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Bahujans in Hindi Society

For the first instalment of the series, ‘Untold stories of Shudra-Atishudra Awakening’, Kanwal Bharti delves into the history of India’s Hindi heartland  

Series: Untold stories of Shudra-Atishudra Awakening

The history of the renaissance of the Backwards, Dalits and Adivasis is nothing short of impressive. However, there has been very little attempt to uncover this aspect of our past. FORWARD Press will be looking at this uncharted territory. We will be publishing the history of the social movements among these communities, foregrounding it with the contributions of those Bahujan heroes who have mostly been overlooked by Dwij scholars. – Managing Editor, Forward Press

Not just in Hindi society, but in any Indian linguistic culture, there have been two criteria for defining Bahujans: class and caste. Neither can be faulted in the Indian context. There is more suffering and less happiness in this mortal world; thus, ‘bahu’jans (the many) suffer and ‘alpa’jans (the few) stay happy. It was on this basis that the Buddha gave the name of ‘Bahujan’ to the suffering masses, and reformed a religion in their interest and for their happiness. But the varna system of the Brahmins never allowed the Bahujans to forge a common front, and ensured that they remained divided into castes based on Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra varnas. The higher varnas never considered the lower ones a part of them, and so never did share in their joys and miseries.


This is why the Bahujan society within Hindi society is constituted of the Shudra varna, and the “untouchable” castes that are even further below it in the caste hierarchy. In legalese, they are called OBCs (Other Backward Castes) and SCs (Scheduled Castes), respectively; the former are deemed “touchable” and the latter, “untouchable”. If we include the primitive tribes in this group, it becomes an even bigger category. In this article, however, I will limit my discussion only to the backward and the untouchable castes of Hindi society.

No book about the Indian renaissance answers the question of how an awakening, let alone a renaissance, came about in Bahujan society. To seek an answer to this question and to understand the issue at stake comprehensively, let us begin with this observation by Dr Ramvilas Sharma:

“The Bhartendu era was not the first or initial period of public consciousness in north India; it was a special phase of an age-old tradition. Public consciousness here first came about when literature started getting composed in the colloquial speech of the commoners, when modern castes came into being in various regions. This was an anti-feudal public awakening. The battles fought on Indian soil against British rule – from the battle of Plassey to the 1857 War of Independence – belong to the second phase of public awakening. It is distinct from the first phase, as its main enemy is foreign. This is an anti-imperial awakening.”[1]

Here, two phases of awakening are being referred to: one against feudalism, and the second against imperialism. While the second phase has been clearly periodized until the 1857 War of Independence, nothing is said about when the first phase began and concluded. If the period from the Battle of Plassey to the 1857 War of Independence marked the rise of consciousness against foreign imperialism, then it can be inferred that the first anti-feudal awakening was a time of revolts against indigenous rulers. But is there any historical evidence of people’s wars against nawabs and rajas? History does tell us about battles among kings, but there is hardly a trace of anti-feudal struggles by the common masses. Can we find accounts of Indian people resisting and revolting against the pre-British Indian rulership in the manner they fought against the British rule? Dr Ramvilas Sharma traces what he calls the public consciousness against feudalism in the writings of some medieval saint-poets like Tulsidas. It is their work that he classifies as the literature written in the people’s tongue. But during the monarchical rule, knowledge and education were the monopoly of the Brahmins. How could a true public awakening occur without a concerted assault on this very monopoly? Tulsidas was a Brahmin for whom education was not prohibited. Meerabai came from a royal family, and thus was not deprived of education. Jayasi was a Muslim and educated in the milieu of Muslim rule. Kabir too was a Muslim and could get an education in the Muslim-ruled environment. Since the Muslim rulers made education accessible to all, the light of learning reached the Shudra community as well. There is no doubt that the deprived classes too were a part of this public awakening, which further kindled the idea of renaissance among the Bahujans. The entire credit for this goes to the Muslim rulership. Among the medieval saint-poets in whose works Dr Ramvilas Sharma reads anti-feudal rebellion, lower-caste poets like Kabir and Raidas – and not Brahmins like Tulsidas – stand out as the loudest and most candid of rebel voices. Tulsidas was not exactly happy with the fact that Shudras could gain education during the Muslim rule and put forth arguments challenging the superiority of Brahmins. The saints themselves were divided into two classes: Brahmins and non-Brahmins. But Dr Sharma just bundles them all together. The Brahmin saints believed in the varna system while the non-Brahmin saints raised their voice against it and pitched for an egalitarian society. In contrast, Brahmins like Tulsidas and Surdas were advocates of a society based on the varna system. In this respect, the following statement of Shanti Bhikshu Shastri is significant:

