Traditionally, according to the Hindu code of conduct, the untouchables were placed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy

and were known by different names in different parts of the country. They were called Shudras, Atishudras, Chandalas, Antyajas, Pariahs, Dheds, Panchamas, Avarnas, Namashudras, Asprusthas, etc. etc. The hierarchical and in egalitarian structure of Indian society came into existence during the period of manusmriti. The manusmriti set the tenor of social discrimination based on birth. This, in turn led to economic degradation and political isolation of the untouchables now popularly known as Dalits. Dalits are the poor, neglected and downtrodden lot. Their social disabilities were specific, severe and numerous. Their touch, shadow or even voices were considered by the caste Hindus to be polluting. They were not allowed to keep certain domestic animals, use certain metals for ornaments, eat a particular type of food, use a particular type of footwear, wear a particular type of dress and were forced to live in the outskirts of the villages towards which the wind blew and dirt flowed. Their houses were dirty, dingy and unhygienic where poverty and squalor loomed large. They were denied the use of public wells. The doors of the Hindu temples were closed for them and their children were not allowed into the schools attended by the children of caste Hindu. Barbers and washer men refused their services to them. Public services were closed to them. They followed menial hereditary occupations such as those of street sweepers, scavengers, shoe makers and carcasses removers. Generally the term dalit includes those who are designated in administrative parlance as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes. However, in common political discourse, the term dalit is so far mainly referred to Scheduled Castes. The term Scheduled Caste was used for the first time by the British officials in Government of India Act, 1935. Prior to this, the untouchable castes were known as depressed classes. Mahatma Gandhi gave them the name Harijans meaning children of God. Gandhi himself did not coin the name. He borrowed the name from a Bhakti movement saint of the 17th century Narsinh Mehta. The name Harijan became popular during 1931 amid conflicts between Gandhi and Ambedkar on the issue of guarantying communal political representation to the dalits. Gandhi took this move as a step towards the disintegration of Hindu society. By terming the untouchables as Harijans, Gandhi tried to persuade caste Hindus to shed their prejudices against the achchutas i.e. untouchables. The purpose to adopt this new nomenclature of Harijan for the untouchables was to induce change in the heart and behaviour of the Hindus towards untouchables. At the same time, it was hoped that this new name would be accepted by the untouchables who would too try to cultivate the virtues which it connotes. To quote Gandhi “…probably, Antyaja brethren would lovingly accept that name and try to cultivate the virtues which it connotes… may the Antyaja become Harijan both in name and nature” (Gandhi 1971: 244-5). The term Harijan got further recognition as an emancipatory nomenclature in the formation of Harijan Sewak Sangh, an organisation established for the purpose of upliftment of the dalits under the aegis of the Congress. A weekly ‘Harijan’ was also started by Gandhi to provide voice for the cause of the downtrodden. However, Ambedkar did not find any substance in the change of name for the redressal of the structural hindrances that stood menacingly in the way of the their all around amelioration. To him it did not make any difference whether the downtrodden were called achchuta or Harijan, ‘as the new nomenclature did not change their status in the social order’ [Shah 2001a: 21].

