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Beyond Conversion and Sanskritisation: Articulating an Alternative Dalit Agenda in East Punjab*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 May 2011

Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India160 014 Email:


Given different socio-economic structures, and acute landlessness among the Dalits of East Punjab, the agendas of conversion to neo-Buddhism and sanskritisation, the two most popular Dalit social mobility models in India, have failed to strike a cord among the Dalits in this border state of northwest India. But that does not imply that Dalits of Punjab have failed in improving their social status. On the contrary, they have been very vocal in their assertions for social justice and dignity, and pressing for a due share in the local structures of power; a clear indication of a significant surge of Dalit social mobility in Punjab. The question that still remains largely unexplored, however, relates to the patterns of Dalit social mobility in Punjab that have emerged independently of the agendas of conversion to neo-Buddhism and sanskritisation. The study aims to map out the contours of an emerging alternative Dalit agenda in Punjab, which is conspicuous by its absence in existing Dalit studies, and examines its catalytic role in enhancing the legitimacy and effectiveness of increasingly visible Dalit social mobility in the state. The paper concludes by visualising the possibility of an articulation and assertion of a similar alternative Dalit agenda through highly contentious democratic politics in other parts of India, where the archetypical agendas of conversion and sanskritisation have either failed to deliver social justice and dignity or could not simply appeal to the local Dalit population.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 The ‘Dalit’ is a broad term that incorporates the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, and the Backward Castes. However, in the current political discourse, it is mainly confined to the Scheduled Castes (formerly Untouchables) and covers only those Dalits who are classified as Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists but excludes Muslim and Christian Dalits.

2 Conversion has been a common practice among Dalits in India to evade the monster of untouchability. Though conversion implies denouncing one's parent religion and embracing any other one, in the present study the term ‘conversion agenda’ is used specifically for conversion to Buddhism only. Conversion to religions other than that of Buddhism has neither been collective nor based on a well-planned strategy. It had always been a matter of individual protest against the inhuman treatment meted out to ex-Untouchables by the caste Hindus. The case of conversion to Buddhism, however, is entirely different. It was a thoroughly investigated and well-calculated collective move headed by Ambedkar (1891–1956), a messiah of the downtrodden and architect of the Constitution of independent India, who deployed it as a viable mode of Dalit social mobility. It is against this backdrop that in the present study ‘conversion agenda’ implies conversion to Buddhism only. For a detailed account of Buddhist conversion see, Gokhale, Jayashree B., ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change: The Buddhist conversion of Maharashtrian Untouchables’, Journal of Asian Studies, 1986, Vol. XLV, No. 2, February, pp. 269292CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Beltz, Johannes, Mahar, Buddhist and Dalit: Religious Conversion and Socio-Political Emancipation, New Delhi: Manohar, 2005Google Scholar; Jondhale, Surendra and Beltz, Johannes, (eds), Reconstructing the World: B. R. Ambedkar and Buddhism in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004Google Scholar.

3 ‘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, M. N., Village, Caste, Gender and Method: Essays in Indian Social Anthropology, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998 (Paperback), p. 88Google Scholar). See also: Srinivas, M. N., Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952Google Scholar; Srinivas, M. N., ‘A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization’, The Far Eastern Quarterly, 1956, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 481–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Staal, J. F., ‘Sanskrit and Sanskritization’, Journal of Asian Studies, 1963, Vol. XXII, No. 3, May, pp. 261–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Shah, A. M., ‘Sanskritisation Revisited’. Sociological Bulletin, 2005, Vol. 54, No. 2, May–August, pp. 238249CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Singh, Nirmal, ‘Discussion: Some Comments on ‘Sanskritisation Revisited’. Sociological Bulletin, 2006, Vol. 55, No. 1, January–April, pp. 108112CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Shah, A. M., ‘Some Further Thoughts on Sanskritisation: Response to Nirmal Singh's Rejoinder’, Sociological Bulletin, 2006, Vol. 55, No. 1, January–April, pp. 112117Google Scholar.

4 Conversion and sanskritisation are described as ‘agendas’ because of the objective (improving social status) for which they are being deployed. They may be described as ‘processes’, but the term agenda, I think, better explains these ‘processes’, which are purposely made use of for achieving upward social mobility. It is in this sense that conversion and sanskritisation become agendas.

5 For details see: Omvedt, Gail, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India, New Delhi: Sage, 1994Google Scholar, Chapters 3 and 4.

6 Indian Punjab is divided into three distinct cultural regions: Majha, Malwa and Doaba. Rivers mark the boundaries of these three distinct regions. Over time, each region has come to acquire specific social, economic and cultural patterns. The Doaba region, lying between the rivers of Sutlej and Beas, comprised four districts of Punjab: Nawanshahar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar.

7 Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution, p. 112.

8 Lynch, Owen, The Politics of Untouchability, New York: Columbia University Press, 1969, p. 141Google Scholar.

9 Literally colour, it referred to the four-fold division of Hindu society based on occupational categories. However, with the passage of time, it degenerated into a rigid caste system without any channel of upward social mobility.

10 Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, p. 272.

11 Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution, p. 113.

12 Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, p. 270. See also: Contursi, Janet A., ‘Political Theology: Text and Practice in a Dalit Panther Community’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 1993, Vol. 52, No. 2, May, pp. 321322CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 An Untouchable caste mainly of village servants.

14 The Nagpur conversion ceremony turned out to be an extraordinary event in the sense that it was a collective exercise, which gave concrete shape to the fast emerging phenomenon of radical Dalit consciousness in the country since then. Whereas conversions to other religions in India ‘. . .were largely matters of individual choice. . .’. For details see: Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, p. 273; Johannes Beltz, ‘Introduction’, in Jondhale and Beltz, (eds), Reconstructing the World, p. 1.

15 Ambedkar decided to embrace Buddhism after thoroughly exhausting all possible ways of reforming Hinduism from within and exploring the possibility of conversion to Christianity, Sikhism, and Islam for overcoming the oppressive structures of Varna order in India. He embraced Buddhism because of its emphasis on the equality of all human beings irrespective of birth and occupation, and its being ‘. . .truly Indian. . .equalitarian, universalistic, ethical, and rationalist’ (Gail Omvedt, ‘Confronting Brahmanic Hinduism: B. R. Ambedkar's Sociology of Religion and Indian Society’, in Jondhale and Beltz (eds), Reconstructing the World, p. 54). For more details see: Contursi, ‘Political Theology’, pp. 321–322; Keer, Dhananjay, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, 3rd edn, Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1971Google Scholar, particularly chapter XXVI; Beltz, ‘Introduction’, p. 1.

16 The Buddhist conversion of 1956 was unique in the sense that although there have been many instances of individual conversion to Buddhism, the real credit for systematically organizing collective conversions on a mass scale in India, beyond doubt, goes to Ambedkar. Pandit C. Ayodhya Dasa (1845–1914), better known as Iyothee Thaas, a Tamil Siddha physician and pioneer of the Tamil Buddhist movement, took diksha (initiation) at the hands of a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka and founded the Sakya Buddhist Society (also known as Indian Buddhist Association) in 1890. Dharmanand Kosambi, Rahul Sankrityayan, Anand Kausalyayan and Jagdish Kashyap are some other famous instances of individual conversion to Buddhism in India. For more details see: Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, p. 269; Eleanor Zelliot, ‘B. R. Ambedkar and the Search for a Meaningful Buddhism’, in Jondhale and Beltz (eds), Reconstructing the World, pp.19–24; Beltz, ‘Introduction’, p. 1; Beltz, Mahar, Buddhist and Dalit.

17 From Yeola Conference, 13 October 1935, where he took the vow that ‘even though I am a Hindu born, I will not die a Hindu’, to the historic Nagpur conversion ceremony, 14 October 1956, the day he embraced Buddhism with thousands of his followers. For details see, Keer, Dr. Ambedkar, pp. 251–265, 498–504; Zelliot, ‘B. R. Ambedkar and the Search for a Meaningful Buddhism’, pp. 18–19; Gary Michael Tartakov, ‘The Navayana Creation of the Buddha Image’ in Jondhale and Beltz (eds), Reconstructing the World, pp. 151–185; cf. Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution, p. 152.

18 Omvedt, Gail, ‘Liberty, Equality, Community: Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's Vision of a New Social Order’, Fourth Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Annual Lecture, New Delhi, Dr Ambedkar Chair in Sociology, CSSS, JNU, 2004, p. 22Google Scholar. See also, Harish S Wankhede, ‘The Political and Social in the Dalit Movement Today’, Economic and Political Weekly, 9 February, 2008, p. 52.

