Thursday, 8 December 2011


Ronki Ram

Babu Mangoo Ram, a renouned revolutionary and founder of the Ad Dharm movement in Punjab was born at Mugowal, a village in the district of Hoshiarpur, on 14th January 1886. His forefathers were practising the occupation of tanning raw hides. However, his father, Harnam Dass, had abandoned the traditional caste-based occupation of tanning and preparing hides, and taken up the profession of selling the tanned leather on commercial basis. Since the leather trade required the knowledge of English language to read the sale orders, he was eager to have Mangoo Ram receive education to free him from the begar (forced labour), which he had to do in lieu of English orders read for him by the upper caste literates. Initially, Mangoo Ram was taught by a village Sadhu (Saint), then after studying at different schools he joined a high school at Bajwara, a town few miles away from his home. Being a chamar, he had to sit separately from the other upper caste students. In fact, he used to take a gunny bag from his home for sitting in a segregated place outside the classroom. In 1905 Mangoo Ram left the high school to help his father in leather trade. For three years he helped his father develop leather trade into a thriving business. However, in 1909 he left for America to follow into the footsteps of his peer group in the Doaba region.

Interestingly enough even in America Mangoo Ram had to work on the farms of a Punjabi Zamindar who had settled in California. In other words, even in America he had to experience the same relations of production as back home in India. How a shudra immigrant worker, who works on the land of an Indian upper caste landlord settled abroad, feels and experiences work conditions and its resultant relations of production is an altogether a separate question. However, while in California, Mangoo Ram came in close contact with the Ghadar Movement - a radical organisation aimed at liberating India from the British rule through armed insurrection. In fact, he participated in the weapon smuggling mission of the organisation. He was arrested and given the capital punishment but was saved from the death sentence by a chance as someone else in his name was executed. The news of his supposed death reached his village. According to the tradition of his community, his widow, named Piari married his elder brother. Mangoo Ram, on reaching India, remarried and had four sons from his second wife named Bishno.

After his return from abroad where he spent as many as sixteen years, Mangoo Ram did not find any change in Indian society that was still infested with the disease of untouchability. He said

While living abroad, said Mangoo Ram, I had forgotten about the hierarchy of high and low, and untouchability; and under this very wrong impression returned home in December 1925. The same misery of high and low, and untouchability, which I had left behind to go abroad, started afflicting again. I wrote about all this to my leader Lala Hardyal Ji that until and unless this disease is cured Hindustan could not be liberated. In accordance with his orders, a program was formulated in 1926 for the awakening and upliftment of Achhut qaum (untouchable community) of India.

Having settled in his native village, he opened up a school for the lower caste children in the village. Initially, the school was opened up, temporarily in the garden of Risaldar Dhanpat Rai, a landlord of his village. Later on, Lamberdar Beeru Ram Sangha, another landlord of the same village, donated half-acre land for the purpose of formally opening up the school. The school had five teachers including Mangoo Ram. One of the teachers of the school was a Muslim, Walhi Mohammad and one was Brahmin, who was later on converted into a Shudra. The conversion ceremony comprised of an earthen pot (Douri), which contained water mingled with sugar balls (Patasha) and stirred with leather cutting tool (Rambi). Thus the prepared sweet water considered as holy was given to Brahmins to baptize them into Shudras (Interview with Chatter Sain, 27 April 2001). Now a days, the school land has been declared as Shamlat (common land), and no remnants of the building exist except the old dilapidated structure of the well meant for drinking water in the school. It was in that school that the first official meeting of the Ad Dharm movement was held on June 11-12, 1926. There is another version about the school that traced its origin to the support provided by the Arya Samaj. However, given his close association with the Ghadar movement in California, Mangoo Ram’s relationships with the Arya Samaj was not as close as that of Vasant Rai, Thakur Chand and Swami Shudranand. Moreover, his personal experience of being treated as an equal in America, particularly by his fellow Ghadarites, inculcated in him an intense desire and inspiration for equality and social justice. This led him to lay the foundation of the Ad Dharm movement to streamline the struggle against untouchability. Soon he emerged as a folk-hero of the dalits who started rallying around him, particularly in the dalit concentrated areas of the Doaba region. However, after a while the Ad Dharm organisation got factionalised resulting in a split in 1929 into two groups: one headed by Vasant Rai and the other by Mangoo Ram. There emerged two independent organisations: the Ad Dharm Mandal with its office in Jalandhar was headed by Mangoo Ram and the All Indian Ad Dharm Mandal with its headquarters in Lyalpur was headed by Vasant Rai. The All India Ad Dharm Mandal got disbanded and merged with the organisation led by Dr Ambedkar in 1933 and after some years the same fate fell on Ad Dharm of Mangoo Ram, who closed the office of the Ad Dharm Mandal and changed its name to Ravidass Mandal. However, close associates of the Ad Dharm movement contested this observation. They said that Ad Dharm Mandal was not changed into Ravidass Mandal. In fact, later on, Ravidass School was opened up in the premises of the Ad Dharm Mandal building. So it was Ravidass School, which merely came to occupy the space of the Ad Dharm Mandal building rather than its being taken over by Ravidass Mandal. (Interviews with: late Chanan Lal Manak, Jalandhar, May 29, 2001; K.C. Shenmar I.G. (P) Pb. (retd.) Chandigarh, April 28, 2001).

