Do India's Dalits Hate Gandhi?
By Thomas C. Mountain
20 March, 2006
In India, supposedly the worlds
largest democracy, the leadership of the rapidly growing Dalit movement
have nothing good to say about Mohandas K. Gandhi. To be honest, Gandhi
is actually one of the most hated Indian leaders in the hierarchy of
those considered enemies of India's Dalits or "untouchables"
by the leadership of India's Dalits.
Many have questioned how
could I dare say such a thing?
In reply I urge people outside
of India to try and keep in mind my role as the messenger in this matter.
I am the publisher of the Ambedkar Journal, founded in 1996, which was
the first publication on the internet to address the Dalit question
from the Dalits viewpoint. My co-editor is M. Gopinath, who includes
in his c.v. being Managing Editor of the Dalit Voice newspaper and then
going on to found Times of Bahujan, national newspaper of the Bahujan
Samaj Party, India's Dalit party and India's youngest and third largest
national party. The founding President of the Ambedkar Journal was Dr.
Velu Annamalai, the first Dalit in history to achieve a Ph.d in Engineering.
My work with the Dalit movement in India started in 1991 and I have
been serving as one of the messengers to those outside of India from
the Dalit leaders who are in the very rapid process of organizing India's
Dalits into a national movement. The Dalit leadership I work with recieved
many tens of millions of votes in the last national election in India.
With that out of the way, lets get back to the 850 million person question,
why do Dalits hate M.K. Gandhi?
To start, Gandhi was a so
called "high caste". High castes represent a small minority
in India, some 10-15% of the population, yet dominate Indian society
in much the same way whites ruled South Africa during the official period
of Apartheid. Dalits often use the phrase Apartheid in India when speaking
about their problems.
The Indian Constitution was
authored by Gandhi's main critic and political opponent, Dr.Ambedkar,
for whom our journal is named and the first Dalit in history to receive
an education (if you have never heard of Dr. Ambedkar I would urge you
to try and keep an open mind about what I am saying for it is a bit
like me talking to you about the founding of the USA when you have never
heard of Thomas Jefferson).
Most readers are familiar
with Gandhi's great hunger strike against the so called Poona Pact in
1933. The matter which Gandhi was protesting, nearly unto death at that,
was the inclusion in the draft Indian Constitution, proposed by the
British, that reserved the right of Dalits to elect their own leaders.
Dr. Ambedkar, with his degree in Law from Cambridge, had been choosen
by the British to write the new constitution for India. Having spent
his life overcoming caste based discrimination, Dr. Ambedkar had come
to the conclusion that the only way Dalits could improve their lives
is if they had the exclusive right to vote for their leaders, that a
portion or reserved section of all elected positions were only for Dalits
and only Dalits could vote for these reserved positions.
Gandhi was determined to
prevent this and went on hunger strike to change this article in the
draft constitution. After many communal riots, where tens of thousands
of Dalits were slaughtered, and with a leap in such violence predicted
if Gandhi died, Dr. Ambedkar agreed, with Gandhi on his death bed, to
give up the Dalits right to exclusively elect their own leaders and
Gandhi ended his hunger strike.Later, on his own death bed, Dr. Ambedkar
would say this was the biggest mistake in his life, that if he had to
do it all over again, he would have refused to give up Dalit only representation,
even if it meant Gandhi's death.
As history has shown, life
for the overwhelming majority of Dalits in India has changed little
since the arrival of Indian independence over 50 years ago. The laws
written into the Indian Constitution by Dr. Ambedkar, many patterned
after the laws introduced into the former Confederate or slave states
in the USA during reconstruction after the Civil War to protect the
freed black Americans, have never been enforced by the high caste dominated
Indian court system and legislatures. A tiny fraction of the "quotas"
or reservations for Dalits in education and government jobs have been
filled. Dalits are still discriminated against in all aspect of life
in India's 650,000 villages despite laws specifically outlawing such
acts. Dalits are the victims of economic embargos, denial of basic human
rights such as access to drinking water, use of public facilities and
education and even entry to Hindu temples.
To this day, most Indians
still believe, and this includes a majority of Dalits, that Dalits are
being punished by God for sins in a previous life. Under the religious
codes of Hinduism, a Dalits only hope is to be a good servant of the
high castes and upon death and rebirth they will be reincarnated a high
caste. This is called varna in Sanskrit, the language of the original
Aryans who imposed Hinduism on India beginning some 3,500 years ago.
Interestingly, the word "varna" translates literally into
the word "color" from Sanskrit.
This is one of the golden
rules of Dalit liberation, that varna means color, and that Hinduism
is a form of racially based oppression and as such is the equivalent
of Apartheid in India. Dalits feel that if they had the right to elect
their own leaders they would have been able to start challenging the
domination of the high castes in Indian society and would have begun
the long walk to freedom so to speak. They blame Gandhi and his hunger
strike for preventing this. So there it is, in as few words as possible,
why in todays India the leaders of India's Dalits hate M.K. Gandhi.
This is, of course, an oversimplification.
India's social problems remain the most pressing in the world and a
few paragraphs are not going to really explain matters to anyones satisfaction.
The word Dalit and the movement of a crushed and broken people, the
"untouchables" of India, is just beginning to become known
to most of the people concerned about human rights in the world. As
Dalits organize themselves and begin to challenge caste based rule in
India, it behooves all people of good conscience to start to find out
what the Dalits and their leadership are fighting for. A good place
to start is with M.K. Gandhi and why he is so hated by Dalits in India.
Thomas C. Mountain is the publisher of the Ambedkar Journal
on India's Dalits, founded in 1996. His writing has been featured in
Dalit publications across India, including the Dalit Voice and the Times
of Bahujan as well as on the front pages of the mainstream, high caste
owned, Indian press. He would recommend viewing of the award winning
film "Bandit Queen" as the best example of life for women
and Dalits in India's villages, which is the story of the life of the
late, brutally murdered, Phoolan Devi, of whose international defense
committee Thomas C. Mountain was a founding member. He can be reached