Third Lokgyani Workshop Report

Dalit Resource Centre (DRC) of G B Pant Social Science Institute (GBPSSI), Jhusi, Allahabad, organized the Third Lokgyani Conference, as part of the Lokgyani series, wherein a daylong seminar on Democratic Culture and Popular Sects: in Context of Satnaam Sect was held at New Circuit House, Raipur, on December 15, 2010.

The Inaugural Session began with the ceremonial lighting of the lamp by Lalit Surjan, editor of Deshbhandu, Raipur. In his inaugural address he said that large parts of our personal and social lives are inspired by politics. History bears witness that the journey to democracy crisscrossed through various political systems. It began with primitive communes, which was bereft of struggles, there was no rat race to grab resources and life was far less complicated. But there were no socio-political systems that stood the test of people’s aspirations. Till now, possibly democracy is the best system. The question is how to reach the all pervasive value of Bahujan welfare ingrained in democracy. What are the elements that inspire it? The voice of dissent surfaced in the society time and again. These popular sects gave strength to dissent. When there is stagnation in any society, no place for new concepts in socio-political systems, at such times Lokgyanis gather courage to help shake the masses off their deep slumber; they start linking people through their sects. There were constant cultural movements in India. When there were no political parties, these popular sects played an important role of opposition. Possibly it was an important step towards democratization. Democratic culture is the need of the hour. Lokgyanis are needed to light the flaming torch – so was it earlier and so will it be in future. In Chhattisgarh’s society Ghasidas played an important part in awakening the masses.

In his presidential address, eminent litterateur and freedom fighter Keyur Bhusan Mishra, of Raipur observed that Guru Ghasidas understood and internalized the gnawing agony of the Dalits and used his Vani for their emancipation.  Satnaam Movement raised awareness and sharpened dissent against the tyranny meted out to the Dalits. The traditions of the saint-poet were rooted in folk culture and they were instrumental in establishing compassionate society. Saint-poet Guru Ghasidas stands tall as a representative of the exploited on the same pedestal as Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar. He added that in the early times, kings and religious gurus were responsible for exploiting the resources of state and society. Satnaam culture compensated largely for this loss.

Dwelling on the Satnaam Movement in detail, Dr J R Soni, General Secretary, Guru Ghasi Das Sahitya evam Sanskriti Academy, Raipur, stated that the Movement of Guru Ghasidas, a prominent saint-poet, propelled by the welfare of the Bahujan Samaj. It marks a long journey of surging ahead on the path of truth. It is an achievement of Chhattisgarh.

Earlier, introducing the topic of the seminar, Prof Badri Narayan, Project Director, Dalit Resource Centre, G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad explained that DRC is particularly focused toward Dalit culture and politics. Culture is playing an important role in the process of democratization that is sweeping the country. How does resistance ingrained in culture help this process? Presently, we are working on a project which addresses the impact of sects in the lives of the marginalized and how is it helping the process of democratization of the Dalits. We are working on Kabir sect, Ravidas sect, Shivnarayani sect, Satnaam sect and Mahima Dharma. During our field visits we select Lokgyani. In fact, Lokgyanis often, if not always, stay in villages and quasbas. They are very wise and enlightened people gifted to lead sects. Their analyses of problems differ from those of the academicians, dealing with the day-to-day struggles and challenges of the masses. It has philosophical view enmeshed with everyday-life view. They show us the path. We wish to establish the discourse of the Lokgyanis that exist in vacuum with the mainstream, establishing an interface of sorts amongst Lokgyanis, writers, journalists and social scientists. We need to observe democratic values by analyzing the texts of their dialogues. It’s worth noting how people bring about changes in their cultural resources. Through these sects how is the state grappling with, or demolishing, real democratic values. The daylong seminar will provide necessary insights, he hoped.

The theme of the First Session was Satnaami Culture and Dissent. In his presidential address, Dr Ramakant Srivastava, Eminent Academician, Raipur said that real life can be felt only outside the realm of books, in the struggles of life. These were gathered by our saints, which we now read in the form of books.  The impact of saint-poets literature is immense on the 20th and 21st century literature. The initial revolutions in our society that were lead by the saints have deeply influenced our socio-cultural structure. Ghasidas talked of the great values of mankind in simple language, spreading it amongst the masses. The Panthi dance of Satnaam sect is a creative expression of the workforce, which helped to bring the Satnamis under one roof.  Habib Tanveer projected the element of Ghasidas in the form of a guru (great master), in his play Charandas Chor. In fact, Charandas Chor was an adaptation of a folk play by Rajasthani playwright Vijaydas Dekha. Though Dekha was not happy with the changes made by Habib Tanveer, but Tanveer gave a new height to his play by these changes, which was applauded by audiences in foreign countries – such was the impact of the wisdom of Satnaami sect. Habib Tanveer created a huge socio-cultural impact of this region through his work. Our democratic culture is endangered. Though we have democracy, we do not have democratic culture. Capitalism, autocracy, despotism, etc exist in the disguise of democracy. Ghasidas’ principles and teachings show us the way out of this terrible mess. The marginalized community, lost in the backstage, need to be brought into the mainstream through the teachings of Ghasidas.