The Vasant Rai group of the Ad Dharm Mandal was thoroughly soaked into the ideology of the Arya Samaj. In fact this group was lured back by the Arya Samaj. Although the Arya Samaj dominated section of Ad Dharm Mandal withdrew itself from the Mangoo Ram’s group in 1929, the latter played an active part in the politics of Punjab for a period of two decades from 1926 to 1952.

Mangoo Ram set a clear agenda for the emancipation of the Dalits and their upliftment. The agenda was: restore their lost indigenous religion and provide them with a sense of self-respect and dignity. The method to achieve this agenda was: cultural transformation and spiritual regeneration. Mangoo Ram was not in favour of embracing any other existing religion. He was in favour of strengthening the Adi (the original) religion of the indigenous people of this country. His views on Hindu religion were very clear. He was of the opinion that since Dalits were not born Hindu where is the need to leave that religion and to embrace some other one. Mangoo Ram thought it appropriate to empower Dalits by carving out a separate Dalit identity on the basis of their indigenous religious strength (Ad Dharm).

In the poster announcing the first annual meeting of Ad Dharm Movement, Mangoo Ram devoted the entire space to the hardships faced by the untouchables at the hands of the caste Hindus. He also made an appeal to the Achhuts to come together to chalk out a program for their liberation and upliftment while addressing the Chamars, Chuhras, Sansis, Bhanjhras, Bhils etc. as brothers, he said,

We are the real inhabitants of this country and our religion is Ad Dharm. Hindu Qaum came from outside to deprive us of our country and enslave us. At one time we reigned over ‘Hind’. We are the progeny of kings; Hindus came down from Iran to Hind and destroyed our qaum. They deprived us of our property and rendered us nomadic. They razed down our forts and houses, and destroyed our history. We are seven Crores in numbers and are registered as Hindus in this country. Liberate the Adi race by separating these seven crores. They (Hindus) became lord and call us ‘others’. Our seven crore number enjoy no share at all. We reposed faith in Hindus and thus suffered a lot. Hindus turned out to be callous. Centuries ago Hindus suppressed us sever all ties with them. What justice we expect from those who are the butchers of Adi race. Time has come, be cautious, now the Government listens to appeals. With the support of sympathetic Government, come together to save the race. Send members to the Councils so that our qaum is strengthened again. British rule should remain forever. Make prayer before God. Except for this Government, no one is sympathetic towards us. Never consider us Hindus at all, remember that our religion is Ad Dharm.

The way, the leaders of Ad Dharm chose to restore dignity and freedom to the untouchables was to completely detach them from Hinduism and to consolidate them into their own ancient religion - Ad Dharm - of which they had become oblivious during the age-old domination by the ‘alien Hindus’. In fact, the task of the revival of their ancient religion was not an easy one by virtue of the fact that during a long period of persecution at the hands of the Savarnas, the untouchables had forgotten their Gurus and other religious symbols. In fact they were never allowed to nurture an aspiration to have their own independent religion. They were condemned as profane and were declared unfit to have their own theology. Thus to revive Ad Dharm was tantamount to developing an altogether a new religion for the Achhuts. Mangoo Ram’s appeal that the Dalits were the real inhabitants of this land made an enormous psychological impact on the untouchables who were treated as, even inferior to animals in Indian society. The appeal inspired them to come out of their slumber and fight for their freedom and liberty. The Ad Dharm provided a theological podium to sustain and reinforce the new Dalit identity. For centuries, they were bereft of any identity and remained in the appendage of the hierarchically graded Hindu society.

