An Urban Legend

When Myths Seek To Reshape Reality 

Neo-Saini websites

There is a plethora of websites that have mushroomed up all over the internet claiming to represent Sainis as an "All India" occupational group.  Needless to say , these websites do not represent  the historically authentic  Saini group, whose members, unless they or their ancestors had migrated out,  are predominantly found now only in Punjab and its bordering regions of Haryana, HP and J&K.  Most of these websites have been published by  groups which adopted Saini identity only in 20th century. 

Jyotirao Phule as mascot of neo-Saini identity

A distinctive mark of these websites is that they have the picture of  Mr. Jyotirao Phule either on the logo or somewhere else in the website and convey the impression that Mr. Phule was a Saini (which he was not).

Mr. Phule was a great leader and represented a forceful voice against some of the inequities of Hindu society in 19th century but his writings reflected neither the social experience nor religious sensibilities of historically authentic Saini community of Punjab. 

Authentic Sainis and  Vedas

Why Mr. Phule's views do not reflect social experience and religious sensibilites of Saini community of Punjab is a subject that needs to be dealt with elsewhere but here  a brief mention is suffice of the fact that most Hindu Sainis have profound reverence for Vedas, a body of sacradotal literature which Mr. Phule attacked quite openly and unambiguously.  Most of the Hindu Sainis of Punjab are staunch Sanatanis with a minority of them influenced by Arya Samaj of Swami Dayanand. Any incendiary critique of Vedas is anaethema to Hindu Sainis of either  persuasion.  In fact their entire historical narrative as the kshatriyas coming down from  Lord Krishna's own clan is predicated by an overarching need to preserve the faith of their Vedic ancestors by any means.

Even Sikhism, which another siginficant section of Sainis practices, although critical of  numerous vices that crept into Hindu society, does not deny the validity of Vedas as one of the means to apprehend the highest spiritual verity of 'Naam'. Guru Ajrun Dev, the lyrical sage scholar, expresses it as follows in the Sikh scripture:

"ਚਤੁਰਥਿ ਚਾਰੇ ਬੇਦ ਸੁਣਿ ਸੋਧਿਓ ਤਤੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥
चतुरथि चारे बेद सुणि सोधिओ ततु बीचारु II

The fourth day of the lunar cycle:Listening to the four Vedas, and contemplating the essence of reality, I have come to realize

ਸਰਬ ਖੇਮ ਕਲਿਆਣ ਨਿਧਿ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਿ ਸਾਰੁ ॥
सरब खेम कलिआण निधि राम नामु जपि सारु ॥"

that the treasure of all joy and comfort is found in sublime meditation on the Lord's Name.

                           (SGGS, pp 297)

No contemporary record suggesting Jyotirao Phule  was a Saini

There is no contemporary record or work dating back to Mr. Phule's era which gives any indication whether he was even remotely aware of Saini community, let alone describing him as a member of this community which had no recorded presence either in Maharashtra or any of its bordering state during his time.

Linking of Mr. Phule with Saini identity is thus purely based on the misinformation that has crept into popular space due to adoption of Saini identity by a assortment of new groups who saw Mr. Phule's social experience and philosophy as representative of their own and now promote a rebranded self identity under a common umbrella name with Mr. Phule as its mascot.  In the case of  Sainis of Punjab this assosiaction  is entirely foisted one and does not have any organic connection.

Kanshi Ram's gaffe


This popular error reached its perihelion in 2001 when the honourable Dalit leader Mr. Kanshi Ram openly attacked Saini community at a public rally in Langroya village in Nawanshahr district of Punjab for having allegedly forgotten Mr. Phule's legacy.

Note that there is no dearth of self-seeking politicians in Saini community, like in any other community,  who would go to any length to expand their vote banks without the least concern about the reputation  and broader interest of the community they claim to represent.  In this case the politician in question should not have invited Sainis to a public gathering on a deceptive pretext and exposed them and Mr. Kanshi Ram to each other so abruptly. The rally was obviously a disaster  and embarassment for all involved as could have been expected. The opportunistic political alliance failed before it started, unlike the Dalit-Brahmin alliance in UP which has worked quite well.

Members of Saini community attending the rally were taken aback at the outburst for they did not have the remotest clue about who Mr. Phule was and what Mr. Kanshi Ram was talking about. The issue cooled down after heated arguments and  threats of legal retaliation  by the Saini community (see The Tribune, dated Nov 3, 2001)  but a popular error based entirely on ignorance about both Mr. Phule's legacy and history and character of Saini community of Punjab got further compounded.

Deconstructing the incipient mythos

It is important that this  mythical Saini background of Mr. Phule is deconstructed here and other scholarly forums for such myths have a strong proclivity of taking a life of their own in the media dominated by sound bites and assisted passively by  popular mind that consumes them.  Add to this heady mix the constant efforts of politicians of all hues ever eager to expand their vote banks by any possible means, you have the perfect recipe from Goebbels' book.

While showing deepest respect to all the groups who have the need to remodel their identity in the new era and who see validation and fulfilment of their identity in Mr. Phule's life and work, it would not be out of place here also to state the academic truth that Mr. Phule had no ethnic connection with the Saini community of Punjab and around, and does not represent in any respect their religious sensibilities, history or  social experience.

Mr. Jyotirao Phule was not  a Saini

 Jyotirao Phule

A typical logo used by neo-Saini websites to promote a fabricated Saini identity.

Mr. Jyotirao Phule was not  a Saini. He never identified himself with this name. In fact there is no record of Mr.Phule's lifetime which suggests that  he was even remotely aware of Saini community whose presence was not recorded outside Punjab during his lifetime.

A false link between Mr.Phule and Saini community is promoted by certain groups which  assumed Saini identity after 1930s.

This link is entirely false and foisted one in case of Sainis.. Mr.Phule's unambiguously anti-vedic social and religious critiques find no echo in Saini community of Punjab all of whom, including Sikh Sainis,  are extremely proud of their Vedic ancestry and proudly identify with ancient sacred lore in which Shoorsaini kshatriyas always had a distinguished  place as the descendants of most celebrated Yadava warriors like Maharaja Shoorsen, Krishna, Balaram, Satyaki, etc.

Sainis do not have any history of being in second place to any other community even in the era of Muslim domination when their post-Kaniska kingdom of  Mathura was lost to Turks.

All Saini villages in Punjab had Saini Chaudharies, equivalent to Thakurs in Rajasthan , MP and UP, with all other occupational castes , including Brahmins, in junior supportive roles. Sainis very rarely settled in villages in which any other tribe was in a dominant position. This mutual exclusivity is distinguishing feature of the dominant Punjabi tribes and is seen no where south of Haryana.  Even British rulers were not allowed  to appoint non-Saini Zaildars, or revenue collectors, for Saini villages.

Mr. Phule's social experience and religious critiques are an extreme far cry from anything Sainis have experienced , practiced or believed  throughout their  history and from anything that has survived in their tribal folklore.