19 Ambedkar, B. R., The Buddha and His Dhamma, Bombay: Siddharath College (Publication, No. I), 1957Google Scholar. Ambedkar died in December 1956. He finished the manuscript of this classic in February 1956 and was in the process of giving it final touches at the time of his death on 6th December.

20 Stock, Brian, The Implications of Literacy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, pp. 88240Google Scholar.

21 Hardtmann, Eva-Maria, The Dalit Movement in India: Local Practices, Global Connections, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 93Google Scholar.

22 Ambedkar, Buddha and His Dhamma, p. 55.

23 Contursi, ‘Political Theology’, p. 323.

24 Ambedkar, B. R., Budhha and the Future of His Religion. Jullundur: Bheem Patrika Publication, 1980, pp. 45Google Scholar (originally published in The Maha Bodhi, April–May 1950); Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp, ‘From Bhakti to Buddhism: Ravidas and Ambedkar’, Economic and Political Weekly, 9 June, 2007, p. 2179; Beltz, ‘Introduction’, p. 4.

25 A. M. Shah, ‘Sanskritisation Revisited’, p. 244.

26 Contursi, ‘Political Theology’, p. 322.

27 Hardtmann, The Dalit Movement, pp. 171, 229.

28 Viswanathan, Gauri, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief, New Jersey, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 238239Google Scholar; cf. Ganguly, Debjani, ‘Buddha, bhakti and superstition: a post-secular reading of dalit conversion’, Postcolonial Studies (Routledge), 2004, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 50CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Contursi, ‘Political Theology’, p. 322.

30 Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, p. 272.

31 The formation of the Independent Labour Party in 1936 and the Republican Party of India in 1957 aimed to provide an alternative political platform for the downtrodden to contest the hegemonic Varna ideology of Brahminical Hinduism.

32 Beltz, ‘Introduction’, pp. 11–12; see also Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, p. 272; Wankhede, ‘The Political and the Social’, pp. 52–53.

33 Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, p. 272–273.

34 Ibid., p. 279.

35 Srinivas, ‘A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization’, p. 481.

36 Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution, pp. 90, 112.

37 Srinivas, M. N., Social Change in Modern India, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968, p. 7Google Scholar.

38 Mendelsohn, Oliver and Vicziany, Marika, The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty and the State in Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 78Google Scholar. See also Jaffrelot, Christophe, India's Silent Revolution—The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India, New Delhi: Permanent, 2003Google Scholar, Part II, Chapters 5–7.

39 Dalit conversion to Sikhism mainly attracted by its egalitarian philosophy. Massive Dalit conversion to Sikhism begins with the 4th Master, Guru Ramdass which intensified during the Guruship of the 6th (Guru Hargobind) and the 10th (Guru Govind Singh) Masters. Dalit Sikhs are divided into two segments. The first comprises Mazhbis and Rangretas whose hereditary profession was primarily scavenging. They were originally of the Chuhra caste (sweepers). After conversion to Sikhism they came to be known as Mazhbis and Rangretas. The other segment of Dalit Sikhs consists of Ramdassias. They were Julahas (Weavers) before their conversion to Sikhism. Ramdassias are often confused with Ravidassias. Though probably of the same origin, they are separated by their distinct occupations. Despite the egalitarian stance of Sikh theology, meticulously preserved in the holy text (Guru Granth Sahib) of the Sikh faith, the evil of caste discrimination seeped slowly into the panth (organization/community of the Sikh religion). For a detailed account of the caste system among Sikhs see: Denzil Ibbetson, Punjab Castes [a reprint of the chapter on ‘Races, Castes and Tribes of the People’ in the Report on the Census of the Panjab 1881], Punjab Language Department, 1883, rpt. 1970; Marenco, Ethne K., The Transformation of Sikh society, New Delhi: Heritage Publishers, 1976Google Scholar; Puri, Harish K., ‘Scheduled Caste in Sikh Community: A Historical Perspective’, Economic and Political Weekly, 2003, Vol. 38, No. 26, June 28, pp. 26932701Google Scholar; McLeod, W. H., The Evolution of Sikh Community, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996Google Scholar; Kaur, Ravinder, ‘Jat Sikhs: A Question of Identity’, Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.), 1986, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 221239CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chandra, Kanchan, ‘The Transformation of Ethnic Politics in India: The Decline of the Congress and the Rise of the Bahujan samaj Party in Hoshiarpur’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 2000, Vol. 59, No. 1, p. 49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ram, Ronki, ‘Social Exclusion, Resistance and Deras: Exploring the Myth of Casteless Sikh Society in Punjab’, Economic and Political Weekly, 2007, Vol. XLII, No. 40, October 6, pp. 40664074Google Scholar; Ram, Ronki, ‘The Dalit Sikhs’, Dalit International Newsletter (Waterford, CT.), 2004, Vol. 9, No. 3, October, pp. 57Google Scholar.

40 For a detailed account of Dalit conversion to Christianity see: Webster, John C. B., A Social History of Christianity: North-west India Since 1800, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007Google Scholar; Cox, Jeffrey, Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818–1940, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002Google Scholar; Webster, John C. B., The Dalit Christians: A History, Delhi: ISPCK, 2000Google Scholar; Webster, John C. B., ‘Christian Conversion in the Punjab: What has Changed?’, in Robinson, Rowena and Clarke, Sathianathan (eds), Religious Conversion in India: Modes, Motivations, and Meanings, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 351380Google Scholar; Webster, John C. B., ‘The Christian Movement in Punjab’, in Puri, Harish K. and Judge, Paramjit S. (eds), Social and Political Movements, Jaipur: Rawat, 2000, pp. 111134Google Scholar; Harding, Christopher, Religious Transformation in South Asia: The Meanings of Conversion in Colonial Punjab, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Singh, Ganda, Christianity in the Punjab: A Bibliographical Survey, Patiala: Punjabi University Press, 1966Google Scholar.

41 Ram, ‘Social Exclusion, Resistance and Deras’, pp. 4066–4074.

42 For details see, Webster, A Social History of Christianity, pp. 61–182; Cox, Imperial Fault Lines, p. 116–117, 131; Nahar, Emmanual, Minority Politics in India: Role and Impact of Christians in Punjab Politics, Chandigarh: Arun Publishers, 2007, pp. 7381Google Scholar.

43 Cox, Imperial Fault Lines, p. 116.

44 Webster, A Social History of Christianity, p. 179.

45 Lodiana Mission Annual Reports 1893 as quoted in Webster, A Social History of Christianity, p. 179.

46 Evidence of untouchability against them is vividly reflected in the Khalsa Dharam Sastra of 1914 and also in a number of resolutions adopted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee from 1926 to 1933. Although the Sikh reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries preached in favour of removing untouchability, no strenuous efforts were made in that direction. Social opprobrium continues to afflict them and other Dalits. Some of them feel that Jat Sikhs treat them as badly in the gurdwaras as they do in their farmlands. For details see, Avtar Singh Tehna et al., ‘Kyon Bandey hann Derae?’ [Why Deras Come into Existence?], Desh Sewak, [Panjabi Daily Chandigarh], Sunday Magazine, 2007, 3 June; See also Puri, Harish K., ‘Scheduled Castes in Sikh Community: A Historical Perspective’, Economic and Political weekly, 2003, Vol. 38, No. 26, June 28–July 4, p. 2697Google Scholar.

47 See Ram, ‘The Dalit Sikhs’, pp. 5–7.

48 Kalsi, Sewa Singh, ‘The Sikhs and Caste: The Development of Ramgarhia Identity in Britain’, in Singh, Pashaura and Barrier, N. Gerald (eds), Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, New Delhi: Manohar, 1999, p. 256Google Scholar.

49 The Jats of Punjab are primarily an agriculture community who have become the dominant caste in the state. The Sikh Empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and subsequent British rule over Punjab helped them considerably in that regard by establishing their hold over the land in the state. See, Marenco, The Transformation of Sikh society, Chapters, IV–VII; Liu, Xinru, ‘Small Landholding in the Punjab: The Historical Perspective’, The Panjab Past and Present, October 1982, Vol. XVI, No. II, pp. 387395Google Scholar; Dulhe, Hoshiar Singh, Jattan Da Itihas (a historical study of one hundred and one Jat sub-castes), Chandigarh: Lokgeet Prakashan 2001Google Scholar.

50 Singh, Narinderpal, ‘Shiromani Committee and Caste’, Desh Sewak (Punjabi Daily, Chandigarh), 2007Google Scholar, Sunday Magazine, 1 July.