“Dalit” is a by-product of the Ambedkar movement and indicates a political and social awareness. However. It also refers to those who have been broken. It also relates to suppression of culture – way of life and value system – and. Though Ambedkar did not popularise the word dalit for untouchables. It was his subaltern perspective. Ambedkar came to realise soon that such an approach would not bring the desired result for the amelioration of the inhuman condition of the dalits. more importantly. He thought that until and unless the authority of the Dharam Shastras is shaken which provided divine sanction to the system of discrimination based on the case hierarchy. It has essentially emerged as a political category. Initially. himself a dalit. the eradication of untouchability could not be realised. R. the denial of dignity. novels and short stories. They have reconstructed their past and their view of the present. “It includes all the oppressed and exploited sections of society. denoting the poor and oppressed persons. organise and agitate. it connotes an ideology for fundamental change in the social structure and relationships” (Shah 2001a: 22). He gave them the mantra – educate. autobiographies. Ambedkar adopted a different approach and philosophy for the emancipation of Scheduled Castes. a perspective from below which helped him to come to the conclusion that untouchability emanated neither from religious notions. He tried to seek the solution to this perennial problem of the Indian society not by making appeals to the conscience of the usurpers or bringing transformation in the outlook of the individual by begging but by seeking transformation in the socio-religious and politicoeconomic structures of the Indian society by continuous and relentless struggle against the exploitative system where he thought the roots of the untouchability lay. nor from the much-popularised theory of . He asserted that the dalits should come forward and fight for their own cause. his thoughts and actions have contributed to its growth and popularity. His was not a theoretical attempt but a practical approach to the problems of untouchability. Gujarati and many other Indian languages. was mainly concerned with the relation between man and God. dramas. For some. The word dalit is a common usage in Marathi. protest and aspiration” (Shah 2001a: 22). B.The term dalit was used by no less a person than Ambedkar in his fortnightly called Bahishkrit Bharat (Guru 2001: 100). ground down by those above them in a deliberate way (Shah 2001b: 195-196). He did not have faith in the charitable spirit of the caste Hindus towards the untouchables as it failed to bring any change in the oppressive social order. according to him. The word dalit gained currency through the writings of Marathi writers in the early 1970s. made efforts to transform the hierarchical structures of Indian society for the restoration of equal rights and justice to the neglected lot by building up a critique from within the structure of Indian society. Ambedkar did not have any faith in Mahatmas and Saints whose main emphasis was not on the equality between man and man. Ambedkar. It does not confine itself merely to economic exploitation in terms of appropriation of surplus. he tried to seek emancipation of the dalits by bringing transformation within the structure of Hinduism through his efforts for opening the temples for the dalits and multi-caste dinners. The word dalit indicates struggle for an egalitarian order (Zelliot 2001a: 232) and provides the concept of pride to the politically active dalits (Zelliot 2001 b: 130). Hindi. poems. Baba Saheb Dr. Their philosophy. They have expressed their anger. “Dalit writers who have popularised the word have expressed their notion of dalit identity in their essays. He wanted to liberate the dalits by building an egalitarian social order which he believed was not possible within the fold of Hinduism whose very structure was hierarchical which relegated the dalits to the bottom.

dormant masses lacked courage and needed a vision and a mission. However. which cultivated in him a faith in parliamentary democracy as the best means for achieving the socioeconomic liberation of the under. Ambedkar’s tirade against untouchability was a tirade to make these people conscious of their rights. Those inert. the broken tribesmen were employed by the settled tribes as guards against the marauding bands.privileged sections of the Indian society. Although Phule had done the same before him in the 19th century. Ambedkar impressed upon the people to understand their own affairs themselves. liberal democracy and the system of rule of law. he believed. could provide them necessary strength to fight against evils in society. Gokhale and Karve who concentrated more on inducing reforms in the different settings of Hindu dominated society rather than its total transformation. Ambedkar said “I will demand what is right full for my people. Gangaram Kishnajee and others. . Ambedkar who provided for the first time to the dalits a system of struggle which they could consider as their own. while Ambedkar was born in the Mahar community which is an untouchable caste. Self-elevation is not achieved by the blessing of others but only by one’s own struggle and deed. no one else could alleviate their grievances. 145). nor begged for a charity it has to be fought for. Ambedkar was now inspiring them to do battle for their human rights. and to prepare them to agitate and win their rights. However. “Ambedkar (started) exorcising the spirit of despair from the minds of dumb millions who had been forced to live the lives of sub-human beings. Another factor which distinguished Ambedkar from Phule was that the latter studied at local mission school but had no opportunity available to study abroad. the movement started by Jyotirao Phule was more nearer to the real goal of dalit liberation than that of the movements led by the Brahmin liberal reformers like Ranade. Ambedkar could not provide answer to the problem as to why only these broken tribesmen were confined to the one part of the village in the setting towards which the wind blew and the dirt of the village flowed. Dalit Liberation: Subaltern Approach With the entry of Ambedkar into the Indian political arena during 1920s. Phule was born in Mali-Kunbi caste broadly considered Shudra but not ‘untouchable’. Here was a liberator preaching them the grand universal law that liberty is neither received as a gift. yet Phule like him did not belong to the untouchable caste. Self-awakening. It was Dr. the issue of social reforms achieved a new dimension. He was equally concerned with the cause of the freedom of India from the colonial rule. Ambedkar was always concerned to highlight the cause of the downtrodden and ever ready to redeem the same. No one else could know better than them about their own state of affairs. However. He was of the opinion that until and unless the downtrodden themselves came forward to fight their own battle. He was driving them to action by acting himself Ambedkar was displaying energy by his own action. arousing their faith by showing faith” (Keer 1971: 73-74). and I will certainly uphold the demand for swaraj” (Ibid. These broken tribesmen employed as guards became untouchables. Shivram Janba Kamble. Although low-caste protest movement which started with Jyotirao Phule in the 19th century continued in western India with leaders like Vithalji Ramji Shinde. Ambedkar’s stays abroad during his higher education exposed him to English political institutions.Aryan conquest. He believed that it came into existence as a result of the struggle among the tribes at a stage when they were starting to settle down for a stable community living. they could not pull out the victims of the Brahmanical system of social gradation from their forced ghettos to fight for themselves. In the process.

