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How the Dalitbahujan of Purvanchal are boycotting Brahmabhoj

Lal Pratap Yadav, a social activist from Jaunpur district and former chief of Mariyahu block, has long been waging a campaign against Brahmabhoj. He likens participation in Brahmabhoj to cannibalism. People of all Dalitbahujan castes are associated with the anti-ritualism campaign underway in eastern Uttar Pradesh, writes Sushil Manav 

On the one hand, some Dalitbahujan youth are still living in the primitive age, walking the roads of Uttar Pradesh lugging kanwars on their shoulders, amid the music blaring from the speakers. On the other hand, the Bahujan community of eastern Uttar Pradesh is treading the path of progressive change. For some time now, the Dalitbahujan have been boycotting Brahmabhoj (the feast held on the 12th day after the death of a female family member and 13th day after the death of a male member).

The latest development is from Gorakhpur. Dharmendra Kumar of the Raidas community is a contractual homeguard (driver) in “Dial 112” service. His family includes his wife and three children. All his seven sisters are married and immersed in their own lives. About a month ago, Shivamani, the father-in-law of one of his sisters, Kalawati, who lives in Tangipar village, passed away. Dharmendra visited his sister’s home and convinced Vinod, her husband, who is a labourer, to refrain from tonsuring the heads of the male family members and holding Brahmabhoj. It was decided that a social programme in memory of the deceased will be held in the village a month later. Prof Dr Vikram of Allahabad Central University was invited to the event as the key speaker. There were other invitees, too. 

Dharmendra says that they wanted to use the event to make the villagers aware that brahmanical rituals and rites are pointless. But after this anti-Brahmanism and anti-ritualism event, the Brahmins of Tangipar began a social boycott of the Kalawati-Vinod family. The shopkeepers of the village and surrounding markets have not been selling goods to them.

Ramchet Maurya, a farmer who lived in Dhanghata (village Hansdadi, Post Office Semar Dadi), in Sant Kabir Nagar district, died on 27 June. He had suffered a brain haemorrhage on 21 June. His eldest son Krishna Mohan Maurya, in consultation with his four brothers, decided not to perform the last rites of their father as well as the post-death rituals. Senior male members of the extended family backed their decision. The brothers buried their father’s body in their field. It was also decided that none in the family would get his head tonsured. However, senior male members of the extended family suggested that they go for incremental changes, because if they change things root and branch, a number of people won’t be able to join in. So, some family members got their heads tonsured and some didn’t.

Then, on 9 July, a Smritibhoj (memorial feast) was held instead of Brahmabhoj. A meeting was held on the the topic “Why Smritibhoj?” Krishna Mohan says that this put an end to the gossipping. He had already been flayed by the people as a worthless son who didn’t even perform the proper rites after his father’s death. More than 2000 invites were sent out. Despite rains, around 1,500 turned up and the programme, which began at 5 in the evening, lasted till 11 at night. At the ‘Shoknashak Sabha’ (‘grief-killer’ meeting) many spoke against the brahmanical rituals.  

Krishna Mohan says the Raidas form the largest community in the village, followed by the Yadavs, Brahmins, Beldars and Kahars, in that order. Then there are the Nais, Dhobis, Lohars, Kumhars and Muslims. There are just three Maurya households in the village. At the Bhoj, children were the first to be fed. The guests were requested to distribute a notebook, pen and Rs 10 each to the 100 children. 

Adults gifting notebooks and pens to children at the Shoknashak Sabha in Dhanghata, Sant Kabir Nagar

The Shoknashak Sabha was addressed by Prof Dr Vikram from Allahabad University; D.N. Maurya, head of the history department of Gorakhpur University; retired lecturer Ganga Prasad Yadav from Ambedkar Nagar; R.P. Gautam; and Tambir Gaud, among others. Krishna Mohan Maurya claims that because of the event, members of all communities, except the Brahmins, agreed to support the cause. 

In June, the residents of Wazidpur village, Pindra Tehsil, Varanasi convened a panchayat, where they took a pledge that none of them would ever hold a Brahmabhoj. According to the village Pradhan Lalman Yadav, a tree would be planted in the village to commemorate the deceased. This will purify air and free the environment of pollution. The money thus saved by skipping the rituals would be used for the education and marriage of girls from poor families. 

Lal Pratap Yadav, a social activist from Jaunpur district and former chief of Mariyahu block, has long been waging a campaign against Brahmabhoj. He likens participation in Brahmabhoj to cannibalism.

