Declaration of Independence
1. The news of the so called purification of the Chowdar Tank lacerated the hearts of the DC & causes BRA’s great pain that he decided to launch a satyagraha struggle for the vindication of people’s rights. For him deep-rooted diseases needed drastic remedies. Non-Brahmin leaders of Maharashtra agrees to support the agitation on the condition that the struggle should be non-violent, should be staged on a massive scale after convening a conference at Mahad. BRA replied that he hated all men who possessed the spirit of Brahmanism & not Brahmins per say. Accordingly it was announced on 26/6/1927 that those members of the DC who wanted to take the stigma of pollution attached to them by virtue of the purification & who wanted to denounce the acts of assaults at Mahad should enlist themselves at the office of the Bhaishkrit Hitakarini Sabha in Bombay.
‘The questions whether we belong to Hindu religion or not’ declared he ‘is to be decided once for all’. Meanwhile the Mahad municipality revoked its resolution of 1924 under which it had declared the Tank open to the DC. BRA accepted the challenge and it was decided that 25/26 December would the days for offering the satyagraha.
BRA on Violence - He observed that a satyagrahi must posses boundless selfconfidence, which was generated in its turn from the conviction that the end sought was good & just. Any action that united the people was good. Where there was unity there was a good cause. He ascribed the origin of this philosophy to the Geeta, the main theme of which was satyagraha. He cited the Geeta since it was acceptable to the Touchables & Untouchables. According to BRA, fight, whether violent or non-violent, was just if the end sought was good. In his view Arjun was justified in resorting to arms in defence of a just cause. ‘If woundings one’s feelings is violence’ he said ‘Gandhi’s satyagraha is also based on violence’. ‘Truly speaking,’ he concluded, ‘the law should be non-violence wherever possible, violence when necessary’.
He warned the govt that if it prevented the DC from exercising their legitimate rights, the matter would be referred to the League of Nations. If the caste Hindus hampered their struggle, it would clear to the whole world that Hinduism was a stonewall and the Untouchables would have to look to another religion to shelter. He told protesting caste Hindus ‘If you say your religion is our religion, then your rights & ours must be equal. But this is not the case? If not, on what grounds must we remain in the Hindu fold inspite of your kicks & rebuffs? Friends note that in 1927 BRA spoke about the DC possibility of converting to another religion if the caste Hindus refused to treat the DC as equals.
Untouchability has ruined the Untouchables, the Hindus & ultimately the nation as well. If the DC gained their self-respect/freedom the tremendous energy that they are at present required to fritter away in combating the stigma of Untouchability would be saved & applied by them for promotion of education / development of economic resources of India. They would not have been required to embrace another religion for getting themselves called human beings. That the DC cause was good for themselves, nation and a great contribution to Hinduism too’.
2. BRA now spent his energies to galvanize the younger generation into activity. 2/10/1927 where he presided over a Conference of the DC students in Poona where he emphasized the important point that much depended upon how the DC students performed their duties & discharged their responsibilities. 4/11/1927 BRA entertained at a party Mardy Jones, a Labor M.O. from U.K. who said he was pained to see the tragic dehumanizing condition of a people whose population exceeded the population of Scotland, Ireland & England.
As preparation for the Mahad struggle was coming to a head the issue of temple entry at Amraoti was coming to a head. After the trustees refused the DC entry into the temple a meeting was held at Amraoti, presided over by BRA & attended amongst others by K.B. Deshmukh, Deorao Naik and R.D. Kowly. In his address BRA said that the image of God in temple should be accessible to all who wanted to worship it, without any discrimination, binding & condition. He said that temples were meant for use by all Hindus, since they called themselves untouchable Hindus, they were entitled to entry into the temples to worship the deity. Said he ‘Hindutva belongs at much to the untouchables Hindus as to the touchable Hindus’. To the growth & glory of this Hindutva contribution has been made by untouchables like Valmiki, Brahmins like Vashishta, Kshatriyas like Krishna, Vaishyas like Harsha and Shudras like Tukaram. So all caste contributed to Hinduism, which is why temples should be opened to all.
3. Historic Mahad conference - The day of the proposed Conference at Mahad was drawing near. The District magistrate visited Mahad on 7/12 when leaders of both of the sides discussed the matter with him. He asked the caste Hindus to take recourse to law & refused to pass an order prohibiting the Untouchables from taking water from the Chowdar Chowk. The leaders of the orthodox section then filed a suit against BRA & other leaders of the DC in the Civil Court and asked for a temporary injunction. The Court issued a temporary injunction on 14/12 against BRA & others going to the Tank or taking water from it until further orders.
Meanwhile elaborate preparations for holding the Conference were made. Since no Hindu landlord allowed the use of his land for the pandal, a site for the conference was secured with great difficulty from a Muslim. BRA reached Mahad on 24/12/. BRA refused to call off the conference inspite of a request by the District Magistrate. It was agreed that BRA should be given a chance to address the conference. He said at the conference ‘At the outset let me tell those who oppose us that we did not perish because we could not drink water from this Tank. We now want to go the Tank only to prove that, like others, we are also human beings. This Conference has been called to inaugurate an era of equality in this land. Removal of untouchability & inter-caste dinners alone will not put an end to our ills. All departments of services such as courts, military, police & commerce should be thrown open to us. Concluding he said – Hindu society should be reorganized on two main principles – equality & absence of casteism’.
