Dalit Empowerment in India Essay Example
Dalit Empowerment in India Essay Example

Dalit Empowerment in India Essay Example

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  • Pages: 10 (2667 words)
  • Published: September 27, 2017
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During the late 19th century, a movement emerged in India to empower Dalits, also known as untouchables. This initiative aimed to uplift marginalized groups who were historically oppressed and considered the lowest class. Unfortunately, Dalits have faced discrimination, violence, poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, and hate crimes for an extended period of time. They are consistently treated as inferior beings.

The movement for Dalit empowerment originated in South India with non-Brahmin individuals who experienced economic and social disadvantages. These individuals demanded access to education and land for backward classes and sought liberation from the rigid caste system. Economically powerful but educationally disadvantaged non-Brahmin groups resisted Brahmin dominance in areas such as land ownership, wealth accumulation government positions,and education. As access to modern education increased, sentiments against Brahmins grew stronger.

In the late 19th century, this moveme


nt gained political momentum with support from marginalized communities like Muslims and Indian Christians. Dalits and tribals had been seeking legal rights and opportunities for advancement within society through government intervention. From 1874 to 1885, certain groups successfully established quotas for state government jobsIn Mysore province, there was a reservation policy in place that allocated 20% of positions in the police department to Brahmins, while Muslims, non-Brahmin Hindus, and Indian Christians were reserved 80%. This policy also applied to education, with the aim of preparing non-Brahmins for government employment. Around 1909, there was a proposal to exclude the lowest stratum of non-Brahmin community known as Shudras from the Hindu fold in the upcoming census. This proposal led to the division of the non-Brahmin community into Backwards and Harijans groups. However, prominent national Hindu leaders rejected this suggestion due to concerns about declining numbers of

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Hindus. As a result, Harijans gained significant importance politically and socially. The text emphasizes the significance of numbers in political decision-making and raises concerns about deliberately dividing Indians through including Muslims in the electorate. This period is considered an important milestone in history. Throughout the 20th century, especially during its first and last two decades, Dalit leaders played a crucial role in empowering Untouchables/Dalits politically. Different terms like 'Shudras', 'Outcasts', and 'Panchamas' have been used over time to refer to Dalits who were previously recognized as the lowest stratum of Hindu society before the 20th century and are now referred to as untouchables/Dalits today.Despite their lower status, individuals belonging to the lower castes played essential roles in social and economic tasks within Hindu society, particularly in agriculture. The segregation of these castes was not based on economic or intellectual abilities but rather cultural reasons such as unclean habits, undisciplined lifestyles, and offensive language use. This separation applied to conquered groups or individuals engaged in lowly or dirty occupations. Those who violated caste regulations were labeled as Shudras and occupied the lowest position in society. Breaking caste rules resulted in losing one's caste status and being effectively ostracized from society. Experiencing permanent loss of caste, known as being an outcaste, was considered a calamity worse than death in ancient India. Outcastes eventually formed their own hierarchy that included their own outcastes.
In the Western and Southern regions, they were excluded from the four Varnas, while in Northern and Eastern areas, they mostly belonged to the fourth Varna called "Shudra," which had subdivisions of pure or non-excluded and excluded or Harijans.
Ancient Indian society operated with a vertical organization

wherein social groups were interconnected through economic and social ties regardless of their status. Sudras were expected to perform menial work for the upper castes of the three Varnas.Respect did not depend on material success or power; there was little opportunity for any segment of society to rise above others.During that time, the idea of feeling disadvantaged or facing discrimination from lower castes towards upper castes was almost non-existent. Research has shown that in the past, the Hindu system kept the general population reconciled, if not satisfied. Hindu Dharma taught individuals to attribute their suffering, progress, and miseries to their own "Adharma" (immoral behavior), "Alasya" (indolence), and Agyan (ignorance) instead of blaming others for it. However, with the decline of Hindu Raj and invasions by foreign powers, Shudras were excluded and became dependent on others. In various regions, individuals from lower castes held positions of power or gained respect from society. Shudra and tribal warrior kings sought help from Brahmins to attain Kshatriya status. Moreover, many Shudras were revered as philosophers or religious teachers. Nonetheless, continuous invasions by Turks, Afghans, and Mughals drained India's wealth to foreign lands and established them as rulers for centuries. The lavish lifestyles of these rulers deepened the divide between those in authority and the masses they ruled over. Consequently, this exclusion from mainstream society has resulted in a long-standing dependence on others for Shudras while diminishing their social standing.
This historical pattern of captivity and suppression has undermined their self-assurance and exposed them to interference from other societal divisions. In the 19th century, the lower castes were referred to by official circles as "Depressed classes" or "Exterior categories". The British

