1500 Scholarships for Students with Disabilities


National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC), for and on behalf of Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Govt. of India, invites applications from Students with Disabilities for award of
Scholarship under the following two Scholarship Schemes :-

1. Scholarship Scheme (Trust Fund) :-
 Under this scheme, 1000 Scholarships will be awarded to eligible students with disabilities for degree and post graduate level professional and technical courses from recognized institutions in India.

 Applicants may apply any time in academic year for scholarship under this scheme. Scholarships will be awarded on quarterly basis for the applications received in preceding quarter. Under this scheme, an advance copy of application should also be submitted online by the candidate ..

 Reimbursement of Non-Refundable fees restricted to the limit of fee of similar courses in Government/ Government –aided institutions. Maintenance allowance will be paid to the students for 10 months @ Rs.
2500/ per month for Professional Graduate Courses and Rs.3000/- per month for Professional Post- Graduate Courses in one academic year.

 Books/Stationery allowance will be paid to students pursuing Professional Graduate Courses @ Rs.6,000/ per annum and Rs.10,000/- per annum for pursuing Professional Post-Graduate Courses.

 Visual and hearing differently-abled students in addition will be provided financial assistance for purchase of aids & appliances (only once during life time).

 Monthly income of the beneficiary /parent or guardian should not be more than Rs.25,000/- (Rs. 3.00 Lakh p.a.) from all sources. Family income includes income of parent/guardian.

2. Scholarship Scheme (National Fund):-
 Under this scheme, 500 National Scholarships will be awarded to eligible students with disabilities for pursuing higher academic/professional or technical qualification.

 Applicants has to apply for scholarship before 31-8-2011 and scholarship shall be awarded once in a Academic year under this scheme.

 Scholarship of Rs.1000/-p.m. for hostellers and Rs.700/-p.m. for day scholars studying in professional courses at graduation and above level, and Rs.700/-p.m. for hostellers and Rs.400/-p.m. for day scholars
pursuing Diploma/Certificate level professional courses. Course fee reimbursed upto ceiling of Rs.10,000/- per year.

 Financial assistance can be given for computer with editing software for blind/deaf graduate and post graduate students pursuing professional courses and for support access software for cerebral palsy

 Monthly income of the beneficiary/parent or guardian should not be more than Rs.15,000/ – (Rs. 1.80 Lakh p.a.) from all sources. Family income includes income of parent/guardian.

How to apply :-
The applications for scholarship in prescribed format along with requisite documents duly countersigned and recommended by the Head of the Institution, where they are studying, should reach to: National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC), Red Cross Bhawan, Sector-12, Faridabad-121007.

Note :- Only one Scholarship out of the two Scholarship Schemes shall be granted to the eligible candidates if he has applied under both the Scholarship Schemes.

For further details, please visit website of NHFDC “nhfdc97

URL: http://www.nhfdc.nic.in/upload/nhfdc/Advertisement%20SCholarship-2011-12.pdf

The Creamy Layer Sans Cream

The Creamy Layer Sans Cream Which creamy layer are we talking about when there is just one Secretary from the Scheduled Castes in the Central government?
PS Krishnan

After a gap of many years a Balmiki boy, the son of a Group ii Scheduled Caste (SC) officer, has made it to the recent batch of the Indian Administrative Service. This flowering in a blue moon would have been nipped in the bud in case Group ii SC officers’ children were made ineligible for reservation by applying the ‘creamy layer’ concept.
Of the hundred-odd secretaries in the Government of India, there is only one from the SCs, which is even less than what it was 10 years ago, and only two from the Scheduled Tribes (ST). At present when no SC or ST is excluded as creamy layer, the posts reserved for them — 15 percent and 7.5 percent respectively at the Centre — are far from being filled in Group a and b posts even after about six decades. The number of ST employees is below the quota even in Groups c and d. Excluding some as creamy layer will only further reduce the present below-par SC and ST numbers in government jobs, in violation of the basic constitutional principles of Equality, Social Equality, Social Justice and Reservations.
The idea of Socially Advanced Persons/Sections (SAPS), popularly known as the creamy layer, can conceptually arise only in respect of castes/communities identified on the basis of social backwardness, viz the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBDC), better known as the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). SCs have been identified not on the basis of social backwardness but something much more degrading — ‘Untouchability’. The creamy layer concept cannot be applied to those whose marker is not social backwardness in the first place. The transition required for SCs is from untouchability to non-untouchability, not from social backwardness to social advancement. Given that even SC civil servants experience untouchability, that process is far from over. Similarly, STs have been identified on the basis of tribal ethnicity and distinct cultural traits, not social backwardness.
The majority judgement in the Indra Sawhney (Mandal) case has described the inegalitarian “four-tier (chaturvarnya) system” of Indian society, by which “the outcastes (Panchamas), the lowliest” and the Sudras, also lowly, “though certainly better than the Panchamas,” were left at great disadvantage. The judgement read, “The lowliness attached to them (Sudras and Panchamas) by virtue of their birth in these castes is unconnected with their deeds. There was to be no deliverance from this social stigma, except perhaps death. They were condemned to be inferior. All lowly, menial and unsavoury occupations were assigned to them — this was a phenomenon peculiar to this country.”

The transition required for the SCs is from untouchability to non-untouchability, not from social backwardness to social advancement