51 Pettigrew, Joyce, Robber Noblemen: A study of the Political System of the Jat Sikhs, New Delhi: Ambika Publication, 1978, p. 44Google Scholar; see also, Grewal, J. S., Contesting Interpretations of the Sikh Tradition, New Delhi: Manohar, 1998, p. 210Google Scholar; Bains, Tara Singh and Johnston, H., The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life Journey of an Emigrant Sikh, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University press, 1995, p. 48Google Scholar; and Rashpal Walia, ‘The Problem of Untouchability among Sikhs in Punjab with Special Reference to Mazhabi Sikhs’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Panjab University, Chandigarh, 1993, pp. 203, 233.

52 Ibbetson, Punjab Castes, pp. 268–269.

53 Bhullar, Gurbachan Singh, ‘Dera Vivad: Sawal hi Sawal Han, Jawab Koi Nahi!’ (Dera Controversy: All Questions, No Answers!), Nawan Zamana (Punjabi Daily, Jalandhar), 2007, 8 July p. 2Google Scholar.

54 Walia, ‘The Problem of Untouchability’, pp. 264, 266–267.

55 Villages in Punjab are predominantly Sikh and Dalit. For details see, Ram, ‘Social Exclusion, Resistance and Deras’, p. 4068.

56 See Ram, Ronki, ‘Untouchability in India with a Difference: Ad Dharm, Dalit Assertion, and Caste Conflicts in Punjab’, Asian Survey, November–December 2004, Vol. XLIV, No. 6, pp. 895912CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

57 Such as village common lands, management committees of religious/cultural/social bodies, Panchayati Raj Institutions (Local Self Government) etc.

58 Dalits have separate Gurdwaras in about 10,000 villages out of a total of 12,780 villages in Punjab. A survey of 116 villages in one Tehsil of Amritsar district showed that Dalits had separate Gurdwaras in 68 villages. Yet another field-study of 51 villages selected from the three sub-regions of Punjab found that dalits had separate Gurdwaras in as many as 41 villages. For details see: Dalit Voice (Bangalore), 2003, Vol. 22, No. 17, September 1–15, p. 20; Puri, ‘Scheduled Caste in Sikh Community’, p. 2700; Jodhka, Surinder S., ‘Caste and Untouchability in Rural Punjab’, Economic and Political Weekly, May 2002, Vol. 37 (19), p. 1818Google Scholar; Gurnam Singh Muktsar, ‘Sikhs Divided into 3 Warring Camps: Upper Castes, Jats, and Dalits’. Dalit Voice, 1–15 (August) 2003, pp. 21–22. For a detailed account of Ravidass Deras in Punjab see, Qadian, Som Nath Bharti, Jagat Guru Ravidass Sampradaya Sant te Sadhna Sthal (Sants and Deras of World Guru Ravidass Panth), Jalandhar: Dera Sant Sarwan Dass Ji Sach Khand Ballan, 2003Google Scholar; Ram, Ronki, ‘Ravidass Deras and Social Protest: Making Sense of Dalit Consciousness in Punjab (India)’, The Journal of Asian Studies (Cambridge), November 2008, Vol. 67, No. 4, pp. 13411364CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 They are often heard complaining about why the Jat Sikhs, who refused to consider them equal even after death by denying them the burning of their corpses in the main cremation ground of the village, expect them to remain a part of Sikh religion. See, Tehna et al., ‘Kyon Bandey hann’; Vijaya Pushkarna, ‘Matter of Faith’, viewed online at see. . .5/31/2009 (link no longer available).

60 See, Ram, ‘Ravidass Deras and Social Protest’, pp. 1343, 1347; Rajesh Deol, ‘Dalits & ‘emancipatory’ Sikhism’, Deccan Herald, Sunday, 31 May 2009, (accessed 23 March 2011); Singh, K. P., ‘Global Movement of Dalits: Dalits in North America’, The Vancouver Vision on Diversity, Canada: The Association For International Dalit Conference Inc, 2003, pp. 3540Google Scholar.

61 For details see, Kathryn Lum, ‘A Minority within a Minority: The Ravidassia Sikhs’, Sikhs in Europe, June 2009; (Accessed 18 March 2011).

62 Ravidass deras are Dalit religious domains distinguishable from Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples. Dera, literally meaning a holy abode free from the structural bindings of institutionalized religious orders, is the headquarters of a group of devotees owing allegiance to a particular spiritual person, who is reverently addressed as Baba, Sant or Maharaj. A Dera thrives on a distinct philosophy, rituals and symbol, which are inspired by the teachings and philosophy of a particular holy person after whom it has been established. For a detailed account of Deras see, Lal, Madan, Gurudom: ‘The Political Dimension of Religious Sects in the Punjab’, South Asia Research (Sage), Vol. 29, No. 3, 2009, pp. 223234CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

63 The first public ceremony for collective conversion to Buddhism was held at ‘Chak Hakim’ a village in the vicinity of Phagwara town in the district of Kapurthala in Doaba Punjab on 17 June 1958. On this day it is alleged that about 5,000 Dalits of Punjab embraced Buddhism under the guidance of Ven. G. Prajnananda of Buddha Vihara of Lucknow. The conversion ceremony took place amidst a well organized protest drama orchestrated by the Congress party of Punjab under the leadership of Babu Jagjivan Ram, a veteran national Dalit congress leader, Pratap Singh Kairon, the then Chief Minister of Punjab, Master Gurvanta Singh, and Master Sadhu Ram (top Dalit congress leaders of the Punjab congress party) were spearheading the protest against Dalit conversion to Buddhism in the state. The opposing congress leadership was instigating Dalits in Punjab against the conversion ceremony by raising the fear of the demise of Ravidass faith (an alternative religion with a strong following amongst Dalits, particularly of the Chamar caste in the state). For details see, Sampla, B. R., Vidroh da Chinh: Dr. Ambedkar [Symbol of Revolt: Dr. Ambedkar], Jalandhar: Pritam Prakashan, n.d., pp. VIIVIIIGoogle Scholar. However, Diwan Chand Ahir, a reputed Buddhist scholar, contested this figure of 5,000 Dalit converts. He was of the opinion that many people who had gathered at the conversion ceremony were the followers of Ambedkar who ‘did not show the same zeal and enthusiasm to come over to Buddhism’. See, Ahir, D. C., Dr. Ambedkar and Punjab, Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation, 1992, p. 105Google Scholar; Conversation with D. C. Ahir, # 503/15 A, Chandigarh, 9 September 2006.

64 Some of the most prominent among them were organized by the Buddhist Society of India (Punjab) at the Buddha Vihara at Siddhartha Nagar on 14 October 1981; the Punjab Buddha Mahasabha at Roshan Ground Hoshiarpur on 10 March 1991. For details see, Ahir, Dr. Ambedkar, pp. 104–116; Virdi, S. L., Punjab da Dalit Itihas [1901–2000] (Dalit History of Punjab [1901–2000]), Phagwara: Dalit Sahit Academy Punjab, n.d., pp. 219228Google Scholar.

65 Ahir, Dr. Ambedkar, p. 105.

66 Census of India, 2001.

67 Conversation with D. C. Ahir, # 503, 15 A, Chandigarh, 9 September 2006.

68 Based on a conversation with L. R. Balley, Editor Bheem Patrika and the most reputed Ambedkarite Buddhist of Punjab, Chandigarh, 14 March 2009. Also based on a personal communication with D. C. Ahir, A-2/30, Janak Puri, New Delhi–58, dated 13 April 2009.

69 The following is a complete list of all the existing Buddha Viharas in Punjab: ‘Siddharth Nagar Buddha Vihara’, Bootan Mandi (Jalandhar), ‘Dr. Ambedkar Budhha Vihara’, Maksoodan village, (Jalandhar), ‘Buddha Vihara’, Sofi Pind, ‘Saddhatissa Buddha Vihara’, Chanan Nagar, Sofi Pind, ‘Ananda Buddha Vihara’, Siddharth Nagar, Nurmahal Road (Phillaur), ‘Anand Buddha Vihara’, Anandgarh (Mehllanwali village), Hoshiarpur, ‘Buddha Vihara’, Bath Kalan, Tehsil Nakodar, ‘Ashoka Buddha Vihara’, Ravidaspur colony, Mahatpur (Nakodar), ‘Sanghamitta Buddha Vihara’, Satnampura Colony (Phagwara), ‘Mahamaya Buddha Vihara’, Balachaur (Nawanshehar), ‘Mahashambhoon Buddha Vihara’, as part of ‘Dr. Ambedkar Buddhist Research Centre’, Blaukipur (Phillaur), and ‘Takshila Maha Buddha Vihara’, Kandan, near Ludhiana. Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, former Union Minister of Steel, Chemicals and Fertilizers, inaugurated the ‘Takshila Maha Buddha Vihara’ on 8 October 2008. Based on field notes and a personal communication with D. C. Ahir, A-2/30, Janak Puri, New Delhi–58, 13 dated April 2009; see also, (accessed 23 March 2011).

