Libmonster ID: U.S.-1431
Author(s) of the publication: E. YURLOVA

Speaking at the UN International Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia held in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robertson, welcomed the position of the Indian National Human Rights Commission, which called for moral support for Dalits. India and exposed it to the international community. 1

Who are the Dalits, how many are there, and what are their problems?

The 160 million Dalits (oppressed) in present-day India are former untouchables, pariahs, and outcasts. These are people whose touch defiled any representative of the pure castes from all four varnas ( classes) - brahmans (priests), kshatriyas (warriors), vaisyas (farmers) and even sudras (poor and inferior). Although social discrimination against these castes, known as untouchability, is prohibited by law, it persists in one form or another. The untouchables were called oppressed classes, harijans (children of God), registered castes * in accordance with the Constitution. But they prefer to call themselves Dalits.

According to the Peoples of India report, which was carried out by the National Anthropological Service based on a comprehensive study of the social structure of India in the 1990s, there are 751 scheduled caste communities in the country, living in all states except Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya. The largest number of such communities is concentrated in Uttar Pradesh (88), Orissa (67), Madhya Pradesh (53) and West Bengal (49). There are 191 scheduled caste communities in all four southern states (Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala) .2

The Constitution of India (1950) proclaimed the abolition of untouchability and declared the equality of all people before the law, and prohibited discrimination based on religious, racial and caste affiliation. Quotas for Dalit seats in the lower house of the central Parliament and state legislatures, as well as in local government bodies, were also provided for. In addition, the State was obliged to implement special programs for

* In April 1936, the colonial authorities issued a decree approving the list of these castes. From then on, they were referred to as" registered castes", in respect of which other members of the Hindu community observed untouchability. Based on this list, representatives of the castes included in it were entitled to reserve a certain number of seats in the legislative bodies in the center and in the provinces, and since 1943 - in the civil service. This situation continued even after the country achieved independence in 1947.

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guardianship of Dalits as citizens of the "backward classes". In particular, they were provided for reserving jobs at state-owned enterprises and quotas in educational institutions.

During the years of independent development of India, the situation of Dalits has undergone some positive changes. They began to take an active part in the political, social and cultural life of the country. Some became engineers, doctors, and lawyers. Many of them were appointed or elected to the highest government positions. Among them are President of India Kocheril Raman Narayanan, Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament G. M. S. Balayogi, government ministers in the center and states, governors, members of Parliament and legislative assemblies.

But the vast majority of Dalits are landless agricultural workers, sharecropper tenants, small-scale farmers, and handymen. Three-quarters of them are illiterate, and the same number are below the poverty line. Many Dalits, especially in rural areas, continue to face social discrimination and often direct violence from the more affluent high castes. The difficult socio-economic situation of the Dalits is a matter of concern for the country's public and many non-governmental organizations.

The State acts as the main guardian of Dalits. However, it was not an easy task to solve the problem of integrating this vast stratum into the mainstream of society. The caste division of traditional society, in which the lowest place was given to the untouchables, continues to be a significant factor in public life.


The traditional hereditary occupation of the untouchable castes was performing dirty and heavy physical labor (according to the canons of Hinduism, all types of activities related to skin, meat, animal blood, etc. are considered desecrating). For them, the tradition assigned cleaning of fallen animals, skinning carcasses, processing leather and making products from it, shoemaking, pig breeding, manufacturing alcohol consumption, spinning and home weaving, basket weaving, matting and rope weaving, cloth dyeing, bone harvesting, building stone processing, limestone mining, fuel and fodder harvesting, cremation site maintenance, yard and street cleaning, sewage disposal, and plowing and slaughtering livestock. Untouchables were used to work in agriculture and perform labor duties in the form of forced labor. They were attached to the rural community in the position of semi-serfs and semi-slaves.

Capable of ritually desecrating everyone and everything, the untouchables were socially discriminated against and, above all, they were isolated from what was valuable or sacred to pure Hindus. The list of these values varied depending on the location of the Dalits, but common throughout India were access to water sources and temples that housed Hindu deities.

