Dalit Identity Issue – United We Stand and Divided We Fall
(Rejoinder to Some of the comments)
I wrote this blog: Dalit Identity Issue – United We Stand and Divided we Fall on July, 2020 which may be perused at link: http://diplomatictitbits.blogspot.com/2020/07/dalit-identity-issue-united-we-stand.html I am happy that many of my friends read it and came out with any
considered and meaningful comments as “flowers and brickbats” which I take in my stride as a humble but alive follower of Guru Ravidass and Babasaheb Ambedkar and also as a social activist with regard to the community matters.
I forwarded my blog to cross sections of the society including the principals of both the Dera Sachkhand Ballan proponents of Ravidassia Dharam and All India Ad-dharam Movement, promoters of Ad-dharam. There is no detailed comment from either of them so far except some stray observations like – Jai Gurdev – Dhan Gurdev (as I wrote in the blog most of us limit our involvement to these salutations, regrettably) from some of their supporters or followers. Some of my friends made serious comments which I would like to share here and respond as I promised to them on Facebook. Before I do that I would like to register my thanks and gratefulness to Chief Editor of The Ambedkar Times, Prem Chumber who very kindly gives me all due support by carrying my blogs on community matters of interest and concern in the Ambedkar Times religiously and regularly.
Sunil Raju of the UK is my good friend who interacts with me quite regularly on Facebook. He is a well-meaning and considerate person. We agree on many things while disagreeing on many in the process and to put in a diplomatic jargon ‘We agree to disagree’ on many issues. Nevertheless, we continue. He did not like my brief reference to the role played by Banta Ram Ghera in exploring and identifying the holy site of Guru Ravidass’s birthplace at Seer Govardhanpur in Varanasi and termed it as “one of the fallacious statements. For the benefit of my friends, I reproduce a relevant excerpt from Sunil’s lengthy comment: “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.” I also reproduce what I said about Banta Ram Ghera in my blog which Sunil Raju could not stomach, “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 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. I informed Sunil Raju that I would explain the position to the best of my knowledge and belief in due course.
First of all let me reiterate my position that I respect and regard with due reverence Dera Sachkhand Ballan as explained in my blog under reference. Unfortunately, some people without understanding the core issue tend to criticize and oppose those who express views which may not be seen as supportive of the Dera and its management consciously or otherwise. It is not correct. I did not say that Banta Ram Ghera built the Seer Goverdhanpur site, the holy place at Varanasi. There is no point in repeating that the site has been built, developed and brought on the map of India as a place of significance and reverence by Dera Sachkhand Ballan under the blessings of Swami Sarwan Dass and his successors. The Dera and the concerned Trust are the rightful and legal occupants and trustees of the site. There is no question about it. But this does not minimize or discount the role and contribution of Banta Ram Ghera in exploring, searching, identifying and establishing the site as the birthplace of Guru Ravidass. As far as I know he enjoyed support of and good rapport with Swami Sarwan Dass ji not only with regard to the site at Seer Goverdhanpur but also Swami Sarwan Dass ji as a staunch Ad-dharmi and a founder of Ad-dharam Mandal in 1926-27 in collaboration and cooperation with Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia and others. I will not like to mention about the later developments which soured the relations between Banta Ram Ghera and the Dera. Unfortunately, as I know and understand, the situation came to such a pass that Banta Ram Ghera was condemned as a villain and his role and contribution was completely negated. There is no point in specifying as to who did it. Now I come to my personal humble involvement and cursory knowledge of initial details which are relevant to counter the alleged “fallacious statement” decreed by my friend Sunil Raju. It was, if my memory does not fail me, sometime in 1967-68 when Banta Ram Ghera, as a one man army, was fully engaged in establishing the site of Guru Ravidass’s birthplace at Seer Govardhanpur and was fighting tooth and nail with the local goons and opponents, he, obviously, needed financial, physical and moral support to carry forward his agenda and mission. It was but natural to look towards Dera Sachkhand Ballan and the followers of Guru Ravidass in the Doaba region. He did so while living in Delhi because of his job with the Railways. I was the young General Secretary of Guru Ravidass Welfare Association of Bootan Mandi, an undeclared and informal capital of the Chamar/Ad-dharmi community. Banta Ram Ghera got in touch with us and briefed us about his work and agenda at Seer Govardhanpur and requested for help and support, particularly financial support as Bootan Mandi was considered as the nerve centre of economic and financial prosperity and wellness of the community. We, together with our young brigade of dedicated youth namely Hardial Banger, Manohar Mahey, Sat Paul Mahey, Prem Shant among others, in turn approached our seniors and elders namely Seth Khushi Ram, Seth Raju Ram, Seth Dhanu Ram, Seth Mela Ram Rikhi and their associates like Durga Dass and Mool Raj, inter alia, and gathered support for the worthy project initiated and undertaken by Banta Ram Ghera at Seer Govardhanpur. It was a humble but important support to the project extended by the youngsters of Bootan Mandi towards follow up of the project. I recall that a good amount of money was collected and the land at Seer Govardhanpur was purchased. The fact that many of us may not know remained that the registry of the land of the holy site at Seer Govardhanpur was done in the name of the Seths of Bootan Mandi. I was away from Bootan Mandi as a faceless diplomat in pursuance of my career since 1970. Later I was told that the registry of the holy site at Seer Govardhanpur was duly transferred in the name of the concerned Trust or the Dera Sachkhand Ballan only in late 1990s by Mayor Surinder Mahey and Seth Sat Paul among others, my fellow Bootan Mandians. Manohar Mahey, one of my associates in the late 1960s in gathering support to Banta Ram Ghera, also played an important role as the General Secretary of the Trust to manage the site at Seer Govardhanpur. It was just a coincident that Banta Ram Ghera and I bumped into each other in Delhi again and renewed our acquaintance to exchange notes on the project at Seer Govardhanpur. In this background, I think the role and contribution of Banta Ram Ghera in getting our identity at Seer Govardhanpur cannot be ignored. Anyway, the core issue is not Banta Ram Ghera but the Dalit Identity Issue which is the subject matter of the ongoing debate.