authorities in India saw them as the "Oppressed of the laden and lowest of the low". Missionaries made efforts to convert this segment of society to Christianity. The British rulers enforced legislative ordinances and administrative orders that restricted Harijans from accessing schools, well-built roads, and public spaces. Previously, activities associated with the non-Brahmin movement were considered untouchable. However, these incidents inspired them to engage in politics as the "depressed class" and acquire political power in India. In 1911, British rulers attempted to separate Harijans from the Hindu population, which concerned national leaders due to the decreasing number of Hindus. To preserve their Hindu identity, Gandhi and his followers called Harijans "people belonging to god." Gandhi aimed to foster empathy among privileged communities towards Harijans while encouraging Harijans to adopt cleaner habits for better integration into society. Nevertheless, Dalit leaders objected to being labeled as Harijans because it portrayed them as subservient individuals reliant on others' mercy rather than proud and independent human beings.During this time period, philanthropists and reformists were also concerned about the impoverished state of Harijans. They used Sankritisation to seek upliftment by highlighting the dire circumstances of lower classes to privileged communities and fostering empathy for those oppressed. Their main goal was to abolish untouchability and clarify that it was not inherent in Hinduism or caused by the caste system, but rather an external flaw within the religion. Education, moral regeneration, and philanthropy were emphasized in their efforts. They urged Harijans to seamlessly integrate into society and become proud, independent individuals by promoting cleaner habits. By 1909, Harijans had gained a reputation as India's lowest social class.

Dr.Ambedkar's emergence further fueled the untouchable

movement by advocating for the use of "Harijans" instead of terms he found confusing and degrading like "Depressed classes," "Dalits," or "Harijans." He believed that political power would be the solution for Harijans rather than acceptance from Hindus.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Dr.Ambedkar gave national significance and a distinct identity to the untouchable movement.Prominent Dalit leaders such as Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar, and Gopal Ganesh strongly criticized the hierarchical structure of Hinduism and saw untouchability as an integral part of the caste system. They urged lower castes to unite and collaborate in order to eliminate this system. They perceived themselves as being treated inferiorly by Hindus who considered them submissive beings dependent on the mercy of upper castes. To address this issue, they sought political empowerment instead of relying on acceptance from Hindus.

By the 1920s, caste organizations had emerged in various regions of South and West India. These organizations maintained communication with each other and formed alliances at local and regional levels, becoming a formidable political force. They demanded special legal protection and participation in politics based on their caste.

In 1928, the Simon Commission acknowledged their distinct identity at a national level, referring to them as Harijans separate from intermediate castes. The Communal Award of 1932 accepted their demands. However, Gandhi and other national leaders viewed this as a betrayal that would permanently divide Hindu society, perpetuate casteism, and hinder Harijans' assimilation into mainstream society.

Dr.Rajendra Prasad criticized the British for dividing the population through communal representation—a practice that was expanded in subsequent reforms.He believed that the separate representation for Scheduled Castes further weakened the Hindu community. After World War II, the concept of a

"welfare state" emerged globally and in Independent India as a civilized democratic society. The government was seen to have the responsibility of uplifting and empowering marginalized sections of society. The immense poverty experienced by millions of people in lower social strata, along with their limited representation in positions of power after Independence, prompted the government to take action.

The Indian Constitution mandated the promotion of social justice and various interests of weaker sections such as education and economic well-being. The text highlighted the need for the government to address poverty, reduce income and wealth inequalities, and provide equal representation to oppressed communities through Affirmative Action Programs/Reservation Policies. It also emphasized ensuring public facilities were accessible to Dalits who were previously denied access.

Over time, national and state governments introduced various Welfare Plans and Policies aimed at generating employment opportunities and promoting social, economic, and political growth among Dalits. The term "Dalit," meaning suppressed in Marathi, was embraced by followers of Ambedkar within different factions of the Republican Party of India.Significant numeric groups like the Mahars of Bombay (8%), Jatavs of UP (representing half of the SC population in UP), and Nadars and Thevars of Southern TN played a crucial role in advancing the Dalit movement. Starting from 1972, Maharashtra had the longest and most significant experience with this movement. In Maharashtra, a distinct political party called the Dalit Panther was formed to unite lower castes under the banner of 'Dalit' across India. Mr. Namdeo Dhasal, one of its founders, expanded its scope to include Scheduled Castes, tribes, Neo-Buddhists, landless laborers, and economically exploited individuals. The movement primarily took on a militant and rebellious orientation.