The SCs are the Panchamas of old. There is no dearth of statistics and data of the continuing deprivation, humiliation and exploitation of the SCs even today. From my experience of over 50 years all over India, I can say that untouchability continues to be virulent to this day, often culminating in inhuman atrocities. Three news-reports and other reports in October alone (in Kadkol village in Karnataka’s Bijapur District, Kherlanji village in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district, and in Punjab’s Mansa village) describe the infliction of gang rapes, massacres, social and economic boycott on SCs.
We must look at the history of the advancement of the upper castes for a contextual look for any debate on reservations and the creamy layer. Attracted by the prospect of employment under the British, the upper castes began to avail themselves of English education from the mid-19th Century. Their standards of education then were nowhere near their standards today. The first two Indian graduates, including Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, had to be given grace marks to enable them to pass. Thereafter, from generation to generation they progressed, each generation standing on the shoulder of the previous one, and that is how they have risen to their present level of eminence. Simultaneously, by collective force they prevented/delayed the entry of lower castes into even primary schools. The caste-based monopoly thus built up was dented when, from 1902 to 1935, reservations were introduced in the Presidencies and princely states for Backward Classes and SCs, and later on all-India basis in the Constitution in 1950.
The process by which the upper castes progressed has now to be made available in full without impediment for the SCs, the STs as well as the OBCs. Reservations are an instrument to enable them to rise to the level of today’s upper castes. To prematurely interrupt this process with new impediments would militate against the achievement of the Constitutional goal of Social Justice, to bring about Equality in all fields and at all levels. Reservations are thus part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It must be remembered that we are talking here about the fundamental rights of about 70 percent of India’s population and, through their full development, India’s optimal progress.
The judgement of a five-member Supreme Court bench on October 19, 2006 on the writ petitions of M. Nagaraj and others focused on the validity of the Constitutional amendment that restored reservations to SCs and STs in promotion. The judgement was understood by almost all of the media, civil society and political circles as the first ever judicial direction to exclude the creamy layer from the ambit of reservation for SCs and STs in government jobs, in both recruitment and promotion.
The concept of excluding the creamy layer was first expounded by a nine-member Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court in 1992 in the Indra Sawhney (Mandal) case pertaining to reservation for the OBCs in Central government employment, in which it laid down that “this discussion is confined to the OBCs and has no relevance in the case of STs and SCs”. It directed that “the Government of India shall specify the bases to exclude socially advanced persons/sections (creamy layer) from OBCs”.
It is thus clear that according to the nine-member Constitution bench, the creamy layer concept does not apply to SCs and STs. A five-member bench of the court, as in the M. Nagaraj case, cannot overrule the judgement of a larger bench and cannot extend the creamy layer-based rule of exclusion to SCs and STs. The Nagaraj judgement rightly says that “we are bound by the decision in Indra Sawhney”, which applies to this too.
There are two voices partly or wholly differing from the predominant understanding of the import of Nagaraj. Writing in The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said that the exclusion of the creamy layer from reservation for SCs and STs applied only to promotion and not to recruitment. More significantly, KV Viswanathan has written in The Hindu, “In the judgement in the Nagaraj case, it has not even been remotely suggested that the concept of creamy layer should apply to the SC.” He has drawn support from judgements in the EV Chinnaiah case (2005) and Mandal cases.
It may be useful here to quote from the Nagaraj judgement: “The State is not bound to make reservation for SC/ST in matter of promotions. However if they wish to exercise their discretion and make such provision, the State has to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment in addition to compliance of Article 335. It is made clear that even if the State has compelling reason, as stated above, the State will have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling limit of 50 percent or obliterate the creamy layer or extend the reservation indefinitely”.
There is room for the fear that this wording and context will enable anti-reservationists among the implementing authorities to go by the predominant interpretation (rather than Viswanathan’s) and issue orders imposing the concept of the creamy layer on SCs and STs. A precedent is the way in which a judgement on reservation in promotions in 1995 in Punjab was grossly misunderstood/misinterpreted, and the reservation roster was revised in 1997 to the disadvantage of the SCs and STs.
In view of this, in case the intention of the Supreme Court in the Nagaraj case and the correct import of that judgement is not to prescribe the exclusion of creamy layer from reservation for SCs and STs, I feel it is desirable that this is authoritatively clarified at the earliest. The filing of a review petition by one of the parties would be a long drawn-out affair. I have the greatest respect for the Supreme Court and its crucial position in strengthening the people’s confidence in Constitutional governance. To quickly terminate the raging controversy, it is respectfully submitted that the Supreme Court may like to consider undertaking a suo motu review, which can be done expeditiously, with the assistance of a fully knowledgeable amicus curiae, and remove the misunderstanding (if the predominant interpretation is a misunderstanding) and clarify that there is no direction in the Nagaraj judgement to apply the creamy layer concept to SCs and STs.
The Supreme Court has a history of making creative innovations in the interest of justice. A suo motu review could be another, using the opportunity for clarifications on certain other points too.
Krishnan advises the HRD ministry on reservations. These are his personal views

Post Box # 46,Mavelikara-690101
Mob- +91 99 46 75 71 78 / +91 8907704079

Dalits Media Watch – News Updates 14.09.11

Dalits Media Watch

News Updates 14.09.11

UNEQUAL TERMS – The Telegraph


Dalits stage protest in Madurai against police firing – The Hindu


Plea seeks CBI probe into firing – Deccan Chronicle


Dalits at the receiving end in Ramnad village – The Hindu


The Telegraph



Caste tensions, forgotten in the melee of growth, industrialization and self-righteous reformism, have once again forced their way to the forefront in Tamil Nadu. A recent clash between Dalits and the police in the southern district of Ramanathapuram has claimed seven lives in the state. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government, while justifying the police action against mob violence, has announced a judicial probe into the incident and ex-gratia relief for the dead. But this is unlikely to assuage Dalit sentiments, be it in the southern districts or anywhere in Tamil Nadu. Dalits in the state believe that the Dravidian movement, and the two main Dravidian parties that lay claim to this legacy, have served the interests of backward castes such as the Thevars, the Nadars and the Vanniyars, who are superior to Dalits in the caste hierarchy and who continue to oppress them. Even where Dalits have managed to overtake the upper castes by virtue of the State policy of reservations, the upper castes are seen to be denying them social equality by retaining the markers of social distance. The discontent has found expression in violent clashes between Dalits and Thevars in the south and between Dalits and Vanniyars in the north. The tragedy in Ramanathapuram, in fact, is the result of a chain reaction that started with the alleged killing of a Dalit youth by Thevars. The fact that the AIADMK was earlier seen as promoting the interests of Thevars has added to the Dalits’ sense of betrayal and could aggravate this particular situation unless the government is careful.

But it is not the Dravidian parties alone that have let the Dalits down. The peculiar nature of Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu itself has worked against Dalit interests. The Dalits in the state are so keen to hold on to their distinctive caste identities that a pan-Dalit movement seems almost impossible at this stage. Dalit leaders have also shamelessly traded their vote bank for electoral tickets from the main Dravidian parties. The intense competition among rival Dalit leaders for this captive vote bank could be behind the renewed aggression of Dalits in south Tamil Nadu. The government has to realize that it is not enough to keep Dalit leaders in good humour. It has to make a more serious effort to eradicate inequality, both economic and social, and to address Dalit grievances, both actual and felt.

The Hindu

Dalits stage protest in Madurai against police firing


Tamil Nadu Bureau

Chaos prevails at the Government Rajaji Hospital where slogans were raised

Hundreds of angry Dalits gathered at the Government Rajaji Hospital here on Sunday and raised slogans against the State government and the police for the firing on Dalits at Paramakudi in which five persons were killed.

Chaos prevailed at the hospital as the protesters raised slogans after six Dalit youths — Siva, 19, Paramasivam, 20, Senthil Murugan, 23, Chaturagiri, 22, Yaesu, 22, and Yogesh, 27, — who were injured in the Paramakudi firing and also at Chintamani in Madurai were brought to the GRH for further treatment.

Paramasivam had suffered a bullet injury on his head and is in a serious condition, according to hospital sources.

Two Dalits — Jayaprakash, 19, and Balakrishnan 19, — belonging to Pattam in Sivaganga district, were seriously injured in the police firing at Chintamani on the outskirts of Madurai.

Eyewitnesses said that they were travelling in an SUV sitting on top of the vehicle and when police intervened to stop them, they shouted against the police who shot at them.

Puthiya Tamilagam founder president and MLA K. Krishnasamy visited the hospital and met the injured youth.

Condemning the police firing as unwarranted, Dr. Krishnasamy demanded a thorough judicial enquiry and also said the firing could have been easily avoided by police. He said that he would raise the issue in the Assembly.

“I have been visiting Paramakudi for the last 22 years to pay respects to Immanuel Sekaran, but this time I was not able to go there as police prevented me at Parthibanallur and asked me not to visit the village as the situation was tense,” he said.

John Pandian’s arrest was made following the violation of the ban order imposed by the Ramnathapuram Collector. It was a preventive arrest only, police sources said.


In Tuticorin agitated over his arrest, some miscreants pelted stones at a vehicle at Vilathikulam. Seven persons were taken into police custody following the incident. Besides, some persons also intercepted a State-owned bus in Ottapidaram. Later, the driver was threatened not to ply further.

No untoward incident has been reported in Tirunelveli.


The police tightened security in Theni district in order to prevent any untoward incidents in the wake of police firing on Immanual Sekaran Memorial Day. The State and National Highways were brought under scrutiny and all checkposts were alerted. The police beefed up security at Kottur and Seelayampatti villages.


