Punjab is burning. The Dalits are at the street. The government is seeking peace and every one is amused why the Dalits have taken to the street. Some are amused as why attack on Sant Niranjan Dass, head of Dera Guru Ravidas Sachkhand Balan and death of Sant Ramanand could spark such violent protest in Punjab. Unfortunately, they forget to understand the first question itself as why such Deras face attack by the fundamentalist Sikh groups. Is it because these Deras have provided a glimpse of hope and identity to a massive Dalit population in Punjab? Is it also not true that these Deras are also giving the upper caste Sikhs a run for their money and power?
Problem is in our perception about Punjab as a casteless society where Sikhism grew. The fact is that inspite of great preaching in the Guru Granth Saheb and their own sacrifices, the leadership that emerged in Punjab is upper caste dominated feudal Sikhs. And they have used the Gurudwaras for their political purposes. The Dalits were just not wanted in these Gurudwars. After the Ravidasis and Majahabis also started creating their own temples, the problem started growing. The slogan of ‘Guru Ravidas Mahraj ki Jai’ reverberate in these Gurudwaras and perhaps that is considered to be a challenge to mainstream Sikhism. It’s the question of identity. It is unfortunate that like Churches, Gurudwaras are also caste based. Once I happen to travel to Uganda and found that there was Gurudwaras for Ramdasis, for Jat Sikhs and for Ravidasis. It clearly means that despite converting to other religions and leaving your country, Indians are deeply rooted in their caste prejudices and have every power to demolish the powerful preaching of Gurus. When the preaching of the great people become issue of identity by their community people, the oppressed would also search for the similar identities and Punjab and elsewhere, the Dalit’s quest for identity can not be negated and discounted. Interestingly, the ‘experts’ from Punjab rarely brought this facts out how the agrarian community of upper caste Sikhs in Punjab has developed deep rooted prejudices and contempt towards the Dalits and the marginalized.
Punjab, they say, represent India’s pride, a state that changed us from a food importing country to a food sufficient country. Punjab, the state of green revolution, though many of us always questioned this. Yet, long back, I mentioned in one of my long notes that Punjab’s green revolution actually strengthened the feudal values. Feudalism is not just enemy of egalitarian values but thoroughly against nature and environment. Today, the beautiful land of Punjab have no water ( water level has depleted) and the mustered field have been replaced for cash crops and big wedding points and shopping malls which show the ‘growth’ rate of Punjab.
While none can condone the violence and burning of trains, the fact is, this incident in Vienna has happened at a time when we are still analyzing our poll results. Our national and international media suggested that India is now looking forward for a ‘progressive’ government, and that the current verdict was against ‘regionalism’, and casteism. Paradoxically, just a few days back, in the review committee meeting of World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia, the international agencies, civil society organizations, governments failed to address the issue of caste. Despite much hype created in Durban about the discrimination based on caste, the government of India ensured that nothing happens on this front.
But then old habits die hard. Those, whose lives have been based on purity of castes, do not really change even when they go abroad. Those who believe in superiority of a particular race do not change even staying in countries where they enjoy freedom and civil liberties. Two most important and visible communities of India in abroad are from Gujarat and Punjab. Both these states are supposed to be growing with a growth rate more than our central figures. Both these states are fantastic for ‘investors’ and are providing ‘stable’ governments yet they are far behind the national figure of male female ratio. While the Muslims in Gujarat are still far boycotted and Dalits completely on the margins in the absence of a popular Dalit movement there, in Punjab the situation is different. Sikhism was actually a way of life which revolted against the caste hierarchies. Guru Granth Saheb is perhaps the only holy book where you have ‘sabad’ and kirtans of different Sufi Saints including Kabir, Ravidas, Dadu, Nanak and Jaisi. Yet, like every other revolution, the Sikkhism itself became victim of the hierarchical system as the Jats hijacked the social justice agenda of Sikhism. The agenda then turned to Sikh identity ignoring the demands and assertions of the Dalits, mostly the Majhabis and Ravidasis.