[Speech delivered at Roshan Ground, Hoshiarpur, Punjab, Lok Sabha Election, 16th January 1998. Orignal speech is in Punjabi and in case you understand Punjabi, you can listen to it from the video at the end of this post. I transcribed it keeping as close as possible to the original speech. Many times voice is not audible and Saheb Kanshi Ram switches from one topic to another quite frequently. I have kept that as it is with very little adjustments in the text so as to keep the relevant parts in the same paragraph. If you don’t have time to read the whole speech, go at the end of the post where I highlight the main points from the Saheb Kanshi Ram’s speech.]
Sathiyo [Friends], we are in the process of uniting oppressed, downtrodden and discriminated communities and create a movement. Our aim through the movement is to end the inequality and oppression and bring equality and justice. As our Sikh brothers say and as it is written in Guru Granth Saheb by Guru Gobind Singh that manas ki jat sabhe eke paihcanbo (recognise all of the mankind as a single caste of humanity) but even in Punjab also this motto hasn’t been achieved. Centuries ago, Guru Gobind Singh said these words but still, Punjab hasn’t achieved his dreams [and discrimination continues]. We gather downtrodden communities and tell them about their poor situation, even Guruji’s wanted that downtrodden community become the rulers. The teachings of all Sikh Gurus were for welfare and for the progress of downtrodden communities but even in the 20th century, we haven’t seen much difference in the situation of the downtrodden communities. Similarly, all over the country there were born many Saints who worked in their respective areas and worked for the equality in the society but their teachings of equality and justice couldn’t succeed in the country. Around 600 years ago, many Saints were born and the struggle for manas ki jat sabhe eke paihcanbo started with Guru Nanak Dev leading from Punjab and in Uttar Pradesh [Guru] Kabir and [Guru] Ravidas led the movement. I have travelled across India and I see on the same thinking of equality there was written many many things since last 600 years but after writing Ram Charit Manas, Tulsi Das ruined everything [with teaching like]
Shudra, Dhol, Ganvar, Pashu, Nari, Sab Tadna Ke Adhikari [All of these deserve to be scolded, beaten, punished.]
No matter how many qualities Shudra have, he shouldn’t be worshipped but no matter how much Brahmin is useless, without any quality he should be worshipped. [These were the other teachings of Brahminism that made life of lower castes even worse.] To challenge this mentality (thinking) many great leaders were born how fought against the inequality and tried to establish the society based on justice and equality. In this attempt, Chandals [lower caste untouchables] took the initiative. Today, Bangladesh is a country of those people (Chandals) and Chandals converted to Islam and became Muslims like many Dalits became Sikhs in Punjab. Surnames such as Biswas, Mandal etc come from this Chandal community. Bangladesh has the majority of Chandals and they are ruling Bangladesh. Before partition, Punjab also had quite a number of Muslims that’s why Punjab was divided. The area where I was born there also population was half Muslims and half Sikhs and the most of those Muslims were Gujjar Muslims [pastoral agricultural ethnic group]. Even today, in western UP, which touches Haryana, in districts like Meerut, Saharanpur, and Muzaffarpur most of Muslims are Jat Muslims [traditionally agricultural community in Northern India] and then next is Gujjar Muslims.
After getting fed up with caste discrimination and inequality in the society many converted to Islam and became Muslims, some converted to Sikhism and more than Sikhs many converted to Christianity. It was because of the influence of British also that more converted to Christianity than to Sikhism. Those who converted to Sikhism were like a pinch of salt in the flour. In comparison to Christians [in India] population of Sikhs is less. Though in Punjab, the population of Christians is low they [lower castes] became Christians in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, i.e. mainly in southern India below Mumbai many [lower castes] became Christians [to escape caste discrimination]. In those converted people, almost 90% were Scheduled Castes, why they became Christians because they got fed up with caste discrimination [in Hinduism]. Now, when Sikhs [Scheduled Caste Sikhs] are getting benefits of reservation, Christians are also saying that they should also get the benefits of reservation.
In Chandals those who didn’t convert to Islam, they first revolted against the Munuwadi system around 200 years ago. First Hari Chand Thakur then Guru Chand Thakur, these two Chandals led a strong movement against the Manuwadi system in [West] Bengal, and based on that movement name of Chandals was changed to Namashudra as Chandal was believed to be derogatory. British accepted their request and in 1901 first time in the census name of Chandals was changed to Namashudra. After that, those who didn’t convert to Islam, Christianity or Sikhism those Dalits also started changing their surnames. In Uttar Pradesh, largest caste group is of Chamars but in census, you will not find any surname as Chamar with a few exceptions where you might find names such as Lalu Ram Chamar or Jaadu Ram Chamar. Most of Dalits changed their surnames.
