With a population enumeration exercise (Census 2021) approaching, an intense campaign has been launched by two factions of a single community — the Ravidassias — in the Doaba region, urging the Centre government to provide them recognition as separate religions. Both factions want separate religion column for themselves and also a unique code for their respective sects.
One sect that is making these demand includes two groups — the All India Adi-Dharam Mission led by Sant Satwinder Heera as well as All Indian Adi-Dharam Sadhu Samaj led by Sant Nirmal Das. They want to be recognised as Adi-Dharam.
The second group is led by Dera Sach Khand, Ballan and they want Ravidassia to be recogined as a separate religion.
Both the factions have sent their respective representations to the central government. Further, both are making appeals to the people of their respective sects to mention the name of their respective “religions” during the census survey. Currently they are recognised under the Hindu religion, but both argue that they are different from Hindus and belong to the Ad-Dharam (Original religion).
Experts, however, are of the opinion that providing separate religion column for them in the census is legally not tenable and these are the claims and aspirations which are not new but have been around for centuries.
Prof Santosh K Singh, sociologist with Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), said: “These claims and counterclaims are largely aspirational. To get legal status there are constitutionally defined procedures. While these claims for separate identities are rooted in the regional history, their recurrence in contemporary time indicates that the core questions related to inclusion and equality especially for the Dalit communities have not been addressed properly by even now. In democratic set up they have all the right to make such claims, which are a kind of historical reminders from the past.”
“As per the 2011 census, there were eight columns for mentioning about the religious affiliation of a person which included Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christians, Jain, Buddhist, unaffiliated (atheists), and others. The inclusion of the column of either of these factions in the form of religion needs a constitutional amendment with 2/3rd majority,” said a retired professor from DAV College Jalandhar, Prof G C Kaul, an expert on both Ad-Dharma and Ravidassia movements.
Kaul had also worked quite closely with Babu Mangu Ram, who had started Ad-Dharam movement in 1926. He added that people of a single community cannot be granted two separate religious identities — Adi Dharam and Ravidassia — as it will lead to confusion across the country and open the way for 6,743 castes, which are classified under Scheduled Castes category, to file their claim to register as a separate religion and will increase casteism./
He said: “Adi Dharam is still a larger faction which includes the people of all SC communities including Ravidassia, Valmiki, Kabir Panthi, etc. as in Punjab alone there are 38 castes under the SC category and can qualify under Ad Dharam,” he said.
Dera Ballan supporters said that in case Adi-Dharam is used then the identity of Ravidassia sect will be diluted as non-Ravidassias will also opt for Adi-Dharam.
Advocate Satpal Virdi, general secretary, Shri Guru Ravidas Janam Asthan Public Charitable Trust Varanasi (Headquartered at Dera Sach Khand Ballan), said that Ravidassia and Adi-Dharam are the same sect. Bulk of the Adi-Dharamis belong to the Ravidassia community only, he added. “We know that a constitutional amendment is needed for getting separate religious column but even if they (Ravidassia) are registered under ‘Others’ column in 2021 census then their actual number will be counted and a separate identity can be given in future through constitutional amendment,” said Virdi.
Paramjit Singh Kainth, president of Chamar Maha Sabha, said that the current move of the sect is nothing but a drive to establish its supremacy and confuse people of the community. He added: “They should work for establishing the ideology of Guru Ravidas. Ravidassia religion was announced in 2010 and for 10 years they were almost silent on the issue. The separate column would create confusion among Mahjabi Sikh, Rai Sikh, Ravidassia Sikhs, who opt for Sikh religion, whether they opt the same or the new one.”
While Dera Ballan argues that they have a separate identity, religious book, and symbol, Sant Heera group says that Adi-Dharam religion was registered as a separate religion in 1930 and “people of the low caste got themselves registered as Ad Dharmi in 1931 and 1941 census”.
According to the book titled ‘Religious Rebels in the Punjab’ written by Mark Juergensmeyer: “It was on October 10, 1929, that the Ad-Dharam leader brought before the government the notion of having Ad-Dharam listed as a separate religion on the census. In the census report of 1931, it was explicitly stated that it had come as a response to the representation made by Mangoo Ram (who started Ad Dharam Movement and the Ad Dharam Mandal)”
Meanwhile, Ravidassia was announced as a separate religion in early 2010 by Dera Sach Khand Ballan at Banaras, the birthplace of Guru Ravidas, following the Vienna incident when Sant Ramanand of Dera Ballan was killed there and Dera Ballan head Sant Niranjan Das had a narrow escape in the same attack.
At their places of worship, they started replacing Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book) with Amritbani made out of 200 hymns composed by Guru Ravidas and several clashes took place between Sikhs and Ravidassis over this in Doaba.
Ravidassias are divided over following this religious text as a replacement. It is learnt that following the announcement of Ravidassia religion, 88,650 people (70,376 in rural areas and 18,000 in urban areas) of the Ravidassia community had mentioned themselves as Ravidassia under the ‘Others’ column in the 2011 census. Around two million people of Doaba region and other districts of Punjab are the followers of Dera Ballan.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines