In Ambedkar’s book What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to The Untouchables details the history of the Indian National Congress and their relationship with Dalits and Dalit issues. The Indian National Congress is a political party. Ambedkar ran the opposition party called the Indian Republican Party, which he named after the American political party that freed the slaves. The book provides a history and contemporary analysis of the Congressman.
The Indian National Congress (Congress) formed in 1885. Their main goal was to lobby for the full independence of India. Initially, Congress wanted to address political and social issues. However, the two goals often contradicted. When a social issue was championed people of different castes would be set against each other. The disunity weakened the party’s efforts for Indian independence.
There were two schools of thought on the subject of social reform. The first was there needed more equity in Indian society, but the political realm is not the place for it. Individuals and community organizations can improve the plight of the downtrodden. The second was that no social reform is needed at all. Over the years, Congress became less and less interested in social reform, and the subject had not been raised from 1895 to 1917. The Indian Social Reform Party took up social reform outside of Congress.
In 1917, the Depressed India Association gathered in Bombay to pass a resolution to the British government. The Dalit leaders created a resolution that stated India should not receive Independence until Depressed Classes have full rights. These rights would include access to public facilities such as schools, roadways, and water sources. Dalits should also have proper representation in government and legal protection from discrimination if Dalits don’t have full citizenship, then India should stay in the hands of the British. The Depressed Classes pledged loyalty to the British Crown before all other entities. If the Depressed Classes supported Congress’s plan for independence, Congress would have to take their issues seriously.
In response to Dalit’s First Resolution of Loyalty, Congress had to pass the 1917 resolution to improve the lot of Depressed Classes. Congress’s response was to declare that India can’t be free while oppressing its citizens.
Gandhi joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 and completely overhauled it. When he entered, it was a gathering of intellectuals that would pass resolutions and wait for the British government to act on them. Gandhi instituted an overhaul in 1922 called the Bardoli plan.
The Bardoli plan expanded membership to anyone in India for a small fee. Once membership grew to 10 million, they can advocate for the use of the spinning wheel instead of buying foreign cloth, alcohol temperance, and community-led conflict resolution. There was an effort to improve the social condition of depressed classes as part of this plan.
In two interviews in 1920, Gandhi expressed his view on the communal question. He expressed fear that the Dalits or any community asking for help from the government would be moving from the frying pan into the fire. When the government gives aid they do it to manipulate the group against the rest of India. Gandhi references Muslims and Sikhs as examples. Many Dalits wish to convert, but conversion is only a matter of the heart and has no bearing on one’s physical condition. He encouraged Dalits to aid in the effort of independence and that many in Hinduism are pushing for reform. The oppression of Dalits hurts the case for Indian independence. If Untouchables enter the cause of Swaraj, they will be more than welcome.
Congress did state they would work to improve the life of Dalits. However, little was actually done. One of the Dalit’s most staunch allies in Congress, Swami Shradhanard resigned due to Congress’s inaction. In May of 1923, Congress official requested the Hindu Mahasabha take up the issue of removing Untouchability. The Mahasabha was especially unequipped to handle the communal question. They formed as a militant response to Islam’s growth in India. The communal question would not become a priority again until after the Poona Pact of 1932.
On September 30, 1932 Congress established the Harijan Sevak Singh. The name loosely translates into the servants of the untouchables. In the official mission statement the founders are clear the goal is not to end untouchability. Instead they seek to improve the life of Dalits without rattling the social order.
Harijan Sevak Singh or Singh for short embarked on a program to improve public facilities for Dalits. The Singh supplied and aided clinics reserved for Dalits. There was also a campaign to improve water wells that Dalits were allowed to use. Scholarships were given to Dalits for high school, trade school and college. Many Dalits did benefit from the Singhs program.
Even though there was benefit to the program there would always be serious disparity if all public facilities were not open Dalits. There is no such thing as separate but equal. Those in power will always fund their facilities before the facilities of the downtrodden. There were Dalits on the board of the Singh when it began. However, once years passed and the mission never grew to include Dalits in the normal functioning of society, the Dalit leaders left. Gandhi never found replacements and said his reasoning was the curse of untouchability is the responsibility of castemen to end.