Before 1920’s, especially before the rise of Ad Dharm movement, the untouchables in Punjab hardly envisaged the idea of seeking a separate identity. The growing communal politics and resultant unrest within Punjab in the 1920’s coupled with the emergence of Dalit organisations in different parts of the country, offered them a good opportunity to carve out such an identity. In the pre-partition Punjab, untouchables constituted one-fourth of the total population. Since scheduled castes did not have their separate religion, they were being counted as Hindus. In a system of communal representation, Muslim leaders were thinking that the Achhuts, who were never considered as equal by the caste Hindus, should be separated from them and equally divided between the Hindus and Muslims.

It was not only Muslims who alone had such an approach, even the Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus also wanted to absorb them into their respective religion for political benefits. In the absence of any other alternative open to them, a large number of the Achhuts of Punjab converted into Christianity (especially the chuhras of Sialkot and Gurdaspur), Sikhism (in Sialkot and Gurdaspur), and Islam (Rawalpindi, Multan and Lahore division).

Consequently, the Hindus in the province had been reduced from 43.8% in 1881 to 30.2% in 1931 while the Sikhs increased from 8.2% to 14.3% and the Muslims from 40.6% to about 52% and in the British territory the population of the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims in 1931 was 26.80%, 12.99% and 56.4% respectively (Census of India, 1931, Vol. xvii, Punjab Part i, p. 291).

Obviously, it alarmed the Arya Samaj to put an end to the conversions of Achhuts lest it turned out as a political suicide for Hindus. Lala Lajpat Rai’s “Achhut Udhar Mandal” at Lahore, Swami Ganesh Dutt’s “Antyaj Udhar Mandal” at Lahore and Lala Devi Chand’s “Dayanad Dalit Udhar Mandal” at Hoshiarpur came up in response to these conversions. As a matter of fact, the Arya Samaj started Shuddhi campaign to bring the converted Achhuts back into the Hindu-fold. This also brought the Arya Samaj into confrontation with the Sikhs and the Muslims. “In a famous incident in 1900, Sikhs rebelled at the Arya Samaj’s practice of publicly shaving lower caste Sikhs and offering them Shuddhi”.

It was at this stage that Ad Dharm entered into the volatile territories of communal politics in Punjab.

The emancipatory project launched by Mangoo Ram inspired the lower castes to make efforts for their upliftment. Ad Dharm posited emphasis on the social equality of the Dalits and stressed on creating social and cultural awakening amog them. Ad Dharm movement aimed at securing a distinct identity for the dalits, independent both of the Hindu and Sikh religions. Sikhs and Hindus treated the dalits discriminately. But at times of counting their strategic strength they project the dalits as if they belonged to them. The central motif of the Ad Dharm movement was to highlight that untouchables constitute a qaum (Community), a distinct religious community similar to those of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and that the qaum had existed from time immemorial On this account the Ad Dharm movement resembles the other Adi movements, which consider the low castes as the original inhabitants of India who had been subjugated by the Aryans. The Aryans, they allege came from outside and established their rule and made them subservient to them. The Ad Dharm movement aimed at making the dalits realise that they have three powers: Communal pride (Qaumiat), Religion (Mazhab) and Organisation (Majlis). All these three powers of the untouchables were lying buried under the burden of untouchability. Mangoo Ram, the founder of Ad Dharm movement exhorted the untouchables to come forward to assert for their rights through building on these three main sources of their power.

During the 1931 census, Ad Dharm movement succeeded in registering a large number of low castes in Punjab as Ad Dharmis separate from Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In the 1931 Punjab census, a total of 418,789 persons reported themselves as Ad Dharmis almost equal to that of the Christian population of the region. Since the center of the Ad Dharm movement was in Doaba region, nearly eighty percent of the lower castes of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts reported themselves as Ad Dharmis (ibid.:77). It was for the first time in the history of lower castes that they had come forward to officially declare themselves as separate and independent of the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim religions. This was, perhaps, the beginning of the dalit assertion in North India. It got further impetus in the first election that took place in 1937 after the promulgation of the Government of India Act of 1935. Ad Dharm Mandal contested election in all the eight reserved seats and won all except one. In the 1945-46, Punjab Legislative Assembly elections on the eve of independence Ad Dharm also registered its presence by contesting in alliance with the Unionist Party. Mangoo Ram, the founder of Ad Dharm was one of the elected candidates.

