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Dalits: Dravidians of the North Redefine Caste Battle Of South In Punjab

July 06, 2018 05:51 AM


Dalits: Dravidians of the North
Redefine Caste Battle Of South In Punjab


When E V Ramaswamy started the Self Respect Movement or the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu in 1925, it was as much ‘anti-North India’ and ‘anti-Hindi’ as it was about fighting the caste system and superstition and inculcating self-respect among all. Periyar, as Ramaswamy was better known, would perhaps never have imagined that a Dravidian movement would one day take shape in the extreme northern corner of India.

Now, more than 90 years later, many Dalits in Punjab have started embracing what they call their ‘Dravidian identity’. Many of them don’t even know about Periyar and the movement in the 1930’s down south, but say they feel the need to define themselves differently. At nearly 32%, Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalits among all states in the country.

This new assertion is finding maximum traction among members of the Valmiki community (traditionally involved in scavenging and considered lowest in the caste hierarchy). Although initial attempts to create such an identity in Punjab go back almost 50 years, it was mainly confined to a few activists.

The recent Supreme Court order, which many saw as dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, however, led to a renewed interest on the issue among Punjab Dalits. They now wear this new identity on their sleeve and describe themselves as ‘Dravidian’ or ‘Anarya’ (non-Arya).

NEW MOORINGS: Dalit community members take part in Raavan Puja

‘We are making Dravidian demarcation clear’

Many of them have also started taking on last names like Daitya, Danav, Achhoot and even Rakshas socially. Even Dravid is being adapted as surname. Given that it is cumbersome to change ones name officially, they do it informally and prefer to be identified by their new names.

“The Supreme Court order and the clash between Dalit activists and right-wing Hindu groups at Phagwara on April 13, in which one Valmiki youth was killed, has triggered interest in this regard,” says Aadi Dharam Samaj (ADS) founder Darshan Ratan Raavan. His organisation has been at the forefront of spearheading the movement.

“We are working on making the Dravidian demarcation clear,” he adds. “We have separate religious customs from Hindus. When Rishi Ratnakar ji Maharaj, who was one of the founders of the movement of asserting a separate identity, passed away on April 5, no Hindu ritual was performed. We recited Valmiki prayers.”

“After the Bharat Bandh call of April 2, we have received several calls from across the state. Youths from our community want to start Raavan Sena units in their cities and towns,” said Lakhbir Lankesh who heads Raavan Sena. “When they become our members, we give them last names like Lankesh, Danav and other names from Mahatma Raavan’s clan,” he says.

“Raavan Sena was founded in November 2008 to create awareness about our original identity and to tell people that

Raavan was not a villain,” says Charanjit Hans who founded the Sena.

Kavita Kaiksi (Kaiksi was Ravan’s mother), a lecturer of Punjabi language in a government school, says adopting this last name was a conscious attempt to identify with the Dravdian identity. Her family is a follower of Darshan Ratan Raavan. Her father Ram Lal had adapted the last name Daitya.

“Awareness about the Dravidian identity is growing, especially among those who are educated,” she adds. Her brother is Deepak Dravid and she says her cousins also have first or last names taken from Ravan’s family.

Rakesh Kumar, a resident of Talwara town in Hoshiarpur, changed his name to Rakesh Rakshas recently. “While I already identified with my Valmiki identity, April 2 became a personal turning point. A few days later, I suffixed Rakshas to my name to identify with Mahtma Ravan. It reflects the original identity of our people,” says Rakshas. He adds that others in the family would also adopt similar surnames soon.

Satnam Singh of Hoshiarpur became Satnam Daitya some weeks back. A ‘safai karamchari’ at an educational institute, he says he suffixed Daitya after April 2. “Awareness about our separate identity has increased after April 2. I shall also suffix similar surnames to names of my children,” he says.

Pawan Kumar of village Nangal Kalan in Hoshiarpur became Pawan Virochan (father of Asura king Mahabali) only recently. “It’s time to assert our own identity,” he says

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