DEEP IN the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, the underclass has done away with centuries of Brahminical dependence: They have sacked the pundit.
In dozens of villages across Uttar Pradesh, Dalits have stopped depending on the Brahmin priest for their weddings, funerals and other ceremonies, instead using a Buddhism-inspired book of rituals that can be performed by any educated person, not necessarily one born into a particular caste.
The wide use of the Bhim Patra, named after the late Bhimrao Ambedkar, is a radical move that is part of an understated rebellion against upper caste discrimination, woven deeply into caste politics in India’s political hub.
“We have nothing to do with the Brahmin pundits. They are all snobs,’’ said Chhabi Lal in Ghunghter village, about 45 kilometres north of Lucknow. “They tell us, ‘your parents died, so to make their souls happy, give us a bed and a cow as gifts … as if it is all going to reach them, right?’’ he said.
Weddings are performed, instead, before a statue of Ambedkar.
Funerals and other rituals can also be performed by any educated person by reading instructions from the book.
“We are all Hindus. We have not converted. But we have stopped following the old rituals. We follow the Bhim Patra. There is no pundit, no worship of gods and goddesses, no dowry and no auspicious time for any wedding,’’ said Mohan Lal Gautam, who sells books at the main traffic intersection in Hazratganj, Lucknow.
“This is a projection of their identity … and you can see it as a form of protest,’’ said A K Singh, director of the Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies. Nearly all the followers of the new rituals who were interviewed said they were supporters of the Bahujan Samaj Party. The new assertion is likely to be an important factor in the state elections planned for early next year. The wedding is inexpensive, and takes only two hours.
The bride and groom light candles, take wedding vows and garland each other. The groom showers the bride with flowers. “This is the result of our anger against the system. What do we have to do with the gods? Why worship someone we haven’t seen?’’ asked Amar Pal Bharti of Jyotiba Phule Nagar district. Many Brahmin priests are feeling the pinch of the social churning.
“It is true. Dalits have mostly stopped coming to us. They are doing their own ceremonies,’’ said Jagdamba Prasad Bajpai, a Brahmin priest in Deora village.