You are on page 1of 14

1|P a g e

Module Detail and its Structure

Subject Name Sociology

Paper Name Social Movement

Module Name/Title Dalit Movement and Backward Class Assertions in India

Module Id SM 31

Pre-requisites Some knowledge about issues of Dalit and Backward Class movements along
with their identity assertions.
Objectives The major objective of this module is to introduce the issues of Dalit and
Backward class assertions as well as movements to a learner. A historical
overview of these movements is also done to capture the social reality that
gave rise to these movements.
Keywords Dalit, Backward Class, Social Movement, Assertion

Development Team

Role in Content Name Affiliation


Development
National Coordinator

Subject Coordinator Prof. Sujata Patel Dept. of Sociology,


University of Hyderabad
Paper Coordinator Prof. Biswajit Ghosh Professor, Department of
Sociology, The University of
Burdwan, West Bengal
Email:bghoshbu@gmail.com
Content Writer Ms. Supriya Singh UGC/SRF Sociology, University of
Lucknow, Lucknow- 226007
Email: singhsupriya1987@gmail.com
Mob. 9450466883
Content Reviewer (CR) & Prof. Biswajit Ghosh Professor, Department of
Language Editor (LE) Sociology, The University of
Burdwan, West Bengal
Email:bghoshbu@gmail.com

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
2|P a g e

Contents
1. Objectives..
3
2. Dalits: Past and Present..
3
3. Dalit Movements in India
5

3.1 Socio-religious Movements and Dalits.. 6

3.3 Ambedkar and Dalit Movements 8

3.4 Post-Ambedkar Dalit Movements. 9


5. Dalit Movement: The Global Spectrum.
10
Self Check Exercise 1
12
6. Backward Class: Definition .
12

6.1. Backward Class Assertion.. 13

6.2. Some Important Backward Class Movements in India. 14


Self Check Exercise 2 .. 16
7. Summary.
17

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
3|P a g e

1. Objectives
The module begins by analysing the notion of Dalit and the origin of untouchability. It tries to discuss the
factors responsible for the rise of the Dalit movement in India. A historical overview of these movements
is also done to appreciate the social reality that gave rise to these movements in different parts of the
country. The module particularly discusses the contributions of B. R. Ambedkar and other leaders in
shaping the future contours of such movement. Finally, it tries to reflect on the issues of the backward
class movements in the Indian context.

2. Dalits: Past and Present


It is widely known that traditional Indian society was based on varna and jati. Though this traditional
system has undergone many changes over a period of time, caste continues to be a powerful institution in
our socio-economic, religious and political life. In this system, Dalits were considered as impure and this
resulted in untouchability towards them. They were assigned the lowest position in the caste hierarchy
based on ritual purity and occupation. Dalits are oppressed throughout the recorded history of India. They
were predestined to do some polluting occupations which were considered as impure in the society , for
example, disposing dead bodies, leather work, cleaning toilets and sewage etc. Human Rights Watch in its
report (1999) termed the caste system of India as a hidden apartheid. In this system, the entire village in
many Indian rural societies remain completely segregated by caste. Under such a condition, it is often
argued that the national institutions and constitutional protections have so far served only to mask the
social realities of discrimination and violence faced by these living below poverty line. The Dalits
continue to experience discrimination and deprivation despite several initiatives and efforts.