70 Ahir, Dr. Ambedkar, p. 105.

71 Ahir, Dr. Ambedkar, p. 107.

72 Guru Ravidass commands enormous respect among the Dalits of Punjab, especially those who belonged to the Chamar caste. Chamar is an umbrella caste category that clubs together Chamar, Jatia Chamar, Rehgar, Raigar, Ramdasi and Ravidasi castes. According to the 1991 Census, they constitute 25.8 per cent of the total Scheduled Caste population in Punjab. They are the most advanced among all the Dalit castes in Punjab. Many of them have settled abroad (Europe, North America and the Middle East) and help their brethren back home through rich remittances. See, Puri, Harish K., ‘Introduction’, in Puri, Harish K (ed.), Dalits in Regional Context, New Delhi: Rawat, 2004, p. 4Google Scholar; Deep, Dalip Singh, Sadhan Main Ravidasa Sant: Jiwan Ate Vichar (Sant Ravidass among the Saints: Life and Thought). Patiala: Punjabi University, 2001, p. 7Google Scholar.

73 Based on conversation with L. R. Balley, Editor Bheem Patrika and the most reputed Ambedkarite Buddhist of Punjab, Chandigarh, 14 March 2009.

74 Chumber, C. L., ‘Dr. Ambedkar da Dharm Parivartan’ (Religion conversion of Dr Ambedkar), Kaumi Udarian, July 1988, Vol. 6, Nos. 6–8, p. 27Google Scholar.

75 Dalits in Punjab have dissociated from manual labour (the traditional mainstay of their livelihood) and diversified into varied specialized non-caste professions. Their entry into state and national legislature as well as local bodies (village panchayat and municipalities) under state affirmative action has further contributed towards their upward mobility. In addition, they have formed various political organizations, committees, parties, community halls, marriage palaces, and separate shrines (gurdwaras, temples, deras etc.) that helped them in concretizing their separate social identity. Many of them have settled abroad, another significant indicator of their upward social mobility. It is common among the Dalit diasporas to say that: ‘I am proud to be a Chamar [historical, derogatory term for the leather-working caste]. I tell everyone, I don't feel any shame. This is who I am and I want others to know’, quoted in Kathryn Lum, ‘Face to Faith: The Ravidassia movement could help to bring about the end of the caste system in India’. [accessed 28 March 2011]. For a field-based study of the different patterns of upward Dalit social mobility in Punjab see, Judge, Paramjit S. and Bal, Gurpreet, Mapping Dalits: Contemporary Reality and Future Prospects in Punjab, Jaipur: Rawat, 2009Google Scholar.

76 See, Ram, Ronki, ‘Regional Specificities and Caste Hierarchies in Punjab’, Indian Journal of Politics, Vol. 43 (2), June 2009, pp. 1529Google Scholar.

77 Ibbotson argued that ‘[t]he Brahminic influence was probably never so strong in the Panjab as in many other parts of India. . .’ Buddha Prakash, another authority on the history of the province, was of the opinion that Brahminic orthodoxy had ‘practically abandoned’ the province of Punjab quite early in history. The impact of Islam, Sikhism and Christianity had further weakened the grip of the ‘Brahminical teachings’ in the province. The largescale Dalit conversion to these egalitarian religions was premised on the hope that it would liberate them from the bounds of social exclusion. Though the texture of Brahminical Hinduism was deeply influenced by the arrival of Islam and Christianity from abroad, and the emergence of Sikhism from within, the pristine and tribal system of caste hierarchy refused to cave-in in Punjab. In other words, the institution of caste continued to afflict the Dalits of the province despite the presence of monotheistic and egalitarian traditions of foreign and indigenous religions alike. That is what turned Punjab into a distinct region of weak Brahminical influence with strong indigenous caste hierarchies. For details see: Ibbetson, Punjab Castes, p. 15; Prakash, Buddha, ‘Ancient Punjab: A Panoramic View’, in Singh, Harbans and Barrier, N. G. (eds), Punjab: Past and Present: Essay in Honour of Dr. Ganda Singh, Patiala: Punjabi University, 1976, p. 8Google Scholar.

78 There is a common saying in Punjab that if the first person you meet in the early morning per chance happened to be a Brahmin then your whole day gets spoiled.

79 It divided Hindu society into four varnas: Brahmina (priest), Kshatriya (soldier), Vaishya (trader), and Shudra (sevants). Below these four varnas are Panchamas, the fifth category, the so-called Untouchables. They are also considered as avarnas (beyond varna or lacking a varna). Broadly speaking, the varna system constituted the very basis of the hierarchically graded caste system in India.

80 A local peasant caste which was otherwise assigned the lower status in the predominant Hindu social order. The Jat Sikhs claim to occupy the top position in the distinct caste hierarchy in Punjab. See, Singh, Indera Pal, ‘Caste in a Sikh Village’, in Singh, Harjinder, (ed.), Caste among Non-Hindus in India, New Delhi, National Publishing House, 1977, p. 70Google Scholar; see also Judge, P. S., ‘Religion, Caste, and Communalism in Punjab’, Sociological Bulletin, September 2002, Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 178185CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

81 Singh, ‘Caste in a Sikh Village’, p. 70; Kaur, ‘Jat Sikhs’, pp. 221–239.

82 Punjab is a Sikh (59.9 per cent) majority state. However around 60 per cent of the Sikh population consists of Jat Sikhs who comprise between 30 to 33 per cent of the total population of the state. Another community that comes closer to the Jat Sikhs in Punjab in terms of numbers is the Dalit community. Dalits constitute as much as 29 per cent of the total population of the state (2001 Census). The Scheduled Castes population is expected to increase significantly, as Mahatam/Rai Sikh—another downtrodden community—has recently been included in the list of Scheduled Castes in the Indian constitution (Scheduled Castes Amendment, No. 31, 29 August 2007; Punjab Government Gazette, Regd. No. CHD/0092/2006–2008, No. 45, 9 November 2007.

83 Dalits were historically deprived of land-ownership rights in the customary scheme of local working relationships in Punjab. They were not even allowed to construct cemented houses on the village common land owned by the village landowning communities. The customary social separatism and deprivation of Dalits was reinforced during the Sikh kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and subsequently under colonial rule and the British administration. The Land Alienation Act of 1900 debarred the non-agricultural castes, including Dalits, from buying land. It was only after India's independence that such laws were declared null and void through the concerted efforts of Dr B. R. Ambedkar, chief-architect of the constitution of Independent India and the messiah of the downtrodden. For details see, Webster, A Social History of Christianity, pp. 138–139; Barrier, Norman G., ‘The Punjab Goverment and Communal Politics, 1870–1908’, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, May 1968, pp. 523539CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Barrier, Norman G., Punjab Alienation of Land Bill of 1900, Durham, N. C., 1965Google Scholar; Marenco, The Transformation, Chapters IV–VII; Liu, Xinru, ‘Small Landholding in the Punjab: The Historical Perspective’. The Punjab Past and Present, 1982, Vol. XVI (II), October, pp. 387395Google Scholar; S. L. Virdi, ‘Bharat De Dalitan Di Asseem Dastan Da Dastavej’ (Document on the endless story of the Dalits in India), Begumpura Shaher, 2003, 11 August, pp. 2, 11.

84 For details see, Surinder S. Jodhka, ‘Caste and Untouchability in Rural Punjab’, Economic and Political Weekly, 11 May 2002, p. 1823; Jodhka, Surinder S., ‘Sikhism and the caste question: Dalits and their politics in contemporary Punjab’, Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.), Vol. 38, Nos. 1, 2, 2004, p. 183CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

85 The expression in parenthesis is borrowed from The Hindu (editorial, ‘The caste war in Punjab’), 28 May 2009.

86 For details see, Ram, ‘Social Exclusion, Resistance and Deras’, pp. 4068–4071.

87 The other two axes of power are the economic and the political ones. For details see, Srinivas, ‘A Note on Sanskritization’, p. 483.

