These pictures were taken at the Dalit Adivasi Mahasamelanam, in November 2012, where tens of thousands of Dalits and Adivasis, including families of men, women, children, the elderly and in some cases, entire village communities, gathered together at the famous Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi in a campaign to end caste, caste discrimination, and caste atrocities. A letter reprinted below, written by Mr. G.M. Thaware, Secretary, All-India Depressed Classes Association to Mr. M.K. Gandhi regarding the condition of the ‘Depressed Classes,’ written in 1941, is telling. This letter is sourced from the National Archives of India‘s public records–Thaware forwarded a copy to the British Indian Administration for their records.
29th October, 1941
You are fighting for full political freedom for India in the name of Congress, but no efforts are made wither by you or by your congress to grant social freedom to the scheduled castes who form 1/5th of the total population of India. In 1932, you have entered into a pact known as “Poona Pact,” with the main object of bringing the scheduled Castes to the rank of caste hindus and to keep them in the Hindu fold and ten years time was provided for the purpose.
Before the Poona Pact the position of these classes was that a caste Hindu Barber was not prepared to shave a scheduled caste member, caste hindus were not prepared to let out their houses to be occupied by the schedule castes, there were restrictions to these classes not to do certain professions, caste hindus were not prepared to engage these classes as their domestic servants and also in their estates such as munims, Kamdars, Havaldars, and Managers, there were restrictions to them to sit side by side in shops, bullock carts and other places where Hindus and muslims sit together. Their economical position was also bad. During the term of nearly ten years of the Poona Pact from 25th September 1932 to this day of October 1941 the Scheduled castes find absolutely no change and their position remains the same as it was before the Poona Pact. Whatever the advancement is made it is made by the Scheduled castes themselves. In CP. and Berar, the public places user Bill was brought by a Scheduled castes member in the Mont-Ford Reforms. The local bodies which were composed of Congress office bearers failed to throw open wells to these classes.
In 1920 or so in a Scheduled castes meeting held in Panchpoli, Nagpur you said in your speech that the untouchability will be removed as soon as the political power comes in the hands of congress. But the congress failed to bring any such change when it was in power for about 2.5 years in seven provinces. In Mont-Ford Reforms at the time of Provincial and Central Legislature nominations the scheduled castes were quite free from their signing any Government creed. But the Congress insists on their signing Congress creed before any election.
As regards the Poona Pact, there is provision for these classes to contest general seat, but no candidate was set up by the Congress for such election in any province. The distributive vote system was not also brought into practice in a constituency where a caste-Hindu for non-Muslim seat and a scheduled castes for reserved seat set up by the Congress in the last Provincial Assembly elections. Canvacing for cumulative votes among caste-hindus was seen in the Congress circle. Caste-Hindus voted in favor of caste-Hindu candidates. But in by-election of the reserved seat the congress played a trick at Nagpur. An independent candidate who secured highest number of votes in Primary election failed in general election and a candidate who was backed by the Congress secretly stood fourth in Panel but in general election he came out successful. Even after election the Congress Scheduled castes members are not free for voting. In Madras and C.P. and Berar Provincial Assemblies the Congress M.L.A.’s of these classes on Temple Entry Bills voted against. For this very reasons there was an unanimous candemnation of the Poona Pact by the Scheduled csates of C.P. & Berar, Madras, Bombay and of other Provinces.
In C.P. and Berar, local bodies Act was changed by the Congress Ministries and in place of nomination election or selection has been provided for the Scheduled castes. As the Scheduled castes Basties are distributed but not located in one Mohalla in a big or small town or city there is no possibility of their being elected even in the present adult Franchise. It is only in Nagpur, Gondia, Tumsar, Wardha, where there are big Mohallas of these classes, that the candidates have ever come out successful on the majority of their own communities votes. Neither selection nor nomination was granted to these classes in those Local bodies where a man of the scheduled castes member was not elected to the Congress local bodies have provided with a very meager representation of only one seat in selection for the vast population of these classes. This proves that the scheduled castes do not even get a fair representation.
Before the Poona Pact there was an elected member of this community from non-muslim constituency of this Province in the Provincial Council. This was done during the regime of his late Excellency Sir Frankly Sly, Governor of this Province. But the congress had then a different motive. Now no efforts are made either by you or by your Congress to bring such members in general election. During the past ten years from the day of the Poona Pact castes have come out successful at the majority of caste-Hindu votes of State elections. During the Congress regime, no minister of the scheduled castes was appointed in any Province except than Madras.
