Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Dalit Assertion in Punjab and Guru Ravidass

Dalit Assertion in Punjab and Guru Ravidass

After my retirement from a diplomatic career in December, 2010, I came back to my roots in Jalandhar. With a view to keep myself abreast with the community activities, I have been maintaining a positive interest in the goings-on with regard to the socio-religious developments on one hand and economic -political happenings on the other. I have been recording my understandings and
Aarti at Shobha Yatra - Langar at Jalandhar
impressions on these matters off and on in my blog to share these with the community, particularly the educated lot. Since then much water has flown in the Beas and the Sutlej rivers of the Doaba region of Punjab where the dalit concentration is the highest in India. The issue of dalit assertion in the region remained in the news for the last two decades with the fast changing ground realities pertaining to political, economic, social and spiritual identity of the dalit communities.

 The spiritual and social philosophy and mission of the dalit icon Guru Ravidass which was ably carried forward by Sant Sarwan Dass and his successors of Dera Sachkhand Ballan, Sant Hira Dass of Chak Hakim, Baba Braham Dass of Phillaur, Swami Gurdip Giri of Pathankot, Sant Kishan Dass of Chaheru, Sant Nirmal Dass Jaudianwale among others played a significant role in awakening and enlightening the dalit masses on the lofty dictum of Guru Ravidass:
ऐसा चाहूँ राज में; यहां मिले सबन को अन्न,
छोट बड़े सब सम बसें रविदास रहे परसन! 

पराधीनता पाप है; जान लियो रे मीत ;
रविदास दास पराधीन से  कौन करे  है प्रीत!
The socio-political aspect of dalit identity and assertion was taken up by Babu Mangu Ram Muggowalia of Ad-dharma Mandal with the association of leaders like Master Gurbanta Singh, Seth Kishan Chand and literary stalwarts, inter alia, Charan Singh Safri, Gurdass Ram Alam, Chanan Lal Manak, Pritam Ramdasspuri, Charan Dass Nidharak, and Bhag Mal Pagal. The underlying influence was the impact of Guru Ravidass’s revolutionary social and spiritual philosophy enshrined in his poetic expressions:
नीचों उच्च करे मेरा गोविन्द,
काहू ते डरे !
कायम दायम सदा पातशाई ,
दोम सोम एक सो अहिं !
Feeling the nerve and pulse of the situation, the iconic personalities namely Babasaheb Ambedkar, Acharya Prithvi Singh Azad, Gopal Singh Khalsa, Chaudhary Sunder Singh, Lahori Ram Balley, Babu Kanshi Ram and social and spiritual activists like Banta Ram Ghera came on the scene to strengthen the trends of dalit assertion but with a somewhat different approach. Dr. Ambedkar was a spiritual person by upbringing. The influence of Sant Kabir and Guru Ravidass was clearly visible on his social and spiritual thinking though he was intellectually inclined towards Buddhism. Babasaheb steadfastly stood for humanism like Guru Ravidass. I was told that Babasaheb Ambedkar in the 1930s-40s, himself led the Guru Ravidass traditional Shoba Yatra a couple of times starting from Karol Bagh in Delhi. These political leaders propagated and carried forward the message of equality, fraternity and casteless society, the very tenants of Guru Ravidass’s philosophy.  Prithvi Singh Azad and Sunder Singh followed the great Guru through Arya Samaj. Gopal Singh Khalsa and his associates took the route through the teachings of Sikh Gurus. Lahori Ram Balley and Kanshi Ram and their people followed a somewhat radicalized line but the crux of their struggle remained to empower the marginalized segments of the society through political struggle as desired by Guru Ravidass:
चारों वेद करे खंडोती !
This relentless crusade for socio-economic and spiritual upliftment of dalits in the region resulted in cajoling “dalit consciousness” as termed by Prof. Ronki Ram of Panjab University to establish “dalit identity”. The Seths of Bootan Mandi, the prominent business brigade of the community in Jalandhar, showed the way to economic emancipation by establishing successful businesses. The resultant better economic status triggered migration abroad for better pastures which resulted in further economic strength and prosperity. As a natural corollary, this economic well being resulted in better education leading to socio-political and socio-religious assertiveness. The spiritual Deras became little more active and organized to cater to the spiritual urges under the banner of Guru Ravidass and other Saints like Kabir and also the message of an “agalitarian society” under the tenants of Sri Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs. On the bureaucratic or official side, role of Ishwar Chander Pawar, Vimal Chandra and Gyan Singh Bal among others played a significant role in the 1960s, as worthy followers of Guru Ravidass and associates of Babasaheb Ambedkar in empowering their dalit brethren to join the main stream of the society and stand up for their rights and space in whatever way they could, keeping with the limitations while occupying their positions in the government machinery.
Sants of respective Deras, beginning with Sant Garib Dass and ant Ramanand of Dera Sachkhand Balan, started visiting foreign countries which resulted in increased awakening and assertive trends among the community. The resultant economic prosperity and educational empowerment contributed further to the growing assertiveness among the youth. The Chamar pride derived its direction from the Gurbani of Guru Ravidass. Ambedkarite poet Pritam Ramdaspuri, Gurdass Ram Alam and Santokh Singh Safri proudly termed them as the heirs of the legacy of the great Guru:
बंश  चों  रविदास  दी  हाँ; भीम दी औलाद  हाँ ! - Pritam Ramdasspuri
इंसानी  हक़  गरीबां नू दे  गया ; ओह  रविदास  आगू  इंक़लाब दा ! Gurdass Ram Alam
आजा गुरु  रविदास  दिलं  ठठिआ दी  आस ! - Santokh Singh Safri