But at the same time he cautioned his fellow beings to keep in view the interest of their community. He accepted the responsibility of framing a constitution for independent India. He continued “of what good is such a government to anybody. the caste Hindus worked hard for the welfare of the untouchables they did not know their mind. we find that. he said that “One fifth of the total population of British India was reduced to a position of worse than that of a serf or a slave. He said.At the first Round Table Conference. Before the British. In his speech delivered at Bombay on 12 June 1951. that they were entirely wrong. we could not enter the temple. That was why he was fundamentally opposed to any organisation started by the caste Hindus for the upliftment of the Depressed Classes” (Keer 1971: 43). Ambedkar’s joining of the Congress government created a great amount of confusion among the Scheduled Castes. I convinced the Hindus. We are as staunch a nationalist organisation as any other” (quoted in Bakshi: 1992: 60). Has the British government done anything to remove it? Before the British. His principal objective was to achieve a respectable place of existence for the downtrodden sections of the society to which he himself belonged. will not be afraid to amend the social and economic code of life which the dictates of justice and expediency so urgently call for” (quoted in ibid. although 150 years of British rule have rolled away’ ” (Ibid. He was sure that the Scheduled Castes could not capture political power by joining the Congress. Our wrongs have remained as open sores and they have not been righted. for the people and by the people. we were not allowed to serve in military. we were denied entry into the police force. we were in the loathsome condition due to our untouchability. He too wanted swaraj but the contents of his conception of swaraj were more versatile than that of the Savarna leaders of the Indian Freedom movement. In clarification of his joining the government he said.: 150). instead of marching on. We must have a government in which men in power. Ambedkar was of the firm belief that “howsoever. guard and promote the interests of the untouchables. “I feel now that it was the golden opportunity for me and my community. Is that career now open to us? To none of these questions can be given an affirmative answer. “I have joined the central government but have not become a member of the Congress and have no intention to do so. He said that this change in the attitudes of the untouchables to British Rule in India was surprising and a momentous phenomenon. He then declared to the surprise of all that the untouchables in India were also for replacing the existing government by a government of the people. Does the British government admit us into the force? Before the British. Ambedkar said that the Scheduled Castes should come forward to cooperate with other communities in strengthening the newly won freedom. And justifying his stand. So from the above it is clear that for Dr. we could not draw water from the village well. who were abusing me and my party for the last twenty years as anti-nationalist. But at the same time he was also not ready to compromise with the cause of the Indian Freedom. We must have a government in which the men in power will give their undivided allegiance to the best interests to the country. Has the British government secured up the right to the well? Before the British. Ambedkar. By framing the constitution. 149-150). I was invited by the Congress to join the central government and I had joined it . Can we enter now? Before the British. To win. where obedience will end and resistance will begin. political freedom was as important as the social transformation of Indian society. we are marking time. he observed with a rise in his voice and a glow in his eyes: ‘when we compare our present position with the one which it was our lot to bear in Indian society of pre-British days. he emphasized that they should consolidate themselves under their own political party (Bakshi 1992: 60). However.

