Monday, January 19, 2015

Pseudo Secularism – A Case Study

Secularism, as one of the tenants of the Indian polity and society, is currently in news in the wake of religious conversions as ‘Ghar Vapsi’ initiated by the hardcore Hindu outfits. The subject is debated thoroughly by the concerned intellectuals and the society at large from their varied perspectives. I would like to add yet another aspect to the debate which I call a case study.

There is an old locality called Bootan Mandi, situated at Nakodar
Traditional Drum (Tamak) leading the Gurupurab Shobha Yatra in Bootan Mandi
Road (now named as Ambedkar Marg) in Jalandhar.  Not many years before, it was a slum area having   a traditional leather market both for raw and tanned leather. The businessmen and the other residents of Bootan Mandi and nearby localities like Jalowal Abadi, Bootan Pind, and Sidharth Nagar, Ravidass Nagar etc. predominantly belong to dalit community of Chamar (Ad-dharmi) extraction with a population of around 5000-7000. Most of the residents of the area originally migrated from the nearby villages of Dhanal and Nangal in the 1920s and engaged themselves in the leather business. Some of them, with astute business sense, like Seth Kishan Dass and Seth Munshi Ram and others, migrated to Calcutta (Kolkata) and Kanpur and achieved a good measure of success. The Mandi became a rallying point and centre of success and prosperity with more and more enterprising people joining hands from the nearby villages. They spread their wings to other leather markets in Madras (Chennai), Calcutta (Kolkata), Kanpur, Meerut, Amritsar, Malerkotla, J & K, Ambala etc. Some Christians from Amritsar and Gurdaspur, Muslims from Madras (Chennai) and Sikhs (Bawa Skin and Lotus Bawa) came and established themselves in the leather business. Bootan Mandi became the focal point for political as well as socio-economic empowerment of dalits of Doaba region of Punjab.

Ramesh Chander at a function in Bootan Mandi
In politics, people of Bootan Mandi excelled. Seth Kishan Dass became MLA before independence in 1947, Dr. B. R Ambedkar visited Bootan Mandi and stayed with Seth Kishan Dass in 1951, Piara Ram Dhanowalia,  who had his leather business in Bootan Mandi, became Minister in the Punjab Government in 1967, Seth Khushi Ram became Vice President of Jalandhar Municipal Committee in early 1970s, Surinder Mahey rose to the coveted position of Mayor of Jalandhar in the early years of the decade of 2010, Avinash Chander, grandson of Seth Kishan Dass, is currently Chief Parliamentary Secretary in the Punjab Government. Seth Satpal Mall and Prem Shant are holding responsible positions in the Congress Party and BSP respectively. Babu Kanshi Ram of BSP used to stay with Prem Shant during his Jalandhar visits in the early years of his political career. Personal egos and hunger for positions played their role and the Mandi got divided politically. Seth Kishan Dass and Seth Dhanu Ram and others followed Dr. Ambedkar and his political legacy. Seth Khushi Ram and some more associated themselves with Congress Party. In subsequent years, BSP stole the lead. Now a days, people are divided and losing steam and say in the political fortunes of dalits.

  As I said earlier, the Bootan Mandi area did well economically in the post independence years particularly in the 1970-80s. But in the changing times and requirements of business etiquettes, the Seths of Bootan Mandi lagged behind. They could not offer the desired training and matching education to their children to take care of their traditionally run leather businesses. It is a matter of regret and is not so gratifying. Nevertheless, the success registered by Seth Mool Raj and his son Steven Kler, Harish Mahey, Seth Thakur Dass in the leather business is considerable and appreciable. As a sign of upword social mobility, some of the prosperous Seths shifted their residences to the nearby posh GTB Nagar but remained integrated with Bootan Mandi otherwise.

In the services and educational sphere, Bootan Mandi has a mixed record. The Seths of the Mandi with prosperous businesses did not pay much attention to the education of their children. Most of them preferred to engage them in their traditional leather business without much education. It worked against them in the changing scenario and lost the lead to outside players in the business. As regards services, one of the sons of the soil with poor economic background- that is me (Ramesh Chander), to add it with all humility - could graduate to be inducted into the coveted Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and rose to become an Ambassador. Sushil Sheemar is yet another worthy son of Bootan Mandi who qualified and joined Indian Tele-communications Services (ITS) and is occupying a senior position as a Director with good prospects. His wife Jaswinder (Lovely) Sheemar is an Additional Sessions Judge. Pushpa Rani is also a senior Civil Judge in the judiciary. Seth Mool Raj’s (son of Seth Kishan Dass) family made a fair contribution in this regard. His daughter Anupam Kler and daughter-in-law Babita Kler are occupying senior positions in the Punjab Civil Services (PCS). Two worthy sons of the soil, Sunil Kler and Pawan Kler, sons of Keshava Nand made it to the PCS as young officers. Some of the educated lot namely Manohar Mahey, Ram Lal Kainth, Ashok Kler, Jagdish Mahey, Tarsem Mahey, Sita Ram Mahey, Pradip Madhas, Mohinder Mehta and others could register their mark in the banking sector. Satpal Mahey and Vinod Kaul made their grading in the insurance sector with senior positions. Jagdish Mahey who is already a Divisional Manager in Canara Bank is definitely set to go further up. Mahesh Chander is an up-coming young man in the education sector, currently teaching at Sant Baba Bhag Singh Educational Complex. Many young boys and girls of Bootan Mandi and its periphery are qualified doctors in the health and medicine sector. With all this, somehow, I have a distinct feeling that given the sound financial background of the leather businessmen in the area, their share in the coveted services like IAS, IFS, IPS and other Allied Services is negligible. It remained an unsatisfactory position.