On the educational problem, it was due to the efforts of the scheduled castes themselves that they have come to this present stage. But from the day of the Poona Pact the Harijan Sewak Sangh has become the head Department and the whole sole authority of these classes without their consent. In fact, there is not a single institution established or run by the Harijan Sewak Sangh in comparison to the existing institutions established and run by the shceduled castes in C.P. and Berar. On the economic problem, the Harijan Sewak Sangh does nothing except than paying scholarships for shoe making and other minor training. The scheduled castes are mostly labourers. They are engaged in fields, Bidi factories, mines, spinning and weaving mills and in this Province all these belong to a particular class of Hindu society. The constitution of the Harijan Sewak Sangh also provides for economic progress of these classes. If the Congress insisted on the economic progress among the Scheduled castes it was and it is even to-day in the hands of caste hindu owners of those firms to pay sufficient wages in this respect to make any legislation. Very low wages are paid in Charkha Sanghs also. The Congress Government in seven provinces also failed to provide with fair representation in Government service to these classes.
The Poona Pact of 25th September 1932 was arrived in a hasty manner. It has provided with fair representation but not proportionate with reservation of seats in Joint Electorates in all Provincial Legislatures and there is a clear mention of election system i.e. first primary election and then general election. There is nothing definite on their education, representation on local bodies and in Government services. The Poona Pact comes in the way of these classes to secure fair representation in Government services. The Gazette of India, Part I july 7, 1934 under the heading “communal representation in services” item No. 3 states–The intention of caste Hindus in this respect was formerly stated in the Poona agreement. In the present stage of general education in these classes the Government of India consider that no useful purpose will be served by reserving for them a definite percentage of vacancies out of the number available for Hindus as a whole. etc.” The Poona Pact states on Government services that every endeavour shall be made to secure fair representation of the Depressed classes in these respects, subject to such educational qualifications as may be laid down for appointment to the Public services.” As the education among the other classes goes high the educational qualifications required for even ordinary services like clerks also increase. On account of the Poona Pact, the candidates of scheduled castes (of minimum educational qualification required for such posts) do not get jobs in fair number. In Poona Pact there is nothing on other representation of the scheduled castes therefore commit no sin if they demand separate electorates for them and there are sufficient proofs and reasons to demand the same.
The schedules caste are only British subject, but they are not closely connected in any way like other classes with the British Government. Government offices are over represented by caste-Hindus and others, but not by the scheduled castes. So also the Legislatures and local bodies are over represented by caste-hindus and others. The scheduled castes form majority only in labour work and they specially work caste hindus. Other classes pay income tax to British Government, but the schedule castes pay heavy income tax in the form of interest and in other ways to sawakars and Malguzars or Patels who are mostly from caste-hindus. The Britain may be the Government of other classes of people, but caste-hindu society is the real Government of other scheduled castes. The Scheduled caste therefore want full freedom from Hindu Society. Instead of asking full freedom to British Government the Congress should first secure full freedom for 1/5th of the population of the scheduled castes from the Hindu Society. It is not a wise step for the Congress to demand full freedom from British Government before the Scheduled castes are made free by the caste Hindus.
If you insist on keeping the Scheduled castes in Hindu fold constitutionally in the coming constitutional change you will kindly stop the Satyagraha Campaign against war efforts. Please make efforts to bring these classes to the rank of caste Hindus. The candidates of these classes should be set up for general elections of local bodies and also for by-elections of Provincial and Central Legislatures. The Congress should start a campaign on the appointments of these classes as domestic servants and fair representation in Hindu estates. For the Temple entry and sufficient wages to the Labourers Legislation is required. The Congress should therefore, resume offices, grant an adequate representation in all provincial cabinets as well as in Government services to these classes and hand over the funds of the Harijan Sewak Sangh to the Scheduled castes for the same cause, which the Sangh is doing at present. Recruitment of the Scheduled castes in large numbers in Army, Navy and Air Force is most beneficial to them. You will kindly, therefore, ask the Harijan Sewak Sangh to do such recruiting work among the scheduled castes.
Yours Sincerely, G.M. Thaware
To Mahatma M.K. Gandhi