Untouchability was not a priority of Mr. Gandhi during the height of his civil disobedience campaign from 1922-1941. Congress boycotted the British government and goods. He was tried in 1922 for sedition and sentenced to six years. He was release in 1924 due to illness. There was a six year effort that began in 1935 to win access to public wells and temples. However, Gandhi never used civil disobedience against Hindus. The effort changed to simply improving water sources already segregated for Dalits. As far as temples, 142 were opened to Dalits. But of the 142 temples 121 were owner less, essentially Dalits were granted access to temples no one else wanted.
During Gandhi’s civil disobedience campaign, Ambedkar was agitating for access to Chawdar Water Tank in Bombay. The most famous of Ambedkar’s acts of defiance of caste rule happened when he gathered a group of Dalits to drink from the water tank in 1927. The Bombay campaign of 1927 included access to other public facilities such as schools. Ambedkar did reach out to Gandhi’s organization Harijian Sevak Sangh and they did nothing. In fact, they aided the Hindus in blocking legal adjunctions by the Dalits.
On November 13, 1931, a select committee of the Round Table Conference submitted the Minorities Pact detailing a plan to give Dalits weightage. Weightage is having a percentage of the vote larger than their population size. Also, there would be seats reserved in the legislature and executive cabinet for Depressed Classes. The reserved seats would be elected using a separate electorate of depressed classes. Forty-six percent of the population of India supported the resolution.
Gandhi came out in opposition to the Minorities Pact. He argued that having a specific plan for material redress for the condition of Depressed Classes would make untouchability a permanent status. Instead, untouchability should be removed by building solidarity in the independence struggle. Once British Rule is removed, Indians would naturally work together. There were many already in Hinduism that was working to remove untouchability. By improving the spiritual/psychological condition at the individual level, untouchability would naturally end. The government doesn’t need to protect Depressed classes because Hindus were serious about reform.
The primary advocate for the Depressed Classes was Dr. Ambedkar. He was a Dalit, one the suffered from untouchability, and became a leader in government as well as a world-renowned scholar. He was instrumental in the passage of the Minorities Pact. Gandhi dismissed Ambedkar as bitter about difficulties experienced in his own life. Ambedkar was full of unfounded suspicion and saw all Hindus as enemies. Gandhi could understand his pain because he faced similar treatment as an Indian living in South Africa in his younger years.
Instead of working with Ambedkar to absolve his fears, Gandhi chose to work behind the back of Ambedkar to get the Muslim and Sikh delegation to withdraw their support for the Minorities Pact. Gandhi submitted the Gandhi-Muslim Pact as an alternative. The new pact increased the political power of Muslims and Sikhs with no recognition of other minorities. The British government initiated the Franchise Committee to resolve the discrepancies between the two schemes. The committee began work in January of 1932.
To further undermine the Minorities Pact, Gandhi threatened to go on a hunger strike until all mentions of untouchability are removed from the Constitution. His first letter to Sir Samuel Hoare was dated March 11, 1932. Sir Hoare replied he would make no changes to the Constitution. His Majesty’s Government made the Dalit provision official on August 17, 1932. Gandhi went on a hunger strike the next day.
Ambedkar could let Gandhi fast till death. The provisions were in the Constitution. However, he knew that the death of Gandhi would cause a serious backlash, physical and political, for depressed classes. Ambedkar entered into negotiations with Congress and created a compromise called the Poona Pact. The pact ended the special electorate for Depressed Classes. However, it increased the number of reserved seats in the Provincial (State) Legislatures from 78 to 148. The Central (Federal) Legislature had 18% of its seats reserved for Dalits. The Minorities Pact reserved the seats for 20 years. The Poona Pact reduced this time to 10 years.
The Poona Pact was destructive to the politics of depressed classes. The separate electorate allowed for candidates that specifically addressed Dalit issues to win. If the candidates were chosen from general electorates, the candidate would have to appeal to the masses. In fact, a depressed class candidate could win by only appealing to Hindus in provinces with few depressed class members. The Poona Pact significantly weakened Dalit’s ability to push for their rights.