This social discrimination was expressed in the restrictions imposed by Hinduism and its sacred books-the sastras-on the life of untouchables and on their communication with representatives of pure castes. These restrictions included a ban on owning land, using public wells and reservoirs, reading and listening to Sanskrit texts (and then learning to read and write), as well as a ban on entering a Hindu temple and the homes of pure Hindus. They were forbidden to imitate the behavior of the upper castes, including dietary norms and clothing styles, invite a brahmin to conduct ceremonies related to weddings, naming names, remembering ancestors, etc. Untouchables had to adhere to strict segregation rules: in the south of the country, they lived and still live in villages at a certain distance from the main village, in the north - in separate blocks on the edge of the village.

Like all other castes, the untouchables were never a single entity. In socio-cultural and economic terms, they were part of the traditional caste structure that developed in each individual region of the country.

The peculiarity of this structure was that in some cases the same type of occupation is performed by castes, which in some areas of the country are considered pure, and in others - untouchable. Thus, the fisherman castes were considered pure in Punjab, but untouchable in West Bengal and Kerala. Barbers in Bihar, Gujarat and West Bengal are classified as pure castes, while in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu they are considered untouchable, etc.

The Dalits are racially indistinguishable from the rest of the state's population.

The status of" former " untouchables varies from state to state. For example, in Kerala, registered castes have a higher level of literacy and education than Dalits and even pure castes in the North of the country.

Dalits, as well as pure Hindus, are divided into many castes and podcasts. Some of them observe untouchability in relation to other castes, which they consider inferior to themselves. As a rule, all Dalits discriminate against people from the Bhangi caste, whose hereditary occupation is cleaning garbage and sewage. (These drainage operations are carried out manually, and transportation is carried out in baskets on the head.) In the past, this caste service was practiced by millions of people. And only in 1993, a law was passed prohibiting the use of people for manual cleaning of sewage. But, according to official data (1998), the number of such cleaners exceeds 800 thousand3 .

The division of Dalits into many castes and even the untouchability that these castes observe in relations with each other no less strictly than the higher castes in relation to Dalits is the main obstacle to achieving their unity.

By their religious affiliation, the Dalits are the most divided community in the country. This is largely due to the fact that as a result of protests by certain Dalit groups against untouchability, they adopted other faiths or created protest religious sects. As a result, today Dalits belong to a wide variety of religions, such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, and the following sects-

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there like lingayats, Ravidasis, valmiki, Satnami, kabirpanthas, dadupanthas, Mahimadharma, as well as to countless other small groups.

Many Dalits continue to adhere to their traditional religious practices, which are dominated by fear of evil spirits and ritualism, and which, however, are considered to be an integral part of the general Hindu tradition. Hindu Dalits worship the gods of their ancient tribal past. These are Murukae in Tamilnadu, Ayyappa in Kerala, Jagannath in Orissa, the gods who are part of the Hindu pantheon, and a great many other gods who remain outside of it.

The separation of Dalits by religion and sect also does not contribute to their solidarity in the fight against social discrimination. Nevertheless, it should be recognized that their adoption of alternative religious doctrines to Hinduism, as well as a scientific worldview, helped the Dalits to rethink their ideas about themselves and their place in society, which contributed to their self-organization in the struggle to change their social status.

In addition to religious differences, Dalits are divided by areas of residence, ethnic roots, cultural identity, level of education, financial situation, and lack of a single language of communication.

Since the Dalits do not represent a single community, they are essentially linked only by their low social status and the traditional stigma of untouchability.


For centuries, the untouchables ' discontent with the hierarchical caste system and social discrimination has been brewing in Indian society. But the real movement for the rights of these outcasts began during the birth and development of the anti-colonial struggle, the awakening of the national-patriotic consciousness of Indians, especially after the popular uprising of 1857-1859.