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 (Mukhopadhyay 2012: 74). Before the
use of this term, Ambedkar himself had used alternative terms like Depressed Classes, exterior or
excluded caste, Bahishkrit or Pad Dalit to refer to the poor and downtrodden. The British
administration tried to replace the term untouchable first by Depressed Classes in 1919 and later by
Scheduled Castes (SCs) in 1935. Gandhi, an ardent champion of removing untouchability, also
appealed to caste Hindus to use the term Harijan meaning man of god instead of Antyaja. Many SCs
also begun to call themselves so hoping that the caste Hindus would change their behaviour towards
them. But Ambedkar and his followers did not find any difference whether they were called Achchuta or
Harijan, as the new nomenclature did not change their status in the social order. In such a context, the
alternative term Dalit became popular.
Dalit are also known as perial, panchama, atishudra, antyaja or namashudra in different parts of the
country. Their touch, and sometimes their shadows and even their voices are believed to pollute upper
caste-Hindus. The Indian Constitution has banned untouchability; yet in practice many of the Dalits still
bear that stigma (Shah 2004). Voices against this discrimination prevailing in hierarchical caste system
have been raised from time to time both by Dalits as well by other social reformers. A section of
untouchables, who could improve their economic situation by discarding their traditional occupations,
struggled hard to improve their social status as well as honour. These efforts were also followed by some
research into Indian mythologies to justify the claim of higher status of Dalits (Shah 2004). As days went

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
4|P a g e

on, these struggles gained momentum, took new shape and could garner wide support base to register
their arguments in public life.

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 (2001: 102) 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. Dalits have followed two paths in the political arena for asserting their identities.
One is agitational politics or direct action through struggle. The other is participation in electoral politics
and holding offices in various decision making institutions.

3. Dalit Movements in India

The Dalits, who have been exploited by the upper castes, lay outside the varnasrama theory and were
referred to as outcasts in pre-independent India. Even after independence the condition of Dalits did not
improve much and they were not allowed to live a life with dignity and equality. It is this idea of equality,
which sparked the beginning of the Dalit Movement in India, as a protest to the age-old atrocities
committed against them. Dalit movement is a struggle that tries to counter attack the socio cultural
hegemony of the upper castes and to provide a dignity to this oppressed section of the society. The main
objective of the Dalit Movement was to establish a society in India based on social equality (Sutradhar
2014). These movements tried to put an end to atrocities committed against the Dalits and mitigate their
issues. Efforts are therefore been made to mobilise them both politically and socially.
The phenomenon of Dalit assertion in India has often been understood through the prism of two models
of Dalit social mobility: the first is conversion and the second is Sanskritisation. It is generally believed
that Dalits make use of either one of these models to escape from caste-based social exclusion (Ram
2016). In the beginning, the movements which were launched for Dalits upliftment were more
reformative in nature; but later there were also some movements which were transformative in nature.
Many scholars have evaluated social movements in South Asia by assessing how a movement contributed
to the betterment or the identity formation of subaltern people. These studies have tried to examine how
certain movements could realize specific aims, for instance, the achievement of political rights of
subaltern groups, the attainment of political and social recognition, the abolition of discriminative
structures, the termination of economic exploitation, and especially, the security of minimum subsistence
and livelihoods of subaltern peoples (Ishizaka and Funahashi 2013). There are many studies which have
analyzed various movements and their influence on the upliftment of subjugated and exploited Dalits
(Hardtmann 2012; Oommen 2010; Omvedt 2006; Pai 2013). These movements have helped Dalits to
come out of their subjugated and oppressed position.
These studies also indicate that due to lack of access to mainstream political organizations and
increasingly aggravated with the slower pace of reforms, Dalits started resisting subjugation and
discrimination in two ways: one was peaceful protest and another through open confrontation and
struggle. Particularly since the early 1990s, Dalit organizations started mobilizing Dalits to protest
peacefully against the human rights violations and discrimination suffered by them. These movements
gained momentum under the guidance of some of the prominent Dalit leaders (Human Rights watch

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
5|P a g e

1999). Over a period of time, India witnessed many social reform movements in order to improve the
situation of Dalits. The subjugated condition of Dalits drew the attention of both Dalit and non-Dalit
leaders. Among the Dalit leaders, the most prominent are Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Jyotiba Phule. On the
other hand, Swamy Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati and Mahatma Gandhi are
some non-Dalit leaders who tried to uplift the Dalits in society by their efforts to mitigate untouchability
and social restrictions which were imposed on them.