It was ardently carried forward by contemporary writers namely Chan Goryanwala, Rattu Randhawa, Madan Jalandhari among others. Their writings, full of spiritual and emotional fervor, were sung by the who’s who of Punjabi singers like Hans Raj Raj Hans, Kanth Kaler, Master Sleem, inter alia.

It provided the raison d’etre to stand against the domineering attitude and behaviour of Sikh peasantry of ‘Jatt-bad’ on one hand and Manuwadi conduct of the upper caste Hindus on the other. Radical political philosophy of Babu Kanshi Ram as pronounced in his slogan “Tilak, Taraju or Talwar; Inko Maro Jutte Char” supported by the folklore of the likes of Mohan Banger, S.S. Azad and others added and strengthened the edifice of dalit assertion in Punjab. Assassination of Sant Ramnand and the murderous attack
Sant Niranjan Dass and Sant Ramanand
on Sant Niranjan Dass of Dera Sachkhand Balan by the Sikh radicals at Vienna (Austria) in 2009 hastened the process of dalit assertion. It polarized the society further and dalit assertion was visible on the streets. The question of dalit identity, as propounded by Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia under the banner of Ad-dharma Mandal earlier, came to the fore. Some radical and assertive dalits, under the aegis of Dera Sachkhand Balan floated their own religion named Ravidassia Dharma sometime in 2010. Only time will assess and give its judgment whether it was a correct step towards establishing dalit identity or no. This action, to my mind, was a half baked and ill conceived idea of some Sants of the Dera bandwagon. As expected by many, against the wishes of hapless and ignorant masses attached to the Dera, it was a non-starter. I am afraid that many people may not agree with me but I thought of putting the things in its perspective.

The atmosphere was further charged by the folklore to support the assertion by the dalit masses driving its cue from word ‘Chamar” repeatedly used by Guru Ravidass in his bani:

कह  रविदास  खलास चमारा;
जो हम शहरी सो मीत हमारा !
मेरी  जात कामिनी मेरी पात कामिनी;
होछा जनम हमारा !
The contemporary writers and singers proudly used the epithet “Chamar” to signify and pronounce their historical identity with any feeling of inferiority whatsoever.