In the last third of the 19th and early 20th centuries, non - Brahmin caste movements for civil and political rights took on the character of anti-Brahmin movements that developed in the west and south of India against caste oppression. After the conclusion of the Poon Pact in 1932, an agreement was reached between the leaders of the pure caste and untouchable organizations to grant the latter a certain number of seats in the legislative assemblies of the provinces of British India, whose members were to be elected from the general curia (for all Hindus, including untouchables). At the same time, the share of representation of the untouchables largely depended on their number in each province. In this regard, the registration and compilation of an official list of Dalits for all provinces, which was first mentioned in the Government of India Act of 1935, has become particularly important.

The struggle for political influence among the untouchables escalated markedly in the 1930s. At the insistence of M. K. Gandhi, the term "harijan"was introduced in 1933 to refer to representatives of the lower castes. In his opposition to untouchability, Gandhi not only pointedly included untouchables in the Hindu fold, but also claimed their equality with all other members of the Hindu community. And in 1938, members of the Bombay Provincial Legislative Assembly from the Indian National Congress (INC) party introduced a bill proposing to legally recognize and assign the new name "Harijan" to the untouchables.

However, Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar disagreed. The word "harijan", in his opinion,"is traditionally associated with untouchables and therefore humiliates the human dignity of people who have risen up to fight against caste oppression." The fact is that in a number of regions of India, including Maharashtra, there was a traditional institution of "devadasi" (servants of God) - dancers and maids in Hindu temples, who were also temple prostitutes. According to established tradition, they were "supplied" (and still are) by certain untouchable castes, and they were considered the property of the temple priests. It was their children who were called " children of God." Instead of the name "Harijan", Ambedkar began to use the word Dalit to refer to untouchables, especially enslaved agricultural workers. He believed that this term more accurately reflects the essence of the phenomenon.

With the emergence of lower-caste political groups such as the Republican Party of India in the late 1950s, the Dalit Panthers in the early 1970s, the Dalit Sosit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (Committee for the Struggle of the Oppressed and Exploited), and the Bahujan Samaj Parta (Majority People's Party) in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, the battle over what to call the former untouchables became even more acute. Dalit organizations have repeatedly sent petitions to the Indian Parliament protesting the use of the word "Harijan" as "offensive to registered castes".

These protests led to the decision of the Government of India, headed by Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, on 16 August 1990 to recommend that local authorities use the term "registered castes" instead of "Harijan" in official documents and media. [4] On the other hand, the word "Dalit" has become established as a generally accepted term in everyday life and public life for former untouchables.


Ideologically, the leitmotif of all untouchable protest movements has always been and still continues to be anti-Brahmanism, which originates in early Buddhism - the oldest known form of struggle against social discrimination, dating back more than two and a half thousand years. A notable stage in the development of such sentiments among the lower classes was the religious reform movements of medieval India (XIII-XVII centuries) - bhakti, which were in many ways a kind of reaction of Hinduism to the adoption of Islam by the untouchables. Being on the socio-cultural border of Hinduism, the untouchables broke with Hinduism in cases where they received social and economic benefits from it. It was often easier for them to accept

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a different religion than to overcome the barrier that protected them from the world of pure Hindus.

Much later, the struggle against untouchability was included in the program of reform movements inspired and led by such non-Brahmin caste leaders as Jotiba Phule (1826-1890) and E. V. Ramaswamy Naiker (1879-1973), better known as Periyar. Phule proposed the adoption of a new moral code based on the principles of humanity, tolerance and equality between all people. He was convinced of the need to eliminate the caste system in order to achieve social equality, considering the economic aspects of caste oppression in conjunction with socio-cultural ones. In turn, Periyar demanded civil rights for the untouchables, insisted on refusing to observe untouchability, seeking their access to public water sources and Hindu temples. Fighting caste inequality was an important part of his Self-esteem Movement.

