Governmental and Non-governmental efforts to eradicate untouchability in India

There have been numerous governmental and non governmental efforts towards the eradication of untochability in India and the improvement in the condition of the untouchables.

The governmental efforts are directed towards the prevention of untouchability on the one hand and improvement in the condition of the untouchables on the other. In the paragraph 46 of the Indian Constitution much emphasis has been laid upon the spread of education among the backward castes and the protection of their economic interests.

1) Constitutional provision:

In the Indian Constitutional the equality of all citizens of India was announced. The following paragraphs in the constitutions provide for the eradication of untouchability.

Paragraph 15:

1) The states shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, and sex, place of birth or nay of them.

2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to:

A) Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or

B) The use of wells, tanks, bathing Ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of state funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

Paragraph 16:

1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.

2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place or birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of nay employment to offices under the state.

3) Nothing in this article shall prevent Parliament from making any law prescribing, in regard to a classes of employment appointment to an office under the Governments or any local or other authority within a state or Union Territory, any requirement as to residence within that state or Union Territory prior to such employment or appointment.

Paragraph 17:

‘Untouchability’ is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of ‘Untouchability ‘shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

2) Provisions under the directives of Government Policy:

The following arrangement has been made for the eradication of untouchability in the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Indian Constitution:

Article 46:

The state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and in particular of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

Article 164:

This acts provided that in the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, there shall be a Minister in charge of Tribal Welfare who may in addition be in charge of the Welfare of the Scheduled Castes and backward classes or any other work.

Article 330:

1) Seats shall be reserved in the House of the people for:

a) The Scheduled Castes; b) The Scheduled Tribes except the Scheduled Tribes in the tribal areas of Assam; and c) The Scheduled Tribes in the autonomous districts of Assam.

2) The number of seats reserved in any State or Union Territory for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes under clause (1) Shall bear, as nearly as may be, the same proportion to the total number of seats allotted to that State or Union Territory in the House of the People as the population of the Scheduled Castes in the State (or Union Territory)or of the Scheduled Tribes in the State or Union Territory or part of the State or Union Territory as the case may be, in aspect of which seats are so reserved, bears to the total population of the state or Union Territory.

Article 332:

1) Seats shall be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, except the Scheduled Tribes in the tribal areas of Assam in the legislative Assembly of every State.

2) Seats shall be reserved also for the autonomous districts in the Legislative Assembly of the state of Assam.

Article 335:

The claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration consistently with the maintenance of administration, in the making of appointment to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.

Article 338:

1) There shall be a Special Officer for the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes to be appointed by the President.

2) It shall be the duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters, relation to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under this Constitution and report to the President upon the working of these safeguards at such intervals as the President may direct, and the President shall cause all such reports to be laid before each House of Parliament.

Article 340:

1) The President may by order, appoint a Commission, consisting of such persons as he thinks fit, to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India and the difficulties under which they labour and to make recommendations as to the steps that should be taken by the Union or any State to remove such difficulties and to improve their condition and as to the steps that should be taken for the purpose by the Union or any State and the conditions subjects to which such grants should be made, and the order appointing such Commission shall define the procedure to be followed by the Commission.

According to the 17th paragraph of the Indian Constitution, untouchability is a punishable crime. In 1955 the Indian Government passed the Untouchability (Offences) Act in which any person forcing the disabilities of untouchability can be sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine Rs 500/- or both for his first crime. For every subsequent crime the sentence will include both a term in jail as well as a fine. If considered necessary, the punishment may also be increased.

According to this Act the following activities were declared criminal preventing entrance into public temples or places of worship, preventing the drawing of water from sacred lakes, wells, falls or springs, preventing the drawing of water from sacred lakes, wells, falls or springs, preventing people from the use of Dharamshala, inn, hotel, rivers, bank, cremation ground, water tap, educational institution, public hospital, public restaurant, preventing the Harijans from pursuing any general occupation, doing a barber’s job or any general activities and harassing them or discriminating them on the basis of untouchability at such times as religious festivals, residential houses, business or profession.

