There is a controversy raging around the term “Dalit” for quite some time. The intellectual community of the Scheduled Castes in India and abroad is extremely divided on this issue and arguments are made in its favour and against. Recently, the Government of India issued an order to the media to not use this word. Since then, this issue is in spotlight once again.
I had been trying to understand the thoughts of Saheb Kanshi Ram in depth for the last few years. I noticed that he did gave his views on this topic several times. Almost everywhere he opposed its use and warned not only the Scheduled Castes but the whole “Bahujan Samaj”(ST, SC, OBC) about the damage it had done.
Earlier, I wrote two articles on this issue; first “Saheb Kanshi Ram and the question of Dalit word” and second “Dalit word: a conspiracy or mistake” (Both in Hindi; will try to translate them into English soon). In the first article, I had referred to many speeches and interviews of Saheb Kanshi Ram, where he openly opposed the term. In the second article, I gave the reference of various organisations and movements initiated by Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Saheb Kanshi Ram, where none of them had used the “Dalit” word. Instead, they had tried to use words which would unite the all the STs, SCs, OBCs, divided among 6000 castes, so that one strong and larger identity could be formed.
I had heard many times that Babasaheb Ambedkar was also against using the word “Dalit”, but never read about it. A few days back, I watched a video on YouTube in which an Advocate Mala Das from Bihar was speaking on this issue. She mentioned that in Babasaheb’s Volume 4 (Hindi) towards the end, we can read his views on this topic under the title of “Nomenclature”.
After opening the mentioned page I was shocked to read Babasaheb’s views. Not only was he against using it but he gave several arguments to support his stand. These views were given by Babasaheb on 1st May 1932 in his report to the “Lothian Committee” on the issue of giving voting rights to the Scheduled Castes of India. Though the major concern of this report was related to voting rights, but Babasaheb also added the issue of finding a suitable name for the Scheduled Castes so that a solution could be found on this issue as well. I am giving his views here as a reference so that we can all know about it:
14. The revision of the electoral rolls consequent upon the proposed changes in the constitution is a very good occasion for considering the question of having a proper and appropriate nomenclature for the Depressed Classes (Dalit is used as its translation in Hindi). I therefore propose to express my opinion on this question. There is considerable objection on the part of the communities which are now called “Depressed Classes” to the use of that term in describing them. Several witnesses who have appeared before the Committee have given expression to this sentiment. Besides the term ‘Depressed Classes’ has led to a great deal of confusion in the census because it includes others who are not strictly Untouchables. Secondly, it gives the impression that the Depressed Classes are a low and helpless community, when as a matter of fact in every Province numbers of them are both well-to-do and well educated, and the whole community is acquiring consciousness of its needs, is charged with ambition for securing a respectable status in Indian society and is making Stupendous efforts to achieve it. On all these grounds the term ‘Depressed Classes’ is inappropriate and unsuitable. Mr. Mullan, the Census Superintendent of Assam, has brought into use a new term called ‘Exterior Castes’ to cover the Untouchables. This designation has many advantages. It defines exactly the position of the Untouchables who are within the Hindu religion but outside the Hindu society and distinguishes it from Hindus who are economically and educationally depressed but who are both within the pale of Hindu religion and Hindu society. The term has two other advantages. It avoids all the confusion that is now caused by use of the vague term Depressed Classes and at the same time is not offensive. Our Committee did not feel competent to make recommendation in this behalf. But as a representative of the Depressed Classes I have no hesitation in saying that until better nomenclature is found, the Untouchable Classes should here after be described by the more expressive term ‘Exterior Castes’ or ‘Excluded Castes’ and not as Depressed Classes.” ~ Babasaheb Ambedkar, Page 499, Volume 2
After reading this, I don’t think there should be any more controversy on this issue, on whether we should use the “Dalit” word or not? The intellectuals of our community cannot disagree with the views of Babasaheb Ambedkar, specially when he had put them forth with such clarity. But if they still justify the use of the word “Dalit”, then they have to first declare that they do not agree with the views of Babasaheb. They have to give their arguments in front of the whole community: on what basis do they disagree with Babasaheb? It is possible that some of them might not have read this report. They should clear their stand on this irrelevant issue, which was already decided by Babasaheb in 1932, and help our community to move forward.
Saheb Kanshi Ram used to say that if we want to fulfill the dreams of Babasaheb by becoming rulers of this country, then we should not become “Dalit” (weak) but should become “Bahujans” (majority). In the modern era, the term “Bahujan” was given by Mahatma Jotirao Phule. In one of his speeches in Maharashtra, Saheb Kanshi Ram has mentioned that on those issues on which our great leaders had already taken a stand, we should not waste our time, just accept them as they are. Our minds should work forward and not backwards.
I doubt any better advice can be given than this.
Satvendar Madara works in the Hospitality Industry. He is doing the important work of collecting Saheb Kanshi Ram’s speeches online, and also takes special interest in the Bahujan Movement.