Dalit Movement in India

List of Caste or Dalit Movement in India before independence

The term Dalit was firstly used by Jyotirao Phule for the oppressed classes or untouchable castes of the Hindu. Mahatma Gandhi used Harijan for the oppressed or depressed or Dalit classes which means 'Children of God'. Here, we are giving the list of Caste or Dalit Movement in India before independence, which is very useful for the competitive examinations like UPSC-prelims, SSC, State Services, NDA, CDS, and Railways etc

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Compiled  by DC Gahmari

List of Caste or Dalit Movement in India before independence

The term Dalit was firstly used by Jyotirao Phule for the oppressed classes or untouchable castes of the Hindu. Mahatma Gandhi used Harijan for the oppressed or depressed or Dalit classes which means 'Children of God'.

List of Caste Movement in India before independence



Causes and Consequences

Nair Movement

Started under the leadership of CV Raman Pillai, K Rama Krishna Pillai and M. Padmanabha Pillai in 1861.

1. Against Brahminic dominion

2. The Malayali Memorial was formed by Raman Pillai in 1891 and Nair Service Society was set up by Padmanabha Pillai in 1914.

Satyashodhak Movement

Jyotirao Phule founded in 1873 (Maharashtra).

1. For emancipation of low castes, untouchables and widows.

2. Against Brahminic dominion

Justice Party Movement

Started under the leadership of Dr. T.M Nair, P. Tyagaraja Chetti and C.N Mudalair in 1916.

1. Against Brahminic dominion in government services, education and politics.

2. The South Indian Liberation Federation (SILF) was formed in 1916.

3. The efforts yielded in the passing of 1930 Government Order providing reservations to groups.

Self-Respect Movement

Started under the leadership of EV Ramaswami Naicker or Periyar in 1925.

1. Against caste system and biased approach of Brahmins.

2. Kudi Arasu journal was started by Periyar in 1910.

Depressed Classes Movement (Mahar Movement)

Started under the leadership of BR Ambedkar in 1924.

1. For the upliftment of depressed classes.

2. Against untouchability

3. Depressed Classes Institution was founded in 1924.

4. Marathi fortnightly Bahiskrit Bharat was started in 1927.

5. Establishment of Samaj Samta Sangh in 1927.

6. Establishment of Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942 that propagated their views on depressed classes.

Congress Harijan Movement

1. For elevating the social status of the lower and backward classes.

2. Establishment of All-India Anti-Untouchability League in 1932.

3. Weekly Harijan wa founded by Gandhi in 1933.

Kaivartas Movement

Started by Kaivartas

1. Laid the foundation of the Jati Nirdharani Sabha in 1897.

2. Laid the foundation of Mahishya Samiti in 1901.

Nadar Movement by 1910, Tamilnadu

Ezhava Movement by Narayan Guru

1928, Kerala

Mahar Movement by BR Ambedkar

1920, Maharastra

Namshudra Movement by Narayan Guru

191901, Faridpur , Bengal

Hence, we can say, the Caste or Dalit Movement in India before independence was the resultant of hatred being generated by the Brahmanism. According to Brahmanism, Dalit or lower caste is assigned to serve the three varna which means Brahmin, Kshatriye and Vaishyas. They don't have right to take higher education and were denied social-economic and political status.

Nadar Movement by 1910, Tamilnadu

Ezhava Movement by Narayan Guru

1928, Kerala

Mahar Movement by BR Ambedkar

1920, Maharastra

Namshudra Movement by Narayan Guru

191901, Faridpur , Bengal

Dalit Movements in India After 1947


Dr.K.Sravana Kumar

M.A.Ph.D. Lecturer in History, N.B.K.R. Science and Arts College,

Vidya Nagar, Kota Mandal, Nellore District. Andhra Pradesh,

India-524 413.


The word “Dalit” may be derived from Sanskrit, and means “crushed”, or “broken to pieces”. It was perhaps first used by Jyotirao Phule in the nineteenth century, in the context of the oppression faced by the erstwhile “untouchable” castes of the Hindus. Moahatma Gandhi adopted the word “Harijan,” translated roughly as “Children of God”, to identify the former Untouchables. According to the Indian Constitution the Dalits are the people coming under the category Scheduled castes‘.Currently, many Dalits use the term to move away from the more derogatory terms of their caste names, or even the term “Untouchable.” The contemporary use of “Dalit” is centered on the idea that as a people, the group may have been broken by oppression, but they survive and even thrive by finding meaning in the struggle of their existence. Dalit is now a political identity

Original Research Paper History

Major Causes of the Dalit Movement

The Dalit Movement is the result of the constant hatred being generated from centuries from the barbaric activities of the upper castes of India. Since Dalits were assigned the duties of serving the other three Varnas, that is all the non– Dalit, they were deprived of higher training of mind and were denied social-economic and political status.The division of labour led to the division of the labourers, based on inequality and exploitation. The caste system degenerated Dalit lifes into pathogenic condition where occupations changed into castes.

For centuries, Dalits were excluded from the mainstream society and were only allowed to pursue menial occupations like cleaning dry latrines, sweeping etc.They lived in the Hindu villages hence did not have advantage of geographical isolation like tribes. They  were pushed to the outer areas of villages whereas, the mainland was occupied by the Brahmins. They were barred from entering into those mainland areas in every sense, they were prohibited to wear decent dress and ornaments besides being untouchable.

Many of the  atrocities were committed in the name of religion. Besides, the system of Devadasi they poured molten lead into the ears of a Dalit, who happened to listen to some mantra. To retain the stronghold on people, education was  monopolized.The most inhuman practice is that of untouchability,  which made the Dalits to live in extreme inhuman situations . This has made the Dalits to rise and protest, against the inhuman practices of Brahmanism .The Dalits began their movement in India with their basic demand for equality.

The Dalit movement that gained momentum in the  post independence period, have its roots in the Vedic period. It was to the Shramanic -Brahmanic  confrontation and then to the Bhakti Movement.

With the introduction of western language, and with the influence of the Christian missionaries, the Dalits began to come across the ideals of equality and liberty and thus began the Dalit Movement in modern times. The frustrated Dalit minds  when mixed with reason began confrontation against the atrocities of Brahmanism.

Dalit movement was fundamentally the movement to achieve mobility on part of the groups which has logged behind. They were a reaction against the social, cultural and economic preponderance and exclusiveness of other class over them.

Educated Dalit , gradually begin to talk about the problems of poor and about exploitation and humiliations from the upper castes. They also got a fillip through British policy of divide and rule in which census operation played a sufficient role (British policy of classifying caste). This provided an opportunity for making claims for social pre-eminence through caste mobilisation. Improved communication network made wider links and combination possible; new system of education provided opportunity for socio-economic promotion, new administrative system, rule of law undermined certain privileges enjoyed by few and certain economic forces like industrialization threw open equal opportunities for all dismantling social barriers.

All these factors contributed to the shift in position of untouchables. Social reform movement such as those of  Jyotiba phule in Maharashtra and Sri Narayan Guru in Kerala also began to question caste inequality. Gandhiji  integrated the issue of abolition of untouchability into national movement and major campaign and struggles such as  Varkom  and  Guruvayur  Satyagrahawere organized.

Gandhiji’s effort was to make upper caste realise severity of injustice done via practice of untouchability.

Dr. B.R.  Ambedkar  emerged as major leader of Depressed Classes by late 1920’s. He formed All Indian Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942. He also cooperates with colonial government on understanding that he could get more benefits for SCs. The All India S.C. Federation also contested election, but its candidates lost to Congress.

Others strands also emerged in different regions in  Punjab  the  Adi Dharm, in  U.P.the  Adi Hindi  and in  Bengal the Namashvedsas.

In  Bihar,  Jagjivan Ram  who emerged as the most important Congress leader formed  Khetmajoor Sabha  and  Depressed Class League. In  early 1970’s  a new trend identified as Dalit Panthers merged in  Maharashtra  as a part of country wide wave of radical politics. The  Dalit Panthers  learned ideologically to Ambedkar’s thought. By 1950’s Dalit Panther had developed serious differences and the party split up and declined.

In North India new party  BSP  emerged in 1980’s under  Kanshi  Ram  and later Mayawati who became the chief minister of U.P.

Acharya Ishvardatt Medharthi  (1900–1971) of Kanpur supported the cause of the Dalits. He studied Pali at Gurukul Kangri and Buddhist texts were well known to him. He was initiated into Buddhism by Gyan Keto and the Lokanatha in 1937. Gyan Keto (1906–1984), born Peter Schoenfeldt, was a German who arrived in Ceylon in 1936 and became a Buddhist. Medharthi strongly criticised the caste system in India. He claimed that the Dalits (“Adi Hindus”)  were the ancient rulers of India and had been trapped into slavery by Aryan invaders.

Dynamics of Dalit Movement: Sanskritization

The strategies, ideologies, approaches of Dalit movement varied from leader to leader, place to place and time to time. 

Thus, some Dalit leaders followed the process of ’Sanskritization’ to elevate themselves to the higher position in caste hierarchy. They adopted Brahman manners, including vegetarianism, putting sandalwood paste on forehead, wearing sacred thread, etc. Thus Dalit leaders like Swami Thykkad (Kerala), Pandi Sunder Lai Sagar (UP), Muldas Vaishya (Gujarat), Moon Vithoba Raoji Pande (Maharashtra) and others tried to adopt established cultural norms and practices of the higher castes. Imitation of the high caste manners by Dalits was an assertion of their right to equality.

Adi-Hindu movement

Treating Dalits as outside the fourfold Varna system, and describing them as ‘outcastes’ or ‘Panchama’ gave rise to a movement called  Adi-Hindu movement. Thus, certain section of Dalit leadership believed that Dalits were the original inhabitants of India and they were not Hindus. That Aryans or Brahmins who invaded this country forcibly imposed untouchability on the original inhabitants of this land.  They believed that if Hinduism was discarded, untouchability would automatically come to an end.

That Dalits began to call themselves Adi-Andhras in Andhra, Adi- Karnataka in Karnataka, Adi-Dravidas in Tamil Nadu, Adi-Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and Adi-Dharmis in Punjab. Dalits also followed the route of conversion with a purpose of getting rid of untouchability and to develop their moral and financial conditions. 


A good number of Dalits were converted to Christianity, especially in Kerala. Some of the Dalits, especially in Punjab were converted to Sikhism.  They are known asMazhabis,  Namdharis, Kabir Panthis etc. 

Dalits also got converted to  Buddhism. Dr.  Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with his millions of followers at Nagpur in 1956.

Finding Sects

As a protest against Hinduism some of the Dalit leaders founded their own sects or religions. Guru Ghasi Das (MP) founded  Satnami  Sect. Gurtichand Thakur (Bengal) founded Matua Sect. Ayyan Kali (kerala) founded SJPY (Sadha Jana Paripalan Yogam) and Mangu Ram (Panjab) founded  Adi Dharam.

Ambedkar’s activism

Attempts were also made to organize Dalits politically in order to fight against socio-economic problems. Dr.  Ambedkar  formed the  Independent Labour Party  in 1936. He tried to abolish the exploitative  Khoti system  prevailing in Kokan part of Maharashtra, and  Vetti or Maharaki system  (a wage free hereditary service to the caste Hindus in the local administration). He tried to convince the Government to recruit the Mahars in Military. Ultimately he became successful in 1941 when the first Mahar Regiment was formed.

With the growing process of democratization, Dr. Ambedkar demanded adequate representation for Dalits in the legislatures and in the administration. Government of India Act, 1919, provided for one seat to the depressed classes in the central Legislative Assembly. In 1932, British Government headed by Ramsoy Macdonald announced the ‘Communal Award’. The award envisaged separate electorate for the Depressed Classes. Mahatma Gandhi went on a historic fast in protest against Communal Award especially in respect of depressed classes. The issue was settled by Poona Pact, September 1932. It provided for reservation of seats for depressed classes out of general electorates sets. The Constitution of India now provides for reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes

in proportion to their population in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha under Article 330 and 332.

Dalit Literary Movement

At a time, when there was no means of communication to support the Dalits, pen was the only solution.  The media, newspapers were all under the control of the powerful class – the Brahmins. Given that the Brahmins would never allow the Dalits voice to be expressed, as it would be a threat for their own survival, the Dalits began their own magazine and began to express their own experiences.

Dalit literature, the literature produced by the Dalit consciousness, emerged initially during the Mukti movement. Later, with the  formation of the  Dalit Panthers,  there began to flourish a series of Dalit poetry and stories depicting the miseries of the Dalits the roots of which lies in the rules and laws of Vedas and Smritis. All these literature argued that Dalit

Movement fights not only against the Brahmins but all those people whoever practices exploitation, and  those can be the Brahmins or even the Dalits themselves. 

New revolutionary songs, poems , stories ,  autobiographies were written by Dalit writers. All their feelings were bursting out in the form of writings.

Educated Dalit and intellectuals begin to talk about the problems without any hesitation and tried to explain to the other illiterate brothers about the required change in the society. Dalit literature tried to compare the past situation of Dalits to the present and future generation not to create hatred, but to make them aware of their pitiable condition.

Power as Means to Attain Dignity

Power can be cut by only power. Hence, to attain power, the first thing  required is knowledge. It was thus, Phule and Ambedkar gave the main emphasis on the education of the Dalits,  which will not only bestow them with reason and judgement capacity, but also political power, and thereby socio—economic status and a life of dignity. They knew that the political strategy of gaining power is either an end in itself or a means to other ends. In other words, if the Dalits have power, then they do not have to go begging to the upper castes.

Also they will get greater economic and educational opportunities. The upper  castes enjoy social power, regardless of their individual circumstances with respect to their control over material resources, through their linkages with the other caste fellows in the political system –in the bureaucracy , judiciary and legislature. And so , the Dalits require power to control the economic scenario and thereby the politics of the country.

Phule thus added that without knowledge, intellect was lost; without intellect, morality was lost; without morality, dyna- mism was lost; without dynamism, money  was lost; without money Shudras were degraded, all this misery and disaster were due to the lack  of knowledge. Inspired by Thomas Paine‘s ―”The rights of Man”, Phule sought the way of education which can only  unite the Dalits in their struggle for equality.

The movement was carried forward by Ambedkar who contested with Gandhi to give the Dalits, their right to equality. In the words of Ambedkar, Educate, Organize and agitate. Education, the major source of reason, inflicts human mind with extensive knowledge of  the world, whereby, they can know the truth of a phenomena, that is reality. It therefore, would help to know the truth of Brahmanism in Indian society, and will make them to agitate against caste based inhuman practices.  Only when agitation begin, in the real sense, can the

Dalit be able to attain power and win the movement against exploitation. Gandhis  politics was unambigously centring around the  defence of caste with the preservation of social order in Brahmanical pattern. He was fighting for the rights of  Dalits but was not ready for inter-caste marriage.

Post-Independent Dalit Movements B.R. Ambedkar and Buddhist dalit Movement

Babasaheb Ambedkar has undoubtedly been the central figure in the epistemology of the dalit universe. It is not difficult to see the reason behind the obeisance and reverence that dalits have for Ambedkar. They see him as one who devoted every moment of his life thinking about and struggling for their emancipation; who sacrificed all the comforts and conveniences of life that were quite within his reach to be on their side; who conclusively disproved the theory of caste based superiority by rising to be the tallest amongst the tall despite enormous odds, and finally as one who held forth the torch to illuminate the path of their future.

Upon India’s Transfer of Power by British Government on 15 August 1947, the new Congress-led government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation’s first Law Minister, which he accepted. On 29 August, he was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, charged by the Assembly to write India’s newConstitution.The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination. Ambedkar argued for extensive economic and social rights for women, and also won the Assembly’s support for introducing a system of reservations of jobs in the civil services, schools and colleges for members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, a system akin to  affirmative action. India’s lawmakers hoped to eradicate the socio-economic inequalities and lack of opportunities for India’s depressed classes through these measures.

Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in 1951 following the stalling in parliament of his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to expound gender equality in the laws of inheritance and marriage. Ambedkar independently contested an election in 1952 to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, but was defeated in the Bombay constituency by a little-known Narayan Sadoba Kajrolkar. He was appointed to the upper house, of parliament, the Rajya Sabha in March 1952 and would remain as member till death.

Conversion to Buddhism

Ambedkar had considered converting to Sikhism, which saw oppression as something to be fought against and which for that reason appealed also to other leaders of scheduled castes. He rejected the idea after meeting with leaders of the Sikh community and concluding that his conversion might result in him having a “second-rate status” among Sikhs. He studied Buddhism all his life, and around 1950, he turned his attention fully to Buddhism and travelled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to attend a meeting of the  World Fellowship of Buddhists. While dedicating a new Buddhist vihara near Pune, Ambedkar announced that he was writing a book on Buddhism, and that as soon as it was finished, he planned to make a formal conversion to Buddhism.

Ambedkar twice visited Burma in 1954; the second time in order to attend the third conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Rangoon.In 1955, he founded theBharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha.  He completed his final work,  The Buddha and His Dhamma, in 1956. It was published posthumously. After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Saddhatissa, Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Nagpur on 14 October 1956. Ambedkar completed his own conversion, along with his wife. He then proceeded to convert some 500,000 of his supporters who were gathered around him. He then travelled to Kathmandu in Nepal to attend the Fourth World Buddhist Conference. His work on The Buddha or Karl Marx and “Revolution and counter-revolution in ancient India” remained incomplete.

His allegation of Hinduism foundation of caste system, made him controversial and unpopular among the Hindu community.  His conversion to Buddhism sparked a revival in interest in Buddhist philosophy in India and abroad. Ambedkar’s political philosophy has given rise to a large number of political parties, publications and workers’ unions that remain active across India, especially in Maharashtra.

The Buddhist movement was somewhat hindered by Dr. Ambedkar’s death so shortly after his conversion. It did not receive the immediate mass support from the Untouchable population that Ambedkar had hoped for. Division and lack of direction among the leaders of the Ambedkarite movement have been an additional impediment. According to the 2001 census, there are currently 7.95 million Buddhists in India, at least 5.83 million of whom are Buddhists in Maharashtra.This  makes Buddhism the fifth-largest religion in India and 6% of the population of Maharashtra, but less than 1% of the overall population of India.TheBuddhist revival remains concentrated in two states: Ambedkar’s native Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh — the land of Acharya Medharthi and their associates.

Acharya Medharthi retired from his Buddhapuri school in 1960, and shifted to an ashram in Haridwar. He turned to the Arya Samaj and conducted Vedic yajnas all over India. His follower, Bhoj Dev Mudit, converted to Buddhism in 1968 and set up a school of his own.

Rajendranath Aherwar appeared as an important Dalit leader in Kanpur. He joined the Republican Party of India and converted to Buddhism along with his whole family in 1961. In 1967, he founded the Kanpur branch of “Bharatiya Buddh Mahasabha”.

The Dalit Buddhist movement in Kanpur gained impetus with the arrival of Dipankar, a Chamar bhikkhu, in 1980. Dipankar had come to Kanpur on a Buddhist mission and his first public appearance was scheduled at a mass conversion drive in 1981. The event was organised by Rahulan Ambawadekar, an RPI Dalit leader. In April 1981, Ambawadekar founded the Dalit Panthers (U.P. Branch) inspired by the Maharashtrian Dalit Panthers.

Dalit Panthers

Dalit Panther as a social organization was founded by Namdev Dhasal in April 1972 in Mumbai, which saw its heyday in the 1970s and through the 80s. Dalit Panther is inspired by Black Panther Party, a revolutionary movement amongst African-Americans, which emerged in the United States and functioned from 1966-1982.The name of the organization was borrowed from the ‘Black Panther’ Movement of the USA. They called themselves “Panthers” because they were supposed to fight for their rights like panthers, and not get suppressed by the strength and might of their oppressors.

The US Black Panther Party always acknowledged and supported the Dalit Panther Party through the US Black Panther Newspaper which circulated weekly throughout the world from 1967-1980. Its organization was modelled after the Black Panther. The members were young men belonging to Neo-Buddhists and Scheduled Castes. Most of the leaders were literary figures

.The controversy over the article “Kala Swatantrata Din”

(Black Independence Day) by Dhale which was published in “Sadhana” in 1972 created a great sensation and publicised the Dalit Panthers through Maharashtra. The Panther’s full support to Dhale during this controversy brought Dhale into the movement and made him a prominent leader. With the publicity of this issue through the media, Panther branches sprang up spontaneously in many parts of Maharashtra. The Dalit Panther movement was a radical departure from earlier Dalit movements. Its initial thrust on militancy through the use of rustic arms and threats, gave the movement a revolutionary colour. Going by their manifesto, dalit panthers had broken many new grounds in terms of radicalising the political space for the dalit movement. They imparted the proletarian – radical class identity to dalits and linked their struggles to the struggles of all oppressed people over the globe. The clear cut leftist stand reflected by this document undoubtedly ran counter to the accepted legacy of Ambedkar as projected by the various icons, although it was sold in his name as an awkward tactic.

The pathos of casteism integral with the dalit experience essentially brought in Ambedkar, as his was the only articulate framework that took cognisance of it. But, for the other contemporary problems of deprivations, Marxism provided a scientific framework to bring about a revolutionary change. Although, have-nots from both dalits and non-dalits craved for a fundamental change, the former adhered to what appeared to be Ambedkarian methods of socio-political change and the latter to what came to be the Marxian method which tended to see every social process as the reflection of the material reality. Both caused erroneous interpretations. It is to the credit of Panthers that the assimilation of these two ideologies was attempted for the first time in the country but unfortunately it proved abortive in absence of the efforts to rid each of them of its obfuscating influence and stress their non-contradictory essence. Neither, there was theoretical effort to integrate these two ideologies, nor was there any practice combining social aspects of caste with say, the land question in the village setting. This ideological amalgam could not be acceptable to those under the spell of the prevailing Ambedkar-icons and therefore this revolutionary seedling in the dalit movement died a still death.

The reactionaries objected to the radical content of the programme alleging that the manifesto was doctored by the radicals – the Naxalites. There is no denying the fact that the Naxalite movement which had erupted quite like the Dalit Panther, as a disenchantment with and negation of the established politics, saw a potential ally in the Panthers and tried to forge a bond right at the level of formulation of policies and programme of the latter. But even if the Panthers had chosen to pattern their programme on the ten-point programme of the Black Panther Party (BPP)  in the USA, which had been the basic inspiration for their formation, it would not have been any less radical.The amount of emphasis on the material aspects of life that one finds in the party programme of the BPP could still have been inimical to the established icon of Ambedkar.

Radicalism was the premise for the very existence of the Dalit Panther and hence the quarrel over its programme basically reflected the clash between the established icon of Ambedkar and his radical version proposed in the programme. The fact that for the first time the Dalit Panther exposed dalits to a radical Ambedkar and brought a section of dalit youth nearer to accepting it certainly marks its positive contribution to the dalit movement.

There were material reasons for the emergence of Dalit Panthers. Children of the Ambedkarian movement had started coming out of universities in large numbers in the later part of 1960s, just to face the blank future staring at them. The much-publicised Constitutional provisions for them turned out to be a mirage. Their political vehicle was getting deeper and deeper into the marsh of Parliamentarism. It ceased to see the real problems of people. The air of militant insurgency that had blown all over the world during those days also provided them the source material to articulate their anger.