Begumura wasaon aa’ sare kar lao eka sung by the Punjabi sensation Miss Pooja
Dekh mele nu chale; bibe putt chamaran desung by the Quomi singer S.S. Azad
Danger Chamar by the young and spirited Gini Mahi

All said, it requires no reiteration that socio-spiritual-politico-economic consciousness of dalits in Punjab, with about 35% demographic share, is taking cue and instruction from the life, mission and philosophy of Guru Ravidass. It will remain so. The symbols of that consciousness, identity and assertiveness, Guru Ravidass Mandir at Seer Govardhanpur at Kanshi, the birth place of
Begumpura Minar at Khuralgarh
the Guru and Guru Ravidass Memorial – Begumpura Minar at Khuralgarh in Hoshiarpur, are set to become more visible and pronounced. It is one of the positive ground realities.  But there are more realities which are negative. Dalits are a divided lot on the basis of caste, sub-caste, sects etc.. It suits their tormentors and opponents. The newly floated religion, Ravidassia Dharam, has tended to cement the divide which is unfortunate. Both Neo-Buddhists and Ravidassias need to understand that the mission of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was to promote cohesion and unity not only among dalit communities but in the society at large. He was a spiritual person with a definite social and political agenda.
Dalits would ignore these negative realities at their own peril. They should follow the dictum of Guru Ravidass to salvage their subjugation and get their due space in the polity and society. United we stand and Divided we fall.
साध सांगत मिल रहिए माधो;
जैसे मधुप मखीरा !
Hearty Greetings on the Gurpurab of Guru Ravidass

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Down the Memory Lane – Guru Ravidass Jayanti

Down the Memory Lane – Guru Ravidass Jayanti

Bootan Mandi is a non-descript mohalla of Jalandhar which is considered as the capital and nerve centre of dalit consciousness and empowerment. It is my native place. I have come back to my roots after retirement from a long diplomatic career. Guru Ravidass Jayanti or Gurpurab, every successive year has been an integral part
Satguru Ravidass Dhham
of the social and spiritual life of the residents of the area. Yesterday, January 24, I joined the solemn function, after more than four decades; at Satguru Ravidass Dham to set in motion the festivities and celebrations of the Gurpurab which falls on January 31 this year. The cherished memories of my childhood and formative years of my youthful days became alive. I thought of sharing my impressions and feelings in this regard.

Guru Ravidass Gurudwara, where the majestic Satguru Ravidass Dham now stands, was a make shift Gurudwara which also housed the primary school of the mohalla where I have done my primary schooling. Guru Ravidass Gurpurab celebrations, generally called “Janam Dihada” of the Guru, were the only major activity at the site other than the school, privately run by the mohalla committee. A week or ten days before the Gurpurab, the ‘Path Rakhna’
ceremony was done with great gaiety. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, in those days, would be shifted from the residence of Swami Lalji Dass, a revered spiritual master of the mohalla, to the make shift Gurudwara. The period of celebrations would begin with ‘Prabhat Pheris’ before the break of dawn, the traditional Dhol called Tamk will relegate with its high volume of sound to celebrate the joyous event. I, like all children of the mohalla, delightedly joined these activities and felt well. It was a recall of these memories down the lane when I joined the “Path Rakhana” ceremony after a long time. I felt that though the ground situation has changed over the years with a permanent Satguru Ravidass Dham for such events yet the traditional fervor was still prevailing.  It will not be out of place to mention that Satguru Ravidass Dham at Bootan Mandi is the result of good and positive contribution of my fellow BootanMandians and the community at large particularly by Ex-Mayor of Jalandhar Surinder Mahey and Seth Sat Paul Mall, among others. But it is a matter of great regret that on account of some vested agendas and for selfish ends of the people at the helm of affairs, the project is hanging fire and cries for completion. I only hope that the new dispensation which in the offing would consider and take the matters seriously to complete the project after the Gurpurab celebrations are over. It will be the biggest and befitting tribute to the memory of Guru Ravidass, the champion of equality, liberty and fraternity and also harmony in the society. The faithful and the participants exchanged greetings and invoked blessings of the great Guru Ravidass.