“For a long time, a group of saints had been challenging the notion that Brahmins are superior by birth. According to these Shramans (saints), no one is a Brahmin by birth; Brahmanism is achieved by being free from vices and sins (Vahitpapoti Brahmano). One who is calm, composed, celibate and non-violent is a Shraman, a Brahmin and a Bhikshu. This concept of Brahmanism was first propounded by the Buddhist Shramans and reiterated by the later saints. But the poet of the Manas (Tulsidas) cannot bear the idea that virtues can make any person high enough to flaunt his virtue-based Brahmanism or Shramanism before those who are born Brahmins. The poet of Manas attributes such ideas to the age of sin, when the Shudras started believing that only a ‘Brahmagyani’ is the real Brahmin, and that they, through penance or hard work, could attain Brahmanism and tell those born Brahmins that they are not inferior to them:

Badhi sudra dwijanh san, ham tumh tein kachu ghati,

Janayee brahma so vipravar, aankhi dekhawahi dati

The poet of Manas does not like the lower castes asserting themselves because he is a supporter of the Hindu religion as propounded by the nexus of shrutis, smritis and puranas, which contends that these castes are destined to be suppressed.”[2]


In The Annihilation of Caste, a book based on his undelivered speech, Dr Ambedkar has underlined the fact that no Brahmin saint ever attacked the caste system. On the contrary, they were its diehard supporters.[3] He quotes the example of Eknath, who took a dip in the Ganga to purify himself, if he happened to be touched by an Untouchable.[4] Hence, if there ever was a voice against feudalism, it was that of the Shudra saints. This was a public consciousness against Brahmanism, for it rejected the varna system. Kabir had refuted the notion of the Brahmins being “Jagadguru” (teachers of the world)[5], disavowed their superiority, and opposed untouchability.[6] Raidas had rejected the four vedas and had given more importance to a person’s virtues and knowledge.[7] Thus, the anti-feudal consciousness was also anti-Brahmanism, and the Shudras were its harbingers. This was very natural, for, as they say, it is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches. Under the feudal order, the Brahmin never had felt the pinch or pain. So why would he have revolted? By calling Tulsidas anti-feudal, Dr Ramvilas Sharma has made a rather hollow claim.

Now let us come to the anti-imperial awakening. Dr Sharma contends that the battle against the British was born of an anti-imperialist consciousness. But the fact remains that this too was pro-Brahmanism. The Brahmins had a litany of complaints against the British since British legislations for social reform – such as laws against untouchability, the outlawing of the horrific system of Sati, and making education accessible to all – had razed the citadel of Brahmanism. It was the British who had for the first time declared that all are equal in the eyes of the law. Till 1817, no Brahmin could be given capital punishment, a privilege that was ended by the British. Thus the Brahmins’ resistance against the British was driven by attempts to restore their privileges. Even as they christened their revolt the “Independence struggle”, they kept treating Indian Dalits, other backward castes, and primitive tribes as slaves under their command and control.

It is important to keep in mind that the outcome of the struggle against the British is even more significant than the struggle per se. The British won battle after battle: they won in Plassey, vanquished the Peshwas, and smothered the revolt of 1857. How did these victories come about? Does the literature about the Indian renaissance say anything in this regard? The answer is no. But the matter does find mention in Dalit literature. In his essay The Untouchables and the Pax Britannica, Dr Ambedkar has illuminated some facts, which are noteworthy in the context of Bahujan revival. He writes:

“In the year 1757 there was fought a battle between the forces of the East India Company and the Army of Sirajud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal. The British forces were victorious. It is known in history as the battle of Plassey and it is as a result of this battle that the British for the first time made territorial conquest in India. The last battle which completed the territorial conquest was fought in 1818. It is known as the battle of Koregaon. This was the battle which destroyed the Maratha Empire and established in its place the British Empire in India. Thus, the Conquest of India by the British took place during 1757 and 1818.” [8]