Unfortunately, quite like the BPP, they lacked the suitable ideology to channel this anger for achieving their goal. Interestingly, as they reflected the positive aspects of the BPP’s contributions in terms of self-defence, mass organising techniques, propaganda techniques and radical orientation, they did so in the case of BPP’s negative aspects too. Like Black Panthers they also reflected  ‘TV mentality’  (to think of a revolutionary struggle like a quick-paced TV programme), dogmatism, neglect of economic foundation needed for the organisation, lumpen tendencies, rhetoric outstripping capabilities, lack of clarity about the form of struggle and eventually corruptibility of the leadership. The Panthers’ militancy by and large remained confined to their speeches and writings.

One of the reasons for its stagnation was certainly its incapability to escape the petit bourgeois ideological trap built up with the icons of Ambedkar. It would not get over the ideological ambivalence represented by them. Eventually, the petit-bourgeoise  ‘icon’  of Ambedkar prevailed and extinguished the sparklet of new revolutionary challenge. It went the RPI (founded by Ambedkar) way and what remained of it were the numerous fractions.

The Dalit Panther phase represented the clash of two icons: one, that of a radical ‘Ambedkar’, as a committed rationalist, perpetually striving for the deliverance of the most oppressed people in the world. He granted all the freedom to his followers to search out the truth using the rationalist methodology as he did. The other is of the ‘Ambedkar’ who has forbidden the violent methods and advocated the constitutional ways for his followers, who was a staunch anti-Communist, ardent

Buddhist. As it turned out, the radical icon of Ambedkar was projected without adequate conviction. There was no one committed to propagating such an image of Ambedkar, neither communists nor dalits. Eventually it remained as a veritable hodgepodge.

Phenomenon of Kanshiram and Mayawati (Bahujan Samajwadi Party)

In 1971 Kansiram quit his job in DRDO and together with his colleagues established the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Minorities Employees Welfare Association.Through this association, attempts were made to look into the problems and harassment of the above-mentioned employees and bring out an effective solution for the same. Another main objective behind establishing this association was to educate and create awareness about the caste system. This association turned out to be a success with more and more people joining it.

In 1973, Kanshi Ram again with his colleagues established the  BAMCEF: Backward And Minority Communities Employees Federation. The first operating office was opened in Delhi in 1976 with the motto-“Educate Organize and Agitate“.

This served as a base to spread the ideas of Ambedkar and his beliefs. From then on Kanshi Ram continued building his network and making people aware of the realities of the caste system, how it functioned in India and the teachings of Ambedkar.

In 1980 he created a road show named “Ambedkar Mela” which showed the life of Ambedkar and his views through pictures and narrations. In 1981 he founded theDalit Soshit

Samaj Sangharsh Samiti or DS4 as a parallel association to the BAMCEF. It was created to fight against the attacks on the workers who were spreading awareness on the caste system. It was created to show that workers could stand united and that they too can fight. However this was not a registered party but an organization which was political in nature. In 1984, he established a full-fledged political party known as the  Bahujan Samaj Party.  However, it was in 1986 when he declared his transition from a social worker to a politician by stating that he was not going to work for/with any other organization other than the Bahujan Samaj Party. Later he converted to Buddhism.

The movement of Kanshiram markedly reflected a different strategy, which coined the ‘Bahujan’ identity encompassing all the SCs, STs, BCs, OBCs and religious minorities than  ‘dalit’, which practically represented only the scheduled castes. Kanshiram started off with an avowedly apolitical organisation of government employees belonging to Bahujana, identifying them to be the main resource of these communities. It later catalysed the formation of an agitating political group creatively coined as  DS4, which eventually became a full-fledged political party – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Purely, in terms of electoral politics, which has somehow become a major obsession with all the dalit parties, Kanshiram’s strategy has proved quite effective, though in only certain parts of the country. He has given a qualitative impetus to the moribund dalit politics, locating itself into a wider space peopled by all the downtrodden of India. But he identified these people only in terms of their castes and communities. It may be said to his credit that he reflected the culmination of what common place icon of Ambedkar stood for.

Kanshiram shrewdly grasped the political efficacy of this icon that sanctioned the pursuit of power in the name of downtrodden castes. The religious minorities which potentially rears the sense of suffering marginalisation from the majority community could be easily added to it to make a formidable constituency in parliamentary parlance. Every one knew it but none knew how to implement. Kanshiram has seemingly succeeded in this task at least in certain pockets.

The careful analysis will show that the combination of certain historical developments and situational factors has been behind this success. As Kanshiram has amply experienced, it is not replicable elsewhere. It is bound to be short-lived and illusory unless this success is utilised to implement a revolutionary programme to forge a class identity among its constituents. If not, one will have to constantly exert to recreate the compulsions for their togetherness and allegiance. In absence of any class-agenda, which is certainly the case of BSP, these compulsions could only be created through manipulative politics for which political power is an essential resource. BSP’s unprincipled pursuit of power is basically driven by this exigency. It is futile to see in this game a process of empowerment of the subject people as could be seen from the statistical evidence of the cases of atrocities, and of overall situation of the poor people under its rule.

The imperatives of this kind of strategy necessarily catapult the movement into the camp of the ruling classes as has exactly happened with BSP. BSP’s electoral parleys with Congress, BJP, Akali Dal (Mann) that reached the stage of directly sharing State power in UP recently, essentially reflect this process of degeneration and expose its class characteristics today. It seems to have sustaining support from the icon that BSP itself created, where Ambedkar was painted as the intelligent strategist who could turn any situation to his advantage, who used every opportunity to grab political power to achieve his objective.

Kanshiram’s reading of Ambedkar ignores the fact that Ambedkar had to carve out space for his movement in the crevices left by the contradictions between various Indian political parties and groups on one side and the colonial power on the other. For most of his time, he sought maximisation of this space from the contending Muslim League and Congress, and eventually brought dalit issue to the national political agenda.

Kanshiram stuffs his Ambedkar icon entirely with such kind of superfluity that it would look credible to the gullible dalit masses. This icon approves of his sole ideology that political power to his party could solve all dalit problems. He did not care for democracy. To some extent this non-democratic stance spells his compulsions to have unitary command over his party structure as without it, his adversaries would gobble it up. He did not have any utility for any programme or manifesto, his sole obsession is to maximise his power by whatever means. In the rhetoric of empowering Bahujans, he does not even feel it necessary to demonstrate what exactly this empowering means and what benefits it would entail  them.

The  obsession with capturing power robbed him of certain fundamental values that Ambedkar never compromised. The underlying value of the movement of Ambedkar was represented by liberty, equality and fraternity. Kanshiram does not seem to respect any value than the political and money power.

For Ambedkar political power was a means, to Kanshiram it appears to be the end. Notwithstanding these broad differences, he has succeeded in luring the dalit masses in certain pockets of the country by projecting an Ambedkar icon that sanctioned his unscrupulous pursuits of power. The crux of Kanshiram can be traced to his superfluous attempt to replicate Ambedkar’s movement of 1920s. When

Ambedkar realised the potency of political power, he launched his Indian Labour Party that reflected his urge to bring together the working class, transcending the caste lines. It is only when the political polarisation took communal turn that he abandoned his ILP project and launched the Scheduled Caste

Federation. Ambedkar joined hands with a few political parties – one the communists (while joining the strike of mill workers) and the other is thePraja Samajwadi Party of Ashok Mehta in the 1952 elections. Although, he accepted the Congress support and offered to work in their government, he never tied up his political outfit to the Congress. Kanshiram’s 

record so far clearly shows that he is ready to join hands with

any one promising him the share of political power. Ambedkar pointed at the capitalism and Brahminism as the twin enemy for his movement but Kanshiram enthusiastically embraced them.

Apart from these broad political trends, there are many regional outfits like Dalit Mahasabha in Andhra Pradesh, Mass Movement in Maharashtra, Dalit Sena in Bihar and elsewhere, etc., some of which dabble directly into electoral politics and some of them do not. So far, none of them have a radically different icon of Ambedkar from the ones described above. They offer some proprietary ware claiming to be a shade better than that of others.

Did State really helped? 

The post-1947 State, which has never tired of propagandising its concern for dalits and poor, has in fact been singularly instrumental in aggravating the caste problem with its policies. Even the apparently progressive policies in the form of Land Ceiling Act, Green Revolution, Programme of Removal of Poverty, Reservations to Dalits in Services and Mandal Commission etc. have resulted against their professed objectives.

The effect of the Land Ceiling Act, has been in creating a layer of the middle castes farmers which could be consolidated in caste terms to constitute a formidable constituency. In its new incarnation, this group that has traditionally been the immediate upper caste layer to dalits, assumed virtual custody of Brahminism in order to coerce dalit landless labourers to serve their socio-economic interests and suppress their assertive expression in the bud. The  Green Revolution  was the main instrument to introduce capitalisation in agrarian sector. It reinforced the innate hunger of the landlords and big farmers for land as this State sponsored revolution produced huge surplus for them. It resulted in creating geographical imbalance and promoting unequal terms of trade in favour of urban areas. Its resultant impact on dalits has been far more excruciating than that of the Land Ceiling Act.

The much publicised  programme for Removal of Poverty  has aggravated the gap between the heightened hopes and aspirations of dalits on one hand and the feelings of deprivation among the poorer sections of non-dalits in the context of the special programmes especially launched for upliftment of dalits. The tension that ensued culminated in increasingly strengthening the caste – based demands and further aggravating the caste – divide.

The  reservations in services for dalits,  notwithstanding its benefits, have caused incalculable damage in political terms. Reservations created hope, notional stake in the system and thus dampened the alienation; those who availed of its benefit got politically emasculated and in course consciously or unconsciously served as the props of the system. The context of scarcity of jobs provided ample opportunity to reactionary forces to divide the youth along caste lines. Mandal Commission, that enthused many progressive parties and people to upheld its extension of reservation to the backward castes, has greatly contributed to strengthen the caste identities of people. In as much as it empowers the backward castes, actually their richer sections, it is bound to worsen the relative standing of dalits in villages.

Dalits and Contemporary Indian Politics:

While the Indian Constitution has duly made special provisions for the social and economic uplift of the Dalits, comprising the scheduled castes and tribes in order to enable them to achieve upward social mobility, these concessions are limited to only those Dalits who remain Hindu. There is a demand among the Dalits who have converted to other religions that the statutory benefits should be extended to them as well, to overcome and bring closure to historical injustices. Another major politically charged issue with the rise of Hindutva’s (Hindu nationalism) role in Indian politics is that of religious conversion. This political movement alleges that conversions of Dalits are due not to any social or theological motivation but to allurements like education and jobs. Critics argue that the inverse is true due to laws banning conversion, and the limiting of social relief for these backward sections of Indian society being revoked for those who convert. Many

Dalits are also becoming part of Hindutva ideology. Another political issue is over the affirmative-action measures taken by the government towards the upliftment of Dalits through quotas in government jobs and university admissions. The seats in the National and State Parliaments are reserved for Scheduled Caste and Tribe candidates, a measure sought by B. R. Ambedkar and other Dalit activists in order to ensure that Dalits would obtain a proportionate political voice. Anti-Dalit prejudices exist in fringe groups, such as the extremist militia Ranvir Sena, largely run by upper-caste landlords in areas of the Indian state of Bihar. They oppose equal or special treatment of Dalits and have resorted to violent means to suppress the Dalits.

A dalit, Babu Jagjivan Ram became Deputy Prime Minister of India In 1997, K. R. Narayanan was elected as the first Dalit President. K. G. Balakrishnan became first Dalit Chief Justice of India. In 2007, Mayawati, a Dalit, was elected as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. Some say that her 2007 election victory was due to her ability to win 

support from Dalits and the Brahmins. However, Caste loyalties were not necessarily the voters’ principal concern. Instead, inflation and other issues of social and economic development were the top priorities of the electorate regardless of caste.

Dalit who became chief Ministers in India are Damodaram Sanjivayya (Andhra Pradesh) , Mayawati four times chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Jitan Ram Manjhi, chief minister of Bihar.

Some Dalits have been successful in business and politics of modern India. Despite anti-discrimination laws, many Dalits still suffer from social stigma and discrimination. Ethnic tensions and caste-related violence between Dalit and non-Dalits have been witnessed. The cause of such tensions is claimed to be from economically rising Dalits and continued prejudices against Dalits.


1. Dalit – The Black Untouchables of India, by V.T. Rajshekhar. 2003 – 2nd

print, Clarity Press, Inc. ISBN 0-932863-05-1.

2. Untouchable!: Voices of the Dalit Liberation Movement, by Barbara R.

Joshi, Zed Books, 1986. ISBN 0-86232-460-2, ISBN 978-0-86232-460-5.

3. Dalits and the Democratic Revolution – Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit

Movement in Colonial India, by Gail Omvedt. 1994, Sage Publications. ISBN 81-7036-368-3.

4. The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty and the State in Modern

India, by Oliver Mendelsohn, Marika Vicziany, Cambridge University Press,

1998, ISBN 0-521-55671-6, ISBN 978-0-521-55671-2.

5. Dalit Identity and Politics, by Ranabira Samaddara, Ghanshyam Shah,

Sage Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-7619-9508-0, ISBN 978-0-7619-9508-1.

6. Journeys to Freedom: Dalit Narratives, by Fernando Franco, Jyotsna

Macwan, Suguna Ramanathan. Popular Prakashan, 2004.  ISBN 81-85604-

65-7, ISBN 978-81-85604-65-7.

7. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature, by Sharankumar Limbale.

2004, Orient Longman. ISBN 81-250-2656-8.

8. From Untouchable to Dalit  – Essays on the Ambedkar Movement,

by Eleanor Zelliot. 2005, Manohar. ISBN 81-7304-143-1.

9. Dalit Politics and Literature, by Pradeep K. Sharma. Shipra Publications,

2006. ISBN 81-7541-271-2, ISBN 978-81-7541-271-2.

10. Dalit Visions: The Anti-caste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity, by Gail Omvedt. Orient Longman, 2006. ISBN 81-250-2895-

1, ISBN 978-81-250-2895-6.

11. Dalits in Modern India – Vision and Values, by S M Michael. 2007, Sage

Publications. ISBN 978-0-7619-3571-1.

12. Dalit Literature : A Critical Exploration, by Amar Nath Prasad & M.B. Gaijan. 2007.ISBN 81-7625-817-2.

13. Debrahmanising History : Dominance and Resistance in Indian Society,

by Braj Ranjan Mani. 2005.  ISBN 81-7304-640-9. Manohar Publishers and


Hindutva challenge to radical traditions and “little histories” that underlay anti-caste movement in Kerala
Posted on January 27, 2014 by admin
Meera Velayudhan*, a senior researcher, writes that the recent invite to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is a sure way to erode the ‘little histories’ that underlay the roots of equality, both as a concept and as engagement by oppressed castes, in particular, former agrestic slaves and in what may be considered as the beginnings of radicalization in modern Kerala. It is also part of an ongoing attempt to bring all subaltern castes into the fold of Hindutva

According to Brahmanical myths, Kerala, the land, was reclaimed from the sea, after Parashurama, an avatar of Maha Vishnu, threw its battle axe into the sea. Unlike the Ayodhya myth (built on the edifice of a demolished Babri masjid and the spate of communal violence that followed the Rath Yatra), the saffron brigade – the Hindu aikya vedi – had been unable to create a similar context in Kerala. However, political equations are changing. The SNDP-NSS Alliance (known as Hindu Grand Alliance of the once warring Nair Service Society (NSS) of the upper caste Nairs and Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalanayogam (SNDP) of the OBC Ezhavas) marked a step forward for the saffron agenda. A new entrant in the scene, Namo, or Narendra Modi, be it through his visit to Santhigiri, the invite extended to Modi by Kerala Pulayar Mahajana Sabha, point to the challenges of the times and the dangers ahead.

This article is written in the context of the invite sent by the Kerala Pulayar Mahajana Sabha to Narendra Modi, who turned Gujarat into the laboratory in 2002 to test BJP’s Hindutva agenda through unprecedented communal violence witnessed in south asia post independence. That the invite is for addressing a mass rally in Alwaye in February 2014 to commemorate 100 years of the founding of the Pulaya Mahajana Sabha (Cochin) is all the more shocking and a travesty of history – earlier in 1993, the Kerala Pulayar Mahajana Sabha had protested the demotion of the Babri Masjid as an attack on India’s secular fabric and called for protection of religious rights and harmony.

This invite to Narendra Modi is a sure way to erode the ‘little histories’ that underlay the roots of equality, both as a concept and as engagement by oppressed castes, in particular, former agrestic slaves and in what may be considered as the beginnings of radicalization in modern Kerala. It is also part of an ongoing attempt to bring all subaltern castes into the fold of Hindutva.

Drawing from parts of the forthcoming autobiographical writings of the author’s mother, Dakshayani Velayudhan, this article seeks to highlight the background of the formation of the Pulaya Mahajana Sabha by members of her family in 1913 in Bolghatty, Cochin. Also cited are efforts in the early 1900 at building similar organizations in the face of strong, often violent, opposition from dominant castes and communities.

The Pulaya Mahajana Sabha – Cochin (1913)

In her autobiography, Dakshayani Velayudhan (1912-1978) (a parliamentarian belonging to the depressed classes, she belonged to Pulaya community and was the only Dalit woman member of the Constituent Assembly of India) writes:

“My elder two brothers and my father Kunjan’s younger brother, Krishnethi (Krishnadiyasan 1877-1937), Pt Karruppan (Prof Mahrajas College), TK Krishna Menon (from the Thottekal family which produced several Dewans) formed the Pulaya Mahajan Sabha, with Krishnethi as President. The meeting was held with country boats tied together in the sea in Bolghatty – the sea did not have a caste In Kochi, the untouchables were not allowed to hold a meeting “in my land” by the Maharaja. The raft was made by joining together a large number of catamarans with the help and support of the fisherfolk. Later Krishnaadi told the Maharaja that ‘he did not disobey the order of His Highness’ to hold a meeting in his ‘land’. The Pulaya Mahajana Sabha took up social issues. My elder brothers were the first to crop their long hair and wear shirts. Abuses were showered on them and also stones thrown by dominant community Latin Christians and well off Ezhavas. My brothers and Krishnethi, who worked in building the port and harbour and as petty contractors, also composed songs and poems and one song read: ‘If we go by the road, the other community roll their eyes or try to scare us, if we go by boat, they threw stones at us…” Krishnethi and others also held dialogues with various followers of Sree Narayana Guru. Earlier, an agricultural exhibition was held in Ernakulam and variety of grains displayed yet the Pulayas who were the ones who were the producers of grain were not allowed to enter Ernakulam. My brothers and Krishnethi wrote an appeal to the Cochin Maharaja in poetry form and then they were allowed entry. My mother said that she entered Ernakulam for the first time then.”

The history of the Pulaya Mahjana (Cochin) really goes back to Dakshayani’s family, Kallachammuri House also known as Nallachanmuri by branches of the family which from her father’s side had a great uncle who held the titular head ‘Ayekara Ejaman’ (given by family of Cochin Maharaja), of four ‘desams’ of the community and held seven tracts of land and households stretching from Mulavukad to Alwaye and north Parur. They followed matrilineal social customs but the menfolk were construction labour and petty contractors ( building of Wellingdon island), well versed in martial arts ( they conducted kalari schools, performed plays, composed songs, etc.), and there are many instances cited where displays of kalari are shown to be used against caste insults by either the dominant Latin Christians or landed Ezhavas in Mulavukad by Dakshayani’s father, Velutha Kunjan, a name alluding to his well built, assertive and striking personality and as an asan-teacher (had studied upto Class V), he taught Pulaya children at his house. It was indeed a unique Pulaya family history as household members were known to be well versed in Sanskrit.

In fact, Dakshayani’s father Kunjan’s younger brother, Krishnethi (Krishnadiyasan-1877-1937), was the last of the “aikara yejuman’, and with loss of joint family lands and houses through internecine family feud, worked as small contractor and worker (building of Willingdon Island, Cochin port). Krishnethi was not only a vocal critic of Hinduism but also learnt Sanskrit and music (forbidden trends) on his own.

The Pulaya Mahajana Sabha and its activities can be considered as an early form of resistance, moving from resistance in day-to-day life to bringing details of daily life into the public debates. Initially, the sabha focused on social aspects – public space and mobility, restrictions on clothes, jewellery, hair cut, etc. They composed anti-caste songs which they sang when they passed by upper castes. Stones were thrown at them by the dominant castes. Sabha lost some of its significance – both in terms of historical memory of its role, its acceptance by the community – owing to the conversion of Dakshayani’s family to Christianity – her paternal uncle Krishnethi (CK John), one of its key founders/leader, her elder brothers, KK Joseph, KK Francis, her elder sister,KK Mary and later, her mother, Maani, who became Anna. Krishnedi’s (John’s) role as a social reformer was as significant as Ayyankali’s, but lost to history owing to conversion, some historians hold. Only a study or two have been conducted on the trajectories that the Pulaya Mahjana Sabha later on. The Church in Mulavukad, now St John’s Church, was built on land donated by Krisnethi (John), land acquired following the availability of work opportunities with infrastructure development of Cochin. Although the church is now under Church of South India (CSI), it still remains a Pulaya church; the record of the history of ownership too has been changed, according to Krishnethi’s son, late Samuel and other family members, despite their protests. CSI claimed that it was mortgaged land and paid for its recovery when it was under litigation.

The formation of the Pulaya Mahjana Sabha was not an isolated event. The early 1900 period saw the growth of many such organizations in different regions of Kerala. These are among the early struggles for equality and recognition. Ayyankali (1863-1941) led the anti-caste struggles for democratizing public spaces and for the rights of workers, a precursor to the formation of rural labour and working class organization in Kerala. Using a public road on a bullock cart in 1893 in Venganoor, overcoming stiff opposition from upper castes, Ayyankali next started the ‘walk for freedom’ (right to walk on public roads) to Puthen Market and at Chaliyar street facing resistance from an upper caste mob. This event inspired mass mobilization and actions in other regions such as Mannakadu, Kazhakkottam, Kaniyapuram, Parassala, Neyyantinkara, etc. These assertions led to the raising of other rights.

First and unique agrarian strike
Ayyankali next demanded the right of Pulaya children to study in schools – a move towards universalization of education. Ayyankali then started a school in 1904 to teach Pulaya children but this too was destroyed by upper castes. Despite the Travancore state passing an order opening up schools in 1907,violent opposition from upper castes, prevented the same. This led Ayyankali to give call for strike by agricultural workers to ensure education for Pulaya children-unique event in history of agrarian struggles as it was a rural protest for right to education. Ayyankali’s slogan – Educate, Organize – was also the slogan of Babsaheb Ambedkar – Educate, Organize, Struggle – later. Ayyankali warned the upper caste landlords, “If you do not allow our children to study, weeds will grow in your fields.” Other demands were added, work security (wages during off season), end to false police cases and victimization, end whipping of workers, stop practice of denial of serving tea at tea shops, rest time for workers during work hours, wages in cash, freedom of movement”.

From Kaniyapuram, Pallichal, Mudavooppara, Vizinjom, Kandala – all work stopped. Landlords attacked and set on fire the homes of workers, workers responded by setting on fire landlord houses. A prolonged strike had its impact. Ayyankali sought the help of the fishing community which allowed Pulaya men to accompany them on fishing boats and sharing the catch so that workers on strike and their households did not starve. The historical one year old strike forced the upper caste landlords to call for a negotiated settlement which included Pulaya children’s right to study in schools as well as agricultural workers demands such as wage hike.

Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham(SJPS) – uniting all sections

It was in this context that Ayyankali set up in 1907 the Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS) with his co-workers Thomas and Harris Vadhyar, an organization for all sections of Dalits. Among its key resolutions were: six day working day (Sunday rest as demanded by workers), weekly meetings to discuss common problems every Sunday, membership fees of half Chakram (one of the denominations of the old currency of Travancore state) for men and one-fourth Chakram for women, thereby facilitating women’s entry into public, political space. He also started a magazine – “Sadhujana Paripalani” – for educating adults. The struggle for schooling persisted as in the case of Pulaya children admitted (1914) to Pullatu school in Thiruvalla, with upper caste boycotting the school and setting it on fire. However, Ayyankali intervened and forced them to accept the students.

Against symbols of caste slavery of women

The raising of other social rights followed, with Ayyankali called on women in south Travancore to throw away the stone bead necklaces – Kallumala, a symbol of caste slavery – and to wear clothing including upper cloth. This led to the most violent opposition from upper caste landlords who also started whipping workers – men and women who wore clothes and women threw away their bead necklaces and also resisted sexual exploitation by upper caste men/landlords. These assertions by women led to many attacks on them. The newspaper “Mitavadi”, Feb/April,1916, reported:

“…A man asked a Pulaya woman as to where her stone necklaces were. ‘I cut them off at the Sabha’, she answered. He took out a knife and said, ‘Right. Then I am cutting off your ear too’. We are saddened by this news. Though this happened in a state ruled by the local Raja; it is surprising that it happened when we were part of the British Empire…”

“We had reported earlier about a Pulaya woman’s ear being cut off near Kollam for not wearing stone ornaments. This has been repeated from other places also.”

This movement also spread, and in Central Travancore Pulaya youth organized and also took up weapons to defend themselves. The movement spread to many areas, including Cochin. A leader, Gopaldasan, was killed by the upper castes, leading to an explosive situation where, after a memorial meeting on October 24, 1915, men and women, some carrying sickles, attacked the upper castes and set their homes on fire. Ayyankali intervened. He prepared a report on the causes and progress of the struggle and submitted the same to the government.

All Community Meeting For Peace and Justice

A woman circus owner allowed her tent to be used for a meeting (Decmber 19, 1915) addressed by Ayyankali and chaired by Changanassery Parameshwaran Pillai. It was attended by over 4,000 persons of 11 castes and religions, according newspaper reports and Vellikkara Chodi, TV Thevan, Gopaldasan, etc. According to a newspaper report, among those present at the meeting held in Kollam on Sunday the 19 of December 19, 1915 were “Peshkar Rajarama Rao Esq, 1st Class Magistrate Govindappilla, two circle inspectors and a large number of constables. Prominent persons from various faiths, local leaders, advocates, traders, officials etc. came punctually and took their places. The leaders Ayyankali, Chodi etc. sat in front of the Sabha. Pulaya women and children had come dressed neatly dressed for the occasion. They listened to the proceedings in rapt attention.”

Ayyankali addressed the meeting saying:

“In southern part of our state our women have given up the custom of wearing stone ornaments to and have taken to ‘rowka’ (blouse) and other attractive clothes. It is against this change that the riots were engineered by the upper castes. I fervently hope that the savarna will cooperate in our programme to cut the stone jewellery in the presence of all community members gathered here for this Maha Sabha.”

He appealed again:

“As desired by Mr Ayyankali, members of all communities represented here are more than willing to let our sisters cut the strings holding together their stone jewellery.”

When the festival of handclapping lasting a couple of minutes ended, Ayyankali called two young girls to the stage. He said, “All gathered at this Sabha have agreed to let you to cut the stone jewellery adorning your neck. Cut them yourself and throw it away.”

No sooner had he called them, the two girls pulled out sickles stuck into their waist bands at the back and cut the ornaments and threw them on the stage. Thousands of others who had gathered cut the symbols of slavery and made a five foot high pile of stone necklaces, according to a report by Mitawadi.

Land Rights

In his first speech as member of the Praja Sabha held in 1912 at VJT Hall, Ayyankali, said:

“To fulfil the promise made to us about granting patta of plots from public land, we had applied to Neyyattinkara, Vilavamkode, Thiruvananthapuram, Nedumangadu taluk authorities. But nothing happened. The people of these taluks obstructed the process with the active connivance of some lower level workers of the revenue department. And whatever land the Pulayas found out to be public land was allotted to wealthy upper caste families. Not only that, the Pulayas were chased out of their humble homes and ended up without even what they possessed earlier. Except for asking the father like figure of govt for sympathy, we have no other way. Therefore, I pray for allotment of public land, and, as a test case some of the fallow land lying useless for our convenience and welfare.

“Many of our families have been evicted by rich land owners from our homes set up with oral assurance on their land. The forest officials are forcing my people to vacate their homes in the forests in collusion with landlords of the area. At the same time these very officials are helping the landlords to occupy these lands. Such illegalities have been done mainly in Valiyakavu in Chengannoor, Alapramuri in Changanassery taluk and Perumbaathumuri in Thiruvalla taluk. I pray for amelioration of such problems.”

Issues of educational concessions and employment in government departments were also taken up.

Identity and History

The two other radical reformers which formed organizations included Poikayil Yohana, who formed the Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha (PRDS) in 1909, and Pambadi John, who found the Cheramar Mahajana Sabha (TCMS) in 1921. Both engaged with religion to attack caste and caste slavery. For Poikayil Yohana, slave narratives and link with history of slavery informed the constitution of new selfhood and identity of all oppressed castes.

The Challenge

That the ‘commemoration’ of the early forms of radicalization – as exemplified by organizations such as Pulaya Mahjana Sabha and Ayyankali’s Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangam (SJPS) – have been turned into ‘events’, with diverse political claimants to its legacy, from the extreme left, Ayyankali Pada to Congress-I, and now Hindutva forces and its leader such as Narendra Modi. It suggests a serious challenge – the need to look into contemporary Dalit political socialites and their diverse trajectories. These seemingly smaller and complex trajectories need to be recognized as they are bound to intersect in varied ways with the larger and more visible political trends and scenario.

Dalit Movement in India After Death of Ambedkar!

mmediately after Ambedkar’s death, certain important developments took place in the Dalit movement. One was the formation of the Republican Party of India and the other was the formation of the Dalit Panther Movement. Many more Dalit associations/political parties/movements originated.More recently, Dalit Sathya Movement, the Dalit Ranghbhoomi, the All India Backward SC, OBC and Minority Communities Employees Federation, and the Bahujan Samaj Party came up. However, the Republican Party of India, The Dalit Panther’s Party, and the Bahujan Samaj Party have been more successful than the rest.

Republican Party of India:

The Republican Party of India replaced the All India Scheduled Castes Federation in 1957. Its founder was N. Sivaraj, who remained its President till 1964. The period during 1957-1959 is considered the Golden Age for the Republican Party.During this period all- its leaders focused their efforts on acceptance of the genuine demands of the Scheduled Castes, and when not successful they often protested. Its leaders such as B.K. Gaikwad, B.C. Kamble, Dighe, G.K. Mane, Hariharrao Sonule, Datta Katti, etc., were elected to the Parliament in 1957 where they raised such issues.The Republican Party of India worked in many areas such as: 1. To voice their concern against the atrocities committed to Dalits and to make them conscious.2. Revitalization of the Samata Sainik, founded by Dr Ambedkar in 1928, to maintain discipline in the party.3. All India/Women’s Conference was organized in 1957 at Nagpur.4. It contributed enormously to the Dalit Sahitya Sangh, the first conference was held in 1958 under the Chairmanship of B.C. Kamble.5. All India Republic Students Federation was established by the Republican Party of India.6. The Republican Party of India also spread the message of Lord Buddha.In 1954 and 1964, two satyagrahas were held with the demand of the distribution of land to the landless under the leadership of Dadasaheb Gaikwad. In 1964, yet another massive Satyagraha was launched by the party to force the government to distribute wasteland to the poor.In this regard, the party leader, including Gaikwad, Khobragade, and Maura presented a charter of demands to the then Prime Minister which included displaying the portrait of Ambedkar in the Central Hall of Parliament, giving the land to the tiller, distribution of wasteland to the poor and the landless, adequate distribution of grain, and control over rising prices, improvement of the situation of slum dwellers and Dalits, full implementation of the minimum wages of Act 1948, extension of the SC and ST privileges to those who have converted to Buddhism, to stop harassment of Dalits, full justice under the Untouchability Offence Act, and reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in services be completed by 1970.In 1967, the Republican Party of India formed an alliance with the Congress which led to erosion in its base. The alli­ance led to the split in the party with Khobragade and Gaikwad leading the two factions. In 1974, they patched up their differences and Khobragade was unanimously elected as its president. This again split the party into two groups: The Khobragade group and the R.S. Gavai group. In 1975, Gavai was elected as the president of the party. This led to the divi­sion of the party into three factions led by Gavai, Khobragade, and Kamble, respectively.The whole history of splits, reunions and renewed splits in RPI has no ideological basis, but they are due to clash of personalities and personal political ambitions. In fact, the Party failed to recognize the real cause of the problem of the Dalits and the leaders made choices as per their political convenience.The Dalit politicians were as much con­cerned about privileges and power as any other community leaders. They used their party banner to promote self-interests. This and the general discrimination against Scheduled Caste members led to the birth of the Dalit Panthers Movement in Maharashtra.

Dalit Panther Movement:

The Dalit Panther Movement was formed in 1972, when the Dalit youths came forward and took up the task of bringing all the Dalits on to one single platform and mobilizes them for the struggle for their civil rights and justice. It demonstrated that the lower castes were not willing to accept indignities and their worst conditions without protest.To Panthers, Dalit meant members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Neo-Buddhists, the working class, the landless and poor farmer, women, and all those who are being exploited politically, weaker economically, and neglected in the name of religion. The most crucial factor for the rise of the Dalit Panther Movement was the repression and terror under which the oppressed Scheduled Castes continued to live in the rural areas.The action plan for the Dalit Panthers was incorporated into the manifesto which consisted of 18 demands pertaining to the emancipation of Dalits. The manifesto reflected the enthusiasm of the Dalits to mobilize the poor masses in order to fight against the partisan and exploitative social system in the country.The Dalit Panther Movement spread to cities such as Bombay, Poona, Nasik, and Aurangabad where a large number of Dalit population is concentrated. Since its inception, the Panther Party was solely based on the ideology of Dr Ambedkar and was quite radical in nature. However, later in other states at least a faction of the Panthers was found inclined to the leftist, especially to the Marxist ideology. Namdev Dhasal and a few others firmly believed in the Marxist ideology.For him, the Dalit struggle is for a part of the larger design for the worlds oppressed. In this manner, they tried to create a class consciousness among the Dalits. They purposefully opted for confrontation and total revolution. However, they contin­ued to draw inspiration from Dr Ambedkar also and a part of their ideology is drawn from Marxism as well.The other prominent figure of the movement. Raj Dhale, was finding some basic differences with the manifesto drafted by Dhasal. He accused Dhasal of receiving, Communist support. He also criticized the Communists of the country for having failed to bring any fundamental changes in the life of the downtrodden. Raj Dhale expelled Dhasal and some of his supporters for alleged disloyalty to the Panthers, majority of the followers remained with Raj Dhale.After the split in the organization in 1974, some Panthers united and continued the Dalit Panther Movement under the leadership of Prof Arun Kamble, Ramdas Athawale, and Gangadhar Gade. They took the initiative over the problems of reservation and other concessions granted to the Dalits in various parts of the country. In more recent years they revived the party by opening more branches in the northern part of the country.However, the movement is still confined to urban centers with majority of the Dalits con­centrated in rural areas remaining untouched. Of late, the party has extended its focus outside Maharashtra and is trying to build up an all India Dalit Panthers Organization by opening a number of branches in various states.Some of the achievements of the Dalit Panthers are as follows: 1. Dalit Panther Party provided courage to fight against the ghastly incidents perpetrated on the Dalits.2. They shattered the myth that the untouchables are mute and passive.3. They raised their voice against the unjust caste system.4. They acted as a bulwark against the power politics and Republican Party leaders.5. They started a debate on Dr Ambedkar s ideology.6. They compelled the government to fill the backlog.7. They contributed immensely towards Dalit literature.8. They were able to create a counter culture and separate identity.9. They made popular the term “Dalit”, in preference to terms such as “Harijans” and “Untouchables”.10. They captured the imagination of the younger generation, projected a militant image through their tactics of confrontation.

Bahujan Samaj Party:

Bahujan Samaj Party was founded by Kanshi Ram in 1984. In 1984, it was formed to chiefly represent the Dalits, and claims to be inspired by the philosophy of Dr Ambedkar. With the demise of Kanshi Ram in 2006, Mayawati is now the undis­puted leader of the party. Mayawati swept to power in 2007 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh for the fourth time. She served as the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister thrice earlier.The party has its main base in Uttar Pradesh. Since its inception, the growth of the party coincided with the growth of Kanshi Ram as the tallest leader of Dalits in India. He gained all-India significance along with Mayawati and started fighting for the rights of the Dalits.Both Kanshi Ram and Mayawati traveled across the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra, Bihar, and elsewhere. Through their speeches, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati appraised the Dalits of their socioeconomic, political, cultural, and educational rights and the ways and means through which, they could achieve their goals.They even posted some BSP workers in some areas in Delhi the State Capital, to spread the message of the Party and to help the Dalits fighting for their rights. Through Kanshi Rams efforts, Bahujan Samaj Party emerged as the savior and protector of Dalit rights.Kanshi Ram organized numerous meetings of Mahars in Maharashtra and fully appraised them of their socioeconomic status. He always emphasized the role of educa­tion for betterment. He argued for imparting technical and medical education to the young boys and girls of Dalits.He was keen that a substantial majority of them should become engineers and doctors showed a sense of optimism by his assertion that with the kind of opportunities available, anybody can become successful in life. Kanshi Ram had an ideology which is laced with politics, religion, culture, and education meant for the people of his community and for this he argues that once their base is strengthened, their progress would be spontaneous and a continuous phenomenon.He organized the youth wing of the Bahujan Samaj Party and opined that if the cadre was strong, the party would remain strong. Their responsibility included advis­ing the Dalits about injustice done to them by the higher-caste Hindus for generations and under these conditions they were left with no option but to fight back.He stressed education for women. He was against the dowry evil. He warned all the people including Dalits not to take dowry. He was an advocate of prohibition. He highlighted the plight of the weaker sections, particularly the Dalits who had destroyed themselves under the influence of alcohol.He spoke against the migration from rural to urban areas. He described in detail the consequences of such a process. People who migrated found it difficult to find jobs. Even if they found one, they would find it extremely difficult to cope with the pressures associated with the job.

Very often, they would be forced to do menial works. He had a plan in view to devise ways and means which would greatly facilitate the execution of welfare policy which the Bahujan Samaj Party would like to implement.

Founding of the Scheduled Castes Federation

The All-India Scheduled Castes Federation was founded by Dr. Ambedkar in a national convention of the scheduled castes held at Nagpur and led by Rao Bahadur N.Shivraj, a renowned Dalit leader from Madras. An executive body of All India SCF was elected in the convention. Rao Bahadur N. Shivraj was elected as President and P.N.Rajbhoj from Bombay was elected as general secretary. The convention passed the following resolutions; 1) Cripps proposals to secure full Indian cooperation with the British goverment during World War II were condemned as they failed to consider the interests of the dalits. 2) The separate identity of the dalits be recognised. 3) Special provision should be made in the budgets of respective provinces for the higher education of the untouchables. 4) The untouchables should get adequate representation in the central and provincial ministries. 5) Certain seats should be reserved in the government services. 6) The untouchables should get representation in the legislatures and local self-governments in proportion to their population. 7) Their representatives should be elected by separate electorate. 8) There should be provision in the constitution for the separate settlements of the Scheduled castes. 9) They should be given arable uncultivated land for their livelihood. The role played by SCF in politico-legal activities is of great importance: it could enlist the participation of the Scheduled castes in politics, it was spread over almost all parts of the country, and it tried to aggregate the interests of the SC’s and to protect them. In Oct. 1943, the central assembly passed a resolution moved by Pyrelal Kureel Talib, SCF member, for the removal of restrictions on the untouchables in the military forces against holding post of officers. However, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar himself desired to wind up the SCF and establish a new party, the Republican party of India (RPI) which could be able to associate with all the depressed class people and work as a strong opposition party to the ruling Congress and strive for the success of democracy.

Bahishkrit Hitakrini Sabha Founded

JULY 20, 1924: Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha was established by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in Damodar Hall of Mumbai, as the central organization for bringing about a new socio-political awareness among Dalit by removing the difficulties facing Dalits, and placing Dalit grievances before the Indian government. The founding principles of the Sabha were "Educate, Agitate and Organize”.

Cheramar Maha JanSabha Founded

The Cheramar Maha JanSabha was founded in Kerala by Pampady John Joseph. He was of the view that the caste name ‘Pulaya’ was disgraceful as it denoted pollution, therefore, he named it Cheramar which means ‘son of the soil’ of Kerala. The Cheramar Maha JanSabha attracted the converts and non-converts towards it. The Jansabha was founded to protest against the traditional attitude and customs of the caste Hindus and caste Hindu converts. In Cheramar Mahajan Sabha, caste Christians as well as untouchable Hindus were allowed to be the members. It gave a new awakening to the untouchables in Kerala.

The Adi Movements

1920's-1930's: Many Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi activists of the 1920s, organizing as non-Brahmans and Dalits, were drawn to an anti-caste, anti-Brahman, even anti-Hindu ideology akin to the philosophy that Phule had formulated. Few outside of Maharashtra had heard of Phule, yet these movements were so pervasive that it is clear these themes struck a deep mass resonance everywhere. During this time, the Non-Brahman movements in Maharastra and Tamil Nadu, as well as the Dalit movements arising in places as distant as Punjab and Karnataka, all began to argue in terms of the Aryan conquest and Brahman exploitation through religion. Even the names of most of the Dalit movements - Adi-Dharm in Punjab, Adi-Hindu in U.P. and Hyderabad, Adi-Dravida, Adi-Andhra and Adi-Karnataka in South India - indicated a common claim to being original inhabitants.

Vaikom Satyagraha

Vaikom Satyagraha (1924–25) was a satyagraha (movement) in Travancore, India (now part of Kerala) against untouchability in Hindu society. The movement was centered at the Shiva temple at Vaikom, near Kottayam.The Satyagraha aimed at securing freedom of movement for all sections of society through the public roads leading to the Sri Mahadevar Temple at Vaikom. The 85th anniversary of the Satyagraha was celebrated on the 26th of November 2010. The temple entry movement was started in Travancore by Mr.T.K. Madhavan who pressed the matter before the 15th session of the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly on 1919 and his efforts culminated in the legal success of Vaikom Satyagraha which opened the Vaikom temple roads to untouchables in 1925.' Five years after the Vaikom Satyagraha there was no organised attempt for the removal of temple entry problem. It was in 1931 that the issue of temple entry to unapproachable castes was revived in Kerala by Sri.K. Kelappan under the auspices of Kerala Congress Committee.
http://www.modernrationalist.com/2010/december/page08.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaikom_Satyagraha


Worli riots

From Wikipedia

The Worli riots refers to the violence that occurred in the chawl, or tenement, in the Worli neighborhood of Mumbai between January and April 1974. The riots began on 5 January 1974 after the police attempted to disperse a rally of the Dalit Panthers that had turned violent. Regular clashes between the Dalit Panthers, the Shiv Sena, and the police continued for several months. Six people were killed in the riots, and approximately 113 injured; widespread property damage also occurred in the tenements. The riots have been described as anti-Dalit violence by scholars.

A larger number of unemployed youth lived in the Worli neighborhood of Mumbai in the 1970s. These youth frequently organized themselves into gangs which included individuals from multiple caste backgrounds, brought together by their lower-class status and their shared life in the Worli chawls, or tenements. These youth were often associated with the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist political party, which gave them "ideological and organisational focus", and which used them to mobilise support during elections. However, the formation of the Dalit Panthers, which drew inspiration from the Black Panthers in the United States and advocated for Dalit rights, led to Dalit youth moving towards the new organisation, leading to conflict between the two groups. Support for the Sena declined. The Sena accused the Dalit Panthers of damaging Maharashtrian unity by raising issues of caste. The Panthers stated that the Sena only represented upper-caste Hindus, and did not offer Dalits a way to overcome systemic inequality.

The Worli riots occurred during a time of dissatisfaction with the Indian National Congress government in Maharastra. This dissatisfaction resulted in political tension; for example, on 2 January 1974, various communist organisations had called for a "Maharashtra Bandh Day" ("Shut Down Maharashtra Day"); the call had the support of several opposition parties, as well as the Dalit Panthers. A by-election to the Maharashtra legislative assembly had been scheduled for January 1974. The candidate of the Congress had the support of most of the Republican Party of India, which had historically commanded substantial support among Dalits. The Dalit Panthers opposed any agreement with the Congress, and asked Dalit voters to boycott the bypoll.


The riots began on 5 January 1974. The events which triggered the riots are in dispute. The violence began after speakers at a rally of the Dalit Panthers were stoned: they were accused of having made obscene statements about Hindu deities. Bhagwat Jadhav, a member of the Dalit Panthers, was killed by a grinding stone thrown at the rally. Reacting to the violence, the police attempted to disperse the crowd using tear gas and baton charges. The crowd was pushed into the close-packed slum area of the neighborhood; 70% of the inhabitants of this area were non-Dalits. Members of the Shiv Sena followed the gathering, and began to attack them; the Dalits retaliated. Dalits and non-Dalit Hindus were reported to have attacked each other with stones and glass bottles.

The violence continued the next morning; intermittent violence would continue in the Worli tenements until April 1974, and also spread to other parts of the city of Mumbai; an eyewitness stated that gangs of people threw stones at each other, often from terraces of the tenements. Electric bulbs, acid, and kerosene bombs were also thrown. Being in a numerical minority in these neighborhoods, Dalits bore the brunt of this violence. The local police supported the attacks on the Dalits; one of the Dalit men killed in the violence was the victim of police firing. A number of the eye-witnesses stated that the police sided with the Shiv Sena, and that members of the Police who were not on duty were part of the Hindu mob. Six people were killed in the violence, and 113 were estimated to have been injured. The police opened fire on violence mobs on 19 occasions. 70 complexes within the Worli tenement were damaged, affecting over half of its residents.

Scholarly analysis of the 1974 riots has generally described the incidents as anti-Dalit violence. Historian Eleanor Zelliot described the riots as an attack on Dalit Buddhists by their Hindu neighbors. Scholar Jayashree Gokhale‐Turner stated that the nature of the police's response to the violence was seen as a warning to the Dalit Panthers to moderate their methods. Scholar Anupama Rao stated that the Worli were part of a systematic attempt by non-Dalit Hindus to undermine the influence of "neo-Buddhists", or Dalits who had followed B. R. Ambedkar in converting to Buddhism. Rao referred to the riots as "an important landmark in Dalit politics".

Inquiry and aftermath

The Maharashtra Government ordered a judicial inquiry into the matter. The inquiry was led by S. B. Bhasme, a high court judge, and lasted until April 1974. The commission's report described the riots as a conflict between "caste Hindus and neo-Buddhists" and attributed much of the severity of the conflict to the physical proximity of Hindu and Buddhist chawls which facilitated stone throwing. Much evidence was also presented to the commission regarding partisan police behavior against Dalits, with some witnesses describing a "police riot". The report did not mention the role of the Shiv Sena as an organisation, but stated that a large number of the perpetrators of the violence were supports of the Sena.

