Monday, November 7, 2011
PUNJAB POLITICS & DALIT DERAS
Punjab is getting ready for the next assembly elections to be held early next year 2012. The spiritual deras of various sects and denominations have been playing an active role in Punjab politics even before independence in 1947. The Akali politics, obliviously, under the leadership of Master Tara Singh and Sant Fateh Singh and subsequent leadership remained attached and affiliated to the SGPC and various gurudwaras and deras. The Jan Sangh and later BJP associated themselves to the Arya Samaj and other Hindu outfits. The Congress, though claimed to be a secular party, also did not lag behind. It is a known fact that Giani Zail Singh promoted and supported Sant Bhindrawale and his dera in the beginning against the Akalis. The present Congress leadership tended to encourage and make use of the Sacha Souda Dera of Baba Ram Rahim Singh. The Dera Beas of Radha Swami has been playing a discrete but subtle role, I understand. It will remain so in the coming years as these deras have a considerable clout in the rural areas and have a definite following which would affect the election outcome this way or that way. The dalit deras, though not very well organized and strong as yet, are no exception and rightly so.
The Ad-dharm Movement of Babu Mangu Ram to which Master Gurbanta Singh ( Minister and Congress leader ) was associated have had its base at the Dharm Mandal ( Guru Ravidass Gurudwara at Kishanpura Jalandhar) – the epic centre of dalit politics in the start. Later these activities got shifted to Dera Chak Hakim near Phagwara. After independence, some of the dalit Sants and Babas got attracted to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and such got some affiliation to the Scheduled Caste Federation and Republican Party. I recall that Swami Laljidass of Bootan Mandi joined a hunger strike led by the Republican Party for some common community issue in 60s.Punjab has more than 30% dalit population. Most of the dalit population in Majha and Malwa follow the Sikh religion as Majhabi or Ravidassia Sikhs. The dalits of Doaba are mostly Ravidasia Chamars, Ad-dharmis Balmikis, and Kabirpanthis etc. and follow Guru Ravidass, Bhagwan Balmiki and Sant Kabir.
The dalits of Doaba led by the Chamars have been financially well off comparatively as they were engaged in the leather business not only in Jalandhar but also in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Kanpur. The economic migration to the UK in the 60s and 70s further empowered the dalits of Doaba. It continued with migration to the Gulf countries and later to the USA and other European countries like Germany, Italy, Greece, Austria and others. Some of the dalit families acquired landed properties in the villages and the cities. Obviously, it has an impact on their social and economic standing in the society. The dalit younger generation could get better access to higher education. The efforts of Babu Kanshi from made the dalits become aware of their political potential. They started asserting themselves by making and renovating their Gurudwaras and Mandirs as the venue for their assembly and social intermingling. The dalit deras in the process got moral and financial boost. It also contributed to the further empowerment of the dalits.
The Sants and Babas of these deras led by the Dera Sachkhand Ballan of Sant Sarwan Dass started visiting the UK and later other countries. The enlightened and empowered dalit NRI followers supported them. Sant Ramanand of the Dera became a household name in the dalit community. The trend got strength. Others like Sant Nirmal Dass of Babe Joure of Raipur Rasulpur and Sant Gurdip Giri followed suit and started visiting the foreign countries and raised the requisite funds to spread and strengthen their activities. It was a good show. Sant Garib Dass of Dera Ballan and his junior Sant Ramanand took the lead to build the Guru Ravidass Dharamasthan at Sire Goverdhanpur in Varanasi, the birth place of the great Guru. The political intervention and involvement became necessary to meet the upper caste opposition in the region in UP. Babu Kanshi Ram and UP Chief Minister Mayawati extended the helping hand and rightly so. In the process and in due course, the dalit deras could get the desired clout. These deras not only became the centre of religious solace to the community but also the venue of social and political thinking of the community. The political parties and the politicians of all shades started wooing them from Master Gurbanta Singh and Chaudhary Jagjit Singh to Darshan Singh Kaypee and Mohinder Singh Kaypee of the Congress, Babu Kanshi Ram and Maywati of the BSP and Badals of the Akalis and also the high priests of the SGPC.
The assassination of Sant Ramanand of Dera Ballan in Vienna (Austria) in May, 2009 by the fanatics gave a turn to the events. The dalit anguish came to the road in the aftermath of the death of Sant Ramanand. The events also showed the strength and resolve of the community. The say of the Deras became loud and clear. Without going to details of the Ravidassia Dhram and Amritbani being professed by the Dera Ballan, I would confine to the political aspect of the events and role of the dalit deras in the political landscape of Punjab. The deras have to stay as the dalit community is strong and it is bound to ask for their share in the pie. In the run up to the forthcoming assembly elections in Punjab, the events have started unfolding. It has been reported in the media that the Akali leadership has already established their contacts with the Dera Babe Joure and Sant Nirmal Dass. Baba Rammed, Yoga Guru, visited them the other day. The Head of Radha Swami dera Beas visited the Dera Babe Joure earlier. It seems the Akalis would be interested in availing themselves of the clout of Sant Nirmal Dass. The other political outfits might go to the other Deras with their political aspirations. It is natural as far as the political agenda of the various parties is concerned. But the point to ponder upon for the dalit community with 30% vote share is that their unity is not shattered and broken. The dera leaders shall it take as ‘food for thought’. The caution is: United we stand : Divided we fall.