“Who were these people who joined the army of the East India Company and helped the British to conquer India? … the people who joined the Army of the East India Company were the Untouchables of India. The men who fought with Clive in the battle of Plassey were the Dusads, and the Dusads are Untouchables. The men who fought in the battle of Koregaon were the Mahars, and the Mahars are Untouchables. Thus, in the first battle and the last battle (1757-1818) it was the Untouchables who fought on the side of the British and helped them conquer India. The truth of this was admitted by the Marquess of Tweeddale in his note to the Peel Commission which was appointed in 1859 to report on the reorganization of the Indian Army”.[9]

According to Dr Ambedkar, not only had the Untouchables helped the British conquer India but had also aided them in suppressing the 1857 revolt.

“Not only did the Untouchables enable the British to conquer India, they enabled the British to retain it. The Mutiny of 1857 was an attempt to destroy British Rule in India. It was an attempt to drive out the English and re-conquer India. So far as the Army was concerned, the Mutiny was headed by the Bengal Army. The Bombay Army and the Madras Army remained loyal and it was with their help that the Mutiny was suppressed. What was the composition of the Bombay Army and the Madras Army? They were mostly drawn from the Untouchables, the Mahars in Bombay and the Pariahs in Madras”.[10]

The suffering and the serfs have no nation; thus, the fact of Dalits aiding the British in their war against India should not been assessed in the light of nationalism. It was no mere coincidence that before Dr Ambedkar, Jotiba Phule had also advocated the British Raj. In the preface to his famous book Gulamgiri, he writes:

“The Shudras were forbidden even to spit in the streets. Should he happen to pass through a Brahmin (Bhat) locality he had to carry an earthen pot slung about his neck to collect his spittle. (Should a Bhat Officer find spittle from a Shudra’s mouth on the road, woe betide the Shudra!) The Shudra suffered many such indignities and disabilities….The all-merciful Providence took pity on the Shudras and brought about the British raj to India by its divine dispensation, which emancipated the Shudras from the physical thraldom” [11]

It was only natural that the Shudras, suffering at the hands of Brahmanism, would help the British conquer India. They wanted freedom from the yoke of Brahmanism and saw this freedom in the British rule.

It is difficult to zero in on any particular period as the era in which a Shudra consciousness took shape. Opposition to the caste system within the religious context had begun during the times of the medieval saints. Yet the Shudras at the time had not been conscious of a need to assert their self-respect. The desire for social self-respect categorically took root only in the 19th century with the arrival of Christian missionaries in India. Hence, it would not be wrong to say that Christian missionaries were the harbingers of Dalit consciousness. These Western missionaries established their centres in different parts of the country. Many of them started working among the lower castes and successfully converted them to Christianity. In the Madras Presidency, more than 5,000 Nadars (toddy tappers) had embraced Christianity by 1803. Belonging to missions attached to different denominations, such as the Danish Mission, London Mission and Church Mission, the missionaries had the support of the East India Company. They did not confine themselves to the fields of religion, education, medicine and social welfare, but also worked to secure human rights for the lower castes and to help them enter government services. For instance, a local custom in Travancore prohibited women of the lower castes from covering their breasts. The European missionaries militated against this horrific custom and allowed converted Christian women to wear blouses. This led to a conflict between the converted Christians and the Savarna Hindus.[12]

Conversions transformed the lives of the lower castes. They started learning English, started living with dignity and self-respect after breaking free from retrograde traditions and customs. Getting government jobs enhanced their social status. This forced other members of the lower castes to consider embracing Christianity to be free from a life of slavery and to move towards a dignified life.

Just as the perceived threat from Islam had led to the founding of the Vaishnav sect among the Hindus, the perceived threat from Christianity encouraged the development of the Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Prarthna Samaj and Shuddhi movements in Hindu society. All these movements were aimed at stopping the exodus of lower-caste Hindus into the Christian faith, not at giving them equal civic rights. Still, the Arya Samaj did better than other movements in this respect, despite the fact the Shuddhi movement born under its umbrella would organize the “homecoming” of converted Christians and Muslims, much like the Sangh Parivar does today.

