ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Finding Balmikis

This article traces neo-Hindu politics which tried to categorise the Balmikis as Hindu, even as colonial accounts mentioned them as cult worshippers of the Muslim saints Bala Shah and Lalbeg. Looking at the political discourse of cultural–religious assertions in the lives of the Balmikis, it is evident that after 1917, the Indian National Congress lured the untouchable communities to remain as bystanders for its political objectives. As a result, the Arya Samaj, the Hindu Mahasabha, and the All India Anti-Untouchability League (later known as the Harijan Sevak Sangh) began to redefine Hindu religious traditions through the process of cultural–religious assertions among the “Chuhra Balmikis.”

The Valmiki1 identity and its nominative politics of cultural persuasion were planned in the 20th century by Hindu missionary organisations (Arya Samaj, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Harijan Sevak Sangh [HSS], etc), which were the allies of the Indian National Congress (hereafter referred to as INC or Congress), a political party of India. Hindu culture was propagated by organising katha (storytelling), havan, rath yatra (chariot parades), bhajan parties and processions in Harijan colonies (Lee 2015a: 173–74; Prashad 2000: 92). Both Harijans and Hindus received prasad without any caste distinction. Temples were constructed for both Harijans and Hindus.

Under the process of Hindu acculturation, “Chuhra” sweepers of Jullundhar (now known as Jalandhar, Punjab) established the “Valmiki Samaj” in 1910 to defend their interests (Farquhar 1915: 370). Juergensmeyer (2009: 170) has remarked that the movement was planned to discourage the religious conversion of Chuhras from the Hindu religion. By the 1930s, they liked to call themselves “Balmikis” after the name of their patron guru Valmiki (Prashad 2000: 90). They enlisted as Balmikis for the very first time throughout Punjab province in 1935 (Orders in Council under the Government of India Act, 1935 [1937]: 227), and the Orders in Council Act of 1935 recorded a new nomination, “Balmikis,” for the untouchable Chuhras of Punjab.

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Updated On : 6th Nov, 2019

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