ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sacralising Dalit Peripheries

Ravidass Deras and Dalit Assertion in Punjab

Dalit peripheries in the vicinity of mainstream villages in Punjab are now no longer stigmatised neighbourhoods. On the contrary, they are fast becoming critical sites of Dalit social protest and assertion. This is often attributed to the sacred and radical ethos of the indigenous Dalit religion in the state--the Ravidassia dharm. Until quite recently, these peripheries were characterised as dens of poverty, filth and disease with no political reverberation except during short electoral intervals or the annual celebration of the anniversaries of guru Ravidass and B R Ambedkar. Often ignored, they remained silent service sectors with a variety of cheap manual labour and dumping grounds for the disposal of the waste of mainstream villages. But over the last few years, the agency of the Ravidass deras has empowered them to assert a separate Dalit identity and demand a share in the local structures of power.

I am grateful to Sukhdeo Thorat, Kancha Ilaiah, Gopal Guru, K C Sulekh, P S Verma, L R Balley, Mohan Lal Philoria, the late D C Ahir and K C Shenmar for helping me tremendously in sharpening the arguments raised in the paper. My sincere thanks to all those who helped me generously during my fieldwork. I am also grateful to all the fellow seminarians who commented on various versions of the paper presented at different occasions in India and abroad. Seema, Sahaj and Daksh kept me free on the home front, many thanks to them. The usual disclaimers apply.

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