Ad Dharm movement was instrumental not only in helping the lower castes to get registered as a distinct religion in the 1931 census and providing them the platform to enter into the State Legislature, it also went a long way in bringing a cultural transformation in their life. In fact, Ad Dharm movement, as has been mentioned above, aimed at facilitating a cultural transformation in the life of lower castes that, under the impact of the centuries old system of degradation, had actually internalised a sense of being low and polluted. Mangoo Ram wanted to liberate them from such a state of mind and also to inculcate in them the feeling of dignity and self respect whereby they could start thinking about them as equal to the so-called twice-born people. Report of the Ad Dharm Mandal, 1926-1931 lists a number of moral principles and duties, which the followers of the Ad Dharm are required to adhere to for creating spiritual regeneration and cultural transformation in their lives. Among the most important moral principles and the duties mentioned in the report are:

The basic principles listed in the Report are: (1) The essential teachings of the Ad Dharm will always be the same: no one can change them. They can stay alive and persist only through the help of a guru. (2) Every man and woman belongs to the faith, but they may not know it. To live without a guru is a sin. (3) A guru should be someone who truly and rightly knows the teachings of the previous masters. He should be able to distinguish between falsehood and truth. He should be able to bring peace and love within the community. (4) Everyone should be instructed by the lives of previous masters; progress comes from following the masters’ examples. The practices of previous masters should not be abandoned. This leads to progress. (5) There should not be any discrimination in regard to eating with other castes. (6) Ad Dharmis should abstain from theft, fraud, lies, dishonesty, looking at someone else’s wife with bad intentions, using anything which brings intoxication, gambling, and usurping other persons’ property or belongings. All of these things are against the law of nature and therefore the law of Ad Dharm. (7) Every Ad Dharmi has the duty to teach his children current knowledge and also to teach them to be obedient to the present king. (8) Every Ad Dharmi should read the Ad Prakash and act upon it. This is a foremost duty. (9) Ad Dharm does not believe in the caste system or any inferiority or superiority of this sort. (10) To learn and seek knowledge, and to learn and seek progress is compulsory for every man and woman.

The twelve duties mentioned in the Report are as follows: (1) to publicize and propagate Ad Dharm. (2) To take pride in Ad Dharm. (3) To promote the use of name of the community and to use the red mark, this is its sign. (4) Ad Dharmis should try to retrieve any property of fellow Ad Dharmi that has been usurped. (5) We should distinguish among Hindus, Ad Dharmis, and other communities of India. (6)Those books, which have created the problem of untouchability and led to discrimination - books such as the Laws of Manu and other Shastras – should be completely boycotted and abandoned. (7) We should celebrate the festivals of our gurus and follow our faith to the utmost. (8) Abandon idolatry. (9) Receive education for ourselves and others in the brotherhood. (10) Boycott those who curse us as “untouchables” or discriminate against us. (11) Bring all demands of Ad Dharmis before the government. (12) Abandon expensive marriage and practice of child marriage.

