Dalit Movements



  • The term Dalit was first used by Jyotirao Phule for the oppressed classes or untouchable castes of the Hindu.
  • The Dalit movement began as a protest movement, to bring socio-political transformation in the status of Dalits in India.
  • The Dalits were isolated, fragmented and oppressed by the hegemony of Upper Caste culture.
  • With Maturity of time, the new polity, the postmodern administrative framework, the rational judicial system, the current forms of land tenure and taxation, the new patterns of trade, the liberal education system, and the network of communications emphasized the spirit of liberty, equality and social justice for Dalits.
  • So, Dalit movement is basically a social revolution aimed for social change, replacing the age old hierarchical Indian society, and is based on the democratic ideals of liberty, equality and social justice.


Dalit Movements in Pre-Independence India

  • Bhakti Movement
    • This movement in 15th century was a popular movement which treated all sections of society equally and it developed two traditions of Saguna and Nirguna.
    • The Saguna tradition advocated equality among all the castes though it subscribed to the Varnashram dharma and the caste social order.
    • The followers of Nirguna believed in formless universal God. Ravidas and Kabir were the major figures of this tradition.
    • It became more popular among the dalits in urban area in the early 20th century as it provided the possibility of salvation for all.
    •    It also promised social equality.
    • Hence, the teachings of Bhakti movement inspired and motivated scheduled castes for the beginning of dalit movement.
    • These provided the means to protest against orthodox Hinduism for future generations of Dalits.
  • Neo-Vedantik Movements
  • These movements were initiated by Hindu religious and social reformers.
  • These movements attempted to remove untouchability by taking the dalits into the fold of the caste system.
  • According to the pioneers of these movements, untouchability was not an essential part of Hinduism and, for that matter, of the caste system.
  • Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, believed that the caste system was a political institution created by the rulers ‘for the common good of society, and not a natural or religious distinction’.
  • The neo-Vedantic movements and non-Brahmin movements played an important catalytic role in developing anti-caste or anti Hinduism dalit movements in some parts of the country.
  • The Satyashodhak Samaj and the self-respect movements in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the Adhi Dharma and Adi Andhra movement in Bengal and Adi-Hindu movement in Uttar Pradesh are important anti-untouchability movements which were launched in the last quarter of the 19th and the early part of 20th century
  • Consequently, the Dalits began to call themselves Adi-Andhras in Andhra, Adi- Karnatakas in Karnataka, Adi-Dravidas in Tamil Nadu, Adi-Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and Adi-Dharmis in Punjab.
  • Further, Dalits also followed the route of conversion with a purpose of getting rid of untouchability and to develop their social and financial conditions.
  • Other prominent movements in this category include:
    • Adi Dravidas movement in Tamil Nadu
    • Shri Narayan Dharma Paripalan movement in Kerala
    • Nair Movement in 1861
 Sanskritisation Movement
  • Sanskritization is  a process by which “a low or middle Hindu caste, or tribal or other group, changes its customs, ritual ideology, and way of life in the direction of a high-born caste
  • In this perspective Dalit leaders followed the process of ’Sanskritization’ to elevate themselves to the higher position in caste hierarchy.
  • They adopted Upper Caste manners, including vegetarianism, putting sandalwood paste on forehead, wearing sacred thread, etc.
  • This process was evident in the following movements:
    • Adi-Dharm movement in the Punjab (organized 1926);
    • The movement under Ambedkar in Maharastra, mainly based among Mahars which had its organizational beginnings in 1924;
    • The Namashudra movement in Bengal;
    • The Adi-Dravida movement in Tamilnadu;
    • The Adi-Karnataka movement;
    • The AdiHindu movement mainly centered around Kanpur in U.P; and
    • The organizing of the Pulayas and Cherumans in Kerala.
 Dalit Literary Movements
  •  At a time, when there was no means of communication to support the Dalits, pen was the only solution.
  • Given the Upper Castes would never allow the Dalits voice to be expressed, as it would be a threat for their own survival, the Dalits began their own magazine and began to express their own experiences.
  • Dalit literature, the literature produced by the Dalit consciousness, emerged initially during the Mukti movement.
  • The Mukti movement was led by very poor Dalits who fought against the saint – poets of the time.
  • These literature argued that Dalit Movement fights not only against the Brahmins, but all those people whoever practices exploitation, and those can be the Brahmins or even the Dalits themselves.
  • New revolutionary songs, poems, stories, autobiographies were written by Dalit writers.
  • These were sung in every village, poem and other writings were read by the entire community.
  • Baburao Bagul (1930–2008) is considered as a pioneer of Marathi Dalit writings in Marathi.