What are various lower caste movements in Modern India?

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In medieval times the Indian religious reformers mostly attracted their followers form the lower castes.

In contrast to this the socio-religious reform movements of the 19th century were mostly pioneered by the Upper Caste Hindus who condemned the caste system and untouchability. Unfortunately both these challenges though conceived in the spirit of enlightened social regeneration achieved marginal success.

The Changing Scenario:

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A number of circumstances in the 19th centuries created class consciousness among the lower castes who took upon themselves to struggle for caste equality. Their efforts resulted in the organization of various lower caste movements in South India and Western India.

The British Policy of Divide and Rule, the growth of Western system of education, the introduction of a common Indian Penal code (1861) and Code of Criminal Procedure (1872), the extension of the railway network (where every Indian could buy ticket of any class and occupy any seat available), the growth of national consciousness and the popularity of the modern political thought based on equality and social egalitarianism created a social and political climate in which the caste system could not be defended. The leading lights among the Lower Castes themselves organized caste movements.

Reactions against Brahman cal Domination: In South India, the lower caste movements were a direct revolt against the Brahman cal domination in the Madras Presidency. It is interesting to note that in 1916 a spokesman of the lower castes pointed out that out of the 15 members of the All India Congress Committee from Madras Presidency only one was a non-Brahman.

Some of the lower caste leaders propagated that the Dravidians were the original inhabitants of India while the Aryans were the immigrants into India and they had brought the evil institution of the caste system with them marriage, range notable success in transforming the untouchable groups into backward class. He openly criticised Gandhiji for his faith in Chaturvarna, which, he maintained, is the parent of the caste-system and untouchability. He pointed out that the difference in castes is only superficial and emphasized that the juice of all leaves of a particular tree would be the same in content. He gave a new Slogan “One religion,

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Some incidents of Brahmanical arrogance changed the outlook of Jyotiba. Once Jyotiba was scolded and insulted by a Brahman for his audacity in joining a Brahman marriage procession. The Brahmans also opposed Jyotiba in running a school for the lower castes and women. The Brahman cal pressure compelled Jyotiba to close the school; under upped caste pressure Gobindrao turned Jyotiba and his wife from leaving his family house.

Jyotiba believed that the Brahman under the pretext of religion tyrannized over other castes and turned them into their slaves. Jyotiba was ever critical of the Indian National Congress Leaders for their neglect of the interest on the weaker sections. He maintained that the Congress could not be called truly national unless it showed general interest in the welfare of the lower and backward castes.

In 1873, Jyotiba started the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Truth Seeking Society) with the aim of securing social justice for the weaker section of society. He opened a number of schools and orphanages for the children and women belonging to all castes. He was elected as a member of the Poona Municipal Committee in 1876.

Ambedkar’s Dynamic Role: B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956) was another crusader in the cause of the uplift of the lower castes. Bhim Rao was born on 14 April 1891 in a Mohan (Hindu untouchable) caste at Mohar. Bhimrao married Rambai of his own caste in 1905; she died in 1935. In 1948, Bhimrao married a second time Dr. Sharada Kabir who came from a Saraswati Brahmin Family of Bombay.

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In July 1924, Ambedkar started an organization in Bombay called ‘Bahishkrit Hitkarni Sabha’ for the moral and material progress of the untouchables. He resorted to methods of agitation and launched Satyagraha to establish civic rights of the untouchables to enter the Hindu temples and draw water from public wells.

In 1930 Ambedkar entered national politics. He demanded separate electorates for the untouchables. He was nominated as a delegate of the three round tables Conference in London (1930-32). The Communal Award announced by the British Prime Minister on 17 August 1932 provided for separate electorates for the Depressed Classes. This upset Gandhi Ji who went on fast unto death; a final compromise popularly known as the Poona Pact (24 Sept., 1932) provided for reservation of seats for the Depressed Classes in the general constituencies.

On the eve of independence, Ambedkar was nominated by the Congress Party as a member of the Constituent Assembly. His contribution in framing and piloting the India Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill are well recognised. Today, Ambedkar is remembered as the emancipator of the lower castes.

The new Constitution of Indian Republic has accepted the Principle of Equality for all Indian citizens and has abolished untouchability. The Untouchability (offences) Act 1955 spells out the punishment to be awarded for offences under this Act.

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