New Delhi: Mahatma Gandhi said there was no shame in cleaning one’s own toilet. Cleanliness for him was a powerful symbol of political mobilisation.
Over the years, many leaders have attempted to tread the same path. Rahul Gandhi has sought to break bread with Kalawati and spoken eloquently about his experiments dining with the downtrodden in the Lok Sabha. BS Yeddyurappa is doing an encore in Karnataka these days. Swachh Bharat is Prime Minister Modi’s pet project.
Sulabh International chief Bindeshwari Pathak is inspired by PM’s initiative. So he’s penned a book on the life of Narendra Modi, which was released in the presence of Amit Shah and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat on Wednesday. Leaders spoke eloquently. It made news.
The stories from the sidelines of the high-profile book release function escaped the media glare.
These are stories of ‘Alwar and Tonk ke Brahmins’. Women clad in bright yellow sarees standing under placards — proclaiming their new identities. They work for Sulabh International.
“We were Valmikis earlier. But Pathak Ji has helped us turn into Brahmins. We used to do scavenging. Now, under Sulabh, we are doing better jobs,” Usha Chamar is quite forthcoming. She heads Sulabh's team in Alwar, Rajasthan.
“We don’t wear the old blue colour uniforms associated with scavenger’s profile. We now wear these beautiful yellow sarees... doesn’t this colour remind you of what pandits wear?” She asked me with a broad smile and a sense of pride.
But How Does A Dalit Convert Into A Brahmin?
“Last year, we went to a temple in Alwar where we performed the rituals to become Brahmins. Pathak Ji is a learned Brahmin and he has made us Brahmins,” said Usha.
Has it led to any change in her life? “Now I feel like a part of the main society. In fact, I have learnt the mantras so well that sometimes I correct Pandit Ji. More importantly, now my family has a better life and our children go to school,” she said.
Mamata, from Tonk district in Rajasthan, said, “We learn mantras in our centre every day. It is a part of our routine.”
Pandit Ajay Tewari explains the entire process. “Janam se sab shudra hai aur karm se hum uchch hote hain... hum logon ko karmon ke madhyam se uchch bana rahe hain. (Everyone is a lower caste being by birth and rises in caste hierarchy by his deeds... we are helping people rise in caste by their work,” said Tewari.
Ambedkar also sought to annihilate the varna system. But he converted to Buddhism.
“The history of India is nothing but a history of a mortal conflict between Buddhism and Brahminism,” Ambedkar wrote.
Kanshi Ram has perhaps been the biggest Dalit leader after him to use political power to bring about social transformation.
Both shunned rituals.
Ashok Bharti, chief adviser of National Confederation of Dalit Organization, says, “People either want to lift us up or bring us down. No one wants to assign us equality. One can be a Dalit and not practice scavenging.”
Dalits prefer to adopt a caste neutral religion like Buddhism. So did 180 Dalit families after caste violence in Saharanpur in May 2017.
“Today, around 87% of Buddhists in India are neo-converts; the rest belong to traditional Buddhist communities,” said a recently published report by IndiaSpend.
Dalit activist Chandra Bhan Prasad says,“Dalits in India are either escaping the identity by saying ‘we are Brahmins’ or challenging it by saying that ‘we are the great chamar’... This is because there is no reward for being a Dalit.”