4. Issues and Types of Dalit Movement:


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. In this sense, these movements are
predominantly anti-untouchability movement. 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. Shah has further
divided each of these major types into sub-types. Thus, the reformative movement took the shape of i)
Bhakti, ii) Neo-Vedantik and iii) Sanskritization movements. On the other hand, the alternative
movement got divided into i) conversion ii) religious and iii) secular movements. Gail Omvedt has
however argued that the Dalit movement is anti-systematic rather than reformist in nature.

4.1 Socio-religious Movements and Dalits

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. Dayanand Saraswati, the
founder of Arya Samaj, believed that caste system was a political institution created by the rulers. The
Samaj started organising educational and welfare programmes for the SCs though it opposed political
movement by them. It neither integrated the Dalits into an organised body.
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. These movements later were absorbed in Ambedkars Scheduled Caste
Federation in the late 1940s.
In 1873, Jyotiba Phooley, a Mali by caste started the association called the Satyashodhak Samaj for
asserting the worth of man irrespective of caste. He demanded representation of all castes among the

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
6|P a g e

Hindus in the local bodies, in services and institutions. He also established a primary school for the so-
called untouchables in Poona. Though Satyasodhak movement was essentially a socio-religious
movement, it also opposed the stranglehold of the bureaucracy dominated by the Brahmins in their times.
It rejected totally the Vedic tradition and the Aryan heritage and it continued to emphasize the role of
education in facilitating social change. It tried to develop a discourse that ran counter to Brahmo, Arya,
Prarthana and Vinayaka Chavithi movements. As against the Brahmanical notion of Rama Rajya, Phule
brought in the notion of Bali Rajya. He located the enemies of the Dalits in the twin structure
colonialism and Brahmanism. To him, both feudalism and capitalism were fused into a caste/class mode
of Brahmanism in India. Phule therefore wanted to overthrow the exploitative hegemony of British, Bhatji
and Shetji. Phule tried to educate Dalit-Bahujan and reform Brahmanical marriage, divorce and
widowhood. Like Phule, anti-Brahman discourse of Ramasamy Naicker in Tamil Nadu, built a counter
notion of Ravana Rajya. This discourse is however seen more as an anti-Brahman rather than an anti-
caste one.
In Kerala, there was a very important movement of Dalits known as Sri Narayana Dharam Paripalana
Movement which was for the propagation of Sri Narayana Guru Swamy's philosophy among the Izhavas
of Kerala. Izhavas that formed about 26% of the Kerala's total population were considered to be
untouchables by the upper castes. They suffered from many religious, political and economic disabilities.
Sri Narayan Guru Swamy gave them a new religion of one God and one caste which transformed their life
styles and outlook. He established a set of religious institutions parallel to that of the variety of
Brahmanical Hinduism. This helped Izhavas both to gain self-respect and to adopt a protest ideology to
challenge the religious, economic, educational and political supremacy of the upper castes
(http://www.sociologyguide.com).
The socio-religious movements launched by Dalits can be categorized in two parts: first are those which
were launched to remain within the periphery of Hindu social order, and second were those trying to
adopt a different religion. The leaders of the second group pursued the Dalits to opt for religious
conversion. But all these socio-religious movements could do little to erode the exploitation of Dalits.
Many social scientists have explained the reasons behind the failure of these socio-religious movement.
Neera Desai has argued specifically in the context of the failure of the Bhakti Movement. Similarly
Ambedkar has questioned the ability of saints to bring about any change in the society through their
movements. T. K. Oommen (2010) has pointed out that these Bhakti movements were mainly charismatic
in their nature and because of this they could not continue for a longer period. Due to their charismatic
nature they later on became the agents of system of stability (Kumar 2010). Because of these loopholes,
Bhakti movements could not be much successful in resolving the age old issue of Dalit exploitation.
There were also professional efforts before Ambedkar to fight for the rights of the Mahars in
Maharashtra. G.B. Walangkar, for instance, was the first to mobilized people about human rights but also
highlighted the grievances of Dalits through two prominent newspapers namely, Dinbandu and Sudharak.
Kamble another prominent Dalit leader founded Oppressed India Association in 1917. He started a
Marathi newspaper Somawanshi Mitra to aware and educate people. Kalicharan Nandagavli, another
Dalit activist, started a school for girls and highlighted the problems of untouchables to the Simon
commission and the Southborough Committee along with mobilizing people through his writing. Another
remarkable personality in pre-Ambedkar Dalit movement was Kisan Bansode from Nagpur. He published
many newspapers, broachers and books to reform the situation of untouchables. But pre-Ambedkar Mahar
movement had limitations as their efforts were limited to calling upon occasional conventions, submitting
memorandums and asking favour from the government, opening hostels etc. Yet, such efforts acted as a