88 The rise of militancy in Sikhism in the sixteenth century was generally attributed to the martial nature of the Jats. For details see: Irfan Habib, ‘Jatts of Punjab and Sind’, in Singh and Barrier (eds), Punjab Past and Present, p. 100; McLeod, The Evolution of Sikh, p. 12; Pettigrew, Robber Noblemen, p. 26; cf. Grewal, Contesting Interpretations; Singh, Gurdev (ed.), Perspectives on the Sikh Tradition, Patiala: Siddharth Publications, 1986Google Scholar; Singh, Jagjit, Perspectives on Sikh Studies, New Delhi: Guru Nank Foundation, 1985Google Scholar.

89 Punjab Government Gazette, Regd. No. CHD/0092/2006–2008, No. 45, 9 November 2007.

90 Based on a conversation with Autar Dhesi, an eminent academic from the region, 25 November 2009.

91 For a similar argument, though in a different context, please refer to the seminal work of Philip Constable, ‘The Marginalization of a Dalit Martial Race in Late Nineteenth-and Early Twentieth-Century Western India’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 2001, 60(2), May, pp. 470–471.

92 For details see Ram, Ronki, ‘Untouchability, Dalit Consciousness, and the Ad Dharm Movement in Punjab’. Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.), September–December 2004, Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 323349CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ram, ‘Ravidass Deras and Social Protest’, pp. 1341–1364; Ram, ‘Untouchability in India with a Difference’, pp. 895–912; Ram, ‘Social Exclusion, Resistance and Deras’, pp. 4066–4074.

93 Srinivas, ‘A Note on Sanskritization’, p. 483.

94 Juergensmeyer, Mark, Religious Rebels in the Punjab: The Social Vision of Untouchables. Delhi: Ajanta, 1988, p. 272Google Scholar; cf. Hardtmann, The Dalit Movement in India, pp. 171–173.

95 Hardtmann, The Dalit Movement in India, p. 171.

97 Census of India, 2001.

98 Gokhale, ‘The Sociopolitical Effects of Ideological Change’, pp. 272, 278.

99 Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, pp. 24–25.

100 Ravidassi samaj is another nomenclature of the Adivasi/Adi Dharmi (original inhabitants) of the country. It also includes those ex-untouchable people who have been initiated into the Nirankari, Radha Soami, Sarsa Vale, Ak Jot, and other orders of sant mat (sant tradition). In fact, all the ex-untouchable followers of different orders of sant tradition also consider Ravidass to be their Guru.

101 See, Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, pp. 276, 279, 281; Mendelsohn and Vicziany, The Untouchables, p. 102.

102 Ambedkar, B. R., Conversion as Emancipation, New Delhi: Critical Quest, 2004, pp. 78Google Scholar.

103 For a detailed account of the various political developments in the 1920s see: Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, pp. 20–32; Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution, pp. 105–107; Mendelsohn and Vicziany, The Untouchables, p. 99; Ahir, Dr. Ambedkar, pp. 9–11; Hardtmann, The Dalit Movement in India, pp. 54–56; Cox, Imperial Fault Lines, pp.135, 266–269.

104 For details see: Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels; Juergensmeyer, Mark ‘Ad Dharm Movement’, In Puri, Harish K. and Judge, Paramjit S. (eds), Social and Political Movements: Readings on Punjab, New Delhi: Rawat, 2000Google Scholar; Ram, ‘Untouchability, Dalit Consciousness’, pp. 323–349. cf. p. 87.

105 Ravidass belonged to Uttar Pradesh. He was born at Seer Goverdhanpur, a suburb in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. His followers from Punjab have raised a huge temple [Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Temple] at the place of his birth. However some scholars traced his birthplace to Mandoorgarh village—situated on the main road about two kilometres from Mughal Sarai Railway station, also near Varanasi. For details see: Misardeep Bhatia, ‘Shri Guru Ravidass Ji Nu Minnan Wallian Nu Jooruri Succhna’ (Important Information for the Followers of Shri Guru Ravidass), Adi Gurparkash Patrika (Jalandhar), 1993, Special Volume, pp. 1–3; Deep, Sadhan Main Ravidasa, p. 2; Schaller, Joseph, ‘Sanskritization, Caste Uplift, and Social Dissidence in the Sant Ravidass Panth’, in Lorenzen, David N. (ed.), Bhakti Religion in North India: Community Identity and Political Action, New Delhi: Manohar, 1996, p. 114Google Scholar; Singh, Bhai Jodh, Bhagat Ravidas: Jiwan Te Rachna (Bhagat Ravidass: Life and Works). Patiala: Punjabi University, 2000, pp. 12Google Scholar.

106 For a detailed account of nirguni tradition see, John Stratton Hawley, ‘The Nirgun/Sagun Distinction in Early Manuscript Anthologies of Hindu Devotion’, in David N. Lorenzen (ed.), Bhakti Religion in North India, pp. 160–180; David N. Lorenzen, ‘The Lives of Nirguni Saints’, in Lorenzen (ed.), Bhakti Religion in North India, pp. 181–211; Staal, Frits, ‘The Ineffable Nirguna Brahman’, in Schomer, Karine and McLeod, W. H. (eds), The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987, pp. 4146Google Scholar; Wendy O'Flaherty, ‘The Interaction of Saguna and Nirguna Images of Diety’, in Schomer and McLeod (eds), The Sants, pp. 47–52.

107 Ravidass himself belonged to Kutbandhla (Chamar) caste, one of the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh. Chamars are known by their profession of leather and tanning. They were oppressed and their touch and sight were considered polluting by the upper castes. 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 ‘Chamar’ is derived from the Pali word ‘Cigar’ [bhikku's robes] and not from Charm [leather] Chamars comprise about 26 per cent (1991 census) of the total Scheduled Caste population of the state. If clubbed with Ad Dharmis, another Dalit caste, together they comprised 42 per cent of the total Scheduled Caste population in Punjab. Since the majority of Ad Dharmis are Chamars, they are popularly known as ‘Ad Dharmi Chamars’. Chamars and Ad Dharmi Chamars are mostly concentrated in the Doaba sub-region of the state. For details see: Gosal, R. P. S., ‘Distribution and Relative Concentration of Scheduled Caste Population in Punjab’, in Puri, Harish K. (ed.), Dalits in Regional Context, Jaipur: Rawat, 2004, p. 23Google Scholar; Lochtefeld, James G., ‘The Saintly Chamar: Perspectives on the Life of Ravidas’, in Zelliot, Eleanor and Mokashi-Punekar, Rohini (eds), Untouchable Saints: An Indian Phenomenon, New Delhi: Manohar, 2005, pp. 208212Google Scholar; Prasad, Chandrabhan and Dahiwale, Mahesh, ‘Ravidas in the Contemporary World’, in Zelliot, Eleanor and Mokashi-Punekar, Rohini (eds). Untouchable Saints: An Indian Phenomenon. New Delhi: Manohar, 2005, pp. 254256Google Scholar.

108 Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, p. 33.

109 Ahir, Dr. Ambedkar, p. 105. See also Paramjit Singh Judge, ‘Bhagwant Rasoolpuri de Kahani ‘Jarhan’’ (The Story ‘Jarhan’ by Bhagwant Rasoolpuri), Parvachan, No. 36, 2009, July–September, p. 14.

110 The Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF), the Republican Party of India (RPI), and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have subsequently emerged as the political parties of the Dalits. For details See, Ram, ‘Untouchability in India with a Difference’, pp. 895–912.

111 Based on conversations with K. C. Sulekh, an Ambedkarite and prolific writer, Chandigarh, 2 December 2004; K. C. Shenmar, an Ambedkarite and retired Punjab Police officer, Chandigarh, 14 July 2001; Chanan Lal Manak, an active member of the Ad Dharm Mandal, Jalandhar, 1 May 2001; see also, Piplanwala, Babu Hazara Ram, ‘Lothian Committee and Ad Dharm Mandal’, Kaumi Udarian, 1986, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 1015Google Scholar; Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, pp. 295–298.

