Table Conferences, in the form of special electorate, Ambedkar was opposed tooth and nail by Mahatma Gandhi.Although Ambedkar succeeded in getting communal award for the benefits of Scheduled Castes, yet finally he had to compromise under moral duress due to Mahatma Gandhi’s fast-unto-death.“The clash with Gandhi not only shook Ambedkar’s faith in the legal method of redressing grievances, but also convinced him of the futility of striving for equality by remaining within Hinduism. Ambedkar now opened that Hinduism was incapable of reform on its own and that the untouchables must ready themselves to fight their battle for equality alone” (Doctor 1997: 125).Moreover, even during his earlier attempts – three templesatyagrahas – to seek equality within Hinduism, Ambedkar failed to get any support from Gandhi or the Indian National Congress.As said earlier his efforts to join the popular Ganapati festivals in Bombay also proved futile.So, were his attempts to arrange inter-caste dinners and to organise a public ceremony for making the low-caste put on the sacred thread (Zelliot 1986: 163).The failures of all these attempts to bring reforms in the system of Hindu religion demonstrated to Ambedkar, “that the untouchables were not really a part of Hindu society and would never be accepted as equals by the Hindus within that framework (Verma 1999: 2806).In other words, the project of dalit liberation through reforms in Hindu religion failed to yield any result.In the face of such failure, Ambedkar was forced to leave the Hindu religion.At the Yeola Conference, in Nasik district, on October 13, 1935 Ambedkar said that unfortunately he was born a Hindu untouchable and it was beyond his power to prevent that.But he declared that it was within his power to severe ties with that religion.He thundered, “I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu” (Keer 1971: 253). Twenty years after, in October 1956 he converted to Buddhism.With this declaration of Ambedkar, the struggle of dalit liberation entered into a new phase: fighting against the oppressive structures of Hinduism from outside. This new form of dalit struggle which distinguished itself from the pre-1935 struggle of Ambedkar for transformation of the Hindu religion from within, shocked the Hindu community out of complacency and at the same time provided an opportunity to the untouchables to “grasp their own future” (Zelliot 1986: 165).
Dr. Ambedkar realised that caste and Brahminic Hinduism reinforce each other and discriminate against the downtrodden sections of the society.He said in 1946, “To the untouchables, Hinduism is veritable chamber of horrors” (Lobo 2001: 243).He traced the genesis of the oppressive nature of the caste dominated Indian society to the ‘sacred’ shastras of the Hindus who guarded them so closely that if any one except them read or heard them he would commit an act of sacrilege. Manusmriti sanctioned severest punishment for such a sacrilegious act.Ambedkar quotes from Manusmriti, “If the shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead and if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut-off; if he has mastered the Veda his body should be cut to pieces” (Thorat and Deshpande 2001: 73).According to Ambedkar the Vedas, smritis and shastras were all instruments of torture used by Hinduism against the untouchables (Lobo 2001: 243).
In fact it was Ambedkar’s subaltern perspective which pierced through the shastras to reveal their true face.He emphasized in his “Annihilation of Caste” that the smritis and shastras were not the embodiment of religion but a system of rules to deprive the untouchables even of their basic needs and deny them equal status in the society.Ambedkar distinguished between rules and principles.Rules are practical and based on prescription.But principles are intellectual and are useful methods of judging things. Rules seek to tell an agent just what course of action to pursue.Principles do not prescribe a specific course of action.Rules are commands and tell what to do and how to do it, whereas principles provide man a reference point to his conscience to guide his course of action.This difference between rules and principles, according to Ambedkar, make the act done in pursuit of them different in quality and in content.Performing an act under the command of a rule and in the light of a principle, as a guide of conscience, are two different things. The principle may be wrong but the act is conscious and responsible by virtue of the fact that such an act has been performed by an individual by making use of his critical abilities.The rule may be right but the act performed thereof is mechanical.A religious act may not be a correct act but according to Ambedkar must at least be a responsible act.“To permit of this responsibility, religion must mainly be a matter of principles only.It can not be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules it ceases to be religion, as it kills responsibility which is the essence of a truly religious act” (Ambedkar 1995: 88).On the basis of a discussion around the distinction between rules and principles in reference to religion, Ambedkar comes to conclusion that what is called Religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitudes of commands and prohibition.He said, the Hindu religion, as contained in the Vedas and smritis, is nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations, all mixed up.Therefore, he said that there should be no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion that discriminates against its own people whom it bracketed as untouchables.
The most notorious aspect of these bunch of rules and codes of ordinances, masquerading as religion, is that they are made immutable – same for all generations, iniquitous – not the same for one class as for another, and were invested with the character of finality and fixity. Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles is conspicuous by its absence in them.In other words, what the Hindu call religion is, in fact, not a religion in a true sense of the term.It is “really Law or at best legalised class ethics” (ibid. 89).Ambedkar exhorted the untouchables to tear the mask and find in it the hidden conspiracy against them which projected the code of conduct as a religion. He opined that once the people come to know that what Hindus called religion is not a religion but a law, they could urge for its amendment or abolition because law can be changed but not religion.One can leave religion but cannot change it because, said Ambedkar, “the idea of Religion is generally speaking not associated with the idea of change” (ibid. 90).It is in this context that Ambedkar’s decision to leave Hinduism and his conversion to Buddhism becomes self-explanatory as a step for dalit liberation.
The above discussion shows that what Ambedkar was against was a religion of rules not religion in itself.Had he been against religion he could not have had embraced Buddhism. Ambedkar said “…I agree with Burke when he says that ‘True religion is the foundation of society, the basis on which all true civil governments rest, and both their sanction’, Consequently, when I argue that these ancient rules of life be annulled, I am anxious that its place shall be taken by a religion of principles, which alone can lay claim to being a true religion” (ibid.: 90).Ambedkar wanted to raise religion in consonance with liberty, equality and fraternity. In short, his religion could not be against the principles of democracy. He said, “I am no authority on the subject.But I am told that for such religious principles, as will be in consonance with liberty, equality and fraternity is, may not be necessary for you to borrow from foreign sources and that you could draw for such principles on the Upanishads” (ibid.: 92).
An other aspect of Dr. Ambedkar’s subaltern approach for the emancipation of dalits and their empowerment was his distinct formulation of Indian nationalism in opposition to the dominant discourse of Hindu nationalism as represented by Raja Rammohan Roy, B.G. Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Golvalkar and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on the one hand and Communist secular socialist nationalism represented by M.N. Roy, R. P. Duta, T. Nagi Reddy and E.M.S. Namboodripad on the other.Although the protagonists of Hindu nationalism differed in many ways from each other, in essence they strengthen the Brahamanical hegemony in modern India.The communist secular social nationalism though based on abolition of class, its ideologues like that of the Hindu nationalism belonged to the upper-caste and upper-class background. Kancha Ilaiah put these two streams of Indian nationalism on a single platform by emphasizing that though they “appear to be antagonistic in their discourses of transformation; the social forces that were engaged in this discourse did not differ in their roots of existence and formation.In caste/class term, they belong to the Brahamanical upper and middle class.Though their consciousness appeared to be antagonistic to each other, their being and self remained Hindu.This was one of the main reasons why the Marxists and socialists schools failed to problematic and critique Hinduism and Brahmanism” (Ilaiah 2001: 109).