3) Governmental efforts:

Besides enacting laws against untouchability the government of India also instigated propaganda against untouchability throughout the country. All the states observe ‘Harijan Weeks’ and ‘Harijan Day’. In states and districts, advisory committees have been made which increase contact between untouchables and high caste Hindus books, handbills, posters and pamphlets are printed in Hindi, English and regional languages and distributed among the public in large number. Films and radio are also used as means of propaganda against untouchability.

In the First year Plan Rs. 61, 50,746 were given for the assistance of Harijan improvement societies of which amount the centre supplied Rs.14, 77,200 in the form of grants. In the second institutions, the amount being constituted of Rs.138 lakhs from the State Government as Rs.70 lakhs from the Centre. The expenditure in the 3rd and 4th plan was 100.40 and 172.70 crore rupees respectively.

In 5th plan an outlay or Rs. 255 crores had been sanctioned for backward classes. The voluntary all India institutions working in the different states received assistance to the extent of Rs.28 lakhs in the first two years of the second plan 15% of the seats in services based upon. All India competitions and 16.23% of services to which selection are made in other ways have been reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes.

4) Economic Improvement:

Realising the financial problems of the Harijans the Government have taken the following steps in the directions of their financial improvement.

i) Laws for escaping debt:

In nearly all the states of India laws have been enacted for defending the untouchables from the mahajans.

ii) Laws for defense against the tradition of slavery:

In Bihar and Orissa the Harijans had to become slaves of the mahajans in the event of their inability to repay debt. Now this tradition has come to an end due to laws.

iii) Distribution of land to Harijans:

In Andhra, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madras, Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra and many other states the Government have turned useless and unoccupied land into cultivable land and distributed it among the Harijans.

iv) Laws making the farmer the owner of the land:

The government of Andhra, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and many other states have enacted laws by virtue of which the Harijan cultivating the land is to be considered the land owner and cannot be deprived of it.

v) Financial assistance to agriculture:

The Government are rendering financial assistance to the Harijans in order that they may be able to buy agricultural implements, animals, manure, superior, seeds, modern tools of agriculture etc.

vi) Assistance in Agriculture, Cottage industries and Animal Husbandry:

In Assam, Bihar, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal the Harijans are being assisted financially as well as otherwise for the development of their cottage industries. Training centers are also being opened for teaching people and making them skilled in cottage industries. Animal Husbandry and poultry farming are also being encouraged among the Harijans.

vii) Financial Assistance to non-governmental efforts:

The Government of India is also providing financial assistance to non-governmental institutions which are exerting efforts for the eradication of untouchability. In 1945 the Indian Government aided the state Governments, Harijan sevak Sangh, Indian Depressed Classes League and the Harijan Ashram of Prayas to the extent of four crores of rupees.

viii) Educational facilities:

The educational facilities provided by the government to the Harijans take the form of free education scholarships, books, stationary and other educational needs, midday meals, grants for construction of schools etc, all eligible students of Scheduled Tribes are given scholarships without merit list.

ix) Other governmental facilities:

According to the Indian Constitution candidates has been reserved in government services for untouchables for a period a ten years. This concession was later on extended further. Not only in Central Government services but also in state government services seats were reserved. The condition of the untouchables improved due to the ‘Admission to Malabar Mandir Act’ and ‘Prohibition of Public Disability Act’ of the Madras government.

In order to arrange to arrange for the progress of the Harijans the Tamil Nadu Government appointed a Labor commissioner and enacted many laws for defending the Harijans from the landlords and also in order to provide them with land. The governments of other states also followed the lead. In Uttar Pradesh two Parliamentary Secretaries were appointed for improving the condition of the Harijans. Many co-operative societies were also opened for the Harijans. Many Harijan students were given scholarships.

Non-Governmental Efforts:

Besides the programme for political awakening, the Indian National Congress made efforts for the eradication of untouchability. The attempts made by Gandhiji in this direction are well known. As a result of his efforts the untouchables slowly got rid of their social disabilities. The doors of the universities, temples, public places etc, were opened to them. In the beginning the caste Hindus opposed these improvements but they later agreed to them.