There is no fear of just legislation. With the purpose of breaking the ‘ladderless multi storied tower of Hindu society’ he formed the Independent Labour Party in 1936 so as to have a broad alliance of peasants. Had these officers belonged to the Scheduled Castes they would have given proper protection to their brethren. then there can be no hope for us” (quoted in ibid. he had come to realise that the issue of dalit liberation and empowerment could never be genuinely taken up by the caste Hindus. workers and Scheduled Castes. to come forward to capture political power in the system of adult franchise. “The clash with Gandhi not only shook Ambedkar’s faith in the legal method of redressing grievances. It shows that Ambedkar wanted to consolidate the downtrodden into a significant political force to guide them to achieve a dignified place in the Indian society. During his long journey of political struggle. Ambedkar was not only a visionary. Ambedkar hoped that “the Republican Party would be a vehicle for all who sought to achieve the great goals surpassing the narrow confines of the Scheduled Caste Federation” (Omvedt 2001: 150). he tried his level best to translate his vision into a practical reality. I think it is useless to stay there. Yet. This could be achieved by being inside the government rather than by sitting outside. He was of the opinion that the high caste tyranny and oppression could be averted only if more of the Scheduled Castes could find places in the administration. his close associates formed the Republican Party of India (RPI) in deference to the wishes of their mentor and saviour. That party was known as Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF). Our condition is such that it is necessary that our men should be in the administrative machinery. The dalits themselves have to come forward to take up the herculean task of their emancipation and empowerment.: 62). this is a wrong impression. he formed another political party for defending the interests of the Scheduled Castes. I said. but also convinced him of the futility of . the high caste Hindus violently resisted the untouchables’ attempt to drink water at the public pond. Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel. Although Ambedkar succeeded in getting communal award for the benefits of Scheduled Castes. He had no hopes from the caste Hindus to get any help in such a project. Ambedkar. I shall come out any time. impressed upon the Scheduled Castes and Backward Castes. Although the SCF could not make a significant mark in the electoral politics. a firm believer in the parliamentary form of government.unconditionally. who together formed majority of the population of the country. but even good laws may be badly administered and if the government is composed of persons who are by tradition against the interests of the Scheduled Castes. 66). Ambedkar was opposed tooth and nail by Mahatma Gandhi. you can even capture that government” (quoted in ibid. it provided an alternative to the dalits to think about capturing the political power by organising themselves into a political organisation. He said. “People do not seem to buck up courage because they are overwhelmed by the belief that the Congress government is there for ever. in another struggle to seek special rights for the Scheduled Castes during the Round Table Conferences. yet finally he had to compromise under moral duress due to Mahatma Gandhi’s fast-unto-death. It was his subaltern perspective which made him to think practically that the administration was unsympathetic to the Scheduled Castes because it was completely run by the officers who were relatives of the oppressors or were known to them. If you organise. in the form of special electorate. In a popular democracy. After the death of Ambedkar. no government is permanent and not even the government established by the two of the tallest congressmen. In 1942. He was greatly disillusioned after his experiences of Mahad agitation in 1927 where inspite of the resolution of Bombay State Assembly to declare all public places open to untouchables.

He traced the genesis of the oppressive nature of the caste dominated Indian society to the ‘sacred’ shastras of the Hindus who guarded them so closely that if any one except them read or heard them he would commit an act of sacrilege. Ambedkar quotes from Manusmriti. if he has mastered the Veda his body should be cut to pieces” (Thorat and Deshpande 2001: 73). In other words. Rules are practical and based on prescription. the struggle of dalit liberation entered into a new phase: fighting against the oppressive structures of Hinduism from outside. Dr. Twenty years after. In the face of such failure. This difference between rules and principles. 1935 Ambedkar said that unfortunately he was born a Hindu untouchable and it was beyond his power to prevent that. In fact it was Ambedkar’s subaltern perspective which pierced through the shastras to reveal their true face. So. “that the untouchables were not really a part of Hindu society and would never be accepted as equals by the Hindus within that framework (Verma 1999: 2806). shocked the Hindu community out of complacency and at the same time provided an opportunity to the untouchables to “grasp their own future” (Zelliot 1986: 165). Rules seek to tell an agent just what course of action to pursue. then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead and if he utters the Veda. whereas principles provide man a reference point to his conscience to guide his course of action. Manusmriti sanctioned severest punishment for such a sacrilegious act. in October 1956 he converted to Buddhism. He emphasized in his “Annihilation of Caste” that the smritis and shastras were not the embodiment of religion but a system of rules to deprive the untouchables even of their basic needs and deny them equal status in the society. Moreover. were his attempts to arrange inter-caste dinners and to organise a public ceremony for making the low-caste put on the sacred thread (Zelliot 1986: 163). on October 13. according to Ambedkar. As said earlier his efforts to join the popular Ganapati festivals in Bombay also proved futile. in Nasik district. The failures of all these attempts to bring reforms in the system of Hindu religion demonstrated to Ambedkar. According to Ambedkar the Vedas. Ambedkar was forced to leave the Hindu religion. even during his earlier attempts – three temple satyagrahas – to seek equality within Hinduism. Ambedkar failed to get any support from Gandhi or the Indian National Congress. With this declaration of Ambedkar. smritis and shastras were all instruments of torture used by Hinduism against the untouchables (Lobo 2001: 243). then his tongue should be cut-off. make the act done in pursuit of them different in quality . At the Yeola Conference. “If the shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda. Principles do not prescribe a specific course of action. This new form of dalit struggle which distinguished itself from the pre-1935 struggle of Ambedkar for transformation of the Hindu religion from within. Hinduism is veritable chamber of horrors” (Lobo 2001: 243). Rules are commands and tell what to do and how to do it. He thundered. “I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu” (Keer 1971: 253). Ambedkar realised that caste and Brahminic Hinduism reinforce each other and discriminate against the downtrodden sections of the society. the project of dalit liberation through reforms in Hindu religion failed to yield any result. “To the untouchables. But principles are intellectual and are useful methods of judging things. Ambedkar distinguished between rules and principles. But he declared that it was within his power to severe ties with that religion.striving for equality by remaining within Hinduism. He said in 1946. Ambedkar now opened that Hinduism was incapable of reform on its own and that the untouchables must ready themselves to fight their battle for equality alone” (Doctor 1997: 125).

