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Punjab: ‘Change of poll date has now put Dera in global spotlight’

The Election Commission’s decision to accept the request of Punjab’s Ravidassia community and the state’s political parties to change the date of Punjab polls in view of Guru Ravidas Jayanti has once again underscored the power of Dalit vote in the state.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba |
Updated: January 18, 2022 11:55:49 am
Punjab, Punjab latest news, Punjab assembly elections, Guru Ravidas Jayanti, Punjab polls 2022, Punjab election postponed, Election Commission, indian expressSantosh K singh

The Election Commission’s decision to accept the request of Punjab’s Ravidassia community and the state’s political parties to change the date of Punjab polls in view of Guru Ravidas Jayanti has once again underscored the power of Dalit vote in the state. ANJU AGNIHOTRI CHABA talks to Santosh K Singh, an expert on the Ravidassias, about what the decision means for the community and its largest dera – Dera Sachkhand at Ballan, near Jalandhar.

How significant do you think this change in poll date?

This is a significant moment. It perhaps breaks the silence around the Ravidassia movement, led by Dera Sachkhand. Locally, people have known about the Dera and its efforts, but beyond Jalandhar, and Punjab, not many people would have heard or noticed. This postponement brings the Dera national and international spotlight and will add to the clout of Dera while highlighting the significance of Varanasi as the birthplace of Guru Ravidas.

The postponement of the election to a new date therefore clearly shows the impact that the Dera and its followers wield and how critical is the Dalit vote especially that of the influential Ravidassia groups which pushed political parties to approach EC.

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Tell us briefly about Dera’s connection with Sant Ravidas and his Janam Asthan at Varanasi?

Dera Sachkhand at Ballan has existed for more than a century. Its founder Baba Pipal Das belonged to a caste community that worked with leather. So did his followers. And 15th century Bhakti poet Sant Ravidas, who was born in Varanasi, too belonged to the same caste.

Dera, however, gradually grew in its influence and visibility over decades, beginning in the early 1980s. The legendary Ad-Dharmi movement leader Babu Mangu Ram too was associated with the Dera. The Doaba region of Punjab, especially Jalandhar, happens to be the seat of leather business and industry since colonial times. If Punjab happens to be the state with the highest SC population in the country, Jalandhar and Doaba happens to be the epicentre of Dalit assertion.

Dera Ballan runs the trust that takes care of the Varanasi temple and every year it also organises a Special Begampura Express that carries devotees to Varanasi to the Janam Asthan to mark Ravidas Jayanti.
Varanasi centre became what it is today for the Dalits of Punjab entirely because of the Dera Ballan.

What led to this assertion of Ravidassia identity?

Many factors actually. Dalits of Punjab thronged to various Deras because of the exclusionary temperament of the mainstream. Caste could never be annihilated even in Punjab. That’s the sad reality. With numerical strength in their side coupled with what I call “Diasporic Dividend” that the Dera at Ballan received led to its assertive politics.

Recently, the Dera in fact led the demands for its separate identity as Ravidassia to be included in the census 2021.

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