A person having good standard of living, all necessities of life and everything at par with modern life, even then suffering from a mental agony, what is it? It is the feeling of being a Dalit. What kind of freedom have we got in which people are discriminated on the basis of their castes and colour? They don’t have the freedom to worship their venerable God, as their entry in temples is restricted even now. Then what type of growth and development are we talking about? In this backdrop, to help the Dalit community for its growth and uplift, an NGO named Swaraj led by Dr Sambit Patra came forward bringing a new ray of hope. Valmikis are thankful to Mr Ptara, because of whom it became possible for them to participate in rudra-abhishek and chanting freely Om Namah Shivay. They now wear the sacred thread and try their best to obey the sanskars and break the shackles of caste system. “Country has moved ahead since Independence but caste system is still practiced. Ironically, it is still in mental structure of Indians. There is a particular Dalit community in Delhi and northern India—Valmikis—who has been suffering human miseries for several decades. I have observed that this community appears to be the most oppressed. We are working for the uplift of this community,” Dr Sambit Patra explains.
Working in this field, he did enormous work for the Valmiki community to empower the Dalit community. Free books and tuition facilities are provided to the Dalit students by Swaraj. Over 100 women together perform the pious rituals every time a religious occasion is performed. He informs, “We organised Upnayan sanskaras, i.e. janeu, the sacred thread ceremony, which belongs to so-called Brahmin society. In my view, anyone, who is Hindu, has the right to wear this sacred thread and in this ceremony, we distribute this sacred thread in thousands amidst chanting of mantras by priests.” But what is the need to highlight this custom by taking help of religion, when in today’s time we are trying to erase these classifications? “By wearing the sacred thread it is not that they become rich or they get livelihood. The aim of the custom is not Brahmanisation, but symbolic reassertion of their rights. Janeu gives a real satisfaction to them, which can be a potent weapon of empowerment, when the Valmikis wear it.”
Dr Patra vehemently points out, “Dalits are conglomerated more for the vote-bank politics purposes than the real social enforcement and growth of Dalits. When Valmiki people are holding pen in their hand, why are people of this community forced to take broom in their hand?” To eradicate this evil, Dr Patra organised a puja recently at the famous Gauri Shanker temple, Chandni Chowk, which became the historical one, in which all Dalits together worshipped the Shivling in presence of priests of the temple. Swaraj mooted the idea, which was promptly accepted by temple trustees, the Acharya Mahasabha—of which all Shankaracharyas and major and major Akharas are members—and the All India Brahmin Mahasabha. Brahmin priests assisted the Dalits in puja, “The priest helped them with mantras,” Patra explained.
Recounting an incident pertaining to the puja, Dr Patra said, “One incident touched my heart. When I was roaming in a Dalit basti six months after the event, one woman suddenly came towards me with tears in her eyes and said Dr Sahib that was ‘a memorable day’ in my life.”
Defining the recent projects he is working on, he said, “We are going to take up a huge issue. The Sanatana mandirs must have Valmiki’s and Ravidas’ idols, which are not there. We will take out a padyatra, in which I will stay in their bastis and from there we will take idols of Valmiki and then establish them in the temples.”
By Sonia Chawla