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Making Sense of the Ravi Dasis: Surinder S. Jodhka

The recent attack on the head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan in one of their gurudwaras in Vienna and the ensuing shoot-out between Dalit and non-Dalit Sikhs, spilling over in India into angry street demonstrations in Jalandhar by followers of Dera Sachkhand and other Dalit bodies, forces us to confront the question of caste in contemporary Punjab. We asked SURINDER S. JODHKA, sociologist and Director, Institute of Dalit Studies, who works in this area, to give us a background note.

The Dera Sachkhand Ballan is one of the most important Guru Ravi Das Deras in Punjab today. Ravi Das was a 15th century saint of the Chamar caste whose message is constructed by his contemporary followers in a modern language that foregrounds questions of caste oppression and the  fight against the prevailing structures of authority and the Brahmanical moral order.  In his piece here, Surinder gives us a historical background to the emergence of this movement, and brings us to the point of the 1990s, when the “diasporic energy” of Ravi Dasis who had emigrated to the UK and Europe, gave a boost to the movement both at home as well as in the diaspora, where Ravi Dasis had found things to be no different. In the alien context, with no systemic justification for caste ideology, the Punjabi Dalits did not expect to be reminded of their “low” status in the caste hierarchy, says Surinder, but facing systematic discrimination from wealthy Jat Sikhs, were forced to set up their own autonomous organizations and their own gurudwaras. Continue reading Making Sense of the Ravi Dasis: Surinder S. Jodhka