The violence significantly lowered voter turnout among Dalit voters, and the Congress candidate lost the election to Roza Deshpande, a candidate of the Communist Party of India. The repression faced by the Dalit Panthers after the riots led to the organisation moderating its methods. The riots brought the neighborhood of Worli into national prominence. The performance of the police was criticized in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly by a member of the legislature. The riots have been described as triggering the end of a period of unity among the Dalit Panthers; the organisation would break into two factions later in 1974. Members of the Congress party were rumoured to have attended the rally, hoping to come to an agreement with the Panthers about the election. Though the rumours were never substantiated, they were the subject of a disagreement between factions of the Panthers, which played a role in the split that followed. The riots were referred to several times in Dalit poetry from the period. In 2010, Dalit activist Namdeo Dhasal described the Worli riots as "showcasing the worst of [Indian] democracy.

Namantar Andolan
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Namantar Andolan

Gate of the renamed university and statue of Dr. Ambedkar in distance
Date 27 July 1978 - 14 January 1994
Location Marathwada, Maharashtra, India
Goals Renaming of Marathwada University
Methods Protest march, street protest, riot, strike

Resulted in Renamed Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University

Namantar Andolan (English: Name Change Movement) was a Dalit movement to change the name of Marathwada University in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar University. It achieved a measure of success in 1994 when the compromise name of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University was accepted. The movement was notable for the violence against Dalits.


Namantar means name change and andolan means social movement. The Namantar Andolan was a 16-year-long Dalit campaign to rename Marathwada University in recognition of B. R. Ambedkar, the jurist, politician and social reformer who had proposed that untouchability should be made illegal.

Non-Dalit student groups initially supported the demand to have the university renamed but did so less for reasons of dogma than for the pragmatic desire to bring the Dalit, mostly Mahar, students into the general fold. Dalit students traditionally showed no interest in supporting such causes as lower fees and cheaper textbooks, but they constituted around 26 percent of the student population and anticipated quid pro quo. A march involving Dalit and non-Dalit students was organised with the intent of petitioning the council of the university for the change. The procession met with another, headed by Gangadhar Gade, a Dalit Panther leader, who launched a tirade of abuse at the non-Dalit contingent as he asserted the right of the Dalits to take all the credit for the change in name. This alienated the non-Dalit students and, according to Dipankar Gupta, "the division was caused not so much by caste Hindu prejudices and reticence to support the renaming of the University, but rather by the splittist and sectarian position taken by Gadhe", who might also be concerned that any alliance between Dalits and non-Dalits could affect the potency of the Panthers. Among left-wing organisations, only the Students' Federation of India and Yukrant continued to support the campaign.

In 1977, the chief minister of Maharashtra, Vasantdada Patil, promised that the renaming would occur, and in July 1978, the Maharashtra Legislature approved it. Uttara Shastree notes that the campaign at this time reflected the desire of neo-Buddhists for an improved image and position in society, as a significant part of which they called on the symbolic ideas of Ambedkar that had preceded his rise to prominence. The University Executive Body passed a resolution to rename the university and this series of decisions was the catalyst for rioting, which began on 27 July 1978 and lasted several weeks.

Commentators such as Gail Omvedt believe that the violence was a caste war based on hatred whilst others, such as Gupta, believe that the causes were more varied. Both Omvedt and Gupta noted that the violence was aimed at the Mahars and did not extend to other Dalit groups, while Gupta also notes that it was concentrated in the three districts of Marathwada — Aurangabad, Nanded and Parbhani — where Dalit registrations in schools and colleges were particularly high, and economic competition was most fierce. In particular, the centres of the unrest were urban areas, where the impact of Mahar aspirations would most deeply affect the employment, social, and economic roles which Hindu castes considered to be their preserve. Troubles were largely absent from the other two districts of Beed and Osmanabad, and the spill of problems into rural areas generally was patchy. These issues of geographic and demographic targeting, according to Gupta, indicate that the real causes of the violence were more subtle than war between caste Hindu and Dalit. There were also instances of violent acts taking place under the pretext of the riots elsewhere but in fact to settle very local and personal scores unrelated to the broader causes. In contradiction to these views, Y. C. Damle maintains that the violence "specially affected the Scheduled Caste people in the villages although the agitation for renaming the Marathwada University after Dr. Ambedkar was spearheaded by Dalit Panthers and such leaders mainly in urban centres. In giving a call for agitation, hardly any effort was made to protect the villages or villagers."


Riots affected 1,200 villages in Marathwada, impacting on 25,000 Marathi Buddhists, Dalits and causing thousands of them to seek safety in jungles. The terrorised Dalits did not return to their villages despite of starvation. This violence was allegedly organised by members of the Maratha community and took many forms, including killings, molestation and rape of Dalit women, burning of houses and huts, pillaging of Dalit colonies, forcing Dalits out of villages, polluting drinking water wells, destruction of cattle and refusal to employ. This continued for 67 days. According to the Yukrant leader, attacks on Dalit were collective and pre-planned. In many villages, Dalit colonies were burned. The burning houses in Marathwada region affected 900 Dalit households. Upper caste rioters demolished essential household items that the Dalit possessed. They even burned the fodder stocks owned by Dalits. The bridges and culverts were intentionally broken or damaged to paralyse the military and police aid in villages during the time of the attacks. Upper caste mobs attacked government property including government hospitals, railway station, gram panchayat offices, state transport buses, District Council-operated school buildings, the telephone system and the government godowns, the communal property of ₹ 300 million was damaged. The Marathwada region was under siege of violence for over two years. The Dalits were wrecked economically and psychologically. Many Dalit protesters were physically injured and nineteen died including five protesters who lost their lives during the police repression

Much of the violence occurred in Nanded district. Examples include:

Sonkhed village: The mob burned a Dalit residential area. Two women were raped and three children were killed.
Sugaon village: Janardhan Mavde was killed.
Bolsa and Izzatgaon villages: women were raped and tortured (one woman had her breast cut off).
The elder son of the martyr Pochiram Kamble, Chandar Kamble, lost his life during the Andolan.
Koklegaon: A Dalit teacher, local social activist, was tortured with his wife. Dalit habitations were set on fire.
Violence occurred in Parbhani district. Examples include:
Parbhani town: Hindu students and youths destroyed the statue of Ambedkar at Bhim Nagar.
Parbhani City: On 17 July 1978, agitators stopped buses and trains and even cut the telephone lines. The police did not intervene, and after 30 July Dalit habitations were targeted.
Adgaon Village: Dalits were threatened; cattle shed and agricultural equipments were torched.
Samiti observed similar violent incidents (like Nanded district) in Koregaon, Kaulgaon, Nandgaon, Sodgaon, Halta, Cohgaon, Nandapur, and many other villages of Parbhani district.
Examples of violence in Aurangabad district included:
Aurangabad City: Non-Dalits destroyed public property by burning buses, blowing up bridges to paralyze the social life.
Aurangabad City: Many professors opposed renaming the university. On the other hand prof. Desarda, a Marxist teacher, was beaten by Maratha students for supporting the Namantar.
Akola Village: Mahajanrao Patil, a Lingayat, an upper caste Hindu, helped Dalits so he was beaten badly. Police did not react after his complaint. Kashinath Borde, neo-Buddhist police Patil, a flour mill owner, who officially reported complaints of harassment against Hindus was targeted. His bullock cart, household goods and house were burned.
Examples of violence in Beed district included:
Ambejogai: : Followers of Sharad Pawar got assaulted.
Examples of violence in Osmanabad district included:
Tuljapur: Dalit women were specifically attacked. Upper caste women helped in the torching of Dalit houses.
Dalits were terrorised by damaging the road bridges, telephone lines and the roads connecting between Kalam and Yermala.
Dalits in Tulzapur, Savargaon, Bavi, Pthrud, and Wagholi attacked.
A group of almost 900 violent upper caste youths attacked on Dalits.
Example of violence in Hingoli district included:
Basmath: After the attacks, the tahsildar did not provided meals for the victims. Instead, he advised them to beg for it.
Examples of violence in Nashik district included:
Nashik city: The attempts were made to garland the statue of Shivaji with footwear, to criticize Neo-Buddhists and to activate riots.
Vihit village: The statue of Ambedkar was damaged.
Examples of violence in Nagpur included:
The police shot Avinash Dongre, a child, in his head when he was chanting the slogan Change the name at Indora Bridge 10.
Along with Dongre, Dilip Ramteke, Abdul Sattar, Roshan Borkar and Ratan Mendhe sacrificed their lives in Namantar struggle at Nagpur.
In Jalgot Village, Fauzdar Bhurevar was beaten and then burned alive by a mob at a police outpost. Violence was reported in Pune. Demonstrators in Mumbai teargassed. Statues of Ambedkar and Buddha through the region were also damaged or destroyed.

The Dalit liberation Movement in Colonial Period

Gail Omvedt & Bharat Patankar

[First published in February 1979. This is the first part of a pathbreaking article on the Dalit movement in the mainstream media. It was pathbreaking because mainstream discourse had until then consistently denied or tried to studiously ignore the existence of the Dalit movement and its vital role in Indian politics before independence and later- Round Table India]

This paper attempts to survey the history of dalit struggles in relation to the national movement and the communist movement, and to bring to the fore the important role the dalit movement has played in the democratic movement of the country and is going to play in the new democratic struggles in the future.

Communists have to think seriously about the theoretical basis for an immediate practical solution to the problem of caste oppression. This issue is emerging on a national scale today and is taking new forms, where the masses of caste Hindu poor peasants and even agricultural labourers are participating in attacks on dalits under the leadership of rich farmers.

The problem is one of posing a real programme for agrarian revolution; for, what the rich fanners are proposing today (and what constitutes an important basis of their appeal to poor and middle peasants) is their own solution to the agrarian problem and unemployment — a capitalist solution of giving land to the (landed) tiller and employing the rest as agricultural labourers and in small industries.

A concrete alternative has, therefore, to be put forward — a programme which does more than simply ameliorate the condition of dalits as proletarianised agricultural labourers or give them 'waste' surplus land which keeps in view the specific nature of caste relations in the rural area and the need for building a revolutionary unity between dalits and caste Hindu toilers, between agricultural labourers and poor and middle peasants.

Dalits in Indian Caste Feudalism

A central feature of the relations of production in the Indian feudal system was that they did not simply bind peasants and other producers to land controlled by feudal lords and to the service of feudal lords. Rather, they bound all toilers to specifically defined occupations and duties according to the kinship group of their birth.

Thus, while in feudal societies in general peasants and artisans were such from birth and were considered by blood and birth to be capable only of performing manual work, in Indian feudalism a person born in (for example) a sutar family was held to the performance of specifically sutar work and was bound to marry only into another sutar family.

As a result, two hierarchies developed in the traditional feudal system. One was a hierarchy of groups defined in terms of their position in relation to the land — ranging from landlords to nominally independent peasants to tenant cultivators in varying stages of semi-serfdom to field servants in varying positions of semi-slavery. The other was a hierarchy of artisans and service workers — ranging from certain priests etc at the top and down the scale through goldsmiths, barbers, etc, down to weavers, washer men, leather workers and others at the bottom, and related to the controllers of the land through the jajmani or balutadari systems which defined their duties.

Overlaying this, was the ideology of caste based on notions of purity and pollution, hereditary transmission of qualities, and ultimately sanctioned by religious notions of service to and exchange with the gods. In terms of this ideology, the bottom level of artisan and service workers were seen as untouchable due to the polluting nature of their particular work, such as handling leather, removing dead cattle from village grounds, roles in death and funeral ceremonies, etc.

Thus the kinship groups which performed these tasks were defined as untouchable or impure castes and were generally forced to live in hutment settlements that were close to but officially outside the 'village' proper as seen by its other inhabitants. While all castes, except Brahmins, were polluting to those above them, the untouchable castes, in performing the essential tasks of removing the most polluting elements of the entire society, represented a kind of absolute impurity or pollution that was the polar opposite of the Brahmin's absolute purity.

This however, is not sufficient to define the structural position of dalits (let alone explain it); and the problem with so many usual analyses of caste is that in limiting their approach to the issues of service work and caste ideology they not only fall into an essential idealism but fail to see the specific position of the various dalit castes. To do this we have to further examine the relations of production on the land.

Generally speaking, traditional Indian villages varied between two basic types. [3] In the peasant cultivator or ryotwari village, usually found in less fertile and hillier areas, the majority of the population were toiling peasants, usually of one caste, who handed over a share of the produce to representatives of the feudal State — deshmukhs, desais, desh-pandes, jagirdars, taluqdars, etc.

The State 'administration' was represented within these villages by officials, such as the headman (usually from the main peasant caste) and the accountant (a Brahmin) who had specific rights along with the right to hold rent-free land (watans or inams). This often allowed the officials to share in the feudal exploitation of the village. In addition, growing economic prospects in ryotwari areas made it possible for landlord estate to penetrate the villages further, as big families bought up watan rights as well as land. [4]

In the more fertile plains and river valley areas, landlord or zamindari villages were generally found. Such villages were controlled by a class of locally-based non-cultivating landlords, often derived from original conquerors of an area or from an earlier family group who had been given the village as a grant. These could be Brahmin or Rajput or high-caste non-Brahmins and they subordinated the existing peasants as tenant cultivators. Such a class of local lords generally acted as a 'brotherhood', controlling the village and the labour of tenants and agricultural workers collectively, and the village officials of the ryotwari village did not have much importance. [5]

However, in both cases, besides the peasant cultivators, tenants, landlords, and feudal lords, a class of untouchable field servants also developed from one of the untouchable service castes. This caste may have had its traditional artisan duty, such as shoe-making or weaving or carrying away dead cattle. These varied, but at the same time its balute or jajmani responsibilities almost always included performing general menial labour for the village headman and higher State officials (that is, they were the main group bound to feudal labour, or veth-begar as it was known in India).

Along with this, they performed field labour for the peasant cultivators and landlords and were often bound in a semi-slave status to particular families of cultivators or to the landlord brotherhood as a whole. The field servants were always drawn from one particular untouchable caste which was then the largest one in a particular region; such castes included the Mahars in Maharashtra, Malas and Madigas in Andhra, Holeyas in Karnataka, Pallars and Paraiyans in Tamil Nadu, Chamars in western north India, and so forth.

Thus, while Chambhars in Maharashtra and elsewhere in south India were only leather-workers, Chamars in north India were also and more importantly field servants — their structural position was similar to that of Mahars in Maharashtra, not to the Maharashtrian Chambhars.

These field servant castes were not considered by the general feudal ideology to have any rights at all to the land. Yet their own traditions often described them as ancient 'sons of the soil' subjugated by invaders, and very frequently their caste duties included a power of decision-making on boundary disputes that implied some sort of primordial connection with the land.

It was the castes of untouchable field servants who were and continue to be the most rebellious of all the untouchable castes. They have provided the basis for most of the militant dalit movements discussed here. In almost all village studies of the contemporary period, there is a report of some attempt by the local untouchable field servants to resist their oppression and reject their degraded position — though such attempts were often failures. In contrast, the other untouchable artisan castes were more traditional, more accepting of the hierarchical order and very often used by the village exploiting classes against the rebellious field servants. The reason is not simply the numerical significance of the untouchable field servants; it is also that their work on the land - even in a position that was often one of semi-slave bound labour- gave them a crucial role in agricultural production that put them in a position which gave them a consciousness to mount at least some rebellion. In contrast, the untouchable, merely artisan castes (rope makers, leather workers, weavers, washermen, sweepers) performed services that could be more easily dispensed with if the peasants and landlords so desired.

In other words, it is the traditional relationship to the land in the feudal system that explains such things as the long-standing differences between Mahars and Matangs or Chambhars in Maharashtra; it also explains why Buddhism and the Republican Party have found a base among Chamars in north India, but not among Chambhars in Maharashtra, why some groups and not others start calling themselves 'Adi-Dravida', etc. An understanding of 'untouchability' only in terms of servitude to the land without looking at caste, neglects the specificity of the Indian situation; on the other hand, an understanding of 'untouchability' that only looks at caste ideology and purity-pollution also fails to analyse the specific features of different groups and, in particular, the basis for the revolt of the exploited which has played the major role in transforming the system.

Finally, a crucial characteristic of Indian caste feudalism was the degree to which it institutionalized hierarchy and inequality among the exploited sections.

Within the system, broadly, the exploiting classes consisted of the feudal lords (representatives of the State and whatever local officials claimed the State's share of the produce as well as rising feudal families who took advantage of watans etc to build private estates), village landlords where they existed, merchants, and priests. In varna terms, these were roughly the Brahmins, Kshatriyas (or Sat-Shudras in the south where no true Kshatriyas were thought to exist) and Vaisyas.

Utilizing the varna system, however, is a complicated matter since feudal lords and village landlords sometimes had a caste-kin relation with other groups of village cultivators. However, if people from 'low' — ie, peasant background rose to feudal status they generally claimed a Kshatriya status and sought to break off relations with their former, lower, kin.

The exploited classes included the independent or tenant peasant cultivators, the untouchable field servants, and the artisans and other service workers. Among these the peasant cultivators and most of the artisans were defined as Shudras in terms of the varna system, while the field servants and the lowest, or polluting artisan-service workers defined as impure or untouchable. It is the latter — untouchable service castes and untouchable field servants— that we define as dalits in this article. It should be noted that dalits, then, are not exactly equivalent to the category of 'Scheduled Caste' as defined by the government today. For one thing, Neo-Buddhists are still not counted as Scheduled Castes (whereas they are clearly dalits): on the other hand, it seems that in some areas the Scheduled Castes category includes lower level, semi-tribal groups (e.g. the Rajbanshis of Bengal) who were not dalits as defined here.

It also has to be stressed that, while this traditional system of caste feudalism has left its stamp on the emerging rural class system of today, it is by no means equivalent to it. For instance, modern exploiting classes include rich peasants or kulak farmers who are often drawn from a stratum or section of the middle peasant (Shudra) castes who were among the traditionally exploited classes.

Similarly, the term 'untouchable field servants' has been deliberately used because they were not at all the same as the agricultural labourers of today. Modern 'agricultural labourers' include most of the dalits but also include proletarianised members of other untouchable castes (and on this basis radicalism among these castes may proceed fast in the contemporary period) and of some of the peasant cultivators. The dalits in this class are, in most cases, no longer the tradition bound field servants and contemporary contract labour or year-labour (sahlar) arrangements are not equivalent to the traditional bondage.

Colonial Rule and the Maintenance of Feudalism

The important question that emerges then is, what was the impact of British colonial rule on this system? Here it seems clear that, at least until the 1920s, when the struggle of the exploited classes began to make some impact, the main effect of the British Raj was to strengthen Indian caste feudalism.

First, the political alliance that British imperialism made with the rural landlords and feudal classes meant by and large a strengthening of their position. Even when new men and new groups gained control of the land (through buying up land or purchasing zamindari) as a result of commercialization, they maintained the traditional system of subordinating the exploited classes within the village.

Participation in the modern market economy was limited to rural landlords and merchants: tenants from middle peasant castes simply turned over a share of their produce while the dalit field labourers continued to toil as before. Frequently, their traditional servitude became mediated through a relationship of debt-bondage, but the debt did not operate through any modern 'contract' system and particular families of dalits were, as before, considered the traditional servants of particular families of landlords and peasant cultivators.

(To take one example, in Thanjavur, in spite of a century and a half of involvement in a commercial economy, it was only after Independence and the struggles of unionized dalit labourers that the traditional system of pannaiyal bondage came to an end and was replaced by wage-labour forms of exploitation).

Generally, the jajmani-balutedari systems continued to operate without much change up until Independence. British law helped to reinforce this system. For, though it formally discarded caste as a criterion for judgment in general criminal, civil, and commercial law, and formally gave the lowest castes equal access to the law, the policy of non-interference in 'social and religious customs' of the people — a policy stressed in the first statement of the Queen after India formally came under British rule in 1858—made this relatively meaningless.

Religious and ritual restrictions (e.g., the exclusion of lower castes from temples) were enforced by the courts, defilement of religious restrictions was treated as a criminal offence and so punished, and courts refused to take action against upper castes who acted on their own to 'discipline' - i.e., terrorize and punish - low castes who tried to rebel.

Thus, while formally dalits were supposed to have equal access to such public facilities as schools, wells, and roads, they almost always had no economic ability to take their case to court; if they did so, the court was generally not likely to direct effective police action to help them even if it decided in their favour; and if they rebelled on their own and the upper castes exerted social and economic boycott against them, the courts took no action to protect them.

Exclusion of low castes from temples and the rights of conservative caste elders to discipline rebellious upper-caste 'reformers' were generally upheld by the courts on the grounds that these were 'private' religious matters. Thus the position of non-interference taken by the British officials and the law amounted in practice to upholding caste hierarchy.

Another major example of British working through the criterion of caste was that, when laws were passed in the Punjab to prevent alienation of land to 'non-agriculturalists', this category included not only merchants but also the dalit field labourers! Occasional judgments in support of untouchables were eclipsed by this general tendency, and it is clearly erroneous to see colonialism as imposing a "bourgeois legal system' on India in terms of abstract enforcement of property rights in land.

What of the economic effects of colonial rule? It is often thought that colonialism had a 'dissolving' effect on the traditional village feudal order, that by opening up new avenues of employment and education to people of all castes it provided an opportunity for advance and for breaking traditional restrictions. In reality, the situation was much more complex, and the general effect was to maintain the feudal hierarchy.

It is well known by now that the new professions and occupations dependent on modern Western education were filled overwhelmingly by members of the - upper castes - Brahmins in particular but also (depending on the area) by Kayasthas, Parsis, and other groups. It is not so well known — because historians and social scientists have relatively neglected to study the working class — that the same systematic discrimination was true of new industrial jobs.

Recruitment to the new factories, plantations, and mines, did not take place as a result of a mass of 'semi-proletarianised' displaced and mobile village peasantry flooding into the cities and being randomly selected for employment. Rather, it was most often structured, through a system of labour contractors (jobbers, sardars, mistris, kanganis). These frequently controlled a gang of workers through debt bondage and recruited them in ways which were geared to the village feudal economy (i.e. they both depended on and reinforced village hierarchies).

Even where these did not exist, it was often the nature of caste feudalism that determined which groups could have access to certain jobs or which would be willing to take the most arduous employment. As a result, there was stratification among the working class along caste lines. The most exploited and lowest paid plantation labour was provided overwhelmingly by Adivasis (from Chhota Nagpur to the Assam tea plantations) and dalits (from the Tamil Nadu Kaveri delta to the tea, coffee, and rubber plantations of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and other parts of south India).

Dalits, particularly the field servant castes, such as the Mahars of Maharashtra, also provided labour for such dangerous and low-paid jobs as military service (where this was open to them), the mines, and unskilled labour (gang men) on the railways. In contrast, the more skilled positions in the new jute and textile factories were filled by middle-caste peasants and tenants (Marathas and Kunbis in the textile mills of Bombay, north Bihar peasants in Calcutta jute mills) as were more skilled positions and more organised positions (even coolies) on the railroads and elsewhere.

