Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Dalit Identity Issue – United We Stand and Divided We Fall

Dalit Identity Issue – United We Stand and Divided We Fall

Sant Niranjan Dass and Late Sant Ramanand
Of late, the issue of dalit identity as Ad-dharmis or Ravidassias is currently making waves in the social media. Sometimes, new Buddhists, it seems, also get tempted to jump on the bandwagon of ‘Identity’ zealots or they are unnecessarily dragged by the stakeholders. Occasionally, I have also joined the debate and commented on various posts floating on Facebook or other social media organs like WhatsApp etc. First of all, before I come to the real issue, let me add with some satisfaction that more and more dalit youth are getting access to the social media though they are yet to realize the full impact of this very important tool to express themselves in the situation where they don’t have the luxury of enjoying the attention of the mainstream media both print and electronic. I wish more and more dalit educated youth join and avail of facilities like Twitter, Youtube etc. and express their view point. We need to be more serious and involved in the process and should not limit ourselves to “Jai Gurdev – Dhan Gurdev or Jai Bhim – Jai Bharat. Say more and be full-fledged stakeholders in this important issue. Only then your views will count in the corridors of power in Delhi and the State capitals. It is a matter of some gratification that in the ensuing debate the national media has
shown some interest. I have seen detailed stories in the Times of India and the Indian Express, of late, besides the vernacular media. It is a good development but the purpose and motivation of the media, generally found aloof or unconcerned, is yet to be understood. It seems, as usual, many forces, both genuine and vested, are interested and working on the issue and obviously. Of course, it is an important issue, Identity of Dalits, has a direct bearing on the social and political edifice of the country. I am saying this not as an expert but an interested layman and an ordinary citizen of the country with an open mind.

Sant Niranjan Dass ji with PM Narendra Modi an CM Adityanath Yogi
Before I proceed to discuss the meager details and cursory information I have on the issue, let me, with all humility, share my views on the ongoing debate on ‘Dalit Identity’ in the larger interests of the community and the society at large, knowing well that these may not find favour with the Principals of both the camps i.e. Ad-dharmis and Ravidassias and even the Buddhists. The ‘Dalit Identity Issue’ being discussed currently is an unnecessary debate which will bring no benefit and dividend and even advantage to the community in the given social and constitutional background. The assertions of both the Ad-dharam Movement and the Dera Sachkhand Ballan with regard to their proclaimed religious identity as Ad-dharmis and Ravidassias are fully, to my mind, laced with ‘divisive tendencies’’ which will further divide dalit communities. It will be detrimental to our overall interests in the run up to get a due space and share in the polity and society of India. My gut feeling is that this avoidable debate has been purposely instigated by the vested interests who directly gain from the situation in which dalits remain divided. I stop here and will, if need be, specify these inimical forces who follow the age old dictum of ‘Divide and Rule’ at some later date as I don’t intend to add to existing unfortunate social animosity. The premise of both the stakeholders i.e. Ad-dharmis and Ravidassias on the issue is based on fallacious and unfounded understandings on the issue. The Ad-dharmis rely and stand on the thoughts of Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia under the umbrella of Ad-dharam Mandal of yesteryears and the fact of the census of 1931 and 1941
Sant Satwinder Hira with RSS Activists Banveer Singh and Dr. Varinder Garg
in which Ad-dharam was accorded some sort of recognition as distinct from the Hindus and Sikhs as a pre-cursor to the Communal Award of 1932 of PM Ramsey MacDonald. The Poona Pact of 1932 between Gandhi and Ambedkar followed by the India Act of 1935 and finally culminating in the constitution of independent India changed the entire scenario and the Ad-dharam Movement became dormant and was made irrelevant. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s embracing of Buddhism, an epoch making event in the history of India, in October, 1956 further eroded Ad-dharam’s base and rationale. I need not go beyond this. The Ravidassia Dharam floated by Dera Sachkhand Ballan of Jalandhar is comparatively a recent development of 2010-11. The genesis of it lays in the gruesome and cold blooded murder of Sant Ramanand of the Dera Ballan in May, 2009 in Vienna the capital city of Austria. The present Principal Sant of the Dera Niranjan Dass ji was also grievously wounded in the murderous attack by some Sikh hardcore militants. Till then the Dera was faithfully following the Guru Granth Sahib and lofty tenets of Sikhism and Sant Ramanand himself was one of the known and revered preachers of Gurbani enshrined in the great Guru Granth Sahib. The Ravidassia Dharam, to put it briefly as a matter of fact, was a spontaneous and half baked reaction which came to the fore in anger and with a sense of retaliation against the Sikh culture and society, if not against the Sikh religion. Otherwise, the daily ritualistic routine at the Dera and also the conduct of the Sants there remained the same minus the exalted presence of Guru Granth Sahib which was replaced by the hurriedly compiled Amritvani, a new holy book dedicated to Guru Ravidass ji. It will not be out of place to mention that it was a mysterious tragedy, soon thereafter, that the motley group of Sants and other senior functionaries at the Dera who were instrumental in floating the new religion i.e. Ravidassia Dharam, were shunted out of the Dera by the current dispensation in control of the Dera. The political outfits and their leadership - Congress, BJP, Akalis, BSP, as and when convenient placate the Dera including the establishment and control of the holy sites at Seer Govardhanpur at Varanasi in UP for their political axe to grind owing to the Dera’s considerable clout among the Chamars/Ad-dharmis in and around Doaba region of Punjab and dalit Diaspora abroad.  The Dera and its leadership take it, I think, mistakenly, as support to their new venture, Ravidassia Dharam which is, in fact, not the case. It is, to my mind, an ill-conceived idea having no social and constitutional background and backup. I may appear to be candid and frank in expressing my opinion on the subject but I do it in all good faith as a humble Ad-dharmi or Ravidassia with utmost respect and
Ambassador Ramesh Chander with revered Sants of Dera Ballan at Vienna
reverence for the Dera Sachkhand Ballan and its leadership including Sant Niranjan Dass ji whom I had met a couple of times in Vienna and at my humble abodes in Delhi and Jalandhar, besides my personal good rapport with Sant Ramanand and that of my brothers with Sant Garib Dass of the esteemed Dera. As regards Ad-dharam, the idea had exhausted its utility with the new constitution of India. Banta Ram Ghera, a tireless community activist who was instrumental in searching and establishing the birth place of Seer Govardhanpur in Varanasi, picked up the flag of Ad-dharam to counter Dera Sachkhand Ballan who gained control of the holy site and condemned Banta Ram
Ambassador Ramesh Chander with Sant Satwinder Hira
Ghera to die as an ‘unsung’ hero. This feud between the All India Ad-dharam Movement under the stewardship of Sant Satwinder Hira of Khuralgarh Sahib  in Hoshiarpur, Punjab and Management of Dera Sachkhand Ballan on the issue of identity may be seen in this background. It is just a coincident that I knew Banta Ram Ghera personally and Sant Satwinder Hira, a qualified Engineer by profession, is also known to me as are the high-ups at the Dera Sachkhand Ballan.

