Dalit Voice, March 2009
Madras: Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (Humanitarian People’s Party), a powerful new political party of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, was launched on Feb.7, 2009. Most of the office-bearers are drawn from the TMMK headed by Dr. M.H. Jawahirullah, a member of the DV family and a professor attached to a college in Vaniambadi. Inaugural meeting was attended by over 20,000 men.
“Caste identity” & Mahar movement
Bangalore: It may come as a surprise to many that the historic Dalit revolution led by Babasaheb Ambedkar began as a Mahar movement.
This is revealed in the American scholar, Ms. Eleanor Zelliot’s book, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar & the Untouchable Movement (2004, pp.300, Rs. 250, Blumoon Books, S-201, Essel Mansion, 2286-87, Arya Samaj Road, Karol Bagh, New Delhi – 110 005). It was her 1969 PhD thesis but published only in 2004.
In the preface (p.vi) to the book the distinguished American professor says:
“My focus on caste from which Dr. Ambedkar emerged was strictly an effort to discover the rots of his movement.”
The roots lie in Babasaheb’s jati, Mahar, the single largest Untouchable caste group of Maharashtra.
Mahars supported all subcastes: The point, however, to be noted is though Babasaheb, a born Mahar, loved his jati, he did not hate other Untouchable castes. Rather his Mahar movement later enveloped all the Untouchables and subsequently transformed into an all-India Dalit movement. In other words Babasaheb started the Mahar movement to strengthen the identity of his Mahar jati and consolidate them as a caste of which he was proud and also intensely loved.
Though we read the book in November 2004 itself, we were hesitating to write on this. We may be wrong but perhaps Sister Eleanor also did not publish her thesis for 35 long years for the same reason that the Mahars may get offended when told what Babasaheb initially led was a movement of his own caste.
We too would have kept silent on this had not Dr. Anand Teltumbde, a relative of Babasaheb (grandson) and whom we hold as an honest intellectual, was critical of our “caste identity” thesis.
Greatness of Mahars: In her book, which was her PhD thesis, she pays high tributes to the greatness of the Mahar movement and says no other Dalit caste can surpass it. Babasaheb was the central figure of this Mahar movement in the 1920s. “Mahar caste produced Babasaheb Ambedkar and followed him most closely” (p.7).
Born fighters: The Mahar caste form 9% of the population and gained a lot by the coming of British. They are found in every district of Maharashtra, second in size only to the ruling Marathas.
The Mahar recruitment to British army was the single biggest cause for the uplift of the Mahars and the inspiration for the Mahar movement. A military movement at Koregaon, near Pune, depicts the legend of Mahar heroism.
Mahars are born fighters against Brahmins and the Koregaon pillar commemorates the Mahar, she says.
Dr. Ambedkar came on the public scene in the 1920s and became a public spokesman for the Untouchables and ultimately emerged as the unquestioned leader of Untouchables — attending and organising Mahar conferences.
“Although he is known as a Mahar leader, he attempted to include all untouchable castes in his movement”, she says (Ibid p.70).
DV April 1, 2008 p.20: “Madigas support caste identity”.
DV Edit March 1, 2004 : “Maratha-vaidik blood feud sparks attack on BORI: Shiva Dharma stress on caste identity”
DV Dec.16, 2004 p.7: “Caste identity & Kanchi swami”,.
DV Sept.16, 2004 p.5: “Chamars became slaves when they lost their caste identity”.
DV Jan.16, 2002 p.23: “Caste identity comes to Karnataka”.