Security was tightened in Dindigul district also. Additional check posts were set up near Ammaianayakkanur on Madurai-Dindigul Highway, at Ghat Road near Batlagundu and on main road near Nilakottai .

A mishap

Meanwhile, grief gripped Sirunaickanur village near Ammaiyanaikkanur in the district as five supporters of Immanual Sekaran of this village were killed in a road accident near Samayanallur in Madurai district.

They were going to Paramakudi from their village to take part in the memorial day function.

Deccan Chronicle

Plea seeks CBI probe into firing


September 14, 2011

By AR. Meyyammai

DC A public interest litigation praying for a CBI enquiry into the police firing at Paramakudi, in which six persons were killed and several injured, and better treatment for necessary injured patients has been filed in the Madurai bench of Madras high court on Tuesday.

In his writ petition, advocate A.Murugan said though the Tamil Nadu government has ordered an enquiry into the firing incident by a former judge of the Madras high court, it is an incident in which the state is involved and the excesses of the state agency, that is, the police and its actions have to be probed into.

Hence, the matter should be handed over to the CBI, which is independent of the state, for a fair and proper investigation, he argued. The petitioner also added that a team of experienced officers from the CBI should investigate the matter within the shortest possible time as stated under the provisions of the SC\ST (prevention of atrocities) Rules, 1995.

He also prayed for a directive to the respective district collectors to make a personal visit to the hospitals along with a retired medical officer and assess each patient to provide better treatment to the required victims in private hospitals at the cost of the government and submit a report to the court in this regard.

About 150 people have been admitted in various hospitals and many more injured were unable to go to hospitals fearing further police action.

Mr Murugan also demanded grant of relief to the families of those killed and the injured in the firing as per the government order on law and order-communal\caste clashes according to which the kin of the deceased are entitled for Rs 2 lakh and the injured Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh.

Pointing out that dalits had gathered at Parama-kudi on the day to pay homage to their leader Immanuel on the occasion of his 54th death anniversary, he said the life history and the manner in which Sekaran was done to death are considered as great symbols in the history of dalit emancipation.

The Hindu

Dalits at the receiving end in Ramnad village


Special Correspondent

Denial of access to Pachery hamlet from Mandalamanickam, dominated by caste Hindus, is one of the grievances of Dalits belonging to the village of the murdered Dalit schoolboy.

Palanikumar, son of Thangavel of Pachery, a Dalit, was murdered by a gang on Saturday, a day before the Immanuel Sekaran Memorial Day. It was alleged that a gang of caste Hindus murdered him when he was returning to the village after watching a drama in Muthuramalingapuram. The immediate provocation for the murder was said to be the objectionable wall graffiti against a leader of the rival caste. Claiming that they were not responsible for the objectionable writing, the Dalits of Pachery village said the denial of access to a road via Mandalamanickam, the inaction of the official machinery and the successive governments to form an alternative route to the village (Pachery) from Kamudhi were the main reasons for the hostile relations between caste Hindus of Mandalamanickam and Pachery village for more than 30 years.

A. Marimuthu (65), leader of the village, told The Hindu that from Pachery to Mandalamanickam, which was about 500 to 700 meters, was the only motorable road to Kamudhi or Virudhunagar district.

No Dalit could cross the road without being humiliated by caste Hindus M. Sekar, another resident, said the petition presented to the successive Collectors and Ministers during the last 30 years went in vain. More than 50 students of the village were enrolled in a school at Anaikulam village in Virudhunagar district from Kamudhi due to the difficulty in reaching the school via Mandalamanickam.

The villagers also complained that a drinking well was poisoned by caste Hindus. When contacted V. Arun Roy, Collector, said the complaint of denial of access to road by the Mandalamanickam village was being probed. Steps would be taken to remove the bottleneck over laying a new road. Water supply was maintained to the village by tanker lorries and the Cauvery drinking water scheme. Meanwhile, an investigation revealed that the well was not poisoned.

Normality returning

Two days after the police firing that claimed the lives of six Dalits at Paramakudi, normality returned to most parts of the district on Tuesday except for stray incidents of buses being pelted with stones.

More than half the shops and business establishments remained open at Paramakudi. Bus services to most of the routes were resumed. However, there was no movement of buses to interior and sensitive locations in and around Paramakudi, Mudukulathur and Kamudhi. Similarly, bus service on NH 49 from Rameswaram to Madurai was also resumed with a small number of services.

According to a police report, more than 80 percent of the buses were operated on Tuesday. However, schools and colleges remained closed in and around Paramakudi. Some schools in other parts of the district resumed their operations on Tuesday. Superintendent of Police Kaliraj S. Mahesh Kumar told The Hindu that more than 4000 policemen had been deployed at various places in the district.

മടവൂരിലേത് ആസൂത്രിത സംഘര്‍ഷം


GURU RAVIDASS Prophet of Dalit Liberation Ronki Ram

Voice of Dalit Vol. 4, No. 1, 2011, pages 29-47© MD Publications Pvt Ltd
Corresponding Author Email : ronkiram