Yet the British-led social reform movements played a greater role in the rise of Dalit consciousness than these movements. A weaver caste called Jogi in West Bengal, which had long struggled to gain Brahmin status, had begun to wear the “janeyu” (the sacred thread worn by Brahmins) by the end of the 19th century. In 1901, they founded the “Jogi Hiteshini Sabha” and began publishing a magazine called Jogisaka.[13] Also in Bengal, Chand Guru (1850-1930) launched the “Namoshudra” movement to protest against the “Chandal” identity. According to historian Joya Chatterjee, in the 1870s, the Chandals of Baakarganj and Faridpur began a boycott of the upper-caste Hindus after the latter refused to dine at the residence of a Chandal chieftain. Later, they continued with the struggle for improving their lot, for the more respectable title of Namsudra and the status of Brahmin.[14] In 1930, the British government accepted their demand.

The rise of the non-Brahmin movements in Maharashtra, Mysore and Madras in the 19th century played a key role in organizing the Shudras politically and socially against Brahmanical repression. This movement did not just kindle feelings of self-respect, but also brought about an awareness of the concept of equal civic rights. In Maharashtra, Jotiba Phule’s anti-Brahmin movement took on the task of educating the Shudras. Phule was the first Indian to open a school for the Untouchables and girls in Maharashtra.[15] He was the first to have encouraged the farmers and others from the lower classes to recognize their bonds of slavery. In 1870, he founded the Satyashodhak Samaj to take on the Brahmo Samaj and the Prarthna Samaj. This became the first Shudra organization against the varna and caste system. Though the influence of the Satyashodhak Samaj was confined to Maharashtra, this period saw a rising sentiment against the the varna and caste systems across the country.

Like the Jogis and the Namshudras in Bengal, the Shudra castes in the Hindi region too had been fighting for a respectable social identity. At the beginning of the 19th century, many Shudra castes of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other states began claiming that they were Kshatriyas. Members of Ahir caste – the cow-rearing caste – began linking themselves with the Yadu clan of Lord Krishna in an attempt to establish their Yadav identity and move up the status ladder. According to Rao:

“As their gods were also considered lowly, for spiritual progress and self-respect, they adopted the Vedic Hindu religion under the influence of the Arya Samaj. But now, they were caught up in a bloody struggle with the Thakurs, Bhumihar Brahmins (of Bihar) and Brahmins. When the Ahirs started wearing Janeyu publicly, the Thakurs and the Brahmins resorted to violence, as they felt that their privileged position was being threatened. But the Ahirs did not capitulate and instead, around 1901, launched a Janeyu movement, which soon spread to Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. This was the first social movement of the Yadavs for acquiring religious rights on a par with the dwij castes. Regional Yadav organizations came into being in different parts of the country including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab.”[16]

Rao writes that the assertion of Yadav identity at the national level emerged with the founding of the Akhil Bharatiya Yadav Mahasabha (ABYM) in 1923. Its leadership was in the hands of a professional intellectual, Dr Khedekar, who had acquired Western education and took an active interest in the organization. Under his leadership, a delegation of backward classes travelled to London to represent their own political rights by deposing before the joint select committee of the British Parliament.[17] According to Rao, the ABYM raised two important issues: one, that the Indian army should have a Yadav regiment; two, that backward castes should get better opportunities in education and employment.[18]

Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu

Quoting William Rowe (1968), Rao relates how Nonia, a potter caste of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, had also declared that they were Chouhan Rajputs (Kshatriyas). Many members of the Nonia community made money through contracts for manufacturing bricks and clay vessels, bettered their social status and established their own distinct identity. Like the Yadavs, they too adopted the Vedic religion of the Arya Samaj, began wearing janeyu and taking part in Vedic yagnas – activities from which they had been barred for centuries. By becoming Arya Samajis with a Kshatriya identity, the Nonias thus secured both self-respect and glory. In 1935, they founded the Akhil Bharatiya Nonia Sabha in Katni (Madhya Pradesh) and used the platform to launch a struggle for education, employment and political rights.[19]

Given that the backward castes were not Untouchables, and the Hindu society needed their products, their struggles with the dwij castes did not take a violent turn. However, Savarna violence against the Dalit castes – those Untouchables whose very shadow was polluting for the dwijs – continues to this day. Although the Dalits too launched movements for a “high social identity”, they did not meet with the same success as those of other backward castes like the Yadavs.