Gandhi’s Vindication of Caste
After Annihilation of Caste was published, Mr. Mohandes Gandhi wrote three articles in his newspaper Harijan. In these articles, he defends his position supporting Chatruvarnya. Chatruvarnya is the belief Hindus should live out one of four ancestral callings, Brahmin(Priest), Kshatriya (Soldier), Vaishya (Retailer), Shudra (Menial). This system was far older than the caste system, which split Hindus into hundreds of sub-castes.
Mr. Gandhi begins by saying nothing in the speech was out-of-character of Dr. Ambedkar. The Society for the Abolition of Caste (Jat-Pat-Todak) should have expected such an address from him. The publishing of the speech was of great benefit to Hindus and encouraged them to read it to know how to refute Dr. Ambedkar.
Ambedkar was raised a Hindu and was part of Hindu culture. He grew disgust for Hinduism due to their treatment of “their fellow Hindus that they label Untouchable.” Mr. Gandhi said Dr. Ambedkar’s feelings were understandable. In addition, Ambedkar was correct in his assessment that the Hindu scriptures justified the discrimination against Dalits.
The question was whether all the scriptures authoritative to the same degree. For example, the Smrities have much in them that can’t be considered the word of God. One can throw them out without the foundation of Hinduism being disturbed. Hinduism created many saints and sages. Therefore there must be wisdom in the religion. In fact, many Dalit activists are fighting the caste system without leaving the faith. One can not judge a religion by the worst participants or the worst scriptures.
In the last article, a member of The Society for the Abolition of Caste explains why they initially invited Dr. Ambedkar. It was not to have a Dalit lead the conference because the Society does not recognize such a distinction. The Society asked him because he agreed with them that caste is destroying India. The Society wanted to remove the statements that Dr. Ambedkar said he was leaving Hinduism, which they felt was not relevant to his thesis or the goals of the conference.
The member of the Society also challenged Gandhi on his assumption that Chatruvarnya is better than caste. Both are divisions of labor based on birth. They both put individuals in a hierarchy. All the arguments to support Chatruvarnya can be used to support the caste system.
The rebuttal from Mr. Gandhi was that Shastras, one of the holiest books in Hinduism, supported Chatruvarnya. If one doesn’t believe in the Shastras, then one isn’t a Hindu. Denouncing the Shastras was equivalent to a Christian denouncing the Bible or a Muslim criticizing the Quran.
Dr. Ambedkar’s Rebuttal
Dr. Ambedkar begins by restating what he hoped to communicate in his speech. First, caste was destroying India. If Indians transitioned to Chatruvarnya, it would still need to be legally enforced due to it being unnatural. Chatruvarnya denies individuals their fundamental human rights of education and self-defense. India will not advance until they adopt the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The Hindu scriptures undergirding them must be destroyed to annihilate caste.
Gandhi’s prescription to evaluate each text and decide which ones to keep and which to discard can’t be done in a mostly illiterate population. Ambedkar also agreed with the Society that there was no significant difference between Caste and Chatruvarnya. Both forced people to take occupations due to birth not ability. Also, none of the saints mentioned by Gandhi in his articles fought the caste system. Most defended it.
The conflict between Ambedkar and Gandhi was about was Hinduism morally beneficial. It had nothing to do with judging a religion by its worst deeds. The question was whether those deeds supported by the religion. In the case of Hinduism, scripture justified the evil acts. Therefore the Hindu religion had to be discarded.
To further prove that keeping Chatruvarnya is unrealistic, Dr. Ambedkar gave examples from Mr. Gandhi’s life. The Vaishya caste produced the “Mahatma,” and he now serves as a priest. His son married a Brahmin’s daughter. His failure to follow his own beliefs is not unique. Most Brahmin do not serve as priest and, at the time of publication, there were more Brahmin retailers than priests.
Ultimately the Hindu scriptures must be discarded to annihilate caste.
Ambedkar spoke on the similarities between the struggle of Blacks Americans and Dalits in India in What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables. Dalit is the proper name for someone that suffers from untouchability. Ambedkar named the political party he started the Indian Republican Party after the party that freed the slaves in America. He was intensely studied on issues involving Black Americans and corresponded with W.E.B Dubois, the most prominent Black leader of the day.