Non-Brahmana movements of the last third of the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the activities of organizations of religious reformers-enlighteners and Christian missionaries, became the basis on which independent performances of Dalits developed. The leader of the Kerala untouchable caste, Izhava Narayana Guruswamy (1854-1928), in his reform activities proceeded from the principle-one caste, one god and one religion for all. Ayyankali (1863-1941), Kerala leader of the untouchable Pulai caste, used more active methods to fight for the rights of the untouchables. As a result, the Pulayas were able to access public roads and started using them earlier than other untouchable castes in the south. He also won the right for their children to attend public schools, the introduction of a six-day working week for agricultural workers-pulaya. The most prominent movements in the early 20th century were the untouchables Namashudra in Bengal, adi-Andhra in Andhra, adi-Dravida in Madras, adi-Karnataka (now Karnataka), adi-Hindu in Uttar Pradesh, and adi-Dharmi in Punjab. Most of the participants in these movements did not recognize the claims of the higher castes to Aryan-Brahmin superiority. Moreover, they claimed that the Dalits were the original inhabitants of India, while the Aryans/Brahmins were foreign invaders. The untouchables ' movements demanded access to education and employment opportunities in administrative and military service.

During the national liberation movement, the untouchables demanded the elimination of social discrimination as the main condition for their participation in this movement on the side of the INC.

Mahatma Gandhi, from the first steps of his entry into the political arena of the country, personally led the movement against the social exclusion of members of the lower castes, for the recognition of their human dignity. Thus, he gave the problem of eliminating untouchability a pan-Indian sound. But he did not reject the caste system. Gandhi sought to reconcile the interests of various social groups in order to unite them to achieve the main goal of Indian independence.


Almost simultaneously with Gandhi, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891 - 1956) raised his voice against social discrimination. He was the first member of the untouchable Mahar caste in Maharashtra to receive higher education in the United States, England and Germany, as well as a doctorate. Much of the multifaceted work of this distinguished politician and scholar has been devoted to the struggle for social and religious reform of the caste system in order to liberate the Dalits spiritually and economically and create conditions for India's progress towards an egalitarian society based on democracy.

Ambedkar prepared an ideological basis for the struggle against social discrimination, revealing the exploitative nature of the traditional Hindu social system based on caste hierarchy. He managed to combine the Dalits ' protest against untouchability with the political struggle for socio-economic equality and human dignity. As a result, for the first time, the Dalit movement took on a mass character.

In an effort to engage the Dalits in political life, Ambedkar formed the Mahar-dominated Independent Workers ' Party in 1936 on the eve of the run-up to the elections. However, the 1937 elections showed that in such a short period of time, this party could not achieve noticeable success.

In the first years after India's independence and the adoption of the Constitution, the situation of Dalits did not change much for the better. Having lost faith in the possibility of radical political and socio-economic changes in their lives, Ambedkar decided, in his own words, to "take the shortest path", and not wait for a long transformation of the mass consciousness of Hindus. Caste division, in his opinion, cannot be eliminated for the reason that Hindus are deeply religious.

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they are religious, and caste is a natural state of mind for them. He was convinced that the caste system would not be abolished by the good will of Hindus, who regard the observance of untouchability as an act of religious dignity and non-observance as a sin. Ambedkar reinforced his criticism of Hinduism as a religion that justified untouchability. To end social discrimination, he argued, the caste system as a whole should be abolished.

Ambedkar's main goal was to reform the consciousness of the Dalits themselves, to develop a new worldview and a new view of themselves and their destiny. To do this, he opted for Buddhism, although he considered the possibility of converting Dalits to Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism. Buddhism attracted him, first of all, for its protest against social inequality, as well as the fact that it is an indigenous Indian religion with roots in the cultural and historical tradition of the country. Based on the Tipitaka Buddhist canon, Ambedkar reinterpreted and modified many of its principles. From the Buddhist traditions, he borrowed those provisions that best met the task of updating the moral and psychological image of the untouchables, significantly revised them, added his own ideas and gave it all the form of a canon, which was published under the title "The Buddha and his Dhamma" in 1957. Ambedkar's reformed Navayana Buddhism, sometimes referred to as" Ambedkarism, " offered to solve the socio - economic problems of the discriminated lower classes of Indian caste society on the basis of democracy and nonviolence.