Now coming to the crux without further prolonging the background, I would like to share the likely fallout, to my mind, of this ‘Dalit Identity” with the concerned and interested in both camps i.e. the proponents of Ad-dharam and Ravidassia Dharam. The immediate and definite fallout is further division in the society which will do much harm to the overall interests and concerns of dalit communities at large. It will also adversely affect the social cohesion and harmony with the mainstream of the society. There is no constitutional provision, as of now, to accommodate the submissions, proposals, demands made to the government in this regard. If the government tends to accept these demands, let us believe so hypothetically, a constitutional amendment would be needed. Do we have that strength, support and wherewithal to take forward the matter? I don’t think so, given the state and mode of our representations, memorandums and letters to President, PM and other authorities – lacking in good and flawless drafting, lacking in content and intent, bereft of thrust and goalpost to say the least. It only shows that we are not serious. But nevertheless we wish to stand on ego and ceremonies to carry on the limited agenda to be seen as the flag-bearers of the community.

Given the current and forthcoming scenario, we need no separate identity distinct and separate from Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Currently, almost all Ad-dharmis, Ravidassias are either Hindus or Sikhs or Buddhists in accordance with the social and legal framework under the constitution of India. Our greatest icon in contemporary times, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, after deep thought and in-depth study and also due consideration embraced Buddhism in October, 1956 to shed the yoke of uncivilized, unbecoming, inhuman and exploitive behavior of the caste Hindus with their fellow human beings belonging to the so called lower strata of the repressive caste system. More than a million of his followers embraced Buddhism in a few days of the epoch making historical decision and action of Babsaheb Ambedkar. The history of religious renaissance in India would have been different had Dr. Ambedkar not passed away in December 1956, barely in less than two months of his reviving in India the great religion of the world, Buddhism. I am confident that the question of seeking new identity as Ad-dharmis or Ravidassias would not have risen. But that was not to be. Now, it seems, we are to content ourselves with our religious and cultural identity and affiliation with the main stream religions with identified with India that is Bharat. Generally as a common tendency and tradition one remains in the same religion in which one is born. Conversion to another religion remains a viable option which is legal and desirable as many of us did on the call of our leader Babasaheb Ambedkar. Still those who feel suffocated and marginalized in the Hindu or Sikh fold are free to adopt Buddhism or any other as they like. Moreover, India is a secular country. Religion is our personal choice and it should remain personal and private to our personal satisfaction.

