Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Facilitating Dalit Enterprises – SCEEF


Facilitating Dalit Enterprises – SCEEF    

Some years ago, Dalit business enthusiasts of Punjab with the support and encouragement of RSS, launched a facilitating and advisory outfit named - Scheduled Caste Entrepreneur Empowerment Forum - SCEEF with a motive to initiate SC entrepreneurs to start their own businesses rather than hankering after jobs. The idea was to make them aware of the government plans and schemes to provide finances and necessary technical back up to help dalit business men to start their own businesses both in manufacturing and trading. It was thought that SCEEF would interact with the governmental agencies like NSIC, SC Hub, MSME, various export promotion agencies, agencies dealing with

government procurement among others and facilitate 'Start Ups' initiated by SCs. SCEEF, it was a matter of satisfaction, did some good work to begin with but soon developed some lethargy and lost direction. I am was one of the founders of SCEEF and later worked with them as Advisor/Patron. Rajesh Bagha, Former Chairman of Punjab SC Commission and BJP leader, Social Activist Jiwan Singh of LIC, RSS Activists Dr. Varinder Garg and Banbeer Singh among others were instrumental in the exercise to establish SCEEF. I am not formally affiliated either with RSS or BJP. But I try to be open minded to associate and work with anyone for the empowerment of the weaker sections of the society particularly of the dalit communities. Sometimes some of my friends suspect my motivation in this regard but I take this in stride. In the process, of late, I mentioned to Rajesh Bagha that we should energize SCEEF for the benefit of our SC brethren as it would also serve their political agenda by engaging with the SC communities. Their bosses in the BJP and RSS, I think, are not oblivious of the fact that apolitical people like me are sure to face stiff opposition and criticism in dalit communities owing to historical reasons and ground realities. But as one who believes in Samrasta and cohesiveness in the society, I volunteer to accept the challenge in the larger interests of the community and the society at large.

With this background, Rajesh Bagha and his associates arranged a meeting of SCEEF at Seva Dham in Chandigarh on March 18 and invited me to the meeting. I was reluctant to accept the invitation but Rajesh was keen to see me there and I relented. One of the participants in the meeting from Amritsar, Dr. Jatinder Kumar and his associate Sameer Pandit picked me up on the way from Jalandhar for the meeting in Chandigarh. It was a well attended meeting by about 100 participants from all over Punjab. The exercise turned out

to be a good attempt to catch up with the situation and revive the business and economic aspects of the SCEEF with the underlying current of political and social ambitions of Rajesh Bagha and others like Former Chief Parliamentary Secretary Avinash Chander, Paramjit Singh Kainth of National SCs Alliance, Rohit Sonkar of Dalit Helpline, Jai Singh Phillore , inter alia. RSS Activist and OSD to Union Minister of Health, Dr. Varinder Garg, based in Chandigarh, also participated in the meeting.

