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First Dalit akhara head in Kumbh wants ‘gharwapsi’ for those who left Hindu fold

Author: Yusra Husain
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 16, 2019
URL:      https://m.timesofindia.com/city/allahabad/first-dalit-akhara-head-in-kumbh-wants-gharwapsi-for-those-who-left-hindu-fold/articleshow/67549927.cms

A Dalit Mahamandaleshwar, the first scheduled caste to be made one of the heads of the Juna Akhara, who took his first dip at Sangam on the first ‘shahi snan’ day on Tuesday, wants ghar wapsi of Dalits, STs and OBCs who “left sanatan dharm due to fear of exploitation to embrace Buddhism, Christianity and Islam” to Hinduism.

The Mahamandaleshwar, Kanhaiya Prabhunand Giri (32), called the moment he took the dip a long due “equality in religion.”

On Tuesday evening, two gunners flanked him as the Mahamandaleshwar talked about exploitation and security threats he faced for being who he is — a Scheduled Caste seer who has risen to one of the most revered positions in the order of the sadhus. He claimed his ascendency came after around a 1000 years of Sant Ravidas becoming a Jagatguru.

Born Kanhaiya Kumar Kashyap, the Azamgarh native was initiated as one of the Mahamandaleshwars of the Juna Akhara in April last after completing his ‘deeksha.’ “I will wash the feet off the past lives of all my community members who embraced Islam, Christianity and Buddhism due to inequality and bring them back to sanatan dharm. I will show them how the Juna Akhara has been inclusive with me,” said Giri.

The seer said he had to face exploitation and casteist remarks that “pierced him more than a bullet would” all through his life, which once made him wanting to leave Hinduism.

Giri recounted an incident to TOI, which he said was one of the changing moments of his life. “I was in Chandigarh in 1999 where a congregation of Sikh gurus was being held. When they got to know my caste, the seers asked me to stand at the entrance. I wanted to touch the feet and toes of the gurus who are said to give divine strength. But, they told me a Shudra was not allowed to do so. Now, here I am at a position where people of all castes and creed come and bow in front of me. I am a religious leader who will keep fighting this casteist mentality,” he said.

“It is difficult to explain the pride I felt when I was made to sit on a chariot for the ‘shahi snan’, surrounded by devotees dancing to drum beats around me. My community has, for ages, been kept away from this honour, even when we have been rulers and have proved our mettle both mentally and physically by writing the Constitution and fighting the Mughals and English, respectively,” he added.

Giri: Dalits don’t trust me, dub me a agent of Brahmins out to dupe them

Having left Azamgarh at a young age after his father died, Giri had to fend for the family. The seer said he took up all kinds of odd jobs to survive.

“After my class X, I wanted to study Sanskrit, but I was denied for being a Scheduled Caste. I then came under the shadow of my guru, Jagatguru Panchanandji Maharaj in 2008 who taught me and soon gave me the priestship of the temple. But I was frowned upon, attacked by hooligans, a finger each on my hand fractured, my temple set-up ransacked and called by casteist names,” he said.

“My community is scared of religion because it does not include them. For them, the Constitution is the holy scripture. When I go to meet them today, they consider me a Brahmanical or political agent who will dupe them. But when they get to understand my mission, they are ready to be beckoned at one call,” said Giri. Recalling times when he was considered an extremist Hindu when Giri worked with Hindu organisations but a Dalit when he became the priest at a Chandigarh based temple, he said, “I have gone through the pain of having to hear casteist comments. Politicians and media should stop using the word Dalit and call us SC, STs or OBCs which is the name given to us by the Constitution. We wrote the Vedas, puranas and the Ramayana, we wrote the Constitution. We are Eklavya and Karan, Ashoka and Chandragupta Maurya. We have proved our mettle and yet face exclusion. I want to change that mentality and bring my people back to the religion.”
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