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Channi’s bid to seek election deferment reflects growing Ravidassia influence in Punjab politics

🔴 Dera Sachkhand Ballan, the Ravidassia community’s largest dera, has never come out openly in favour of any political party, but no party can ignore it, especially in the time of elections.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar |
Updated: January 17, 2022 3:57:15 pm
Punjab Assembly elections, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, Punjab polls 2022, Charanjit Singh Channi, Guru Ravidas, Election Commission of India, indian expressPunjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi with Dera Ballan chief during his recent visit. (Express Photo)

Less than a month before the Punjab Assembly elections, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, on Saturday, urged the Election Commission of India to defer the 14 February polls by six days in view of the birth anniversary of Guru Ravidas that falls on February 16.

In his letter to the EC, CM Channi, a Dalit leader himself, stated that some representatives of Punjab’s Scheduled Castes (SCs) have demanded that the polls be scheduled in such a way that they are able to visit Banaras, Guru Ravidas’s birthplace, during 10-16 February and also participate in the polls.

Dera Sachkhand Ballan head Sant Niranjan Das takes a “Begumpura” train full of the Ravidassia followers from Jalandhar to Banaras every year to celebrate Guru Ravidas Jayanti there for nearly a week.

Channi’s move testifies to the growing influence of the Ravidassia community, followers of Guru Ravidas, over the politics of Punjab which accounts for about 32 per cent Dalit population, highest in the country in percentage terms.

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Dalits are concentrated even more in Punjab’s Doaba region, where the Ravidassia community’s largest dera (religious place), Dera Sachkhand, is based in Ballan village.

Dera Sachkhand Ballan has lakhs of followers around the world. In Punjab, it has about 15 lakh followers, mostly from the Doaba region.

Although Dera Sachkhand Ballan has never come out openly in favour of any political party, no party can afford to ignore it, especially in the time of elections, in their bids to woo Ravidassia voters.

That explains why politicians from across the political spectrum make a beeline to visit the Dera and meet its head Sant Niranjan Das in the run-up to every election. And this time too, besides CM Channi, AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sindhu, Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal and senior BJP leaders have already visited the Dera ahead of the upcoming polls.

According to the 2011 Census, of Doaba’s total 52.08 lakh population,19.48 lakh (around 37%) are Dalits. Doaba comprises of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts. Of Doaba’s Dalit pollution, about 11.88 lakh people (around 61%) belong to the Ravidassia community. A key region for Dalit politics, Doaba is dotted with hundreds of deras, among which Dera Sachkhand Ballan is the largest and most influential.

Channi is Punjab’s first Dalit CM, who was brought by the Congress in September last year after jettisoning Capt Amarinder Singh. Even though Channi is not a Ravidassia himself and belongs to the Ramdassia community, his elevation to the state’s top post enthused all the Dalit sects and groups in the state.

The killing of Sant Ramanand, who was Dera Sachkhand Ballan’s second in command, and the attack on Sant Niranjan Das in Vienna in May 2009, had triggered violence and riots in the Doaba region, whose epicenter was Jalandhar.

The episode had caused fissures in the relations between Sikhs and Ravidassias.

Dera Sachkhand Ballan had then severed its decades-old ties with Sikhism and announced a separate religion called “Ravidassia religion” in early 2010 in Banaras on Guru Ravidas Jayanti. They started replacing Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh religious book) with their own new Granth “Amritbani” carrying 200 hymns of Guru Ravidas in Ravidassia temples and gurudwaras, which led to several clashes between Sikhs and Ravidassias.

CM Channi recently announced the withdrawal of all remaining cases registered in Punjab during the 2009 riots.

The CM has also announced the establishment of a state-of-the-art Guru Ravidass Bani Adhiyan (Research) Centre at Ballan at a cost of Rs 50 crore and even handed over a Rs 25 crore cheque to Dera Sachkhand Ballan for the purpose.

Asserting their community politically, Ravidassias have now demanded a separate column for their religion in the 2021 Census. After the Vienna incident, the Ravidassia singers composed special songs centred on their caste and religion so that people of the community could play them at their events instead of playing the songs composed by upper caste Jat Sikhs.

Significantly, in February last year, during their protests against the Centre’s three farm laws, farmer protesters from both the Ravidassia and the Jat Sikh communities had, for the first time, commemorated Guru Ravidas Jayanti together.

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