Dr. Ambedkar’s conception of nationalism articulated and synthesized the national perceptions and aspirations of the downtrodden.Ambedkar’s alternative form of nationalism, popularly known as ‘dalit-Bahujan-nationalism’ also incorporated the subaltern philosophy of Jyotirao Phule and Periyar E.V. Ramaswami Naicker. It constructed an anti-Hindu and anti-Brahamanical discourse of Indian nationalism.It aimed at establishing a casteless and classless society where no one would be discriminated on the basis of birth and occupation.Within the dalit-Bahuhjan framework of Indian nationalism, Ambedkar built up a critique of pre-colonial Brahmanism and its inegalitarian social set up based on low and high dichotomy of graded caste system.This system of in egalitarianism led to the process of exploitation by the unproductive Brahamanical castes of the various productive castes.
Ambedkar understands of the question of the identity and existence of the nation was based on his incisive analysis of the oppressive character of the Hindu community.“By arguing for the rights and basic needs of the dalits, he challenges the assumptions of both nationalist politics and indigenous communitarian politics” (Verma 1999: 2804).Since the dominant Hindu discourse of Indian nationalism remained indifferent towards removal of the caste system; and the economic analysis of the communist secular socialist school also failed to highlight the issue of caste in its mechanical interpretation of class, Ambedkar – himself an untouchable and victim of untouchability – formulated his own framework from the perspective of the untouchables for the understanding of the system of caste and untouchability. The foundation of dalit-Bahujan nationalism lies in this framework developed by Ambedkar. It aimed at restructuring the Indian society into a casteless and classless and egalitarian Sangha (Ilaiah 2001: 109).Annihilation of caste was its central theme.Caste for Ambedkar was nothing but Brahmanism incarnate. “Brahmanism is the poison which has spoiled Hinduism” (Ambedkar 1995: 92).Ambedkar realised that any form of nationalism whose roots were steeped into Hinduism could not be a solution to the problem of dalits.Any discourse of nationalism bereft of annihilation of caste was just not acceptable to him. The agenda of annihilation of caste was so important to him that it became a central point of his struggle against colonial rule.In the first Round Table Conference, he minced no words in criticizing the British government for its failure to undo untouchability.Swaraj without extinction of caste had no meaning for Ambedkar.In his undelivered speech to the Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore, he said, “In the fight for swaraj you fight with the whole nation on your side.In this, you have to fight against the whole nation and that too your own.But it is more important than swaraj. There is no use having swaraj, if you cannot defend it.More important than the question of defending swaraj is the question of defending Hindus under the swaraj. In my opinion, only when the Hindu society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend it. Without such internal strength, swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery” (ibid. 97).Thus, it was Ambedkar’s subaltern perspective which distinguished his conception of swaraj from that of the protagonists of the various shades of the national freedom movement.In his editorial in the Bahishkrit Bharat a fortnightly, on 29 July 1927, Ambedkar wrote, “If Tilak had been born among the untouchables, he would not have raised the slogan ‘Swaraj is my birthright’, but he would have risen the slogan ‘Annihilation of untouchability is my birthright’”.
Dr. Ambedkar was an iconoclastic social reformer who at the very formative years of his career realised what it meant to be an untouchable and how struggle against untouchability could be launched. The social reform movement of the caste Hindus could not win him to its side because of his existential understanding of the pangs of untouchability.The issue of untouchability, for social reformers, was a mere problem. This problem was exterior to them in the sense that it affects only the untouchables.They themselves had never experienced the sinister us blows of untouchability.Moreover, though they were sympathetic to the cause of dalits but nevertheless, according to the social framework of the Indian society, they belonged to the opposite camp which practiced this inhuman system of social segregation based on sheer birth.
Although Ambedkar dedicated his book “Who Were Shudras” to Phule, the precursor of non-Brahmin anti-caste movement, he did not approve the movement as a harbinger of dalit liberation.In a message given to the Satyashodak magazine, on the 16thSatyashodak Social Conference, Ambedkar said, “The non-Brahmins have effaced the memory of Jyotiba Phooley completely.Not only that but that class has shamelessly betrayed his philosophy” (quoted in Kuber 1987: 119).According to Ambedkar the non-Brahmin leaders failed to germicide the virus of caste among themselves. He criticized that many of them tried to emulate Brahmins and failed to abandon Brahmanical practices.They did not cease to employ the card of caste in politics.“Marathas began to preach their superiority and the distinction between Marathas and non-Marathas became clear in all the party programs.Even in educational conferences of the non-Brahmins, the untouchables were seated away from others for fear of being polluted” (ibid. 119).There was no hope for untouchables in such a movement.