Rajesh Bagha set the ball in motion by his opening remarks underlying the need to activate the SCEEF and address the issue of Post-Matric Scholarship to SC students. Paramjit Kainth spoke about their struggle for the release of held up degrees and scholarships of SC students and asserted that SCs should stand up and fight for their due space in the administrative and governance structures. He also added that we should not shy away from RSS, if they were doing something good for the marginalized segments of the society. Avinash Chander spoke with conviction and focused on the need to attract our youth to join businesses. He fully supported SCEEFs agenda to facilitate sourcing of much needed finances from different government agencies under existing plans. He referred to Guru Ravidass Temple at Tughlakabad in Delhi and demanded BJP and RSS should see to it that a grand temple was built at the historic site to assuage the ruffled feelings of dalit communities. Social Activist Jai Singh Phillaur felt that it was utmost necessary to do our best to bring about cohesiveness in the society by economic and social integration. Dr. Varinder Garg in his brief intervention said that it was time to realize the mission of Guru Ravidass and Babasahib Ambedkar by empowering the weaker sections of the society. Some of the speakers appreciated the BJP mind to make a dalit CM of Punjab, with almost 40% dalit population, as no other party did it so far. I was asked to close the meeting by summing up the proceedings. I underlined the importance of economic wellbeing alongside the social empowerment of the community and appreciated the endeavors of SCEEF in this regard. As regards the scholarship issue, I suggested that the blame game between the governments and the colleges for timely release of money may be ended by some sort of arrangements like ESCROw account for timely payments. I also referred to the CMs position in Punjab and added that nobody could make anybody CM. It has to be earned and grabbed by own one’s own strength. We must learn from the saga of Babu Jagjivan Ram. There would, always, be many Charan Singhs sitting in the wings to disturb the applecart. Referring to the role and importance of RSS as one of the biggest organizations of the world in bringing about Samrastain the society, I urged the bosses in the RSS to ensure that much needed visibility in their actions and involvement with the matters of empowerment of dalits was introduced to engage with the community to address their fears, doubts and concerns and particularly mentioned the two issues on which positive action would send a right message as a ‘symbolic value – i) Guru Ravidass Temple at Tughlakabad in Delhi which was earlier referred to by Avinash Chander and ii) the proposal on April 14, birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, to be declared as International Day of Equality which is resting with the Ministry of External Affairs of India since June, 2015. Concluding the remarks, I added that the catchword for success of dalit communities rested with the dictum: United we stand and Divided we fall

तू पहले बात फिर बात का अंदाज़ पैदा कर ;

फिर दुनिया में तुझे  कोई नज़र अंदाज़ कर नहीं सकता !

Monday, March 15, 2021

Prof. Baldev Singh Narang – An Obituary


Prof. Baldev Singh Narang – An Obituary

A Guru of Shastria Sangeet – Indian Classical Music, Prof. Baldev Singh Narang of Jalandhar passed away on March 2, 2021 at an age of about 75. The news of his demise came as a shock to the music lovers and cultural circles of Jalandhar and beyond. Ustad Baldev Singh Narang, who was popularly called Guruji, was a much respected and acclaimed personality in the world of classical music not only in India but abroad too. I did not know him personally till 2008. One of my cousins, Gurdial Mahey of Birmingham in the UK,

With Prof. Baldev Narang and Sangat Ram

brought him to India House, my official residence in Edinburg in Scotland, sometime in 2008 when I was the Consul General of India there. They stayed with as house-guests. Only then I could know that Narang Sahib was a vocalist of his own standing. He regaled us for several evenings with his classical singing over the readily available  Keyboard at our home over lovely and enjoyable relaxed atmosphere in the summer of Edinburgh. One evening I took him and Gurdial to a cultural function of the Indian community where I was the Guest of Honour. Judging the mood of the audience, I suggested to the organizers to listen to my guest Baldev Singh Narang and they immediately accommodated him in the programme. Oh my goodness, Narang Sahib did the trick and made the audience spell bound with his masterly performance. It was a rewarding occasion. Later on my retirement, I came back to my roots in Jalandhar and developed close relationship with Narang Sahib. He

was the soul and heart of the cultural life, particularly music, in Jalandhar.  During his life time, I was told, he was conferred with all important awards and recognitions in the field of classical music and rendition. Narang Sahib was Head of the Music Department in the local DAV College and taught music with authority and involvement. Some of the prominent singers like Hans Raj Hans, Jasbir Jassi, Sarabjit Cheems, Master Slim, Balkar Sidhu among others benefited from the training and teaching of Ustad Narang and earned laurels in their profession and career. An establish music master, Tejwant Kittu is also a student of the Guru Narang.  Baldev Narang remained a much acclaimed performer at the legendary Harballabh Sangeet Mela at Jalandhar for many years and later remained with the management of the Mela as an adviser and patron.