It was a matter of honour and satisfaction for me later towards the close of 1960s, I myself was a part and parcel of these arrangements as the Secretary General of the then Guru Ravidass Youth club and the welfare society. Later I lost touch and the aura of these community activities when I moved to Delhi in early 1970 to pursue my career. It is a matter of satisfaction, subsequently, my
Ramesh Chander at the Tamk at Gurpurab
younger brother, Paramjit, stepped into my shoes and became and remained the General Secretary of Guru Ravidass Educational and Charitable Trust for many years. Now again in my retirement and advancing age, I am happy to be here to join my folks in and around Bootan Mandi, my old associates and friends, inter alia, Manohar Mahey, Prem Shant, Hardial Banger, Sat Paul Mahey. It is a matter of gratification to note that the followers of Guru Ravidass and many of my friends on Facebook have responded overwhelmingly to my cursory post on the “Path Rakhna” ceremony with a ton of hits and comments. It only shows that Guru Ravidass was the real icon of the weaker sections of the society, and will remain so in the years to come, who contributed a lot in raising the social and spiritual consciousness among the poor masses towards establishing an egalitarian society.

We are all set to enjoy the festivities in the run up to the finale of the Gurpurab on January 31, 2018.

Jai Gurudev – Dhan Gurudev.


Today, January 25, 2018, is another day of rejoicing for the BootanMandians that one of the daughters of the soil, Surinder Kaur, has become the Senior Deputy Mayor of Jalandhar city. Congratulations to Surinder Kaur on her elevation to the coveted position in the hierarchy of the city. It is matter of pride that earlier in 2000s yet another son of Bootan Mandi, Surinder Mahey, had adorned the high position of the Mayor of Jalandhar. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Judicial Muddle – Constitutional Perspective

Judicial Muddle – Constitutional Perspective

 The on-going judicial muddle unleashed by the unprecedented public out-cry of the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court of India against the Chief Justice of India and his administration at the Supreme Court is a matter of great concern and worry for the entire country. The four senior most judges said that everything was not in order at the temple of judiciary of the country. They warned that our democracy would be in danger, if the things were not set right. The learned judges tended to place the matter before the
Add captionPress Conference of Supreme Cout Judges
people of India before it gets late. Obviously, this unexpected turn of events jolted the whole edifice of the constitutional framework based on principles of independence of judiciary, separation of powers among the three pillars of the system that is Legislature, Executive and Judiciary and checks and balances. There cannot be two opinions that the Supreme Court as a watch-dog of the constitution shall be independent and steadfast to stand as the last resort to see and ensure the country is run in letter and spirit as per the constitutional and legal stipulations.  I am not a constitutional or legal expert. The manner in which the Government of PM Narendra Modi including the Law Minister and the Attorney General, the legal community, the media and intelligentsia at large has responded to the crisis has not only surprised me but has also cajoled me to think, as a layman, as to what has gone wrong. I think we are heading towards dangerous times for our democratic polity and constitutional arrangements. I only wish that I am proved wrong. I will raise some questions which need to be answered by the government of the day, legal fraternity, civil society and we the people of India:
·       Is our constitution silent on how to deal with such eventualities when there is some conflict or tension in running the judiciary as per the laid down procedures, precedents, practices, legal customs?
·       If yes, what stops us from making such provisions? If not, why the esteemed judges, ignoring these stipulations, had to go public with their complaints and grievances?
·       Why the government has washed its hands off by saying that it is an internal matter of the judiciary and will not interfere in the matter? Does the Executive have no role in over-seeing that all the organs of the government work smoothly?
·       Why the Chief Justice has not responded to the complaints and accusations of the senior four judges? Is there no authority to ask and advise him to do so?
·       Why the legal fraternity including the Attorney General of India and also the Bar Council etc. are so helpless and blissfully ignorant as to how the crisis should be met in terms of the constitutional and legal stipulations and practices? Will it be correct to leave the matter to the Hon’ble Supreme Court and its judges?
·       Why the so called vocal and free media and also the civil society is not coming forward to educate the people of the country as to what has gone wrong and how it could be set right.

