1 Nov 2014

Following the roots: A tale of twin subjugation



I,  Gurpreet Singh “Dubb”, a low born from Potter caste with his roots from Mannawaliya village in Sekhupura District in Lahore Constituency, in Divided Punjab, now in Pakistan, brings you a account of the struggle of self and family against the powers of caste and communal forces. Although it might be a story of many low born Sikh, it can be reiteration of the same.

My great grandfather Anoop Singh Dubb was one of many families of potter caste, who are also known as Kumbhar (Marathi) Prajapati, Prajapat, Kumhar, Ghumiyar, Ghumar, Kumbhkaar or Kumawat. Today, the Kumhar caste is mainly found in Pakistan and Punjab, Bijnor(U.P.) of India. Some Prajapatis/Kumhars trace the origin of their community to the beginning of civilization when the man started using utensils to prepare and eat food. My caste i.e. dub used to do a particular work of burning/cooking the pots in the furnace.

My Grandfather lived in his hey days in Pakistan, it was the Ghost of partition which in August of 1947 led him to pack his belongings with his one son and the set up he had build over the period of time along with his brothers. He reached India boarding a train in the wake of communal riots all through; it was his fortune that he escaped death narrowly. His only gold belongings which were taken away in exchange of his and family’s life, not many families were lucky enough. The country was falling apart, devastated by the communal riot and the divide which the nation was facing not just being geographical divide but a dividing gorge in relationships between the communities which had conversed with a common language Punjabi and lived a culture with shoulder to shoulder. He reached Amritsar with the family, stayed in relief camps in Amritsar with no imagination what will be life ahead. He worked as laborer in Bahgra Nagal Dam and collected some money to buy some land in Punjab itself but he could not do so due to social pressure and social immobility of caste, as land ownership was social right of the only community i.e. Jat Sikhs. He then moved out of Punjab seeing the oppression done by the upper strata of society. He made a deal of 4 acres of land near Noida (which was a vast forest land earlier). Due to brawl between the owner brothers, the land was not sold even after the half of the money as given to the owner. Later my grandfather moved to Jamghain village in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh, India where he bought 6 acres of land and started his life. With course of time the family size increased and he raised his family of 6 sons and one daughter with tough times.

My father, Mr. Gurmukh Singh, was second older son who took up the education to bring the family out of poverty and the caste oppression and completed his Bachelors in Medicines and thus shifted to a new location Shaktifarm, Udham Singh Nagar District of Uttarakhand. The place where I was born and brought up, is a cosmopolitan place of migrants. It has a diverse population of East Bengal Hindu migrants, post formation of Bangladesh, Sikhs migrants post Independence, Bihari migrants due to severe flood and famine during the independence and lastly hill dwellers or aboriginals of Uttarakhand (Kumaoni) migrated from hills due to land slide on hills. The land which is now a one of richest irrigated flat alluvial plain, was made worth living by the hard work of the four different type of people above mentioned else the area was one of the worst malaria breeding marshy land.

Seeing the importance of land in social relationships and economical support which land ownership gives, my father made a priority to add land to his ownership. Even though the Ghost of caste haunted the family as many a times it was a matter of ridicule for someone from Potter class owning land and cultivating. I still remember one incidence when I was travelling to my village in UP, with my family and a man from upper caste Jat clan had mocked us taking our clans name. I could not understand it much as I too young to make out of the situation. It was also due to the reason as I was raised in Shaktifarm, a town which was heterogeneous in nature and my Sikh caste identity was a matter of shame only in a homogenous population of Sikh, while I was living with Hindus from different origins mentioned earlier. One can see here the eminent fact that heterogeneity brings down the social oppression. In an another incidence from my work, in Gujarat where I was asked for my caste by a farmer, I made a serious talk with the person regarding it and how it is irrelevant today and an archaic attitude but in the end, what I came to hear from him that, “..hum neechi jaati walon ko pani bhi nahi dete” (we don’t normally give water to low born). Now I was no one to make an argument with the man which I saw was in darkness of old mythology.

My father after he migrated to Shaktifarm had completed 5 years approx with a mix population. Days were passing peacefully for my family in the diverse place where my father migrated for a new life, until the evening of 31 October, 1984. It was 16 days later when my family was bestowed with a boy child my older brother Baljeet Singh, tension broke in town where my father had lived for 5 years, had to leave the town late night to the village Jamghain in UP, where my rest of the clan was living. Who knew the ghost of Indira Gandhi Massacre is going to affect our family too. It was after a month when my father returned from the native village to Shaktifarm, realizing that all his belongings were looted from the thatched house. So it was a start again from ground zero, but salute to my dad who never lost hope and kept a great driving force.

Narrating about my Mom’s family my maternal grandfather Late Rood Singh who was a very hard worker lived in undivided Punjab of India, with his 4 sons and 4 daughters. It was when he had to migrate to Uttar Pradesh Sahjahanpur district village Amariya. I realized lately that he migrated due to the brawl with the upper caste Jat Sikhs. He wanted to buy some land and did a deal with a local person in Punjab. Seeing the rising status of a Prajapati Sikh to come at par with Jat Sikh, my maternal grandfather was beaten twice and thrown considering dead. It was then, my grandfather decided to migrate to Uttar Pradesh after selling all his land and property in Punjab and buy fresh lands in Uttar Pradesh. Although it was tough task to adjust a total alien environment in UP as he had no other choice to make.

Currently though the overshadow  of the suppression which my clan had faced might not be seen in the form of direct subjugation but somewhere the identity is covered with the surname of “Maan” as earlier the surname was known from the village one dwelled from (in our case Mannawaliya). Although the surname Maan gives a ease of identity but the root still lies in “Dubb” fearing the humiliation  of society (though it might have changed its form it is still in our society). Somebody said in hindi “Jati hai jo Jaati nahi” (Caste is something which does not leaves your shadow). Not just the only fear but the fear of community of being a minor among the majors also gives a sense of trepidation many a times. It was once when I was travelling by bus from Tuljapur to Sholapur (During my Post Graduation from Tata Institute of Social Sciences), the buses were being stopped by the Nationalist Congress Party workers and their followers as Sharad Power was slapped by a Sikh on live TV. I was worried that my identity will surely make me suffer in the situation; it was when some fellow travelers asked me to hide below the seat. It was one of the reasons when I had to go for a hair cut although there were many other ones too like frequent bullying, neglect of opinion as I had seen this world to be racist and marginalizing. The fear is weakening though but to fight a system one needs to have a immense strength for which one needs to have education, knowledge and more importantly self-veneration

So the narrative just has not only showed the vertical impression of immobile caste but also a horizontal of communal subjugation too not in this generation but since past three generations. I have seen my inclination against the power players in the system, question them, question their strategy and act. Bheemrao Ambedkar said Educate, Agitate and Organize to challenge the system. We see the current India as very non-responsive and educative to the issues of caste but as I previously mentioned caste is very integral to Indian gene and society although there is phenomenon change due to migration to the cities but there are examples from my relatives where the situation is same in Cities. With the changing paradigm of Indian masses and increase in education the logics of Indian masses yet can be seen to be played by communally polarizing the agents in current politics. The current government who is laying the ground on neoliberal communalism to get a win-win situation among voters and the fate is that the collective consciences are relying on them, a bitter truth we are facing today. Although the resistance is still ongoing in a number of parts of country I consider the roots is what still makes u remember what you have gone through. I remember from Games of Throne something said by a character Tyrion Lannister 

“Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will never. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

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