The first resolution passed was the declaration of human rights. It repudiated the authority of all ancient & modern Hindus scriptures that teemed with the doctrines of social inequality. Then came the major & bitter attack on the Hindu reactionaries. The Conference resolved that the Manusmriti, which decried the Shudras, stunted their growth & perpetuated their social, economic, religious & political slavery be publicly burnt. Although compiled over 1500 years ago, in different times, it is considered by the orthodox to be good, all pervading to this day. Yes those who ruthlessly applied the doctrines of the Manusmriti to the non-Brahmans contravened its laws themselves & still boasted of their superiority. The Brahmins are forbidden to trade in chemicals, perfumery, colored cloth etc yet they run cloth-shops, dairies, hotels etc. At 9 p.m. the Manusmriti was placed on a pyre, in front of the pandal & was burnt at the hands of the untouchable hermits. This explosive deed rocked all the pandits, Acharyas & Shankaracharyas. On 25/12/1927 BRA burnt the old one & demanded a new one in reorder to reshape the Hindu code governing the life of so vast a people.
The third resolution demanded that Hindu society be reduced to one class only and the fourth demanded that the present priestly profession be turned into a democratic institution, allowing everyone who desired to have an opportunity to become a priest. Next BRA urged his followers to observe discipline and stated that every satyagrahi would have go to court imprisonment in which case he must not tender an apology or beg for a release.
4. End of Mahad struggle - Meanwhile 20 workers were asked to register the names of delegates who were willing to join the satyagraha. Within an hour over 4,000 delegates registered their names for the struggle. Since twelve persons had filed a suit in the court that the Tank is a private property the District magistrate advised BRA to wait for the court decision or else they would be arrested like those who assaulted the DC’s earlier. A Maratha delegate Javalkar rose & read the declaration of the Marathas supporting the satyagraha. On the morning of 27/12 BRA rose to withdraw the first resolution & move another resolution instead, amidst breathless silence, asking the Conference to postpone the struggle. Said he ‘I feel we should not antagonize the government and put it on the side of our opposition.’
A wave of bitter disappointment swept over the Conference, and some of them in innermost recesses of their hearts even fluttered at the retreat of their leader. Yet there was no alternative then to obey their leader’s call. The delegates formed themselves into a procession, with boards & placards reached the Tank and took its round. The streets were deserted. Caste Hindus were in their homes. And so the procession returned peacefully without any mishap.
After the Conference attended BRA addressed a meeting of about 3,000 women of the DC, the first meeting of its kind in modern India. BRA spoke to them in a stirring manner. He said ‘never regard yourself as an untouchable. Live a clean life. Dress yourself like the touchable ladies. Attend more to the cultivation of the mind & the spirit of self-help. But do not feed your spouses/sons if they are drunkards. Send your children to schools’. To the surprise of all the women left early in the morning with a wonderful change in the fashion of their sarees as ordained by BRA.
5. Effect of Mahad conference – it had a far-reaching effect upon the Untouchables, gave a rude shock to the caste Hindus & exercised a tremendous influence upon the Government. DC’s realized that it was now possible for them to organize a conference, to challenge the injustice they were smarting under, they were not alone but had brothers in other districts who were ready to help in times of danger. The Govt now realized that these people were of some consequence & so it began to pay attention to their grievances. BRA’s name spread far & wide. His leadership of the DC was now an almost accepted fact. Mahad proved BRA to be a statesman as well as a savant, a man of study & action.
The bonfire of Manusmriti calls for some comment. BRA himself revealed afterwards that it was not made for the sake of mere hatred. Said BRA in 1938, ‘The bonfire of Manusmriti was quite intentional. It was a very cautious & drastic step, but was taken with a view to forcing the attention of caste Hindus. It is not that all parts of the Manusmriti are condemnable, that it does not contain good principles and that Manu himself was not a sociologist and was a mere fool. We made a bonfire of it because we view it as a symbol of injustice under which we have been crushed for centuries’.
Savarkar & BRA compared. This is a parallel with the first bonfire in India, which Savarkar made of the foreign clothes in 1906 as a symbol of foreign rule and exploitation of people in whom discontent was growing. The object & effect of BRA’s deed too was, to show discontent in & hatred of slavery. It is interesting to note the attitude of these two giants towards Hindu scriptures. Both were rationalists, social revolutionaries but had a slight difference in their approach towards ancient scriptures.
The bonfire of Manusmriti put the hair up of almost all the Hindu reformers on its end. The social reformers recoiled with horror of Savarkar’s caustic attack upon their beliefs, holy works and scriptures, and his caustic essay on the cow wherein he enjoined upon the Hindus to eat even beef in a state of national emergency! But Savarkar differed from BRA in his attack on Hindu scriptures. In his rational approach Savarkar appealed to the Hindus to test all their ancient works on the touchstone of Science & to follow fearlessly what contributed to the good the nation. Naturally he was not prepared to apply the code of Manu to the DC & Hindu women.
BRA was the symbol of a suppressed people who suffered through the ages while Savarkar’s whose forefathers never felt a pinch of the caste system, swept outworn scriptures into a corner as historical & cultural monuments. What BRA did to these scriptures, Savarkar would have done with equal violence and what Savarkar wrote BRA would have asserted with equal force had they been born in the opposite communities.
After the conclusion of the Conference BRA & his party went to see close by the excavations supposed to have dated from Buddha’s times. Moved at the sight of those figures, he described how the disciples of Buddha in those times remained bachelors, embraced poverty & served society selflessly. The party then set out to Raigarh Fort, Shivaji’s capital & place of coronation. Anticipitating an attack by the caste Hindus BRA’s supporters gathered at the foot of the fort. BRA was moved at the sight of the place, which was once a stirring & living center of Hindustan. ‘Friends pictures of Raigarh are on the site, section Maharashtra. It is a great place, worth a visit’.