The history of the struggles of the untouchable castes in India was first written by the intellectuals of the untouchable castes themselves because Hindu historians did not consider Dalit castes to be a part of Hindu society. This is mainly why there is hardly a mention of Dalit struggles in their historiography. Dalit intellectuals began chronicling their past in the beginning of the 20th century. Ramnarayan S. Rawat has elaborated on this history in his book Reconsidering Untouchability.[20] The discussion here on this aspect of history draws heavily on his writings. The struggle launched by the Chamars in the 1920s and 1930s did it address issues of economic equality, land-distribution, or employment – nor was it directed against the British rule. Their agitations were against Brahmanism and sought to reclaim their social self-respect. They launched a movement petitioning the government that they be called “Jatavs” instead of “Chamars”. They instituted the Jatav Mahasabha, whose prominent member Ramnarayan Yadvendu went on to establish the Akhil Bharatiya Jatav Navyuvak Sangh. The struggle met with success in 1937, when the Uttar Pradesh government’s acceptance of the “Jatav” surname was announced at the seventh national convention of Akhil Bharatiya Jatav Navyuvak Sangh in Ghaziabad. Around this time, four books recounting the history of the Chamars were published: U.B.S. Raghuvanshi’s Shri Chawar Purana (1910-1916), Jaiswar Mahasabha’s Suryavansh Kshatriya (1926), Sunderlal Sagar’s Yadav Jeevan and Ramnarayan Yadvendu’s Yaduvansh Ka Itihaas (1942). Sagar and Yadvendu, who were Jatiya Chamars, linked their caste with Lord Krishna and claimed that they were “Jatav-Kshatriyas”. “Jatiya” Chamars were mainly settled in Meerut, Agra, Moradabad, Rampur and Badayun districts of western Uttar Pradesh. The “Jaiswar” Chamars, who were mainly concentrated in eastern Uttar Pradesh, also linked themselves with the Chawar ruling clan and laid claim to being Kshatriyas. The Jatias and the Jaiswars are the two main Chamar castes, which form almost 40 per cent of the Chamar population of the state.

The 79-page Shri Chawar Purana was published from Kanpur. Its author, Raghuvanshi, was a lawyer at Aligarh.The 10-page Suryavansh Kshatriya was published from Lahore and related the story of Chawar Purana. According to Raghuvanshi, Chawar Purana was discovered by a rishi who lived in a cave in the Himalayas in Tibet. The purana showed that the Chamars were originally called Chawars. According to this purana, the Chamars of today were powerful rulers and belonged to the Suryavanshi Chawar clan of yore. Vouching for the credibility of the Chawar Purana, Raghuvanshiwrites that the Anusashan Parva of the Mahabharata holds that the Chawar rulers were Kshatriyas who lost their status after its members stopped respecting the Brahmins. According to him, Chawar Purana contained the prophecy that Sant Raidas would be born in the Chamar caste to make amends for this folly.

According to Chawar Purana, the last ruler from this dynasty, Raja Chamunda Rai, followed the Varnashram Dharma and was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. To test his devotion, Lord Vishnu came to him disguised as a Shudra and began reciting the Vedas in his presence. Chamunda Rai was performing puja at the time. When he saw a Shudra reciting the Vedas, he became angry and warned Lord Vishnu (in a Shudra’s guise) that he did not have the right to do so. Upon hearing this, Vishnu appeared before him in his own form and said that a person is a Shudra not by birth but by his worldly deeds. Chamuda sought forgiveness, but an angry Vishnu cursed him saying that he and his descendants would lose their Kshatriya status and become Chamars and Untouchables ­– lower even than the Shudras in the caste hierarchy. Since then, it is said, the Chawar clan and its history disappeared from this earth.

