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Explained: Why celebration of Guru Ravidass Jayanti by farm unions is significant

A farmer is almost a connotation of Jat Sikhs in Punjab because majority farmers are from this community in the state. Due to social differences between the two communities, Jat Sikhs hardly participate in the celebrations of Guru Ravidass Jayanti.

On Wednesday, farmer leaders under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) announced marking the 645th Birth Anniversary of Guru Ravidass at the Singhu border. They also appealed to farmers to reach Singhu and those who cannot come to participate in celebrations in villages, towns and cities. Can this move bridge the age-old differences between the two communities in the state? And what would be its impact on farmers’ protest? The Indian Express explains.

What does this move by SKM signify?

A farmer is almost a connotation of Jat Sikhs in Punjab because majority farmers are from this community in the state. Due to social differences between the two communities, Jat Sikhs hardly participate in the celebrations of Guru Ravidass Jayanti. Jats and Dalits (Ravidassais) have separate religious places in the villages. A large number of atrocities on Dalits are reported from Punjab every year.

“If it (farmers participating in Guru Ravidass birth anniversary) happens then it would be a very welcome step as for the first time the people from Jat community would be participating in the celebrations of Guru Ravidass’ birthday,” said Jaswant Rai, coordinator, Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation. (BAMCEF), adding that but this brotherhood should not be limited only to farmers protest but should continue.

Why is there bitterness among these two communities?

“Dalits have been working in the fields of the farmers (Jat Sikhs) since ages and when the awakening among the Dalits came it was not tolerated by the zamindars because they wanted to keep them under their control always, and still ‘siri’ system (farm labour) is still quite prevalent in Malwa region of the state,” said an expert on Dalits, adding that this was one of the main cause of animosity between them.

DAV College, Jalandhar, Prof G C Kaul, an expert on both Ad-Dharma and Ravidassia movements, said, “Because of the discrimination with Dalits by the upper casts including Jat Zamindars, they even started Ad-Dahram Mandal Movemnet in 1920s just to get the separate religion”.
In the recent past, bitterness got enhanced following the Vienna incident when Sant Ramanand of Dera Sach Khand Ballan, the biggest Dera of Ravidassia having around 20 lakh followers across the world was killed and Dera Ballan head Sant Niranjan Das had a narrow escape in the same attack, which was planned by some Punjabi people.

Dera Ballan announced a separate religion called ‘Ravidassia religion’ in early 2010 at Banaras, the birthplace of Guru Ravidass. They started replacing Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh religious book) with New Granth Amritbani carrying 200 hymns of Guru Ravidass and several clashes took place between Sikhs and Ravidassis over this in Doaba. Ravidassias are divided over worshiping of religious books. While some are still worshiping Guru Granth Sahib, others are following the new Amritbani Granth.

Even now different sects of Ravidassias are demanding a separate column for their religion in the 2021 census. The singers of the Dalit community have even composed special songs based on their caste so that people of the community play them on their events and functions instead playing songs of singers from the Jat community.

How farmers’ protest can bring two communities closer?

Experts said that joint celebrations of Guru Ravidass’ birth anniversary by both communities will help in cementing the fractures that have crept among the communities in the state and mainly in Doaba region.

Prof Kaul said, “This move will lead to bury several social problems of the state due to differences between both the communities”.
He also said that this move will be like following the teachings of the Sikh Gurus only who never believed in caste system.

What could be the impact of these celebrations on the ongoing protests at Delhi’s borders?

Experts said that along with minimising bitterness, this call by farmers’ appears to be a strategy to reclaim the secular and unified credentials of the movement after the R-Day violence event. The detractors and critics of the movement got a shot in the arm as it helped them paint the movement as sectarian.

Though Dalits of the Punjab are participating in the movement, but it will further boost the agitation by bringing harmony in the society, broadening the base of the movement as it will lead Dalits from other states to participate in it, and make it a secular and more inclusive character of the movement.

Why is it important for Doaba region of Punjab?

Dalit community has a large population in Doaba region of Punjab, which includes Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts. Doaba has hundreds of small and big Ravidassia deras (religious places) including the largest dera, Sach Khand Ballan located in Jalandhar’s Ballan village. Doaba saw many small and big clashes between the two communities.

This will bring peace. Also, it will enhance the brotherhood among Jats and the people of all SC communities, including Valmiki, Kabir Panthi, etc. as in Punjab alone there are 38 castes under the SC category.

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