RAMDASIA SIKHS is how Sikh converts from the community working professionally in leather are usually referred to as a class. The term Ramdasias is an adaptation from Ravidasias, as some Chamar castes came to be called. They owed their affiliation to the famous saint, Ravidas, ; pioneer of`Vaisnava revival. In Utiar Pradesh, Ramdasias are also called Ravidasias. Ravidas, being an unfamiliar name in the Punjab, became here Ramdas or Rain Das, winch is ibe name which also belongs to the ilu` Fourth Guru of the Sikhs.

Chamar (from Sanskrit charmkara, worker in leather) is a functional caste of skinners, tanners, curriers and shoemakers.Chamars as “untouchables” lay :it the lowest level of the Hindu social order only slightly higher than the Chuhras or scavengers by virtue of their being craftsmen. “Chuhra Chainar” was till recently a common pejorative conjoint. referring to the two castes. The teacinngs of the Gurus with their rejection of the caste system and emphasis on ethnic equality of ail human beings naturally appealed to them.

Of. pcciai significance for ihein was the canonization of the bdmor hymns of Bhagat Ravidas in the Sikh Scripture by Guru Arjan (1563-1606). Consequently, many Chaniars converted to Sikhisiii and they were as a class given the respectable name of Raindasia Sikhs.Later, when indusiriali/.ation and opening up of new avenues of employment facilitated occupational mobility, many Chamars including Ramdasia Sikhs look to weaving, considered 10 be a cleaner and more honourable occupation than tanning and shoemaking.

It also brought them better bargaining power through its semibartering and semimoney trading economic roles. Conversion of Hindu Chamars to Sikhism accelerated towards the end of the nineteenth century. This was due to the rise of the Singh Sabha movement launched in 1873 for the restoration and propagation of Sikh teachings, including the removal of caste distinctions.The fact that one of the leading figures of the movement was himself a Ramdasia Sikh, Giani Ditt Singh, who enjoyed wide esteem in the Sikh community served as an example.

The number of Chamars who declared Sikhism as their religion increased from 100,014 in 1881 to 155,717, in 1931. This was besides 66,080 others listed as Ramdasia Sikhs in 1931. The converts were usually very particular about maintaining the five symbols of the Khalsa and were therefore nicknamed Rahitias, i.e. those meticulously observing the Sikh rahit or code of conduct. Meanwhile the term Ramdasia was no longer confined to Sikhs.During the census of 1931, many Hindu Chamars registered themselves as Ramdasias or Ravidasias, and still many more who registered themselves Ramdasias/Ravidasias declared Adi Dharam (lit. the primal faith) as their religion (Adi DharamTs, a new category comprising both Chamars and Chuhras and also some other socalled achhut or untouchable classes, denied being Hindus).

Yet of all Ramdasias/Ravidasias nearly 52.8 per cent declared themselves Sikhs. Ramdasia Sikhs, unlike Mazhabi Sikhs, were generally a docile community. During World War II, however, the British enrolled them in the Indian army.They along with Mazhabi Sikhs formed the Mazhabi and Ramdasia Sikh Regiment, later redesignated as Sikh Light Infantry. Recruitment to other service corps was also opened for them.

After Independence, at the insistence of the Shiromani Akali Dal, a political party of the Sikhs, Ramdasia Sikhs (along with Mazhabi, Kabirpanthi and Sikligar Sikhs) were included among the scheduled castes who were granted special rights and privileges guaranteed under the Indian Constitution for some depressed classes. Ramdasias now form an integral part of the Sikh community, with additional concessions statutorily provided to them in education, employment and political representation.

References :

1. Rose, H.A., ed., A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province. Lahore, 1911-19