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
7|P a g e

base for the forthcoming leaders to organize and mobilize Dalits in a more systematic way later
(Mukhopadhyay 2012). With the rise of Ambedkar, Mahar movement touched a new height.

4.2 Ambedkar and Dalit Movements

After getting his degree in law in the U.S. Ambedkar returned to India. At the first depressed class
conference in Nagpur in 1920, which he attended in the company of Shahu Maharaj, he attacked not only
nationalist spokesmen, but also Vitthal Ramji Shinde, the most prominent non-Dalit social reformer. By
the time Simon Commission arrived in India, Ambedkar had clearly emerged as the most articulate Dalit
leader in the country with a significant mass base. 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
(Omvedt 2006).
Ambedkar wrote extensively to construct the Dalit perspective of nationalism and build an anti-Hindu and
anti-Gandhian perspective for liberation of the Dalit. He had a different approach and philosophy
regarding the emancipation of Dalits. He believed that the egalitarian social order for which he is striving
is not possible within Hinduism whose very foundation is hierarchical with SCs at the bottom. The
Chaturvarna system, which Gandhi did not oppose, was part of Hinduism. The religious sanctity behind
caste and Varna must be destroyed and it is possible to do so by discarding the divine authority of the
Shastras. Obviously, Ambedkar did not have faith in the charitable spirit of the caste Hindus towards the
untouchables. He asserted that SCs should get organised, educate and struggle for self-respect rather than
depend on sympathy. Along with annihilation of caste, he also raised the demand for separate electorate
for the dalits.
Thorat and Deshpande (2001) have argued that Ambedkars views on the caste system and untouchability
have evolved through interaction both with mainstream neo-classical economic theory and the Marxian
approach. But unlike the Marxists, he also stressed on the role of Hindu religious philosophy in mutually
reinforcing economic forces and institution. For Ambedkar, both Brahmanism and capitalism are the twin
enemies of Dalits (Shah 2001). By Brahmanism he meant negation of the spirit of Liberty, Equality and
Fraternity. In this sense, it is rampant in all classes though the Brahmins have been originators of this. 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. And it was his conviction that religion was the
source of power. While embracing Buddhism in 1956, he argued that religion is necessary for people in
distress. He preferred Buddhism over other religion not only because it is indigenous and preaches
equality but also because there is place of God and soul in the Buddhist religion
The efforts made by Ambedkar not only elevated the subjugated position of Dalits but also mobilized
them to make efforts for their rights. Mukhopadhyay (2012) has classified Ambedkars leadership into

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
8|P a g e

three phases; the first phase is from 1924 to 1930. During this period, he mainly organized many
campaigns like Kala Ram and Mahad Satyagraha. Through these efforts, he tried to provide the basic
rights of using public places and facilities to Dalits of which they were deprived. In 1927 at Mahad he
headed thousands of lower caste people to protest against the decision of upper castes to debar Dalits
from drawing water from public wells. He used the water of that tank along with other untouchables. In a
similar effort in 1929, he began a temple entry campaign. Though these efforts were not very successful,
nevertheless they attracted the attention of people at global level about the atrocities on Dalits in India.
In the second phase which started in 1930, the main focus was on attaining political power in order to
improve the socioeconomic position. The third and the final phase was in a way against Hinduism as
during this period he adopted Buddhism. The theoretical footings of the Dalit intellectual movement can
be traced in subaltern perspective. As a spokesperson of this perspective, Ambedkar urged Indians to
analyze Indian society from the Dalit standpoint. Therefore, the Dalit writers seek Ambedkarism as a
guiding ideology based on equality, liberty, fraternity and social justice to change the existing unequal
society. Away from the narration of their exploitation, exclusion and perpetuation of so-called upper caste
hegemony, the Dalit writers have attempted to de-construct the negative and stigmatized image of Dalit
society. As a result they have written extensively on the contributions made by the Dalit saints, poets and
social reformers (Kumar 125: 2010). The emergence of Dalit intellectuals has helped the Dalits to express
their grievances and exploitation along with highlighting the achievements of Dalit scholars at local as
well as global level.