Prophet of Dalit Liberation
Ronki Ram

This paper argues that Dalit consciousness emerged in Punjab against the backdrop of
the teachings of Guru Ravidass, an untouchable Sant-poet of the North Indian Bhakti
movement, who unleashed a frontal attack on the caste-based system of social exclusion
and untouchability practiced for ages in India. What made him distinct from his
contemporaries was his low caste birth and the unique method of Bhakti that he
deployed to contest the oppressive structures of social dominations. In the Brahminical
social order, Bhakti is considered to be a privilege of the dvijas (upper castes) only. By
choosing Bhakti as a path of social protest, Guru Ravidass did not only challenge the
Brahminical tradition of caste-based privilege, but also laid the foundation of Dalit
consciousness from below, perhaps for the first time in India.
The Ad Dharm movement1 of the 1920s and Ravidass Deras (dalit2 religious centres)
are among the key catalysts behind the upsurge of dalit consciousness in Punjab. Ad
Dharm movement brought together all the ex-untouchables of Punjab on a single
platform, gave them a vision of separate identity and trained them in organisational
skills. It focused more on ethnification of dalit identity rather than on following the
path of sanskritisation to move up the scale of caste hierarchy, as happened to be the
case with other Adi movements elsewhere in the country (Jaffrelot 2003:149; Chandra
1999:56-59; Ram 2004b: 900). In fact, the Ad Dharm movement is widely accredited
with the herculean task of sowing the seeds of dalit consciousness in Punjab3. It was
during this movement that the sacred and radical images of Guru Ravidass, a Dalit
Nirguni (devotee of God without attributes) Sant of the medieval North Indian Bhakti
(loving devotion) movement, were systematically projected to concretise the newly
conceived dalit cultural space in the agrarian state of Punjab. This movement used his
pictures as its emblem, poetry as its sacred text and legends about him as illustrations
30 Ronki Ram
Voice of Dalit
of lower caste pride and power (Juergensmeyer 1988:33). The fact that Guru Ravidass
came from one of the lowest castes, acted as a catalyst in the emergence of dalit
consciousness in the state.
Guru Ravidass became prominent because he unleashed a frontal attack on the
long tradition of social oppression and untouchability in the Hindu society. Though
born and brought up in Uttar Pradesh province of North India, Guru Ravidass came to
command large followings among dalits of the state of Punjab, which he believed to
have visited during his journeys towards Rajasthan. Another factor that made him
further popular in Punjab is the inclusion of his Bani (spiritual poetry) in Sri Guru
Granth Sahib, sacred scriptures of Sikh faith. His stature grew still further when the
Ad Dharm movement made him its patron Sant and a political rallying point. His
fellow low caste followers, who consider him Guru, dedicated to him temples, memorial
halls, educational institutions/chairs, cultural organizations, and hostipals. They founded
several missions4 to accurately establish facts about his life and works, and to disseminate
his message of compassion, equality, and brotherhood in India and abroad5 (Hawley
1988:270). In fact, his lustrous image played an instrumental role in mobilising the
outcastes6 especially the Chamars (leather workers) who also joined the Ad Dharm
movement in large numbers.7 Consequently, the Chamars of Punjab and Punjabi Chamar
diasporas organised themselves into various Guru Ravidass Sabhas (societies) and
established a large number of Ravidass shrines popularly known as Ravidass Deras
(Ram 2008). The number of such Deras has been on the rise since then8.
The emergence of a large number of Ravidass Deras in Punjab signifies the rise of
an alternative religious site of dalits who comprised almost one third of the total
population of the state, the highest in the country. In Punjab, where religion (read Sikh
religion) had deeply pervaded the structures of social and political power, the emergence
of a separate religious domain among dalits assumes strategic importance. In the state
of Punjab, dalits find themselves in sharp contradiction with the dominant peasant
caste heavily concentrated in villages (Ram 2007). Quite interestingly, Punjab is also a
place where dalits too finds themselves in exceptionally large numbers in comparison
to their counterparts in all other states of India (Judge 2005; Judge N.D.; Sharma 2003).
Ravidass Deras play an important role in dalit struggle in Punjab for social justice
and equality. Ravidass Deras have not only emerged as centers of spiritual gatherings
for dalits, but also help them in strengthening their emerging religious and social
identities. They are, in fact, a clear manifestation of the rise of dalit consciousness in
This paper seeks to focus primarily on the role of the teachings of Guru Ravidass
in the formation of dalit consciousness in Punjab. How did Ravidass and his poetry
help generate social and political consciousness among dalits of Punjab? And in what
Voice of Dalit
Guru Ravidass : Prophet of Dalit Liberation 31
ways teachings and life anecdotes of Guru Ravidass inspire dalits of this region to
struggle for their long denied dignity and human rights? Since the process of dalit
consciousness is carried out in the name of Guru Ravidass, this essay intends to
contextualise it within his poetry and egalitarian social philosophy.
GURU RAVIDASS: A Sant with a Social Mission
Ravidass, one of the famous untouchable Sant-poets of the 15th-16th century, is by far
the most revered among the Scheduled Castes (SCs), especially Chamars/Chambhars/
Charmakars of northwest and central India. He was born in Chamar caste (Kutbandhla)
one of the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh. Chamars are known by their profession
of leather and tanning9. They were oppressed and their touch and sight were considered
polluting by the upper castes “Although they occupy the very bottom of the social
hierarchy, the Chamârs and other Untouchable groups who worship Sant Ravidâs do
not passively accept their inferior status. Their worship of Ravidâs is the manifestation
of a dissident socioreligious ideology” (Schaller 1996: 94). The mere mention of his
name evokes a sense of confidence and self-respect among them. So much so that a
large number of them prefer to be identified as ‘Ravidassia’ rather than be known by
their customary caste titles colored with derogatory connotations (Hawley 1988:272).
“Although in the past Ravidas’s low status may have presented a problem, his presentday
admirers strive to affirm it, not deny it” (Lochtefeld 2005:201-02). They are
popularly known as Ravidassia Dalits or Ravidassi Adharmis (Chandra 2000:49). Forty
hymns and one couplet attributed to Ravidass in the Adi Granth, popularly known as
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, are considered amongst the most authentic of his Bani (Hawley
and Juergensmeyer 1988:12; Callewaert and Friedlander 1992:22). The inclusion of the
Bani of Ravidass in Guru Granth Sahib carries special meaning for Punjabi Dalits. They
often allege that in spite of the respectable place assigned to their Guru (Ravidass) in
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, they are not being considered equal by the Jat Sikhs who often
discriminate against them (conversations with L.R. Balley, a veteran dalit leader,
Jalandhar, 16 January 2003; K.C. Sulekh, an Ambedkarite and prolific writer, Chandigarh,
2 December 2004). In fact, it is the caste-based discrimination against dalits by dominant
castes that has led the former to build their own separate Ravidass Deras.10 Ravidassia
Dalits, however, are often confused with Dalit Sikhs11.
Guru Ravidass is known as a leading star of the Bhakti movement, especially the
nirguna sampradaya or sant parampara (sect or tradition of devotees of a formless
God) of the later medieval centuries in Northern India12. He was a cobbler, saint,
poet, philosopher and social reformer. “Together with Namdev and Kabir, Ravidas is
32 Ronki Ram
Voice of Dalit
one of the few Bhaktas to cross language barriers and become important in several
