‘Our fathers and grandfathers used to wash their faces in the morning. They would spit out the water from their mouth, wipe their faces with the towel on their shoulders and shake the dust off the towel, saying with pain, ‘When will that time come”. What they hankered after was the return of ‘that time’ in the past that was prosperous in their history, that was free from oppression and inequality.
It was a time before the oppressors invaded their life. It was a time when governance of their communities was a smooth affair distributing material and spiritual values to all members of the community. It was a time of equality and dignity. When we create our Ancestor Festival we want that time of equality and dignity to come back in our lives, in our country and in the governance of our nation.’
‘Flabbergasted’ is not at all an exaggeration. They were left dumbfounded. The ordinary illiterate and semiliterate Dalits and Adivasis know this very well. Their deep desire for the return of everyone’s space in society in manifested in this festival. Ancestor festival is a time when we draw our energy from them. Their aspiration for our prosperity sent out waves of feeling and thinking in the universe. We imbibe such waves when we also tune ourselves to receive those desires. We become strong by worshipping our ancestors.
The caste forces in India knew this much better than the Dalits and Adivasis. That is why they destroyed Dalit and Adivasi ancestors. The introduction to Valmiki's Ramayana says proudly that Rama killed 14000 of the kings and queens of the indigenous peoples. Vamana puts his leg on the head of Mahabali to subjugate him totally. The killing of Narakasura is celebrated as the festival of lights.
The killing of Ravana is celebrated as the day of peace. Adishakthi, the wife of Shiva takes the avatar of Chamundeshwari to kill Mahishasura. Mahesh is buffalo, the symbolic ancestor of Dalits, Asura is an ascriptive name for Dalit kings. Killing of Mahishasura is celebrated as Dussehra. Ayutha Puja is the Hindu festival on this occasion.
This is the caste shenanigan. On the days Dussehra is celebrated all over the country Dalits are also made to do ‘Thithi’ for their ancestors. One worships the weapons that killed Dalit ancestors, the other performs ‘Thithi’ for their dead ancestors. The connection is evident. The new celebration of the Festival of Dalit Ancestors is a symbolic protest against the indignity that was heaped on the Dalit community through such Hindu festivals. It is also a celebration of our community value of providing unlimited space to all people, of equality, liberty and fraternity.
What better day can that be than the death anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, the modern icon of Dalit liberation? Unfortunately the Dalit world has made him an exclusive symbol of their liberation. They get bogged down in his mega image and keep on adding illusionary weight to his image. Such additions are more rhetorical than rationally carrying of his ‘liberation chariot’ forward. Many other Dalit ancestors are buried under the weight of Ambedkar.
There are many others who have innovated effective ways of getting their people out of the wheels of oppression. Sri Narayana Guru, Ayyankali, Swami Achutanand, Sir Kumara Gurudevan, Muthukuttiwasmy, Iyodhidass, Mangooram, Sri Guru Ravidas etc. are only some examples of ancestors, who designed their own way of Dalit liberation based on the history and culture of Dalit people. Many of them condemned all established religions equally and were effective in getting Dalits out of the evil of untouchability.
Dalit community has ten ancestries and not one as many dominant religions trace their origin to one god. Multiplicity is an essential ingredient of Dalit culture and history. Converting to other religions is once again taking us backward to the era of oppression. Rediscovering our history and culture through the veneration of our ancestors takes us forward to face life on our internal strength. We bring our past back into the future.
The crucial difference in this effort is the discovery of our inner strength embedded in our culture. We cannot realize this strength unless we re-discover our history. We make a quantum leap into the future through our history and culture. The strength of such recapturing is that we do not have to make the caste forces as our reference points and keep on blaming them for every negative thing that happens to us. We make our strength as our reference point. If we do this we do not have to run after other religions that have only created in us illusions of eternal happiness and reward.
Celebration of Dalit Ancestors festival is a strong message to Dalits that we are a people of our own and that we have arrived as a people in India. It is a very strong invitation to Dalits to realize their right for self-governance as a people with their own norms, rules and regulations and not be subjugated to the caste governance that enslaves them everyday. It is an ultimate message of uncompromising freedom and dignity. Let the entire country join this celebration of Festival of Dalit Ancestors and make India a country in which all people can live together.