Dalits: God’s Children By Navdeep Manhas, Blog #2

Social divide is a large part of India’s history. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is known for his work in helping India get its freedom all through non-violent efforts. However, he started a movement in improving conditions for a large number of people that actually still continues to this day. African Americans throughout our country’s history have been looked at differently and have been treated differently. I am sure that certain groups in India can relate to this in some way. These groups of people were treated, as African Americans were, and almost defined as a different group of people that experienced similar horrors to lynching. This was all due to something called the Caste System.

I remember my dad telling me that some people called themselves lucky that they were born as servants. Being born in America and not learning much about Indian history, I was confused by the notion that someone could be happy with that occupation and did not understand how they were “lucky”. It was a while back when I visited India and first hand experienced something wild. I was walking down a street when some dude sat down as my family passed by. That’s when my parents explained to me the Caste System. I was told that there are four main Castes and we fall under nobility and basically the person who kneeled before us was of a lower caste. Honestly I didn’t know how to feel at the time but this class, through its mentions of social inequality with African Americans, has helped me remember.

The well being of lower castes has always been a priority of our family. My dad’s side of the family owned a pretty large business that employed lower caste people in India but we did not pay them less like in almost every other part of India and did not subject these individuals to work that no one wanted to do. My dad often told me how they allowed lower caste people to sit at the same table as them or on the same bench as them. I found that odd probably because I’m so used to the American way but I did research and found out that what my dad said was true and that lower caste people had to sit on the ground when people of higher caste came in or had to greet them as “sir” or “Ma’am”. Although this reminds me of how African Americans had to greet their slave owners during slavery and how they had to act in front of them, this blog is not concerning slavery but relates more to Desegregation, the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movements.

I decided to do my blog assignment on India’s first major step towards solving the biggest social problem affecting it today through the Poona Pact. This Pact was signed between Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Hindu Leaders on September 24th 1932 in Yerwada Central Jail. It granted new rights to the “Untouchables” or “Dalits”, a low-caste Hindu group, by giving them increased representation in Politics. Ambedhkar, an “Untouchable”, had sought to create separate electorates for “Untouchables” and other people of low castes but Gandhi was such a fierce Nationalist that he feared that this would cause even more divide and hatred towards the lower castes so he advocated for their increased representation in the government. Ambedkar was not very happy with this because it still gave his people not that much say in what was happening in the country but it at least gave them more seats and representation in the government (Poona Pact, 2015). These events and Pact have had a large impact on Indian people around the world.

The 1930s was still a time for civil unrest in the United States and unfairness towards African Americans. One of the biggest issues was housing during this time and how it pertained to the color of your skin. Redlining was a big issue during this time. It pretty was a system where all white, suburban areas far away from minorities received the highest rating and colored as “green” while minority filled areas, places in the process of changing, the projects were given the lowest rating and colored as “red”. This was a really unfair way of labeling people and a consequence was most of the mortgages went to suburbanizing America and it did this racially. African Americans were confined to ghettos (Pittman, 2015).

This was a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement when Africans decided that enough was enough. They used certain forms of resistance like Rosa Parks who refused to get off a bus to make space for a white person and defied social norms and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who used peaceful rallies and protest to get the African voice out there on social inequalities. There were others like Malcolm X who wanted to build separate communities for Africans and not integrate but their goals were the same, although through different methods, they wanted to improve the conditions of African Americans in the United States (Pittman, 2015).

When people resist and get their voice out there and do it enough, things are bound to change because pressure is being put on officials higher up and change is what happened. In 1954, Brown v Board of Education sought to give African American children the same educational experience as their white counterparts. In 1968, President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, which removed racial language from federal housing and allowed colored people to start moving in to white neighborhoods (Pittman, 2015). However, they were still treated differently but it was a start and it relates to what the lower caste Indians dealt with during the 1930s and thereafter.

The Poona Pact was created during a time of great social unrest. The upper caste people created a racially based divide against the Untouchables long ago and did not want to see things change. Like Africans were not aloud to live in the same neighborhoods, drink from the same water fountains, go to the same bathrooms as whites and were given unfair job opportunities, the Untouchables could not worship in the same temples as the upper caste, were confined to certain menial, “impure” jobs, and were confined to the ghettos of India that are depicted in mainstream popular culture. (PP Britannica, 2015)

The Pact, Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar influenced people. I think that Ambedkar’s followers related more to “the Left” and African groups such as the Black Nationalists because these Untouchable people who came up with the idea for separate electorates until finally things were settled with the Poona Pact were Radicals; they stood apart from efforts to achieve integration in Indian society. However, the Pact influenced more people to get their voices out and the International Commission for Dalit Rights (ICDR) emerged. This group, influenced by Ambedkar’s efforts and the Pact, relate to “the Right” more in my eyes. They have continually tried to make Dalit or Untouchable integration appeal to fellow Dalits and seek to end Dalit persecution or correct Indian thinking, striving to allow Dalits the same opportunity for work and allow for “inter-caste” marriage (ICDR, 2015). They are peaceful and have held many rallies at many places, even at the White House!

Since a country such as the US has had slavery since the late 1600s, that ended less than 200 years ago and is still dealing with racism and social unfairness, I would imagine for India, a country that has had the Caste System embedded into its own popular culture for over 2000 years and is now experiencing changes, it will take a lot longer till conditions are comparable to the United States’. I think it has become more significant over time because it was this Pact and the influence of Gandhi and Ambedkar that started a movement and got the ball rolling. Since then a number of small grassroots organizations have developed, with the major ICDR group leading the way. Many people are still not happy with it all. One site goes as far as to say that “submission is in their DNA”. Although changes have been made in the past years, such as allowing Untouchable children to receive a better education and “the funding of the ghettos by the ICDR, there is still unrest. A statistic shows that every hour two Untouchables are beaten and every fortnight, one is murdered (India’s Untouchables, 2010). However, it is this social unrest that is common when any group tries to change how things have been running for a long time, a popular example of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his efforts to better the status and flawed thinking about African Americans in our country.

Poona pact

A picture of a page of the Poona Pact (PP Britannica, 2015)

India’s Untouchables. (2010, February 11). Retrieved December 11, 2015, from https://www.culturalsurvival.org/ourpublications/csq/article/indias-untouchables

Origins & History. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2015, from http://icdrintl.org/about-us/origins-history/

Poona Pact | 1932, India. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2015, from http://www.britannica.com/event/Poona-Pact

Poona Pact. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poona_Pact

DR PITTMAN’s LECTURES: Lipsitz-Housing and Education and Second Reconstruction Lectures

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