Dalit Empowerment in India:
Dalits movement for empowerment started way back during second half of the nineteenth century with reformatory efforts to uplift the backward groups of Indian society, especially ‘Dalits’. Later on, it turned into seeking state intervention and generating the idea of paying special attention to Dalits/untouchables. Dalits/Untouchables have been described as “The oppressed of the oppressed and lowest of the low”, who have not been benefited from the opening up of modern economic, social, political and cultural opportunities. It is said say that at present, millions of people, belonging to Dalit community have been the victims of discrimination, violence, exploitation, untouchability, poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, other hate crimes and consequential disabilities for a very long time. They are treated as lesser human beings. Dalit’s movement for empowerment was initiated by non-Brahmins of South India. It had economic and social thrusts. It demanded education and land for backwards and freedom from caste rigidities. Some economically strong but educationally backward non-Brahmins groups resisted the hold of Brahmins on land, wealth, jobs in government and education. Access of modern education to all and spree of Reform Movements of early 19th century led anti Brahmin currents to gain momentum. By the end of the 19th century, it turned into a political movement. Non-Brahmin leaders, supported by other backward communities – Muslims, Indian Christians, untouchables and tribals, desired to secure a place for themselves in modern callings, to obtain legal rights and position of power through govt.’s intervention. They succeeded in fixing up quotas for them in the state Government jobs. During 1874 and 1885, Mysore state reserved 20% of middle and lower level jobs in the police department for Brahmins and 80% for Muslims, Non-Brahmins Hindus and Indian Christians. From Government jobs, it spread to educational field too, in order to prepare non-Brahmins for Government jobs. Around 1909, for the first time, the lowest strata of non-Brahmin Community or the service class, earlier known as Shudras, was conceptualized politically under the name of untouchables, when the Census Commissioner suggested excluding untouchables (comprising of about 24% of the Hindu Population and 16% of the total population at that time) from Hindu fold for forthcoming 1911 Census. The proposal had divided non-Brahmin Community into two Backwards and untouchables. Also, it had immediately increased the importance of untouchables in political circle, in social circle, and in their own eyes too. It had also made numbers important in taking political decisions. The suggestion to exclude untouchables from Hindu population was not acceptable to prominent National Hindu leaders at any cost, for whom continuous decline of the number of Hindu population had already been a matter of concern. Granting special electorate to Muslims had already weakened the National movement of Independence. They were concerned that such a proposal was made intentionally to divide Indians. That was a crucial point. Since then, the assertion of Dalit leaders has travelled a long distance and has passed through various stages. The whole of 20th century, especially the first and last two decades have been especially important for political empowerment of Untouchables/Dalits. Different terms have been used for Dalits at different points of time. Each one assumed importance, as Dalit movement has passed through various stages -
‘Shudras’, ‘Outcasts’ and ‘Panchamas’:
Till the beginning of 20th Century, the lowest strata of Hindu Community were known as Shudras, Panchamas or outcastes. Existence of Shudras (at present referred as untouchables/Dalits) was recognized, as early as, Pre Mauryan Period (6th century BC to 3rd century BC). Though given a lower status, they were always an integral part of Hindu society. In ancient India, Shudras performed essential...
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