Thursday, 13 March 2008

1857- A Dalit Perspective

1857- A Dalit Perspective
Dr. Shura Darapuri
Senior Lecturer
Department of History,
Himachal Pardesh University,
Shimla (H.P.), India.

"History will, we conceive, take a very different view of the facts of the great Indian revolt of 1857 what the contemporaries have taken of them." Hindu Patriot, 6 May, 1858.1
1857 revolt will be soon completing 150 years. It is proposed to organize nationwide programs on this occasion during 2007. Film Industry, Television, Newspapers and magazines have already started gearing up for this occasion and Ketan Mehta’s film ‘Mangal Pande’ is a trailer of this grand celebration. In this frenzy of grand celebration and nationalism, it is proposed to raise some questions which may not be very palatable to those who regard 1857 mutiny as "Nation’s First Independence Struggle." Such questions were also raised in 1907 when this mutiny completed 50 years and 100 years in 1957. But these questions did not create such an uncomfortable situation. In fact then Dalit point of view was not being taken very seriously. It could be very easily labeled as pro-colonial and different from mainstream and ignored as an individualistic point of view. However feeble opposition it might have been but it is true that after 1859 there has been a long standing Shudra point of view which refused to accept 1857 as a national freedom struggle and have rejoiced that it was quelled and resulted in the continuous presence of the British in India. In it, the first and important voice was that of Jotirao Phule who had felicitated those Mahar soldiers who had helped the British in quelling the revolt. He had written a letter to the then Viceroy and expressed happiness that the British stayed in India. And did not leave he millions of the Shudras and the Dalits to the mercy of the Brahmins. He said "God was merciful enough to the Shudras to have crushed the revolt led by Brahmin Nana Phandvis. He was aware that the British were there today and would be gone tomorrow, hence the need for the Shudras to hurry…."2 Dhananjay Keer has commented; "Jotirao was happy to see that British had brought education, science and justice for all….."3
Dalit tradition after Jotirao Phule also expressed similar sentiments about British rule from time to time which very clearly project their bias in favor of the British.4 If given a choice between British slavery which for the first time opened to them the doors of education, army and civil services, equality before law and freedom from such laws which established a state based on the Shastras and the Samrities, the obvious choice would have been British slavery. This slavery had given them a right to live as human beings for the first time. Arun Shourie has referred to, some times rightly and some times out of context, such views of Dr. Ambedkar in trying to prove him to be a stooge of the British.5 The followers of Dr. Ambedkar did not have the courage to face Shourie on the plane of principles. Some times they tried to smear his face black ad some times quoted Ambedkar to prove that he was patriotic in the same sense as the caste Hindu leaders like Tilk, Shardanand and Gandhi were. But now it can be vouchsafed that when we are preparing to celebrate 150th year of anniversary of 1857, Dalit discourse has matured to search for their space in this declared First War of Independence and now non-Dalit discourse cannot afford to ignore it as it was done in 1907 and 1957
It is necessary to understand various myths about 1857. Some accepted notions are as follows:-
It was a national freedom struggle of local rulers and soldiers which was backed by insurmountable desire of freedom from the British slavery.
1857 should be viewed as a period of Indian New Awakening especially that of Hindi belt.
These notions need to be judged from Dalit point of view in order to form a rational discourse.
Firstly, let us see to what extent this revolt was national? To understand it, it is essential to know whether in 1857 India was a nation? Here nation does not mean a nation state or a national state. Today the area which is said to be from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and which in 1947 also included the parts today known as Pakistan and Bangladesh, the beginning was really made by the British to make it into a single political unit as a nation, although there might have been expansionist and exploitation interest behind it. The modern view of a nation state and resultant national feelings developed during industrial revolution of 17th and 18th century Europe and the search for new colonies to sell products developed and flourished out of this struggle. No such Industrial Revolution took place in India necessitating sale of surplus products abroad.