parts of India” (Zelliot 2003:27). His popularity can be known from a variety of names
attributed to him by his followers in different regions and languages (Pandey 1961:7-
8). He is known as Raidasa, Rohidasa, Ruidasa, Ramadasa, Raedasa, Rohitasa, Rahdesa,
Rav Das and Rab Das (Singh 1996:25; Callewaert and Friedlander 1992:20-1; Ibbetson
1883, rpt. 1970: 300). His poetry has universal appeal. It is full of radical fervor and
boundless love for the formless God. Although the poetry of Ravidass is rich with
references to the adoration of and longing for God, it also gave significant space to the
“hope for a better world and a fight against exploiters, power-holders and oppression
going on under the name of religion” (Omvedt 2003:33). His poetry reflected his vision
of the social and spiritual needs of the downtrodden and underlined the urgency of
their emancipation. He, therefore, is regarded as a messiah of the downtrodden. They
revere him as devoutly as Hindus revered their Gods and Goddesses, and Sikhs their
Gurus (conversation with Sant Prem Dass Jassal, President, all India Satguru Ravi Dass
Mission, Vancouver, 17 May 2003). They worship his image and showed their faith in
his spiritual power. “… [H]is hymns were recited every morning and night, and his
birthday was celebrated as a religious event” (Wendy 1999:910). They raise slogans
like ‘Ravidass Shakti Amar Rahe’ (the spiritual power of Ravidass live forever) during
his birth anniversaries (based on participant observation by the author).
Bhakti: Challenging the Status Quo
Guru Ravidass was probably the first one after Gautam Buddha who dared to revolt
against the inhuman system of social exclusion and untouchability practiced for ages in
India. However, what made him different was his method of revolt. He adopted Bhakti
as a mode of expression of his social revolt. His Bhakti-based method was not only
unique but also a befitting reply to the subtle mechanisations deployed by the
Brahminical class to keep the downtrodden out of the mainstream. Bhakti was used to
be considered a privilege reserved for the upper castes, especially the priests. Whereas,
ex-untouchables were not allowed to practice Bhakti because they were condemned as
polluted. It is in this context that that the adoption of Bhakti by Guru Ravidass as a
method of social protest assumes special importance.
His Bhakti-based method of social revolt was neither violent nor tied with the
conventional forms of prayers and petitions. In fact, it was a revolt with difference. It
was both novel and daring. It was novel, because Guru Ravidass put emphasis on
compassion for all and absolute faith in God. The principle of compassion for all reflected
the egalitarian traits of his social philosophy and struggle. His concept of the absolute
Voice of Dalit
Guru Ravidass : Prophet of Dalit Liberation 33
faith in the formless God showed the apathy of the elites of his times towards the
plights of the downtrodden for whose emancipation he had to seek refuge in no one
else but God. His method was daring in the sense that he chooses to imitate the Brahmins
in order to symbolize his revolt which was not only highly objectionable but was
equally deadly for an outcaste of his times13. He challenged the tyranny of Brahmins
and defied them by wearing Dhoti (cloth wrapped around the waist), Janeue (sacred
thread) and Tilak (sacred red mark on forehead) that were forbidden for the
untouchables. Though he attired himself like an upper caste, he did not hide his caste.
He continued with his hereditary occupation of making/mending shoes. He, probably,
tried to show that while adopting the prohibited dress and symbols of the upper
castes, the lower castes could still keep their identity intact. Thus Ravidass provided
an alternative model for the emancipation of the Dalits much (six centuries) before the
articulation of the concept of sanskritization14. What made the image of Ravidass a
catalyst in the emergence of dalit consciousness was his being an outcaste and at the
same time a saint of very high repute (conversation with Arun Kumar, an Ambedkarite
activist, Vancouver, 18 May 2003).
The process of sanskritization facilitated the ambitious lower castes to improve
‘its position in the local caste hierarchy’ by pretending to look like the higher castes
that enjoy ‘great prestige’ in the hierarchically organized Brahminical social order.
Since the caste is given and cannot be changed, the lower castes were left with no
option but to imitate the culture of the upper castes. What made the emancipation
project of Ravidass different from that of the sanskritization was his emphasis on
acquiring social respect without crossing over the caste boundaries? He did not want
to pretend to appear like an upper caste to ride the bandwagon of social prestige. On
the contrary, he exhibited his protest against the social oppression by putting on the
prohibited dress and symbols of the upper castes. By imitating the appearance of the
upper castes he did not want the lower castes to abandon their caste to climb up the
ladder of the caste hierarchy as in the process of sanskritization. The lower castes need
not to be assimilated into the fold of higher castes. They had to, rather, assert for their
human rights by challenging the caste hierarchy while being firm in their very caste
group15. He wanted to dismantle the norm of varnashram dharma (fourfold division of
Hindu society based on graded rank system in caste hierarchy)16 by showing that
lower castes were not beyond the pale of spiritual knowledge on the one hand and on
the other that Brahmins were in fact “…hollow figures pumped up with false pride
and hypocrisy”(Schaller 1996:107). In fact, he used caste to cut the steel frame of caste
based social order – the only way of dalit emancipation.
Guru Ravidass gave a new meaning to Bhakti by projecting it as a method of
social protest against the centuries-old entrenched structures of Brahminical domination.
34 Ronki Ram
Voice of Dalit
He rejected all forms of religious rituals and sectarian formalities. He also commented
graphically on the cursed and abject living conditions of millions of fellow downtrodden.
Some scholars were of the opinion that though the devotional songs and hymns of
Ravidass reflected the sufferings of the downtrodden, they lack the reformatory zeal
and bitter condemnation of Brahminism and caste system that animated the poetry of
Kabir and Tukaram (Dasgupta 1976:162; Omvedt 2003:191). Though there is a difference
in tone between the poetry of Kabir and Ravidass, both convey the same message. The
poetry of Ravidass is known to be full of humility and devotion. But at the same time
it is equally imbibed with reformatory zeal and concern for the downtrodden. Instead
of bluntly snubbing the arrogance of higher castes, he undertook to raise the dignity
of his own caste and profession, so that the higher castes could come to realize the
shallowness of their self-imposed superiority (Lal 1998:7). He advocated self-help for
eliminating sufferings of the dalits. His vision for self-help is clearly reflected in one of
the legends about his refusal to make use of a Paras (a mythical stone that turns iron
into gold) to get rich (Deep 2001:11 & 17; Singh 2000:2-3). He lent purity and respect to
kirat (manual work), which also found special mention in the teachings of Guru Nanak
Dev, the founder of Sikh faith. In fact, Ravidass’s life and poetry provided a vision to
the downtrodden to struggle for their human rights and civic liberties.
The Bhakti approach of Ravidass was a non-violent struggle for the emancipation
and empowerment of the Shudras. Though he combined humility with Bhakti, his concept
of formless God reflected an altogether different picture. Ravidass’s God was not
humble at all in the typical sense of the term. He was graceful. He was not indifferent
to the downtrodden. His God was rather bold who was not afraid of anyone. He
elevated and purified the so-called untouchables. Aaisee lal tujh binu kaunu karai. Gareeb
niwaaju guseea meraa maathai chhatar dharai… neecho uooch karai meraa govind kaahoo te na
darai [refrain My Beloved, besides you who acts like this? Protector of the poor, my