the basis on which all true civil governments rest. In other words. Consequently. political and sanitary rules and regulations. He opined that once the people come to know that what Hindus called religion is not a religion but a law. Had he been against religion he could not have had embraced Buddhism. religion must mainly be a matter of principles only.: 90). An other aspect of Dr. But I am told that for such religious principles. The moment it degenerates into rules it ceases to be religion. Religion. 89). He said. he said that there should be no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion that discriminates against its own people whom it bracketed as untouchables. On the basis of a discussion around the distinction between rules and principles in reference to religion. Ambedkar’s subaltern approach for the emancipation of dalits and their empowerment was his distinct formulation of Indian nationalism in opposition to the dominant discourse of Hindu nationalism as represented by Raja Rammohan Roy. in fact. is nothing but a mass of sacrificial. In short. Performing an act under the command of a rule and in the light of a principle. as a guide of conscience. Ambedkar comes to conclusion that what is called Religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitudes of commands and prohibition. social. The above discussion shows that what Ambedkar was against was a religion of rules not religion in itself. . equality and fraternity. which alone can lay claim to being a true religion” (ibid. and both their sanction’. as it kills responsibility which is the essence of a truly religious act” (Ambedkar 1995: 88). It is “really Law or at best legalised class ethics” (ibid. when I argue that these ancient rules of life be annulled. “To permit of this responsibility.G. said Ambedkar. Tilak. as contained in the Vedas and smritis. and were invested with the character of finality and fixity. not a religion in a true sense of the term. as will be in consonance with liberty. may not be necessary for you to borrow from foreign sources and that you could draw for such principles on the Upanishads” (ibid. Therefore. He said. A religious act may not be a correct act but according to Ambedkar must at least be a responsible act. Ambedkar exhorted the untouchables to tear the mask and find in it the hidden conspiracy against them which projected the code of conduct as a religion. are two different things. what the Hindu call religion is. One can leave religion but cannot change it because. B. they could urge for its amendment or abolition because law can be changed but not religion. Ambedkar wanted to raise religion in consonance with liberty. The principle may be wrong but the act is conscious and responsible by virtue of the fact that such an act has been performed by an individual by making use of his critical abilities. “I am no authority on the subject. It is in this context that Ambedkar’s decision to leave Hinduism and his conversion to Buddhism becomes self-explanatory as a step for dalit liberation. his religion could not be against the principles of democracy. masquerading as religion. the Hindu religion. in the sense of spiritual principles is conspicuous by its absence in them. iniquitous – not the same for one class as for another. I am anxious that its place shall be taken by a religion of principles. equality and fraternity is. Mahatma Gandhi.and in content. 90). is that they are made immutable – same for all generations. It can not be a matter of rules. The most notorious aspect of these bunch of rules and codes of ordinances. “the idea of Religion is generally speaking not associated with the idea of change” (ibid. The rule may be right but the act performed thereof is mechanical. Ambedkar said “…I agree with Burke when he says that ‘True religion is the foundation of society. all mixed up.: 92).