The term 'Dalit' gained

further popularity and reinforcement through the Dalit Sahitya Movement. Previously, some Harijan leaders respected Indian cultural traditions without completely rejecting Vedic literature or Hinduism's foundations. Dr.Ambedkar acknowledged that not all parts of Manusmriti were criminal while Gopal Baba Walangkar stated that Vedas did not support untouchability. Prior to Ambedkar's time, Kisan Fagoi—a Mahar leader—had joined Prarthna Samaj. However, present-day Dalit leaders strongly oppose cultural traditions in India that they perceive as promoting inequality and discrimination due to fear backlash from upper or intermediate castes.The Shoshit Samaj Dal in Central Bihar emerged in the mid-1960s as a movement advocating for Dalit rights. This movement, founded by Jagdeo Mahto, aimed to mobilize lower castes against economic oppression and mistreatment of women by higher caste feudal elements. Over time, asserting Dalit rights has gained momentum in Uttar Pradesh (UP), a densely populated province where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has challenged the dominant upper caste. The BSP, established in 1984 under Kanshi Ram and Mayavati's leadership, has reshaped Dalit politics in northern India by focusing on socio-political issues rather than just economics. Since 1990, the BSP has aggressively pursued political power and made significant strides in UP, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh. Inspired by the Dalit Panthers' ideology, their rhetoric can be forceful and opportunistic at times. However, this approach coupled with vested political and economic interests among BSP leaders has caused discontent among young individuals from different castes who prioritize their rights over responsibilities. As a result of intense competition for limited positions of power and prestige, rivalries have arisen reminiscent of the British colonial era's "divide and rule" strategy. Despite these challenges, Dalits aspire to leadership roles

while identifying allies and enemies within their communities.Despite the passing of time since independence, Dalit leaders still view Upper Castes as enemies and intermediate castes as potential friends or foes. Kanshi Ram, a leader of the BSP movement, established DS4 (Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangarsh Samiti). This text demonstrates how various political parties are vying for the support of Dalit leaders due to their growing influence in politics. However, Dalits no longer desire a secondary role but instead recognize their importance as king-makers in the competitive political landscape. As a result, major national political formations like Congress's UPA, BJP's NDA, and the National Front eagerly seek alliances with Dalit leaders. Dalits now strive to overturn power dynamics by taking control of all political positions rather than simply aiming for fairness or social justice. They aspire to hold top positions such as Prime Minister or Chief Minister through electoral politics and wield authority over bureaucracy through Reservations/Affirmative Action Programs. Nevertheless, there is an elite faction within the Dalit community that prioritizes its own interests instead of working towards inclusion of the most disadvantaged Dalits in mainstream society. Some individuals believe that having a large number of suffering Dalits serves as a means to secure their votes. Additionally, certain people benefit from affirmative action plans and grants provided by the Government of India.Despite their marginalized status, there is a growing display of political power and arrogance among Dalit leaders and intellectuals. This issue significantly affects relationships among Dalit politicians. Although they have gained significant influence in politics through voting and obtaining government jobs, Dalits still remain dissatisfied.

Since 2001, activists have been advocating for their cause globally, drawing comparisons

between Indian Dalits and African Americans before 1950 who also faced discrimination in workplaces, schools, and temples.

In 2005, leaders from the All India Confederation reached out to multiple international bodies - including the USA, UN, British Parliament, and EU - seeking intervention on the issue of 'untouchability'.

The United Nations recognizes religion, race, language, and gender as contributing factors to global inequality. Activists representing Dalits advocate for caste to be included in this category too. They aim for a global alliance with international engagement to exert pressure on the Indian government regarding the marginalization faced by Dalits.

Globalization and privatization have posed challenges for Dalits, tribals,and OBCs in terms of equal competition and job opportunities both within Indiaand abroad.

On 6.10.05 at Congressman Chris Smith's request from New Jersey,the US Congress held a hearing on this matter.A declaration titled "India's unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 million victims of the caste system" was prepared by the house commission on International Relations and US Human Rights for presentation in the US Congress. Despite affirmative action policies implemented by the Indian government to promote opportunities for Dalits and others in government service and education, many still lag behind as India prospers. The declaration stresses that more must be done since addressing discrimination against groups outside of the caste system is advantageous to both economic objectives and security goals of the United States.

The Equity Bill, passed on March 24, 2010 in the House of Lords, was a result of lobbying efforts by Dalit groups and followers of the Ravidass religious order. This bill allowed for the consideration of 'caste' as part of the definition of 'race'. In 2001, India successfully

excluded caste from the declaration made at the Durban Conference. Various supporters of human rights, including Nordic countries, global church organizations, and the Lutheran World Federation have shown interest in and expressed solidarity with Dalits.

Navipillay, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, recently called for abolition of India's discriminatory caste system. The UN Human Rights Council and Human Rights Watch have also suggested recognizing caste as a form of discrimination based on birth and descent;Despite the limitations, it is important to acknowledge that this viewpoint does not fully grasp the intricacies of the caste system. The opinions on untouchability are heavily influenced by prominent Dalit leaders and intellectuals. The consequences of Dalit empowerment remain uncertain. To promote long-term development for marginalized communities, it is essential to prioritize education, raise awareness about rights and responsibilities, create ample employment opportunities, and ensure basic civic amenities such as healthcare at a grassroots level instead of relying on paternalistic approaches.

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