Balmiki

Dalit life is excruciatingly painful, charred by experiences.  Experiences that did not manage to find room in literary creations.  We have grown up in a social order that is extremely cruel and inhuman.  Omprakash Valmiki

Who are they?

The Balmiki are one of the largest socially stigmatized Dalit groups numbering nearly 1.5 million in Uttar Pradesh alone and constitute about 16 % of India’s population.  They occupy the lowliest position of the caste system.  During the colonial period they were brought from villages to remove human excrement and clean the cities.  They became an urban community.  In time, with the introduction of septic latrines, the practice of carrying buckets of excrement on their heads is gone but they still work to clear blockages in sewers where they are half submerged in filth.  The stigma remains as they are still identified with the work they perform and considered untouchable and treated as such.  They have always been marginalized and treated as outcasts socially, economically and culturally.   Sweepers are now referred to as safai karamcharis or sanitary workers.

The Balmiki make up a cluster of communities – a few of whom are the Bhangi, Mehtar, Chuhra, Lal Beghi and Halalkhor.  They have united to form one community and claim a common origin from the saint Balmiki.  Balmiki is thought to be the first Sanskrit poet and author of the holy Hindu epic Ramayana and was brought up by a sweeper woman although he was a Brahmin (highest Hindu caste) mendicant’s son.

They were given names contrary to their position to give them dignity despite their lowly status – like Chuhra meaning beautiful and Mehtar, a Persian word meaning prince or leader.  However Bhangi, the most widely used name is a Hindi word meaning one addicted to drinking bhang (a drink made from marijuana leaves).

Location

These communities can be found throughout the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat, and the union territory of Chandigarh where they are locally known by various names mentioned above.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Balmiki’s are employed as sweepers in municipalities, hospitals and government offices.  Some Balmiki are engaged in agricultural or contract labour.  Pig rearing, bamboo basketry, and poultry farming are some ancillary occupations.  Some Balmiki, such as the Mehtar men of Bihar, play drums at weddings and festivals, while women are midwives.

Post-independence, the Indian government’s affirmative action policies have seen an increase of Balmiki emerge as political leaders in regional and national levels.   A prominent example is Buta Singh, from the Bhangi community in Punjab, who was an MP in parliament from the early sixties and became a Union Minister of Home Affairs.  The Balmiki who work at municipalities have formed unions to help them be treated fairly.  The Balmiki have also formed an association for their caste at a national level called the All-India Safai Mazdoor Congress with a head office in Bombay and branches in other states.  The objectives of the association are to strengthen the economic, social, educational and political status of all sweeper castes in India and to remove all social discrimination.

Literacy rates among the Balmiki are low because they cannot afford it, though they view education favorably.  In recent years, especially in urban areas like Delhi, girls are educated.  They visit doctors and use traditional medicines as well.  They have begun to value and practice family planning.  They have started to utilize the government’s developmental programs provided for Scheduled Castes.

A major problem among the Balmiki is debt.  A common saying of the Bhangi is that they are born in debt, live in debt and will die in debt.  Social customs that require money for dowries, marriages, death rites, help for extended family and poor health all contribute to debt.  Money is borrowed from a money lender at very high interest rates.  Gambling is seen as a way out of poverty that leads them further in debt.

The Balmiki have a diet that includes wheat, millet and rice.  Pork is eaten by all and beef is eaten by Gujarati Balmiki’s.  Men drink homemade alcohol and women are allowed to drink at ritual celebrations only. The Balmiki accept water and food from almost all other communities but other communities make it a point not to reciprocate.  Wherever they are, the Balmiki live in squalid, overcrowded segregated areas.

Customs

The Balmiki practice group endogamy and clan or lineage exogamy.  Vermilion in the hair parting, a dot on the forehead and toe-rings are symbols for married women. They believe in monogamy and prefer adult marriages. The custom of dowry, given as cash and goods is given by the bride’s family.  Marriages are arranged by parents and elders.  Divorce is permissible.  Women are slightly better off in comparison to other lower caste women and participate actively in religious and social activities.  Both men and women work as sweepers.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Despite the abject position they hold in the Hindu caste system and in society, the Balmikis remain Hindu.  The Balmiki worship village and regional deities along with other Hindus.  As they are considered untouchable and not permitted entry to Hindu temples, they worship at Balmiki temples.  There are some localities that allow them entry.  Shiva and saint Balmiki are revered and Balmiki Jayanti (Balmiki’s birthday) is celebrated with a procession.  They worship a mother goddess called Masani who is thought to protect children from liver failure (caused by malaria and intestinal infection).  Animal sacrifices are offered to appease Masani and Kali (goddess who wears a necklace of human skulls).  Some others are Maha Mai (great mother) and Sitala (the smallpox goddess, who is believed to have cured the disease).  The Balmiki also believe in spirits and call on a Bhagat (a person who communicates with spirits) to pacify them.  The Bhagat identifies the problem and recommends a remedy which usually involves worship, a sacrifice and an offering to be made to the spirit.  Witchcraft and evil eye have other solutions.  Vows are also made at tombs of Muslim saints.