popularly known as ‘dalitBahujan-nationalism’ also incorporated the subaltern philosophy of Jyotirao Phule and Periyar E. T.Jawaharlal Nehru. Since the dominant Hindu discourse of Indian nationalism remained indifferent towards removal of the caste system. “By arguing for the rights and basic needs of the dalits. P. The agenda of annihilation of caste was so important to him that it became a central point of his struggle against colonial rule. Ambedkar – himself an untouchable and victim of untouchability – formulated his own framework from the perspective of the untouchables for the understanding of the system of caste and untouchability. Caste for Ambedkar was nothing but Brahmanism incarnate. Annihilation of caste was its central theme. and the economic analysis of the communist secular socialist school also failed to highlight the issue of caste in its mechanical interpretation of class. Ambedkar’s alternative form of nationalism. they belong to the Brahamanical upper and middle class. its ideologues like that of the Hindu nationalism belonged to the upper-caste and upper-class background. in essence they strengthen the Brahamanical hegemony in modern India. In this. Within the dalit-Bahuhjan framework of Indian nationalism. Roy. In caste/class term.M. Ambedkar built up a critique of pre-colonial Brahmanism and its inegalitarian social set up based on low and high dichotomy of graded caste system. Namboodripad on the other. R. “In the fight for swaraj you fight with the whole nation on your side. Ramaswami Naicker. Though their consciousness appeared to be antagonistic to each other. The communist secular social nationalism though based on abolition of class.V. Golvalkar and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on the one hand and Communist secular socialist nationalism represented by M. he minced no words in criticizing the British government for its failure to undo untouchability. In his undelivered speech to the Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore. the social forces that were engaged in this discourse did not differ in their roots of existence and formation. he challenges the assumptions of both nationalist politics and indigenous communitarian politics” (Verma 1999: 2804). their being and self remained Hindu. Although the protagonists of Hindu nationalism differed in many ways from each other. This system of in egalitarianism led to the process of exploitation by the unproductive Brahamanical castes of the various productive castes. Ambedkar realised that any form of nationalism whose roots were steeped into Hinduism could not be a solution to the problem of dalits. Any discourse of nationalism bereft of annihilation of caste was just not acceptable to him. Swaraj without extinction of caste had no meaning for Ambedkar. The foundation of dalit-Bahujan nationalism lies in this framework developed by Ambedkar. This was one of the main reasons why the Marxists and socialists schools failed to problematic and critique Hinduism and Brahmanism” (Ilaiah 2001: 109). In the first Round Table Conference. “Brahmanism is the poison which has spoiled Hinduism” (Ambedkar 1995: 92). Ambedkar’s conception of nationalism articulated and synthesized the national perceptions and aspirations of the downtrodden. Ambedkar understands of the question of the identity and existence of the nation was based on his incisive analysis of the oppressive character of the Hindu community. Duta.N. It constructed an anti-Hindu and anti-Brahamanical discourse of Indian nationalism. he said. Kancha Ilaiah put these two streams of Indian nationalism on a single platform by emphasizing that though they “appear to be antagonistic in their discourses of transformation. you have to fight against the whole nation . Dr. Nagi Reddy and E.S. It aimed at establishing a casteless and classless society where no one would be discriminated on the basis of birth and occupation. It aimed at restructuring the Indian society into a casteless and classless and egalitarian Sangha (Ilaiah 2001: 109).

