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

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Kanshi Ram and the Making of Dalit Political Agency

Leadership Legacies and the Politics of Hissedari

Kanshi Ram worked out an additive strategy of visualising Indian society and argued for an identity-based representational space for communities in the Indian political system. An important implication of such an imagination of the political process was to turn the logic of caste from its existing vertical frame to a horizontal one. However, considering that this vision of democratisation through community-based hissedari in the political domain having confronted a major block, a different language of politics needs to be invented towards an imagination of substantive citizenship or “absolute equality” in the words of Kanshi Ram.

The author is grateful to Vivek Kumar for giving him access to some valuable material on the subject and for the long ranging discussions he has had with him on the subject. Sneha Sudha Komath read the paper and provided useful comments.

Kanshi Ram was born in 1934 in the family of Ramdasia Sikhs in Khawaspur village of the Ropar district of Punjab. Even though he did not support a turban, as Sikhs mostly do, and his name did not carry the title “Singh,” a common feature of male Sikh names, Ramdasias are all Sikhs.1 They were originally a part of the larger cluster of the Punjabi Chamars. However, over the years, they have come to see themselves as a separate group, with a sense of distinctive identity of their own (Chandra 2000). Their identification with Sikhism presumably goes back to the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ramdas, who they believe made them a part of the Sikh movement. Ramdasias were also one of the four groups within the Sikh community who were included in the state list of Scheduled Castes (SCs) on the insistence of the Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly, the only non-Hindus to be listed in the scheduled list for the benefit of reservations at that time.

Being Sikhs did not mean a complete escape from social hierarchy for the Ramdasias. Their status in the local context remained almost at par with the group they had seceded from. However, Kanshi Ram’s immediate family had experienced social and economic mobility over the previous two generations. His grandfather had joined the British army as a jawan (soldier), which helped him accumulate some surplus that was invested in setting up a leather tanning unit after his retirement. The family also owned some agricultural land and could be described as “fairly well off” (Narayan 2014: 15).

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Updated On : 16th Jan, 2021
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