Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-2pzkn Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-19T22:16:22.883Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

7 - Untouchability: Ambedkar and Early Reformers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2024

Parthasarathi Shome
Affiliation:
London School of Economics and Political Science
Get access

Summary

Introduction

This chapter presents in a nutshell the development of untouchability as progressively enunciated in Brahmanic law. It could explain to some extent the pre-conditions of non-Brahminic low-caste birth into a drudgery of life, a condition that, in many instances, ends only with death. It draws from the work of Ambedkar (1936) and supplements it from the works of other scholars. Ambedkar (1891– 1956), the father of India's constitution, himself belonged to the Scheduled Caste (SC). What is not so well-known is his unsurpassed treatise on caste and untouchability, sorting through ancient texts to identify what they had to say on caste matters, the confusion they caused, their irrationality and their dogma, yet the power they held, and continue to hold on Hindu society.

The chapter also explores the role and efforts made by early Indian reformers to subdue the virulence of untouchability and caste if not to eradicate them and, essentially, their failure to do so despite their own exemplary lives with regard to the abrogation of caste practices. Several examples are given and instances are provided from the literature of Tagore, the Nobel laureate from Bengal, and the writings of Kalki, the Tamil literary figure, despite which they encountered lack of success in their endeavours.

Ambedkar's analysis of Hindu shastra

The untouchable caste Ambedkar was born into is known as Mahar, a group which was viewed by the British as ‘inferior village servants’. Nevertheless, Ambedkar's father became an Indian Army officer; hence Ambedkar could attend school though teachers were often reluctant to mark the exams of such lower-caste boys. Ambedkar was the first in his community to graduate from high school who, subsequently, graduated in economics and politics from Bombay University. There he met Sayaji Rao III, the Maharajah of the princely state of Baroda, who was in favour of the removal of untouchability. He sponsored Ambedkar's further education at Columbia University, New York, where he completed a Masters degree and a PhD. He also attended the London School of Economics (LSE). During this period, Ambedkar wrote on various issues including a history of caste in India.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Creation of Poverty and Inequality in India
Exclusion, Isolation, Domination and Extraction
, pp. 177 - 192
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×