On October 14, 1956, at a mass rally in the city of Nagpur in a solemn atmosphere, about 300 thousand representatives of the untouchable Mahar caste converted to Buddhism. Together with Ambedkar, they pledged allegiance to the religion and declared their rejection of Hinduism. According to some sources, the number of adherents of reformed Buddhism grew to 3.5 million in the first two years. Since then, the practice of Dalit acceptance of Buddhism has been continued by Ambedkar's followers. One of the last such appeals took place at the end of August 2001 in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh), where six thousand Dalits converted to Buddhism in protest against social discrimination and the refusal of the Indian government to recognize the need to include this issue in the agenda of the UN International Conference on racism in Durban. In October-November of the same year, several tens of thousands of Dalits participated in a wave of similar appeals in several states .5

"Ambedkarism is a living force today," writes Gail Omvedt, a professor at the University of Pune. "It defines the ideology of the Dalit movement and, to a large extent, even the ideology of the broader anti-Caste movement." Describing the essence of "ambedkarism", one could name the following main provisions::

- uncompromising commitment to the needs of the Dalits, which required the complete elimination of the caste system and the Brahmin supremacy that this system represents;

- the conviction that in order to eliminate caste, one must reject Hinduism as a religion and adopt an alternative religion that Ambedkar found in Buddhism, and this choice was intended not only for the Dalits, but also for the rest of the Indian masses;

- broad economic radicalism, understood by them as socialism with respect for individual rights;

- rationalism resulting from his critique of Hindu prejudice and superstition;

- Political orientation towards the alliance of the Dalit movement with the socially and economically oppressed caste base, which was conceived as an alternative to the Indian National Congress party, which Ambedkar considered the personification of the platform of "Brahmanism" and" capitalism " 6 .


After Ambedkar's death, the greatest contribution to the development of his ideological heritage and the ideological justification of the Dalit struggle for equality was made by Dalit poets, writers and journalists, who, starting from the 1960s, began to appear on the cultural and political arena of India. It was at this time that the Dalits began to form their own, though still small, middle class. The new generation of urban Dalits, consisting mainly of civil servants and representatives of liberal professions (lawyers, teachers, journalists, writers), became the main core that generated ideas about the further development of this social stratum. Their greater awareness of the real socio-economic situation of their fellow tribesmen in urban slums and rural neighborhoods has led to the maturation of a colossal economic crisis.-

* * To the three classical branches of Buddhism - Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vijrayana - Ambedkar added a fourth, navayana.

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This has taken the form of a Dalit literary protest movement.

Dalit literature appeared, which reflected a new level of consciousness of the social lower classes. The leitmotif of this literature is anger and protest against the existing order of things, based on personal experience of the humiliation, insults and suffering that Dalit authors and their families went through. The main themes of the works are the age-old apartheid, discrimination and segregation, isolation of Dalits from the rest of society, Dalits-victims of inhumane violence enshrined in the Hindu tradition.

Dalit writers called on their brothers in misfortune to leave the villages for the cities, not to let the caste offenders suffer insults and insults, to break with Hinduism, its ideology, rituals and customs.

They appealed not only to the untouchables, but also to all other disadvantaged people, regardless of caste and religion, advocating dialogue based on the similarity of their fate, problems and common goals to get rid of caste discrimination and achieve equality. In essence, this was an attempt by Dalit spiritual leaders to establish contacts with other oppressed strata of society at the cost of rejecting the idea of exclusivity of their own hard lot.

The Dalit literature, which originated in Marathi, was developed in other regional languages and became the mainstay of the Dalit movement. Its translations into English and other European languages and the subsequent emergence of Dalit theater also played a major role in spreading the ideas of the struggle for equality.

