From ‘kar seva’ to ‘manav dharm’

The RSS, VHP, Christian priests, Janata Dal, RJD, SP, Samata Party, Dalit Sena. 
He has been through it all, seen through it all. Bhanwar Megwanshi (26) is still often subjected to indignity for being a Dalit. Today, he finds solace in the ‘manav dharma’ 
a Sufi saint introduced him to and the monthly magazine he runs 
‘to combat communalism and casteism’


Bhanwar Megwanshi

Twenty–six years old Bhanwar Megwanshi is the editor of a monthly Hindi magazine, Diamond India, published from Bhilwara in Central Rajasthan. A Meghwal, one of the scheduled castes, he was born of humble parents in village Sidiyas near Bhilwara. Though his parents were not literate, they educated Bhanwar and his elder brother in the local village school and sent him to a boys’ hostel run by the social welfare department to complete his 12th standard, after which he did his BA privately. 

He comes from a family that believed in Baba Ram Dev, the medieval saint worshipped by both Hindus and Muslims. The latter call him Rama Pir. He grew up worshipping the pagliya, feet of Baba Ram Dev. And Bhanwar has grown up a long way to this day when he is busy combating communal forces and fighting caste oppression in his home district. But it has been an arduous and amazing journey for him, a battle 13–years–long, beginning since he was only a boy of 13. A chequered way to dignity and fulfilment through a fight for justice in society.

As early as standard 6th, the reality of being born an “untouchable” was driven home to him. Bhanwar had gone to meet one of his school friends — a Jat by caste. Till then his friend’s mother had never objected to his sitting anywhere in their house. But that day she asked him to sit on the floor and not the bed on which he was sitting, as the family had guests who knew that he belonged to one of the ‘lowliest castes’. The family tried apologising to him, but Bhanwar was broken. It hit him for the first time that he was a low caste and an “untouchable”, and had a fate radically different from his “upper” caste friends. 

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh came to the village with its shakha in 1988 when Bhanwar was in the 8th standard. Bhanwar went to the secondary school in the neighbouring village. His Geography teacher in that school started the shakha with help from the peon. As the RSS shakha provided the only opportunity for games and physical exercises, Bhanwar joined it along with several other boys. In the shakha, he was introduced to Panchjanya (the central organ of the RSS) and Patheya Kan (the Rajasthan RSS mouth piece). 

In the first year itself, he was promoted to the mukhya shikshak of the shakha. When only 15, in the year 1990, he was selected for the Officers’ Training Camp by the RSS. He completed the first camp of 20 days. In the same year, he was promoted as the RSS Zila Karyalaya Pramukh or office in-charge of Bhilwara district, quite a prestigious post. 

He wanted to rise further in the organisation and become a pracharak.  He told the seniors of his ambition. He was told that he could not become a pracharak, “…Kyunki tum ek vicharak ho, tum apne dhang se hamare vichar rakhoge na ki hamare hisab se…” He was further told that since he belonged to a lower caste he would not be acceptable. 

His having a mind of his own and his lower caste status disqualified him for the post of a RSS pracharak. Nevertheless he was selected to become a worker in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad office which had only then started in the heart of the Muslim area of Bhilwara as compensation. 

Thus he became a vistarak, a post as important as that of a pracharak – vistarak of the ideology by moving to an allied organisation like the VHP. As a vistarak, he could also have moved to other allied organisations like the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, Sanskar Bharti, the Bhartiya Janata Party or the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. 

In December 1990, Bhanwar was selected for the first “kar sewa” at Ayodhya. The 400-strong contingent from Rajasthan was stopped at Tundla near Agra where they were arrested. They stayed in a temporary jail in Agra for ten days. On his return to Bhilwara he went back to his village as the VHP and the RSS were taking out the asthi kalash yatra of the so-called kar sewak martyrs who had lost their lives by the Saryu in Ayodhya. This event was the turning point of his life. 

The asthi kalash carried by the VHP sadhu-sants and leaders was given a glorious welcome by the villagers under Bhanwar’s leadership. He got his family to prepare the meal for the yatris, consisting of kheer and puris. When they were asked to eat the food, a senior RSS leader took Bhanwar aside and told him that they did not have problems eating in his house but the sadhus would. So they suggested that the food be packed to be eaten in the next village. The food prepared for twenty-five people was packed and given. The next day Bhanwar discovered that the food his mother had prepared with such pain had been thrown by the yatris on the roadside. They had instead eaten in the house of one Brahmin. 

This was a shocking, second encounter with untouchability. Bhanwar felt angry and cheated. He took the decision to leave the RSS. He decided that he would not work with those who would not eat or sit with him. It was a painful moment of introspection for him. His every day experiences of being an untouchable hit him with a force. He realised that his RSS and VHP colleagues had never let him get into the Charbhuja temple close by. Being “untouchables” he and his folks were made to take water from a separate hand pump. As a Dalit he could not ride a cycle past the Thakur’s Rawala, or the village manor. The rule for the Dalit was that he had to get off the cycle. His anger against Hindu dharma made him want to leave it. 

Finally one day, he left his village and went to a nearby town in the district to a Roman Catholic Priest and told him that he wanted too become a Christian. His past brushes with Christians made him believe that theirs was a religion that practised equality. He felt that he would find his answers there. 

He was honest with the Roman Catholic priest. He told him that his desire to join Christianity was not out of any love for the religion but an act of vengeance against Hinduism that had treated him with indignity. The priest advised him not to be hasty, asked him to go back to his village and read the Bible. Only after he felt convinced, would he be baptised. 