If you see the area around Agra, they also appealed that they would change their name to Jatav that’s why Chamars in Uttar Pradesh are called Jatavs. Chamari who became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh [from Dalit community] was also Jatav. I travel across India and I don’t find any Chamar [with surname], even here in this area of Punjab, Dalits are called Ad Dharmi. Here also, they don’t call Chamar but Ad Dharmi. So, Chamars, Chudre changed their surnames and prefer to call [or prefer to associate] themselves with different religious movements. Even Chudres prefer to call themselves as Balmiki or Mazhabi. So throughout India, there were different movements to change their surnames and started putting new surnames [according to their respective religious movement with which they were associated].
When in Maharashtra, Mahars wanted to change their name, Dr. Ambedkar said by changing the name there would be no change [in your situation] and there would not be desired results [of escaping the discrimination]. Dr. Ambedkar said we should change the religion not name [if we want to escape caste discrimination]. That’s why Dr. Ambedkar, in 1935 in Nasik district of Maharashtra, called a conference and said that I am born as a Hindu over which I had no control but I would not die as a Hindu. On 6th December 1956, Dr. Ambedkar died. Maybe, he knew his time [on earth] has come to an end so a few days before on 14th October 1956 he converted to Buddhism. I want to say downtrodden lower castes of Punjab that Chandals movement became strong in 19th century when Hari Chand Thakur led the movement on the religious front but Guru Chand Thakur led the movement on political and social front.
The name work of these movements was that these made Chandals realise the importance of political power and in Bengali there is a saying that ‘je jati raja nahi, te jati taja nahi’ means the caste [group] that does not have a share in political power that caste [group] is dead. That caste [group] cannot be said alive which doesn’t have a share in political power.
In Maharashtra, Jotiba Phule who was from Malli community, in Kerala Sri Narayana Guru and in Tamil Nadu Periyar led the movement [for the social justice and equality]. I have started gathering different castes [groups] for humanity and to create ‘manas ki jat sabhe eke paihcanbo’ (recognise all of the mankind as a single caste of humanity). Even today, we can see the difference based on the castes. After learning and taking inspiration from all our ideals we have started this movement of Bahujans. Bahujan Samaj, means a community of many, Bahujan means those who were discriminated, burnt, insulted or kept at the back based on their caste. If we gather all of them they constitute a major chunk of the total population of India.
I am aware that in Doaba region [Doaba comprises the following districts: Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Jalandhar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (formerly Nawanshahr) and has the largest population of Dalits in Punjab, around 42%] that there were movements such as Ad Dharmi and then Ambedkari. When I saw that there has already been Ambedkari movement in the area so I would not need to teach much to them and I thought people from the region would find their ways to establish a society of equality [through political power but it has not been achieved].
What is our aim through creating a Bahujan Samaj or what we want to achieve through creating a Bahujan Samaj? Social Transformation and Economic Emancipation. Social change. We don’t want social justice, we want social transformation. There is no guarantee that social justice would not change to social injustice tomorrow. Suppose at one time, some good leader comes to power and people get social justice and are happy but when the bad leader comes to power it turns into injustice again. So, we want whole social transformation. So, that’s why we want a social transformation of the society and we want economic emancipation in the economic system. We want to shatter the chains of slavery of bonded labourers and we want that according to the economic system they [bonded labourers] should also get the benefit of growth.
We can create such a thoughts [of equality] but to give life to these thoughts we need to succeed in politics. Till the time we do not succeed in politics, we can not bring change social and economic system. As V. P. Singh said that we want social justice and many people who were angry at the injustice got inspired, started putting forward their demands and things progressed a bit [Here Saheb Kanshi Ram is talking about the progress in the implementation of Mandal commission report and reservation for OBC] but what I noticed that there can be a change for some time but that change doesn’t last forever [until you have political power]. So, after observing that it became clear to us that social transformation is must if we want a permanent change. Social justice would not solve any purpose, social transformation is the need of the hour. For social transformation, political power is necessary. So, my main motive of life is social and economic transformation. We got very little time, almost 6 months so we couldn’t do much. We built the parivartan chowk (transformation square) [laughter].
Why are we so afraid of politics? Why our community is afraid of politics? Last time we formed the government and then our vote bank increased from 11% to 21%. Mainly Congress lost its vote share and BSP gained. Congress is now saying, if we give BSP 6 months then we will be finished. I am telling Congress that’s what is my motive. In May 1996, BSP’s vote share was 21% and in October 1996 it rose to 25% and it is my estimate that today BSP’s vote share in Uttar Pradesh is around 35%. I am sure that BSP’s vote share has increased almost 10% in last year or so as I have not slept during this time and neither I have let other party workers sleep. I have told them not to sleep more than 2 hours [loud laughter]. Our not only paperwork is proper but we have worked very hard at ground level.
