Institutionalized efforts made by Dalit community leaders for the liberation of the downtrodden masses can be termed as Dalit movement. These movements are protests against untouchability, casteism, injustice and inequality in all sectors and for exterior classes, depressed classes or Scheduled Castes. It aims to uplift the Dalits to the level of non-Dalits and to regain self-respect and equal human status for them in the society, as well as to establish a new social order based on equality, fraternity, liberty, social justice, and social, economic, cultural and political development of Dalits. All this is the result of the consciousness of Dalits of their own identity as human beings, equally equipped with physical and mental capacities as other human beings, and equally entitled to enjoy all the human rights “without any infringement, abridgment or limitations.
Ghanshyam Shah, a scholar who wrote article on Dalits, classifies the movements into reformative and alternative movements. The reformative is the one that 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 type of movements use political means to attain their aims and objectives. The reformative movements are further divided into Bhakti movements, neo-Vedantik movements and Sanskritisation movements, and the alternative movements are divided into the conversion movement and the religious or secular movements. Bhakti movement in 15th century developed two traditions of saguna and nirguna.
Mahatma Jyotiba Phule formed the Sayta Shodak Mandal in 1873 with the aim of liberating non-Brahmins from the clutches of Brahminism. Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur started Satya Shodak Mandal in 1912 and carried forward the movement started by Phule. In the pre-independence period, the Dalit movements comprised of a strong non-Brahman movement against Brahmanism in Maharashtra, Adi Dravidas movement in Tamil Nadu, Shri Narayan Dharma Paripalan movement in Kerala, Adi Andhras movement in Coastal Andhra and the like. Phule tried to formulate a new theistic religion.
The religious reformers of the 19th century were influenced by the work of Christian missionaries in India. The Brahmo Samaj (1828), the Prarthana Samaj (1867), the Ramkrishna Mission, and the Arya Samaj (1875) are the examples of such institutions founded with a view to fight against social evils practiced by the caste Hindus. Dr. Ambedkar, on his part, turned to Buddhism. In Tamil Nadu, non- Brahmin movement tried to claim Saivism as an independent religion although both Ayyapan proclaimed no religion, no caste and no god for mankind. All the above movements led, to some extent, to the social upliftment of Dalits.
All India Harijans Sevak Sangh founded by Gandhi in 1923 started numerous schools for the Harijans including residential vocational schools. The Congress Government that later came into power in various States under the Government of India Act 1935 did useful work for restoring to the depressed classes their rightful place. Dr. Ambedkar struggled to secure social recognition and human rights for Dalits. The all India Depressed Association and the All India Depressed Classes Federation, the principal organizations of these classes, initiated a movement to improve their conditions.
All these efforts aimed at improving the miserable economic condition of Dalits, and to spread education among them. They worked to secure for them the rights to draw water from public wells, admission into schools, and to the use of roads; and the right to enter the public temples. The Mahad Satyagrah for the right of water led by Dr. Ambedkar was one of the outstanding movements of the untouchables to win equal social rights.
In Una, Gujarat a couple of months ago, a group of Dalits was brutally assaulted by self-styled cow vigilantes (gau rakshaks) for skinning a dead cow. This place turned into an epicenter of anti-Brahmanical assertion for upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017, threatening to unseat the BJP’s 20+ years old run in the state which was and still remains the first ever laboratory of Hindutva’s project. Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika Vemula hoisted the national flag in Una shortly after Modi did the same at Red Fort. Among others, the rally had significant presence of Gujarat’s Muslims and Muslim organizations from different corners of the Gujarat, who have not found a political voice since the 2002 pogrom spearheaded by PM Narendar Modi. Jignesh Mevani, Una Dalit Atachiyar Ladat Samiti (ULS) convener, raised the slogan “Dalit-Muslim Ekta Zindabad,” with Radhika Vemula. Other social activists and student leaders also joined the protest in solidarity.
Again, another institutionalized murder of Rajini Krishna happened; a student of JNU whose death is suspicious and is the version-2 of Rohith Vemula. Even after couple of days, no proper response from JNU students union as well as social activists raises a big question. The way Dalit NGOs from Tamil Nadu hijacked the case and kept Dalit student’s body aside and Member of Parliaments raised the issue in ongoing parliament session (March 2017) to project Rajini Krishna as a Tamil guy, and not as a Dalit. No justice done to any of the Dalit victims or Dalit movements.
“Be kind even the Lord has been kind to you, and seek not corruption on earth. Indeed the Lord does not love corrupters.” [Quran 28:77]
Let’s be a witness to know how far these moments continue to get the justice, equality and freedom for Dalits from the so-called upper caste Brahmins, how many lives they claim to treat man as man, when their thirst of blood will end after killing hundreds of Dalits and Dalit farmers by banning beef which is their livelihood.
“Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” [Quran 5:32]
New politics or alternative politics need to be started to provide justice to these marginalized communities, as few of the Dalit leaders are tools in the hands of many politicians for their political gains and few Dalit leaders are corrupt to the extent of being ready to betray the trust of their community just for few luxuries.
“And Let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just, that is nearer to righteousness.” [Quran 5:8]
(This is the 3rd article in the series India and Dalits)