“The non-Brahmins have effaced the memory of Jyotiba Phooley completely. Thus. the untouchables were seated away from others for fear of being polluted” (ibid. but he would have risen the slogan ‘Annihilation of untouchability is my birthright’”. In his editorial in the Bahishkrit Bharat a fortnightly. The issue of untouchability. he did not approve the movement as a harbinger of dalit liberation. for social reformers. only when the Hindu society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend it. Without such internal strength. According to Ambedkar the nonBrahmin leaders failed to germicide the virus of caste among themselves. “It is impossible to . “Marathas began to preach their superiority and the distinction between Marathas and non-Marathas became clear in all the party programs. Ambedkar said. Even in educational conferences of the non-Brahmins. if you cannot defend it. the precursor of non-Brahmin anti-caste movement. Omvedt writes. on 29 July 1927. 97). He criticized that many of them tried to emulate Brahmins and failed to abandon Brahmanical practices. Not only that but that class has shamelessly betrayed his philosophy” (quoted in Kuber 1987: 119). Reflecting on the original contribution of Ambedkar in the rise of the dalit movement in India. on the 16th Satyashodak Social Conference. They did not cease to employ the card of caste in politics. 119). But it is more important than swaraj. Conclusions Dr. There was no hope for untouchables in such a movement. though they were sympathetic to the cause of dalits but nevertheless. His analysis of the origins of the untouchability and his action plans for its eradication were different from the approach and practice of both the caste Hindu social reformers and the non-Brahman anti-caste movements.and that too your own. Although Ambedkar dedicated his book “Who Were Shudras” to Phule. he would not have raised the slogan ‘Swaraj is my birthright’. according to the social framework of the Indian society. was a mere problem. In a message given to the Satyashodak magazine. In my opinion. More important than the question of defending swaraj is the question of defending Hindus under the swaraj. There is no use having swaraj. Moreover. Ambedkar was an iconoclastic social reformer who at the very formative years of his career realised what it meant to be an untouchable and how struggle against untouchability could be launched. Ambedkar wrote. They themselves had never experienced the sinister us blows of untouchability. swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery” (ibid. It was against this background of total despair and in the absence of untouchable’s own political philosophy and independent platform that Ambedkar entered into social and political space of the colonial India as a true representative of the dalits. The social reform movement of the caste Hindus could not win him to its side because of his existential understanding of the pangs of untouchability. This problem was exterior to them in the sense that it affects only the untouchables. “If Tilak had been born among the untouchables. it was Ambedkar’s subaltern perspective which distinguished his conception of swaraj from that of the protagonists of the various shades of the national freedom movement. they belonged to the opposite camp which practiced this inhuman system of social segregation based on sheer birth.

he started his scathing criticism and tirade against Hinduism and ultimately sought the emancipation of dalits and its empowerment from outside the Hindu religion. who defies government” (ibid: 75). “It is disgraceful to live at the cost of one’s self respect. In the beginning of his social reform crusade. is a much more courageous man than a politician. Hence his conversion to Buddhism for Ambedkar the issue of dalit liberation was the foremost issue and he emphasised that dalits themselves have to come forward for its realisation. There should be varied and free points of contacts with other modes of association. Ambedkar said. For Ambedkar. In other words. Genesis and Development. It is primarily a mode of associated living of conjoint communicated experience. equality and fraternity. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen” (Ambedkar 1995: 57). His. . It is out of hard and ceaseless struggle alone that one derives strength. man is a mere cipher. Zelliot underlined the untouchable status of Ambedkar as the main factor for his meteoric rise as the leader of untouchables (Elliot 1996: 160). it is equally difficult to imagine. from a vantage point of the deprived and oppressed. Annihilation of Caste.conceptualize the dalit movement in India in the absence of Ambedkar. Ambedkar provided a subaltern perspective to see clearly the chameleon of Indian caste-ridden social set-up deceptively appearing in crimson colors and the ways to guard the interests of the dalits. Of the two. In these seminal works Ambedkar smashed the mythological basis of untouchability and laid bare its economic roots. Who Were the Shudras? and The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? are a testimony to his independent and original thinking. If Omvedt considered the tradition of anti-caste movement in Maharashtra as a catalyst for the organisation of dalit movement by Ambedkar. Without it. Thus. there must be social endosmosis. he tried to get respect and equality for the dalits by bringing reforms within the social set up of Hinduism. and his untouchable status. confidence and recognition” (quoted in Jatava 1965: 15). it seems the latter played a more prominent role in the evolution of Ambedkar’s subaltern approach for the emancipation of dalits and their empowerment. Ambedkar coming of any other region than the Marathi-speaking areas of British presidency” (Omvedt 1984: 139). He said. To live worthily with self-respect one has to overcome difficulties. the tradition of anti-caste movement in Maharashtra. He built a strong case against the ‘Janam’ (birth) thesis of the untouchability which foreclosed all the ways for dalit emancipation. He continued his struggle for empowerment of the dalits by seeking changes within the fold of Hinduism till 1935. Democracy is not merely a form of government. which is only another name for democracy. What distinguished his subaltern approach was that it looked at the problems of the dalits from below. Self respect is most vital factor in life. He drew a distinction between merely living and living worthily. society must be based on liberty. “In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. When he realised that the salvation of dalits was not possible while living within the fold of Hinduism. He exhorted its victims to oppose it tooth and nail. Ambedkar was one who defied society. Castes in India: Their Mechanism. sociologically. This is fraternity. social tyranny is more oppressive than the political tyranny and “a reformer who defies society. For living a worthy life. This perspective led him to think differently from the dominant stream of social and political thought of his time.