These were some of the questions which come to my mind in this regard. For the last two weeks, the entire judicial system is under strain and stress. The only thing which comes to my mind, again I repeat as a layman, is that all concerned are interested in putting the dirt under the carpet. The entire gamut and thrust of the matter is that the learned judges were working under outside pressure to
subvert the system as committed judiciary or compromised judiciary which they could not hold any longer. Not that the constitution is bad but because “man is vile” as assessed by Dr. Ambedkar himself. The government of the day cannot and should not keep quite. When the whole system is crumbling, why the matter has not been placed before the President of India who is not only the custodian of the constitution but also took the oath to reserve, defend and protect the constitution? President of India is an
integral part of the three organs of the state namely the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. I wonder, if President of India may like to take a suo motto notice of the judicial muddle created by the vested interests to serve their nefarious designs to hijack and hoodwink the system. It is a high expectation in the prevailing conditions in the country. Only solace which I could find in this regard is to listen to the father of our constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He said in the constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, “The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depends are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.”

Without Comment:-

“This is about an actor that has managed to stay invisible through this crisis: the Modi government. This is, above all, about the relationship between the judiciary and the executive. Specifically, this is about an attempt by the government of the day to secure a pliant judiciary through Bench fixing. In the run-up to the Emergency, Indira Gandhi had demanded and, indeed, almost achieved a “committed judiciary”. The Modi government now seeks to achieve the same objective through a compromised judiciary. The protest by the four judges represents perhaps the last significant hurdle that the Modi government faces in this project. And judiciary is one of the last hurdles that it faces in its drive for total control. That is why the current crisis in the apex court is about the future of Indian democracy.”

Yogendra Yadav’s article “More than meets the eye” in The Tribune of January 17, 2018 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Congratulations to ISRO

Congratulations to ISRO

Hearty congratulations to Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and its scientists on its successful launch of PSLVC-40 – Cartosat 2 on January 12, 2018. It was its 100th satellite. With this ISRO, one of the premier space agencies of the world has gathered
an additional feather in its already decorated cap. The entire Indian nation is proud of ISRO. This in keeping with the ISRO motto: मानव जाति की सेवा में अंतरिक्ष प्रौद्योगिकी - Space Technology in the Service of Humankind. PM Narendra Modi in his congratulatory message on the occasion said, The launch of the 100th satellite by @isro signifies both its glorious achievements, and also the bright future of India’s space programme.”

My motivation to write and congratulation ISRO today is somewhat different which I would like to share here. I met an ISRO scientist Prof. V. Jagannatha recently on January 2 at the official residence of Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot in New Delhi. We both were invitees at the annual meeting and dinner of the Forum of Scheduled Caste MPs and MLAs. I was pleased to know that Prof.Jagannatha was closely and actively associated with the ISRO project of Mangalyaan. During our brief interaction in the waiting room of the Minister’s office, Prof. Jagannatha informed us of some interesting facts as to how the scientists and technical staff belonging to scheduled caste communities were contributing positively to the functioning and performance of ISRO. Many of us may not know that there is no reservation for scheduled castes in scientific and technical posts. ISRO is no exception. Prof. Jagannatha told, of the cuff, that there were more than 17% scheduled castes working in ISRO including many highly placed scientists. It was gratifying to know this. The Working President of the Forum of Scheduled Caste MPs and MLAs, Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal shared this good information at the formal meeting of the Forum while introducing and felicitating Prof. Jagannatha, amidst spontaneous appreciation and clapping.  Hope both the opponents and proponents of reservation would listen. Scheduled Caste intelligentsia is no less, given the space and opportunity.

I recall with pride my own cursory inter-action and connection with ISRO is limited to hosting Minister MGK Menon in Stockholm as Charge d’Affaires of the Indian Embassy in Sweden and President
APJ Abdul Kalam when he was the Scientific Adviser to the Minister of Defense. Both of them were the leading lights of ISRO. My direct approach to ISRO happened in Minsk as Ambassador of India to Belarus during the course of my duties and responsibilities to strengthen cooperation between the two countries.