Besides the Congress many other political parties took part in the emancipation of the Harijans. Among them the work done by the Depressed Class Union, The Social Service League, Depressed Classes League, Andhra Deen Seva Sangh, Depressed Classes Conference and Scheduled Class Federation deserves mention. But the Harijan Savak Sangh had made the maximum efforts in this direction. In 1932 this Sangh was started under the leadership of Thakkar Bappa.

There are many branches of this Sangh in Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Mysore, Hyderabad, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi. 120 boarding houses are being managed by the Harijan Sevak Sangh. As a result of the efforts made by the Tamil Nadu Sangh 100 big temples were opened for the Harijans. The Sangh achieved much success in opening the pubic places to the Harijans. Many Harijans students should be thankful to the Sangh for their scholarships which they got mainly due to the efforts of the Sangh.

Technological schools have also been opened for imparting skill in cottage industries and this too has come about mainly through the efforts of the Sangh. Among these institutions the Harijan Audyogik grah, Delhi, Harijan Audyogik School and Hostel, Kadambokam, Harijan, Ashram, Prayag, Harijan Audogik School Kanvaram deserve to be mentioned. Institution for women includes Harijan Balika Vidyalaya, Sabarmati, Harijan Balika Sadan, Hugli, Anjali Harijan Girl, Hostel, Bezwada, Kastoorba Balika Ashram, Okhla etc.

Suggestions for the eradication of untouchability:

The methods of eradication of untouchability are now known to all educated people. The following suggestions can be made in this direction.

1) Increasing education among the Harijan:

Laws should be spread among the Harijans and this should include both general education as well as technical education. Education should be free, coupled with facilities of scholarship, books, stationary, hostel etc.

2) Laws for economic improvement:

Laws should be formulated for legal protection from interest upon loans and deprivation of land in order to improve the financial condition of the Harijans.

3) Removal of economic disabilities:

The Harijans should be helped in every conceivable way so as to end their economic disabilities.

4) Assistance in agriculture and cottage industries:

The Harijans should be provided with land, animals, ploughs, seeds, manure and agricultural tools. Financial assistance for cottage industries should be supplemented by technical training.

5) Laws against social disabilities:

Laws should be formulated for preventing the Harijans being subject to social disabilities.

6) Laws against religious untouchability:

Laws removing the religious disabilities which burden the Harijans should also be enforced.

7) Propaganda against untouchability:

Platform speeches, radio, newspaper, the press and other means of communications should assist in the propaganda against untouchability.

8) Reservation of seats in services:

In spite of the enforcement of all the above mentioned measures, it will take the Harijans a long time to achieve equality with the caste Hindus until some seats are reserved for them in all services.

9) Reservation of seats in the legislatures:

It is necessary that seats should be reserved for the Harijans in the legislatures for some time to come. Some people complained that this violates the democratic principle of equality, but the people who have been deprived of equality for hundreds of years need some privileges in order to restore them to the general level. Once they have become equal to the higher caste people these privileges will no longer be necessary.

10) Eradication of the Caste System:

The eradication of the Caste System is very essential for the removal of untouchability. Actually; the Caste System is the biggest single cause of untouchability even though it is not the sole cause. Thus the eradication of the Caste System will also remove the tradition of untouchability.

11) Contact between higher Caste and Scheduled Caste Hindus:

It is necessary that there should be an ever increasing contact between the Harijans and the caste Hindus at the same time that all the above measures are being put into practice, so that the tradition of untouchability should be destroyed and the feeling of disgust which the superior Hindus harbor for the untouchables as well as the sense of inferiority of the Harijans should be eliminated. This contact will reduce mutual discrimination and culminate in the untouchables becoming like the other Hindus.

It is a matter of no small pleasure that the Union and State Government, along with many other political and religious associations of the country, are making tremendous efforts in achieving these improvements. Awakening is also spreading among the Harijans. It is hoped that, with the effort of the Harijas themselves, the government and other social associations, Harijans will become equal to the caste Hindus and untouchability will be wiped off from the village.