Caste and Social Reform
Raja Rammohun Roy quoted the ancient Buddhist text to criticize the caste system. Prarthana Samaj followed the Bhakti tradition which believed in spiritual equality of all castes. The Paramhans Mandali was founded in Bombay in 1840 to work for the abolition of caste. Most of these reformers and members of these associations were from upper castes. They usually violated caste taboos regarding food and touch in secret meetings.
During nineteenth century, Christian missionaries started setting up schools for tribal groups and lower caste children. Education gave them a tool to change their world. At the same time, many poor began to migrate to cities in search of jobs. Some also went to work in plantations in Assam, Mauritius, Trinidad and Indonesia. Work in the new locations gave them an opportunity to get rid of the oppression which they suffered at the hands of upper-caste people back in their villages.
- There were other job opportunities as well. For example, the army offered many opportunities. The father of B R Ambedkar was a teacher at an army school. Ambedkar belonged to the Mahar caste, an untouchable caste in Maharashtra.
- By the second half of the nineteenth century, people from the Non-Brahman castes also began to organize movements against caste discrimination.
- The Satnami movement in Central India was founded by Ghasidas. He worked among the leatherworkers and organized a movement to improve their social status.
- Haridas Thakur's Matua sect worked in eastern Bengal. He worked among the Chandala cultivators.
- Shri Naryana Guru was a guru from Ezhava caste in the modern day Kerala. He argued against unequal treatment of people on the basis of caste. He believed that all human beings belonged to the same caste.
Jyotirao Phule was one of the most vocal amongst the low caste leaders. He was born in 1827. He studied in Christian missionary school. He attacked the Brahmans' claim to superiority. He argued that the Aryans were foreigners who subjugated the true children of the country. He said that the upper caste had no right to land and power and the land belonged to the low caste people who were the original inhabitants of the land in the peninsula. Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj to promote caste equality. He wrote a book named Gulamgiri, in 1873. He dedicated his book to all those Americans who had fought against slavery.
Who could enter temples?
Ambedkar had led many movements to get the right of temple entry for the dalits. The dalits were not allowed to enter into the temples. Ambedkar led three such movements between 1927 and 1935.
E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker came from a middle class family. He was also called as Periyar. He used to be a member of the Congress. But when he saw seating arrangements on caste affiliations during one of the feasts organized by the Congress, he left it in disgust. After that, Periyar founded the Self Respect Movement. He felt that untouchables were the true upholders of an original Tamil and Dravidian culture. He felt that all religious authorities saw social divisions and inequality as something which was God-given. Hence, untouchables had to free themselves from all religions if they were to achieve social equality.