At the time of arrival of East India Company and till the outbreak of revolt against them in 1857, the area which today we call India was a conglomeration of numerous small and big independent sovereign states. Their rulers fought among themselves and not only did not help each other against external aggression but also extended help to external aggressors depending upon their own need and self interest. They had their own currency, flags and tax system. It is not such that there was dearth of such factors in this vast land which could make it a nation state. This land surrounded by sea and mountains facilitated their mixing among themselves more than the rest of the World. The geographical boundary helped the residents to develop a loose religion which the outsiders called by the name of Hinduism. This religion was free from compulsions of a religious prophet and a revealed religious book. This Hindu nomenclature covered monotheist, pantheist, worshippers of trees and stones, atheists and skeptics. Its devotional centers were spread all over the area which changed into a nation state by 1947. Religious and trade fairs and common caste memories had the capacity to form a nation state even without the British help. But they could not make it as such. Never before the British there was a situation when this vast land could become a nation state under a central power having a central army and a monetary system.6
M.S.Golvarkar defining the Indian Nation has said," Aryans had settled in India at the dawn of the history and a nation took birth which is inherent in Hindus only.” At another place he wrote,” In Hindustan, Hindus are a nation themselves.” 7 Gollvarkar had forgotten that a nation is not a piece of geographical land. A nation is formed by common dreams, common memories and common past and future of millions and millions of people inhabiting it. He also forgot that a nation can be formed based on religion but inherent contradictions of Hinduism can prevent it from performing this necessary role. It is possible that people with different dresses, eating habits and religious traditions can join together to form a nation and there are such examples in the world. But the people with a life philosophy in which a power controlling minority treats the majority worse than animals and this subhuman majority has no stake, cannot become a nation. Dr. Ambedkar has also remarked during his speech in the Constituent Assembly on November, 1949: "I am of the opinion that in believing that we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realize that we are not as yet a nation in the social and psychological sense of the word, the better for us."8
In India education and military duties were denied to ninety percent of the people. The absence of the stake of the Shudras in the state can be compared only with the position of slaves in a state but their position was different from that of slaves in some ways. Firstly there has been no state where the slaves outnumbered the rulers. Secondly the doors of freedom were not totally closed in slavery. A slave could free himself by paying a certain amount or displaying bravery in a war but a Shudra had no way of liberation. Once born as a Shudra he had to suffer deprivation till his death. This deprivation kept him totally aloof from the state. Whosoever ruled the state did not matter to him. This aloofness prevented him from joining hands with his exploiters to form a nation. The masters of slaves used them as soldiers also. Many wars were won with the bravery of slaves and many times they rose to very high ranks in army. In India, Shudras were slaves but their masters preferred to lose wars rather than allowing them to fight the enemy. They feared that once the Shudras were allowed to carry weapons, it will be difficult to keep them under control. If we accept India as a nation before the arrival of the British, it will be a sole example of a nation in the world which did not win a single significant victory against foreign invaders. A few hundreds of Muslim or European invaders used to come and defeat many times larger army of Rajputs. If in place of Rajputs, Chamars, Bahngis, Dusads, Mahars or other Shudra castes were given a right to fight, the history of defeats would have been different and it could have helped us in becoming a nation. In Indian subcontinent only 1971 war was won by us as a nation but it was possible when we had a large number of Dalits and Shudras in our army. Another danger could have arisen if we had allowed the Dalits to fight side by side in the battle field. This danger was of power sharing or participation in power. If a Dalit fought side by side with a Rajput, he would have certainly asked for the price of the blood shed by him.
It will look strange but it is true that the process of formation of a political state started first and then it became a nation in its larger meaning. As the pillars of Varna Vayavstha (caste system) are falling, the formation of a nation state is getting speeded up. It is amazing to see that a nation divided by different festivals, rites and customs, dresses, eating habits and languages is unifying so quickly.
Now let us see as to what extent the participants in the so called freedom struggle were motivated by nationalistic feelings. The whole struggle rested on two pillars. One was the native rulers and the other pillar was in the form of Company soldiers. The rulers who revolted were actually fighting against the usurpation of their states by the Company. There was hardly anyone whose state was not annexed by the Company by hook or by crook. Those who were spared did not participate in the revolt and those who were dethroned on some pretext before the revolt, made pleadings through all means for restoring their states. It is a different thing that no state was restored. In this context, this statement of Rani Laxmibai before the British Resident is very important in which she said,” I will not give my Jhansi.” What if Jhansi had been given to her, where would have been Rani Laxmibai in this struggle? Similar was the case with deposed princes also. Thus Nana Sahib, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, assumed the leadership in Kanpur, Begam Hazrat Mahal took control over Lucknow, Khan Bahadur Khan in Rohilkhand and Rani Laxmibai appeared as the leader of the sepoys in Jhansi, although earlier she was prepared to accept British hegemony if her adopted son was recognized as the legitimate heir to the throne. In other areas of central India where there was no such dispossession, like Indore, Gwalior, Sagar or parts of Rajasthan, where the sepoys rebelled, the princes remained loyal to the British.9
As regards the civilian revolt Bandyopadhyay has remarked:" it is much difficult to explain the civilian revolt that accompanied the mutiny. As colonial rule had different impact on Indian society, the latter's responses were also widely variegated. First of all, regions and people who were beneficiaries of colonial rule did not revolt. Bengal and Punjab remained peaceful; the entire south India remained unaffected too. On the other hand, those who revolted had two elements among them- the feudal elements and the big landlords on the one hand and the peasantry on the other. Different classes had different grievances and the nature of grievances also varied from region to region. So far as the feudal elements were concerned, their major grievance was against the annexation under the Lord Dalhousie's 'doctrine of Lapse' which derecognized the adopted sons of the deceased princes as legal heirs and their kingdoms were annexed. In this way, Satara (1848), Nagpur, Sambalpur and Baghat (1850), Udaipur (1852), and Jhansi were taken over in quick succession. This amounted to British interference in the traditional system of inheritance and created a group of disgruntled feudal lords who had every reason to join the ranks of the rebels. Finally, in February 1856 Awadh was annexed and the king was deported to Calcutta. The annexation did not merely affect the nawab and his family, but the entire aristocracy attached to the royal court. These deposed princes in many cases offered leadership to the revolt."10 It is worth mentioning that under the British the peasantry felt more exploited than before and they accepted the leadership of the deposed rulers and the landlords and joined the mutiny.

