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HT Explainer: What makes Doaba caste cauldron?

Given their political dominance, Dalits in Doaba are assertive and influential as compared to their counterparts from other parts of the country; they have a high proportion of NRIs.

punjab Updated: Apr 17, 2018 09:57 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Violence had rocked the Doaba belt following an attack on Niranjan Das, the head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan, Jalandhar, and his deputy Ramanand at Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2009.
Violence had rocked the Doaba belt following an attack on Niranjan Das, the head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan, Jalandhar, and his deputy Ramanand at Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2009. (HT File)

The ongoing tension in Phagwara after a clash between Dalits and Shiv Sena activists over the renaming of a roundabout is yet another incident in the series of caste-based clashes the Doaba region has witnessed so frequently in the past two decades. Such is the caste calculus in the region comprising Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (Nawanshahr) districts that the state’s security agencies consider it a ‘volcano’ that can erupt even by a minor skirmish. Hindustan Times looks at the reasons as why Doaba becomes the epicentre of caste-based clashes, mostly Dalit versus others.

What exactly is the caste equation in the region?

Dalits constitute about 32% of Punjab population, the highest among all states in the country. Most of the Dalit (Scheduled Castes) population is concentrated in the Doaba region, taking the community’s percentage here to around 45%.

Of the 117 constituencies, the region sends 23 representatives to the state assembly and vote share of the Dalit community in these segments ranges from 30% to 50%. The Dalits mainly are divided into two communities — the Ravidassias, followers of Guru Ravidass and the Balmikis.

The Ravidassias dominate the region, statistically speaking. Such is the dominance of the Dalit community that the Hoshiarpur and Jalandhar Lok Sabha segments covering most of Doaba are reserved for SCs.

What triggers the clashes?

Given their political dominance, Dalits in Doaba are assertive and influential as compared to their counterparts from other parts of the country. Financially too, they are powerful as the community, like other castes, has a high proportion of NRIs who send huge remittances besides donations for religious activities.

Since the region has witnessed various Dalit movements, including the Dalit resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s after which the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was formed, the community members here are not afraid of taking the other sections head-on.

“It’s an assertion of the Dalit identity. Earlier, when any act of outrage and highhandedness happened, Dalits used to lie low. But with an increasing awareness and spread of education, the Dalits are more united than before,” says Ram Lal Jassi, a Dalit leader.

What is the history of clashes in the region?

If one takes note of the history of clashes in the region, most of them were between the Ravidassia community and Jat Sikhs. In 2009, the two communities clashed after the murder of a leader of Dalit-dominated dera Sachkhand Ballan in Vienna, Austria. The dera is known as ‘mecca’ of the Ravidassia community that reacted strongly to the killing allegedly by Sikh extremists.

In 2003, a curfew was imposed and heavy damage to the government property was witnessed after the two communities clashed to take control of a gurdwara at Talhan village of Jalandhar district. Earlier, the Ravidassia community used to preach Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holly book, but after the 2010 clashes, the community under the banner of Dera Ballan replaced the scripture with ‘Amrit Bani: Satguru Ravidass Granth’ and founded the new religion ‘Ravidassia Dharam’.

This is seen as a major event in the breaking away of Dalits from the fold of Hinduism and Sikhism.

What are new Dalit-Hindu right-wing faultlines?

The clash between Dalits and Shiv Sena activists in Phagwara over naming a roundabout after BR Ambedkar has set new faultlines between the two communities. In last five years in Phagwara, it is for the fourth time that Shiv Sena activists have come into a direct tussle with other communities. Last year, after Shiv Sena activists clashed with members of the Muslim community, Dalit and Sikh groups supported Muslims.

“With the BJP-led government at the Centre, the dominance of Hindu extremist groups has increased in the past four years. This has increased the sense of insecurity among Dalits too. The recent controversy over an amendment in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the fear that the BJP governments may end the reservation for them has added to the worries of the community. That is why clashes between the Dalits and the upper castes are increasing. What happened in Phagwara could be seen as one such incident,” says Des Raj Kali, a prominent Dalit writer.