Ambedkar revered Lincoln but also researched his motives well enough to understand him. He mentions an 1862 correspondence with Horace Greenly in which Lincoln says his primary goal was to preserve the Union. If freeing the slaves was needed, he would free slaves. If keeping all the slaves was required, he would keep everyone enslaved. Ambedkar likened Lincoln’s conditional support for abolition to Gandhi’s conditional support for Dalit rights. Gandhi would only speak on untouchability if the cause of Indian independence required Dalit support.
Fortunately, the victory of the Union was heavily dependent on the support of black Americans. 125,000 freed slaves joined Union forces along with 80,000 freed blacks from the North. These brave soldiers fought in 450 battles. The Black soldiers faced even more danger than Whites because they would not be recognized as POWs and sent back to slavery. They also received less pay from the Union forces until 1864. Thirty-seven thousand black soldiers fell to preserve the Union.
Once the war was over, the government understood that constitutional safeguards were needed to ensure the freedom of Blacks. The 13th amendment ended slavery, and the 14th amendment provide birthright citizenship to all Americans. Finally, the 15th amendment outlawed discrimination due to color. The American Congress passed the Reconstruction Act to facilitate the re-entry of rebelling states. All southern states must frame a new constitution and ratify the 14th amendment.
The old southern powers did not take this lying down. The Ku Klux Klan was formed to terrorize Black citizens. The southern governments instituted the Grandfather Clause that state one could not vote unless their grandfather could vote. When Blacks went to the court to fight the Grandfather Clause and get protection from Klansman, the government abandoned them. The North was not ready to re-engage the South in war. Their state in society steadily declined after the government abandoned Black people.
Both Black Americans and Dalits needed constitutional safeguards and a specific plan of redress. Ambedkar fought for Dalits to have access to all public facilities, including water resources. When India was transitioning out of British rule, Ambedkar proposed and won a special electorate with reserved seats in parliament for Dalits. His most impressive and longest-lasting accomplishment was a mass conversion of Dalits into Buddhism. As a matter of self-respect, one could not stay part of a religion that views them as inferior. The conversion to Buddhism was a recognition of Dalit humanity.
Gandhism is the name given to the philosophy of Mr. Mohandes Gandhi. He never admitted to fathering a new philosophy, but also didn’t object to the publication of books entitled Gandhism. Ambedkar used Gandhi’s speeches, published interviews, and the book Hindu Raj to define Gandhism.
The return to the village and ancient life served as the center for Gandhi’s philosophy. It was not a plan for modernization. He was only against the caste system due to its complication and formation of hundreds of castes. Gandhi supported the Varna system that had only four castes: Brahmin (Priest), Kshatriyas (Soldiers), Vanias (Retailers), and Shudra (Menials). Those without Caste, Dalits, would be added as a fifth caste. There would be no untouchability observed. So if someone interacted with Dalits, they would not need to be cleansed. Dalits would keep their hereditary occupations, including sewer cleaning. So Gandhi was for the replacement of the caste system with the Varna system. He did not support the equality of Dalits.
Gandhi saw the caste system as no worse than any other societal stratification. All societies have rules. Intermarriage between castes are outlawed no differently as a marriage between relatives is outlawed. All societies set limits around enjoyment to prevent the community from devolving into chaos.
The varna system is superior to the caste system because it prohibits no caste from learning or conducting any tasks. It only prevents one from earning a living in any other profession than that prescribed by one’s caste. Because no one can change their profession, there is no reason for class war or struggle.
Gandhi is opposed to unionization or collective bargaining in anything other than extreme circumstances. A strike should happen only with a “real” grievance. Those participating in the strike should live on savings or temporary work. They should not ask for donations or charity. Also, they must make their minimum demand know from the beginning of the strike. So with criteria such as these, it would be challenging for unions to be effective.
The overreach of capitalists was common. Gandhi admitted this. However, he thought workers should show restraint when addressing these grievances. The use of violence was out of the question. The laborers should remember that the capitalists have strength and intelligence. Their guidance was vital.
