Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rise and rise of Dalit deras in Punjab

Rise and rise of Dalit deras in Punjab
27 May 2009, 0127 hrs IST, I P Singh, TNN

JALANDHAR: Along with their growing influence in the political arena, Dalits in Punjab are increasingly marking their presence in the state’s religio-cultural sphere.

This is manifest in the surfacing of exclusive Dalit deras or sects. Their rise, however, has been triggered largely by Ravidassias, who have taken a lead over other big ‘‘backward’’ groups like Valmikis and Mazhabis through sheer money power.

Although Dalits also visit deras frequented by others, there are at least 60 sects boasting of large following. More than half of these are located in the four districts of Doaba, considered the heartland of Adharmis — those Sikhs who joined Ravidassias. At least 40% of Doaba’s population comprises Adharmis.

Formed in the early 1970s as an umbrella body of different sects, the Sadhu Sampradai Society has religious heads of Ravidassia community officiating at the top echelons. The society organises various religious functions, whose frequency has increased in the recent past. Currently, the society is headed by Sant Nirmal Dass Jaure Wale. Dera Sachkhand Ballan has a major stake in the working of this society due to its sheer size and following.

"There are over 60 deras in Punjab that have exclusive Ravidassia identity," said S R Heer, the general secretary of Sant Sarwan Dass Charitable Trust run by the Ballan-based sect. Dalit activist and BSP leader Ramesh Kaul said if the small deras are included, the number could well touch 100. These sects preach the word and philosophy of Guru Ravidas, a prominent figure in the Bhakti movement that flourished in the 14 and 15th centuries.

"Although these deras preach sermons from Sikh holy book, equal emphasis is laid on extracts written by Guru Ravidas that are included in Guru Granth Sahib," adds Kaul. Apart from carrying out religious discourses, deras of Adharmi also follow a social agenda of emancipation of the downtrodden.

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