4.3 Post-Ambedkar Dalit Movements

After Ambedkar many significant developments took place in the Dalit movements. The beginning of the
autonomous Dalit movement can be traced back to 1937 when the Independent Labour Party (IPL) was
established by Ambedkar. Since then the Dalit political consciousness has grown rapidly (Oommen
2010). In 1957 N. Shivaraj founded the Republican Party of India which ultimately replaced the All India
Scheduled Caste Federation. All India Republic Students Federation was established by the Republican
Party of India and it also contributed to the Dalit Sahitya Sangh and in renewal of Samata Sainik, which
was founded by Ambedkar to maintain discipline in the party. 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. The main leaders of this movement were Namdev Dhasal and Raj Dhale
(Mukhopadhyay 2012).
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 (Mukhopadhyay 2012). The efforts made by Dalits did not remain limited at natio nal

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
9|P a g e

level alone, rather they started echoing at global level and their subjugated condition became a global
concern.

It is interestingly to note that Bahujan Samaj Party had grown in UP after the widespread decline of the
political base of Congress. 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. The Aryan conquest had reduced the Dravidians to the level of
untouchables and introduced Brahmanism as the ruling socio-cultural ideology. 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. Despite forming government in the UP in 2007 through successful social engineering, this
party has a limited social base. In North India, it remains a political party of Chamars/Jatavas who could
make use of reservation policy to get government jobs. In electoral politics, BSP also had to form
opportunistic alliance with upper-caste parties and enter into manipulative politics. In very recent years,
BSP is forced to substitute the broad based issues of development for traditional caste based politics.
The compulsion of electoral politics had diluted the strength of Dalit Bahujan politics in Northern India.
The political mobilization of the dalits has contributed in Indian democracy by promoting independent
Dalit leadership and by mobilizing them for direct participation. The formation of Republican Party of
India, Dalit Panther Movement, Dalit Sathya Movement, All India Backward SC, OBC and minority
communities Employees Federation and Bahujan Samaj Party were some important organizations which
come up during this period. With the rise of these political organizations Dalit became more mobilized
and organized. It should also be recognised that the emergence of a large number of Dalit intellectuals
during the last few decades has strengthened the Dalit-Bahujan epistemology. Yet, the dalits are neither
socially not economically homogeneous. They belong to different religious communities, regions,
linguistic groups, income groups and caste. A large number of SCs have not embraced Buddhism. And
with multiple identities, SCs have begun to us the term dalit as a suffix, i. e., a Hindu dalit, Muslim dalit
or Christian dalit. As they vacillate between traditional and new identity, the scope for segregation and
conflict among the dalits have also increased today. For instance, neo-Buddhist Mahars look down with
contempt on the other SCs who have not converted. Lack of ideological and organizational unity of the
Dalits despite some interconnectedness have costs them a lot. These are major challenges before the dalit
movement today.