The Balmiki have tried for centuries to free themselves from the bondage to the degrading caste system by converting to Islam and Christianity.  In the 1880s and 1890s there were large scale conversions in western Uttar Pradesh which resulted in a marginal improvement in basic dignity and some economic gain.  It did not take long before they converted back to Hinduism on being offered inducements.  For example, the Mehtar of Karnataka embraced Islam to escape the stigma associated with their caste and returned to Hinduism in order to receive the benefits extended to Scheduled Castes in newly independent India’s constitution.  In the early 1900’s a Hindu organization called Arya Samaj was active in reconverting Balmiki’s to Hinduism.

What Are Their Needs?

The Balmiki need to be given dignity and freed from centuries of discrimination.  Poverty and illiteracy has to be eradicated.  Material needs have to be balanced with emotional and spiritual growth.

Leave a Reply

123 Comments on "Balmiki"


Guest
malkeet ram
8 days 19 hours ago
Hello I am malkeet ram from Punjab belonging to balmiki kasti Join the this
Guest
G.SRIKISHAN
1 month 3 days ago
this are the cheap tactics of just making time pass and nothing else because the amount really expended on he blog can be given for the welfare of any needy balmiki but it is the only caste system that resrict them to do so,there is no political influence for the balmiki's and in the deficiency of this,the sorrow of the balmiki's will never make the world to hear there problem's which are never tried to be heard by any political leader..............it is just waist of time.who says their is no literacy in the balmiki cast,their are enn number of balmiki youth who are highly qualified but nobody support's them,Thank you for the sympathy.
Guest
Preeti
1 month 10 days ago
May someone tell me Are valmikis in bihar or not. One of my friend is from biharsariff but he told to his GF that he is rajput but I know his gotra is valmiki as he told me. I think its incorrect because i checked many websites and i hv seen that no valmiki is realated to rajput. If someone have any idea please tell me.
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Ashish shilelan
1 month 17 days ago
I really like the article. but i I have few question. Do we all rally respect our cast. if yes then why dont we accept in a community that we belong from valmiki cast. I saw many people writte gujar, rajput, jaat etc. behind their vehicle but i hardly found valmiki on the vehilce. Why??????
We afraid to discolse our cast in front of the society or people????
It clearly shows that some were we feel that our cast is small. As comapre to other cast and if our cast is samll in our eye and make us weak.Till the time we can't bring our cast and other cast on the same page. Sharam chhodo aur gurve se kaho. Jai valmiki. Plzzz sab log apne vehicle ke piche mention karo aur khul k kaho that yes i am valmiki and i proud to be a valmiki.
Guest
Piyush Wagh
1 month 22 days ago
Hello sir
I m impressed from your survey. I m from amravati district in Maharashtra, want to work for the people from backward class in my district under my NGO JHEP MULTIPURPOSE FOUNDATION. Please guide me for that.
Guest
Yashpal Kazania
2 months 8 days ago
Hello everyone
Guest
Yashpal Kazania
2 months 8 days ago
We should one platform for meeting all educated brother n sisters for unit.
Guest
saurav balmiki
2 months 13 days ago
Hello everyone i love dis survey its jst amazing!!! I also belong to balmiki community !!! I am studying journalisim and media studies, i hope one day i,ll do sumthng better 4 my communiy !!!!
Guest
Aniket Sheryar
2 months 20 days ago
I'm Aniket Sheryar from meerut I have done b.tech I totally impressed ; Sir I also belong this so I wanna join u plzz
Guest
Ricky Thapar
3 months 23 days ago
I am absolutely inspired to read all the comments . I am an upcoming Rap Music producer and MC . I am in Canada but from Punjab(India) . I respect all castes and regions but my aim is to do shows back to back as I have target of educating Valmiki Students who can't afford to study . All knowledge I have will be used in spreading education in our community. No matter who is doing what , We gonna make the change. All of us , lets be the change that we see in our community. Jai Valmiki , Har har Valmiki .
Guest
Ashish shilelan
1 month 17 days ago
Hi sir. I really have egerness to learn rap music. If u teach me i assured u i'll learn from the core of my hear. I never tried it before but some were i feel if u teach me i can do good in this
Guest
mamta bidlan
4 months 22 hours ago
i real appreciate u sir to give this much knowledge and its really required for our community do bst education and prove our self what we are....i am from pune now i am doing journalism i want to do something for our community people... u can guide me sir
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sabare Alam
5 months 1 hour ago