112 The concept of Bhakti in Sant Mat/Parampara is entirely different from that of the Vaishnava (Vishnuite) tradition. In the vaishnava tradition, bhakti is based on idol worshipping of the various avatars of God (Sagun). The sant parampara lays emphasis on loving adoration of and devotion to the non-anthropomorphic God (Nirgun), and continuous recitation of the ‘word’ (naam) given by the Guru. Though sant parampara and vaishnav traditions are collectively known as the 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, John Stratton, ‘Author and Authority in the Bhakti Poetry of North India’, The Journal of Asian Studies, May 1988, Vol. 47, No. 2, p, 270CrossRefGoogle Scholar). For a detailed account of Sant Mat/Parampara of the North Indian Bhakti movement see: Hawley, John Stratton, ‘Author and Authority in the Bhakti Poetry of North India’, The Journal of Asian Studies, May 1988, Vol. 47, No. 2, p. 270CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McLeod, W. H., Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968Google Scholar; Lele, Jayant, ‘The Bhakti Movement in India: a Critical Introduction’, in Lele, Jayant (ed.), Tradition and Modernity in Bhakti Movements, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981, pp. 115Google Scholar; Chaturvedi, Parshuram, Uttari Bharat ki sant-parampara (Sant Tradition of North India), Prayag: Bharati Bhandhar, 1952Google Scholar; David N. Lorenzen (ed.), Bhakti Religion in North India; Charlotte Vaudeville, ‘Sant Mat: Santism as the Universal Path to Sanctity’ in Schomer and McLeod (eds), The Sants, pp. 21–40; Bruce B. Lawrence, ‘The Sant Movement and North Indian Sufis’, in Schomer and McLeod (eds), The Sants, pp, 359–373; Singh, Darshan, The Study of Bhakta Ravidasa, 2nd edn.Patiala: Punjabi University 1996, pp. 8386Google Scholar.

113 Pandey, Sangam Lal, Existence, Devotion and Freedom: The Philosophy of Ravidass, Allahabad: Darshan Peeth, 1961, pp. 78Google Scholar; Zelliot, Eleanor, ‘Ravidas to Ambedkar’, Voices from Vancouver: The Souvenir of The International Dalit Conference, Vancouver, Canada: May 16–18, 2003, Canada: The Association For International Dalit Conference Inc., p. 27Google Scholar; Singh, Joginder, ‘Shri Guru Ravidass Viaktitav da Nirnan’ (The Decision of the Individualism of Shri Guru Ravidass), Hashia (Punjabi Quarterly, Ludhiana), January–March 2009, pp. 79Google Scholar.

114 Singh, Darshan, The Study of Bhakta Ravidasa (2nd edn.), Patiala: Punjabi University, 1996, p. 25Google Scholar; Callewaert, Winand M. and Friedlander, Peter G., The Life and Works of Raidâs, New Delhi: Manohar, 1992, pp. 2021Google Scholar; SirIbbetson, Denzil, Punjab Castes, Punjab: Language Department Punjab, [1883] 1970, p. 300Google Scholar.

115 James G Lochtefeld, ‘The Saintly Chamar: Perspectives on the Life of Ravidas’, In Zelliot and Punekar (eds), Untouchable Saints, pp. 201–202.

116 Hawley, ‘Author and Authority’, p. 272; Chandra, Kanchan, ‘The Transformation of Ethnic Politics in India: The Decline of Congress and the Rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Hoshiarpur’, The Journal of Asian Studies, February 2000, Vol. 59, No. 1, p. 49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

117 Lum, ‘Face to Faith’.

118 Prasad and Dahiwale, ‘Ravidas in the Contemporary World’, p. 250.

119 Deep, Sadhan Main Ravidasa Sant, pp. 11, 17; Singh, K. P., ‘Global Movement of Dalits: Dalits in North America’, The Vancouver Vision on Diversity. Canada: The Association For International Dalit Conference Inc., 2003, pp. 3540Google Scholar.

120 For a detailed account of shramanic tradition see, Mani, Braj Ranjan, Debrahmanising History: Dominance and Resistance in Indian Society, DelhiManohar, 2005, pp. 7384Google Scholar.

121 Schaller, ‘Sanskritization, Caste Uplift, and Social Dissidence’, p. 107.

122 The Hindu (editorial: ‘The caste war in Punjab’), 28 May 2009.

123 Schaller, ‘Sanskritization, Caste Uplift, and Social Dissidence’, p. 94.

124 Constable, Philip, ‘Early Dalit Literature and Culture in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century’, Modern Asian Studies, 1997, 31 (2), pp. 317338CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

125 Schaller, ‘Sanskritization, Caste Uplift, and Social Dissidence’, p. 116; Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp, ‘From Bhakti to Buddhism: Ravidass and Ambedkar’, Economic and Political weekly, 9–15 June 2007, p. 2182.

126 Shudras were prohibited from hearing and reading the sacred texts of the Hindu religion. Its violation invited the severest punishment, as mentioned in the Manusmriti, the law book of Hindu religion.

127 Omvedt, Gail, Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste, New Delhi: Sage, 2003, p. 33Google Scholar; see also, Hardtmann, The Dalit Movement in India, p. 57.

128 Dasgupta, S. N., Hindu Mysticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976, p. 162Google Scholar; Omvedt, Buddhism in India, p. 191.

129 Lal, Chaman, Dalit Sahitya ke Agardoot; Guru Ravidass (Precursor of Dalit Literature: Guru Ravidas). Panchkula: Aadhar Publication, 1998, p. 7Google Scholar.

130 Adi Granth, p. 1106, as translated in Callewaert and Friedlander, The Life and Works of Raidas, p. 166. Hereafter translations of the quotations from the poetry of Ravidass are taken from Callewaert and Friedlander, The Life and Works; and the Panjabi couplets (romanized) of Ravidass’ poetry where the page numbers of the Adi Granth are taken from Jassi, Sat Pal, and Suman, Chain Ram, Holy Hymns and Miracles of Guru Ravi Dass Ji, Bal, Jalandhar: Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Public Charitable Trust, 2001Google Scholar.

131 Adi Granth, p. 1293. 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.

132 Puri, Balraj, ‘Samajik Sabhyacharik Krantikari Guru Ravidass’ (Socio-cultural Revolutionary Guru Ravidass), Bheem Patrika (Jalandhar) [Special Issue on Shri Guru Ravidass Birth Anniversary], (February), 2006, Vol. 2, Nos. 3–4, p. 11Google Scholar.

133 Conversation with Sant Prem Dass Jassal, President, all India Satguru Ravi Dass Mission, Vancouver, 17 May 2003.

134 Wendy, Doniger, Consulting Editor, Merriam—Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam—Webster, Inc. 1999, p. 910Google Scholar.

135 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. See, Hawley, John Stratton, and Juergensmeyer, Mark, Songs of the Saints of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 13Google Scholar.

136 Omvedt, Buddhism in India, p. 192.

137 Lochtefeld, ‘The Saintly Chamar’, p. 205.

138 For a detailed account of such stories see: Zelliot and Punekar (eds), Untouchable Saints, especially the section on Ravidass; Callewaert and Friedlander, The Life and Works of Raidas; Hawley and Juergensmeyer Songs of the Saints, pp. 9–32.

139 Chanan Chahal, (n.d.) Satguru Ravidass a Revolutionary, Unpublished paper, pp. 4–5.

140 Conversation with Karam Singh Raju, an ex-IAS officer, prolific writer and devotee of Ravidass, Chandigarh, 9 February 2004.

141 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 princess and daughter-in-law of the King of Mewar, Sangram Singh; Prince Veer Singh Dev Vaghela of Rewa of Madhya Pradesh; and the Prince of Kanshi were the most prominent among them. However, as far as Mirabai is concerned, different scholars hold different views regarding the belief of her being a disciple of Ravidass. For details see: Kaul, G. C., ‘Guru Ravidass: Ik Mahaan Vyaktitava’ (Guru Ravidass: A Great Personality), in Ambedkari, Jagjiwan (ed.), Shri Guru Ravidass Ji Souvenir, Jalandhar: All India Samata Sainik Dal, 2001, p. 48Google Scholar; Chaturvedi, Uttari Bharat ki sant-parampara, pp. 239–240.

142 Conversation with K. C. Sulekh, an Ambedkarite and prolific writer, Chandigarh, 2 December 2004.

143 Muktsar, Gurnam Singh, Kahe Ravidas Chumara (Thus Spake Ravidass Chamar), Jalandhar: Dera Sach Khand Ballan, 2002, pp. 7074Google Scholar; see also his, Sikh Lehr De Sirjak (Originators of the Sikh Movement), Jalandhar: Bahujan Samaj Prakashan, 2004.

144 Omvedt, Buddhism in India, p. 192; see also Hawley, and Juergensmeyer, Songs of the Saints, 1988, p. 15.

145 For details see, More, Thomas, The Best State of a Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia, in Sylvester, Richard S. (ed.), The Complete Works of St Thomas More, Vol. 4, New Heaven: Yale University Press, 1965Google Scholar; Karl, Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, Trans. From German by Wirth, Louis and Shils, Edward, New York: Harvest Books, 1936Google Scholar; Jameson, Fredric, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, London: Verso, 2007, 2nd ednGoogle Scholar.