5. Dalit Movement: The Global Spectrum


The discourse on Dalits and their rights subsequently attained global attention and Dalit movement
entered into a new phase. In this stage, the efforts which were earlier limited to local and national level
started getting global with new issues and concerns. The recognition from the U.N. committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Human Rights Watch publication proved stepping stone in
highlighting the caste as a global issue. With the formation of The National Campaign on Dalit Human
Rights in 1998, the campaign reached to a larger audience. The main reason behind its success was
worldwide greater use of internet and emergence of many Dalit discussion groups on internet. In 2001
Rajendra Kalidas Wimala Goonesekere from Sri Lanka presented his working paper on discrimination
based on work and descent to the sub-commission. This was an historic moment for Dalit activists
because it was for the first time that caste discrimination was taken up in an official UN report and
officially discussed in a UN forum. Goonesekere has made a clearer distinction between discrimination

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
10 | P a g e

against SCs, based on work and descent, and racism that has been the case earlier with the UN. In this
report, India was taken as the main example, where discrimination based on work and descent occurs. The
other countries which are influenced with the tradition of caste are Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri
Lanka (Hardtmann 2012).

The Human Rights Watch Report written by Smita Narula Broken People: Caste Violence Against
Indias Untouchables was published in 1999. The report focuses primarily on the abuse against Dalit
communities. It projects caste as a determinative factor for the attainment of social, political, civil and
economic rights. The report brought into the limelight the subjugated and abject condition of Dalits at
global level. It initiated a fresh discourse about the plight of Dalits in India.

These efforts at global level made caste a global problem not India specific. It facilitated links between
Dalits and marginalized groups across the world. By politicizing and globalizing caste it was argued that
the concept of caste incorporated similarities with other forms of inequality and discrimination that
existed around the world (Mehta 2013). The Dalit movement which germinated with the socio-religious
reform movement culminated as a global discourse today. Through these movements, Dalits were not
only able to improve their subjugated situation but they also carved a distinct place which got a global
attention.

Self-Check Exercise 1
Q 1. What are main developments of Post-Ambedkar Dalit movements?
After Ambedkar many significant developments took place in the Dalit movements. The beginning
of the autonomous Dalit movement can be traced back to 1937 when the Independent Labour Party
(IPL) was established by Ambedkar. The formation of Republican Party of India, Dalit Panther
Movement, Dalit Sathya Movement, All India Backward SC, OBC and minority communities
Employees Federation and Bahujan Samaj Party were some important organizations which come
up during this period. With the rise of these political organizations Dalit became more mobilized
and organized.

Q 2. What does mean by Global Debate on Dalits?


The discourse on Dalits and their rights subsequently attained global attention and Dalit
movement entered into a new phase. In this stage the efforts which were earlier limited to local
and national level started becoming global with new issues and concerns. These efforts at global
level made caste a global problem and not India specific. This framing redefined caste as a
universal wrong rather than a particular feature of Indian culture. It facilitated links between
Dalits and marginalized groups across the world.

6. Backward Class: Definition

Defining the backward class has been a contentious issue since Independence in India as the original
constitutional provision of providing protection to socially and educationally backward class of citizens
under Article 15(4) was violated by incorporating the element of caste to define members of such groups
rather than applying economic tests alone. While dealing with the idea of OBCs, our constitutional

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
11 | P a g e

experts very clearly wanted state governments to provide protection to those who are poor and
marginalised. But the way reservation was ensured for the OBCs by several state governments, it became
clear that they treated backward classes as synonymous with backward castes. Hence, those remaining
above the Scheduled Caste and below the upper caste were mostly classified as OBCs. These castes
consist of intermediate caste like the cultivating caste, artisans and service caste. But it is equally true that
the different members of OBCs hail from different socio-economic conditions and the upper most
category of the OBCs consist mostly of landowners (Rao 1979). There are several such castes in different
parts of the country such as Jats, Yadavs, Kurmies, Ahirs, Gujjars, Kammas, Reddies, Vokkaliggas,
Patels, Marathas, Kolis

There have been official efforts to identify and define the people who do not belong to either Scheduled
Caste or Scheduled Tribe and can be categorised as Other Backward Classes (OBC). The Kaka Kalelkar
Commission, appointed by the government of India identified more than 3,000 castes or communities as
the OBC in 1956. The Mandal Commission (1980) calculated that 52 percent of the population including
non-Hindus constitutes this category (Shah 2004). Yet, the issue still unresolved as more and more groups
are seeking protection under this category. On the other hand, there is growing recognition and demand
for exclusion of creamy layer from the OBC list. The issue of reservation has itself become an agenda
for mobilisation of rival groups for either in favour or against the system.

