Punjab’s Ad Dharm movement – which turned Untouchables into proud Mulnivasis

On the 95th anniversary of the launch of the Ad Dharm movement by Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia, Ronki Ram looks at how the movement transformed the lives of the Untouchables in Punjab

Today, Scheduled Castes constitute a third of the population of the Indian state of Punjab – which is more than the proportion of SCs in any of the other states and union territories. Yet, their share in agricultural land of this predominantly agricultural state is the least. Less than five percent of them are small-time cultivators. Though they are enumerated along with other caste communities as part of an administrative division, such as a village, in the census records, they actually live in segregated Dalit settlements situated in the periphery of the villages. The segregated SC peripheries are contemptuously called Chamarlees in Doaba, Thathees in Malwa, and Vehras in Majha – the three distinct spatial-cultural regions of the state. Like all other integral segments of the syncretic Punjabi qaum, the Punjabi SCs are well known for their valour in the missions of the Khalsa armies of Guru Gobind Singh against regimes of injustice and social oppression. The desire for a life of dignity prompted them in the second half of 1920s, to organize themselves under the Ad Dharm movement, the maiden movement of the Untouchables in pre-Partition Punjab, launched 11-12 June 1926. The Ad Dharm movement ran parallel to but independent of various other contemporary Adi movements that emerged in the rest of India.

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