When I started writing this piece, I did not intend to touch on many details mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. Let it be as it came. Now I come to the captioned theme of pseudo-secularism. Over the years, Bootan Mandi, knowingly or otherwise, has become a seat and living example of pseudo-secularism. Though the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the area are dalits (Ad-dharmi) yet it can boast of having a few families of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists as well. Some Sikhs also have their businesses in the Mandi.  There is an old Sikh Gurudwara called Dera Santpura. The Guru Ravidass Gurudwara has been re-christened as Satguru Ravidass Dham. Of late, as a short sighted approach to my mind, the newly floated granth called Amritvani of Ravidassia Dhram of Dera Schkhand Balan, has been installed in the Dham replacing Gurugranth Sahib. It has fractured the community. Nearby the Dham, there is a Mosque which was built on the initiative of Seth Satpal Mall and others to placate their Muslim business partners in Madras (Chennai) and J&K. The Mosque also runs a Madrassa (school) for the benefit of the Muslim children. There is yet another site called Guru Ravidass Mandir where the Granth Sahib adorns the place. This Mandir is sandwiched by the Church and the Budh Vihar to serve the neo-converts to Christianity and Buddhism. There are a couple of Darghas of Muslim Pirs in Bootan Mandi apart from individual religious places like the Dera of Sant Lalji Dass and Sant Bibi Malawi Mandir. I am told that Nirangkari Satsang Ghar is being opened near Buddh Vihar. All the major political parties like Congress, BJP, Akali Dal, BSP etc. are active in the area. Some socio-communal organizations like Guru Ravidass Educational and Charitable Trust, Vigilant Brotherhood International, Boudh Mahasabha, Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Trust, Dr. Ambedkar Bhawan Trust, Samta Sainik Dal and outfits pertaining to Christians and Muslims have their offices and functionaries in and around the Mandi.

Having told this long story, now let me conclude by telling why I termed it as ‘Pseudo-Secularism’? Not in the distant past, Bootan Mandi was the nerve Centre of the dalit community in the region. The Ad-dharam Mandal under the leadership of Babu Mangoo Ram and the struggle and mission of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was fully supported and endorsed by the worthy sons of Bootan Mandi like Seth Kishan Dass, Seth Sunder Dass, Seth Khushi Ram, Pritam Ramdaspuri, and Seth Dhanu Ram among others. The mission and philosophy of Guru Ravidass was the guiding force behind all socio-political and even economic activity.  It is a matter of regret that, over the years, it has gone to the wind. The Mandi is fast losing its space and sheen in community matters. The economic and business standing is slowly getting eroded.  The in-fighting to safeguard the selfish interests of the self appointed Karta-Dhartas (leadership) is increasingly becoming the bane of the community.  As regards the outfits working in the area, I must add, taking the risk of inviting the wrath of some of my friends, that these organizations are active only to the extent of photo-opportunities occasionally.  In most of these outfits, vested interests are at work just to claim some position and recognition in one way or the other. Most of the inhabitants are dalits to the core including the neo-converts. The social mobility, seen in the society at large, is missing in the community in Bootan Mandi and its periphery, in spite of the professed spiritual and social diversity. That is why I call it pseudo-secularism. The pseudo secularism has not helped or empowered the society in anyway, rather it has further divided the society. I write this with a heavy heart being a humble son of the soil.
हर दर्दमंद दिल को रोना मेरा रुला दे
बेहोश जो पडें हैं शायद उने जगा दे !
It is my humble tribute to Guru Ravidass on his forthcoming Gurupurab in the first week of February, 2015. The traditional solemnity and reverence in which the day was once celebrated in Bootan Mandi is fast fading, giving way to hooliganism and self gratification of the men at the helm of affairs.


  1. The unsatisfactory and painful situation of the ignored segment of the society is the result of our own peoples' failure in providing good leadership and education, despite being successful in all the fields. The present leadership is more divided and seems to have lost its priorities of achieving the target by being united and educated. This write-up may open eyes of the community leaders and may force them to review the situation for initiating necessary actions in the interest of the future generations.

  2. thanks rp. you are right. let us hope our people take note and things turn for the better.

  3. you are very much right & i fully agree with you, sir. Bootan Mandi is really losing its sheen & glory as a business & community welfare center, which is very disappointing & alarming as well. The present generation lacks guidance which is necessary for building their careers and the reason for this is the illitracy of their parents or lack of proper knowledge. There should be proper guidance for the present generation so that they can choose their desired careers & the youth of bootan mandi should, in particular, get inspiration from people like your goodself. Residents of bootan mandi must take affirnative steps to restore the glorious harmony of our beloved birth-place. Signing off with such hopes. thanks/regards.