Dear Readers , You have been kept out boycotted by People since born,, People uses you but never accepted you in there heigh value society. Till today people talk about system but in village and city these comunities are still in boycotted by Upper class ( upper class mean people who think that only there right to read and write and give social justics to any one,, you people must unite and raise the issue together else you will be used by people like before,,, Think Great Person Late Babasaheb accepted Other relegion,, Do not forget his hard work for you people,,, stay united and stay for better yours community....there are lot of people who sacrifice his life for the freedom of INDIA , for example late gangu who had been hanged by british ,,, after raising his voice against Britihs, in 1857 lot of lower class help to get freedom from british,, but Todays samaj taking all the cridit for there own benifit and keeping lower cast people away for education, and equal right. decision is yours,,,
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Bharat kharaliya
8 months 8 days ago
right gautam jatav g blkul right ajj sadi community nu humble need education di h job appe mil jaugi j educated hovage ta Khudi ko kar buland itna ki khuda b tujse aake puche e bande teri raja kya h
Guest
chetan vaghela
8 months 14 days ago
Sir.....I proud bcoz I m valmiki... From chetan vaghela ahmedabad(gujrat)
Guest
Sumit
1 year 26 days ago
Hame ye bataye...logo ki jo bhavna h.valmiki community k logo k liye use kaise badle....aap pade likhe ho,wel educated ho job bhi h..lekin phir bhi kahi na kahi logo k mann me ye rahta h are yar ye to schedule caste h ...aisa kyon h..ise kaise badal sakte h...
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AMIT KUMAR
1 year 24 days ago
hm anaryans is country ke moolniwasi hai or aryans(brahman,shatriya.vaishya) ye sb bahar se aaye hue hai or india pe raaj kr rahe hai ye log 15% hai or 85% pe raaj kr rahe hai. hme divide kiya hua hai ek duje se ladwate hai taki hm log unity me na aa jye or apna haq na maang le.
Guest
gautam jatav
1 year 16 days ago
dosto,ab ye time nh h k hum history me ghuse rahe k hum ye h wo wo h,,society me sabko milkar hi chalna hoga,hum aj jo h apni khud ki galtiyo k wajah se h,,hamare purwajo ne unites hokar jung ladi hoti to aj ye nh hota,ambedkar ji k andolan k bad kabi koi andolan nh hua,hum educated hokr khud aryans ban jate h,,sab hamari galtiya h,,hm sewer or chamda saf karenge to log bhedbhav krenge,sabse phle jaruri h hum sab socialy active ho jaye,logo ko polluted jobs chhodni hongi,education leni hogi,ye sab dosto bina andolan k possible nh h,mind set tabi change hota h jab andolan hota h,,hame kuch selfles social activist chahye,jo is community me 0 hai,,tabi kuch hoga or logo ka mindset b change hoga..
Guest
parveen gill
1 year 27 days ago
Parveen Gill hi frnds..... hmary samsayo ka sirf ek hi samadan h wo h education. and ek dusre ka sahyog karo........... or ek achi pure india me unity banao. or is google chrome or wikipedia par case kr do kyon ki in dono ne hme net pe bilo ka darja de rakha h, hm bil kaise ho skte jab hamare guru valmik dunia ke sabse bidwan kabi or bahgwan or ramayan ke racheyata h.
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gautam jatav
1 year 1 month ago
my dear balmiki brothers, i somehow came in contact with this page and read all the comments above,it gave me immense pleasure to knw about the keennes u guys have to serve for ur community,m jatav by caste bt i believe dat the real change wil come wen each and every SC caste wil b empowered and educated,first of al v shoud get united as the sayng goes 'united v stand and divided v fall',the main prob is the lack of unity,and the only solution for the problem is movements,v need atleast 100 movement to change the mindset of our people and other masses of india, our mobility is very slow that is becoz of lack of protests and movements,after ambedkar movement v havent indulged any movmnt on big scale,resulted in manual scavenging stil present,so guys my point here is v should be united and change our identity from dalit as it is very derogating,secondly v shoud do protest for dignity not for reservation al the time,conversion is not the solution, plz join me wid your valuable feedbacks,,thanks,
Guest
Ravi valmiki
1 year 1 month ago
i am realy know about my caste valmiki is uneducated many problem about mu caste i will try ss some solw this plz someone call me in delhi i want help
Guest
Ravi valmiki
1 year 1 month ago
i am realy know about my caste valmiki is uneducated many problem about mu caste i will try ss some solw this
Guest
vidya sagar
1 year 1 month ago
Respected sir, Don't think like bhangi and all that only just improve ur self and ownest on your work you'll defiantly achieve your goal e
Guest
rajender kumar sonaria
1 year 1 month ago
Happy lohri and makarskranti to all my brothers and sisters.
Guest
Shubham Valmiki
1 year 1 month ago
All I mst say is really feeling proud of being a Valmiki... Bt plz stop adding words like bhangi..it hurts our souls.. We should raise our standard of living.. May god gives more strength to our community....