Machinery is another evil in Gandhi’s view. It removes man from his work, making the body idle. He also said “I would not weep over the disappearance of machinery or consider it a calamity.” If people serve in their caste profession, there will be more than enough labor and no need for machinery.
If India adopted Western values, their culture would dissolve. In Europe, the is suspicion around all the interactions between groups. Workers distrust company owners. French distrust English. Catholics distrust Protestants. Almost all members of Western Civilization are miserable. Indians must hold on to their culture not to be swept up in misery.
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with the disparity in Indian society, only the perception of disparity. Instead of being angry that Shudras can’t accumulate wealth, praise the Shudras for not being materialistic. Instead of being jealous that only Brahmin can make a living in academia, say that they were the burden of becoming learned for their people. Most importantly, the Dalits profession of manually cleaning sewers was the noblest profession of all. This profession was ordained by divine fate as all others were. Never mind if most Dalits hated the job or had potential far greater than scavenging.
Ambedkar rebuts by making clear that caste divisions are more stringent than class divisions. Caste is the complete separation of individuals by birth. There is no way to improve one’s lot in the caste system. One can work hard and climb socially in Europe. Forcing people to hold an occupation by birth is an anathema to an industrious society.
Machinery and modernization are vital for the development of culture. When people have the burden of work lessened, time is freed for the development of culture. Man is separated from animals by his ability to build a culture. The growth of science, art, and philosophy is the foundation for a more equitable society.
The main discrepancy between the philosophy of Ambedkar and Gandhi is :
“Is it natural that a group of people solidify to govern society in perpetuity?”
“Is the creation of a ruling class the result of a dysfunctional society?”
Ambedkar emphatically sides with the latter. There needs to be a specific plan of redress to funnel resources into underprivileged communities. Gandhi only wanted to lessen the burden of the servile class while keeping society stratified.
This work was unfinished.
One must first understand how the Hindu social order differs from free social order.
In a free social order, society sees the individual and his development as an end in itself. Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity are the cornerstones of the societies values. To justify man being the impetus for creating a society, Ambedkar uses a quote from French philosopher Jacques Maritain that states that people are unique in the universe because they possess a divine spirit.
Ambedkar uniquely defines equality and fraternity. Equality further specified as moral equality, the belief that all people deserve to have their rights respected. As the Declaration of Independence states, “All men are created equal” meaning they begin equal. Ambedkar does not mean that all men have equal ability. Fraternity is defined by reverence for the fellow man and the desire to be in unity with him.
Liberty has two parts, civil and political. Civil Liberty is the freedom of movement, speech, and action. Whereas, political liberty is the right for individual people to share in lawmaking and governance. These two aspects of liberty are intertwined and inseparable.
In contrast, the Hindu social order does not recognize individuals or individual responsibility. Instead, caste serves as the basis for social order. The four castes are Brahmin (Priest), Kshatriya (Soldiers), Vaishyas (Retailers), Shudra (Menials). In addition to the four major castes, there are over 3,000 subcastes. These castes are solidified, and individuals do not pursue their purpose to maintain social order. The base institution of society is caste. Marriage and inheritance are the only subjects in which Hindu society recognizes family. Castes are a division of society by occupation given at birth. Hinduism further separates caste for purposes of dining and marriage.
The three unique features of the Hindu Caste System:
- Worship of a Superman
- King is responsible for maintaining the Social Order
- The social order was ordained by Brahma (God)
The Brahmin serves as the object of worship for the lower castes. The lower castes, especially, the Shudra exist to serve Brahmin. The servitude of Brahmin lasts until death. Hinduism does not permit Shudra to retire. In the same vein, a Brahmin has no obligation to a shudra.
The king must maintain social order. If he fails in doing this, he will suffer prosecution like any other criminal. The king also heads a legal system in which penalties are dependent on the caste of the victim and perpetrator. If someone of lower caste injures a person of the higher caste they receive a harsh sentence. The reverse is also true, to the point that someone outside the Caste system could be killed a will by a Brahmin with no penalty.