Master. You hold a royal umbrella over my head] (Adi Granth: 1106, translated as in
Callewaert and Friedlander 1992:166)17. Ravidass further said Meri jaati kut bandhlaa
dhor dhouwanta nithi baanaarasi aas paasaa. Ab bipar pardhan tihi karih danduouti tere naam
sarnaaie Ravidass daasaa [My Caste is Kutabådhalâ, I cart carcasses constantly around
Benares. Now Brahmans and headmen bow down before me, Ravidâs the servant has
taken refuge in Your Name (Adi Granth: 1293)18. It is in this context that his nonviolent
struggle based on Bhakti assumed special importance for the emancipation of
the dalits. He did not only adopt non–violence in his struggle against the social
oppression, but also motivated the oppressors to abandon the path of violence (Puri
His low caste but high spiritual status posed a challenge to the Brahminical
structures of domination. The traditional Brahminical institution of varnashram dharma
failed to confront Ravidass’s pragmatic and revolutionary reasoning based on equality,
Voice of Dalit
Guru Ravidass : Prophet of Dalit Liberation 35
dignity and fraternity. Instead, the Brahmins attempted to undermine his low caste
profile by appropriating him in the Hindu fold. They concocted stories to project him
as a Brahmin in his previous life19. According to one of such stories, Ravidass was a
Brahmin in his previous birth. But due to his bad habits of meat eating and the
untouchable status of his co-wife he had to be born as a Chamar. Another story tells
that Ramananda, his so-called Guru, cursed him in his previous life to be born in a
family of untouchables on account of his accepting offerings from a local money lender
who had dealings with leather workers. “This itself indicates the degree of puritypollution
behaviours observed even by Brahmin ascetics” (Omvedt 2003:192). Moreover,
this account “also reinforces conventional opinions of Chamars as being extremely
polluting. Ramanand curses his disciple not for taking food directly from chamars, but
from a person who merely does business with them. Yet even such indirect contact is
enough to render the food impure” (Lochtefeld 2005:205). The story does not end
here, however. It further informs that the baby Ravidass refused to accept the milk of
his low caste mother. He accepted the milk of his mother only when Ramanand
supposedly reminded him of his misbehavior in the previous life. Another story about
his co-option in the Brahminical fold narrates that he had a golden sacred thread under
his skin, though it was invisible on his body. When Brahmins declined to eat while
sitting in the same row with him during a feast given in his honor by Jhali, the queen
of Chittor, he left the room. But as they sat to dine, they found an image of Ravidass
appearing at the side of each of them. The story also tells that he cut open his chest and
revealed the sacred thread that lay within – a clear proof of his being a real Brahmin20.
Thus challenged by the surging popularity of Ravidass, among the lower and
upper castes alike, Brahmins knitted layers of mythological narratives about his mythical
high caste in his previous life. This was done, probably, to preclude the lower castes
from rallying around his name (conversation with Karam Singh Raju, a prolific writer
and devotee of Ravidass, Chandigarh, 9 February 2004). Yet another device adopted
by the twice born to diminish his popularity was to present him as a Guru of the
Chamars only. “This was the final masterstroke to minimize his influence on the society
as a whole” (Chahal n.d.: 4-5). Though Ravidass was himself a chamar, his egalitarian
social philosophy won him many disciples among the upper castes too. Jhali, Queen of
Chittor; Mirabai, Rajput princes and daughter-in-law of King of Mewar, Sangram Singh;
Prince Veer Singh Dev Vaghela of Rewa of Madhya Pradesh; and Prince of Kanshi
were the most prominent among them (Kaul 2001:48)21.
Dalit activists and academics condemned the process of Brahminisation of Ravidass.
They ridiculed the so-called Brahminical narratives and interpretations about Ravidass
and also refused to accept Ramanand as his Guru (conversation with K. C. Sulekh, an
Ambedkarite and prolific writer, Chandigarh, 2 December 2004). Ravidass never
mentioned the name of Ramanand in his most authentic bani recorded in Adi Granth.
36 Ronki Ram
Voice of Dalit
Instead he mentioned the names of saint Jaidev, saint Namdev and saint Kabir (Muktsar
2002:70-74; and Muktsar 2004). Some radical dalits claim “that his Guru was Sardanand,
and emphasize his ability to defeat Brahmins time and again in debates” (Omvedt
2003:192; see also Hawley and Juergensmeyer 1988:15). Thus the process of
Brahminisation had not only failed to assimilate Ravidass in the fold of the upper
castes, it further strengthened the bond of the Shudras with him. The latter took pride
in being known as Ravidassias with Ravidass becoming the paragon of their struggle
for social equality and dignity.
Begumpura: City Free from Sorrows
Guru Ravidass envisioned an egalitarian model of state for ensuring human rights and
civil liberties for all alike. He called his ideal state as Begumpura (free from sorrows). In
his ideal state no one would be discriminated against on the basis of caste and religion
and everyone would be free from the burden of taxes and worries of food. His ideal
state would be free from the graded system of caste hierarchy. There would be no
segregated colonies for the downtrodden and they would be free to move around
without caste prejudice. In other words, in Begumpura the evil of untouchability would
cease to exist. Though Begumpura was an ideal state as visualized by Ravidass, it was
not a mere figment of his mind. In fact, its articulation was based on in-depth
understanding of the socio-economic and political conditions prevailing during his
lifetime. He lived during the period when Shudras were doubly oppressed by their
political masters along with the members of higher castes; and by the Brahmins, the
custodians of Hindu religion (Singh 1996:99; See also Raju 2001:141-47).
He had no hope from any quarter regarding the improvement of the conditions
of the downtrodden. In one of his hymns he thus articulated Dardu dekh sab ko hasai,
aaisee dasaa hamaaree. Ast dasaa sidi kar talai, sab kirpa tumhari. [Everyone laughs seeing my
poverty, such is my state. The eighteen perfections are in the palm of my hands, all
through Your grace] (Adi Granth: 858). In fact, his entire poetry echoed a loud protest
against slavery on the one hand and boundless love and devotion to the formless God
on the other. He believed that God created all human beings and resided in all of
them. If the same God pervaded the entire humanity, then it is foolish to divide the
society on the basis of caste. He thus condemned the division of mankind on the basis
of caste. He said, Jo ham shehri so meet hamara [whoever is my fellow citizen, is my
friend] (Adi Granth: 345). It is in this context that the egalitarian social philosophy of
Ravidass expressed in the mode of poetry became the manifesto of the dalit consciousness
in Punjab. The establishment of a large number of Ravidass Deras by the dalits in Punjab
and in other parts of India over the last few years is a case in point. Ravidass became
Voice of Dalit
Guru Ravidass : Prophet of Dalit Liberation 37
very popular among the Punjabi Dalit diaspora as well, who have also constructed
Ravidass shrines in order to assert their separate caste identity22.
The number of Ravidass Deras has been multiplying very fast. It has taken the
form of a sort of a socio-cultural movement for the emancipation of the dalits. Led
by the saints of Dera Sachkhand Ballan (for a detailed account see Ram 2008: 1341-
64), this movement “…is silently sweeping the Punjab countryside offering a new
hope to the untouchable, particularly the Chamars…” (Rajshekar 2004:3). It has
generated a sense of confidence in them and provided them an opportunity to exhibit
their hitherto eclipsed dalit identity. The movement of Ravidass Deras “…reflects
the fast changing socio-cultural scene of Punjab where the once powerful and
revolutionary Sikh religion is failing to meet the needs of the oppressed who
discovered the right remedy to cure their wounded psyche in the Ballan experiment”
(Rajshekar 2004:3). The secret of the success of this movement lies in the strategy to
“…sell Dr Ambedkar’s socio-cultural revolution packed in an ingenious religious
capsule” (Rajshekar 2004:3). Ravidass Deras are, perhaps, the only religious centers
where religious and political figures (Guru Ravidass and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar) are
blended and projected publicly. These Deras thrive on the elements of social protest
expressed in the poetry of Guru Ravidass and the teachings of Dr. Ambedkar. These
Deras, in fact, have been functioning as missions to sensitise the dalits and to facilitate
their empowerment (Ambedkari 2005:5). In order to look different from the shrines
