From the Memory Lane
Bootan Mandi is my native place in Jalandhar district of Punjab. It is situated on Nakodar Road, now renamed as Dr. Ambedkar Marg, near the posh Teg Bahadur Nagar on one side and other good locality Model House on the other side.Guru Ravidass Chowk and the Guru Ravidass Dham are the current landmarks of Bootan Mandi besides Bawa Skin Company and Pioneer Sports as the old business houses. The 99% or may be 100 % residents of the locality are dalits (mainly Chamars) who are basically engaged in leather business. They are doing well and are economically better as compared to their dalit brethren in the region. The scene is changing fast. The traditional aspect of the business has undergone change and the younger generation of the business people perhaps could not sense and prepare themselves for the new requirements. The traditional leather business is difficult to sustain though some old business houses are trying to adjust and continue. It is quite curious to mention that the word ' Seth ' is suffixed to the names of most of the well to do people of Bootan Mandi as a honorific. Sometimes, it seems odd and self gratifying.
Bootan Mandi, because of its economic and commercial position, remained the nerve centre of dalit politics and social struggle for almost 7-8 decades. Guru Ravidass Jayanti celebrations is celebrated with gaiety and enthusiasm. The annual event by now has taken the form of a big Mela and festive occasion in the city of Jalandhar. With this background, I come to the theme of this blog i.e. some famous and worthy sons of Bootan Mandi.
The first name which comes to my mind is of Seth Kishan Dass. I saw him in Bootan Mandi when he was already a senior citizen. I did not have the chance to meet and speak to him. I heard a lot about him from my father. Seth Kishan Dass was a politician and a social activist. He was a close associate of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. His business base was in Calcutta ( now Kolkatta )and as such he played an important role in getting Dr. Ambedkar elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal. Had Dr. Ambedkar not come to the Constituent Assembly, the contemporary history of India and the story of the dalits would have been different. Sethji was a Member of the Legislative Assembly of the undivided Punjab before the partition of India. Seth Kishan Dass was instrumental in bring Dr. Ambedkar to Punjab and hosting him at his residence at Bootan Mandi in 1952. My father told me that the public meeting at Bootan Mandi to welcome Ambedkar was the turning point in the dalit politics of Punjab. Dr. Ambedkar's thought provoking lecture on democracy at the D.A.V. College Jalandhar , my alma mater, during that visit is as relevant today as it was in the early years of India's tryst with democracy. Seth Kishan Dass and his family continued to be active in politics. Following the foot steps of Sethji, his grand son Shri Avinash Chander is a Member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly from the Kartarpur constituency and is currently the Chief Parliamentary Secretary in the Government of Punjab. The family is one of prominent families of Bootan Mandi engaged in leather business. I understand, by now, the family has a fair share in the services also. The younger lot, two of grand daughters of Seth Kishan Dass ( daughter and daughter in law of Seth Mool Raj ) are the Punjab Civil Service (PCS) officers and are holding important and responsible positions in the Punjab Government. Pritam Ramdasspuri, a famous and erudite Urdu poet, who was also a worthy son of Bootan Mandi, also belonged to the same family and was one of the nephews of Seth Kishan Dass. Bootan Mandi shall be proud of Seth Kishan Dass and the family. Personally, I feel that Seth Kishan Dass and his family should have done and contributed more for the educational upliftment of the society which is still a crying need.
Seth Khushi Ram comes next. I understand his father Seth Sunder Dass was an honourable man with a good social standing. Seth Khushi Ram was an active politician and social activist. He belonged to the Congress Party and aligned himself with Babu Jagjivan Ram as opposed to Seth Kishan Dass who was an Ambedkarite. It appears to me that Seth Khushi Ram loved to be near power or would be power. I remember, as a youngman, the leaders like Partap Singh Kairon,
Prithvi Singh Azad, Master Gurbanta Singh, Sardar Swaran Singh and many more would come to Seth Khushi Ram's Chubara ( a double storey building) often touring their tour of the area. Seth Khushi Ram was in the forefront to start and run the Guru Ravidass Primary School in Bootan Mandi in the Gurudawara. I also had my primary education in that school. Seth Khushi Ram remained the Vice Chairman of the Jalandhar Municipal Council and also, if my memory does not fail me, one of the Vice Presidents of the Congress Party in Punjab. His sons did not follow him in politics and social life and are engaged in leather business in Bootan Mandi. Seth Khushi Ram's contribution and role in making and keeping Bootan Mandi in the scheme of things of the dalits of the region was substantial.