It was a matter of great satisfaction and pride that Baldev Narang was a son of the soil belonging to Nakodar. Music was running in his veins as his father Pandit Kesar Chand was a musician himself who initiated Baldev his son to the realm of classical music. The son made him proud with his musical prowess. The Antim Ardas of Guru Baldev Narang was held on March 14 at Guru Ravidass Bhawan in Jalandhar in which the Who’s Who of the cultural and musical life of Jalandhar and around was present to pay tributes to the departed soul and rightly so. The fragrance of the classical music was floating around as Alama Iqbal had said:

Uthaye Kuch Waraq Lale Ne, Kuch Nargis Ne, Kuch Gul Ne
Chaman Mein Har Taraf Bikhri Huwi Hai Dastan Meri

(Some leaves were picked up by the tulip, some by the narcissus, some by the rose
My story is scattered around everywhere in the garden)

Urha Li Qumriyon Ne, Tootiyon Ne, Andleebon Ne
Chaman Walon Ne Mil Kar Loot Li Tarz-e-Faghan Meri

(The turtle‐doves, parrots, and nightingales pilfered away
The garden’s denizens jointly robbed away my plaintive way)


On reading my blog, One of close friends in Jalandhar, Principal Jagdish Joshi himself a poet of standing with many books to his credit informed me that he was a close friend of Ustad Baldev Narang with regard to their cultural and intellectual pursuits. Narang Sahib sang Joshi Sahib's at least 8 Gazals which were available on YouTube. He recited on phone the Matla (opening line) of one the Gazals sung by Ustad  Narang which is worth sharing to salute both the masters - Joshi and Narang in respect of their respective skills and prowess of writing and singing:

कोई पत्थर खुदा नहीं होता ;

खुदा खुद खुदा नहीं होता!


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Guru Ravidass Gurpurab at Bootan Mandi Jalandhar – My Musings


Guru Ravidass Gurpurab at Bootan Mandi Jalandhar – My Musings

Bootan Mandi, native place of well to do followers of Guru Ravidass in Jalandhar, has traditionally been the nerve centre of activities pertaining to dalits not only in Punjab but also throughout India and beyond. For the past hundred years or so, as per oral history, Guru Ravidass’s Janam Dihada (Jayanti/Gurpurab) is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety here with traditional Jaloos (Shoba Yatra or Nagar Kirtan) starting from Bootan Mandi which terminates back at Bootan Mandi after covering a long route of about 10 km. through the important thoroughfares of the town. The traditional Tamak – Big

Traditional Drum - Tamak

Drum/Nagada leads the Yatra to announce the arrival of the Shoba Yatra which is generally played by men. This year, it was gratifying to note that young ladies were doing the honour, a handsome tribute to the lofty philosophy of the Gurus and our constitution giving equal status to the women folk and rightly so.

Over the years, the Disha and Dasha (shape and scope) of the two day celebrations at Bootan Mandi, have been evolving to meet the fast changing scenario of not only social and economic status of the dalits in the region and beyond but also the emerging political clout which dalits are holding, thanks to the efforts and struggle of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia and Manyawar Kanshi Ram. In the early years, these celebrations used to be a simple spiritual manifestation of the followers of Guru Ravidass in the region under the influence of Ad-dharm Mandal of Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia and Sants like Sarwan Dass of Dera Ballan on the out-skirts of Jalandhar and Hira Dass of  Dera Chak Hakim  near Phagwara among others. Babasaheb Ambedkar appeared on the scene and his visit to Bootan Mandi in October, 1951 and growing economic well being of leather merchants of the area tended to change the direction towards political orientation to the celebrations. Dalit youth of the area started taking interest and provided positive inputs. The celebrations became more educative and an exercise in generating awareness by way of organizing Kavi-Darbars, bringing out of souvenirs, printing and exchanging greeting cards, decorating and decking the entire route of the Jaloos – Shoba Yatra with colouful banners, arches, buntings etc. beginning  the mid 1960s. I may add with a sense of belonging and satisfaction that I as a young student fully associated with these activities and held the position of