The new literature created within the framework of the Dalit movement has largely reworked the traditional folklore of the Mahars. Dalit ideologues sought to prove that they had and had their own culture with deep roots. Ambedkar also wrote: "When the Hindus needed the Vedas, they turned to Vyasa, who was not a pure Hindu. When the Hindus needed an epic, they turned to Valmiki, who was untouchable. When the Hindus needed a constitution, they came to me."

The social and economic challenges that the Dalits have constantly faced have led to a deep realization that cultural self-assertion is an important form of their political struggle. The new Dalit literature, which is directed against the ideology of Brahmanism, seeks to convince readers that there is no law of karmic rebirth, just as there are no inheritable filth and ritual purity. And that the Dalits were traditionally hardworking, fair and brave people, and their heroes sacrificed themselves for the common good. Culturally, ideologically, sociopolitically, and psychologically, the Dalit literary protest movement was a completely new phenomenon in Indian life.

In the 1990s, the orientation of this movement changed - from the pessimistic literature "grief and sorrows" to the emphasis on life-affirming principles. Kancha Ilaya, a professor of political science at Osman University in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, is a well - known Dalit writer whose book Why I'm Not a Hindu became a bestseller. In it, he suggests writing a new story about the contribution of Dalits to Indian civilization. Dalits should enter the twenty-first century with their heads held high, proud that they have always been the creators of basic material goods in this country. Among their inherent spiritual values, he notes respect for work, gender equality in the family. Sati and dauri, that is, the burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband and the obligatory dowry of the bride-these are the problems of Hindus, he writes. "Dalitization, in contrast to Sanskritization, means the democratization of society, women's equality, the interaction of man and nature." Ilaya calls on Dalit ideologues to put an end to the constant whining and criticism of Brahmanism and Hinduism, and instead work to create a positive social alternative that surpasses the current caste society in its humanitarian characteristics. He credits the Buddha not so much with criticizing Brahmanism as with founding the egalitarian commune-sangha as an alternative to the hierarchical Brahmin social order. 7


The program and charter of the first political organization of the Dalits in the years of independence - the Republican Party of India (FIR) was developed by Ambedkar. It was established in 1957, a year after the

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his death. In the beginning, the party had many supporters in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But despite Ambedkar's expectations, it was not possible to overcome its narrow-caste limitations. Soon, over ideological and personal issues related to the competition between its leaders, the party split into many factions and lost even the small influence it had in Northern India. After the 1970s, the FIR operated mainly in Maharashtra, but did not achieve any significant success there either.

The party received the most crushing blow from the protest movement "Dalit Panthers", which was born on the basis of Dalit literature. In early 1973, it opposed the electoral alliance of the FIR with the Hindu chauvinist Shiv Sena (Shivaji Army) Party and the Congress and won the sympathy of a large part of the Dalit electorate.

At the initial stage, this new movement manifested itself in the form of aggressive socio-political protest of Dalit youth. It later evolved into a political party under the same name. The Dalit Panthers began to take part in the elections. However, they failed to achieve rapid social change. The Dalit Panther Party suffered the same fate as the Republican Party of India. It split into factions, and its leaders, unable to resist, accepted the proposals of the larger parties of the ruling classes and began to enter into various pre-election agreements, pursuing their own narrowly egoistic goals. Since the 1980s, certain factions of the Dalit Panthers party have been cooperating with the Shiv Sena party.

Despite all the costs of the Dalit movement, he managed to make a contribution to the history of modern India. The organized struggle of the Dalits in the 60s and 70s dealt a serious blow to the centuries - old ideology of inequality.

Dalits initiated a discussion on the relationship between caste and class in the democratic movement, which contributed to the emergence of new ideas and views among the Indian public related to the need for more active actions to eliminate social discrimination based on caste inequality. They dispelled the myth of the Dalits as a dumb and helpless mass and forced the public to reckon with the reality of changing traditional relations. The Dalits have also proven their ability to organize.

