In May 1972, Namdeo Dhasal, J. V. Pawar and Raja Dhale came together to start an organisation. This organisation sought equal rights, respect and dignity for the “untouchables” and called themselves the Dalit Panthers.
Who are Dalits?
Dalit is a word that means downtrodden or dirty in Hindi. It is a term used for the lower caste Hindus. India’s historical figure and the chief architect of the Indian constitution, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, was a member of this caste.
According to Hinduism, lower caste Hindus are born in those castes because of their past sins, and they are supposed to repent in this life. They aren’t allowed to enter temples, drink water from the same well, go to schools, or so much as cross the road alongside a member of a higher caste. For ages, Dalits have faced countless atrocities at the hands of higher caste Hindus. All in the name of religion.
The Dalit Panther movement
Educated yet poor lower caste youth began the Dalit Panther movement in Bombay. They had a fighting spirit, solid values and a core belief in B. R. Ambedkar’s teachings. The idea for the name came from the American Black Panther movement. The black panther movement was aimed to protect the poor and uneducated black youth of America from police brutality.
DPM brought together the ethical views of Babasaheb Ambedkar and the fighting spirit of BPM.
The need for the movement
In 1933 British government recognised the lower castes as “depressed castes” and offered separate elections and electorates for them. The move was aimed at giving the community more power and making them stronger. While Ambedkar believed it was beneficial for the lower caste communities, Gandhi was against the idea and thought it would only increase the divide. This led to the Puna Pact, where Ambedkar agreed against the separate elections.
However, this helped Ambedkar draft what is today known as the Reservation Act for Scheduled Castes.
After Babasaheb’s death, the youth left behind was firmly moved by his ideals and wanted to keep his spirit and his fight alive. Namdeo Dhasal and J. V. Pawar were young poets and story writers who started mobilising Dalit youth. They chose the word Dalit for themselves as it was free of any religious foundations.
The ideals for the movement were Marxist ideologies mixed with Buddhist values.
Rifts grew among the two leaders Dhasal and Dhale. While one inclined towards more Marxism-Buddhism ideals, the other aimed for a Buddhism led movement. These political differences led to the dissolution of the Movement in 1977.
Although short-lived, the movement brought impactful changes for Dalits in India. It opened a world of Dalit literature, poetry, and stories to showcase their talent and get their problem to the front. The movement that began in Maharashtra soon spread to over 15 states. The Dalit Panthers of India is a political party inspired by the Dalit Panthers movement in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the most significant political parties that is fighting for Dalit human rights.