146 Presently Other Backward Castes (OBCs).

147 The early modern period as refereed to by Gail Omvedt covers a time span of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. See, Omvedt, Gail, Seeking Begumpura: The Social Vision of Anticaste Intellectuals, Pondicherry, Navayana, 2008, p. 15Google Scholar.

148 Ibid.

149 Balmurli Natrajan, ‘The Liberation Theologists of the Hindu Past’,[0]=content [accessed 23 March 2011].

150 The term ‘subaltern state’ needs some clarification. Given the binary opposition between sovereign and subaltern, can a sovereign state be called subaltern? Since the term subaltern implies an existence on the margins, would it be appropriate to designate a sovereign state with the prefix of subaltern? What I mean by subaltern state is a promised/utopian/aspired sovereign space inhabited by the socially excluded sections of a society who would not only cease to exist as subjects but also assume the status of masters. It is in this context that the utopia of Begumpura comes to identify with the subaltern state in terms of the transformed and elevated status of its inhabitants. Subalterns in India, argues Gail Omvedt, ‘have to be defined not simply in ‘class’ or economic terms, but also in caste terms’. See, Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, pp. 7, 23.

151 Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, p. 10.

152 ‘Reason, in the words of Omvedt, defines the road to utopia; it analyzes the current situation of society and shows the strategy needed to realize a better one’. See Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, p. 11.

153 Singh, The Study of Bhakta Ravidasa, p. 99; see also Raju, Karam Singh, ‘Beghampura Sehar Ko Naun’ (There is a City named Beghampura), in Khanna, Usha (ed.), Relevance of Guru Ravidas's Philosophy in the Present Millennium, Jalandhar: Shri Guru Ravidass Foundation India, 2001, pp. 141147Google Scholar.

154 Adi Granth, p. 858.

155 Adi Granth, p. 345.

156 For details see, Omvedt, Seeking Begumpura, p. 272.

157 For details see: Chandra, Kanchan, ‘Post-Congress Politics in Uttar Pradesh: The Ethnification of the Party System and its Consequences’, in Roy, Ramashray and Wallace, Paul (eds), Indian Politics and the 1998 Election: Regionalism, Hindutva, and State Politics, New Delhi: Sage, 1999, pp. 5659Google Scholar; Jaffrelot, India's Silent Revolution, p. 149; Ram, ‘Untouchability in India with a Difference’, p. 900.

158 Dalit counterpublic refers to an inclusive intrapublic (within a Dalit public) Dalit sphere where differences are expressed and debated. ‘Interpublic relations, on the other hand, are built on the premises that the Dalit activists are excluded from the debates in the public sphere, that they are silenced in a unilateral way and for that reason have formed their own public’. See Hardtmann, The Dalit Movement, pp. 2–3.

159 Mangoo Ram was born on 14 January 1886 in a Chamar family in the village of Mugowal, District Hoshiarpur, Punjab. His father had a business selling hides. In 1909, he immigrated to America where he came in close contact with the Gadhar Party (a militant nationalist organization). On his return home in 1925, he organized the Depressed Classes against the system of untouchability and founded the Ad Dharm movement. In January 1928, he led a deputation of 150 prominent Ad Dharmis to the Simon commission and gave a memorandum for equal rights for the Depressed Classes. In 1932, he also met the Lothian Committee at Lahore asserting that Dalits were neither Sikhs, Hindus, Christians nor Muslims. He reiterated that they were, in fact, the indigenous people of India whose religion was Ad Dharm. He also sent telegrams during the Roundtable Conferences in London (1930–1932) pledging Ad dharm support for Dr B. R. Ambedkar as the leader of the Untouchables in India instead of Mahatama Gandhi. In 1946, he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly and remained in office until 1952. On 25 July 1976, he was invited as a Chief guest by Ad Dharm Brotherhood, United Kingdom, at the Ad Dharm Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Ad Dharm Brotherhood (UK) honoured him with a pension of Rs. 100 per month which he received till his death. On 15 August, 1972, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime minister of India, honoured him with a Tamra Patra and a pension of Rs. 200 per month for services rendered in the Gadhar Party during India's struggle for freedom. He died on 22 April 1980. For details see, Manak, Chanan Lal, ‘Krantikari Aagoo: Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia Atey Ad Dharm Lehar’ [Revolutionary Leader: Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia and Ad Dharm Movement], in Souvenir: Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia 99th Birth Anniversary, New Delhi: 41, Kundan Nagar, 1985, p. 6Google Scholar; Chattar Sain, ‘Ghadri Taun Ad Dharmi: Babu Mangoo Ram Ji Mugowalia’, in Souvenir Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia, p. 37.

160 Ad Dharm Report, p. 42 (Ad Dharmi Commandment 48).

161 For details see, Keer, Dr. Ambedkar, p. 261.

162 Mark Juergensmeyer translated the Ad Dharm Report into English with the assistance of Surjit Singh Goraya and Hassan Hamdani. The translation of the entire report is available in his, ‘Political Hope: The Social Movements of North India's Untouchables, 1900–1970’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1974. A major part of the report is also included in Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, pp. 290–308. Juergensmeyer has retained the pagination of the original report in Urdu in the translated version. C. L. Chumber translated the report into Hindi in 2000, published as ‘Report of the Ad Dharm Mandal, 1926–1931 (trans. in Hindi), Saptahik Adi-Dharmi Parveshank, 2000, 11 June, pp. 1–54). The Hindi translations include the names of the 500 members of the Ad Dharm Mandal and 55 missionaries. All references to the report in this essay hereafter are from Juergensmeyer's translation and the pagination refers to the original Urdu report as cited in Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels.

163 An Urdu word derived from Persian and loosely translated as ‘nation’, ‘people’, or ‘community’.

164 That Nature (Qudrat Ka Mela)/God (Ishwar/Adi Purkh) is one; all humans are equal and are governed by moral behaviour (Karm-dharm), which is also created by Nature.

165 For details see, Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, p. 85.

166 Ibid.

167 Ibid., pp. 85, 87.

168 For details see, Banta Ram and Joginder Bains, ‘Ad Dharm, Ad Prakash Granth, Ad Dharmi Qaum’, Souvenir, Babu Mangoo Ram, pp. 19–20. Also based on personal Interview with Chanan Lal Manak, Jalandhar, 1 May 2001.

169 Juergensmeyer, Religious Rebels, p. 52.

170 Punjabi Tribune (Chandigarh), 7 July 2009.

171 Interview with Chanan Lal Manik, 1 May 2001.

172 Interview with Chatter Sain, son of Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia, Garshankar (District Hoshiarpur), 27 April 2001.

173 Ad Dharm Report, pp. 39–40.

174 Ibid.

175 Ibid., p. 40.

176 Ibid., p. 42.

177 Ibid.

178 Ibid., p. 37.

179 Ibid., p. 12.

180 Some of the major social evils that every Ad Dharmi is expected to avoid at all costs, as integral to the pursuit of alternative Dalit agenda, are as follows: Ad Dharmis should abstain from intoxicants, gambling, theft, fraud, lies, dishonesty, adultery; abandon idolatry and should not believe in magic, ghosts, or anything of the sort; abandon expensive marriage, money for a bride and practice of child marriage; give equal importance to the birth of both boys and girls; not to cry and beat oneself at a death or funeral; not to eat the meat of a dead animal or bird; no discrimination in regard to eating with other castes; and all Ad Dharmis should forget notions of caste and untouchability and work towards the unity of the whole of mankind. See, Ad Dharm Report, pp. 37–42.

181 Ibid., pp. 13–14.

182 Ibid., p. 42.

183 Punjab version of All India Scheduled Castes Federation founded by Dr Ambedkar.

184 Qadian, Som Nath Bharti, Jagat Guru Ravidass Sampradaya Sant Te Sadhna Sthal (Sants and Deras of World Guru Ravidass Panth), Jalandhar: Dera Sant Sarwan Dass Ji Sachkhand Ballan, 2003Google Scholar.

185 Ram, ‘Ravidass Deras and Social Protest’, p. 1343.

186 Judge and Bal, Mapping Dalits, p. 106.

187 According to a rough estimate there are 75 Ravidass gurdwaras overseas—twelve in the United Kingdom, eight each in the United States and Italy, six in Canada, and two each in France and Australia. See, (Accessed 23 March 2011).

