A 3- part article:
Post 1; Post 2; Post 3;
In the course of the movement for an Independent India, the problem of 'untouchability' and caste discrimination against Dalits became an international issue. It was due to the radical, bold stand that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, leading Dalit figure of the 20th century and architect of India's Constitution, made on behalf of the ''Depressed Classes' as the British prepared to transfer political power to the dominant castes who influenced the character of the Independence Movement.
He made one of his most brilliant stands on behalf of the "Depressed Classes" in 1930-1931 at the Round Table Conference in London, in which leading representatives of the various communities in Indian Sub-Continent met to discuss and come to an agreement on the main points that must be included in the constitution for a self-governing India. Ambedkar plainly told the Conference that the "Depressed Classes" would not accept any constitution for self-rule that did not guarantee them equal citizenship and fundamental rights and abolish the practice of untouchability.
Ambedkar's bold, radical stance was strongly resented by many dominant-caste leaders of the Independence Movement, who accused him of dividing the Independence Movement and playing stooge to the British Raj. They lectured him that the situation of the 'untouchables' was an internal matter and urged him to wait until Independence was achieved. (the same argument was raised when dalits wanted to reaise their issue in the THE UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) held at Durban) Ambedkar, however, saw things quite differently Religious orthodoxy and deep-rooted caste prejudice confined the nationalist movement to largely representing the aspirations of the dominant castes for political and economic power. Ambedkar was keenly aware of this.
“I am sorry to say, Sir, that I have been deluded. I find now that although some of our people would desire me and others to join them in their demand for Dominion Status, they do not join with us in demanding that the Government which will be set up under that Dominion Status shall be responsible to the people of India as a whole. I never thought there would be this division of opinion, and that I should have to stand up to defend the position we take. Now, Sir, speaking on behalf of the Depressed Classes I cannot honestly consent to responsible Government or to Dominion Status unless I can be sure that the people for whom I speak are to have a place in that constitution”.
Ambedkar's intervention at the Round Table Conference articulated an authentic democratic vision of Swaraj based on equality, liberty and fraternity, principles alien to a social order based on caste division and hierarchy. It was largely as a result of Ambedkar's interventions at the Round Table Conference that the Indian Constitution guaranteed fundamental rights, established universal suffrage, abolished 'untouchability' and guaranteed reservation in legislature and government services for Dalits, Adi Vasis and minorities.
It may be interesting to note that Gandhiji, for all the propaganda surrounding his name, did not abolish untouchability. Ambedkar, the `Father of the Indian Constitution' and greatest leader of the Black Untouchables (Dalits and Adivasis), has written about Gandhi's policy of subjugating the Untouchables,
" Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors. The sanctity and infallibility of the Vedas, Smritis and Shastras, the iron law of caste, the heartless law of karma and the senseless law of status by birth are to the Untouchables veritable instruments of torture which Hinduism has forged against untouchables. These very instruments which have mutilated; blasted and blighted the lives of the Untouchables are to be found intact and untarnished in the bosom of Gandhism."
This is because Gandhi was a staunch follower of the Brahminist caste system. :
" Supporting the caste system he [ Gandhi ] said: "I believe that caste has saved Hinduism from disintegration." He also said, "To destroy the caste system and adopt the Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation, which is the soul of the caste system. The hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder."
The greatest crime committed by Gandhi against the Black Race was to deny the Black Untouchables of India separate electorates and sabotaging the plan to emancipiate Untouchables :
" In the Round Table Conference held in 1932, the then British Government accepted the demand of the Dalits for separate electorate. The basis of that demand was the fact that the Dalit are not Hindu but a separate nation. Gandhi started his 'fast unto death' against that plan and sabotaged it. It was a thunderous blow to the cause of the emancipation of the Dalit."
Indeed, Gandhi displayed a marked bias against the Black Untouchables." In 1933, he established Harijan (Dalit) Sevak Sangh for the welfare of the Untouchables (Dalits). But when there was a demand for the representation of the Untouchables on the Governing Board of the institution, he flatly refused it. He disapproved appointment of Mr. Agnibhai, a distinguished personality, as a minister in the Congress cabinet in the Madhya Pradesh because he was from the Scheduled Caste."
As a supreme fate of irony, it is the Brahmins the Mahatma so supported that eventually killed him !
There were also other social redformers like E.V.R. popularly known as Periyar, a contemporary of Dr. Ambedkar. Periyar's self-respect movement began in an aggressive way at Vaikom, in the present Kerala. It was on behalf of the Untouchable castes who were not allowed even to walk on a street right before a temple. The agitation became famous as "Vaikom struggle". Dr. Ambedkar wrote an Editorial about this historic achievement in his journal, Mooka Nayak. If Ambedkar challenged the Brahmanical order of society and sought to uphold the basic human rights of the depressed classes. E.V. Ramasami's contributions were no less significant. The imprint of his struggles are to be found in the social and political spheres of the Tamil region in Southern India. His challenge to Brahmanism was sought to be posited through an alternative, democratic culture. It was the unique self-respect movement.