Another book on the history of the Jatiya Chamars titled Jatav Jeevan was published in 1924. Its second edition ran into 108 pages and was published in 1929 under the new title Yadav Jeevan. Its author, Sunder Lal Sagar of Agra, claimed that the Chamars were Yadavs who had descended from the Yadu clan. In 1946, Ramnarayan Yadvendu wrote Yaduvansh Ka Itihaas, which borrowed heavily from Yadav Jeevan, and also covered the history of many Jatav organizations. Sagar wrote, “We know about our nation, our country, our clan and our caste through our history.”[21] This book has been written in a question-answer form. It seeks to convince the ignorant Jatavs that the Yadhuvansh became polluted and lost its status for want of knowledge about the community and its past. Two Hindu lawyers had opposed Sagar’s plea that his name be entered in the voters’ list with the surname Yadav. Sagar filed a case against them in the court of R.L.H. Clark, the commissioner of Agra. He told the court with great pride, “This book (Jatav Jeevan) has been written by Sunderlal Yadav and it clearly proves that all Jatavs are, in fact, Yadavs.” He also wrote that the ancestors of Jatavs had fought a battle against Parshuram in which the Kshatriyas had lost. To protect themselves from persecution, the Jatavs took sanctuary in forests and, hiding their Kshatriya identity, began leading the life of artisans. Thus, they lost their exalted social status, the angry Brahmins started discriminating against them, and they became untouchable Chamars. Sagar insisted that the word Jatav was a distortion of the word Yadav.

There is no doubt that these stories had been crafted by the Brahmins to Hinduize the Chamars. The books on the history of the Chamars published in the 1920s show that they had a wide social base in Uttar Pradesh. While the police reports of the period 1920-28 refer to a series of incidents of Chamar resistance, the Hindi national newspapers of the time make no mention of them. Some newspapers like Pratap, Abhyudaya and Aaj carried stories about the Chamars only when the Congress and some Hindu organizations launched anti-untouchability campaigns. Though there were countrywide emancipation struggles by the Chamars, police reports show that Uttar Pradesh witnessed the highest number of such movements and protests. The Jatav Mahasabha had the most number of its branches in western Uttar Pradesh and the Chamars were the most organized in this region.

It is worth mentioning here that the Chamar agitations remained loyal to the British. Their activities went against the Non-Cooperation Movement started by the Congress in 1920-22. Police reports say that the Chamars organized meetings in almost all districts of western Uttar Pradesh and passed resolutions supporting the British and opposing the non-cooperation movement. The agenda of the Chamar struggles had two main points of focus: one, getting the municipalities to open schools for their children; two, putting an end to the “begari” (unpaid labour) system. The “begari” system was the biggest instrument of oppression of the Dalits at the time, and opposing it was the mainstay of the Dalit movement in the 1920s. In the Awadh region, the Dalits had taken part in the Kisan Sabha Andolan of 1921-22, which was against dispossession of land (“bedakhli”) and the “Begari” systems. In April 1928, Hindi weekly Pratap published a report of the two-day meet of the Raidas Sabha in Kanpur against the begari system.

The role of the Arya Samaj in this era also deserves mention. The Arya Samaj was created in 19th century to protect Hinduism from the influence of Islam and Christianity. Its founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati did not outright criticize the Varna system, but he did offer re-interpretations of the Vedas and the writings of Manu to claim that untouchability was unacceptable. He supported the Shudras’ right to education, and held that well-educated Shudras could study the Vedas. In the first two decades of the 20th century, the leaders of the Arya Samaj launched a campaign against casteism and opened Arya Samaj schools for Dalits.

Since the exploited desire change while the exploiters seek to maintain status quo, the former are easily drawn to ideologies that promise to free them from their oppressed existence and to open doors to progress. And so, Dalits gravitated towards the Arya Samaj in large numbers to consolidate their identity as “Aryas”. The Arya Samaj launched a mission for the emancipation of the Dalits on a massive scale, leading to the rise of several famous Arya Pracharaks from among the Dalit communities. Santram BA was one such revolutionary Arya Samaji from the backward community, who captured the attention of the entire nation through his Jaat-Paat Todak Mandal. Dr Ambedkar was invited to address the annual convention of the forum. In the Hindi area, Swami Achhootanand “Harihar” from the Chamar community was also an Arya Samaji. He later quit the organization and in 1923 launched the “Aadi Hindu” movement, which proposed a new identity of “Aadi Hindu” for the Dalits. In 1927, he founded the “Aadi Hindu Mahasabha”, which was a major political step against associating the Dalits with the Hindu Mahasabha founded by upper caste Hindu leaders like Malaviya and Savarkar. In the same year, thousands of workers of the Mahasabha welcomed the members of the Simon Commission in Lucknow and apprised them of the problems of the Untouchables. Thus, it played a key role in organizing the Dalits.