The fifty-six commandments included in the Report are: (1) Each Ad Dharmi should know everything about the faith. (2) For the betterment and salvation of one’s body – physical and spiritual – one should recite the word soham. (3) Each Ad Dharmi should remember Guru Dev for half an hour each morning or evening. (4) When Ad Dharmis meet, their greeting should be “jai Guru Dev.” (5) We should be true followers of the founders, Rishi Valmiki, Guru Ravi Das, Maharaj Kabir, and Bhagwan Sat Guru Nam Dev. (6) a guru is necessary, one who knows about previous gurus and has all the capabilities of being a guru. (7) The wife of a guru should be regarded as one’s mother, the guru’s daughter as one’s sister. (8) Devotion to one’s wife should be a part of one’s faith, for therein lies salvation. (9) Every Ad Dharmi should abstain from theft, fraud, lies, dishonesty, and usurping the property of others. (11) One should not cause someone else heartache. There is no worse sin than this. (12) Every Ad Dharmi should enthusiastically participate in Ad Dharmi festivals and rituals. (13) There should be equally great happiness at the birth of both boys and girls. (14) After the age of five, every boy and girl should be given proper religious teaching. (15) Extravagant expenses at weddings are useless. Every marriage should be conducted according to rituals of our tradition. (16) Ad Dharmis should marry only Ad Dharmis. To marry someone outside Ad Dharm is not legal, but if someone does marry an outsider, he or she should be brought into the faith. (17) All Ad Dharmis, both men and women, should be obedient to their parents. (18) After the death of both parents it is the duty of each Ad Dharmi to cook food and distribute it among the poor. (19) The dead should be cremated, except for those under the age of five, who should be buried. (20) Ad Dharmis do not follow any other law except their own. (21) In the Ad Dharm faith only one marriage is allowed, but a husband may marry after the death of his wife. Also, if the first wife does not bear children, the husband may take another wife, provided he has the consent of the first wife. If this happens, the first wife remains a legal wife, with all the rights she had before. (22) Ad Dharmis should marry their children to the Ad Dharmis of the surrounding areas. (23) A girl should be more than twelve years old at the time of the marriage. The boy should be four years older than the girl. (24) It is illegal to receive money for a bride; on the other hand, there should not be a dowry. Those who sell their daughters commit a very great sin. (25) Offerings and sacrifices for prayers should be given only to those holy men who are Ad Dharmi and who have shown themselves to follow Ad Dharmi principles religiously. (26) It is necessary for each Ad Dharmi to provide primary education to both boys and girls. (27) The girls should be educated especially in household work such as sewing and needlework. (28) Young girls and boys should not be sent out to cut grass and gather wood. (29) It is the duty of parents not to allow young widowed daughters to remain in their household, because a young widowed daughter is a cause of disgrace. (30) If an Ad Dharmi widow with children wants to hold a commemoration of her deceased husband, but cannot afford it, then the Ad Dharm Mandal of Jullundur and its members will help her. (31) It is not good to cry and beat oneself at a death or funeral. To do so is to anger Guru Dev. (32) Among the Ad Dharmis sons and daughters should receive an equal inheritance. (33) To eat the meat of a dead animal or bird is against the law of Ad Dharm. (34) To use wine or any other intoxicants is a sin, except in the case of sickness. (35) It is legal to eat food offered at noon – Ad Dharm marriages, but the food should be decent, and not leftovers. (36) Cleanliness is important. It guaranteed good health. (37) It is forbidden to practice idolatry and worship statues, and one should not believe in magic, ghosts, or anything of the sort. (38) All Ad Dharmis should forget notions of caste and untouchability and work toward the unity of all people in the world. (39) Each Ad Dharmi should help a fellow Ad Dharmi in need. (40) One Ad Dharmi must not work at a place where another Ad Dharmi works until the first Ad Dharmi has been paid his wages. (41) If Ad Dharmis enter into a dispute with one another, they should attempt to come to some agreement by themselves or within the community. If no agreement is accomplished, they should refer the case to the Ad Dharm Mandal, Jullundur, and the Executive Committee will take action. (42) Ad Dharmis should open shops and business in every village. (43) Every Ad Dharmi should be a missionary for the faith. (44) Ad Dharmis should call themselves such and register in the census as “Ad Dharmi”. (45) A Red turban on the head is mandatory, for it is the color of our ancestors. (46) Every Ad Dharmi should work hard for the progress and peace of the community. (47) Ad Dharmis hould organize themselves into cadres called martyrdom cells. They should work hard on the Ad Dharm’s projects. (48) Each Ad Dharmis hould separate himself form Hindus, Sikhs, and members of other religions. (49) Each Ad Dharmi should be a good citizen, a patriot loyal to the present government, and should follow the law of the land. (50) Ad Dharmis have the obligation to consider the Ad Dharm Mandal of Punjab, city of Jullundur, as their rightful representative, and to recognize that the programs of the AD Dharm are for their benefit. (51) It is the duty of every Ad Dharmi to trust the Ad Dharm Mandal of Jullundur, and to share its work. (52) All local branches of the Ad Dharm should be certified by the Ad Dharm Mandal of Jullundur, and those, which are not certified, should not be considered genuine. (53) All Ad Dharmis should save their fellow Ad Dharmis from fraud and selfishness on the part of other communities. If such a situation arises, the Mandal should be informed. (54) Each Ad Dharmi should report any difficulty concerning the community to the Mandal in Jullundur. (55) Ad Dharmis should subscribe to the qaum’s newspaper, Adi Danka. They should receive it regularly, read it regularly, a nd help support it regularly. (56) Anyone violating the laws of the Ad Dharm or of the guru, or who insults these laws in one way or another, will be liable to punishment, even the greatest punishment – being banished from the community.

The main emphasis of these commandments, principles and duties, in the opinion of Babu Mangoo Ram, was to strengthen the social, cultural and religious life of the Dalits so that it could help them build Dalit Solidarity and empowerment.

1 comment:

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