Here also one thing is very clear that the aggrieved rulers were also reluctant to participate in the revolt to begin with, rather they were forced to lead by the revolting soldiers.The then Kotwal of Paharganj Delhi, Moenuddin Hassan has written an eyewitness account that how even after two days of the arrival of the mutineers in Delhi from Meerut, Bahadur- Shah- Zafar was reluctant and when forced by them hesitantly joined the meeting against the British. It is true that Daroga Moenuddin Hasan was a faithful servant of the British and his statement cannot be accepted without supporting evidence. But it should not be forgotten that non from the courtesan writers of Bahadur –Shah- Zafar has written any where that the King himself invoked others for the revolt. He simply continued to give petitions to Queen Victoria. The same was the case of Jhansi where Rani Laxmibai was forced by the revolting soldiers to lead them. She was actually threatened with death if she did not assist the sepoys or collaborated with the British.11 The plight of the native rulers, who joined 1857 mutiny was the same every where. It is a mere gesture that if these native rulers of petty states who fought with each other had succeeded and after expelling the British to what extent would have come together to form a nation state under Bahadur-Shah-Zafar or some central leadership.
In this meeting most important role was played by the Sepoys of the Company. These were the soldiers who firstly began the age of professional soldiers in India. They were professional in the sense that they were not selected on the basis of their lineage but their physical fitness. They lived together as platoon members; they were jointly given military training. They got regular pay which not being dependent on the sweet will or kindness of someone was in the form of a fixed pay scale. They fought war for worldly aims, though they could not rise very high in the rank but could attain the rank of Subedar with their seniority and bravery. Their officers had also come through their merit. It is true that due to feudal likings of the British society, certain boys of feudal families entered the army but a large number of them came from other classes known as commoners. Before the British such sepoys were neither with the Moslem nor with Hindu Kings. It was on the strength of organized, trained and disciplined sepoys of Clive numbering 3000 (2200 natives and 800 Europeans) who had defeated a large army of 30,000 of Siraj-ud-Daulah in the battle of Plassey in 1756. The Sepoys of Siraj-ud-Daulah did not get regular pay and they were segments of the armies of different feudals requisitioned during war. There were some dangers also in keeping such organized and cantonment based army. It was easy to incite them to disaffection and very difficult to crush them. In May, 1857 the British faced a similar situation when the revolt broke out in one after the other cantonment and it took them more than one year to quell it.

Before analyzing the revolt, we should understand the inner character of the Company Army. East India Company Army was organized mainly on the basis of three geographical divisions of the British Empire. These divisions were based at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Bengal Army (East), Bombay Army (west) and Madras Army (South) composed of men who differed in language, dress and social values from each other akin to the people living in those regions. Sometimes their pay and methods of training also appear to differ.
1857 was mainly the mutiny by the Bengal Army also sometimes known as Calcutta Men. Madras and Bombay Army did not only abstain from the revolt but also played a very important role in crushing it. Sikhs and Jats, Gujars and Gurkhas also helped the British to good extent. It is necessary to understand as to why Bengal army revolted. It is the starting point from which Dalit perspective begins.
After crushing the revolt the Company rule came under the British Crown. Mutiny studies were got done to understand and prevent its recurrence. It included a study by a journalist named John Reed who in 1858-59 went round all the cantonments of India and his book named "The Sepoy Mutiny” contains a study of mental state, conduct, discipline, training, pay and allowances etc of the sepoys. His study of Bengal army is very interesting.