Their unyielding stance on protecting the interests and rights of registered castes has helped to energize the Dalit movement not only in Maharashtra, but also in the whole country. Further developments confirmed that the voice of protest of the lower caste classes was heard in the most remote corners of India.

As a result, Dalit organizations successfully overcame the policy of silencing Ambedkar's activities by both the authorities and the upper-caste intelligentsia. As a result, the Dalits achieved recognition of Ambedkar's great contribution to the country's social thought and the democratization of Indian society. During the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Indian National Congress in 1985, his name was mentioned along with other prominent leaders of the national liberation movement.

Political life in the country soon presented the Dalits with the main question: can their problems be solved in isolation from the democratic movement, without alliance with other oppressed strata, without raising broader issues of social justice and human rights?

Discussion of these and other socio-political issues led to a split in the late 1970s between left-wing and moderate Dalit organizations.

Leftist groups such as the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Dalit Struggle Committee) in Karnataka, the Dalit Sena (Dalit Army) in Bihar, and the Dalit Mahasabha (Great Assembly of Dalits) in Andhra Pradesh have moved to fight exclusively for the most disadvantaged Dalits-landless agricultural workers. This part of the Dalit organizations came under the influence of leftist extremists, who at that time were active in a number of rural areas of the country and united around the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist).

At the same time, moderate Dalit organizations began to show a desire for solidarity with other organizations in the struggle for the interests of not only landless agricultural workers, but also small farmers, as well as other backward groups of the population in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala. In the 1980s in Maharashtra, Ambedkar's grandson Prakash, based on one of the FIR factions, created the Ba - Hujan Mahasangh (Great Union of the Majority of the People) party, which, in addition to the Dalits, included representatives of other lower castes. Among the main issues that Bahujan Mahasangh dealt with was organizing the grassroots to fight for the redistribution of surplus land in their favor, formed during the implementation of agrarian reform.

Approximately in the same years, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also began to operate. The party's slogans against Brahmanism and the dominance of the upper castes managed to attract not only Dalit voters to its side, but also from other lower levels of society. BSP was able to extend its influence to Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. The party was particularly successful in the largest state in the country, Uttar Pradesh, where its representative Mayawati twice headed the state government, in 1995 and 1997. The growing influence of the BSP in this state even allowed it to achieve the status of a national party and in this sense become on a par with six or seven other parties, including such large ones as the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). With the latter, the Bahujan Samaj Party, whose anti-Brahminism slogans eventually faded, cooperated more than once in the elections and after them.

The creation of Dalit political parties and organizations did not mean that they were able to fully extend their influence to the "former" untouchables and other lower strata of society. On the contrary, the struggle for this multi-million-strong electorate between political parties on different flanks of the political spectrum has become even more acute. This has led many Dalits to favor non-Dalit parties such as

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Inc., Janata Dal, Samajwadi Parta, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samata, and Communist parties.

The traditional influence among Dalits was enjoyed by INC., which owes much of this to Mahatma Gandhi. The party's strong position among the Dalits, who continued to vote for it until the mid-1970s, was one of the main reasons for the Congress ' long-standing monopoly of power. However, the kongressist government failed to fulfill its promises to significantly improve the situation of the bulk of the" former " untouchables. They began to outflow from the Congress in favor of Dalit and other parties.

Today, there is considerable interest in expanding the influence of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party among Dalits. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Union of Voluntary Servants of the Nation), trade unions, youth and women's organizations of the BJP also work in this direction.

However, this is not so new. Some interaction of former untouchables with Hindu organizations dates back to the colonial period, when Hindu Mahasabha - the progenitor of the current BJP-began work to recognize untouchables as part of the Hindu community. One of its resolutions in 1928 called on the priesthood, barbers, and laundresses to extend their services to the untouchables. It was recommended that the untouchables be encouraged to attend schools on an equal footing with other Hindus and freely use public wells.

