Ram Dayal Ahirwar
Guru Ravidas needs no introduction. He is a well-known figure, who took birth in 15th century in Varanasi to parents working in leather processing. In modern India, Ravidas is revered by the Ravidasia community for the virtues he possessed. His denouncement of the brahmanical values holds immense significance in the history of the Indian society. In the 21st century, his teachings hold as much relevance as they did during his lifetime.
During his life, Guru Ravidas visited Chamarwala Johar, Tughlaqabad in New Delhi. As obeisance to him, people from the Ravidasia community constructed a memorial structure at that place. Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has recently demolished the structure, calling it an encroachment on public land. In various parts of India, people from the Chamar caste and other Dalit sub-castes are actively renouncing Hindu deities as a challenge to the Brahminical order of the society. Thus, the Brahmanical ideologues find the teachings of Guru Ravidas threatening to the idea of Hindu Rashtra. This is one of the main reasons behind demolition of the 500 years old memorial structure of Guru Ravidas on the premises of the DDA land at the Tughlaqabad extension in New Delhi on 10th August 2019. Even though this temple does not obstruct any traffic or cause any public inconvenience, local right-wing politicians successfully dismantled the structure.
During the demolition of this structure, which is also known as Guru Ravidas Vishramsthal, DDA deployed heavy police and paramilitary forces. Several people from the Ravidasia saint community from Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh as well as Maharashtra protested against this action. Bhim Army chief, along with several others from his team, also resisted against the demolition at the site.
This is the third structure that DDA has demolished in the recent past. Earlier, Buddha Vihar at Devli Hill and Bhagwan Valmiki Mandir at Seemapuri were also destroyed in the same manner. The BJP government at the Centre and the AAP government, headed by Arvind Kejriwal, have not shown any support to save these historical structures. What is the intent behind such activities conducted by the BJP and other right-wing forces? First, the right wing is aware of the fact that people who follow Dr. Ambedkar’s ideology and Constitutional morality pose a great threat to the Hindutva ideology. Since 1956, people who embraced the teaching of the Buddha along with Dr. Ambedkar have been outrightly rejecting Brahminical propaganda. Similarly, individuals from the Scheduled Castes who have faith in Guru Ravidas have equal confidence in the teachings of Ambedkar. Although, some people who have adopted Buddhism allege that Guru Ravidas is a part of the Hindu culture. However, I want to challenge that notion by asking that if Guru Ravidas is indeed a part of Hindu culture, then why did the right wing people not support the Ravidasia community to stop the demolition of these structures? The conflict that erupted in Sabbirpur in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, which brought the Bhim Army and the Great Chamar into the spotlight, was triggered by the Rajput community against the Jatavs and Chamars, as the latter followed the teachings of Guru Ravidas and Dr. Ambedkar. The images of both these leaders played an important role in Sabbirpur village; their statues stood side by side. Secondly, many Dalit scholars believe that systematic cultural revolution from within the marginalized communities can counter the prevalence of brahmanical ideas. And structures like the Ravidas temple, Ambedkar Bhavan, Bhagwan Valmiki Mandir provide the necessary spaces of building cultural and political consciousness for this counter action. Therefore, the right wing can never accept these spaces.
Thirdly, it has been quite visible in north India that gradually the young generation has started paying attention to their cultural histories of assertion and have begun celebrating annual Jayanti events of their heroes such as Guru Ravidas, Valmiki ji and Dr. Ambedkar. As the younger generation is getting more and more involved in their own identity and culture, they do not want to be a part of the Hindutva project. Since youth groups such as the Bhim Army have forged an all India presence, more and more youth are motivated to identify with their ancestors and feeling proud. This is very threatening to the right wing.
The most problematic aspect of the demolition of the Guru Ravidas temple was the manner in which it was motivated and undertaken. The demolition was ordered by the Supreme Court by the order of judges, namely Justice Arun Mishra and Justice M. R. Shah who has a history of going against the oppressed castes. We have seen in several other previous judgments such as the weakening of the SC/ST Atrocities Act and the order regarding changing of the 200 point roster that guided the reservation among the teaching posts in higher educational institutions, that these judges are not sympathetic to the cases of justice for the people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Presence of casteist forces at the highest court in the judiciary is a significant problem.
Guru Ravidas is a prominent figure amongst the Sikh community as well. However, I do not know why the Sikh community is silent in the face of such incidents motivated by the right wing actors. People who believe in the teachings of Guru Ravidas also pay equal respect to the teachings of Gautama Buddha. However, the Buddhist community too has not extended their support to raise voice against such demolitions. The influence of Guru Ravidas is not limited to north India alone, but spreads across forty countries in Europe, North America and Australia as well. He is recognized in the international list of religious and spiritual leaders of the masses. His principles of right to equality, justice, freedom and liberty have been a great inspiration to his contemporaries such as queen Mirabai and queen Jhali. Dr. Ambedkar as well as Saheb Kanshi Ram, were also influenced greatly by the work of Guru Ravidas.
Guru Ravidas did not only denounce the Brahmanical teachings, but also proposed an alternate spiritual practice of nirguna to achieve nirvana. His teachings are simple; one need not offer anything to a deity. Guru Ravidas encourages the use of naam and uses the word Rama as a representation of the nirguna form of bhakti (devotion). He clarifies that the word Rama, as he uses it, does not represent the popular Hindu deity Rama–the son of Dasharatha.
After the unfortunate incident of demolition of the historical structure of Guru Ravidas temple, Chamarwal Johar, Tughalabad extension, New Delhi, people from the Ravidasia community in various parts of the country have expressed anger in the form of bandh and protests. Saint community of Ravidasia faith across the country, All India Ravidasia Dharm Sangathan and the Bhim Army have collectively called a nationwide protest on 21st August 2019 at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi and have appealed to everyone to take part in the protest in large numbers. They demand the government to not hurt the faith and the sentiments of the Ravidasia community and Dalits at large. They also demand the building of Guru Ravidas temple at the same spot where the destruction by DDA took place on 10th August.
Ram Dayal Ahirwar completed MA in International Relations from South Asian University, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. He also holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree from RGPV Bhopal and has worked as Project Engineer, at Wipro Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Pune and Hyderabad locations (2013-2015). He is interested in subaltern political thoughts and is inspired by the Dalit – Bahujan philosophy. He is associated with the Ravidasia ideological movement across the countries. He hails from Rampura Village in Chhatarpur (Bundelkhand) District of Madhya Pradesh and is a first generation learner from his family.