According to Shah (2004: 138) the socio-economic conditions of the Dalits and the OBCs are
qualitatively different, though some of the non-upper caste movements, known as anti-Brahmin
movements, included untouchables. Obviously, the issue of OBC and those of Dalits differ widely. Along
with economic issues like exploitation by the Brahmins and upper caste people or unemployment, cultural
and political issues like domination, political representation also found prominence in the movements led
by OBCs.

6.1 Backward Class Assertion


With the change in the agrarian structure, the advent of the market economy, the growth of the urban
centres and the spread of liberal education under British rule, a few of the backward castes improved their
economic condition. By the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of this century, they
aspired to rise on the caste hierarchy. As a first step they followed the path of Sanskritisation, they also
invented the legends about their ancestors and demanded higher social status. The demand for reservation
in government jobs and educational institutions for the backward caste begin to be raised repeatedly in the
post-independence period (Shah 2004).
The studies on political movements of the OBCs are very few. Most of these studies are confined to non-
Brahmin movements in south India (Shah 2004). M.S.A. Rao (1979) classified backward caste
movements in India into four types on the basis of structural cleavages and manifest conflicts. In the first
category he includes those movements which were led by upper non-Brahmin castes (including Vellalas,
Reddy, Kammas, Vokkaligas and Lingayats). The second kind of backward class movement hinges
around the cleavages within the non-Brahmin castes, mainly led by intermediate and low castes for
example it was led by Ahirs and Kurmis in Bihar, by Noniyas in Punjab and by Kolis in Gujarat. The
third type of backward class movement is the movement by untouchables mainly against upper and other
backward castes and the fourth and the last type of movement is tribal movement.

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
12 | P a g e

According to Shah (2004) the main form of political mobilization is the electoral process and the
backward castes have rarely resorted to large scale direct action for asserting their demands. Many times
they tried to bring change through social reform which does not directly involve contention with upper
caste, though many times it has also led to conflicts. To occupy the political power, the non-Brahmins of
south India formed a political party. Many of them campaigned against the Brahmin domination in order
to get their candidate elected. This reflects that their mobilization has rarely led to any struggle.

6.2 Some Important Backward Class Movements in India

The formation of Satya Shodak Samaj in western India by Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was a great effort.
He not only struggled for improving the situation of the lower castes but he also criticized the
Brahmanical domination in the name of religion. Shri Narayana Guru who belonged to backward Ezhava
caste headed non-Brahmin movement in Kerela. He established Shri Narayana dharma Paripalana Yogam
and with his efforts its branches were established even outside Kerala. He started many programmes for
upliftment of the Ezhavas to root out the practice of untouchability. With his efforts, Narayan Guru was
able to transform the untouchable groups into a backward class.

The formation of Justice Party was another important event which mobilized backward castes politically
in Tamil Nadu. The basic idea behind its formation was that the non-Brahmins realized the importance of
literacy as a base of Brahmins virtual monopoly of government offices. Dr. T.M. Nair, P. Thyagaraja
Chetty, and C.N. Mudaliar were the founding fathers of justice party. The proclaimed objective of justice
party was to provide justice to all Dravidians through the establishment of a separate state under the
auspices of the British government (Mukhopadhyay 2012). During the second quarter of the 20th century,
the Self Respect movement introduced a programme of non-Brahmin uplift in Tamil Nadu that consisted
of a radical critique of social, political and economic relations. Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy was the leader
of this movement. It was a popular movement, which occurred in Tamil Nadu in 1925. Its main aim was
to improve upon the socio-economic conditions of the low castes Tamils. Later it had profound
implications.