Thus from the very beginning, not only was the 'educated elite' composed of higher castes, but the emerging Indian working class was divided along caste lines. The old feudal order left its stamp on the emerging capitalist relations of production. In industry as well as agriculture, dalits came to occupy the lowest, most degraded and most low-paid positions in the working class. The fact that at least some jobs were available outside the village (particularly those on railways, military, etc) gave them a position from which to organize and fight, but the division of the working class posed tremendous problems about the form in which this fight would be carried on.

Finally, in the realm of ideology, on the one hand British rule confronted Indians with new ideas of science, equality, and freedom, while on the other it presented them with the sophisticated forms of modern racism which proliferated in Europe with the need to justify colonial rule over third world peoples.

In the 'Aryan theory of race', the upper castes (Brahmins, Ksatriyas and Vaishyas) were thought to be descendents of early Aryan invaders while dalits and adivasis were described as descendents of conquered non-Aryan peoples (Dravidians, Mongoloid, etc) and the middle-caste Shudras were considered to be of mixed race in the north and of Dravidian origin in the south.

With this went the idea of the cultural superiority of the Aryans and their dominant, if not exclusive, role in defining 'Indian culture'. This theory, originated by Europeans and forming the basis of the way British writers of censuses, gazetteers, etc, understood caste, was picked up by the Indian educated elite who used it on the one hand to justify their own claim to equality with the British (as equally 'Aryan') and on the other to justify their class rights to exploit the 'inferior' lower castes. Thus, traditional, religious-based, notions of the hereditary distinctions between castes were strengthened, transformed, and were given the backing of 'science' in this modern form of racism.

It is thus not really surprising that it was Ambedkar, of all the delegates to the first Round Table Conference who most fiercely condemned the British government: "Our wrongs have remained as open sores and they have not been righted, although 150 years of British rule have rolled away. Of what good is such a government to anybody? It was a government which did realize that the capitalists were denying the workers a living wage and decent conditions of work and which did realize that the landlords were squeezing the masses dry, and yet it did not remove social evils that blighted the lives of the down-trodden classes in several years".

And as he told a dalit conference prior to this, "It is only in a Swaraj constitution that you stand any chance of getting political power in your hands without which you cannot bring salvation to our people". Yet, for dalits more than for any other section of the Indian population, the issue of how the national movement was to be united with the anti-feudal movement and how thoroughly the anti-feudal movement itself would be carried through, was of life and death importance.

Anti-Feudal Tasks of the Indian Revolution

The specific characteristics of Indian caste feudalism and the way it was transformed and yet essentially maintained by British colonial rule defined the specific anti-feudal tasks of the Indian revolution. We will outline these here as the basis for evaluation and analysis of the movements that took place in twentieth century India.

(1) The most basic anti-feudal task, the land question, took on extremely complex features as a result of the Indian caste feudalism. Because of the way in which hierarchical relations were maintained within the village and among the exploited classes themselves, and because of the way in which productive work for the land was institutionalized through the jajmani/balutedari system, it was insufficient to look at the land question simply in terms of abolition of landlordism (zamindar, taluq-dari, khote, inamdari, or whatever). Similarly, the slogan of 'land to the tiller' was abstract and insufficient in the Indian context — and even erroneous, if it was taken to imply that revolutionary land reform could be achieved through giving a cultivating tenant the right to the land. For the fact was that much of the land had two tillers — the cultivating middle-caste peasant, whether tenant or ryot, and the dalit field servant, whose connection to the land (if not recognized 'right' in it) was equally long-standing.

The very inequality among the exploited institutionalised through the feudal caste hierarchy meant that the need for creating unity in the context of resolving the land question was crucial. It is hard to see how this could be done without a specific programme of constituting poor peasant committee (including dalits as well as caste Hindu toilers) who would have the responsibility of seizing and distributing the village lands and instituting necessary programmes of co-operative and collective agriculture. Otherwise, 'abolition of landlordism', and even the most radical version of land ceilings', would simply leave the land in the hands of middle caste peasants at the cost of fully proletarianising the dalit field labourers.

(2) Feudal forced labour in India took the specific form of veth-begar which was institutionalized, again, through the caste system, with various duties falling on specific artisan castes but the most arduous manual labour duties falling upon the dalits. Here, again, particular caste-defined responsibilities within the village were connected with the requirements of performing forced labour for higher level landlords and state officials. In practice, the full-fledged abolition of begar required the abolition of the jajmani/batutedari system.

(3) The creation of a new democratic culture is a crucial anti-feudal task which, in India, required a specific fight against the Brahmanic Hinduism which upheld caste feudalism and against the modern forms of racist ideology which served to back it up and an effort to create the unity of the exploited in the process of this fight.

(4) Finally, because of the way in which the new working class was formed from within the feudal system, it not only had to lead the central agrarian tasks of the fight against feudalism but also had to fight against the adapted feudal relationships within its own ranks—the caste division of labourers and the Brahmanic culture.

[Courtesy: Economic and Political Weekly, Annual Number, February 1979]

Dalits and the National Movement: The Issue of Power

"We want to become a ruling community", was a saying of Ambedkar, and in fact the drive to achieve power or a share in power was seen by him and by many not simply as the negation of the extreme feudal subjugation of dalits but as the basis for achieving any other kind of gain. But, because the national movement did not consciously organise to build alternative revolutionary systems of power in which dalits would find a place, this demand for a share in power became expressed in the demand for special, separate representation within the bourgeois parliamentary forms being institutionalized in India.

An additional motivating fact was the strong feeling among dalits that they must represent themselves, that caste Hindus could not be trusted to represent them (nor for that matter could the British government), that the nature of caste and class conflict was so great that no caste Hindus could speak for their interests.

The conflict took specific form in the dalit demand for separate electorates (constituencies only of dalits choosing dalit representatives to the parliament) versus the original nationalist unwillingness to concede anything until finally a 'compromise' of reserved seats (dalit representatives chosen by general, i.e., caste Hindu plus dalit, constituencies) was forced on them.

The issue here was different from that of separate electorates for Muslims because there was at no point a dalit demand, or the possibility of a demand, for a separate homeland. Rather, the question was one of how to achieve the unity of the Indian nation. Gandhi's firm opposition to separate electorates, too, had nothing to do with the threat to Indian unity but rather the threat to Hindu unity and came from his religiously motivated insistence that dalits were part of the Hindu community.

It might also be added that the idea of separate electorates, or "functional' representation of specific social groups or classes, was one that went beyond bourgeois democratic forms entirely and in a sense could be seen as an aspect of proletarian democracy, whereas reserved seats not only allowed caste Hindu control of dalit political representation (as Ambedkar so bitterly and effectively established in "What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables") but also proved an ideal method for the bourgeois State to absorb and negate the dalit movement, giving dalits some semblance of power within the bourgeois framework but at the cost of giving up militancy.

The issue, however, was very rarely seen in this way. Instead, considerations of power prevailed (the upper class/caste drive to control the legislatures through control of Congress, and the fact that dalits did not simply have the same political clout as Muslims); the demand for separate electorates was seen by most non-dalits as one leading to separatism and disunity.

Since the conflict between dalits and the Congress nationalists was embodied in the relation between Ambedkar and Gandhi, especially over the issue of separate electorates climaxing in the 'epic fast' of 1932, it is worth examining this in some detail. Ambedkar, unlike most dalit spokesmen, was not throughout a proponent of separate electorates. Though, along with nearly everyone else, he called for them in 1919 in testifying before the Southborough Committee, during the 1920s he turned away from them. Apparently believing they would lead to disunity, he argued against them before the Simon Commission.

The 1920s, it should be noted, was not only the decade of the real upsurge of dalit movements as mass movements; it was also the greatest period of co-operation between Ambedkar and caste Hindu social radicals (i e, the non-Brahmin movement). This may well have given Ambedkar some confidence that separate electorates were not necessary. The Nagpur Conference of Depressed Classes in 1930, just before Ambedkar left for the first Round Table Conference, was in a sense a landmark; here Ambedkar became the first major dalit leader to state forcefully the need for Independence as the minimal basis for solving dalit problems, and he stated publicly that he would be satisfied with reserved seats as long as there was adult suffrage.

Then, at London, he completely reversed his position and asked for separate electorates (at this conference too, it should be added, with the Congress absent he was the most forceful spokesman for Indian Independence). By the time of the second Round Table Conference this attitude had hardened to produce the major confrontation with Gandhi. Why?

Two reasons that have been suggested are that the unanimous dalit opinion, aside from Ambedkar, was in favour of separate electorates, and that Ambedkar felt bound to represent this; and Ambedkar's personal experience of Gandhi's hard-line and even arrogant attitude which rejected not only separate electorates but even reserved seats. To this it may be added that, by 1930-31, the mass of the Maharashtrian non-Brahmins were moving into Congress in a form that meant an essential abandonment of their own independently based social radicalism and a (temporary) acceptance of upper-class, upper-caste Congress leadership. What then of Gandhi?

Here it is worth noting that, when Ambedkar and Gandhi met for the first time in 1930, Ambedkar not only felt he had been treated rudely, but Gandhi himself admitted that he had not known that Ambedkar himself was a dalit but thought rather that he was a Brahmin social reformer aiding the untouchables! In other words, Gandhi had not only done substantially nothing himself on the issue of untouchability up to this time, but he betrayed a crucial ignorance of the movement which had been going on for over a decade and of its leadership. Indeed he unwittingly betrayed his assumption that dalits themselves were incapable of doing much on their own or of producing their own leadership, Ambedkar, therefore, insisted on separate electorates.

Gandhi insisted equally adamantly that dalits were Hindus and must be represented by Hindus as a whole (and was met on his return from London by a black-flag demonstration of 8,000 Bombay dalits).[14] The British Communal Award gave Ambedkar his separate electorates; and Gandhi undertook his fast-to-death in protest. Here again it has to be stressed that this first fast over the 'issue' of untouchability was not a fast against the British for nationalist causes or against the oppressive caste system, but was a fast against dalits themselves to force them to give up their demands. Ambedkar conceded—knowing that if Gandhi died there would be massive reprisals on his people throughout India-— and the result was the Poona Pact of September 25, 1932, which as a compromise gave dalits the reserved seats that Ambedkar had demanded in the first place For dalits and for Ambedkar, the lesson was clear: not a faith in the ability of satyagraha to 'change the hearts' of caste Hindus, rather that only by fighting for their rights would dalits win anything at all.

After 1932, Gandhi made 'untouchability work' a major programme of the Congress and for many a crucial moral part of the Indian national movement. And yet Gandhi's essential paternalism and insistence that above all dalits were Hindus remained in the choice of the term 'Harijan', in the insistence that caste Hindus and not dalits should control the Harijan Sevak Sangh.

However 'radical' Gandhi's own views on caste became (in approving of inter-dining and inter-marriage, for example), he never dropped the belief in chaturvarnya or the idea that children should follow their fathers' professions, themes that stood in direct contradiction to the anti-feudal principles of the dalit movement. Even worse, anti-untouchability became identified with the Gandhian, that is the conservative wing of the Congress and remained a distraction and diversion to the radicals within Congress (and for that matter the communist Left) who never developed a programme of their own on the issue of caste.

It seems fair to say that, essentially, the British raj did nothing to transform caste feudalism or to alleviate the worst aspects of untouchability. Whatever steps were taken came in the transition period between the wars when concessions were being given to Indian nationalists. And whatever steps the Indian nationalist leadership took came as a response to dalit struggles.

In 1917 — alter the first depressed classes' conferences were organised in Bombay, and dalits as well as non-Brahmins made proposals for separate electorates—the Congress reversed its policy of excluding 'social reform' and passed a resolution urging upon "the people of India the necessity, justice and righteousness of removing all disabilities imposed by custom upon the Depressed Classes".

In the 1920s, the governments of Madras and Bombay (controlled or influenced by non-Brahmin organisations) passed resolutions confirming the rights of dalits to equal use of government facilities, schools and wells; so did several progressive princely stales. These did little, however, to provide reinforcement, and remained almost totally ineffective. In 1931, the Karachi Congress session propounded a programme of fundamental rights which called for equal access for all to public employment etc, regardless of caste, and equal right to use of public roads, wells, schools, and other facilities.

Temple entry bills were introduced between 1932-36 in the Central Assembly, Madras and Bombay legislatures and generally met with opposition from both the government and conservatives in Congress. Baroda and Travancore states proclaimed temple entry in 1933 and 1936. In 1938, after Congress legislatures were elected, temple entry bills were passed in Madras and Bombay.

But the full and formal 'abolition of untouchability' had to wait until Independence. In 1946, the Scheduled Caste Federation fought for the reserved seats but lost heavily to 'Congress Harijans' in strongly nationalist and caste-Hindu-dominated constituencies. As a result, the movement suffered a blow and dalit demands were ignored in the final settlements and in the traumas of the Hindu-Muslim holocaust.

The Scheduled Caste Federation then launched satyagrahas in Bombay, Pune, Lucknow, Kanpur, and Wardha, demanding that the Congress make known their proposals for giving rights to dalits; the satyagraha forced the abrogation of the Pune session of the Bombay legislative assembly and a compromise meeting with Ambedkar in July.

Against this background, the Constituent Assembly met. Its resolution that "Untouchability in any form is abolished and the imposition of any disability on that account shall be an offence" was in line with the development of the Congress movement in the last 25 years.[16] But the system of 'protective discrimination' — i.e., reserved positions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government service and educational institutions — was not at all in line with Congress (or Gandhian) thinking and so was, even more clearly than the nationalist response to dalit struggles, a result of the dalit movement itself.

Dalits and the Left: The Issue of Land

The relation between the dalit movement and the emerging communist and Left movement was, unfortunately, little better than that with the national movement. The Left evolved no programme of its own, regarding the abolition of caste. And, in regard to working class organizing, a history of antagonism was built up. The major exception was in fighting feudalism in agrarian relations where the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) programme did make an important contribution. This, however, remained partial and isolated from the organised dalit movement.

In terms of the working class, the position of dalits as unskilled workers in the most dangerous and difficult to organise jobs put them in the position of potential antagonism to other working class organizing — in the sense, that they were often ready to act as strike-breakers in the hope of getting higher-level jobs (the same phenomenon could be seen elsewhere where groups were excluded and so given no opportunity to develop working class solidarity, e.g., among US blacks prior to World War I), and in the sense that they were inclined to form separate unions.

Thus dalit willingness to return to work first in a dalit-caste Hindu 1921 mill strike in Madras provoked violence and a conflict with the Justice Party. Dalits were part of the major 1928 Bombay textile strike which brought communists to the leadership of the working class movement. But when a second strike was called in 1929, Ambedkar not only opposed it but attempted to actively organise dalit strike-breakers. His reasons were the special hardships imposed on the economically weaker dalits by the earlier strike and the fact that the working class leaders had taken no stand regarding the banning of dalits from the better-paid weaving department.

On the other side of what proved to be an enduring hostility between Ambedkar and the communists, it has to be emphasized that the communists concentrated their attempts on militant economic gains, on organizing the working class in its fight for survival, rather than attempting to put it in the leadership of the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles. The latter, as we have emphasized, meant not simply that workers should give leadership to a peasant movement but that the working class itself should fight to break down the feudal within it that held dalits down. Yet nothing was done by AlTUC on the caste issue and in the Bombay textile industry, where "the red flag was planted in the Indian working class" 50 years ago, dalits remain barred up to the present from (non-automated) weaving departments.

The most central aspect of the anti-feudal struggle for dalits and for other toiling peasants was, however, the land issue and village economic relations. Here, the work of the Kisan Sabha becomes crucial. By the late 1930s and 1940s, the AIKS had become a force in several areas—most especially Bihar, Andhra, Kerala, UP (in a sense, for, Kisan Sabhas here remained outside the AIKS for a long time) — and made a conscious and revolutionary effort to evolve an all round anti-feudal programme that would be in the interests of poor as well as middle and rich peasants.

But the gaps were crucial. The top AIKS leadership was almost entirely of non-peasant origin; even though peasants came to be crucial as cadres these were overwhelmingly drawn from caste Hindu middle-rich peasants even at a time when the AIKS was attracting more and more poor and low-caste peasants; partly perhaps because of this and partly because of the strenuous pace of organising, there was little formulation of the Indian problem in Indian terms and abstract class categories were simply borrowed, usually from European thinking.

The AIKS did not pass a resolution on untouchability until 1945, and never really considered cultural level struggles of importance (this applied also to the role of women). Opposing feudal 'forced labour' was a major element of Kisan Sabha programmes but this was never analyzed in its specific expression through caste bondage. This, in itself, may not have been of overwhelming significance. After all, the fact that forced labour was actively opposed was of crucial significance to the dalit toilers who took part — and were apparently a major part of the Telangana rebellion. This may be one of the reasons for the enthusiastic mobilization of dalits, who reportedly provided the major element of the armed squads.

The most important failure of the AIKS was at a different level: It lay in the way it formulated the land question itself. For the AIKS, 'land to the tiller' was the central anti-feudal demand, and it was expressed mainly in terms of abolition of landlordship (zamindari, taluqdari, khoti, jenmi, malguzari, etc). Along with this, ryotwari peasants were to be freed from indebtedness to money-lenders and from government over-assessments. Lower-level feudal relations within the village seemed to be invisible to the AIKS.

A category of 'agricultural labourers' was identified and this presumably included almost all dalit toilers, but they were seen in European terms as peasants dispossessed of the land. The Kisan Sabha leadership was ambiguous about their inclusion, but where they argued for unity of interest between 'kisans' and 'agricultural labourers' it was in terms of the fact that middle-poor peasants were rapidly becoming impoverished, losing lands, and becoming landless labourers. The special, traditional, position of dalit field servants with their hereditary connection to the land was simply not taken note of.

A 1947 AIKS resolution on the abolition of landlordism stated: ''All agricultural labourers must have a minimum wage. All other tillers of the soil must get proprietary rights in it under their direct cultivation, and cultivable waste land must be distributed among poor peasants and agricultural labourers".

Thus, while, dalits here were somewhat ambiguously seen as 'tillers' they were not considered to have any rights in the land at all; only their wage interests were to be protected and their land hunger satisfied by leftover — i e, 'waste' — land. Thus, in spite of the participation of poor peasants and landless toilers in Kisan Sabha agitation, it is not surprising — because only middle-caste cultivating peasants were seen as having rights in the land —that the end result was land reforms which even in their most radical version (e g Kerala) have benefited rich peasants. 'Land to the tiller', then, systematically excluded dalits.

On the other side, the dalit movement itself also took up the issue of land, but in an equally partial way. Campaigns against veth-begar and specific menial and degrading caste duties (carrying away dead cattle, serving officials) were, as noted above, an important part of the movement and were, of course, equivalent to the AIKS opposition to 'feudal forced labour'. But generally these were undertaken by the dalit movement in such a way that the alternative was seen, not as revolutionary land reform in the villages or transformation of the villages, but rather as moving from the villages altogether to new jobs in industry and service. The inability to see any real opportunity for advance within the village was, of course, realistic in the absence of a revolutionary movement.

No direct struggles for land for dalits were apparently taken up before Independence, but as far as Ambedkar at least was concerned it seems the issue of land was always present. Again, though it was a question of looking beyond the village, in one of his earlier meetings he argued that dalits should look for land for colonization. In later meetings, he considered the possibility of settlements in Sind.

The climax of this, however, came in 1942 at the conference which founded the Scheduled Caste Federation when a resolution was passed on separate village settlements. This was a demand that dalits from all the villages in one area (later sometimes specified as a taluka) should be given land (to be provided both from unoccupied government land and from land bought up by the government for the purpose) so that they could form independent settlements of their own. [22] This has come to be known as the 'dalitstan' demand.

But the term is something of misnomer for it is not really a demand for a dalit homeland but rather a way of posing the land question for dalits. In contrast to the Kisan Sabha here it is implicit that dalits do have rights to land, and not only to 'waste'. But the emphasis is still on moving away from the villages; and, because this land demand was not linked to a proposal for agrarian revolution, it served instead to pose the interests of dalits against those of all caste Hindus and appeared as a totally utopian proposal around which it was impossible to organise struggles. Yet the continual survival of the idea undoubtedly lies both in the land hunger of dalits and their continued feeling of insecurity as a village minority.

Ambedkar's final thoughts on the land question, however, were on very different lines. Urging State Socialism, he argued that "Neither consolidation [of land holdings] nor tenancy legislation can be of any help to the 60 millions of untouchables who are just landless labourers. Only collective farms can help them. ... Agriculture shall be a state industry. Land will belong to the State and shall be let out to villagers without distinction of caste or creed and in such a manner that there will be no landlord, no tenant, and no landless labourer." For an avowed anti-communist and a stern critic of Indian 'socialism' it was an impressive programme. What was lacking, of course, was an idea of how it might be achieved.

In the end it seems that, however anti-communist or anti-nationalist dalit leadership might be, the dalit movement remained consistently radical on the land question. It was Ambedkar who proposed a bill and led a march in 1936 for the abolition of the khoti system in the Konkan, and attempted to arouse Mahars in opposition. In Bengal, the Namashudras allied with Muslims against the Hindu bhadralok nationalists — not simply on opportunist grounds but on a programme of which the central feature was abolition of zamindari, and the Scheduled Castes withdrew their support when this programme was reneged upon.

The organised dalit movement was inevitably a radical force for agrarian revolution and not just for the abolition of 'cultural' aspects of caste bondage. But, in the absence of integration into an all-round peasant movement, this force could have little impact in the rural areas before Independence.


One of the most striking features of the anti-feudal movement in colonial India was its fragmentation — a fragmentation which reflected the divisions among the exploited sections that were so characteristic of Indian caste feudalism.

While social reform and anti-caste movements arose throughout India, and all provided some kind of ground for dalits to begin to move ahead, the non-Brahmin movements of south and west India posed a genuine possibility of a radical movement against caste traditions that could unify both caste Hindu toilers and dalits. Their ideology itself and the principles of their most radical organisations — the Satyashodhak Samaj and the Self-Respect movement — posed a thorough challenge to caste hierarchy and in fact provided the central ideological themes for the dalit movements. But such unity did not materialize as the more conservative wing of these movements gained strength among caste Hindu peasants and educated sections.

It might have been expected that a national movement, dominated by bourgeois and upper-caste forces would prove resistant to dalit demands and respond only in a nominal and co-opting way. Most serious really was the failure of the Left to provide a radical and unifying anti-feudal alternative. The communists organised the working class in its struggle for survival and at points this organisation aided the lowest sections of that class, but they failed really to put the working class politically in the leadership of the anti-feudal movement and as a result the class remains divided and the organisation benefited mainly its skilled and more upper-caste sections.

Kisan Sabha organizing, in its areas of strength, benefited dalits more directly. The fight against feudal forced-labour struck at bondage within the village; the organisation of agricultural labourers, which had its beginnings in the 1940s, also involved a challenge to feudal servitude: as a Kerala landlord put it, "His body and his father's body are my property and he dares to ask for wages. Is it right?"

The demand for giving cultivable waste land to agricultural labourers and poor peasants, though a partial one, proved to be the main form around which dalit struggles for land took place, particularly after Independence. And yet this was insufficient. In failing to pose the land issue in a duly revolutionary and thorough going way, the Kisan Sabha gave no defence against the real alternative programme to what became an essentially bourgeois land reform and offered no way to prevent its most militant agricultural labourer unions from being caught in the trap of economism in the post-Independence period. The connection between agrarian revolution and the wage-based organising of labourers remains problematical.

