UPSC MAINS SOCIOLOGY SYLLABUS
Paper 2 – Section C – (v) Social Movements in Modern India:
(a) Peasants and farmers movements.
(b) Women’s movement.
(c) Backward classes & Dalit movement.
(d) Environmental movements.
(e) Ethnicity and Identity movements.
Dalits is a term generally used for the ex-untouchable castes, which have been identified as the Scheduled Castes by our constitution. The term ‘Dalit’ is a Marathi word literary meaning ‘ground’ or ‘broken to pieces’. It was first proposed by some Marathi-speaking literary writers in Maharashtra in 1960s in place of terms like ‘Harijan’ or Achchuta. Dalit Panthers started using it to assert their identity.
TYPES OF DALIT MOVEMENTS
The major issues around which most of the Dalit movements have been centred in colonial and post- colonial India are confined to the problem of untouchability. But at the same time, these movements also raised issues of agricultural labourers as Dalits are mostly engaged in such activity. The issue of increasing or maintaining reservations in elections, government jobs and welfare programmes has also concerned the leaders of these movements. Rajni Kothari (1994) has argued that issues of education, employment and special rights remained the dominant strategy of Dalit movement in India. G. Shah (2004) has tried to classify such movements into two types, namely a) reformative and b) alternative movement. While the former tries to reform the caste system to solve the problem of untouchability, the latter attempts to create an alternative socio-cultural structure through conversion to some other religion or by acquiring education, economic status or political power
The emergence of Dalit movement can be traced back in socio-religious movements, these movements worked as a base for forthcoming movements. The leaders of Bhakti movement like Ramananda, Raidas, Chaitanya, Chandidas, or Ramanuj played an important role between 10th and 13th centuries to oppose caste distinctions and assert equality before God. These movements attempted to remove untouchability by taking the Dalits into the fold of the caste system. The leaders of this movement argued that untouchability was not an essential part of Hinduism and that of caste system.
As opposed to Bhakti movement, the neo-Vedantic and non-Brahmin movements played an important role in developing anti-caste or anti-Hindu Dalit movements in some parts of the country. The Satyashodak Samaj and the self-respect movements in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the Adi-Dharma movement in Bengal and Punjab and Adi-Andhra movement in Uttar Pradesh are important anti-untouchability movements.
AMBEDKAR AND DALIT ASSERTION
Ambedkar was of the view that at caste level, Brahmanism was the main enemy, just as capitalism and landlordism were the main enemies in class term. He emphasized the need for economic as well as social measures for the liberation of the Dalits. Thorat and Deshpande (2001) have argued that Ambedkar’s views on the caste system and untouchability have evolved through interaction both with mainstream neo-classical economic theory and the Marxian approach. For Ambedkar, both Brahmanism and capitalism are the twin enemies of Dalits.
In his early writing, Ambedkar insisted that ‘caste’ can be added to a class approach. But after some disillusionment with communism, he moved away from this analysis at the end of his life. As he moved
close to Buddhism, he developed the alternative of what may be called “Buddhist economics” as against the Marxist socialism. He then argued that equality will be of no value without fraternity and liberty.
The Mahars of Maharashtra under the leadership of Ambedkar also initiated the Buddhist conversion movement in the mid-1950s. But since early 1930s, Ambedkar was very clear that to improve their status,
dalits have to renounce Hindu religion. Ambedkar believed that there was no salvation for the untouchables so long as they remained in the Hindu fold.
POST-AMBEDKARITE DALIT MOVEMENTS
In 1957 N. Shivaraj founded the Republican Party of India which ultimately replaced the All India Scheduled Caste Federation. In the later years when a strong group of Dalit youths came forward to unite the diverse Dalit groups across the country under a single platform and mobilize them to struggle for their civil rights and justice, the Dalit Panther Movement was born in 1972. It demonstrated that the lower castes were not willing to accept subjugation. This movement encompassed in itself not only Dalits but also, tribes, neo-Buddhists, working class, landless, poor, farmers, women and all others who were being exploited politically, economically, socially and in the name of religion.
There are many factors that are responsible for the rise of Dalit movements in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The major factors include entry of Dalits into military services, Dalit reform movements, Dalit education, conversions, missionary activities, Islamic revivalism and Hindu reforms. On the other hand, there are some minor factors like land settlement, industry, communication facilities, education, press and books, legal system etc. which have contributed in the rise and development of Dalit movements in India.
The emergence of BSP in 1984 marked a new phase in Dalit movement. It could create a strong base among the dalits of UP and Punjab. Kanshi Ram, who formed this party, argued that the Brahminical social order was initiated by the Aryans who displaced the Dravidians, the original inhabitants of the country. Kanshi Ram argued for ending Brahminical rule by capturing political power. To him, Indian democracy, dominated by the upper caste, is fake. To have real democracy, the power must pass over to the majority, the dalits or the Bahujans.
It has now been recognised that the term ‘Dalit’ has attained hermeneutic ability to refer to the exploitative past of the Scheduled Castes. The term has the ontological ability to encompass within itself
all the oppressed and exploited sections of society including Adivasis, minorities and women. As the Dalit category represents those who are exploited by social groups above them in a deliberate manner, it also includes an element of protest against denial of dignity and the practice of untouchability. As Gopal Guru argues, the “social construction of Dalithood” makes the category “authentic and dynamic rather than passive or rigid”. It has essentially emerged as a political category, a symbol of change and revolution.