In a Bengal army cantonment at about 3 or 4 PM John Reed felt as if he was surrounded by a field on fire. There was fire burning at hundred of places in the big ground and the sky was full of smoke. It took him some time to realize that these were separate hearths on which Sepoys were cooking their meals. These Sepoys mostly hailed from Bengal erstwhile Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh. It was impossible to imagine these badly divided sepoys on caste and sub caste basis to take food in a single kitchen. They could not live in a single barrack. That is why there were hundreds of huts in the cantonments. These were the sepoys who were inducted into regiments by the British during 1757 to 1825. This recruitment was done mainly from Awadh and Bihar which included Bhojpuri area also and the Brahmins were in large numbers. The British realized their folly within a few years of this recruitment. In 1850 Sir Charles Napier, a Bengal Army Commander wrote that if a high caste Hindu sepoy was to choose between discipline and his caste, he will choose his caste. They were not prepared to travel abroad out of the fear of being expelled from their caste. In the Company Army most of the cooks came from lower castes because they did not object to cooking beef and pork. Before this in 1826, Lord William Bentic had declared Bengal Army to be useless and unfit for fighting. Reed was surprised to see that these Bengal Army sepoys took a long time to get ready for training. A major portion of their daily time was used in bathing and washing, worship and rituals. All their habits prevented them from becoming professional soldiers.
As soon as the British realized their mistake they raised between 1846 and 1857 24 Infantry regiments. This include two regiments of Jat Sikhs and Mazhbi Sikhs. Being Dalits, the Mazhbi Sikhs were not eager to fight for rulers of the native states. The Jat Sikhs also due to the rise of Khalsa Panth, a century ago, were also free from Brahmanic rituals to good extent. These Punjabi regiments not only did not join the mutiny but also fought side by side with the Company sepoys to crush the Mutiny.
It is also noteworthy to mention that during the mutiny when faced with the shortage of manpower the British raised two regiments of Mehtar and Chamar- Ramdassia of untouchable castes, whom they earlier had recruited as non- combatants. They were given short term weapon training and deployed at Kanpur and in the siege of Delhi. These men at Kanpur were also given the duty of punishing the rebels which they did very faithfully. Similarly these men were given the freedom of looting the civilians after they liberated Delhi from the mutineers. Thus just like Jat Sikhs and others, the untouchables also fought against the mutineers and helped the British in reconquering the lost territory as they considered them more humane than the locals.
As opposed to Bengal Army, Bombay and Madras Army was mainly composed of Shudras and Untouchables. Mahars in Bombay Army and Pariah and Mala Shudra castes dominated these Armies. Ambedkar's father was himself in a Mahar regiment. Dr Ambedkar during a debate in Second Round Table Conference in 1930-31 held in London had also remarked:" The Depressed Classes welcomed the British as their deliverers from age long tyranny and oppression by the orthodox Hindus. They fought their battles against the Hindus, the Musalmans and the Sikhs, and won for them the great Empire of India. The British on their side assumed the role of trustees".12 The battle of Plassey was won for the British by Dusadh soldiers. The Anglo Maratha War was also won by the British with the help of Mahars of Bombay Army. The Madras Army which defeated Tipu Sultan was full of Pariah soldiers.
Once after understanding the Varna character of the soldiers it becomes easy to understand their joining the revolt or the Britishers. If cow or pig fat was being used in cartridges of Enfield rifles then why it did not become a reason for revolt by all the platoons? Before three months of the revolt, Major General Hearsey, the Commander of Bengal army had written to the Military Secretay of the East India Company about an incident of Barackpore cantonement in which how a Brahmin soldier refused to give water from his lota (container) to an untouchable Khalasi (Matadin Bhangi) out of a fear of his lota getting polluted. At this, the untouchable Khalasi retorted that what will happen to his caste when soon his bosses will ask them to bite cow and pig fat smeared cartridges. Soon this rumour spread to other cantonments also and it was not unnatural that the soldiers who preferred their religion and caste above army discipline revolted. It is a significant issue that if these sepoys with deep rooted allegiance to their castes (Varnas) and the native rulers as their leaders fighting to save their states had succeeded in throwing out the British from India what would have been the face of India in 1857 -1858. Would these native rulers have made India a true nation state under a central power? Would not these sepoys, deep drunk with caste pride, have become tools for debarring the huge population from education, military and non military services?
Can 1857 be seen as a new awakening in Hindi area? Awakening in any area comes with the spread of scientific and intellectual consciousness. If in 1857 the inertia of Hindi area appeared to break, was it due to the revolt and those responsible for it? Were these mutineers not bent upon destroying those values which could establish knowledge and reason in Hindi society? We should not forget that two centuries before 1857 Mutiny, Hindi area had gone through a big turmoil in the form of Bhakti Movement which had badly shaken the Brahminical values of Varnashram, social inequality, fatalism and ritualism.
