As part of Banjara community outreach, Union government to mark Sant Sevalal Maharaj Jayanti

The Union Ministry of Culture on Sunday kicked-off the celebrations at Dr. BR Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi, where cultural programmes are being held for two days

Published - February 27, 2023 12:46 am IST - New Delhi

A portrait of Sant Sevalal Maharaj. Photo: Special Arrangement

A portrait of Sant Sevalal Maharaj. Photo: Special Arrangement

In a first, the Union government on Sunday kicked-off year-long celebrations to mark the 284th birth anniversary of Santh Sevalal Maharaj, a spiritual and religious leader of the Banjara community, a nomadic community that has been declared a Scheduled Tribe (ST) in a few States of India. 

This comes within weeks of efforts from an RSS-linked outfit to cement the community’s inclusion in the Hindu fold – a move that has irked some within the community who have said that these efforts amounted to “Hinduisation” of their culture, which had nothing to do with Hinduism. 

The Banjara community have been declared as ST in five States (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand), Scheduled Caste in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, and Other Backward Class (OBC) in Chhattisgarh, Daman and Diu, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand.

The Union Ministry of Culture on Sunday kicked-off the celebrations at Dr. BR Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi, where cultural and dance programmes will be performed along with an exhibition of Banjara art for two days (February 26 and 27). The celebrations are being organised under the aegis of the government’s Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav campaign to celebrate 75 years of India’s independence. 

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, along with MoS Culture Meenakshi Lekhi, are expected to attend the event on Monday along with other Cabinet Ministers. 

The event has been held in Delhi for the last three years by the Sant Sevalal Maharaj Charitable Trust, headed by BJP leader and Karnataka MP Umesh Jadav, a member of the Banjara community. 

The government said that a special train had been run from Karnataka to bring Banjara community members to Delhi for the celebrations. The train will be bringing around 2,500 people from the community from Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. 

“Sant Sevalal Maharaj is a revered symbol of every Banjara family and in all these states the birth anniversary of Sant Sevalal Maharaj ji is celebrated with great fanfare in the month of February,” the government said in a statement, adding, “The Samadhi Sthal of Sant Sevalal Ji is situated in Manora Taluka of Washim District of Maharashtra at Pohradevi which is also known as Banjara Kashi.”

Opposition to Banjara Kumbh:

However, the Banjara community in India has been divided over efforts of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-linked outfits like the Dharam Jagran Manch, which in January this year organised a six-day-long Banjara “Kumbh” in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district’s Godri village. 

Mohan Singh Chavan of the Bharatiya Banjara Samaj Karmachari Seva Sansthan has said that there was nothing akin to ‘Kumbh’ in their customs even as academics who have studied the community’s history have insisted that Godri village had no association with the history of Banjaras. 

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