It is believed the Brahmin sprang from God’s mouth. The Kshatriya from God’s shoulders. Vaishya came from the thighs, and Shudra came from the feet. The origin of each caste is different, and therefore, so should their station in life. Because the caste system is divine, no modification or change is valid. Ambedkar reiterates that caste is not equivalent to class. Class is something one can ascend or descend depending on individual efforts.
There is also an interesting discussion of the revolution in the book. Three conditions lead to rebellion. The first is a wrong being committed to a group of people. The second is the capacity for the people to realize they suffer a slight—finally, the availability of arms or other means in the overthrowing government. The Hindu social order exists because Hinduism keeps people blind to the fact they suffered wrong. Hindus believe the social order is divinely prepared. Ambedkar lists Nazi and Muslim examples of societies that allow their people to realize they were wronged and then violently suppress the rebellions once they happen.
In the last paragraph, Ambedkar differentiates between Savarna, caste observing, Hindus and Avarna, non-caste observing, Hindus. Ambedkar says there is a class division between them, but not much other information is available.
There is no discussion on Communism because the work is unfinished.
Two names are synonymous with social justice in their respective countries, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Dr. Martin Luther King. Both men were considered radicals in their time and even smeared as Communists. Anyone that reads what these men wrote understands the ridiculousness of the accusation.
Ambedkar was an advocate for untouchables, now known as Dalits. As a Dalit himself, Ambedkar faced many hardships. He overcame them to become educated at Columbia University in New York. He returned to India in the late 1920s. He worked to give Dalit’s voting rights, access to water, and education. In advocating for Dalits, he often found himself at odds with Gandhi. Despite political opposition, Ambedkar wrote the Indian Constitution. Toward the end of his life, he promoted Buddhism and held a mass conversion of Dalits to the faith in 1956. He died of natural causes a few months later.
The story of Dr. King is far better known to Americans. King was born in the American South and suffered through segregation. Like Ambedkar, he went to prestigious schools such as Morehouse and Boston College. The Montgomery Bus boycott was King’s first civil rights campaign. While aiding a sanitation workers strike in Memphis, he was gunned down.
The rise of Communism is one of the most important events of the early twentieth century. Communism was billed as the dawn of a new classless Utopia. Unfortunately, the actual implementation in Soviet Russia proved Communism was far from the mother of paradise.
Ambedkar and Dr. King wrote on the subject in their lifetime. Ambedkar’s The Buddha or Karl Marx and Dr. King’s “How Should a Christian View Communism” echo similar themes. A later version of King’s view on Communism is “Can a Christian Be Communist?”. Both works fundamentally rebuke Communism as antithetical to their religion. Due to Communism’s lack of moral absolutes, violence is used to suppress dissent. The result is a totalitarian government with no individual freedom.
Even though both men denounced Communism, they did not dismiss its critique of religion out of hand. Both agreed that the standard form of their faith was “otherworldly.” Most practitioners distracted themselves from the material lack in their life with spiritual pursuits. These religious endeavors foster an unhealthy individualism and a disconnection from social justice.
Ambedkar’s Buddhism and Dr. King’s Christianity were not the mainstream versions of either religion. The clergy of Burma rejected Ambedkar’s attempt to become a lay teacher. Fundamentalist Christians, white and black, opposed Dr. King. Instead, both men forged a new path for their religion infused with social justice. Their advocacy was their spiritual path.
The two works can be found below:
The Indian National Congress (Congress), of which Mr. Mohandas Gandhi headed for most of his political career, never supported fair political representation for Dalits. The party formed in 1885 and not one president brought up social reform from 1895 to 1917. Generally, Congressmen believed that working on social problems distracted from making India free of British Rule. Social reform could be carried out by individuals or community organizations. In 1917, Congress began its program for social reform. Ambedkar accuses the Congress of only making this resolution to counter the depressed classes’ loyalty pledge to the British government.
On November 11, 1917, representatives of depressed classes met in Bombay to pass a resolution on how their freedom was a prerequisite for the independence of India. British India must first pursue a serious program to improve the economic, social, and political position of the depressed classes before they would support independence. The resolution had even more pronounced importance because His Majesty’s government had accepted a policy to make India independent gradually. Often the British government acted as arbitrators between the depressed classes and Hindus.