This movement had two main peculiarities. This movement was mainly the expression of poets belonging to Dalit and Backward castes and it had challenged Sanskrit, the language of the elites, through local languages. After sixth century B.C. it was the biggest challenge to the Brahmanical worldview. Varna system is the biggest pillar of Brahminical life philosophy. Birth based castes and caste based human classification and this whole system certified by scriptures and duly sanctioned by God are the tenets which establish Brahmanical worldview as the most unscientific, inhuman and backward philosophy. This philosophy was given a serious challenge during sixth century B.C. Buddha had almost destroyed it but it soon reappeared in old form crueler and more intolerant. It has amazing capacity to assimilate which not only helped it in saving its existence but it had no difficulty in assimilating Buddha symbols which includes Buddha himself. Its biggest power is its elasticity which is the outcome of its special peculiarity. This is the only religious philosophy which has no revealed book and there is no concept of last prophet. It is a very big power. Any thing concerning God can become its part. Not only theists but atheists can also become a part of Hindu religion. With this power, this tradition almost usurped Buddhism. Buddhism may have prospered outside India in any form but its form surviving in India is not free from casteism, fatalism and ritualism.
Bhakti movement also severely attacked Varna system and Brahmanical rituals. The praises of gods sung in common languages immediately destroyed the charismas woven around gods in Sanskrit. The songs sung in common languages by men changed the gods into human beings just like an admixture of goodness and evil. Bhakti movement was like a storm which uprooted the Brahmanical traditions to good extent. The Brahmins were still healing these wounds when Islam and then the British started attacking its foundations. Islam put before the Dalits an alternative negating birth based stratification and the British did a thing which even Islam failed to do in India. They presented such model of universal education which was completely new to Indian society. For the first time the doors of education were opened to the common man. The worldly subjects as compared to religious issues occupied more space in education and state investment in the sphere of education became decisive. In common parlance it was the final blow that broke camel’s back. The right to education for the Shudras made it impossible to restrain them from raising questions about birth based superiority and resultant inequality.
It was not possible for the elite of India, Hindu and Muslims alike, to digest education of Shudras.The letters written by Ram Mohan Roy and Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan from time to time, are its interesting examples. Raja Ram Mohan Roy had objected to separate allocation in budget for education of Dalits and wrote that it is a direct interference in the religious affairs of Hindus. On the other hand Sir Sayyad Ahamad Khan had complained that the government was compelling the Ashraf (high caste Muslims) to receive education with weavers (low caste Muslims). Dhananjay Keer has aptly observed:" Orthodox Brahmins raised, in the name of religion, a violent opposition to non-Brahmins being given any education at all. They thought that the lower classes, if educated would reap the benefits of education, their monopoly would be in danger, and consequently their position in society would be jeopardized."13
Apart from education the opening of the doors of military service to the Dalits was also a big cause of military resentment among Varna Ashram minded sections of society. Entry of Dalits into education and service meant an opportunity of power sharing in whole social system which Brahmins were never ready to accept. Roy also wanted to shut the doors against ‘persons of lower castes’ and include only rich merchants and zamidars- respectable and intelligent classes- in the political system.14 He insisted that only ‘natives of respectability should be appointed as collectors in lieu of Europeans’. (ibid) 15
Dr. Ambedkar in his statement concerning the state of education of the Depressed Classes in the Bombay Presidency on behalf of the Bahishkrit Hitkarni Sabha submitted to the Indian Statutory Commission in 1928 reproduced paragraph 17 of the Report of the Board of Education which stated that,” The large minded administrator who has appeared on the side of India, points out the true rule of action. It is observed that, he says ‘the the missionaries find the lowest castes the best pupils, but we must be careful how we offer any special encouragement to men of that description; they are not the most despised, but among the least numerous of the great divisions of society …….” Dr. Ambedkar, inte alia, further observed: “In the course of observation of my Report of 1855-56 the government issued the following order:The only case as yet brought before government in which question as to the admission of lower class to Government schools has been raised was of a Mahar boy on whose behalf a petition was submitted in June, 1856, complaining that though willing to pay the usual schooling fee, he had been denied admission to the Dharwar Government School.”16 The admission was refused to avoid wrath of higher castes. It was not until April 28, 1858 that the Court of Directors passed the order to admit the Mahar boy. This instance projects the antagonism of higher castes towards the education of lower castes.