of Hindu and Sikh religions, and to distinctly project their separate religious identity,
Ravidass Deras have formulated their own religious symbols, ceremonies, prayers,
rituals and messages of social protest against the oppressive structures of caste
domination in the agrarian society of Punjab (Rawat 2003:589-90)23. Moreover, since
the Vienna incident (24 May, 2009), the Sants of Dera Sachkhand Ballan have been
publicly exhibiting their separate social and religious identity in the form reclaimed
indigenous dalit religion – Ravidass Dharm (Ram 2009: 1-34).
The argument presented here can be summarized as follows. Dalit consciousness
emerged in Punjab against the backdrop of the Bani of Guru Ravidass, the Ad Dharm
movement and Ravidass Deras. Ravidass Bani set the tenor of social protest amongst
the dalits. It empowered them with great inner-strength to raise their voice against
historical injustice and social oppression they have been undergoing for ages. Ad Dharm
movement and Ravidass Deras gradually took over the unfulfilled mission of ‘Bhakti
Radical’ Guru Ravidass, blended it with the philosophy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and
metamorphosed it into a powerful socio-cultural movement for the spiritual
regeneration, cultural transformation and political empowerment of dalits. If Guru
Ravidass was the prophet of the Dalit consciousness during the medieval North Indian
38 Ronki Ram
Voice of Dalit
Bhakti movement, then Sants of Ravidass Deras can be credited with the task of relocating
and invigorating dalit identity and consciousness in contemporary times in the images
of Guru Ravidass. All this has contributed significantly in generating dalit consciousness
and strengthening the separate dalit identity in the region so much so that the newly
declared Ravidass Dharm by Sants of Dera Sachkhand Ballan has been projected as a
distinct religion of dalits.
This paper is primarily based on participant observations and a large number of extended
conversations that I had with the devotees of Guru Ravidass, priests, dalit leaders,
and dalit writers as well as followers of various other Ravidass Deras. My sincere
thanks to all of them. My thanks to Professor P.S. Verma for providing critical inputs
in the preparation of the final draft. I am also thankful to all those who commented on
earlier versions of the paper presented on different occasions in India and abroad. To
Seema, I owe a special debt for her ever-willing research assistance and for putting up
with our kids (Sahaj and Daksh) all by herself during my long absences in the field.
The views expressed herein are, of course, my own.
1 The Ad Dharm movement came into existence in 1925 to fight against the system of untouchability.
It draws its inspiration from the Bhakti movement especially from Ravidass, Kabir and Namdev.
It aims at the emancipation of the Dalits and their empowerment through cultural transformation,
spiritual regeneration and political assertion. It was one of the earliest Adi movements of India
that brought the downtrodden together to fight for their cause. It aimed at securing a distinct
identity for the Dalits independent of both the Hindus and Sikhs, who it considered, constitute a
distinct qaum (community) that existed from the time immemorial. It aimed at making the Dalits
realize that they had three powers: Qaumiat (communal pride), Mazhab (religion) and Majlis
(organization) which were buried under the burden of untouchability. It exhorted them to come
forward to assert for their rights by making use of these three main untapped sources of their
power (for details see: Juergensmeyer 1998; Juergensmeyer 2000:221-37; Ram 2004a: 323-49).
2 The term Dalit (literally, grounded/oppressed/broken) is the “politically correct” nomenclature,
which came to be used by the Mahar community in the late twentieth century for the untouchables
(the people who have traditionally been placed at the lowest rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy).
The term includes Scheduled castes, Scheduled tribes and backward castes. However, in current
political discourse, Dalit is mainly confined to Scheduled castes only.
3 The Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF), the Republican Party of India (RPI), and the Bahujan Samaj
Party (BSP) have subsequently carried on the legacy of this movement. Seth Kishen Das, a leather
business tycoon of the Boota Mandi (Jalandhar district) of Punjab who was also closely associated
with the Ad Dharm movement, founded the Punjab unit of SCF. SCF contested three elections in
Punjab – one Provincial election in 1946 and two general elections in 1952 and 1957. Though it was
routed in 1946 and 1952 elections and won only 5 out of 26 assembly seats in the 1957 general
election, it left an indelible mark on the minds of the Scheduled Castes of Punjab, who perhaps for
Voice of Dalit
Guru Ravidass : Prophet of Dalit Liberation 39
the first time in the history of the state’s electoral politics could envision a possibility of entering
the corridors of political power. Subsequently the SCF was replaced by RPI. Like SCF it also failed
to establish itself in the electoral field. However, it persuaded many of the Scheduled Castes to
embrace Buddhism. Kanshi Ram, a Ramdasia Chamar from Punjab, formed BSP on April 14, 1984.
Though the BSP also failed on electoral front in the state, it succeeded in generating political
consciousness among the Dalits by making ideological use of caste and employing it as a medium
of political propaganda (see also: Chandra 2000:51; Ram 2004b: 895-912).
4 The two most important missions are All India Adi-Dharm Mission (New Delhi), and Dera Sach
Khand Ballan (Punjab). Banta Ram Ghera founder of the All India Adi-Dharm Mission worked
meticulously to locate the birthplace of Guru Ravidass at Seer Govardhanpur in Banaras (Uttar
Pradesh). Ghera made consistant efforts in building Ravidass Temples at Seer Govardhanpur and at
Khuralgarh, Hoshiarpur District, Punjab. Dera Sach Khand Ballan (Punjab), solely dedicated to the
mission of spreading the Bani (philosophy in the form of poetry) of Ravidass, also made consistant
efforts to locate the birthplace of Ravidass and contributed significantly in completing the project
of Guru Ravidass Birthplace Temple at Seer Govardhanpur in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh). For details
see: (Schaller 1996:111-6; Hawley 1988:271; Hawley and Juergensmeyer 1988:19-20; Juergensmeyer
5 Dera Sach Khand Ballan has established the following international charitable trusts abroad for
dissemination of the Bani of Ravidass amongst the Dalit Diaspora: Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass
Charitable Trust [U.K.]; Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass Charitable Trust [Vancouver] Canada; and Shri
108 Sant Sarwan Dass Charitable Trust [U.S.A.].
6 Outcastes were placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy and were meant to serve the three
higher Varnas – Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya. Their touch, shadow or even voice was considered
by the caste Hindus to be polluting. They were not allowed to keep certain domestic animals, use
certain metals for ornaments and utensils, eat a particular type of food, use some type of footwear
and dresses and were forced to live in the outskirts of the villages towards which the wind blew
and dirt flowed. Their houses were dirty, dingy and unhygienic where poverty and squalor loomed
large. They were denied the use of public wells. The doors of the Hindu temples were closed for
them and their children were not allowed into the schools attended by the caste Hindus. The public
services were denied to them. They performed hereditary menial occupation, such as scavenging,
shoe-making and animal carcass removing. Some of them embraced, Christianity, Islam, and
Sikhism in order to evade the oppression of untouchability. However, even their conversion to
other religions could not protect them from the ruthless onslaughts of untouchability. The outcastes
were beyond the Varna and were known as Ati shudras, Chandalas, Antyajas, Pariahs, Dheds,
Panchamas, Avarnas, Anariyas, Namashudras, etc. (For details see: Ambedkar n.d.; Chopra 1982:121-
2; Gokhale 1986:270; Juergensmeyer 1988:84; Puri 2004:190-224; Ram 2001:146-170).
7 Though the founders of the Ad Dharm movement appealed to all the untouchables in the state, the
response of the Chamars was tremendous. Some 400,000 of them joined the movement in about
four years (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 2000: 102). Chamar is an umbrella caste category that clubs
together “Chamar, Jatia Chamar, Rehgar, Raigar, Ramdasi and Ravidasi”(Census of India 1981,
Series 17 <Punjab> Part IX). Chamars are Chandravanshi by clan and are also considered as the
highest caste among the Scheduled castes in Punjab. However, they have traditionally been
considered as polluted and impure because of their occupational contact with animal carcass and
