‘Mahad agitation India’s first civil rights movement’

Discrimination against Ambedkar is kept hidden by vested interests, says Shivasundar

March 20, 2022 07:53 pm | Updated 07:53 pm IST - KALABURAGI

Progressive thinker Shivasundar addressing a conference on Mahad agitation in Kalaburagi on Sunday .

Progressive thinker Shivasundar addressing a conference on Mahad agitation in Kalaburagi on Sunday . | Photo Credit: ARUN KULKARNI

Comparing the Mahad Satyagraha of 1927 with the Dandi March of 1930, progressive thinker and social activist Shivasundar has held that the former was against feudal oppression at home by Brahminism and the latter against external colonial oppression of the British.

“We are taught of the Salt March led by Mahatma Gandhi against exploitation by British colonialism. But, we are seldom taught of the Mahad movement led by B.R. Ambedkar against caste-based oppression by the so-called upper castes. The former was a fight against an external force, the British colonialism, and the latter a fight against an internal force, the caste system perpetuated by Brahminism,” Mr. Shivasundar said.

Thousands of Dalits rallied behind Dr. Ambedkar and used water from a public tank, which was prohibited for them, at Mahad in Maharashtra in 1927

He was addressing a conference organised by Karnataka Rajya Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Revolutionary) in Kalaburagi on Sunday. The event was organised to commemorate the Mahad Satyagraha of 1927.

“The Mahad agitation is the first civil rights movement of India. Thousands of Dalits rallied behind Dr. Ambedkar and used water from a public tank, which was prohibited for them, at Mahad in Maharashtra. A society that denied a section of its people its right to use water from a public tank back then could not have been a civilised one. The Dalit struggle for asserting rights to use water from the public tank is hence India’s first civil rights movement. It is not just a Dalit movement but a civil rights movement,” Mr. Shivasundar said.

A society that denied a section of its people its right to use water from a public tank back then could not have been a civilised one
The Dalit struggle for asserting rights to use water from the public tank is hence India’s first civil rights movement

Putting the two historical events in contrast — one, forcing Mahatma Gandhi to alight a train in South Africa because of his racial background and the other, forcing Dr. Ambedkar to alight a bullock cart in Goregaon near Mumbai and also throwing him out of a hotel in Baroda because of his Dalit background, Mr. Shivasundar said that the former incident has been well-taught right from school education, while the latter is consciously kept hidden by vested interests.

“For those who taught history, the discrimination and oppression by an external force was more important than the same or even a higher degree of discrimination and oppression by the internal force. That is why discrimination against Gandhi was well-taught and that against Ambedkar is kept hidden,” he said.

Summing up the lessons to be learnt from the Mahad agitation, Mr. Shivasundar concluded that the transformation of upper castes against caste-based discrimination is impossible.

“Dr. Ambedkar drew two lessons from the Mahad agitation. One, triggering a sense of guilt in the so-called upper castes through peaceful agitations was impossible as these oppressive castes don’t think that caste-based discrimination was wrong and second, the oppressed castes should never seek State help for liberation as the British government had actively supported the oppressive upper castes during the Mahad agitation,” Mr. Shivasundar said.

Activists and writers R.K. Hudgi, Kiran Gajanur, Indumati Patil, Dattatreya Ikkalaki, Arjun Bhadre and others were present.

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