Skip to main content

Muslim boy denied water in temple part of 'culture' Dr Ambedkar fought in 1927

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

A lot has been said about the barbaric incident of a Muslim boy being beaten, scolded and denied water to drink at a temple complex near Ghaziabad. Many people expressed shock and sorrow and rightly expressed solidarity with the boy. Many said that their 'Hinduism' does not reflect this and that they are ashamed of the incident. Many apologised that their idea of India was not this where an innocent boy is denied the right to drink water.
All those who condemned the incident and expressed solidarity with the victim deserve kudos. But the issue should not be seen in isolation. It is part of a culture that we are part of and feel proud of. Water has been used as a discriminatory practice in India for centuries. Dalits have been denied it in the villages.
It is not that simple as we assume. Just a year back when I was travelling to a village which had Mushahars, on one side, and Bansfods, on the other, there was a water war between the two communities. The Bansfod families blamed the Mushahars for treating them as untouchables and not allowing them to fetch water from their hand pump.
I decided to have first hand experience and told a Bansfod man who was quite old that I don’t trust what they are saying. I felt that both these communities are extremely marginalised and isolated within the periphery of the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh.
So, the old man took me towards the Mushahar location, which is just the other side of the 6 ft road. A Mushahar woman was using the hand pump and this was the conversation which took place:
“You don’t allow Bansfods to fetch water from this hand pump?”, I queried.
“No, it is not true, we give them water”, she said.
The Bansfod man intervened abusively: “Do you allow us to fetch water ourselves? They don’t allow us fetch water. She would pour it from her bucket.”
“Why don't you allow them to fetch their water? You are neighbours?”, I asked.
“How can we allow them to touch our hand pump? They are chhot jaat (lower caste)”, she replied.
Soon others gathered and communities got divided. I requested the local administration, and they help in getting a hand pump for the Bansfod basti.
Clearly, water is a source of untouchability even today and even among the castes who are considered as untouchable. Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar emphasised and explained it beautifully when he said that India is a 'graded' system which provides 'ascending order of reverence and descending order of contempt'.
Let us not forget the history of water as a fundamental right was created by Dr Ambedkar on March 20, 1927 at the famous Chavadar Pond, Mahad, Bombay Province. How barbaric were the Brahmanical upper castes that they resisted Dalits drinking water from that pond which they felt was their sole 'domain'.
Laws passed by the government does not matter unless there is a will to implement them. The British realised this and hence made many political decisions related to the rights of the untouchables, much to the discomfort and outrage of the savarnas (“upper castes”).
On August 4, 1923, the Bombay Legislative Council (BLC) passed a resolution allowing the depressed classes and untouchables to access water to drink from the Chavadar Talab in Mahad which was part of Bombay Province at that point of time. Unfortunately nothing happened. There was no will to implement this law at the ground level. 
Dr Ambedkar at Mahad satyagraha
The talab or pond was located in the heart of the city and anyone coming from village to the Mahad taluka for official work or shopping purposes needed to drink water from this but it was forbidden for the untouchables. Dr Ambedkar actually narrate this beautifully:
Mahad movement created history, yet we recall only Dandi March, but not the satyagraha that gave Dalits a definite direction
"The Untouchables, either for purposes of doing their shopping and also for the purpose of their duty as village servants, had to come to Mahad to deliver to the taluka officer either the correspondence sent by village officials or to pay Government revenue collected by village officials. The Chavadar tank was the only public tank from which an outsider could get water. But the Untouchables were not allowed to take water from this tank.
“The only source of water for the Untouchables was the well in the Untouchables quarters in the town of Mahad. This well was at some distance from the centre of the town. It was quite choked on account of its neglect by the Municipality” (“The Revolt of the Untouchables”, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol 5).
On March 19-20, 1927, there was a conference organised by the depressed classes on the issue of civil rights, and Dr Ambedkar was the chief guest and guide of the event. Over 2,500 delegates participated in it. The conference decided to start a satyagraha led by Dr Ambedkar and drink water at the Chavadar Talab. This was a historic moment.
Dr Ambedkar and the other satyagrahis defied all the public pressure and reached the Chavadar Talab, drank water and got 'implemented' the resolution passed by the BLC. Can you imagine a public protest to do so? How did the public react to this?
The rumour brigade was active. It spread the word that the satyagrahis at Mahad had next planned to enter the temple. The caste forces decided to retaliate. The conference ground was attacked and many people got injured. Intimidation happened. They purified the Chavadar Talab again by performing puja, using 'cow dung' and 'gaumutra'.
One has to understand the whole dynamics of the fight against irrationality and inhuman practice. The fight for Mahad's water rights led by Dr Ambedkar had great values with like minded people supporting it.
The Mahad municipality which declared public places open for Dalits and depressed classes was under the leadership of Surendranath Tipnis, a Maratha. It is he who invited Dr Ambedkar to address the people in Mahad. There were other speakers too and notable among them AV Chitre and GN Shahasrabuddhe, a Chitpawan Brahman. All these gentlemen remained with Dr Ambedkar in his fight against the caste system and irrationality.
Dr Ambedkar decided to take the fight against this, hence he planned another conference at Mahad on December 26-27,1927. Cases were filed against him and he was not allowed public space to hold the conference. Finally, he could do it at an individual's place who offered him the space. On December 25, 1927, Manusmiriti was burnt at Mahad by the followers of Dr Ambedkar led by GN Shahsrabuddhe.
The dirty reality of Indian caste order is that it resisted with full throat the entry of Dalits in the temples and their right to drink water from public places. Even after the BLC passed the resolution or municipality paved the way to access water rights, the caste forces remained determined not to allow this to happen. They used all the tricks right from public dominance, economic boycott to legal challenge, but finally lost the battle at the Bombay High Court in 1937 which upheld the assembly resolution and allowed all public places open to depressed classes.
It is important to remember that in this fight against discrimination the battle remains incomplete unless the forces which have enjoyed the fruits of power too feel that something is wrong. Dr Ambedkar was fighting against Brahmanical forces on purely ideological grounds and it was good that some of his most important associates happened to be born in the communities who discriminated.
The Mahad movement that created history, yet we recall only Dandi March of Gandhiji, but not the Mahad satyagraha that gave Dalits a definite direction to fight for their rights legally and politically. The modus operandi of the caste forces is the same despite the fact that Dalits have now been given the right to water. Yet water still remains an instrument of discrimination in our society.
---
*Human rights defender