Indian communists thus failed to formulate a programme for a revolutionary anti-feudal movement which could unify the exploited, which could take up cultural and political as well as economic issues, and which could pose a real alternative to bourgeois land reform ('abolition of zamindari'), bourgeois notions of 'uplift' of depressed groups, bourgeois separation of 'cultural' and 'economic' factors, and bourgeois strategies of creating and absorbing an educated elite among the downtrodden sections.

This was not simply a case of being relatively weak, or of being unable to take leadership of the national movement away from bourgeois upper-caste nationalists. It may well have been impossible to organise a struggle for a full-scale agrarian revolution or do more than fight on partial demands linked to it. The problem was that the agrarian revolution was never really posed. The Left was unable to appear before the people as anything more than devoted organisers of the working class on economic demands and (with the exception of 1942) more militant anti-imperialists.

It was in this context that the dalit movement developed before Independence as an isolated revolt of the weakest and most oppressed sections of the population. The isolation had serious consequences; for it meant that, instead of organising as the most revolutionary section of a unified movement, dalits developed separatism in which they made demands of nationalists as well as the British. A hostility developed to communism and class analysis (which was put forward in such a way as to appear to dalits to exclude considerations of 'caste' as such), which continues to have serious consequences today.

Still the achievements of the dalit movement are impressive, and are too often overlooked. They have given birth to a tradition of struggle in many areas, not only on cultural and ritual issues but on breaking feudal bonds. They have mounted powerful pressure on the national movement resulting in constitutional provisions for reservations and laws making untouchability an offence; unsatisfactory as these have been, they have still provided weapons in the hands of low-caste organizers. They have created a deep-seated conviction of equality and self-confidence which is inevitably making itself heard. If this has not yet achieved a revolutionary transformation in the life of the most exploited sections of society, it is because of the incompleteness of the revolutionary and democratic movement itself. If this is to go forward, the dalit movement will inevitably be a part of it.

Dalit Buddhist movement

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Dalit Buddhist movement (also known as Neo-Buddhist movement) is a socio-political movement by Dalits in India started by B. R. Ambedkar. It radically re-interpreted Buddhism and created a new school of Buddhism called Navayana. The movement has sought to be a socially and politically engaged form of Buddhism.

The movement was launched in 1956 by Ambedkar when nearly half a million Dalits – formerly untouchables – joined him and converted to his Navayana Buddhism. It rejected Hinduism, challenged caste system and promoted the rights of the Dalit community. The movement also rejected the teachings of traditional Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana sects of Buddhism, and took an oath to pursue a new form of engaged Buddhism as taught by Ambedkar.


Buddhism originated in ancient India and grew after Ashoka adopted it. By the 2nd century CE, Buddhism was widespread in India and had expanded outside of India into Central Asia, East Asia and parts of Southeast Asia. During the Middle Ages, Buddhism slowly declined in India, while it vanished from Persia and Central Asia as Islam became the state religion

According to Randall Collins, Buddhism was already declining in India by the 12th century, but with the pillage by Muslim invaders it nearly became extinct in India. In the 13th century, states Craig Lockard, Buddhist monks in India escaped to Tibet to escape Islamic persecution; while the monks in western India, states Peter Harvey, escaped persecution by moving to south Indian Hindu kingdoms that were able to resist the Muslim power.

Efforts to revive Buddhism in India began in the 19th-century, such as with the efforts of Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala who founded the Maha Bodhi Society. The Maha Bodhi Society, according to Bhagwan Das, was not a Dalit movement however, because it mainly attracted upper-caste Hindus to Buddhism.

Northern India

Two early Dalit movements that rejected Hinduism were launched by Swami Achhutanand Harihar in Uttar Pradesh and Babu Mangu Ram in Punjab. These were called Adi Dharma movements.

Achhutanand was born in an untouchable family, joined the Arya Samaj suddhi reform movement, worked there for about eight years (1905-1912), felt untouchability was being practiced in Arya Samaj in subtle ways, left it and launched Bharitiya Achhut Mahasabha as a socio-political movement. Achhutanand began spreading his ideas by publishing the Adi-Hindu magazine, and called Dalits to a return to Adi-Dharma as the original religion of Indians. Achhutanand formulated his philosophy on the basis of a shared cultural and ethnic identity, presenting it to an audience beyond the Dalits and including tribal societies as well. He opposed the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi, his fasts and Indian National Congress, stating that the Brahmins were "as foreign to India as were the British", according to Anand Teltumbde.

Babu Mangu Ram was also born in an untouchable family of Punjab with a flourishing leather trade. Mangu Ram arrived in the United States in 1909, at age 23 and worked in California. There he joined the Ghadar Party, smuggling weapons from California to India to oppose the British rule. In 1925, he shifted his focus to Dalit freedom, for which he launched the "Ad Dharm" movement as well as Adi-Danka weekly newspaper to spread his ideas. His religious movement failed to accomplish much, states Teltumbde, and Mangu Ram later joined the Ambedkar movement.

In 1914, Prakash was ordained Bodhanand Mahastavir in Calcutta, and began preaching Buddhism in Lucknow. He founded the Bharatiye Buddh Samiti in 1916, and set up a vihara in 1928.

Southern India

In 1898, Pandit Iyothee Thass founded the Sakya Buddhist Society, also known as Indian Buddhist Association, in Tamil Nadu. He presented Buddhism as a religious alternative for the Dalits. Thass' efforts created a broad movement amongst Tamil Dalits in South India till the 1950s. The first president of the Indian Buddhist Association was Paul Carus. The Indian Buddhist Association, unlike the Dalit movement led by Ambedkar, adopted the Theravada Buddhism tradition found in Sri Lanka, where Thass had received his training and initiation in Buddhism.

B. R. Ambedkar

Ambedkar delivering a speech to a rally at Yeola, Nashik, on 13 October 1935

Ambedkar was an Indian leader, influential during the colonial era and post-independence period of India.He belonged to a Dalit community, traditionally the most oppressed and marginalized group in Indian society. He was the fourteenth child in an impoverished Maharashtra Dalit family, who studied abroad, returned to India in the 1920s and joined the political movement. His focus was social and political rights of the Dalits.

During 1931-32, Mahatma Gandhi led Indian independence movement held discussions with the British government over the Round Table Conferences. They sought constitutional reforms as a preparation to the end of colonial British rule, and begin the self-rule by Indians. The British side sought reforms that would keep Indian subcontinent as a colony. The British negotiators proposed constitutional reforms on a British Dominion model that established separate electorates based on religious and social divisions.They invited Indian religious leaders, such as Muslims and Sikhs, to press their demands along religious lines, as well as B. R. Ambedkar as the representative leader of the untouchables. Gandhi vehemently opposed a constitution that enshrined rights or representations based on communal divisions, because he feared that it would not bring people together but divide them, perpetuate their status and divert the attention from India's struggle to end the colonial rule.

After Gandhi returned from Second Round Table conference, he started a new satyagraha. He was immediately arrested and imprisoned at the Yerwada Jail, Pune. While he was in prison, the British government enacted a new law that granted untouchables a separate electorate. It came to be known as the Communal Awar In protest, Gandhi started fast-unto-death, while he was held in prison. The resulting public outcry forced the government, in consultations with Ambedkar, to replace the Communal Award with a compromise Poona Pact.

Ambedkar accepted the Poona Pact under public pressure, but disagreed with Gandhi and his political methods. He dismissed Gandhi's ideas as loved by "blind Hindu devotees", primitive, influenced by spurious brew of Tolstoy and Ruskin, and "there is always some simpleton to preach them".

Ambedkar concluded that Dalits must leave Hinduism and convert to another religion, and announced his intent to leave Hinduism in 1935. He considered Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. Ambedkar was approached by various leaders of different denominations and faiths. On 22 May 1936, an "All Religious Conference" was held at Lucknow. It was attended by prominent Dalit leaders including Jagjivan Ram, though Ambedkar could not attend it. At the conference, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist representatives presented the tenets of their respective religions in an effort to win over Dalits. Ambedkar rejected the other religions and chose Buddhism. However, Ambedkar remained a Hindu for next 20 years, studied then re-interpreted Buddhism, and adopted Neo-Buddhism or Navayana few weeks before his death.

The Italian Buddhist monk Lokanatha visited Ambedkar's residence at Dadar on 10 June 1936. Later in an interview to the press, Lokanatha said that Ambedkar was impressed with Buddhism.

Navayana Buddhism

According to Ambedkar, several of the core beliefs and doctrines of traditional Buddhist traditions such as Four Noble Truths and Anatta were flawed and pessimistic, may have been inserted into the Buddhist scriptures by wrong headed Buddhist monks of a later era. These should not be considered as Buddha's teachings in Ambedkar's view. Other foundational concepts of Buddhism such as Karma and Rebirth were considered by Ambedkar as superstitions.

Navayana as formulated by Ambedkar and at the root of Dalit Buddhist movement abandons mainstream traditional Buddhist practices and precepts such as the institution of monk after renunciation, ideas such as karma, rebirth in afterlife, samsara, meditation, nirvana and Four Noble Truths. Ambedkar's new sect of Buddhism rejected these ideas and re-interpreted the Buddha's religion in terms of class struggle and social equality.

Ambedkar called his version of Buddhism Navayana or Neo-Buddhism. His book, The Buddha and His Dhamma is the holy book of Navayana and Dalit Buddhists. According to Junghare, for the followers of Navyana, Ambedkar has become a deity and he is worshipped in its practice.

Ambedkar's conversion

Ambedkar delivering speech during conversion, Nagpur, 14 October 1956

After publishing a series of books and articles arguing that Buddhism was the only way for the Untouchables to gain equality, Ambedkar publicly converted on 14 October 1956, at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur, over 20 years after he declared his intent to convert. He converted approximately half a million Dalit / Bahujan people to his Neo-Buddhism movement.

The conversion ceremony was attended by Medharathi, his main disciple Bhoj Dev Mudit, and Mahastvir Bodhanand's Sri Lankan successor, Bhante Pragyanand. Ambedkar asked Dalits not to get entangled in the existing branches of Buddhism (Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana), and called his version Navayana or 'Neo-Buddhism'. Ambedkar would die less than two months later, just after finishing his definitive work on Buddhism.

Many Dalits employ the term "Ambedkar(ite) Buddhism" to designate the Buddhist movement, which started with Ambedkar's conversion. Many converted people call themselves "-Bauddha" i.e. Buddhists.

Twenty-two vows of Ambedkar

Inscription of 22 vows at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur

After receiving ordination, Ambedkar gave dharma diksha to his followers. The ceremony included 22 vows given to all new converts after Three Jewels and Five Precepts. On 14 October 1956 at Nagpur, Ambedkar performed another mass religious conversion ceremony at Chandrapur
He prescribed 22 vows to his followers:

I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, nor shall I worship them.
I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna, who are believed to be incarnation of God, nor shall I worship them.
I shall have no faith in Gauri, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus, nor shall I worship them.
I do not believe in the incarnation of God.
I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda.
I shall not perform Shraddha nor shall I give pind.
I shall not act in a manner violating the principles and teachings of the Buddha.
I shall not allow any ceremonies to be performed by Brahmins.
I shall believe in the equality of man.
I shall endeavour to establish equality.
I shall follow the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha.
I shall follow the ten paramitas prescribed by the Buddha.
I shall have compassion and loving-kindness for all living beings and protect them.
I shall not steal.
I shall not tell lies.
I shall not commit carnal sins.
I shall not take intoxicants like liquor, drugs, etc.
(The previous four proscriptive vows [#14–17] are from the Five Precepts.)
I shall endeavour to follow the Noble Eightfold Path and practice compassion and loving-kindness in everyday life.
I renounce Hinduism, which disfavors humanity and impedes the advancement and development of humanity because it is based on inequality, and adopt Buddhism as my religion.
I firmly believe the Dhamma of the Buddha is the only true religion.
I consider that I have taken a new birth.
I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the teachings of Buddha's Dhamma.

After Ambedkar's death

The Buddhist movement was somewhat hindered by Ambedkar's death so shortly after his conversion. It did not receive the immediate mass support from the Untouchable population that Ambedkar had hoped for. Division and lack of direction among the leaders of the Ambedkarite movement have been an additional impediment. According to the 2001 census, there are currently 7.95 million Buddhists in India, at least 5.83 million of whom are Buddhists in Maharashtra. This makes Buddhism the fifth-largest religion in India and 6% of the population of Maharashtra, but less than 1% of the overall population of India.

The Buddhist revival remains concentrated in two states: Ambedkar's native Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh — the land of Bodhanand Mahastavir, Acharya Medharthi and their associates.

Developments in Uttar Pradesh

Statue of B.R.Ambedkar inside Ambedkar Park, Lucknow

Acharya Medharthi retired from his Buddhapuri school in 1960, and shifted to an ashram in Haridwar. He turned to the Arya Samaj and conducted Vedic yajnas all over India. After his death, he was cremated according to Arya Samaj rites. His Buddhpuri school became embroiled in property disputes. His follower, Bhoj Dev Mudit, converted to Buddhism in 1968 and set up a school of his own.

Rajendranath Aherwar appeared as an important Dalit leader in Kanpur. He joined the Republican Party of India and converted to Buddhism along with his whole family in 1961. In 1967, he founded the Kanpur branch of "Bharatiya Buddh Mahasabha". He held regular meetings where he preached Buddhism, officiated at Buddhist weddings and life cycle ceremonies, and organised festivals on Ambedkar's Jayanti (birth day), Sambuddhatva jayanthi, Diksha Divas (the day Ambedkar converted), and Ambedkar Paranirvan Divas (the day Ambedkar died).

The Dalit Buddhist movement in Kanpur gained impetus with the arrival of Dipankar, a Chamar bhikkhu, in 1980. Dipankar had come to Kanpur on a Buddhist mission and his first public appearance was scheduled at a mass conversion drive in 1981. The event was organised by Rahulan Ambawadekar, an RPI Dalit leader. In April 1981, Ambawadekar founded the Dalit Panthers (U.P. Branch) inspired by the Maharashtrian Dalit Panthers. The event met with severe criticism and opposition from Vishva Hindu Parishad and was banned.

The number of Buddhists in the Lucknow district increased from 73 in 1951 to 4327 in 2001] According to the 2001 census, almost 70% of the Buddhist population in Uttar Pradesh is from the scheduled castes background.

In 2002, Kanshi Ram, a popular political leader from a Sikh religious background, announced his intention to convert to Buddhism on 14 October 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of Ambedkar's conversion. He intended for 20,000,000 of his supporters to convert at the same time. Part of the significance of this plan was that Ram's followers include not only Untouchables, but persons from a variety of castes, who could significantly broaden Buddhism's support. But, he died 9 October 2006 after a lengthy illness; he was cremated as per Buddhist tradition.

Another popular Dalit leader, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, has said that she and her followers will embrace Buddhism after the BSP forms a government at the Centre.


Flag symbolises Dalit movement in India.

Japanese-born Surai Sasai emerged as an important Buddhist leader in India. Sasai came to India in 1966 and met Nichidatsu Fuji, whom he helped with the Peace Pagoda at Rajgir. He fell out with Fuji, however, and started home, but, by his own account, was stopped by a dream in which a figure resembling Nagarjuna appeared and said, "Go to Nagpur". In Nagpur, he met Wamanrao Godbole, the person who had organised the conversion ceremony for Ambedkar in 1956. Sasai claims that when he saw a photograph of Ambedkar at Godbole's home, he realised that it was Ambedkar who had appeared in his dream. At first, Nagpur folk considered Surai Sasai very strange. Then he began to greet them with "Jai Bhim" (victory to Ambedkar) and to build viharas. In 1987 a court case to deport him on the grounds that he had overstayed his visa was dismissed, and he was granted Indian citizenship. Sasai and Bhante Anand Agra are two of main leaders of the campaign to free the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya from Hindu control.

A movement originating in Maharashtra but also active in Uttar Pradesh, and spread out over quite a few other pockets where Neo Buddhists live, is Triratna Bauddha Mahāsaṅgha (formerly called TBMSG for Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana). It is the Indian wing of the UK-based Triratna Buddhist Community founded by Sangharakshita. Its roots lie in the scattered contacts that Sangharakshita had in the 1950s with Ambedkar. Sangharakshita, then still a bhikshu, participated in the conversion movement from 1956 until his departure to the UK in 1963.

When his new ecumenical movement had gained enough ground in the West, Sangharakshita worked with Ambedkarites in India and the UK to develop Indian Buddhism further. After visits in the late 1970s by Dharmachari Lokamitra from UK, supporters developed a two-pronged approach: social work through the Bahujan Hitaj (also spelled as Bahujan Hitay) trust, mainly sponsored from the general public by the British Buddhist-inspired Karuna Trust (UK), and direct Dharma work. Currently the movement has viharas and groups in at least 20 major areas, a couple of retreat centres, and hundreds of Indian Dharmacharis and Dharmacharinis.

Funding for movement's social and dharma work has come from foreign countries, including the Western countries and Taiwan. Some of the foreign-funded organisations include Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana and Triratna (Europe and India). Triratna has links with the 'Ambedkarite' Buddhist Romanis in Hungary.

Organized mass conversions

Deekshabhoomi Stupa in Nagpur where Ambedkar converted to Buddhism.

Since Ambedkar's conversion, several thousand people from different castes have converted to Buddhism in ceremonies including the twenty-two vows.

In 1957, Mahastvir Bodhanand's Sri Lankan successor, Bhante Pragyanand, held a mass conversion drive for 15,000 people in Lucknow.

A prominent Indian Navayana Buddhist leader and political activist, Udit Raj, organised a large mass conversion on 4 November 2001, where he gave the 22 vows, but the event met with active opposition from the government.

2006, Hyderabad
A report from the UK daily The Guardian said that some Hindus have converted to Buddhism. Buddhist monks from the UK and the U.S. attended the conversion ceremonies in India. Hindu nationalists asserted that Dalits should concentrate on trying to reduce illiteracy and poverty rather than looking for new religions.

2006, Gulbarga
On 14 October 2006, hundreds of people converted from Hinduism to Buddhism in Gulburga (Karnataka).

At 50th anniversary celebrations in 2006 of Ambedkar's deeksha. Non-partisan sources put the number of attendees (not converts) at 30,000. The move was criticised by Hindu groups as "unhelpful" and has been criticised as a "political stunt."

2007, Mumbai
On 27 May 2007, tens of thousands of Dalits from Maharashtra gathered at the Mahalakshmi racecourse in Mumbai to mark the 50th anniversary of the conversion of Ambedkar. The number of people who converted versus the number of people in attendance was not clear. The event was organised by the Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athvale.

Criticism of conversions

Critics have argued that efforts to convert Hindus to Ambedkarite Buddhism are political stunts rather than sincere commitments to social reform. On May 2011, Vishwesha Teertha, stated that conversion doesn't add any benefit to status of dalits.

On 17 June 2013, the converted Dalits asked for the Buddhist certificates, that has been delayed.

Why Jai Bhim-Jai Pasmanda rather than Jai Bhim-Jai Meem
Written by Mohammad Imran

Published on 06 October 2018

Mohammad Imran

The recently conducted rally in Aurangabad by Advocate Prakash Ambedkar, in which the alliance between Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and Assaduddin Owaisi led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen was formally announced was a much debated political move in Maharashtrian politics. The alliance was made on the ground that it has an ability to speak up on behalf of two major discriminated communities of the current era. It was also felt by many of the supporters of both parties that it may benefit both of the communities (Bahujans-Muslims) in the longer run. But for me, this move is purely political rather than an ideological one because there is no anti-caste element in it.

The slogan of Jai Bhim has always been a slogan for anti-caste emancipatory movements with special reference to Babasaheb Ambedkar. This slogan has its own history, trajectory and impact on the Bahujan community for reclaiming their rights and asserting their voices. But the mixing (aligning) of it with a religious identity is problematic in several ways. The problem is not only in an ideological sense but it has political effects too. With special reference to the growing Pasmanda movement, I would like to place my arguments on why such alignments can't work in the long run in an ideological cum political manner.

Exhuming the never buried
Written by Sushma Gumpenapalli

Published on 04 October 2018

Sushma Gumpenapalli
India is a nation-state infested with 'the caste system', a rigid social order peculiar to Indian social geography. It is a land of divisions, strata based on various social affiliations. But caste is a stratification that has become an impediment for integration, collective development of the Indian society. Any blanket term that tried or attempted to unify the oppressed in any form could not be sustained for long. Some of such integrating terms could be “Dalit”, “Bahujan” etc. It is pertinent to ponder over the brahmanical fascist state prevailing in India at this juncture of unrest.

Government, one of the agencies of the state, is resorting to Goebbelsian propaganda to perpetuate castesim in India by segregating the different sections of society and preventing any kind of integration and unification especially of the dissenting victims of myriad oppressions and the voices of defiance. The fascist rule is trying to bring the scission in the secular fabric which was initiated by the demolition of the Babri Masjid. There had been many instances where the respective governments of the fascist state had exhumed something which had never been buried. On fine example of this could be the ceasing or abolishing “reservations” in the private medical colleges which as a matter of fact had never existed in the state of Uttar Pradesh. And now, asking the media and other Chief Secretaries (bureaucracy) to refrain from addressing Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as “Dalits”. There had been no instances where the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were referred to as Dalit in administrative terms ever.

Presenting my leader, Prakash Ambedkar
Written by Mahipal Mahamatta

Published on 29 September 2018

Mahipal Mahamatta

There are mainly four dominant political parties--Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)--in Maharashtra. It is conventional to consider the first two parties as secular and the other two as communal and non-secular parties. Today, the dominant electronic media serves the interests of above mentioned parties by allowing political discourse of only these four parties in the news channels, prime times and political debates on the television. Print media does the same by highlighting the news related to these four parties, coming up with articles in the editorial pages discussing generally the secular & non-secular binary, which again falls in the domain of these four parties. But this binary is a myth that television editors and anchors of the news papers, channels are creating in the people's minds. They will say that BJP and Shiv Sena are non-secular, communal and hindutvawadi parties and if a secular force has to win over communalism, it can happen only through an alliance between parties like NCP and Congress. Now there is an urgent need to look into the proposition which makes NCP and Congress secular parties. This is a simple assumption that stands on a fallacy. If somebody asks the justification for it, journalists and opinion makers have no valid answer in today's political context.

Picture from Rally in Solapur, 28th september 2018

Because, today's national leadership of Congress is losing its secular ethos by reacting to the discourses set by the BJP, RSS and not really refuting the politics of BJP, RSS. Rahul Gandhi wearing a Janeu, showcasing himself in the higher rung of the varna system and appeasing savarnas, visiting Hindu temples publically. Congress party's ideologue Shashi Tharoor comes up with the book 'Why I am a Hindu' and justifies his Hindu being. another Congress leader from Mumbai, Sanjay Nirupam, sometimes speaks on television in such a way that the audience feels he is a member of the BJP and not the Congress.

Paralleling Ambedkar and Marx - A covert PlotWritten by Rajani Ingle

Published on 21 September 2018

Rajani Ingle

An unusual phenomenon is repeateadly striking in the self proclaimed intellectual corridors of "Left" India. These corridors are filled with poets, writers, academicians, columnists, social media influencers and many such minds who claim to adore Marx and Ambedkar equally and are seen investing considerable amount of time and mind space to prove how Marxist theories and Ambedkar's writings are resemblant.