It will not be out of place if I share with you get another pertinent comment made by one of friends, Chaman Lal, Retired Senior Executive of the PIB and the Editor of the Identity being published from Chandigarh. Chaman Lal wrote, “Very interesting dear Ramesh Chander ji! Very pertinent issue rose which requires a logical and reasoned debate! I shall like to comment sometime in the near future! But to put it briefly - we are, as a community, lost in the quagmire of selfish interests, ignorance and lost in our own created webs! Never disheartened, I look forward to a very considered and rational debate without being influenced by pulls and pressures on the issue of Identity or no identity and 'socio-economic' status of our people as a class which you have touched towards the end of your very sagaciously done write up! I feel honoured that you counted me among the individuals deserved to be addressed on a very sensitive point concerning our community/people! I presuppose that we take into account our pre-independence state of affairs vis a vis our social and economic status in the post independence era! With the best regards.”
|Joginder Baghe with Sukhdev Baghmare|
Yet another friend, Retired IRS Joginder Baghe of Mumbai who is privy to, I understand, the thinking of the Dera Sachkhand Ballan on the subject wrote and I quote him in full as he has added to the debate meaningfully, “Thanks Ramesh Chander saheb 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 powerful 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 Buddhist have now started propaganda to ask all chamars to come under Buddhism.
2) Adi- Dharma was a great concept from our revered and respected Mangu Ram Mugowalia, 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 high jacked 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.
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 existence 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 of above, I feel that all need to associate 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 nowhere 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. Let’s see the reality & think nationally & not confine to Dera Politics of Punjab.”
The debate continues and it is good for all of us to consider the matter dispassionately and decide before it gets too late. We should avoid foul mouthing and acrimony among ourselves i.e. the Ad-dharmis, Ravidassia Religionists and the Buddhists. The question of identity and due space and share in the polity and society of India, to my mind, has the following broad options in the given situation. I take the liberty of sharing it here without any intention of ruffling the feelings of any of the stake holders in this process:
Possibilities of getting separate identity as non-Hindus and Non-Sikhs as Ad-dharmis and/or Ravidassia are bleak in the present statutory and constitutional arrangements. We will remain what we are – a divided lot that is what our tormentors and oppressors want. We are to formulate and shape our responses to defend and protect our interests and concerns while following the missions and teaching of Guru Ravidass, Guru Granth Sahib, Satguru Kabir, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Periyar Ramaswamy. Manyawar Kanshi Ram while remaining with the main stream of Hindus and the Sikhs. It also goes with the old dictum that ‘one remains as one is’ i.e. in whatever religion one is born; he/she retains that identity. In this case, the tyranny of the Manuwadi system is bound to stay for a long time to come. The option of Ravidassia Religion and Ad-dharamis are not viable and tenable in the prevailing dispensation and situation. Moreover, the proponents of these proposals both the Dera Sachkhand Balland and All India Ad-dharam Movement neither have the requisite strength and wherewithal to take the proposal to its culmination. Merely raising the dust will not do to justify their own projections and ego. Above all, these proposals are divisive and go against the agenda of power sharing as equal partners in the polity and society.
Acquire separate identity as Buddhists as advised and followed by our icon Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar after an in depth study and deep contemplation. Buddhism is a rational and liberal religion. Ambedkar was dead against any dogmatic fundamentalism. Under the over-all umbrella of Buddhism, one may remain informally a Ravidassia/Ad-dharmi/Balmiki, Kabirpanthi/Mazhabi and so on, if they feel there is any need to do so. Coming to the advantages and disadvantages of the above mentioned options, let me add – the first option of harping on Ravidassia Religion/Ad-dharam identity will keep us divided and marginalized segments of the main stream of the society as Hindus or Sikhs. There will be no spiritual and political salvation to redress our age old grievances and redeem our social dignity. There is no light visible at the end of the tunnel of Manuwadi social system. It will remain so for a long time to come in spite of legal and constitutional provisions made in this regard. It is a hard ground reality which has to be accepted. The second viable option is conversion to Buddhism. It will provide a dignified and internationally recognized and also indigenous identity as very cogently and convincingly explained by Babasaheb Ambedkar at the time of embracing Buddhism in October, 1956 and in his various sermons and speeches on the subject. This suggestion is based on the existing formulations and practices in the Indian society – Hindus and Sikhs are Nirankaris, Radha Soamis, Namdharis, Insans of Ram Rahim Singh, Arya Samajis etc. – Christians are Protestants, Catholics, Evangelists, Jehovas etc – Muslims are Syeds, Ahmedias, Tabliqis, Debbandis etc. Frankly, most of the Buddhists, as in the main stream of the society already follow this entrenched social pattern in their daily lives consciously or sub-consciously while confessing their Buddhist identity. There is no harm in that as religion and its practice is a personal matter in a multi-cultural and secular society of India. Both Buddhist Identity and Ambedkarite Agenda are potent enough to take care of our unity to vouch for our political concerns and aspirations as visualized by our icons and forefathers both spiritual and political.
We need to consider these humble submissions with all sincerity. I intend no ill will and acrimony against anyone and take the liberty of sharing my thoughts as clearly as possible as a humble and small cog in the wheel of the community.