hides. They are “… on the top of virtually every parameter – education, urbanization, jobs,
occupational change, cultural advancement, political mobilization, etc”(Puri 2004:4). Many of them
have settled abroad (Europe, North America and Middle East) and help their brethren back home
40 Ronki Ram
Voice of Dalit
through rich remittances. According to 1991 Census, Chamars constitute 25.8 percent of the total
Scheduled Caste population in Punjab. In all, there are 38 different caste groups belonging to the
Scheduled castes in the state. Mazhbis (Sweepers who embraced Sikhism) is another top ranking
caste among the Scheduled Castes in Punjab. They constitute about 30 percent of the total Scheduled
Castes population in the state (1991 census). Their Hindu counterpart Chuhras (Balmikis and
Bhangis) constitutes 11.1 percent of the total Scheduled Caste population. Thus out of the total 38
Scheduled castes the two major groupings of Chuhras and Chamars together constitute 80 percent
of the total Scheduled Caste population. (See also: Deep 2001:7; Puri 2004:4).
8 According to a recent study, the number of such Deras has exceeded one hundred in Punjab (Qadian
2003). Since the publication of this study many more Ravidas Deras have been established in the
state. In the year 2005 alone, the saints of Dera Ballan have laid down the foundation stones of 12
Ravidass Deras. (Calculated from the Begum Pura Shaher [Jalandhar] weekly). The strength of
Ravidass Deras has also been rapidly growing abroad (for details see: Singh 2003:35-40).
9 However, there is an alternate version about the etymological origin of the term Chamar. This
version believes that the Chamar community is Buddhist in origin, and that the term Chamar is
derived from the Pali word Cigar [bhikku’s robes] and not from Charm [leather]. (For details see:
Prasad and Dahiwale 2005:254-56; and Lochtefeld 2005:208-12).
10 Out of a total of 12,780 villages in Punjab, Dalits have their own separate Gurdwaras in about 10,000
villages. See also: Dalit Voice (Banglore), 22:17 (1-15 September 2003), p. 20; Muktsar 2003:21-22).
11 In fact, the Dalit Sikhs are divided into two segments. The first comprises of Mazhbis and Rangretas
whose profession is primarily scavenging. Mazhbis and Rangretas were Chuhras (sweepers) who
later converted to Sikhism. Mazhbi Sikhs are almost totally confined to Majha (Amritsar and
Gurdaspur districts) sub-region of Punjab. “The Rangreta are a class of Mazbi apparently found
only in Ambala, Ludhiana and the neighborhood, who consider themselves superior to the rest…but
it appears that Rangretas have very generally abandoned scavengering for leather work, and this
would at once account for their rise in the social scale” (Ibbetson. 1883. rpt. 1970: 294). The other
segment of Dalit Sikhs consists of Ramdassias. They were Julahas (Weavers) who converted to
Sikhism. Ravidassias are mostly engaged in leatherwork. Though there is a wide distinction
between the Ravidassias, typical leather workers and the Ramdassias, typical weavers, “yet they
are connected by certain sections of leather working classes who have taken to weaving and thus
risen in their social scale…” (Ibbetson 1883, rpt. 1970:296). Ramdassias and Ravidassias are probably
of the same origin. However, the distinction between them has risen from divergence of occupation.
“The Ramdasias are confused with Raidasi or Rabdasi Chamars. The formers are true Sikhs, and take
the Pahul {baptism into the Khalsa, the order instituted by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, by offering
sweetened water stirred with a doubled-edged sword}. The latter are Hindus, or if Sikhs, only
Nanakpanthi Sikhs and do not take the Pahul; and are followers of Bhagat Rav Das or Rab Das,
himself a Chamar. They are apparently as true Hindus as any Chamar can be, and are wrongly
called Sikhs by confusion with Ramdasias” (Ibbetson 1883, rpt. 1970:300 <emphasis in parenthesis
added>). Over the last few decades, Ravidassias have started considering themselves as a separate
community independent of both Hindus and Sikhs and have their own Ravidass Gurdwaras. They
have also adopted different symbols and rituals of worship. But in official records, Ravidassias are
bracketed with the Chamars (for details see: Chandra 2000:31-33 and 49; Deep 2001:7; Ram 2004c: 5-
12 The concept of Bhakti in sant parampara is entirely different from that of the vaisnava (Vishnuite)
tradition (Singh 1996:83-86). In the vaisnava tradition, Bhakti is based on idol worshipping of the
Voice of Dalit
Guru Ravidass : Prophet of Dalit Liberation 41
avataras (reincarnation) of God (sagun). The sant parampara lays emphasis on loving adoration of
and devotion to the non-anthropomorphic God (nirgun), and continuous recitation of ‘word’ (naam)
given by the Guru. Though sant parampara and Vaishnav traditions are collectively known as Bhakti
movement, the former is radical in content and appeal and is also known as Nirguna Bhakti. The
famous Bhaktas (devotees) associated with the sant parampara/nirguna Bhakti were Kabir, Nanak,
Dadu, Sain, Pipa, Dhanna, Sadna and Ravidass. Many of them belonged to the lower caste. Sant
Ravidass “…came from a caste that ranks below that of any of his compeers in the world of
medieval North Indian bhakti” (Hawley 1988:270). For a detailed account of sant parampara of the
North Indian Bhakti movement of the medieval period see: (McLeod 1968; Chaturvedi 1952; Schomar
& McLeod [eds.] 1987; Lorenzen [ed.] 1996; Lele [ed.] 1981:1-15).
13 Shudras were prohibited from hearing and reading the sacred texts of the Hindu religion. Its
violation invited severest punishment as mentioned in the Manusmriti, the law book of Hindu
14 “Sanskritization may be briefly defined as the process by which a ‘low’ caste or tribe or other
group takes over the customs, ritual, beliefs, ideology and style of life of a high and, in particular,
a ‘twice-born’ (dwija) caste. The Sanskritization of a group has usually the effect of improving its
position in the local caste hierarchy” (Srinivas 1998:88).
15 For a detailed account of the almost total failure of the process of sanskritization in significantly
enhancing the ritual status of chamars, see: (Schaller 1996:94-119).
16 It divided Hindu society into four Varnas (occupational categories): Brahmina (priest), Kshatriya
(soldier), Vaishya (trader), Shudra (menial worker). Originally somewhat flexible, this division
became rigid with the passage of time and got further degenerated into castes and sub-castes.
Broadly speaking, Varna system constituted the very basis of the hierarchically graded caste system
in India, where Brahmina (priest) occupied the highest position to be followed by Kshatriya (soldier),
Vaishya (trader) and the Shudra (menial workers) who were placed at the lowest rung and were
hence considered as impure and polluted.
17 Henceforth translations of the quotations from the poetry of Ravidass are taken from Callewaert
and Friedlander (1992) and the Panjabi couplets (romanized) of his poetry with the page numbers
of the Adi Granth are taken from Jassi and Suman (2001).
18 This hymn seems to testify one of the legends in which the bewildered Brahmins were shown
prostrating before him after they found his bodily image appear between each and every one of
them during a feast thrown by queen Jhali at Chittorgarh.
19 Ironically, even some Dalits also feel comfortable with such concoctions about his life. Being his
caste fellows, the elevated status of Ravidass serves as a facilitator in their attempt to move up
the social hierarchy of the Hindu caste system (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 1988:13 and fn 19).
20 For a detailed account of such stories see the following sources in English: (Zelliot and Mokashi-
Punekar [eds] 2005,esp. section on Ravidas; Callewaert and Friedlander 1992; Hawley and
Juergensmeyer 1988:9-32).
21 As far as Mirabai is concerned, different scholars hold different views regarding the belief of her
being a disciple of Ravidass. For details see: (Chaturvedi 1952:239-40).
22 Some of the most prominent Ravidass shrines abroad are in the following cities: Vancouver,
Calgary, Toronto, Montreal (all in Canada), New York, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Fresno and
42 Ronki Ram
Voice of Dalit
Austin (all in USA), Wolverhampton, Southall, Kent, Bedford (all in UK). In the last few years many
Ravidass Deras have also come up in Italy, Holland, New Zealand, and Greece. Sant Niranjan Dass
of Dera Ballan has laid down the foundation stones of all these Deras (conversations with the priests
of Dera Ballan, 14 April 2004; Virinder Kumar Banger, a devotee of Guru Ravidass and follower of
the Dera Ballan, Vancouver, 17 May 2003).
23 Though Scheduled Castes in Punjab are largest in numbers (29%) in India, their share in the
agricultural land of the state is the lowest in the country (2.5%).
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