At the time, there were two competing schemes for the Independence of India. The first was the “Scheme of Nineteen” put forth by 19 elected members of the Imperial Legislative Council. This scheme had more support by the British government. The counter plan was “The Congress League Scheme”. The Congressmen wanted a more aggressive approach to independence marked by the ratification of a constitution. The All-Muslim League had recently supported the Congress League Scheme. Now that the depressed classes came into opposition, Congress could not claim the overwhelming majority of Indians supported their plan.
Britain first mandated the independence of India in the Government of India Act of 1919, which mandated in ten years a commission to investigate creating a constitution of India. The Royal Commission was formed in 1928 and headed by Sir John Simon. Sir Simon did not believe the Commission should include Indians. The Congressmen protested and the government compromised by promising a Round Table Conference to be held after the Commission. The Conference included Indians for the finalization of the Constitution.
The first Round Table Conference began on November 12, 1930. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and Dewan Bahadur R. Srinivasan represented the Depressed Classes. Serval committees formed, one of which was the Minorities Committee. At that time, the issues of removing untouchability and reforming Indian society were collectively referred to as the communal question.
The first draft of the Constitution submitted in 1919 addressed the communal question. However, the Minorities Committee was able to correctly detail a plan for the inclusion of depressed classes in Indian society. There were anti-discrimination laws specified in the Constitution covering government institutions, public accommodations like hotels, and schools. Also, violence motivated by caste or in retaliation for one protesting for their rights were outlawed. Depressed Classes received access to all public water sources.
Depressed classes would also be given full adult suffrage and weightage. Weightage is giving a population a larger share of the vote than their population would allow. The First Round Table Conference did not determine details of Depressed Class representation. However, there was mention of Depressed Class reservations in the Provincial Legislature, Central Legislature, and Executive Cabinet.
The Indian National Conference boycotted the British government during the First Round Table Conference. Gandhi came as one of the representatives of Congress. Ambedkar describes him as an egotistical zealot, that held the other delegates in contempt. He felt he was the only one at the Conference that was chosen by the people. Also, Gandhi had been in negotiations in secret with the Muslim delegation.
Once the Second Round Table conference began, Gandhi asserts he would only recognize special treatment for Muslims and Sikhs. The Muslim delegation declared that if Dalits get weightage, it will not come from the Muslim’s portion. The government awarded Muslims weightage earlier, and Congress agreed to it. Ambedkar threatened to leave if the depressed classes were not adequately represented and have weightage. The general meetings in the Second Round Table Conference adjourned with no resolution.
The Minorities Committee met later. They were able to agree on provision for Depressed Class inclusion and weightage. The resolution stated that the representatives that were the author represented 46% of India. Gandhi holds in his opposition, and the Conference adjourns with no proper resolution. The matter of special electorates for Depressed Classes would go to arbitration with His Majesty’s Government.
Gandhi would give his reasoning for supporting special electorates for Muslims and Sikhs, but not Dalits. He felt both Sikhs and Muslims had highly educated electorates with nuanced political consciousness. The Dalits had neither. If Dalits were given special electorates, then they would be a political enemy of high caste Hindus. They would have to oppose the Hindu with very few resources. The Dalits and Hindus must be rebuilt as a unified community. As the community naturally progresses, animosity between the groups would subside. Many Hindus were working for reform because they realize that the oppression of Dalits hurts India’s ability to self-rule.
To rebut Gandhi’s non-sensical argument, Ambedkar questions how much Hindus feel ashamed of their role in the oppression of Dalits. Most Hindus do not see Dalits as kith and kin. The actions, or better inaction, of Congress, illustrates that there is no real effort to improve the lot of the Untouchables. With political power, Dalits could secure enough resources to improve education and other resources to improve their condition.
Ultimately, Gandhi is arguing Dalits can’t have the political power to improve their condition, because their situation was too low due to their lack of political power. The Castes System robbed the Dalits of education and the ability to be involved in politics that would naturally produce an educated electorate. These same arguments are made today when advocates ask for specific redress. The conflict between Gandhi would culminate in Gandhi’s famous fast til death.