188 Beltz, ‘Introduction’, p. 11.

189 Lum, ‘Face to Faith’.

190 Lum, ‘Face to Faith’.

191 Dera Sachkhand Ballan, also known as Dera Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass Ji or simply Dera Ballan, is situated at village Ballan, around 12 kilometres north of Jalandhar city on the Pathankot road in Doaba Punjab. This Dera has become a paragon of the Ravidass movement in Northwest India. It has a library on its premises, publishes a tri-lingual weekly (Begumpura Shaher), distributes free Dalit literature, honours Dalit scholars, runs a model school, and a hospital for the service and uplift of the downtrodden. It plays a pivotal role in constituting and disseminating new religious and ritual practices for Dalits in Punjab and overseas. All this helped significantly in the formation of a separate Dalit identity in the state. Of all the major contributions that the Dera Ballan has made, the construction of a mammoth Temple of Shri Guru Ravidass's Birthplace at Seer Goverdhanpur in the vicinity of Varanasi city is the most significant. This temple has become a centre of pilgrimage for Dalits across the state of Punjab and overseas. Recently non-resident Indian followers of Dera Ballan from Europe and North America donated 15 Kg of Pure Gold for the purpose of making a palanquin of Guru Ravidass, which the Saints of Dera Ballan carried in the form of a mammoth procession from the premises of the Dera Ballan to Sri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Temple at Seer Govardhanpur (Varanasi). The procession started from Dera Ballan on 16 February and reached Varanasi in the evening of 20 February 2008 (based on a personal communication with one of the participants in the procession; see also Rozana Spokesman, 17 February 2008.

192 V. T. Rajshekar, ‘A Silent Socio-Cultural Revolution Sweeps Punjab: Ravidass Saints gain Millions of Followers’. Dalit Voice (Bangalore), 2004 (23), July, p. 3.

193 Rajshekar, ‘A Silent Socio-Cultural Revolution’, p. 3.

194 Nirmal Ambedkari, ‘Dera Sach Khand Ballan Dae Manjil Whal Vadde Kadam’ (The Surging Steps of Dera Sach Khand Ballan towards its Destination). Begumpura Shaher (weekly, Jalandhar), May 2005, Vol. 2, p. 5.

195 Dera Sachkhand 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 [United Kingdom]; Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass Charitable Trust [Vancouver Canada]; and Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass Charitable Trust [United States]. All these trusts are managed mostly by non-resident Indian Dalits from the Doaba region of Punjab who constitute a big diasporic community (Ravidassia samaj) of the devotees of Guru Ravidass and the followers of the Dera Sachkhand Ballan.

196 The title ‘Singh’ became popular among the Sikhs after the formation of the Khalsa in 1699. Before that the names of all the Sikh Gurus were not followed by the title ‘Singh’.

197 However, the earlier insignia of the Ad Dharm Mandal of 1926 as well as of the All India Adi Dharam Mission (Regd.) of 1960 was Sohang. The Sants of Dera Ballan changed it into Har with the approval of the Ravidass Sadhu Sampradaya of Punjab, Ravidass Deras, and the various Guru Ravidass Sabhas (Committees) both within India and abroad. It was registered under the Copyright Act 1957, Government of India vide registration no. A48–807/87/CO dated 6 March 1987. Though the insignia Har has become an acceptable symbol of the entire Ravidasia community in Punjab and abroad, but some of the temples abroad (Shri Guru Ravidass Temple Pittsburg [California]) still adhered to the old insignia of Sohang or display both the insignia on their (Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, New York) letter pads. Based on field notes of 25 May–3 June 2008.

198 Ardas is the Punjabi version of the Persian arz-dasht (a written petition). In common usage it meant a deferential request. It became an integral part of Sikh religion during the eighteenth century when Guru Govind Singh embellished it with invocation to the blessings of God and the first nine Gurus. Later, his own name was also added to it. During the twentieth century the Tat Khalsa (militant wing of Singh Sabha) made further additions to its content by incorporating the past trials and triumphs of the Khalsa and references to the sacrifices made by the Sikhs for the reform of Gurdwaras. (The first Singh Sabha was founded in 1873 in Amritsar. Another branch was formed in Lahore in 1879. The Amritsar branch came to be known as Singh Sabha of Sanatan Sikhs and the Lahore branch as Tat Khalsa). The Ardas was ultimately printed in ‘Sikh Rahit Maryada’ (Sikh Code of Conduct). It is recited at the conclusion of different ceremonies. Led by a Sikh (male/female), the Ardas is followed by the entire congregation. Thus in Sikh religion, Ardas has become standardized and the same is recited on all occasions at religious, public and private congregations. For details see McLeod, W. H., Historical Dictionary of Sikhism, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 3940Google Scholar, 198–199; Dogra, Ramesh Chander and Dogra, Urmila, The Sikh World: An Encyclopaedic Survey of Sikh Religion and Culture. New Delhi: UBSPD, 2003, pp. 3132Google Scholar.

199 The Shalok is: Har so heera chhadh kai karih aan kee aas. Te nar dojak jaahige Sat bhaakhai Ravidass (Those who renounce a diamond like Hari [God] and pin their hopes on others, Shall go to hell—this is the truth, says Ravidass). The hymn is: Nam Tero Aarti Majan Muraray, Har Ke Naam Bin Jhuthey Sagal Pasarey, Nam Tero Assno Nam Tero Ursa, Nam Tero Kesro Le chhitkarey, Nam Tera Ambhula Nam Tero Chandno, Ghas Japey Nam Le Thujhe Kow Charey, Nam Tera Diwa Nam Tero Bati, Nam Tero Tail Le Mahen Pasarey, Nam Tere ki Jot Lagayi, Bhaio Ujiaaro Bhawan Saglarey, Nam Tero Taga Nam Phool Mala, Bhar Athara Sagal Jutharey, Tero Kiya Tujey Keya Arpou, Nam Tera Tuhi Chawr Dholarey, Das Atha Atu Sathey Charey Khani, Eha Wartan Hai Sagal Sansarey, Kehe Ravidass Nam Tero Aarti, Satnam Hai Har Bhog Tuharey (refrain Murāri, your Name is my ārati [an act of worship] and my ablutions—without the Name of Hari all affection is false. 1 Your Name is the dais, Your Name is the grinding-stone, Your Name is the saffron I take and sprinkle. Your Name is the water, Your Name is the sandalwood I grind, chanting Your Name I offer to You. 2 Your Name is the lamp, Your Name is the wick, Your Name is the oil I take and pour in it. Your Name is the flame I light, it has illuminated all of the world. 3 Your Name is the thread, Your Name is the flower-garland, all plant-offerings are impure. How can I offer to You that which You have made? Your Name is the fly-whisk I wave over You. 4 The eighteen [Puranas <sacred Hindu texts> or sciences, or the Siddhis <special powers>], the sixty-eight [places of pilgrimage], the four khānīs [four forms of creatures born from water, air, eggs and heat] that is how the world turns around. Ravidass says, Your Name is my ārati, the true Name is Your food-offering, Hari). Translation as in Callewaert and Friedlander, The Life and Works of Ravidas, pp. 163–164. For clarity, emphasis is put in parenthesis in the translation.

200 In Sikh Gurdwaras, however, Aarti is not performed. Guru Nanak referred to Aarti in the hymn Dhanasari 3 (Adi Granth: 13). ‘The entire cosmos’, said he, ‘is performing the Aarti of a single God. The whole sky is the platter and all the stars are its burning wicks.’ See Deep, Dalip Singh, Sadhan Main Ravidasa Sant: Jiwan Ate Vichar (Sant Ravidass among the Saints: Life and Thought), Patiala: Punjabi University. 2001, pp. 4446Google Scholar.

201 Based on participant observation by the author.

202 Based on participant observation by the author.

203 Lum, ‘Face to Faith’.

204 Ibid.

205 Viewed online at: 5/25/2009 (link no longer available).

206 Mishra, Vandita, ‘Inside Dera Sachkhand’, The Sunday Express, 31 May 2009, p. 5.

207 Ibid.

208 Ibid.

209 Punjabi Tribune (Chandigarh), 19 July, 2009; Hindustan Times (Chandigarh), 10 July 2009.

210 For details see, Shiv Kumar Bawa, ‘“Adi- Duaare” sthapath Karen de Allan’ (Announcement to Establish Adi-Duaare), Punjabi Tribune, 19 July 2009; Varinder Singh, ‘Birs removed from Guru Ravidas gurdwaras’, The Tribune (Chandigarh), 11 September 2009; Virinder Singh, ‘Ravidasia delegation meets Takht Jathedar’, The Tribune, 12 September 2009; Amit Sharma, ‘Sikh-Ravidasia ties at a new low in Europe’, The Hindustan Times, 14 October 2009.

211 For details See: Ram, ‘Ravidass Deras and Social Protest’, pp. 1341–1364.

212 Judge and Bal, Mapping Dalits, p. 106.

213 The Hindu, 16 December 2005.