Begumpura (“land without sorrow”) is a stateless, classless, casteless society imagined by poet Guru Ravidas in his poem written around 500 years ago in India. It was possibly the first image of an anarchist utopia in Indian literature. It became the guiding light for anti-caste intellectuals for imagining the society that they aspire to create.
The regal realm with the sorrowless name:
they call it Begumpura, a place with no pain,
No taxes or cares, none owns property there,
no wrongdoing, worry, terror, or torture.
Oh, my brother, I’ve come to take it as my own,
my distant home where everything is right.
That imperial kingdom is rich and secure,
where none are third or second – all are one;
They do this or that, they walk where they wish,
they stroll through fabled palaces unchallenged.
Oh, says Ravidas, a tanner now set free,
those who walk beside me are my friends.
What makes Begumpura different from the other ancient imaginations of utopia is the lack of a government or king; this is clear from the phrases “no taxes” and “no property” in the poem. An absence of private property and government points to an anarchist utopia on the principles of self-organisation of free individuals based on mutual aid and participatory democracy.
The casteless and classless society points to social and economic democracy. “They do this or that, they walk where they wish, they stroll through fabled palaces unchallenged” shows that the members of Begumpura are free individuals without any oppressive and coercive hierarchical institutions to govern them. It also signifies the freedom of women from exploitation and assault.
This is similar to the ideas that the Paris Commune of 1871, the Revolutionary Catalonia of Spain during the 1930s, the Chiapas in Mexico and the Rojava in Syria tried to establish. Begumpura is an imagination against caste, class, state, Brahmanical hierarchies and patriarchy. A society living in harmony and free from all forms of discrimination. Guru Ravidas’s poems against untouchability, caste and social injustice have long been a source of strength for the downtrodden to drive social change. Ravidas held caste discrimination as the root of all social strife.
Anarchist social theory proceeds with the assumption that a better world is possible; that institutions like the State, capitalism, racism, casteism and male dominance are not inevitable; that it is possible to have a world in which these things would not exist. Anarchists believe that we need to prefigure the world we want to create so that we can decide on actions that can lead to such a world.
Guru Ravidas clearly conceived in his imagination what we seek to establish. He pre-figured a society in which all forms of coercion vanish and people live with liberty and form voluntary associations based on democracy and mutual aid. It is high time we revisit and re-imagine these visions, understand and imbibe the ideas behind them and work towards creating our Begumpura.
Note: This article was first published in Round Table India.