Bhanwar tried to explain to the priest that his fight was against caste and untouchability. It was in that context that he wanted to convert. The priest did not respond to this. Bhanwar took the Bible away and went to the priests of other Christian denominations. He felt that none of them could understand his anger against Hinduism and the indignity he had gone through. And none of them were willing to fight against caste. They all talked of things spiritual: that “Christ is the Saviour “ and that he should “surrender to Christ”. 

One of the priests even sent word to his family that their son was going astray and planning conversion and that they should stop him. Bhanwar’s father told him firmly that they would be ex-communicated from the caste if he took a wrong step. He felt a betrayal by the Christian Church. When the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 and many of his erstwhile companions had gone to do ‘kar sewa’, Bhanwar was trying to seek his answers in Christianity. 

His struggle to attain a new identity and do away with his original lower caste Hindu identity, which he hated, made him so lonely and engrossed with himself that he was even indifferent (he can not believe it now) to the demolition of Babri Masjid and its bloody aftermath.

His desire to fight caste and the RSS was so great that he felt that he would get a platform for this by joining party politics. In 1993, at age 18, he joined the Janata Dal. He was promptly made the Bhilwara district president of the Chattra Janata Dal. In no time he got disillusioned, as the party had no programme. He came in contact with Ram Vilas Paswan and was made the district Dalit Sena president. He found the Dalit Sena full of sloganeering and no programme dealing with the Dalit reality on the ground. He was also disillusioned by the local Dalit Sena leaders who talked of scientific temper but spent a great deal of time with astrologers. 

When Ram Vilas Paswan was railway minister in 1996, Bhanwar was dutifully paid for his services and made an advisor on the Divisional Railway Users Consumer Committee of Western Railways (Ratlam Division). At the young age of 21, Bhanwar was in a powerful position. But corruption in high places put him off. He found that many of Paswan’s close supporters were keen that he become a broker for the minister. Not willing to the do this dirty work, he resigned from the committee in early 1998. 

He once again felt cheated and realised that the famous words of Ram Vilas Paswan: “Mein us ghar mein diya jalane chala hoon jis ghar mein sadiyon se andhera hai” were only propaganda. Paswan was just like any other Raja, a Dalit Raja. He maintained a separate court for the ordinary workers, like the Diwan-e- Aam of the Rajas, and a Diwan-e-Khaas for the office bearers. Bhanwar called him not Ram Vilas, but Bhog Vilas. He left the Dalit Sena. 

Still keen on getting answers some where on party political platforms, Bhanwar joined the newly floated Rashtriya Janata Dal. Although the district president of the RJD, he felt that at the state and district level it was a Yadav party, of the Yadavs, by the Yadavs for the Yadavs, the rest of them were just showpieces. He moved on from RJD and took membership of the Samata Party in 1999. When the Rajasthan Samata party merged with the Samajwadi Party, he decided to leave party politics altogether. 
He realised that none of the political parties were serious as far as the Dalit question was concerned. He had had truck with all the socialist groups. Why did he keep away from the BSP? He recalls that he met Kanshi Ram of the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1999. He did not like Kanshi Ram calling all Dalits chamaars. Bhanwar felt that chamaar was pejorative in Rajasthan. He felt that the BSP was also not addressing the core issues of indignity and untouchability. It was moving with the compulsions of electoral politics. 

Disillusioned with life, Bhanwar returned to his village and joined as a teacher of the newly started Rajeev Gandhi Pathshalas. He wanted to have no truck with any ideology. He felt that neither religion nor party politics could bring about essential change. So disenchanted was he by the world that he chose not to even read newspapers or hear the radio. 

In August 2000, he met a Sufi saint called Selani Sarkar in Ahmedabad. Bhanwar felt comfortable with him and his followers, as they did not believe in divisions of caste or religion. Bhanwar found that people of all castes and religions seemed to have the same place in the Sufi saint’s order. He experienced a sense of freedom, of being just a human being, free of caste, religion and other identities. Something that he had not experienced till then at all. 

He found that people of different religions had even adopted each other’s practices. It was here that he realised what Manav Dharma was. The Sufi saint inspired him to begin writing and start a magazine. Bhanwar involved his teachers of the area to start a publication of their own under the company nomenclature of Diamond Newspapers Private Limited. 

In the last year he has made this magazine, Diamond India, a platform for voices of the oppressed and for communal harmony. He feels that his resolve to practice and live Manav Dharma is actualising through this endeavour. The first issue of the magazine talked of Hindu–Muslim rishtedari. These youngsters took the bold stand of Hindu–Muslim inter-marriages in a scenario where such marriages cause communal tension. 

Through their magazine they said that if a Hindu has no Muslim or Christian friend and vice versa, he/she has lived an incomplete life. They talked of how friendship between people of different religions must not stop at the tea stalls, but should move to the homestead. 

In the last seven months, Bhilwara district has seen many instances of breaking/ damaging of mosques and mazaars, including the latest ones in Asind and Jahazpur. In this backdrop, Bhanwar’s magazine has fearlessly taken a stand against the sangh parivar and allied communal forces. The Diamond India team is combating communalism and caste through the printed word. 

Even though Bhanwar has been able to take life in his stride and tried living Manav Dharma, he is still often subjected to indignity for being a Dalit. He is saddened by it but feels that through his work he can make the minorities and Dalits see their strength in their togetherness. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2001, Anniversary Issue (8th) Year 8  No. 71, Cover Story 8




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