On the eve of Gurupurab, the Prakash Utsav of Guru Ravidass (February 25, 2013), I intend to write on the historical place – SatGuru Ravidass Dham Bootan Mandi Jalandhar with which my cherished memories are associated as a kid, a primary student, my formative years of youth before I graduated into adult life and above all being a small and humble son of an ordinary family belonging to Bootan Mandi. After about 40 years long diplomatic career, I am back to my roots in Jalandhar and wish to pick up the threads to integrate with the family and the society at large. SatGuru Ravidass Dham is said to be the nerve centre of the activities related and pertaining to the dalit community around particularly in the doaba region and foreign countries where the followers of Guru Ravidass live in considerable strength. The Prakash Utsav of Guru Ravidass is being celebrated with traditional and dedicated fervor in Bootan Mandi since long even before the advent of Ad-dharam Mandal in 1926. By now, over the years, Guru Ravidass Gurupurab has attained the status of a big social and spiritual event in the city of Jalandhar and rightly so. Before I come to the subject, I take this opportunity to greet and congratulate the followers of the great Guru Ravidass and particularly my fellow Bootan Mandians on the Gurupurab Guru Ravidass .
Gurudwara built sometime in 1930s, where SatGuru Ravidass Dham now stands, was a prominent place in the history of dalit community in the area. It was a magnificent building of the time. The Bootan Mandi’s prominents under the stewardship of Seth Khushi Ram and supported by others including Seth Mathra Dass, Seth Kartar Chand, Seth Mool Raj, with a view to provide primary education facilities to the children of Bootan Mandi and the adjoining localities, established a primary school at the Gurudwara premises sometime in early 1950s. Later the school was handed over to the Government but maintenance and upkeep of the building remained the responsibility of the Gurudwara Management. I remember in the mid 1960s, when I was actively involved in the community matters as an upcoming youngman, we under took the major renovation of the Gurudwara under the leadership of Hardial Banger, Manohar Mahey, Sat Paul Mahey, Prem Shant,Hans Raj Banchi, Darshan Bodhi and many more. Pritam Ramdaspuri, Seth Durga Dass, inter alia, stood by us as seniors and supporters. We even started a small library and a reading room at the premises. I recall, how with great efforts, we could manage to get 5 daily papers free of cost from the Jalandhar Municipal Committee through the Committee Member from Bhargo Camp Bhagat Budda Mal. A Youngman whose was Chaman Lal, if I remember correctly, was a great help in the day to day affairs of the library particularly its upkeep. Along with these allied activities, the Gurudwara premises were the venue of Gurupurab celebrations every successive year. For almost a week before the Guru Ravidass Gurupurab, the place will become the centre of spiritual discourse and recital of guruvani in the hazuri (presence) of Shri Guru Granth Sahib under the hands of Swami Lalji Dass and his dedicated followers. Our finances used to be small and meager but personal devotion of all dedicated young men involved in the process kept us going. The hard work of the young band of dedicated workers made the activities and events under the banner Guru Ravidass Youth Club increasing established and recognized by the society at large. I recall my submission of annual report of the Club in writing at the Gurupurab Kavi Darbar in 1969 as General Secretary of the Club. Prem Shant was a great help in the matter. We started publishing a souvenir ‘Guru Sandesh’ on the Gurupurab. We got printed greeting cards and sold to wish each other on the Gurupurab. We used to motivate the daily newspapers of Jalandhar and supply the requisite material to them for the Special Supplements on the occasion. We tried our every best to enlarge the scope and relevance of the Sobha Yatra (called Jalloos earlier) by engaging the public at large and decorate the entire route of the Yatra which was not an easy task in the 1960s. To cut the story short, let me say with satisfaction that things were put on rail in the right direction. I left the scene in March 1970 in pursuit of my career and bread and butter. Our successors along with some of my old associates did a good job in the following years but could not keep the tempo of the activities. The procedural content like the annual report, souvenir, and special supplements became things of the past. It was not good for the system and the institution. It is a matter of regret. A dedicated team under the leadership of Seth Ram Lal Mahey, I was told, contributed a great deal particularly in constructing new buildings for the primary and high schools in the vicinity of the Gurudwara (now Dham) and handed over these buildings to the Government. Frankly I did not like it. It would have been better, to my mind, if we run the schools as private institutions like many other communities do and provide not only quality education to our children at affordable costs but also inculcate the mission and philosophy of the great Guru Ravidass in the minds of coming generations. We have certainly arrived but were yet to reach our destination.
