Dalits in India are merely seen as a political group; but when we use the word Dalit, we get an image of a social warrior. On a closer look, we find that in addition to being a socio-political group, Dalits are also quite cultural. Yet, a few western scholars are of the opinion that Dalits do not possess any culture of their own.
Two-three years back, with the help of a research team from GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, I had conducted a study of popular Dalit religious and cultural sects of four states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. These sects included the Kabir panth, Satnaami panth and the Mahima dharma. It was quite astonishing to see during the research that the daily lives of Dalits – their behaviour, intelligence and folk knowledge – developed mostly under the influence of these sects.
While interviewing Dalit groups residing in various villages across the four states, it was observed, quite surprisingly, that Kabir, Ravidas, Guru Ghasidas and Mahima Swami featured prominently in many of their songs and stories. The influence of Swami Achhutanand of the Aadi Hindu Panth is visible on the consciousness of these Dalits. Their rituals, from birth to death, their spiritual thoughts, are all inspired by the ideologies of these saints and traditional sects.
Though it is said that saints do not belong to any particular caste, it is also seen that numerous saints of the Dalit and backward castes – like Ravidas, Dhana and Peepa – were born during the Bhakti period. The Bhakti saints spread feelings of self-respect and humanity, which largely influenced the Dalit culture.
At the same time, Dr BR Ambedkar played a great role in arousing a democratic culture among Dalits. Ambedkar taught them lessons of democracy and encouraged them to become a democratic social group, by adhering to constitutional norms. He taught them how to become responsible citizens and how to develop amicable relations with the state.
This way, it becomes clear that the development of social and cultural consciousness among the Dalits was inspired by reformist sects and by Ambedkar. We can say that they were the decisive elements of their consciousness and that the entire Dalit consciousness is made by the association of these two elements. Thus, political parties who try and understand the Dalit consciousness only through the eyes of Ambedkar might be a drawback.
In the absence of any of the two, it is not possible to understand the Dalit consciousness and the structure of their inner self in a wholesome manner. Many organisations, like the Republican Party of India, who wish to understand Dalits only through the Ambedkarvaadi lens or want to engage in polarisation around Ambedkar, may show little signs of success.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder in Uttar Pradesh, Shri Kanshi Ram, understood this fact. For this reason, he attended and delivered his speech at the Ramnavmi fair in Chattisgarh, where Dalits thronged in huge numbers. He also worked with the Satnamis and developed the Bahujan leadership.
Simultaneously, he also associated himself with Ambedkar’s symbol and actively visited Ambedkar fairs. He gave importance to Ambedkar’s ideology, albeit in a selective manner. Though his opinions on various issues were in contrast to that of Ambedkar's, he still developed his own brand of pragmatic politics.
A point came in Kanshi Ram’s life when, due to huge pressure of Ambedkarite intellectuals and groups, he even thought of embracing Buddhism. Though he was in favour of doing so, he never managed to do this in his lifetime. Kanshi Ram knew very well that in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and also in other parts of India, the maximum share of the Dalit population were Kabirpanthi or Ravidasi. He understood that if he embraced Buddhism, it might have a bad effect on the party's politics as they would lose their symbolic power of getting associated with these sects.
Current BSP supremo Mayawati, who politically grew under Kanshi Ram's guidance, has always revered the saints and gurus of Dalit society and this has been one of the biggest reasons behind the accomplishments of her party. But of late, there has been a decrease in the use of names of Dalit saints and gurus in the party's discussions. It needs to be understood why this has happened.
Not only do popular sects like Kabirpanth and Ravidas panth arouse cultural consciousness among the Dalits, they also play a crucial role in the making of their political consciousness. Today, Dalits are rapidly being transformed into a democratic group and the ground for this has been prepared through the intervention of these popular reformist sects.
The seeds of democratic desire were sown by Ambedkar on this ground. The Dalits' democratic aspirations for self-respect, humanity, equality and freedom from the bondage of the caste shackles took birth under the influence of these very sects.
During the research in the aforementioned states, it was seen that the Dalits always want to become democratic citizens by walking hand in hand with the state and constitution. They do not want to get involved in any violence or conflict. They want to become democratic citizens, who have their own political voice.
Kanshi Ram was also aware of this fact. On being asked about the expansion of his politics in Bihar, he replied that their politics cannot survive in a place where there is an influence of arms and ammunition. He somewhere knew that the Dalit mind is a democratic one and can be polarised only in a democratic manner.
It was observed many times during the research that the followers and devotees residing in the Kabir panth and Ravidas ashrams, and those participating in the Ravidas fairs, took part in political discussions after offering their evening prayers and after completing their religious rites and rituals. In a Kabir panth ashram in Rewa, one can see Ambedkar’s poster on the wall adjacent to a poster of Kabir.
These sects not only develop religious, spiritual consciousness among the Dalits, but also arouse positive social consciousness among them. Hence, it becomes clear that people who place Ambedkar against these sects or vice versa do not fully understand Dalit aspirations, dreams and their consciousness.
Published Date: Feb 04, 2017 16:03 PM | Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 16:03 PM