Comments

Anonymous said…
it would appear the hindu rrevival in India - will take us back to the days of the british and maybe earlier when at railway platforms there used to be separate water for hindus and muslims and separate wells by caste amongst hindus. There is only one loser - India - regardless of religion or caste. What an achievement by the current regime.

TRENDING

Ganga world's second most polluted river, Modi's Varanasi tops microplastics pollution

By Rajiv Shah  Will the new report by well-known elite NGO Toxics Link create a ripple in the powerful corridors of Delhi? Titled “Quantitative analysis of microplastics along River Ganga”, forwarded to Counterview, doesn’t just say that Ganga is the second most polluted river in the world, next only to Yangtze (China). It goes ahead to do a comparison of microplastics pollution in three cities shows Varanasi – the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – is more polluted compared to Kanpur and Haridwar.

How real is Mamata challenge to Modi? Preparing for 2024 'khela hobey' moment

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  Third time elected West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee is on a whirlwind tour of Delhi, meeting everyone who matters within and beyond the government, the Prime Minister, the President, some Cabinet ministers, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, several other opposition leaders, et al.

Did Modi promote Dholavira, a UNESCO site now, as Gujarat CM? Facts don't tally

By Rajiv Shah  As would generally happen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet – that not only was he “absolutely delighted” with the news of UNESCO tag to Dholavira, but he “ first visited ” the site during his “student days and was mesmerised by the place” – is being doubted by his detractors. None of the two tweets, strangely, even recalls once that it’s a Harappan site in Gujarat.

UP arrest of 'terrorists': Diverting attention from Covid goof-up, Ram temple land scam?

By Advocate Mohammad Shoaib, Sandeep Pandey* That corruption is rampant in police department is a common experience. However, there is another form of corruption which devastates lives of individuals and their families. It has now emerged as a common phenomenon that police more often than not register false cases because of which individuals have to spend number of years in jail.

If not Modi, then who? Why? I (an ordinary citizen) am there! Main hoon naa!

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The number of women ministers is doubled in early July from the first term after cabinet reshuffle by the present government led by Narendra Modi. While there were 06 women ministers in the previous term, this term there are 11. The previous two governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had 10 women ministers in each tenure. Are these number of women ministers something to rejoice in the near 75 years of independence? Yes maybe, if we think that things are slowly improving in the patriarchal system. This change is less likely to achieve gender balance in the parliament otherwise we require more than 11 as per the 33% reservation . This change is also less likely because the men politicians’ inability to handle the country’s mess is becoming more and more evident and especially during the corona crisis. Seems, the addition of more women ministers may be a result of the recent assembly elections where women played a decisive role in the election results. For example

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Effluent discharge into deep sea? Modi told to 'reconsider' Rs 2275 crore Gujarat project

Counterview Desk  In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, well-known Gujarat-based environmentalist, Mahesh Pandya of the Paryavaran Mitra, has protested against the manner in with the Gujarat government is continuing with its deep sea effluent disposal project despite environmental concerns.

Khorigaon demolition: People being 'brutally' evicted, cops 'restricting' food, water

By Ishita Chatterjee, Neelesh Kumar, Manju Menon, Vimal Bhai* On July 23, the Faridabad Municipal Corporation told the Supreme Court that they have cleared 74 acres out of 150 acres. Despite the affidavit of the Municipal Corporation, the court, on the complaint of various litigants, that the arrangements for living, food etc. have not been made for the people. 

Gujarat govt gender insensitive? Cyclone package for fisherfolk 'ignores' poor women

By Our Representative A memorandum submitted to the Gujarat government by various fisherfolk associations of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat under the leadership of Ahmedabad NGO Centre for Social Justice's senior activist Arvind Khuman, who is based in Amreli, has suggested that the relief package offered to the fishermen affected by the Tauktae cyclone is not only inadequate, it is also gender insensitive.