Struggle For Emancipation Of Dalits And Their Empowerment

Struggle for emancipation of Dalits and their empowerment

Dalit empowerment

  • Dalit empowerment may be defined as a process of gaining control by Dalits as a community over self, ideology, material and knowledge resources, which determine power relationship in a society.
  • As a political process, Dalit empowerment challenges the prevailing power structure of subordination and involves three crucial elements- access to information, opportunity for participation and inclusion in political process and organizing capacity to influence and gain power.
  • In outcome oriented paradigm, the process of empowerment involves four successive steps like, consciousness, Mobilization. Organization and Control.
  • The consciousness refers to knowledge and awareness about group identity and interests.
  • The distinction between a conscious group and a passive group is the same distinction what Kal Marx finds between a class in itself and a class for itself.
  • The mobilization means generating a desire and willingness to come forward to attain an objective. The organization refers to pooling human and material resources within a structural framework for making collective and sustained efforts to achieve a common goal. The control means acquiring the power and capacity to be able to decide and determine those matters which affect one’s life conditions.

Dalit Aspect

  • The term Dalit is a Marathi term which means ground or broken to pieces. The word Dalit comes from Sanskrit (Ancient Indian language) word Dal which means to crack or to split.
  • Though the use of the term Dalit in public discourse is of relatively recent origin, it is supposed to have been used first by Jotirao Phule(1827-1890), leading social reformer of Maharashtra , in his attempt to champion the cause of upliftment of the downtrodden sections of society.
  • While Ambedkar also popularize the term Dalit, his philosophy has remained a key source of inspiration for Dalit empowerment. Ambedkar was the first Dalit leader who demanded political empowerment of the Dalits in 1930s.
  • Marathi literary figures and neo-Buddhists began to use the word in their writings and contributed to the literary initiatives in replacing Harijan (Gandhi‟s term for them , means children of God) and achchuta( Vedic term for them , means untouchable) with Dalit in the 1970s.
  • This term was highly popularized by Dalit Panthers in 1970s in Maharashtra, to refer to the scheduled caste (constitutional term for them) population.
  • However there are some who assign a broad meaning to the term to denote to any oppressed group of people. Yet the term has become synonymous with the schedule caste people.  This section of Indian society is called Dalit because they are placed at the lowest layer of social structure and suffers from various forms of deprivation and social, economic, cultural and political marginalization. The worst form of their marginalization is the scourge of the untouchably

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s Vision of Dalit Emancipation through Social Justice

  • In his quest for human equality in India, Ambedkar mainly used agitation as a modus operandi. His first ever agitation was to open a water tank for public, which was reserved only for the upper castes.
  • He edited and deployed newspapers as a medium of communication with his followers.
  • Through newspapers such as MookNayak and Bahishkrit Bharath, he managed to reach a substantial number of audiences and garner their support. He used his education and skill to reclaim the rights of the oppressed.
  • One of his notable achievements was to carve out a separate electorate for the untouchables in a predominantly upper-caste political landscape.

Towards social justice

  • In response to the highly discriminatory caste-ridden social system that utterly devalued human dignity of Sudras and untouchables, Ambedkar stood determined to eradicate social, educational, and cultural disparities of the lower castes.
  • He was of the view that as long as there was a caste system, there would be outcastes too. He mobilized them with the motto: “educate, agitate and unite.”
  • He inculcated in their minds the values of self-respect, dignity, and an urge to fight for their rights. Hinduism, the predominant religion in India, never taught the virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity and, consequently, it could never unite the entire Hindu society.
  • Ambedkar’s first ever public struggle led him to drink water from a public tank named, Choudar-Talab, which was out of bounds for the untouchables.
  • This was an effective agitation because it helped to disrupt the brutal everyday inequality that the untouchables had to suffer as they were not allowed to drink water even from a public tank reserved for the upper castes.

Against the structures of economic injustice

  • The traditional caste-based economic structure of Indian society contained no provision for investing money to earn more value based on the means of production available.
  • Hereditary division of labour on which Indian castiesm rests proved to be an impediment to economic justice for the depressed sections of society. Such a social order created a stagnant economic state devoid of any mobility, either horizontal or vertical.
  • For Ambedkar, economic equality must be sought in tandem with social equality and this could be achieved only with constitutional safeguard

Social Mobilization and Struggle

  • He started newspapers like the Mooknayak, Bahiskrit Bharat and Janata to raise their awareness and propagate his views. He was exhorted Dalits to leave their traditional and demeaning occupation, move away from villages as „they were sink of localism, den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism‟.
  • Similarly for the mobilization of Dalits, he organized many social struggles like Mahad Tank satyagrah in 1926 and temple entry movement in 1930.
  • He also founded some social organizations like Bahiskrit Hikarini Sabha and the All India Depressed Classes Association in 1930 with the same objective.
  • These efforts eventually resulted in social mobilization of Dalits and strengthened the agenda of social justice

Political organization of Dalits

  • Ambedkar made serious efforts for the political organization of Dalits. He founded the independent Labor Party in 1937 and replaced it with another party, the All India Scheduled Caste Federation founded in 1942. He also laid the foundation of another political party, Republican Party of India which was founded in 1957, after his death by his followers, which advanced the agenda of Dalit empowerment in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Even, the formation of Dalit Panther Party in 1970 and the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984 owe their ideological genesis to Ambedkar.
  • The BSP, founded by Kasi Ram and now led by Kumari Mayawati was able to gain political power in Uttar Pradesh, along with substantial presence in some other parts of the country. The roots of all these facets of the ongoing empowerment of Dalits in India are found in the ideas and practice of Ambedkar.


  • Dr Ambedkar was not the first person to initiate the process of Dalit empowerment in India, nor was he the last person to ensure its completion.
  • However, his Dalit mission has two distinct characteristics, not shared by other champions of social justice in contemporary India.
  • First, his sterling contribution in this field was to advance and steer the course of Dalit empowerment and to impart to it a distinct political character, which is the core of the very notion of empowerment. Without this political core, the idea of Dalit empowerment will not be without real substance and spirit.
  • Second, unlike other Dalit social reformers before and after his times, he advanced his mission with a sound and viable ideological framework coupled with equally strong action framework. He was not only a great theoretician but also restless activist of Dalit cause. In this respect he stands apart and much ahead from others.
  • His life and mission was a perfect and unique blend of theory and action.
  • His ideas are leading light and sustain the ongoing process of Dalit empowerment even today. Without his ideological foundation, the edifice of the contemporary Dalit empowerment in India will go bankrupt and lose its identity, direction and spirit.

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