It was against this background of total despair and in the absence of untouchable’s own political philosophy and independent platform that Ambedkar entered into social and political space of the colonial India as a true representative of the dalits.His analysis of the origins of the untouchability and his action plans for its eradication were different from the approach and practice of both the caste Hindu social reformers and the non-Brahman anti-caste movements.Reflecting on the original contribution of Ambedkar in the rise of the dalit movement in India, Omvedt writes, “It is impossible to conceptualize the dalit movement in India in the absence of Ambedkar, it is equally difficult to imagine, sociologically, Ambedkar coming of any other region than the Marathi-speaking areas of British presidency” (Omvedt 1984: 139).If Omvedt considered the tradition of anti-caste movement in Maharashtra as a catalyst for the organisation of dalit movement by Ambedkar, Zelliot underlined the untouchable status of Ambedkar as the main factor for his meteoric rise as the leader of untouchables (Elliot 1996: 160).Of the two, the tradition of anti-caste movement in Maharashtra; and his untouchable status, it seems the latter played a more prominent role in the evolution of Ambedkar’s subaltern approach for the emancipation of dalits and their empowerment.
What distinguished his subaltern approach was that it looked at the problems of the dalits from below, from a vantage point of the deprived and oppressed.This perspective led him to think differently from the dominant stream of social and political thought of his time.His, Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, Annihilation of Caste, Who Were the Shudras? and The Untouchables: Who Were TheyandWhy They Became Untouchables? are a testimony to his independent and original thinking.In these seminal works Ambedkar smashed the mythological basis of untouchability and laid bare its economic roots.He built a strong case against the ‘Janam’ (birth) thesis of the untouchability which foreclosed all the ways for dalit emancipation.He exhorted its victims to oppose it tooth and nail.He said, “It is disgraceful to live at the cost of one’s self respect.Self respect is most vital factor in life.Without it, man is a mere cipher. To live worthily with self-respect one has to overcome difficulties.It is out of hard and ceaseless struggle alone that one derives strength, confidence and recognition” (quoted in Jatava 1965: 15).He drew a distinction between merely living and living worthily.For living a worthy life, Ambedkar said, society must be based on liberty, equality and fraternity.“In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contacts with other modes of association.In other words, there must be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy.Democracy is not merely a form of government.It is primarily a mode of associated living of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen” (Ambedkar 1995: 57).For Ambedkar, social tyranny is more oppressive than the political tyranny and “a reformer who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies government” (ibid: 75).
Ambedkar was one who defied society.In the beginning of his social reform crusade, he tried to get respect and equality for the dalits by bringing reforms within the social set up of Hinduism.He continued his struggle for empowerment of the dalits by seeking changes within the fold of Hinduism till 1935.When he realised that the salvation of dalits was not possible while living within the fold of Hinduism, he started his scathing criticism and tirade against Hinduism and ultimately sought the emancipation of dalits and its empowerment from outside the Hindu religion. Hence his conversion to Buddhism for Ambedkar the issue of dalit liberation was the foremost issue and he emphasised that dalits themselves have to come forward for its realisation. Thus, Ambedkar provided a subaltern perspective to see clearly the chameleon of Indian caste-ridden social set-up deceptively appearing in crimson colors and the ways to guard the interests of the dalits.
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I am grateful to Mr. K. C. Sulekh for his scholarly comments and to the anonymous referee for his seminal suggestions.
DR. RONKI RAM
Department of Political Science
PanjabUniversity, Chandigarh-( india ) pIN-160014.