When it was the rule of Congress in Uttar Pradesh and Bahuguna was chief minister and Congress opposed our slogans (here Kanshi Ram is speaking about the slogan of ‘Jo Zameen Sarkari Hai, Wo Zameen Hamari Hai’ means the land which is with government belongs to Bahujans). I even say today that, people who work in the fields those fields should belong to those people. People, those who don’t have lands, should be given lands. Most of the land in India is concentrated in a few lands and we thought there should be the distribution of land and there should be the total transformation. Land distribution was one of our main demands from the beginning.
From 1972 to 1994, whichever government came either Congress or BJP, they started allocating lands on papers, almost 7 lakh acre land was distributed only on papers. Not even a single acre was actually allocated, no ownership of land was given, land which people could use in reality.
When BSP came to power, which first 100 days, we gave rights to people to use the land not only the papers but distributed the land to people in the real sense. When BSP came to power, I told Mayawati that you have 180 days and you have to distribute and give ownership of land to landless people. What other governments could not do in 22 years, we did it in first 100 days of our rule. No political party dared to oppose us. BJP opposed, in the beginning, say that Thakurs’ land will go to Dalits but I said land papers were issued by BJP and previous government and BSP is just giving the ownership. We are doing what previous governments should have done. We started giving ownership of lands whose papers were distributed by BJP government. Most of the government land was grabbed illegally (by upper castes) so we said all those who have grabbed government land will be punished so BJP also stopped opposing. We told them clearly it is now a government of BSP and stick is in our hand, make way for us (leave the illegally grabbed land) otherwise we will not hesitate from using the stick. [Loud laughter and claps] After that no political party opposed us. We didn’t give land from our pockets, we gave ownership of lands which was promised by the previous governments.
When it was the 100th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, they started Ambedkar Gram Vikas scheme, V. P. Singh was Prime Minister and he thought Dalits will be happy so he launched Ambedkar Gram Vikas scheme and around 11, 524 villages from Uttar Pradesh came under the scheme. It was BSP government that used 9,500 crores on these villages and made the scheme successful. Then they (BJP) started complaining that you have you have spent so much on this and what we will do when our government will come to power. [Here, Kanshi Ram is referring 6-6 month agreement with BJP to run the government in Uttar Pradesh] I told them, ask for more money from the central government, we had to spend money on Ambedkar Grams. So, this way, promises which were made by other political parties were fulfilled by BSP.
Why have I told you all this? I am not very much happy with the situation in Punjab. Backwards from Punjab have not awakened yet. We made a Dalit CM in Uttar Pradesh, I have promised that if we will get the majority in Madhya Pradesh, we will make an Adivasi CM and if we will get the majority in Rajasthan, we will make a Gujjar CM.
By forming a Bahujan Samaj, we want to show the world humanity. We have given equal opportunities to other castes also. We don’t want anyone’s share in power or posts but we also don’t want to leave or lose our share. Dalit movement hasn’t picked up yet in Punjab. Even Dalits have not become ready to lead the movement, when will Bahujans become ready?
To get the power, there is a need of mass movement, converting that mass movement into votes, then converting votes into seats, further converting the seats into [power at] states, and lastly converting the [power at] states into [power at] centre. This is the mission and aim for us. We are still failing at organising mass movement, especially in Punjab. I would urge the people to leave behind the laziness and start working hard for the movement.
So, saying all these words, I leave you here.
Jai Bhim! Jai Bharat!
Main Points from Saheb Kanshi Ram’s Speech –
- A community that doesn’t have representation in the political power, that community is dead.
- We don’t want social justice, we want social transformation. Social justice depends on the person in the power. Suppose at one time, some good leader comes to power and people get social justice and are happy but when the bad leader comes to power it turns into injustice again. So, we want whole social transformation.
- Till the time we won’t be successful in politics and not able to have power in our hands, the social and economic transformation is not possible. Political power is the key to success.
- We don’t want anyone’s share in power or posts but we also don’t want to leave or lose our share.
- Dalit movement hasn’t picked up yet in Punjab. Even Dalits have not become ready to lead the movement, when will Bahujans become ready?
- To get the power, there is a need of mass movement, converting that mass movement into votes, then converting votes into seats, further converting the seats into [power at] states, and lastly converting the [power at] states into [power at] centre. This is the mission and aim for us. We are still failures at organising mass movement, especially in Punjab. I would urge the people to leave behind the laziness and start working for the movement.