Another social reformer Lokahitvadi Gopal Deshmukh who was contemporary of Jotirao Phule also portrayed a similar situation when he said: “the Brahmins have monopolized learning through unfair means. They have decreed that other castes should no be educated. Today the Brahmins have captured all means of livelihood. The Brahmin pundits have threatened to leave their profession rather than teach the holly language Sanskrit to non-Brahmin students.” 17
1857 cannot said to be a new awakening in Hindi land for the reason that it was not a struggle for the liberation of whole population. Had it succeeded, Varna system which was badly shaken during Bhakti Movement would have reemerged more strengthened. The Dalits would have lost whatever little they had gained and the same Dark Age would have descended which had overshadowed this continent after the fall of Buddhism. Many serious scholars of Indian society presume that if the British were not there, the cycle of progress would have taken the same course and similar freedom struggle stories would have been written here also like other parts of the world. The only difference would have been that of motivating force. We have no objection to it. It is true that India would not have remained untouched by the forces of History and the pernicious system of Varna Ashram would have certainly perished with time but it would have taken how much time. It is possible that we would have been fighting it till today.
Before the arrival of the British India was a society mainly based on agriculture and craftsmanship. Karl Marx had written in 1853 about this society, that it was an unchallenging society. Along with this it was self sufficient to good extent. A village was in itself a unit. It produced the needed cloth, food grains, small implements and goods of daily use. The result was that it had very little communication with other villages and towns. That was the reason that any change at the level of technology was much delayed or took place at a very slow pace. Challenging this utopia of rural self sufficiency Marx labeled it as an inert or a stagnant society. Later Dr. Ambedkar also said challenging the Gandhian dream of Gram Swaraj (village self rule): "What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism? 18
The technology which came along with the British facilitated a big industrial revolution in this society. .And only then a big section of rural population migrated to towns and cities. Urbanization gave a best decisive blow to Varna system. Even today Varna system prevails to good extent in villages in its old hateful form. It has changed little. Jawaharlal Nehru once remarked," As compared to emancipation of Untouchable programme of Mahatma Gandhi, the railways would have contributed more to the removal of untouchability. It is possible that industrialization, urbanization and railways would have come to India even without the help of the British but definitely with more delay. Varna system would have opposed it to its ability.
Many of us believe that the liberal and educated leadership which was leading the independence struggle of Indian people would have resolved the contradictions of Varna system of Hindu society even without the presence of the British. The outer face of this leadership which came out of English educational institutions was definitely very attractive. It succeeded in bringing out awareness about independence in a large section of society through slogans like Gram Swaraj (village self rule), good governance and self rule etc. It was a loose platform in the shape of Congress which had members of Hindu Mahasabha, orthodox and liberal Muslims, Marxists and Socialists and apart from them there were a large number of such men cherishing the freedom in their heart, who believed that all the problems of Indian society will be solved only if we get freedom.
To understand the attitude of Congress leadership towards the women and Shudras, it will be interesting to reiterate incidents connected with two important leaders of Congress. These two leaders were Tilak and Gandhi.Tilak within his all limits and possibilities appears to be more backward and fussy. Wolpert in his book on Tilak has mentioned many such incidents which portray his view of life. During Tilak’s time, the British tried to fix the age of marriage for girls. It will make us laugh to know that it was eight years. Tilak fully opposed this move of the government, wrote comments in newspapers, held meetings and considered it a direct interference in Hindu religion. Similarly on 23-24 March, 1918 in Bombay, the first All India Sammalen (conference) took place and not only Dalits but high caste Hindu leaders also participated in it. It included Bipin Chandra Pal, Ravindra Nath Tagore, Sardar Patel and Lokmanya Tilak also. During the conference Tilak said that if untouchability does not go he will lose his faith in God. After the programme when a resolution against untouchability came up, Tilak refused to sign it.19.
The life story of Tilak is full of incidents akin to above two examples. There is another glaring example which clarifies Tilak’s view about Varna System. It is a well known fact that during later half of nineteenth century, plague broke out many times in Poona and its surrounding areas. The British Commissioner tried that in order to stop it the people’s houses should be cleaned from inside. It was natural that this work would have been done by people belonging to Dalit castes. It was intolerable for the high caste people to allow Dalits to enter their houses. It was more important for them to protect the Varna system purity rather than the lives of their family members and that of their neighbours. Tilak, who was an important leader of Poona and nearby areas, could have educated the people and helped the administration in the cleansing operation. He not only supported the high caste men but an English Administrator bent upon cleansing operation was murdered and the youth involved in it were felicitated.
Gandhi’s views towards women and Dalits were only a little better. A novel about him in Gujrati and other literature material available on his life portrays many incidents which bring before us Gandhi’s attitude towards women and it can be said that he was fussier than other liberal politicians. Here we will limit ourselves to his attitude towards Dalits.