Babaseheb Ambedkar
The question of identity still remains. I take the liberty of quoting from my recent interaction and exchanges on Facebook with one of my friends, Sunil Raju who is an ardent supporter and follower of Dera Sachkhand Ballan and also the idea of Ravidassia Dharam as much needed identity.  While we disagree on the question of religious identity as explained in this piece, I agreed with him when he wrote, “Our pain is common. Our struggle is common. Our challenges are common.”  Yes, we are to redress and remove the pain. We are to take our struggle to the next phase and we are to face the challenges together with grit and determination to identify, secure and preserve our due space in the society as dignified human beings as ordained by great Guru Ravidass and the greatest son of India Babasaheb Ambedkar. With a view to face the future challenges in a concerted way, to my mind, Ambedkar and Ambedkar alone, who enjoyed acceptance and recognition not only all over India but beyond in the international community, could be our Identity – Ambedkar Identity  as Ambedkarites to take care of our political and socio-economic aspirations while retaining and maintaining our religious identity as Hindus or Sikhs or Buddhists. There is no other way. We would ignore this reality at our own peril. Forces inimical to our interest are sitting close by. They intend to divide us and continue
Manyawar Kanshi Ram
to oppress and exploit us to their advantage. The mission of Guru Ravidass, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy , Manyawar Kanshi Ram could only be realized if we remain united under the Ambedkar Idenity. The dreams of Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia of Ad-dharam Movement and Sant Sarwan Dass of Dera Sachkhand Ballan, who collaborated and cooperated with each other for the empowerment of dalits would find echo in our unity to carry the caravan of the community forward to common advantage and benefit.

United we stand and Divided we fall

I conclude with a poetic rendition of Allma Iqbal:

Hawaida  Aaj Apne Zakhm-e-Pinhan Kar Ke Chorun Ga
Lahoo Ro Ro Ke Mehfil Ko Gulistan Kar Ke Chorun Ga

(I will surely exhibit all my hidden wounds today
I will surely change assembly to a garden with blood
mixed tears)
Parona Aik Hi Tasbeeh Mein In Bikhare Danon Ko
Jo Muskhil Hai, To Iss Mushkil Ki Asan Kar Ke Chorun Ga

(If stringing these scattered pearls in a single rosary
Is difficult, I will surely make this difficult task easy)


  1. Thanks for a precise wonderful piece of article on as to what ails our unity and what needs to be done. On certain points I would like to give my opinion.
    1) Ambedkarism & Ravidassia Religion are not mutually opposed (exclusive) to each other. In fact, real Ambedkarism, what we see today is not a result of efforts of those who converted to Buddhism with & after Ambedkar. But this countrywide wave of Ambedkarism is brought by ever progressing powereful Chamar (Ravidassia) Community. Maharashtra account for 90% of the Buddist (Neo-Buddhist) in India and I am a resident of Mumbai for the last 37 years. My experience has been that Mahars (Neo-Buddhist) have maintained a distance from Chamar Community in Maharashtra. Its only after 2010, when Chamars of Punjab declared Ravidassia Religion from 31/1/2010, after the shahadat of Sant Rama Nand in Vienne, Austria that Buddist have now started propaganda to ask all chamars to come under Buddhism.
    2) Adi- Dharma was a great concept from our reverred and respected Mamgu Ram Muggowalia, from Hoshiarpur Punjab. In fact this concept was ahead of its age. In spite of its Recognition as a Religion in 1931 Census, it failed because of Poona pact under which the rights of Scheduled caste/tribe given in the shape of separate electorate were converted to the whims & fancies of Political Parties. In Punjab, those rights were highjacked by Congress party and we are aware how we have been handed over to one family, in spite of fact that we are 32% of the population. This is another matter of research, why Baba Saheb could not add Adi Dharma in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution along with Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhist. Further no efforts appear to have been made from 1931 till date from those who claim to inherit Muggowal Saheb's Adi Dharm movement & now strangely come out of slumber after declaration of Ravidassia Religion in 2010.