This is dangerous, gravely dangerous to the idea of Nation that Ambedkar proposed. In his 1956 speech, 'Buddha or Karl Marx' , Ambedkar clearly elaborates the means adopted by the Communists as violence and dictatorship of the Proletariat. While the Buddhism Ambedkar embraced and wished to propagate stressed on changing the moral disposition of a man, to convert him to walk on the path of righteousness and to banish sorrow and unhappiness from the face of the world. As Ambedkar concluded inarguably that the Communist Philosophy may provide equality, but it will surely sacrifice fraternity and liberty in the fortification. As "Equality is of no value without fraternity or liberty, It seems that the three can co-exist only if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one but not all."

Bhima Koregaon in the Age of Neo Peshwai
Written by Pranay Lokhande and Kunal Dhande

Published on 18 September 2018

Pranay Lokhande and Kunal Dhande

Caste and religion based riots are not new in India, where caste and religious beliefs of the people are/were used for the supremacy of certain class of people. If we study riots in India, we will find history and constructs formed upon certain historical facts as major reasons. ‘History is what happened in your past told in your presence’. Generally, all over the world, history is written by the ruling classes and more often in praise of the ruling classes. In India, history has been the monopoly of Brahmin and allied caste historians and they did the same thing of glorifying brahmanical forces and their hegemony. They did this by hiding oppression and ostracism suffered by common masses of India due to the Brahmanical social order, further neglecting the liberation and egalitarian movements led by them. They have been mixing false information in history at the cost of true history of the land. Brahmin and allied caste historians created a problem through this unhistorical trickery. As it is rightly said, history is a mirror for following generations. Hiding true historical facts and mixing them with caste based hate and contempt will obviously lead to conflicting claims and counterclaims by people. These undercurrents of conflict have had profound effect on current socio-politics. Thereby it became a tool in hands of Brahmanical forces for inflicting conflicts in 21st century Indian society.

Battle of Bhima-Koregaon

There was a counter revolution by brahmanical forces against the State carved out of immense struggle and martyrdom of common masses of Maharashtra, popularly known as Mavalas, under the great leadership of Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje. His son, and second Chhatrapati, Sambhaji Raje was caught by Mughal forces. It is commonly believed that, brahminical forces had conspired with the Mughals. This conspiracy lead to the overthrow of Shivshahi, and brahmanical forces established Peshwai, which was nothing but Manusmriti Raj, in Maharashtra. Peshwas were from Chitpavan Brahmin caste. However they gathered other sub caste brahmins, and gave them strategic posts in the Peshwa Raj. When Peshawas were in power they used it to humiliate and unleash atrocities on all of the Non-Brahmin community. Sons of soil were suffering from inhuman oppression, atrocities and cruelty of Peshwai. When British Raj took foothold gradually in east India, they came over to western India. Due to many factors, a battle ensued between Peshwa and Non-Brahmins supported by the Britishers. The battle of Bhima Koregaon was not between the Peshwas and the British, but between the Peshwas and the Non-brahmins.

Dalit Problems:Karnatka
Dalit Problemss are scattered in 27,024 villages of Karnataka.They are landless laborers and houseless living in a cluster huts or in slums. Their poor economy and illiteracy have forced them to live in misery.

Untouchability is an age old practice which is inhuman in the name of religion. Most of the bonded laborers are dalits.

The reasons for the bonded labour system are inequality, illiteracy and unemployment existing in the society which has resulted in poverty. Loans borrowed to celebrate marriage, festivals and to avoid starvation are some of the reasons for this system. Bonded laborers are landless and houseless. They live in the place provided by landlords totally under their control. Dalit Problemss are harassed, threatened to withdraw their complaints in favor of landlords. Even judicial liberation of bonded labour is eyewash. Due to involvement of political and feudal persons in the implementation of abolition and rehabilitation of bonded laborers Act the object of the said act has failed in its task.

Dravida Kazhagam Movement

Another variety of protest ideology was based on the rejection of the Brahmanical Aryan religion and culture.

The DK movement in Tamil Nadu idealized the Dravidian culture and religion and attacked the Aryan culture and religion.

The self-respect movement started by Ramaswamy Naickar advocated that his followers should have their own priests. The movement drew its support from low castes. Its leaders worked hard to escape the tyranny of the Brahmins and to extol the virtues of the Dravidian culture. This new identity provided the basis for establishing self-determination, respect on the one hand and for protesting against the domination of the upper castes on the other.

Dalit Movement: An overview

The Scheduled Castes are known as harijnas i.e children of God – a term coined by Mahatma Gandhi in 1933.There are many studies on the Dalit or SC socio-political condition but there are only a few systematic empirically sound studies on their movements. The Mahar movement of Maharashtra has been seen as all India movement.Dr Ambedkar was an all India leader. While bargaining with the British and the caste – Hindus he represented all the dalit of the country but his role in mobilizing the SCs outside Maharashtra is not documented.

There is no full fledged study or even an anthology giving information about various SC movements in different parts of the country in colonial and post colonial period. Two papers – one by Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar and the other by Ghanshyam Shah give an overview of the dalit liberation in India. The former deals with the colonial period whereas the latter looks at both the colonial and the post colonial periods. The study by Verba, Ahmad and Bhatt (1972) on the Blacks and the harijnas gives a comparative picture of the movements of these communities in the USA and India.

The main issues around which most of the Dalit movements have been centered in the colonial and post colonial periods are confined to the problem of untouchability.They launched movements for maintaining or increasing reservations in political offices, government jobs and welfare programmes.

Ghanshyam Shah classifies the Dalit movements into reformative and alternative movements. The former tries to reform the caste system to solve the problem of untouchability.The alternative movement attempts to create an alternative socio-cultural structure by conversion to some other religion or by acquiring education, economic status and political power. Both types of movements use political means to attain their objectives. The reformative movements are further divided into Bhakti movements, neo-Vedantik movements and Sanskritisation movements.

The alternative movements are divided into the conversion movement and the religious or secular movement. The latter includes the movement related to economic issues. In the context of dalit identity and ideology Shah has classified dalit movements into movements within cultural consensus, competing ideology and non Hindu identity, Buddhist dalits and counter ideology and dalit identity. The first three are based around religious ideologies whereas the last is based on class.Patankar and Omvedt classify the dalit movement into caste based and class based movements.

In the 1990s with the increased political participation in elections and success of Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh some scholars consider their mobilization as a new political movement of the dalits.

Bhakti movement in 15th century developed two traditions of saguna and nirguna.The former believes in the form of God mostly Vishnu or Shiv relating to the Vaishnavite or Shaivaite traditions. It preaches equality among all the castes though it subscribes to the varnashram dharma and the caste social order. The devotees of Nirguna believe in formless universal God.Ravidas and Kabir are the major figures of this tradition. It became more popular among the dalits in urban areas in the early 20th century as it provided the possibility of salvation for all. It promised social equality. Through these movements Fuller argues devotionalist ethic come to be widely reinterpreted as a charter of egalitarianism.

Neo-vedantik movement was initiated by Hindu religious and social reformers. These movements attempted to remove untouchability by taking them into the fold of the caste system.Dayanand Sarawati the founder of Arya Samaj believed that the caste system was a political institution created by the rulers for the common good of society and not a natural or religious distinction. Satish Kumar Sharma's book Social Movements and Social Change is the only full-fledged study which examines the relationship between the Arya Samaj and the untouchables. The study is confined to Punjab only but some of the observations are relevant for other part of the country as well.Arya Samaj was against the political movements of the untouchables. It went against any move initiated by the untouchables for their solidarity and integration.

The neo-Vedantic movements and non-Brahmin movements played an important catalytic role in developing anti-caste or anti Hinduism dalit movements in some parts of the country. The Satyashodhak Samaj and the self-respect movements in Maharashtra and the Tamil Nadu,the Adhi Dharma and Adi Andhra movement in Bengal and Adi-Hindu movement in Uttar Pradesh are important anti-untouchability movements which were launched in the last quarter of the 19th and the early part of 20th century.

There are scattered references to the Adi-Andhra, the Adi-Hindu and the Namashudra movements. Mark Juergensmeyer's book Religion as Social Vision deals with the Adi Dharma movement against untouchability in 20th century Punjab. The main plea of the movement was that the untouchables constituted a quam a distinct religious community similar to those of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslim communities. Nandini Gooptu in her study on UP in the early 20th century briefly analyses the emergence of the Adi-Hindu movement in the urban areas of the region. Like Adi-Dharma, the leaders of the Adi-Hindu movement believed that the present form of Hinduism was imposed on them by the Aryan invaders. The movement did not pose a direct threat to the caste system. It was in essence, conceived as and remained a protest against the attribution of low roles and functions to the untouchable by means of a claim not to be Aryan Hindus; it was not developed into a full blown, direct attack on the caste system.

A section of untouchables who could improve their economic condition either by abandoning or continuing their traditional occupations launched struggles for higher status in the caste hierarchy. They followed Sanskritic norms and rituals. They tried to justify their claim to a higher social status in the caste hierarchy by inventing suitable mythologies.

The Shanars or Nadars of Tamil Nadu however have crossed the boundary of untouchability.The Iravas of Kerala have also blurred if not completely destroyed, the line of untouchability.The Nadars organized movements in the late 19th century against the civic disabilities they suffered. They formed their caste organization in 1903 called SNDP Yogam.According to it the low social status of the Iravas is due to their low social and religious practices. The association launched activities for Sanskritising the norms and customs of the Iravas.They launched a Satyagraha for temple entry in the 1920s.They bargained with a government for economic opportunities and political positions.

A major anti-touchability movement was launched by Dr Ambedkar in the 1920s in Maharashtra. He saw the opportunity and possibility of a advancement for the untouchables through the use of political means to achieve social and economic equality with the highest classes in modern society. He organized the independent labour party on secular lines for protecting the interests of the laboring classes. It was dominated by Mahars.

The Dalits demanded a separate electorate in the 1930s which led to a conflict between Ambedkar and Gandhi. In the early 1930s Ambedkar concluded that the only way of improving the status of the untouchables was to renounce the Hindu religion. He found that Buddhism was appropriate as an alternative religion for the untouchables. He preferred Buddhism because it was an indigenous Indian religion of equality; a religion which was anti-caste and Anti Brahmin. Ambedkar and his followers were converted to Buddhism in 1956.The movement for conversion to Buddhism has spread dalit consciousness irrespective of whether dalits became Buddhist or not. The Dalits of Maharashtra launched the Dalit Panther Movement in the early 1970s.Initially it was confined to the urban areas of Maharashtra not it spread to Gujarat, Karnataka, AndhraPradesh, Uttar Pradesh and other states.

Assertion for dalit identity has almost become a central issue of dalit movement. This involves local level collective action against discrimination and atrocities. Statues of Dr Ambedkar are found not only in urban dalit localities but also in many villages where their number is fairly large. Dalits contribute to installing Ambedkar statues in their neighbourhood.They struggle to get a piece of land from local authorities to install the statue. The statues and photos of Dr Ambedkar are an expression of dalit consciousness and their assertion for identity.

There are several local movements in which Dalits en mass migrate from their villages protesting against discrimination and atrocities. In the 1980s there were five such incidents.Desai and Maheria document one of the micro-level movements. In protest against torture and beating the dalits of the village Sambarda undertook hijarat en mass migration like refugees from their native village and camped in the open before the district collector office for 131 days in 1989.Their demand was for alternative settlement where their life and dignity will be secured. They wanted a concrete solution: alternative land to protect their dignity. They succeeded in their mission against all odds and collusion between the ruling elite and vested interests. The village level movements succeeded in mobilizing dalits of different parts of Gujarat.

The Dalit movements are dominated by their middle class raising issues related to identity and reservations of government jobs and political positions. There is widespread local level assertion against the practice of untouchability and discrimination. Their struggles have brought dalits on the agenda of mainstream politics. In academic circles the movements have forced a section of intellectuals to critically review not only Indian traditions and culture but also the paradigms of modernity and Marxism. They have exploded number of myths created by Brahminical ideology. The Dalit movements have also successfully built up a good deal of pressure on the ruling classes. However several scholars and activists feel that dalits have been reduced to a pressure group within the mainstream politics. Gail Omvedt observes that the post-Ambedkar Dalit movement was ironically only that in the end- a movement of dalits, challenging some of the deepest aspects of oppression and exploitation but failing to show the way to transformation.

Dalit Consciousness

The term Dalit means poor and oppressed people has now acquired a new cultural context relating to Dalit literature and Dalit movement. Used in 1930s in Hindi and Marathi to denote the depressed classes later labeled as scheduled caste the term became popular in the 1970s.Dalit panthers in their manifesto in 1973 enlarged its meaning to include scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, landless laborers, small farmers and nomadic tribes. In 1924 Dr B R Ambedkar founded the Bahishkrit Hitkarmi Sabha to promote the cause of Dalits.

Dalit consciousness has been revived by several protest movements to fight discrimination. Laws in India proclaim equality but practice is way behind. Now the term Dalit is used with pride and spirit of self assertion and its movement denotes a unified class movement towards equality.

India's Caste System under Attack: The Dalit Movement
The Conflict

Although India's Constitution of 1947 abolished the practice of untouchability, the Dalits continue to experience discrimination, segregation, and violence. The laws providing for the welfare of Dalits are often ignored. The government of India maintains that the problems should be handled internally and do not represent a form of racism, while the sections of Dalit intelligentsia seek international attention to the problems they face.


•The Dalits, mostly landless agricultural laborers or menial laborers, need greater political voice and participation in political processes to break free from the ageold socio-culturally imposed bondage, segregation, and discrimination. Despite the advances brought about by the reservation system, customs and other social practices continue to hinder rapid and all around social emancipation of Dalits.


• As landless laborers who depend upon the landlord farmers for their livelihood, the Dalits continue to suffer from the traditional caste equations and the landlords continue to profit from it. This system provides fertile ground for atrocities. Only economic empowerment of Dalits, providing them with land and the related wherewithal, can mitigate the social tensions.

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• The caste distinction has not only social but religious sanction. It is based on the Hindu idea that a person's positioning in the social hierarchy is ordained by his or her deeds in the previous life, since Hindus believe in rebirth. The current social status of an individual depends on the good or bad deeds committed by that individual—his or her Karma—and is therefore immutable in this real world.

The World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, a United Nations (UN) convention held in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 7, 2001, stirred a hornet's nest in India. The Dalit activists and their supporters demanded that India's 2000-year-old caste system be included in the deliberations at the conference and that the United Nations (UN) should pass a resolution condemning the inherent social gradation of the system. The demand to bring this issue before an international forum was countered vociferously by the Indian government, which maintains that the caste system and caste-related discrimination are internal affairs that should be fought within the country.

"Dalit" literally means downtrodden or oppressed, and is a term used in place of the word "untouchables" to identify the lowest caste categories. In modern times, though laws have forbidden discrimination against Dalits, the stigma of untouchability continues to isolate millions of members of this group. They are still associated by many upper caste members with a sense of pollution—as having been the workers in charge of functions like disposing of animal carcasses, digging graves, and cleaning latrines and therefore polluted. Despite India's modern democratic government and a 50-year-old constitution that abolishes the caste system and provides for the rights of the lowest caste, there is much work left to do in order to wipe out the discriminatory practices still prevalent in no small measure.

Dalits, who comprise 16 percent of India's population and number about 160 million, suffer disproportionately from poverty, segregation, lack of education, discrimination, and physical abuse. The caste system that has kept the Dalits downtrodden is an ancient social malice, and there has been an unsatisfactory and tardy implementation of the existing constitutional provisions to eliminate it.

The government of India, although acknowledging the harmful aspects of the caste system, believes that caste discrimination is not the same as racial discrimination and that internationalizing the issue will be of no use in resolving the age-old problem. In opposition to the government's position are academicians, jurists, other sections of the intelligentsia, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), mostly from Dalit communities, who have demanded debate on caste in the World Conference Against Racism. These groups believe that international scrutiny would expose the failure of the Indian State to implement constitutional safeguards for victims of caste-based oppression or to eliminate this ancient social evil.

Dalits in Contemporary India

The ancient social institution of untouchability continued despite the remedial measures that were initiated in post-colonial India. The Dalits, mostly landless agricultural laborers or those engaged in menial jobs, were for the most part unable to break free from the age-old socio-culturally imposed bondage, segregation, and discrimination. Despite the advances brought about by the reservation system, in modern times the changes in social norms, culture, and customs leave much to be desired.

It is painfully apparent to most observers that the Dalits have continued to suffer abuse of all kinds. Socially, they suffer discriminatory practices. In many Indian villages, there are separate living areas for Dalits, often with different water sources. In schools, Dalit students may be forced to sit at the back of the classroom and they are often taunted. In some places, they may not be allowed to worship in the same temples as the higher castes or to use same cremation grounds.

Economically, despite some small progress owing to the reservation policy, more than 77 percent of Dalits continue to depend on what they can get from the land, according to the 1991 census; 25 percent of these are marginal and small farmers and 50 percent are the landless laborers. There are 0.8 percent or 1.1 million Dalits working in service sector through the reservation system. The majority of the remaining Dalits have to fend for jobs, primarily in urban areas.

In India, the increase in the prices of basic food items in the last decade as a consequence of liberalization and the free market, has meant that poorer sections have been forced to cut down on consumption. Dalit households, particularly in rural areas, have experienced a significant reduction in the calories taken in and thus were more frequent victims of malnutrition. As in other countries, the poor are most affected in shaky economic times, with unemployment hitting them hardest.

In India's educational institutions, the reservation system and financial assistance in the form of scholarships are granted to Dalits. In the era of economic reforms at the end of the twentieth century, however, the grants to many institutions were stagnating, if not reduced. The free market ethos has entered the educational sphere in a big way. Schools are increasingly commercialized and offer specialized education that should help the under-privileged. But along with these new avenues, the job market has become intensely competitive, and others are entering into these programs. Dalits, handicapped by socio-economic deprivation, find themselves increasingly alienated from the system of education. Moreover an increasing Dalit dropout rate from the schools points out their immediate need to supplement very low family incomes, as well as a lack of confidence that education will deliver them a decent life.

The reservation policy provides for the employment of a proportionate representation of Dalits in all the public jobs in the government, public sector, autonomous bodies, and institutions receiving grant-in-aid from the government. Over 50,000 Dalits could get governmental jobs as a result of reservations. This gives them hope for the future and prevents alienation from the nation and the society. The private sector, on the other hand, provides very limited scope for the absorption of Dalits.

Similarly, there is representation of Dalits at high governmental levels. The highly regarded president of the Republic of India and the speaker and the deputy speaker of the Lower House of the Parliament, as well as several Parliamentary ministers hail from the Dalit community. One hundred twenty-two members of Parliament belong to the Dalit community out of a total strength of five hundred forty-five in the Lower House of the Parliament or Lok Sabha, thanks primarily to the statutory reservations

Self-Respect Movement Begins

MARCH 1, 1925: Periyar E.V. Ramaswami launched the Self-Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu on March 1, 1925. The main tenets of the Self-Respect Movement in society were the following: Equality for all, no matter the caste, income level or gender of the person. In fact he encouraged the end to attachments of caste, religion, varna, and country with every human being acting according to reason, understanding, desire, and perspective. A key focus of this movement was Periyar's determination to fight the inequalities ingrained in the caste system and religious practices. He fought passionately on the theme of liberating the society from the baneful social superstitious practices perpetrated in the name of Hindu dharma and karma. The movement was extremely influential not just in Tamil Nadu, but grew to influence national leaders like B.R. Ambedkar and the Indian freedome movement. It eventuall spread a overseas in countries with large Tamil populations, such as Malaysia and Singapore. Among Singapore Indians, groups like the Tamil Reform Association, and leaders like Thamizhavel G. Sarangapani were prominent in promoting the principles of the Self-Respect Movement among the local Tamil population through schools and publications. A number of political parties in Tamil Nadu, such as Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) owe their origins to the Self-respect movement.
Kasaba Jadhav, India's First Olympic Medalist

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav was widely known as 'Pocket Dynamo'. He was born in Goleshwar Tal Village in Karad Tashil of district Satara, Maharashtra in a poor Maratha family. His nick name was Anna. He was independent India's first individual Olympic medalist when he won the freestyle wrestling bronze medal at the 1952 Helsinki Games. For nearly half a century, his would remain the only individual medal for India at the Olympics until Leander Paes won a bronze in 1996. Hailing from a wrestling background, Jadhav was an ardent fan of sports, mainly wrestling, kabaddi, running, swimming and others. His father, a wrestler himself taught Jadhav about the sport and despite being the youngest in the family he managed to grasp the game and outclassed everyone. Wrestlers from Karad (around 75 kms from Kolhapur) and far flung places used to participate in wrestling events at Kolhapur under the Royal patronage of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj. Gradually he began emerging as undisputed wrestler in the area and soon was competing in national events.Jadhav was fleet footed, which made him different from other wrestlers of his time. English coach Rees Gardner saw this trait in him and trained him prior to 1948 Olympic games. In the 1948 London Olympics, he participated in the flyweight category finishing sixth. Four years later, before the selection for Helsinki Olympics, Jadhav alleged that nepotism among officials prevented him from getting selected for the Olympics. According to him, they intentionally gave him one point less than the eventual winner at the Madras Nationals, and this ruled him out of the Olympics. He did not bow down to corrupt officialdom and appealed to Maharaja of Patiala seeking justice. Fortunately the Maharaja of Patiala who loved sports, saw his point, and arranged his entry in Olympic trials where he floored his opponent and won an entry in the Olympics. Now Jadhav faced his next set of problems. He had to arrange money for his travel to Helsinki. Even the principal of Kolhapur's Rajaram college, Mr. Khardekar, mortgaged his house for a sum of Rs. 7,000 to pay for his travelling cost. Local shopkeepers from his village Goleshwar, in Karad taluka Satara district presented him with groceries and other items of use. At Helsinki, Jadhav had to fight seven bouts in all in the 52 kg freestyle event. In the first five, he met opponents from Europe and the Gulf countries and took barely five minutes to dispose them off. In the sixth round, his opponent was the famed Shonachi Ishi of Japan. Ishi's novelty of the ankle hold surprised Jadhav, but when he counterattacked, Ishi attempted rolling fouls which were penalised giving Jadhav a win. Unfortunately his next bout was soon after this sapping bout. This was officially not permissible, but since there was no Indian official to lodge an official protest, he had to face this bout within less than half an hour of this bout with Ishi. The tired Jadhav took on his next opponent, Manod Bekov of Russia. It is believed that had Jadhav not been tired from his previous bout, he would have defeated Bekov in no time, but tired as he was, he was beaten by Bekov and had to settle for a bronze.Despite his loss, his was a unique achievement in India. Yet like most talented individuals in developing countries, he was largely forgotten. There was no fanfare from his return to Helsinki. No newspaper interviews, no television. Television in fact was not born in India then! There was however a small felicitation for him at Mumbai's Shivaji Mandir auditorium in Dadar, Mumbai. Interestingly there was also a cavalcade of 101 bullock carts from Karad to his village. Instead of being heaped with rewards, Jadhav had to fight an exhibition soon on return to raise funds to help Khardekar pay off the mortgage loan raised for him. After this glorious moment he slid into oblivion and despite serving Inspector in the state police of Maharashtra he died living in poverty – almost certainly a broken man – on 14 August 1984 in a road accident. Ultimately, Government of India realized her forgotten hero and made a remarkable stadium in Delhi for wrestling and honored it by naming it as K D Jadhav stadium. This stadium is at par with the best in the world. http://drambedkarbooks.com/2015/01/28/28th-january-in-dalit-history-first-ever-infanticide-prohibition-home-of-india-was-started-by-savitribai-phule/

Samta Sainik Dal (Soldiers for Equality) Founded

Samata Sainik Dal (Army of Soldiers for Equality or Party of the Fighters for Equality) is a social organisation founded by B. R. Ambedkar in 1927 with the objective of safeguarding the rights of all oppressed sections of Indian society.