In Uldan village of Bangra development block in Jhansi district, members of the Ahirwar community have decided that they will not host a Brahmabhoj after the death of their family members. Whoever breaks the pledge will have to pay a fine and will be socially boycotted. More than 500 members of the community signed an undertaking to this effect. There are around 5,000 members of the Ahirwar caste in the village. They also noted that there had been cases of young men of 20-35 years dying due to a disease or in an accident and having spent huge sums of money on their treatment, their families would sell off or mortgage their land to organize Brahmabhoj. 

Difference between Brahmabhoj and Smritibhoj

So did Krishna Mohan just rename Brahmabhoj as Smritibhoj with everything else unchanged? He argues that the holding of the Shoknashak Sabha shut up the brahmanical elements. Had it not been done, he would have been criticized. People would have cast aspersions – this was not done, that was not done, we can’t eat at his place, we can’t drink water at his place and so on and so forth. But the Shoknashak Sabha has silenced everyone. Loudspeakers were installed, so those who were not in attendance also heard what was said. 

Addressing the event, Prof Dr Vikram described the Brahmabhoj ritual as “inhuman and cruel”. “A young son or daughter or daughter-in-law of a family has died and instead of being sympathetic to the family, you mount pressure on them to hold Brahmabhoj and then enjoy the feast. This is inhuman and cruel. Words like Atma and Brahma should be shunned. Instead of ‘punyatithi’ the word ‘parinirvana’ should be used. After the death of parents, their busts should be erected at the home so that the coming generations would remember them. Their cemeteries should be built on their farmland,” he said. 

Digvijay Nath Maurya, head of Department of History, Deendayal Upadhyay University, Gorakhpur, says, “The powers that be want the people to be religious and spend money on rituals. Chanakya had told Chandragupta that for the kings to enjoy power, the subjects should be religious. They should believe that god has decided their fate, their station in life, their poverty and the discrimination against them. This has been etched on our minds. Donations from the people are not used to build a hospital. They are used to build the Ram Temple at Ayodhya for hundreds of crores of rupees. Every village has a temple, but not a school. He said that the New Education Policy, in the long run, would deprive poor children of education.”

The invite for Smritibhoj, held in place of a Brahmabhoj

Rajendra Prasad Gautam, who worked for BAMCEF for years and currently is associated with the Samdarshi Lok Sangh, says, “Until the people continue to vote in return for Rs 500 or 5 kg of grains, they will never be able to free themselves from superstition and ritualism. The people believe that even if they do not pay a visit to a family on happy occasions, they should make it a point to visit them when there is a death in the family. So, if this occasion [Brahmabhoj] is converted into an event for raising awareness, it will be a model, a milestone for society. Such programmes should be organized by one and all.” 

Ganga Prasad Yadav retired as a lecturer of English from a Government Intermediate College in Uttarakhand. He is from Ambedkar Nagar. While addressing the Shoknashak Sabha, he said, “The IQ of the Dalitbahujan is lower than that of the Brahmins and that of other upper castes and that is why they are unable to take on Brahmanism. Only education can improve IQ. Education is a tool which can be used by the Dalitbahujan to increase their IQ levels and shun brahmanical rituals and superstitions.” 

Krishna Mohan Maurya is a social worker and author and is the founder of Samdarshi Lok Sangh, an organization which works for raising public consciousness against capitalism, Brahmanism, conservatism, obscurantism and superstitions. Krishna Mohan says that his organization promotes atheism. He says that not only the Dalitbahujan but even the Brahmins are victims of traditions and customs that exploit people.  

Talking about the future plans of the organization, Krishna Mohan says that a four-day annual convention will be held from September 21-24 in Ambedkar Nagar district. He said that he would also organize Itihas Smriti Samaroh (Remembering history fest) along the lines of the Yagnas that are held to promote Brahmanism and last for three days, a week, 11 days or 15 days. The exact duration will depend on various factors but he is looking at least 5-7-day events. A community feast will be held on the last day. “Only after our people work through the day can they put together a meal in the evening. If we interrupt them during the day, they will have to go hungry and will not be able to support our cause. Hence, the event will be held from 7 pm to 11 pm so that the people can come after having their meals. There will be cultural events including plays, poetry recitation, story-telling and birha with speaker slots in between,” he says. He says that those in attendance will be apprised of the personalities who worked for the betterment of the Dalitbahujan community. Their life and works and their historical circumstances will be discussed and juxtaposed against the present situation. The inaugural Itihas Smriti Samaroh will be held in his ancestral village from 1-8 October. He also plans to set up a library at the main intersection of his village. 

(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

About The Author

Sushil Manav

Sushil Manav is an independent journalist and a litterateur. He is also engaged in the sociopolitical activism of labourers in Delhi and the rest of the National Capital Region

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