Prof Vinay Pathak, Eminent academician, Bilaspur opined that distant from Shastras (religious laws) and far away from Siddhantas (religious principles) Lokgyaan was spread in folk language by the Lokgyanis, who provided rich cultural resource for guiding us. Lokgyanis like Manohardas, a Satnaam sect saint, was an important link in the Lokgyani tradition. He used to sell the books of Satnam sect at railway stations, singing songs. Without any resources he helped spread Lokdharma to the masses.

KP Khande, Social Activist, Raipur added that Satnaam sect awakened a feeling of self-respect amongst the Dalits. Travelling from villages to villages, the sect propogators promoted good values. Satnaam sect is based on democratic values based on people.

Dr. Pardesi Lal Verma, Editor, Agasdiya, Durg said that Guru Ghasidas lived amongst the labourers of Chhattisgarh to awaken them. Even the mobilization that trade unions of contemporary times fail to achieve was a feat that the saint-poet did. Some people tried to misinterpret his work and bring defame to him but Devdas Banjarey, a follower of the Satnaam sect, helped propagate his messages far and wide, through Panthi songs, even across the seas. Panthi songs have witnessed interpolations and now include the struggles and hassles of the modern era.

Tajinder ji, director of Doordarshan, Raipur, said that Ghasidas did such a commendable feat for the downtrodden by emancipating them, which cannot be achieved by reservation policy of any kind in the world. He taught them to be proud of their identity with great intensity.

In the Second Session: Emergence of Dalit Consciousness through Satnaam Sect, Dr Anusuiya Agarwal, academician, Mahasamand eulogized that though the mortal bodies of great men perish, their ideas and concepts, like a flaming torch, continue to guide us. They continue to enlighten the society for ages. Saint Ghasidas, an emancipator of the untouchables, inspired them. He bound Chhattisgarh society in equalitarianism. His socio-cultural movement freed Chhattisgarh from strife and hatred, making it a blessed land.

Gautam Bandopadhyay, Social activist, Raipur opined that the history of ethno-conflict is sparse in Chhattisgarh. Equality in the state is a gift of Guru Baba (as Saint Ghasidas endearingly called). There were no conflicts between Dalits and the tribal community in Chhattisgarh. There is no gender discrimination too. The strength of Jaithkhambh (a pillar that is the religious symbol/icon of the sect) gives the courage to stand with upright head, the power never to crouch and cower. Saint Ghasidas was successful in furthering the noble concept that Jaithkhambh represents in the society. He inspired the masses to live in camaraderie, in togetherness and peace.

Vandana Kengrani, academician, Raipur was of the view that not only Dalits but also non-Dalits embraced the Satnaam sect. Joining the sect, they drowned their inequalities and soared high to become believers of the sect.

Prof RP Tandon, Social activist, Kanker stated that this popular sect was involved with the reform movement of the tribes (as Chhattisgarh is dominant by tribal community). ‘Gyan panth kripan ke dhara’ (Path of Enlightenment is the sword’s edge). It’s difficult to assimilate the elements of truth enshrined in Enlightenment but Baba Ghasidas made it possible.

In his presidential address, Ghanaram, Eminent litterateur opined that the Satnaam Movement was against feudalism and exploitation. Contemporary society was in need of a true guide who could show it the right path and bring about awareness in the people. Guru Ghasidas brought about awareness amongst the Dalits during an era crippled in dogmas and orthodoxy. We can be emancipated by walking on the path showed by him.

Prof Narayan proposed the vote of thanks. Later, a cultural programme was held in the evening, with rendition of the Satnaam sect’s Bhajans and Panthi Nritya.

Output of the Seminar:
This Seminar was an attempt to analyse the cultural resources through the discourse around Satmani Panth, which exhibited positives and negatives of the contemporary position of the sect with lot of interpolations.

Chhattisgarh is a new state now, with 50 per cent reservation. However, there is lack of political awareness. Satnaam sect followers are easy political prey and they can be bought cheap. It would not be proper to see the followers of this sect through the glass of spirituality alone. These people are happy that they are getting a Jaithkhamb built that will be tallest (higher than the Qutub Minar). This is not such an important issue. They should indeed search their souls and discover what should be a more meaningful role in socio-political life. Democratic culture is the need of the hour. Lokgyanis are needed to light the flaming torch – so was it earlier and so will it be in future. In Chhattisgarh’s society Ghasidas played an important part in awakening the masses.

Prof. Badri Narayan concluded that when a community gets the capacity to aspire then they surge ahead in establishing their identity. Satnaam sect gave this identity to the marginalized community. Whatever Ghasidas said 200 years ago need not be fixed. It’s necessary to add new elements in it, construct awareness which might transform and become an emancipating force.

Vision Statement of the Seminar:
The constant refrain of the daylong seminar was the enlightenment that Saint Ghasidas brought about, as a Lokgyani, in Chhattisgarh. He brought about equality and his teachings resolved conflict in that society. Gender discrimination too is not very prominent. These cultural values were spread democratically amongst the people. However, the followers of this sect are not sufficiently aware politically, becoming easy prey to the unscrupulous.