With the blessings of Guru Ravidassji and sheer hard work of some of the young men of Bootan Mandi like Seth Sat Paul, Surinder Mahey, Hussan Mahey, Kamal Mahey, Harish Mahey, with their seniors like Seth Ram Paul Mahey, Ram Saran Mahey, Seth Bhagwan Dass around, progressed and established themselves in their leather business. The finances of the social and community activities improved considerably. They floated yet another outfit, to replace the erstwhile Club, in the name of Guru Ravidass Welfare Society in the early 1980s. The name was further changed around early 1990s, in view of the educational aspects particularly the schools mentioned earlier. The Society was converted into Guru Ravidass Educational and Charitable Trust, the current parent body of the Satguru Ravidass Dham. So far so good. The community got economic and financial muscle on one hand and political strength on the other. Surinder Mahey, a young man of Bootan Mandi, became the Mayor of Jalandhar city in around 2002. It was a big attainment and rightly so. While doing a good job as the Mayor of Jalandhar, Surinder Mahey also paid little more and focused attention to the development and improvement of Bootan Mandi which was a slum area. He planned and developed a good park and named it after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He took yet another important work in his hands that is the construction of Satguru Ravidass Dham at the site of the historic gurudwara under the aegis of Satguru Ravidass Dham Management Committee. It was, of course, an ambitious but prestigious project which needed huge investments. Bootan Mandi being the hub of community activities, everybody, I understand, appreciated and joined hands to do the project. The young entrepreneurs of Bootan Mandi rallied around Surinder Mahey for the completion of the Dham including generous support from the dalit community living in foreign lands. My brothers, Krishan Lal and Paramjit, humbly but fully engaged and identified themselves these activities. Paramjit remained for a long time one of the Trustees and Member of the Guru Ravidass Educational and Charitable Trust and Satguru Ravidass Dham Management Committee and also the General Secretary of the Trust for a couple of terms. With the due financial and political support under the leadership of Surinder Mahey, the Dham project progressed satisfactorily for a few years. Obviously, authority entails responsibility. The power tends to inflate ego. In the process, as I understand Surinder Mahey, may be unintentionally, ruffled feathers of some of his associates and kith and kin in the extended family. As his term as Mayor of the city came to close in around 2008, the opponents who were lying low, started exerting themselves with or without reason. Some of them started opposing and confronting the authority of Surinder to settle their personal scores pertaining to family matters most of the time. The spoils office came to surface and over took the situation. Those who enjoyed the power when Surinder Mahey was the Mayor started drifting away for personal reasons. With the support of political rivals of Surinder Mahey, the so called aggrieved faction hijacked the agenda for their limited purposes. It was unfortunate for the Dham project, progress of which is almost stalled by now. Unfortunately, things have gone from bad to worse under the current Management of the Dham. Nobody is ready to see reason. The saner sense is missing holding the whole community to ransom. I am absolutely pained to write this. It is rightly said: लह्मों की गलती से, सदिओं ने सज्जा पाई !
I am around for the last two years and this Gurupurab is the third successive year of witnessing a sorry state of affairs. We are a divided lot. I was told that Shri Avinash Chander, Chief Parliamentary Secretary of Punjab who also belonged to Bootan Mandi tried to bring the barring factions of Surinder Mahey and Seth Sat Paul Mall together to celebrate the Gurupurab to begin with and revive the neglected Dham project in due course. Surinder Mahey, I understand, was willing to come down in the larger interest of the Dham and the community but Seth Paul Mall could not gather courage and bring along his close associates to agree to some sort of settlement and compromise. The sincere approach is lacking, I feel. The leaders are more interested in settling their personal scores totally ignoring the common agenda of the community.The status quo ante, with displaced egos, stands to the detriment of the community interests. Some so called ‘Well Wishers’ wrote to me an anonymous letter and urged me to refrain from associating myself with Surinder Mahey. It is their assumed notion that I along with my brothers tend to support Surinder Mahey as against the wishes of the other faction. This assumption is baseless and ill founded. I refute it vehemently. I along with my brothers stand for the community and the Dham and not with any faction who so ever they may be. Let me make it clear. The ‘Well Wishers” also wrote that I should do something to bridge the gap between the two groups. With a view to register my sincerity of purpose, I immediately got in touch with prominent and eminent members of both the groups and suggested my ideas of bringing them along and strengthening the hands of Shri Avinash Chander in his efforts towards unity. But I am sorry to say with a heavy heart that my friends in Seth Sat Paul group did not respond positively and tried to downplay the issue and friends in the other group were at least open to sitting on the table and coming together with dignity and respect. It is a hopeless situation. The high pedestal of Bootan Mandi is slipping from under its feet. Some of the short sighted sons of Bootan Mandi itself are responsible for this situation which is unfortunate and unacceptable . May Guru Ravidass help us and show light. I close with a poetic expression –
बिश्डों को फिर मिला दें नक्शे दुई मिटा दें!
सुंनी पड़ी हुई है मुद्दत से दिल की बस्ती,
आ इक नया रविअलय इस देश में बना दें !