  2. (Continued from above)
    3) Ravidassia Dharam was declared by Dera Ballan Sants in the presence of other sants on 31/1/2010 at Banaras UP. People may be able to find many faults with Dera Ballan but its a fact that Dera is in existance for over 100 years, became a central point for Chamar Community, particularly after establishing & running Guru Ravidas Janam Sthan Temple at Seer Goverdhanpur, Banaras. The Dera further connected with NRI Chamar community, mainly from Doaba Punjab in foreign countries. Dera was able to create identity for Chamar Community by establishing palacial Dera at Ballan and many places in India & abroad. Dera Ballan was able to provide single meeting point at Banaras where on the occassion of Guru Ravidas Jayanti, about 15-20 Lakhs people take Langar, free food organised by Dera Ballan. The declaration of Ravidassia Religion in 2010 is a result of constantly emerging power of Dera Ballan.
    Reason why Adi Dharma could not spread, is due to the fact that it was confined to Doaba, leave aside Punjab and there was no machanism to spread it in different parts of India. Whereas after declatation of Ravidassia Dharam in 2010, Dera Ballan appointed Sant Sukhdev Waghmare of Pune as National President Akhil Bhartiya Ravidassia Dharam Sangathan who spread it in all states of India from Gujarat to Assam and from Jammu to Andhra/Karnatka. In a short span of 10 years, Sant Sukhdev Waghmare took it to all corners of India & made it a national Religion.
    In view if above, I feel that all need to assocaite with Dera Ballan, hammer out differences if any amongst other Deras & Buddhist & present a unified picture to the world. What we still struck is in the rivallary of various Deras in Punjab & fail to see it as a National Ravidassia Religion.
    Further I want to add here that great concept of Saheb Kanshiram of joining together 85% of our population under the banner Mool Niwasi, has if not altogether failed, appears no where progressing. Whereas Ravidassia community (under different castes), with 90% population of SCs has already emerged as the most enterprising, brave, committed and financially strong to take the lead & become the pivot for getting justice for all. Lets see the reality & think nationall & not confine to Dera Politics of Punjab.- Joginder Pal from Mumbai

  3. Ramesh Chander Bhaisaheb, thanks and went through your article and one of the fallacious statements that you have made is about Mr. Banta Ram Ghera. I am wondering what proof do you have that he was founder of Varanasi Temple and what proof do you have that Varanasi temple was snatched from Mr. Banta Ram Ghera by Dera Ballan ? On the contrary, it was Mr. Banta Ram Ghera who had unjustly taken control and it had to be taken back.
    As I heard that Banta Ram Ghera was a sewadaar of Dera Ballan (like millions others) and Saints sent him to Varanasi to assist in the Varanasi Temple construction activities, as it was easier for him since he was, as I heard in Railways. if Sant Ji sends a Sewadaar like many other Sewadaars to a location to supervise certain activities, that Sewadaar doesn't own that place. He doesn't become owner of the place.
    Varanasi temple was dream of Sant Sarwan Dass Ji who started the process and you know it very well as you have been around.
    Today Varanasi temple is center of attraction for the world over due to untiring efforts of Dera Ballan.
    Please tell me, since you have been to places, has there ever been an institution of dalits which has functioned as ably as Varanasi Temple where now millions gather on yearly basis to worship Guru Ravidass Ji. Where were these so-called newly minted potential owners/ stalwarts of community when temple was being built? These same people used to tell Sant Sarwan Dass Ji when he started the construction at Varanasi that "Baba Ji Punjab wich apna Dera chalao, othe Kanshi 2000 km dour jaa kae ki karna". But Sant Sarwan Dass Ji, a visionary persisted in this faith.
    Today, every Tom, Dick and Harry talks about control of Varanasi temple, and I am sorry to say, some folks who can't manage couple of guests at home, after drinking couple of beers, they boast about how they would run the temple, if they are given control and manage millions of people. This is not good mentality "Na kuch karna, na karan dena mentality".
    Saints of Dera Ballan have steadfastly been making progress in taking care of Birthplace temple despite enormous struggles. No other dalit institution was ever capable of running this place despite what one may say, and no other dalit institution in the modern history has progressed so far. Our people have been toiling at places of other religions for centuries, one time, this time, they are doing something for themselves.
    And most of our intelligentsia, which sits on sidelines making exalted judgments about what should be done, what should not be done, they rarely do anything themselves. Essentially most believe that if they are not part of some movement, that movement is worthless or ill conceived or not worth it. Our intelligentsia should learn from Hindu retired or active people, how they contribute to their communities. There are very few people like you who take part in community activities and contribute back to society, otherwise most are content after getting reservations, getting reservations to their kids and that's it.

  4. Regarding Ravidassia religion revival, I believe that such efforts are not born in a methodical, constitutional and organized manner; and most importantly in a pre-planned manner. You can look history, these changes are usually either born out of tragic events like that happened to us or dire need of the hour. One can sit for another 1500 years and wait for or plan to start a new religion, it won't happen.
    Above is my view. So to say that it was done in a rush, as you believe and you have full right to your viewpoint, I believe that critical mass was there for sometime and murder of Saint Rama Nand Ji was a strong trigger. Our people need their distinct identity. This is an opportunity for us to do something, else we would regret in years to come, our generations would regret in future. Such impetus isn't always there. Today we are scattered everywhere, we have a chance to gather. The ones who have reservations, sit on sidelines, they would also come and join when they see the masses.
    Sikhism, Christianity or any other religious movement where religious head is not one of our own (i.e Guru Ravidass Ji) would never work for us.
    I am not a spokesperson for the Dera Ballan. These are my own views.