Birthdate of Dominic Jeeva
Dominic Jeeva is a prominent minority Sri Lankan Tamil author and literary figure from Sri Lanka. A dalit, Dominic Jeeva was for a period of time forgotten as a writer. He first became known to non-Tamil speaking readers after a review of his book Pathukai, a collection of short stories.

Dr. Ambedkar Addresses the First Official Gathering of Dalit WomenBhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and the Great Conversion - Tricycle

This was the third day of the Mahad Conference (at Raigad district, Maharashtra) to realize right of depressed classes to fetch water from Chavdar tank - a public tank. At 10 P M the Conference wound up its proceedings by expressing its gratitude to the Reception Committee and thanking the delegates and its sympathizers. Immediately after conclusion of the Conference, Dr. Ambedkar addressed a meeting of about 3000 women of the Depressed Classes, the first meeting of its kind in modern India. This was also unique occasion when the women folk of the Depressed Classes showed signs of a stirring. Dr. Ambedkar spoke to them in a simple homely manner. He said: “Never regard yourselves as untouchables. Live a clean life. Never mind if your dress is full of patches, but see that it is clean. None can restrict your freedom in the choice of your garments and in the use of the metal for ornaments .Attend more to the cultivation of the mind and the spirit of self –help.’’ Then with a little fall in his voice he said: “But do not feed in any case your spouse and sons ti they are drunkards. Send your children to schools. Education is as necessary for females as it is for males. If you know how to read and write, there would be much progress. As you are, so your children will be. Mold their lives in a virtuous way. For sons should be such as would make a mark in this world.” To the surprise of all, the women left early in the morning with a wonderful change in the fashion of their sarees as ordained by their great leader, guide and uncrowned king. Thus the Mahad struggle ended. The end of the epoch was sounded by Dr. Ambedkar’s declaration of human rights of equality and by the India National Congress, which at its Madaras session, during the same week, declared “the goal of the Indian people to be complete National Independence.” The first declaration related to social independence, and the second to political independence. It was a good and great coincidence - a sign of India’s conscious efforts at a revaluation of social and political equality!

Dr. Ambedkar Refuses to Support Temple Entry Bill

Gandhi requested Dr. Ambedkar to lend his support to Dr. Subbarayan’s Temple entry Bill and that of Ranga Iyer-when both met on 4th Feb. 1934 at Yeravada Prison. Dr. Ambedkar declined in person, and later issued a statement on 14th Feb, 1933. He outlined the impracticability of the bill, crticised it for not making Untouchability illegal and outlined why he would not prefer just temple entry.

Founding of the Scheduled Castes Federation

The All-India Scheduled Castes Federation was founded by Dr. Ambedkar in a national convention of the scheduled castes held at Nagpur and led by Rao Bahadur N.Shivraj, a renowned Dalit leader from Madras. An executive body of All India SCF was elected in the convention. Rao Bahadur N. Shivraj was elected as President and P.N.Rajbhoj from Bombay was elected as general secretary. The convention passed the following resolutions; 1) Cripps proposals to secure full Indian cooperation with the British goverment during World War II were condemned as they failed to consider the interests of the dalits. 2) The separate identity of the dalits be recognised. 3) Special provision should be made in the budgets of respective provinces for the higher education of the untouchables. 4) The untouchables should get adequate representation in the central and provincial ministries. 5) Certain seats should be reserved in the government services. 6) The untouchables should get representation in the legislatures and local self-governments in proportion to their population. 7) Their representatives should be elected by separate electorate. 8) There should be provision in the constitution for the separate settlements of the Scheduled castes. 9) They should be given arable uncultivated land for their livelihood. The role played by SCF in politico-legal activities is of great importance: it could enlist the participation of the Scheduled castes in politics, it was spread over almost all parts of the country, and it tried to aggregate the interests of the SC’s and to protect them. In Oct. 1943, the central assembly passed a resolution moved by Pyrelal Kureel Talib, SCF member, for the removal of restrictions on the untouchables in the military forces against holding post of officers. However, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar himself desired to wind up the SCF and establish a new party, the Republican party of India (RPI) which could be able to associate with all the depressed class people and work as a strong opposition party to the ruling Congress and strive for the success of democracy.

Bahishkrit Hitakrini Sabha Founded

JULY 20, 1924: Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha was established by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in Damodar Hall of Mumbai, as the central organization for bringing about a new socio-political awareness among Dalit by removing the difficulties facing Dalits, and placing Dalit grievances before the Indian government. The founding principles of the Sabha were "Educate, Agitate and Organize”.

Hidden history of the victory of 500 against 28000

Vijay Stambh | historical location in Bhima koregaon

It was a battle hidden within the history of india. It was the primary battle for self-respect and self rights, only 500 troopers fought twelve hours without food, water and rest against 20,000 horsemen with weapons and 8000 army unit. These five hundred brave Mahar soldiers created a history, they won the battle by killing 28000 troopers of Peshwa. The koregaon pillar featured on the Mahar regiment's crest till Indian Independence. The names of those 22 brave Mahar soldiers killed there inscribed on koregaon pillar. A medal issued in 1851, as well, pays homage to the undying spirit. Today, the monument "serves as a focal point of Mahar heroism"

This battle happened on Jan 1st, 1818, close to the banks of Bhima river in Koregaon (north-west of Pune) between small forces of ‘500 Mahars' soldiers of 2d Battalion, first regiment of ‘Bombay Native lightweight Infantry’ and Peshwa troopers. ‘Bombay Native lightweight Infantry’ headed by ‘Caption Francis Staunton’. Compared to the ‘500 untouchables soldiers’ Brahmin Peshwa Rao’s force was giant in numbers, they were quite twenty,000 horsemen and 8,000 army unit soldiers. After walking down quite twenty-seven Miles distance from Shirur to Bhima Koregaon without rest or reprieve, without food or water ‘500 untouchables’ fought so courageously for twelve hours and won the battle. Battle over not solely with ‘victory’ over Peshwa however it becomes accountable for the end of ‘Peshwai’ in Maharashtra.

This battle had uncommon significance for several reasons. First, British army fought this battle with a minuscule army expecting the worst, particularly after their experience of the Pune Regency. Secondly, the battle of Koregaon was one in all the most important events that helped destroy the Peshwa Empire and later on the Peshwa had to abdicate. third and most definitely, it had been an attempt by the untouchables of Maharashtra to interrupt the shackles of the old caste order.

Siddhanak mahar , was a head of the battalion , he requested to peshwas we might to fight against british and wish to assist you, because british are foreigner, however peshwas denied their request and insult them and said you'll not get any single right , the place stay same whether you fight against us or british. it was the beginning of battle of self-respect and rights.

The Peshwa's troops inexplicably withdrew that evening, despite their overwhelming numbers, giving the british a crucial success. the men of the 2/1st Regiment Bombay Native infantry, who fought during this battle, honored for their bravery. The official report to the british Residents at Poona remembers the "heroic bravery and enduring fortitude" of the soldiers, the "disciplined intrepidity" and "devoted bravery and admirable consistency" of their actions.

Much praise showred on the Mahar soldiers of the Bombay Army who endured the rigours of adverse marches when rations were low and illness was high among men and animals. Whether they were charging ahead or besieged or taken prisoner-of-war, whether they were storming fortresses or creating plan of action withdrawals, they always stood steadfast by their officers and comrades, never letting down the honour of their Regiments. Similar anecdotes recorded within the written histories of the Mahar Regiment and Bombay Army. All demonstrate that most Mahar soldiers dedicated and resolute.

This Battle commemorated by an obelisk, referred to as the Koregaon Pillar (Vijay Stambh), that featured on the ‘Mahar Regiment’ crest till Indian Independence. The ‘Vijay Stambh’ reminds us ‘together we are able to succeed anything’. The monument has names inscribed of twenty two untouchables (Mahars) killed there, erected at the site of the battle and by a laurels issued in 1851. Today, the monument still "serves as focal point of Untouchable (Mahar) heroism". Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar used to visit Bhima Koregaon (Shaurya Bhumi) each year on 1st January to pay homage to great Mahar soldiers of The Bhima Koregaon Battle.

References -

‘Battle of Bhima Koregaon’ at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Koregaon
‘Mahar Regiment’ at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahar_Regiment
1shodh Team Collected information from various books

Dalits fight against all odds for promised lands across India
In 2014, Bihar--where almost 90% of dalit farmers are farm labourers--became the first state to recognise that lack of possession was a problem that needed state intervention

Nihar Gokhale | IndiaSpend | Osmanabad Last Updated at June 7, 2019 

Representative Image

Rambhau Kamble was five years old when he first saw Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. On that February morning in 1941, Ambedkar--eight years away from framing India’s constitution but already the most prominent dalit leader of his times--addressed a public rally in Marathwada, now a part of the state of Maharashtra in western India.

“Every dalit from the region was there,” Kamble, now a frail 80-year-old, recalled at his one-room house in Gharegaon village in the southeastern Maharashtra district of Osmanabad.

Kamble is among the nearly 100,000 dalit farmers who heeded Ambedkar’s call and occupied grazing land, termed ‘gairan’, across Marathwada. At its peak in 1991, the movement occupied 100,000 hectares of land--the equivalent area of today’s Pune and Bengaluru put together.

In 2019, the movement is as real as it was in 1941 for Rambhau and 11,000 other dalit families in Marathwada, a region of 64,590 sq km, about half the geographical area of Tamil Nadu. They still occupy government land because seven decades of land reforms and government programmes aimed at providing land to dalits and other historically oppressed communities didn’t quite work.

Almost 60% dalit households did not own any farmland in 2013--the latest year for which figures are available--according to the India Land and Livestock Holding Survey. Nearly 70% of dalit farmers are labourers on farms owned by others, according to Census 2011.

Ambedkar, who belonged to a dalit community from western Maharashtra, argued that rural dalits should be given cultivable land controlled by the government and commons, such as grazing land. At the Marathwada rally in 1941, he urged dalits to capture public land in villages and cultivate it. By doing so, he said, they could become self-sufficient farmers.

Across 13 Indian states, there are 31 conflicts involving 92,000 dalits who are fighting to claim land, according to Land Conflict Watch, a network of researchers that maps and collects data on land conflicts in India. The wilful occupying of government land in Maharashtra has spread to Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Bihar, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, land titles given to dalits over the years in land-redistribution programmes are useless because higher castes, who originally owned the land, never ceded control.

After Independence in 1947, Indian states, which alone have the right to pass land legislation, introduced laws aimed at breaking down large landholdings of zamindars or feudal landlords, and distribute the surplus land so generated to the landless, including dalits.

However, the implementation of land reform laws has been poor because no government is willing to antagonise landowners, who are from dominant castes, said T Vincent Manoharan, chairperson of the National Federation of Dalit Land Rights Movement, an umbrella group of more than 100 grassroots movements.

Politicians blame bureaucrats for not implementing the laws properly, while bureaucrats allege interference from politicians, who are, often, large landowners themselves. “But when a mega project is proposed, they easily acquire land, no matter who it belongs to,” said Manoharan.

Once called untouchables, now officially ‘scheduled castes’, dalits were compelled to work in professions defined by the Hindu caste system. The jobs of dalits--a name derived from the Sanskrit word for oppression--included cleaning toilets, handling cattle carcasses, making leather, and farm labour. They were barred from entering temples, and drawing water from wells used by the people of higher castes. They were not allowed education or to own land. Many of these restrictions still stand.

The struggle in Marathwada

Kamble’s neighbour, Sunanda Kamble (no relation), is a 50-something cheerful woman in a green saree and a large vermilion mark on her forehead. She clearly remembered the day in 1989 when she and a few other women held sickles and walked to unproductive grazing land in the village.

They had heard on the radio that dalits were occupying gairan land. Sunanda’s relatives, who were visiting from the neighbouring district of Beed, told her that they had occupied some land and encouraged her to do the same.

On the gairan, Sunanda and other women dug furrows with sickles and planted jowar (sorghum) seeds. A few weeks later, the seeds sprouted. Eventually, the village’s dalits divided 22 hectares of the 32-hectare spread of gairan among themselves, depending on how much seed and labour each was able to afford. This was the third time that dalits in Gharegaon occupied gairan land.

Sunanda Kamble was among the dalit women who, in 1989, occupied the gairan (grazing) land in Gharegaon village in the southeastern Maharashtra district of Osmanabad. She had heard from her relatives from the neighbouring Beed district that the occupation movement was picking up again.

The occupation of public land in Marathwada has come in waves. The first one was in the 1940s, following Ambedkar’s call. Another took place in the ’60s and ’70s under Dadasaheb Gaikwad, a popular dalit leader and a close associate of Ambedkar. In 1978, the state government issued an order regularising all encroachments made until then.

The dalits kept occupying land, partly because they had frequently abandoned some due to the region’s notorious droughts and pressure from the local administration, often from higher castes.

Kamble’s family, for example, had first occupied the gairan in 1945 but a drought in the following year had forced the family to move to Mumbai to work as daily wage labourers. They came back and occupied the land again in the ’70s but had to give it up again after, as Rambhau put it, “pressure from the upper-caste landowners”.

In 1991, two years after Sunanda and others occupied land, the state government agreed to the dalit land rights movement’s demand to regularise occupied land. It issued an order stating that land titles would be given to those who could prove encroachment for at least one year before April 14, 1990, Ambedkar’s birth anniversary.

Between 1978 and 1991, 84,230 people occupied nearly 100,000 hectares of gairan across Maharashtra, according to an estimate in the government order.

But most farmers did not have proof that they were in possession of the land, said Ashruba Gaikwad, district convenor of the Jamin Adhikar Andolan (land rights agitation), a movement that has helped about 35,000 dalits with the paperwork required to file for land titles. In the absence of official evidence, the Andolan helped people like Sunanda Kamble obtain affidavits from village elders, grazers and helpful farmers, certifying they had occupied the land.

The government, however, insisted on using only official records, such as encroachment notices from revenue officers or police complaints, Gaikwad said. Not all occupiers had been penalised, and in many cases farmers had not saved the paperwork, so they missed their opportunity.

Another reason for the recurring land-occupation drives in Maharashtra is the state’s failure to implement its land reform law--the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 1961. The law set an upper limit to the size of land one could possess. Any land above the limit would be taken over by the state and distributed, first to tenant farmers cultivating the land and then to landless dalits and adivasis (tribals).

But by March 2001, just 2% of the farmed area in Maharashtra had been declared surplus--among the lowest nationwide--according to a 2007 Planning Commission report. Landlords in Maharashtra avoided having their landholdings declared surplus by using false documents, partitioning land among family members, understating the extent of land owned and showing underage sons as adults, according to a 2005 study by the government-run Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration.

As a result, Maharashtra had distributed land to just 41,039 dalit households, according to 2008 ministry of rural development data, the latest available. That benefitted 5% of 854,000 landless dalit households in the state as per the 2011 socio-economic and caste census.

Dalit farmers such as Kamble, who neither received surplus land nor could get occupied land regularised, are not eligible for bank loans, crop insurance, electricity connections for irrigation pumps or drought relief.

On learning that the Nizam of Hyderabad, who ruled Marathwada then, had in 1948 probably issued a decree regularising all encroachments on grazing land, a few dalit farmers from Gharegaon one day in 2017 went to the block administration office, bribed the peon to dig out Nizam-era records, written in Urdu, and spent a whole day poring over the dusty files. But they could not locate any files on the encroachments.

Over the decade to 2019, dalit farmers have held a number of protests in the state capital, Mumbai, and the national capital, New Delhi. They have submitted letters to the chief minister and district collectors, detailing the area they occupied and the crops under cultivation, and attached photographs of themselves standing in front of their harvests. In the letters, they have asked for title in the name of both husband and wife, and requested irrigation facilities. One 2018 letter makes the plea: “Please help increase the national food output by securing the livelihood of gairan encroachers.”

In desperation, some of those who have occupied gairan have begun to petition the administration to urge action against themselves, so that it creates the official evidence they never had. A representation made by Gharegaon’s dalit families asks the block office to send inspectors to the land, prepare a panchnama, or official record, of evidence of crops under cultivation and impose penalties on them.

“Can you imagine a person pleading the government to prosecute him?” asked Arvind Kamble, one of the encroachers. “This is our situation now.”

Across states, similar challenge--and a few solutions

As many as 81% of dalit farmers in Maharashtra were agricultural labourers, who had no land of their own and worked on others’ farms land as opposed to 49% of landless farmers among non-dalits, according to Census 2011. In at least three other states with a larger proportion of landlessness, dalits have similarly occupied government land.

In 2014, the dalits of Punjab’s Sangrur district--where 90% of dalit farmers are agricultural workers--occupied 6,475 hectares of vacant land and asked the government to give them titles. In Punjab, dalits constitute a third of the population, the highest in India. They have accused the state of not implementing laws that reserve public land for dalits for farming and building homes. The protesters, organised under the Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Samiti or ‘movement to obtain land’, have threatened to intensify their occupation drives, if land is not lawfully granted to them.

In Kerala, where 93% of dalit farmers are farm labourers, dalits and adivasis occupied parts of a 25,000-hectare rubber plantation in Chengara in the southern district of Pathanamthitta in 2007. They point to two flaws in the state’s 1963 land reforms, which are otherwise considered a success. The reforms only covered “intermediaries”, such as tenants, who were typically upper caste, and not farm labourers, who were dalits or adivasis. The reforms also exempted plantations from giving up excess land. That meant large estates, like the one at Chengara, could not be distributed to the landless.

In 2012, more than 22 hectares of government land in Arippa in Kollam district of Kerala were occupied by dalit families, who discovered that the land, which was earmarked to be distributed to them, was being instead allotted to a dental college and a university campus.

In 2017, landless dalit women in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district--where 87% of dalit farmers are landless--occupied a one-hectare patch of government-owned common land and began cultivating it with food crops.

Landless dalits in Gujarat and Bihar--states on opposite economic ends but where over 80% of dalit farmers work on others’ farms--face another problem: they were given titles under land reforms, but their land is in possession of higher castes.

Only half the dalit households in six Gujarat districts were found to have been in possession of the land they had been allotted, according to a 2015 survey. More than half of these households had to fight for at least five years to gain possession of the land. Long before dalit leader Jignesh Mewani shot to prominence after an incident in Una town, where seven dalit men were beaten for skinning a dead cow, he fought court cases to help dalits take possession of the land granted to them.

In 2014, Bihar--where almost 90% of dalit farmers are farm labourers--became the first state to recognise that lack of possession was a problem that needed state intervention. At the time, about 500,000 of the state’s 2.3 million dalits were yet to take possession of the land granted to them.

Jitan Ram Manjhi, the then chief minister of Bihar and the first dalit to hold the post, launched ‘Operation Dakhal Dehani’ or ‘giving possession’, under which camps were set up in villages and police and revenue officers helped dalits gain control of the land they had received titles to decades earlier. In 2018, when the operation ended, only about 40,000 families--or 25% of those eligible--were still without land and that was because of litigation, according to a Bihar government website.

The government plays a critical role in giving land to dalits because even if they can afford to buy land, they are discriminated against by sellers, said Sukhdeo Thorat, an economist and expert on caste discrimination. An unpublished field study by Thorat’s team, covering Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, found that dalits typically pay higher prices for land and are usually not sold “high-quality land”--near irrigation canals or next to fields of dominant-caste farmers. “The government has to give the ownership of public lands to the scheduled castes,” said Thorat.

An alternative to providing public land could be a programme like the one Telangana introduced in 2014. Under the Land Purchase Scheme, the Telangana government bypasses the difficulties of redistributing land to dalits by buying land from landowners and giving about three acres (1.2 hectares) to each landless dalit family. The state has so far purchased 6,070 hectares of land and distributed it to about 6,000 dalit families.

Under the Telangana programme, the families also receive irrigation and funds for fertiliser, pesticides and other things required for farming. However, dalit groups and human rights activists have criticised the scheme for slow progress, and some families have complained of poor quality land.

Return to landlessness

In Marathwada, the odds are stacking up against the dalits fighting to get the land they occupied regularised. In 2011, the Supreme Court ordered all state governments to ensure that encroachments on commons by individuals or by institutions were not regularised.

“Our ancestors were not fools,” the judgement by Justice Markandey Katju observed, referring to the ecological reasons--such as water harvesting--that led to the creation of commons in every village. Within weeks, the Maharashtra government issued a resolution stating that it would no longer regularise ‘encroachments’ on grazing land.

In 2016, the Maharashtra government launched an afforestation project by planting trees to bring one-third of the state’s area under tree cover. The plan calls for 500 million trees on government land statewide by 2020. Those trees are being planted on gairan in Marathwada.

In April 2017, as Sunanda Kamble and others reached the fields to harvest pigeon pea, they noticed that an earth mover had begun to dig trenches, one-metre wide and five-metre, long on their farms--to plant saplings. The farmers said they stood in front of the earth mover and threatened to throw stones and set the machine on fire if the operator did not stop.

“The women used such curse words that the operator, whom I know, told me he lost his appetite for several days,” one of the villagers said.

The dalits then took a bus to Osmanabad town and filed a complaint with the district collector. They did not hear back from the administration, but the earth movers did not return. When the villagers accessed land records, they found that in 2015 the district administration had transferred all the grazing land to the forest department, without any public notice or informing them

Dalit families gather near a community centre in Gharegaon in Maharashtra’s Osmanabad district. Dalits own no land in the village and work as labourers on the farms of upper-caste farmers. During the region’s recurring droughts, they migrate to western Maharashtra or to Mumbai in search of work.

A district forest officer, who did not wish to be named, said that although nearly 5,000 hectares of gairan had been transferred to the forest department, they had taken possession of only 900 hectares because the remaining land was occupied by dalit farmers.

“Our department is asking the collector to help us... maybe to give some alternative land to the occupants,” said the forest officer.

But a senior district officer said, also on condition of anonymity, that there was “no way” the collector could grant titles to the occupants or relocate them. “The land now belongs to forest department and it is all up to them now,” he said.

Granting gairan land to the Dalits was a “minimalist” demand considering that it is the least fertile land in villages, said Awanish Kumar, a Mumbai-based researcher who has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the gairan movement. “The land was abandoned by the villagers for being the least fertile, otherwise it would have been taken over by the dominant castes long ago.” The gairan movement is a struggle “to demand cultivation rights on land that is not even cultivable”, he said.

The dalits of Gharegaon abandoned their farms in 2017 after the forest department dug trenches. Rambhau Kamble said the farmers could not afford the risk of having their crop razed by the department. It costs about Rs 10,000 to cultivate an acre (0.4 hectare), and the farmers turn to moneylenders and savings from meagre farm-labour wages.

In 2017, Maharashtra’s forest department began digging pits in gairan (grazing) land to plant trees as a part of the government’s project to plant 500 million trees across the state.

As the 2019 monsoon approached, Kamble and the others wondered whether or not to sow, after a two-year gap. If they did not, the only jobs near the village were daily wage labour on large farms of higher castes. They wanted to hold on to the land, though they realise it is getting increasingly untenable.

“We want to cultivate this year, and it is quite likely that they [the government] will take action against us,” said Kamble. “But it is our right to have land of our own, so we won’t give up easily.”

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