Today in Dalit History, we celebrate one of the many rich traditions of Dalit spirituality- Ad-Dharm.
The Ad-Dharm movement was founded by Mangoo Ram Mugowalia. Born in Punjab in 1886, Mugowalia immigrated to the U.S. and became involved in the Indian “freedom struggle”, the Ghadar movement, out of California. Here, Muggowal endured discrimination for being both a “coloured” and Dalit. In the Ghadar resistance, he narrowly escaped a British death sentence, but still found himself, being treated like an untouchable in the Party itself. Disillusioned, he resigned from the Ghadar Party and returned to Punjab. He began to realise that decolonization of the subcontinent meant that without a social revolution, “independence (Azaadi) ” would be a hollow term that removes a white coloniser while keeping a Caste coloniser.
In 1925, Mangoo Ram formally launched the Ad-Dharmi movement at a small school house filled with community members from his home village.
Ad-Dharm holds that Dalits and Adivasis are indigenous to the subcontinent and that their religion, Ad-Dharm, The Ancient Faith, is one that predates all others including Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. It asserts that through a process of Brahminical colonisation, the original peoples of the subcontinent were stripped of their land and rights. Those who were enslaved through this process were Dalits. Ad-Dharm is an attempt to reconnect with our old religion/s and original history. Ad-Dharmis believe real liberation is freedom from both white imperialism AND Brahminism.
The Ad-Dharmi movement fought to win the right to register as a separate religion in Punjab and almost Dalits in Punjab began to assert that they were neither Hindu or Sikh, but Ad-Dharmi. In a turn of events that was shocking to colonisers, Ad-Dharm managed to register no less than half a million followers of the faith in Punjab, in the 1931 national census. It was perhaps for the first time since antiquity, that Dalits in (undivided) Punjab loudly declared themselves as belonging to an indigenous, non-Aryan religion totally separate from that of all the existing mainstream religions of the region.
In 1937, Ad-Dharm went political and won 7 out of all the 8 reserved seats in Punjab. It spread like wildfire to the Dalit Punjabi diasporas in the U.K and U.S where it continues strong to date.
In India, the tenets of Ad-Dharm have been kept alive by revolutionaries like Kanshiram Saheb, organisations like BAMCEF and the Mulnivasi ( indigenous peoples’) movements.
From – Dalit History Month Collective