It is necessary to elaborate about Gandhi because Congress’s attitude, its programs and relations with Dalits were given direction by Gandhi to a large extent. Gandhi labeled Dalits as Harijans in 1930. Harijan word was insulting, because it represented the illicit progeny of Devdasis by priests of South Indian temples but this word gave the Dalits a new identity and they remained alien to the mainstream of Hindu society. Thinkers like Dr. Ambedkar always avoided Harijan word. After independence the congress governments used this word in text books and when Dalit resurgence took place in Northern India and Dalits started power sharing then only they were liberated from this word. To what extent Ambedkar and his followers were annoyed with this word that many times out of irritation they said that if Dalits are Harijan i.e. a progeny of God, are the high caste Hindus a progeny of Shaitan (Devil). B.K.Roy Burman has rightly said that the Harijan word was used not to destroy the iniquitous system but to make it a little bit tolerable.20
The attitude towards Bhangis, the lowest among the Dalits is full of cruel sympathy. Before Gandhi the Bhangis escaped liberation at the hands of the British. If we look at the history of town development system of London an interesting fact surface. The sewerage had been laid down and flush latrines had begun to be constructed before the British rule took roots in India. By the end of nineteenth century this facility became available in most towns and cities. In India, the British made big residential houses, established Civil Lines and Cantonments but why paid no attention to sewerage till very late? It takes little effort to search for the answer. There was a large army of ill fated men who were condemned to carry night soil on their heads. These were very cheap labourers and the English traders had no need to spend money on sewerage. Their work could easily be done by these cheap Bhangis (scavengers). Had it been essential just like railways and ships for trade, they would have thought about sewerage also. Gandhi had no such feeling towards this damned manpower so that he would have made efforts to abolish this occupation. He tried only to lower their hardships a little and make them feel proud of their profession. Once when these carriers of night soil spoke about abolishing the Bhangi word which makes them feel humiliated, Gandhi wrote in Harijan (12th May, 1946) that it is irrelevant whether the Bhangi word is used or not. In reality it is the highest occupation because it is very essential for the protection of citizens' health. Hence Bhangis should never think of leaving it. At an other place Gandhi compared a Bhangi with mother and said that as a mother cleanses her children, similarly a Bhangi helps others to remain clean. It is a different thing that on one occasion when an irritated listener asked if carrying other’s filth is so sacred and respectable work, then why does not Gandhi advise Swaranas (high caste Hindus) to take up this profession.
An interesting turn came in Gandhi’s relations with Bhangis, when in 1946 he decided to live in a Bhangi colony located on Mandir Marg (Temple Road) in New Delhi. It is a different thing that where Gandhi decided to stay the place was polished with the money and labour of Ghanshyam Das Birla, Delhi Cotton Mills, Congress Swayam Sewak Dal (Volunteer Force) and Delhi Municipal Corporation and a separate clean campus was created for Gandhi. Vijay Prasad has mentioned an incident which occurred during Gandhi’s stay in this campus and which will help us to understand his mind and his attitude towards Varna system.20 On 3 April, 1946 some Balmiki youth invited Gandhi to dine with them. Gandhi was nonplussed. A straight refusal would have raised a crisis of ideology. He told them that the money to be spent on their food may be spent on the education of some Harijan boy. On insistence by the youth he said that they can offer him goat's milk but on payment. Under more pressure he offered that they may prepare food at his house and feed him. It was a peculiar duality which is still prevalent in the behavior of his followers long after the death of Gandhi. They arrange community dinner in the name of Harijan liberation but always serve the Harijans with the food cooked by high caste men. It is rare if otherwise. A long discussion continued. At the end a Bhangi boy offered some supari (beetle nut) to Gandhi and told him to chew. Gandhi fed the supari to his goat and said that when he will drink goat's milk, this supari will go to his belly along with milk.
Here it should be remembered that Gandhi believed in birth based Varna system and he wrote about it till a few months before his death and tried to eulogize it. His frequently read sentence is repeatedly quoted in which he had declared that he was a Sanatani (orthodox) Hindu and it cannot be imagined without Varna system. He wrote to the extent that hereditary occupation (laid down by Varna system) is every man’s religion. One who disobeys his occupation is an outcast; he destroys himself and his soul.
It is natural that a person with such views would advise the Bhangis to do their job with full devotion. It is another thing that an educated society had emerged among Dalits who did not silently bow down to Gandhi’s desire that he wanted to be born in a Bhangi family in the next birth. A man like Sanjana retorted that if Gandhi wished he could become a Bhangi in this very life, he has simply to change his occupation which he declares to be very noble. Bhangis will have no difficulty in adopting him. Who has seen the next birth? 22 We should not forget that such reasoning power of Bhangis has come from modern education whose doors were opened to them by the British.