By now, stories of Chawar Purana and Chamar claims of being Kshatriyas had been left behind. At the same time, other movements, such as the “Aadi Hindu” and “Aadi Dravida” movements in the south, and the ‘Aad-dharmi’ movement in Punjab, were under way. These movements helped the Dalits assert that the groups cast as Shudras and Untouchables were the indigenous inhabitants of India, and the rest were Aryan invaders. The Aadi Hindu Mahasabha was an organization of the Untouchables as well as other backward castes. With it were associated a large number of Bahujan intellectuals, including Ram Sahai Pasi, Ramcharan Mallah, Shivdayal Chaurasia, Chaudhari Buddhadev Raidas, Bagauti Prasad Kureel, Chaudhary Hori Lal, Mahadev Prasad Dhanuk, Badluram Rasik, Ramcharan Bhurji, Advocate Gaurishankar Pal and Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu.[22]After the Poona Pact on the rights of the Untouchables, signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar in 1932, the Untouchables became Dalits. In the ensuing political drama enacted by the Congress and Gandhi, the Aadi Hindu Mahasabha sided with Dr Ambedkar. As a result, the organization merged with the Scheduled Castes Federation – Dr Ambedkar’s political outfit – after the death of Swami ji in 1937. In 1956, the Scheduled Castes Federation was disbanded and the Republican Party of India came into existence.

The credit of naming the entire Shudra movement as the “Bahujan Movement” goes to the great Bahujan writer Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu. His writings underscored the fact that 80 per cent of the country’s population comprises toiler farmers, labourers, artisans, untouchables, backward communities and tribals, all of whom are the exploited classes in Hindu society. He gave them the common name of “Bahujan society”, and used his pen to great effect in bringing about a widespread renaissance in the Hindi region.

(Translated by Amrish Herdenia; Edited by Diviya Pant)


[1]Bhartendu Harishchandra Aur Hindi Navjagran Ki Samasyayein, Ramvilas Sharma, 2004, Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, p 13.

[2]Oohapoha, Shantibhikshushastri, First Edition 1955, Buddh Vihar, Risaldar Park, Lucknow, p 31.

[3]Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, 1989, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay-400032, p 87.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kabir Granthavali, ed Bhayamsundar Das, Vikram Samvat 2034, Kashi Nagripracharini Sabha, Kashi, Chanak Kau, Vol 10, p 79.

[6] Ibid, verse 41, p 79.

[7] Vaaman ko mat pujiye, jo gun se ho heen,Pujiye charan chandal ke, jo ho gyan Praveen-Aadi Amrit Vaani, Shri Guru Ravidas ji Research Forum, All India Aadi Dharma Mission, Shri Guru Ravidas Dharmasthan, Delhi-52, Chapters 8-4.

[8] Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writing and Speeches, Vol 12, 1993, pp 83-84.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid, pp 86-87.

[11] Mahatma Jotiba Phule Rachnavali, Volume 1, ed L.G. Mehram “Vimal Kiriti’, 1996, Radhakrishna Prakashan, New Delhi, p 145.

[12] M.S.A. Rao, ‘Backward Classes Movements’, in Indian Movements, Some Aspects of Dissent Protest and Reform, edited by S. C. Malik, 1978, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, p 235.

[13] Ibid, p. 246.

[14]Chatterji, Joya (2002). Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947. Cambridge University Press, pp 191-194.

[15] Dhananjay Keer, Mahatma Jotirao Phule, 1974, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, preface, p vii.

[16] M.S.A. Rao, ibid, pp 243-43.

[17] Ibid, p 243.

[18] Ibid, pp 243-44.

[19] Ibid, pp 244-45.

[20] Ramnarayan S. Rawat, Reconsidering Untouchablity: Chamars and Dalit History in North India, 2012, pp 120-149.

[21] Rawat, Ibid, p 117.

[22] Dr Angne Lal, Uttar Pradesh Mein Dalit Andolan, ed Rahul Raj, 2011, Gautam Book Centre, Shahdara, Delhi, p 26.

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About The Author

Kanwal bharti

Kanwal Bharti (born February 1953) is a progressive Ambedkarite thinker and one of the most talked-about and active contemporary writers. Dalit Sahitya Kee Avdharna and Swami Achootanand Harihar Sanchayita are his key books. He was conferred with Dr Ambedkar Rashtriya Award in 1996 and Bhimratna Puraskar in 2001

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