Self Respect was not only a set of arguments, but also a set of practical strategies for transforming
everyday and ritual life into revolutionary propaganda through choice of dress, names, home dcor and
domestic ritual, as well as through attending public meetings and reading newspapers. In particular,
modern, Self Respecting Tamil couples were projected as a resolution to what the Self Respect
movement high-lighted as the social, political and economic problems perpetuated by the traditional joint
family. Yet, over the course of the 20th century in Tamil Nadu, marriage and family proved to be unstable
vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of socio-political domains (Hodges 2005). According to
Mukhopadhyay (2012) this movement suffered split with Annadurai forming the Dravid Munnetra
Kazagam with active support from Karunanidhi, Natarajan, and Sampth. The Dravidian movement which
has started out as a movement for the upliftment of Adi-Dravida and the Dalits, later got involved in
active politics, and DMK became a political entity with a massive following of backward classes and
Dalits in Tamil Nadu.

We should also note that the Narayana Dharma Paripalana Movement popularly known as SNDP
movement in Kerala was also grounded on the issue of structural reforms in the caste system. The
movement was mainly focused on modernization, rejection of traditional occupation, accessibility to the

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
13 | P a g e

education, employment and alternative religion (Rao 1979). In the subsequent years, various backward
castes also organized caste associations for social reforms and to gain political power. But, these
associations were not much powerful as they were relatively loose and ad-hoc. Yet, these experiments
were more successful in several parts of South India where political parties were formed by the members
belonging to backward castes (Shah 2004). The numerical strength of these caste groups had been the
motivating factor behind such political activism. But in other parts of the country where they are either
scattered or cannot exert their presence, the movement remain dormant. On the whole, the backward
caste/class movements in post-independent India remained confined mainly to electoral politics. They
mainly function as pressure groups seeking reservations in jobs and educational facilities.
It is clear by now that the lower castes by organizing themselves in the pursuit of collective interest were
able to make their presence felt and put forward their demands. The involvement of these castes
organization in politics has changed their position in hierarchical pattern of Hindu society. Caste
solidarity and political power helped them to achieve higher social, economic and political success
(Kisore 2015). Both backward class and Dalit movements have been able to challenge the Brahminical
social order and mobilize people towards attaining their social and legal rights through protests and
movements.

Self Check Exercise 2


Q 1. What is Backward Class Assertion?
With the change in the agrarian structure, the advent of the market economy, the growth of the urban
centres and the spread of liberal education under British rule, a few of the backward castes improved
their economic condition. By the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of this century,
they aspired to rise on the caste hierarchy. As a first step they followed the path of Sanskritisation,
they also invented the legends about their ancestors and demanded higher social status. The demand
for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the backward caste begin to be
raised repeatedly in the post-independence period. This is known as Backward Class assertions.
Q 2. Mention some major Backward class movements in India.

The formation of Satya Shodak Samaj in western India by Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was a great
effort to mobilise the lower caste people. He not only struggled for improving the situation of the
lower castes but he also criticized the Brahmanical domination in the name of religion. Shri
Narayana Guru who belonged to backward Ezhava caste headed non-Brahmin movement in
Kerela. The formation of Justice Party was another important event which mobilized backward
castes/classes politically. This movement was launched when the non-Brahmins realized the
importance of literacy as a base of Brahmins virtual monopoly over government offices in Tamil
Nadu. The Dravidian movement which was started as a movement for the upliftment of Adi-
Dravida and the Dalits, later got involved in active politics, and DMK became a political entity
with a massive following of backward classes and Dalits in Tamil Nadu.

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India
14 | P a g e

7. Summary

This module has dealt with two types of movements: Dalit and Backward Class. It first, analysed in some
detail the issues and agenda of Dalit movements which were launched both by Dalit as well as non-Dalit
leaders for their upliftment. The role and contributions of leaders like Ambedkar is discussed to appraise
the current situation. This module has also dealt with various backward class assertions in India which has
mobilized backward class/caste people to become politically empowered. Examples of these
mobilizations show the way members of different marginalised and subjugated classes have been able to
empower themselves both socially as well as politically.

Name of Paper: Sociology of Social Movements


Sociology Name of Module: Dalit Movement & Backward Class
Assertions in India