Shobha Yatra, 2021

General Secretary of Guru Ravidass Welfare Society of Bootan Mandi for many successive years in the latter half of 1960s and my younger brother Paramjit held the fort for almost 10 years later. The increasing economic and social clout of young and successful businessmen of Bootan Mandi like Sat Paul Mal, Surinder Mahey who also rose to be the Mayor of Jalandhar, Manohar Mahey, Prem Shant, Mool Raj, Avinash Chander who also remained Chief Parliamentary Secretary in successive Akali Governments, inter alia, added to the pomp and show of the celebrations of Gurpurab and other related events. The two Gurudwaras in the Mohalla were given a facelift with added facilities befitting to the sites. The Bootan Mandi two-day annual celebrations were virtually turned into a huge mela on the calendar of events of the city towards the end of the century and first decade of the 21st century. All political leaders of standing felt obliged to come and pay obeisance at Guru Ravidass Dham, join the Shoba Yatra, join the spiritual darbars and register their presence at the much awaited and acclaimed Sangeet Darbar to conclude the ceremonies. The list of singers at the Sangeet Darbar, the climax
Shri Guru Ravidass Dham Bootan Mandi

event, reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the cultural and musical fraternity from Narinder Biba to Hans Raj Hans to Master Saleem to Noora Sisters (their gread mother Bibi Nooran belonged to Bootan Mandi) to Ginni Mahi and all other top-notch singers of Punjab, with the catch phrase -  Bootan Mandi Ajao Jene Dekhana Nazara eh ( Come to Bootan Mandi to enjoy). Hans Raj Hans even improvised the famous Punjabi lore, Mahia and said – Do Patar Anaran De; Jis Sanu Milana Hove – Behde Ajae Chamaran De. The importance of Bootan Mandi may be gauged from the fact that icons and  leaders like Ambedkar, Mangoo Ram, Joginder Nath Mandal, Jagjivan Ram, swaran Singh, Nijlangappa, Chand Ram, B.P. Maurya, Kanshi Ram, Mayawati, I.K. Gujral, L.K. Advani, Ram Nath Kovind, Ram Bilas Paswan, almost all CM’s of Punjab among others visited Bootan Mandi at one occasion or the other.

The glory of Guru Ravidass Jayanti kept on increasing with spontaneous participation of lakhs and lakhs of followers of Guru Ravidass and also merry makers to enjoy the Mela and celebrations over the year. But every good thing also has a negative side, it is said. The Mela aspect of the event is gaining strength and currency in tandem with the rising profile of the community in general. But the agenda and purpose of the event got diluted beginning the decade of

Book stall at Gurpurab Mela

2020. Personal rivalry, jealousy, family quarrels, decreasing economic profile of the so called Seths of Bootan Mandi and also rising political profile of Akalis, BJP, AAP to replace the traditional stronghold of Congress and Republican Party/BSP etc. The Gurpurab is celebrated as it used to be but the underlying current indicated that it was losing steam under the self-appointed leadership of spent forces that is ‘Chale Hue Kartoos’ in Punjabi parlance. They are full of ego and don’t want to pass on the baton to the younger generation with sheer vested motives. It is a matter of concern to many like me who have emotional attachment and sense of belonging not only to Bootan Mandi but also to the lofty ideals and philosophy of the great Guru. These are my personal views which I decided to share with my fellow Bootan Mandians and the community at large though with a lot of remorse and pain. I have no intension to criticize or oppose anybody individually or collectively. The sole motivation to write this piece is to raise an early alarm before the situation worsens and the glory of my native place Bootan Mandi which is called the ‘Capital of Dalits’; informally, is damaged. I pray to Guru Ravidass to bless us with soul and mind to understand and arrest the decline in our thinking and approach and enable us to rectify the situation in the larger interests of the area and the community at large. Let us be tolerant. Let us learn from each other. Let us encourage the younger generation to come forward and take over. The sooner the better. With these humble submissions, I conclude with a quote from Allama Iqbal’s nazam:

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

Jalana Hai Mujhe Har Shama-e-Dil Ko Souz-e-Pinhan Se
Teri Tareek Raaton Mein Charaghan Kar Ke Chorun Ga

I have to light every heart’s candle with hidden pathos
I will surely create bright illumination in your darkness

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