After Poona Pact Dr. Ambedkar often complained that Gandhi always remembered Dalits only when there appeared to be a possibility of their moving away from Hindu fold. In reality Gandhi was concerned with election politics of larger Hindu society. By the end of nineteenth century the election to the Local Bodies had started to commence and by and by it became clear that with the coming up of universal franchise, the ruler will be chosen with number power instead of sword power. With the communal politics in vogue it was necessary that Dalits should remain with Hindus and should not go to Muslims or become an independent group. After 1901 Census this insistence of Hindus gradually became aggressive. In social life they were not prepared to give them Hindu identity but in political context it was necessary to keep the Dalits on their side. In India Islam was also not free from caste system. Hence Dalits were no more than a tool for increasing their numbers. The Congress leader Mohamed Ali once suggested that an easiest solution of Untouchable’s problem is that they may be divided equally amongst Hindus and Muslims.
Gandhi’s view had mainly become Congress’s view. We can have hundreds such written quotations where discussions between leaders of Congress and Dalits took place whether independence or Dalit liberation should be given preference. Gandhi and Congress were of the view that this question should not be raised till independence struggle was over. They had a similar attitude towards peasants and workers' struggle also. Dalits wanted that the question of their liberation should be solved first. They did not trust that caste Hindu leadership will give them justice. For this distrust they had solid reasons.
To understand Dalit perspective of 1857, we have to accept that this distrust should be kept in mind. Here I am reminded of a sentence of one Dalit writer in which he has said that the British came to India late and left early. I am of the view that they did not leave early. When they left the objective realities had become such that they could not stay more even if they wanted. They had played their historical role in the destruction of Varna system. If they had come early, the pernicious Varna system would have been destroyed more speedily.

1. Asoka Kumar Sen : The Popular Uprising and the Intelligentsia; Bengal Between 1855-73 (1992), Firma KLM Private Ltd., Calcutta, (p.32)
2. T.K.Joshi : Jotirao Phule (1996) National Book trust, New Delhi (pp.15-16)
3. Dhananjay Keer : Mahatma Jotirao Phooley, father of Indian Social Revolution (1974); Popular Prakashan, Bombay (p.123)
4. Gail Omvedt : Jotirao Phule and ideology of social revolution in India ; Economic and Political weekly, 11 Septembe, 1971, 6 (37)
5. Arun Shourie: Worshipping False Gods (1997); Harper and Collens
6. Marx and Engles :The First Indian war of Independence (1986); Progress Publishers, Moscow (pp 26,27 & 28)
7. Golvarkar : We or Our Nationhood Defined (1939/1961); Bharat Publications, Nagpur
8. Bhagwan Das: Thus spoke Ambedkar Vol. 1 ed. (2001); Dalit Today Prakashan, Lucknow ,(p.224)
9. Bandopadhyay Shekhar: From Plassey to Partition (2004); Orient Longman (p.172)
10. ibid
11. Roy Tapti: Vision of the Rebels. A study of 1857 in Bundelkhand (1993); Modern Asian Studies 27(1) (p. 205-28)
12. Bhagwan Das, op.cit. p. 14
13. Dhananjay Keer : Mahatma Jotirao Phule – Father of Indian Social Revolution, 1974; Popular Prakashan, Bombay, (p.48)
14. Mukherjee S.N. : The Social Implictions of the Poloitical Thought of Raja Ram Mohan Roy R.S.Sharma and Vivekanand Jha eds. Indian Society: Historical Probings,1974.,Delhi People's Publishing House, 1993( p:356-89).
15. Braj Ranjan Mani: Debrahmanising Indian History, 2005, Manohar Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, (p.207)
16. Dr. Ambedkar B.R.: Writings and Speeches Vol. 2 (1982), Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, (pp. 418-19).
17. Tarkateerth Laxman Shastri: Jotirao Phule (1996); National Book Trust, (p.13)
18. Dr. Ambedkar B.R. op.cit.(p.172)
19. Vibhuti Narain Rai: 1857 Ka Dalit Paksh in Tadbhav (Hindi) Issue No.13 October,2005 (pp.179-90)
20. B.K.Roy Burman: Seminar; Issue No. 177, May, 1974
21. Vijay Prasad: Untouchable Freedom 2000; Oxford Press, (pp.139-40)
22. Sanjana; Caste and Out caste 1946; Thacker and Co. Ltd, Bombay, (pp. 188-90)

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