The Shuddhi (purification) movement, led by another Hindu organization, Arya Samaj, which became a prominent part of public life in the 1920s and 40s, also conducted a massive campaign to include the untouchables in the Hindu community by accepting them as shudras in Varna. The goal was to return to the bosom of Hinduism those who at different times adopted Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. In the early 1980s, another Hindu organization, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hindus), took up similar work, which began to pay great attention to the Dalit movement after the mass conversion to Islam of some of the untouchables in Tamilnadu.

The BJP and its organizations are doing a well-thought-out ideological work to attract Dalits to their side. They build new Hindu temples that Dalits are also allowed to visit, support those high priests who condemn untouchability, and carry out other effective measures. Thus, at the initiative of these organizations, the foundation stone of the future temple of God Rama in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) on the site of the Babur Mosque destroyed in 1992 was laid by a Dalit during a mass ceremony attended by BJP and VHP activists.

Efforts are also being made to adapt Ambedkar's legacy to modern Hinduism. He himself is presented as a great friend of Hinduism, who, at a critical moment for India, managed to stop the mass conversion of untouchables to Christianity and Islam by converting them to Buddhism. As for Buddhism itself, according to the leaders of Hindu organizations, it is just an offshoot of Hinduism. "Therefore," said A. Sanghal, General Secretary of the VHP, in December 1993, " we consider Ambedkar as one of the pioneers of our movement and our ideology." Untouchability as a social practice, he said, "is linked to the period of Muslim rule. Ambedkar was right when he pointed out that early Hindu society did not know untouchability... It is time to create a new smriti instead of Manusmriti... It must also incorporate the teachings of Ambedkar. There should be no place for untouchability in modern society. " 8 Continuing its policy of strengthening its influence among Dalits, the ruling BJP even took such a step - in 2000, a Dalit Bangaru Laxman was elected president of this party for the first time.

In India's democratic, multiparty and competitive environment, the participation of Dalits in elections contributes to their faster involvement in public life. Studies of electoral behavior of Dalits have shown that they vote more actively than other groups of the population, realizing that for them elections are almost the only opportunity to influence the situation in the country in their favor. And the Dalits use this right, despite calls from leftist organizations to boycott the elections, or threats and intimidation from the dominant castes in the village that prevent them from doing so.

For many Dalits, the electoral process is a struggle to assert their identity. Elections give them the opportunity to feel that politicians need them. During election campaigns, political bosses are forced to visit Dalit neighborhoods, ask for support in the elections, and listen to their demands. Candidates from different parties make promises to Dalits, and some of them are being implemented: roads are being laid in Dalit residential areas, schools, wells are being built, electricity is being provided, etc.

* * *

The noticeable changes in the situation of some Dalits in the last half-century and their growing influence in the social and political life of the country help to draw attention to issues related to socio-economic inequality and backwardness of the majority of Dalits. Their adequate solution will contribute not only to improving the situation of this large social stratum, but also to accelerating the democratic development of society. And ignoring the urgent needs of Dalits can lead to increased social tension, which is fraught with unpredictable consequences. India's success will largely depend on integrating 160 million Dalits into the country's development mainstream.

1 Frontline, Vol. 18 - Issue 19, Sept. 15- 28, 2001.

2 The Indian Express. 16.02.2001.

3 India: Human Rights and Human Development. New Delhi. 2000, p. 60.

4 Mainstream. April 30, 1994, p.4.

5 4.11.2001; 30.11.2001.

Gail Omvedt. 6 Undoing the Bondage: Dr. Ambedkar's Theory ofDalit Liberation // From Periphery to Centre Stage. Ambedkar, Ambedkarism and Dalit Future. Ed. by K.C. Yadav. New Delhi, 2000, p. 114.

7 Kancha Ilaiah // 16.11.2000.

8 Mainstream. December 13, 1993.


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