By Chandra Bhan Prasad

How could Maya do it, without the cow-belt having undergone a cultural revolution?” the ecstatic D Shyam Babu, a new age Dalit scholar, exclaimed. We were analysing the BSP’s triumph in the UP Assembly elections and, sitting glued to the news channels, watching Brahman/Rajput/Bania MLAs pay obeisance to Kanshi and Maya, by falling at their feet.

“Shyam, the cow-belt underwent a cultural revolution 500 years ago,” I told him. Shyam thought I was joking. I said, “Don’t you know, the Dalits disciplined cow-belt Brahmans in the 16th Century itself. Rajput kings and queens postulated before an Untouchable at the time, and a religious Order practicing diversity adopted a Dalit voice in its main spiritual system 300 years ago.” I had begun with, “The cultural revolution was led by Saint Ravidas, greatest of all the saints. The revolution sprung up in Kashi, cradle of the Varnashram Order, headquarters of Hindu religiosity, and the seat of Brahman learning.”

Ravidas was born in 1378 AD in Kashi, to prosperous Untouchable parents, who traded in leather. Young Ravidas revolted against his parents’ desire to make the trade his career, and left home. He erected a thatched house, and took on shoemaking for a living. He would bestow shoes on barefoot ascetics, and finance the needy. His messages of equality before God, and that God was accessible to all, captured the people’s imagination. He built a small clay walled temple, and installed a leather idol of God. God thus, for the first time, stood liberated from a Brahmanical prison.

Kashi’s Brahmans fumed in rage, and petitioned the Kashi king. “Who perceives God better, and knows the path to redemption?” was to be decided. The king organised a shastrartha between the saint and select Kashi pundits. Ravidas’ genius found no match. The pundits turned colourless, bending before the saint. The saint rode the royal chariot through the lanes of Kashi, the king standing by his side. That was the Dalits’ first war of independence, Kashi was secured. Cow-belt Brahmans never recovered from the shock, and were reconciled to the Dalits’ cerebral deftness.

Chittor’s Queen Jhally Bai was on a pilgrimage to Kashi, and hearing of the saint’s glory, desired to visit him. The royal priests accompanying her resisted the move, but the indomitable queen went ahead. The spellbound queen was able to feel the difference between the barren minded pundits and the profound Ravidas. She was now a disciple of the saint. Back home in Chittor, her husband was furious. How could a Rajputana kingdom accept an Untouchable as its guru? But the maharani remained unfazed. She reasoned with her husband, and presented him a few the saint’s hymns. But the King insisted on a test, and invited Ravidas over for dinner to his exalted palace. The Brahman priests refused to dine with the saint, and sat separately. To the priests’ disbelief, the people serving them food all turned into Ravidas. The bewildered priests repented and collapsed at Ravidas’ feet, asking for forgiveness. The king declared Ravidas his guru.

That must certainly have been the first occasion when an Untouchable raided the walls of untouchabilty, by dining with a royal family. Chittor, the cradle of Rajput dominance, had fallen. Ravidas stayed on longer, with princess Meera Bai becoming his disciple. The wonderful religious system of the Sikhs would be incomplete without the saint’s thoughts, as 41 of Ravidas’ hymns form the main body of the Guru Granth Sahib. This is the only instance where a Dalit voice forms part of the spirituality of a religious system. Punjab, like most of north/central/western India has flourished by living the thoughts of Ravidas, the first ever Dalit revolutionary.

Now his followers have settled across the Atlantic, and are organising a mega event at Vancouver, which could unleash a new diversity campaign in north America, requiring MNCs in India to honour diversity for the Dalits. While talking of revolution in 18th century Europe, Frederick Engels wrote: “Every struggle against feudalism, at the time had to take on a religious disguise.” Saint Ravidas, while fighting caste, did exactly that in India.

B  R  E  A  K  I  N  G THE MOULD

Reformers have come and gone, but taboo against Dalits have remained.


Chandra Bhan Prasad

Coerced by Brahmin-piloted history, Dalits are demographically segregated and situated at the outskirt on the varna-village-society. Should they remain so forever? Condemned by the Brahmin scripted social value system, none should dine with Dalits, leave alone marrying them. Should that value system remain so forever?

Minced by Brahmin predestined political power system, Dalits can't be leaders of the society, leave alone being rulers. Should that system remain so forever? To borrow a term from Kerner Commission's report dealing with US' race riots, Dalits are "separate and unequal". Should Dalits remain so forever?

What if, irrespective of social or political conditioning or compulsions, the Brahmin himself reaches out to the Dalit? What if, irrespective of social or political conditions or compulsions, the Brahmin agrees to be led by the Dalit? What if, irrespective of social or political conditions or compulsions, the Brahmin touches the feet of the Dalit in reverence? What if, irrespective of social or political conditions, the Brahmin sings songs in glory of Dalits?

All these seem to have happened in the just-concluded UP election. Did all the Brahmins do so, one might ask? Not really. But, even if a section of them did so, it's one of the greatest social revolutions witnessed in India. So when a Brahmin in a village begins dinning with a Dalit, will the reputation of that family go down, or go up? And what if one fourth of Brahmins of that village begins dining with the Dalits?

Will non-Brahmins of that village begin boycotting that family where Brahmins are going? Or, they too once invited, will begin dining with Dalits? One need not be a great sociologist to find the answer. The question we must ponder over is: Will that kind of social situation be a "revolution" or "counter-revolution"?

Despite all the hatred directed against the Brahmins for legitimate reasons though, and despite the decline they have undergone due to their own social scripts, they still remain a positive point of reference. The allegedly intelligence deficient shudra understood Brahmin power better than the Dalits.

In the land of the anti-Brahmin movement, temples headed by Brahmins have become a cottage industry. The devotees are often those who fought against Brahmins. Should a Shankaracharya visit Karunanidhi's house - the symbol of shudra/OBC upsurge - the entire family will fall on his feet.

In north India too, Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh symbols of shudra/OBC upsurge, are more Brahmin-feet friendly than even empowered Brahmins. Even the Muslim and Christian clergy respect Brahmins. Whenever it comes to social legitimacy, all castes and religious blocks, seek blessings from Brahmins. But, they keep instigating Dalits to fight the Brahmins.

Today, Brahmins are touching Mayawatiji's feet. The culturally traumatised elite Brahmins attack Mayawati for practising this new brand of Brahminism. Arguably, touching feet is one of the ugliest methods of reverence. Hitherto, only Brahmins or the Dwijas were entitled for this form of reverence. Now, the form remains but the subjects and objects changing.

The Brahmins are now touching Dalits' feet. Is this changed social scenario a new Brahminism or counter-Brahminism? Will the self-esteem of the Dalit whose feet is being touched by the Brahmin go down? Or, will he become a celebrity? For ages, Dalits have suffered social taboo. These Brahmin authored taboo can be eradicated only if Brahmins themselves reverse them and begin dining with Dalits.

Reformers have come and gone, but taboo against Dalits have remained.

Through her Dalit-Brahmin thesis Mayawati has unleashed a new social revolution in the cow belt. The Brahmin has fallen in line all other castes will follow. Not that the cow belt has turned into any special social democracy zone, but the ice has been broken.

Forwarded by
Ronki Ram (Dr.), Panjab University, Chandigarh (India), Cell:+91 987 286 1290

Poted on May 14, 2007