Dalits at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra, India on Jan 1st 2018 who are for the bicentennial celebrations of the battle of Bhima Koregaon – 1818 in which the Company, the British, forces predominantly composed of the Mahars,the so-called untouchables , defeated the Peshwas, the Brahmin rulers, are attacked by the right-wing hooligans.
Dr. Ambedkar symbolized the battle of Koregaon as battle against the caste oppression by paying a visit to the victory pillar on 109th celebration on Jan 1st 1927. Meanwhile Dr. Ambedkar never symbolize this victory as a harbinger of the British’s effort to put an end to caste oppression. In fact Dr. Ambedkar lambasted the British grossly insensitive to the caste question in general and untouchability in particular on it’s governance policies.
Dr. Ambedkar’s The Untouchables and Pax Britannica is a worthy source not only to understand his position on the attitude of the British on caste question but also to draw a greater lesson for the present generation Ambedkarites to learn the attitude of the ruling class , ie Brahminic & Capitalistic, on the same.
Often the Dalits and the backward castes overrated the British government for their
upliftment viz the British opened the schools for them, the British opened the public services et al. It’s a myth ! The British has strongly followed policy of non-intervention on caste and Indian social system. Dr. Ambedkar criticized this non-intervention as ‘so far as the Untouchables were concerned, mistaken in its conception and disastrous in its consequences.’ Dr. Ambedkar’s position on the state and the government is that when necessary the government has to take a strong a position in the interest of the overall progress of the society rather elude from it’s responsibility. He calls the British as ‘not a responsible view’ and ‘A Government which is afraid to govern is not a Government.’ The British never cared to formulate any policy to make the so-called lower castes to feel respect for themselves nor have policies to punish those who disrespect them.
There is another myth that it’s the British government which opened the schools for all castes. It’s true that the British government introduced the public education and public schools but it’s not made such schools open to all castes. The British has introduced the system of public education in 1813 and there is no school for the so-called Untouchables till 1855, even after 1855 there no significant enrollment in such schools. In 1850, 12,712 pupil received public education in the following proportion in Bombay province and non are so called lower caste.
The British confined the right of education to the upper classes, so interestingly they
gave more preference to the Brahmins among other so-called upper castes. The British was willing to educate the Brahmins since they are the most influential caste in India despite they are economically poor.
When the British was willing to educate the poor Brahmins why they were not interested
to educate the poor so-called lower castes ? It’s simple the British is not ready to risk the disgust amongst the Hindus as Dr. Ambedkar puts, ‘The British were not to risk to excite into disgust amongst the Hindus by opening the education to all castes!’
Following the court of direction in 1854-5, the British government decided to open the schools for all the caste. Unfortunately it exists only in theory as evident from the Hunter Commission Report 1882, ie after 28 years.
At the end of 1881-82, percentage of so-called low caste Hindus to the over all students in each category is 0.87% in the primary school , 0.14% in the middle and 0% in high school and NIL in college !
Followed by the Hunter Commission report the British government decide to open separate schools for the depressed classes and grating some aids to the missionaries. Still it’s not addressed the problem as evident from the report of the Director of Public Instruction Bombay 1923-24
Christian Missionary Education and attitude of the British towards them
Christian missionaries arrived in India much before the Company. The first among them is Francis Xavier who arrived in 1524 and established the first christian college in Goa, India. Subsequently many arrived and started school and hospitals with an open aim to convert the Indians into Christianity. Such missionaries are from different nationalities. It’s not forced conversion. Everyone enjoyed the services provided by the missionaries not necessarily to embrace christianity. Number of missionary schools steadily raised since the beginning of 1700s.
Theoretically missionary schools are open to all castes but only so called upper castes gained admission. This is the situation even till 1840s. Missionary schools did not give any preferential treatment to the so-called lower caste pupil but they didn’t deny admission to such boys but it’s the strong social stigma practiced by the so-called upper caste made it’s difficult for the missionaries to admit so-called lower caste student into such schools. There is an interesting incident took place in 1844. In 1844, 3 Pariah students, one of the so-called untouchable castes from the Madras presidency, disguised themselves as Brahmins gained admission into a missionary school. When their caste is revealed after some period the Brahmin students protested and demanded their expulsion. At once 100 Brahmin school left the school as mark of the protest. Mr.Anderson who was the head of the school determined not to expel the so-called untouchables. Later the 100 Brahmin boys joined back the school.
On the one hand the British government showed no interested to admit the so-called lower castes and on the other hand missionary school despite interest didn’t have
enough resources to operate more schools. The British is even not ready to give grants-in-aid to such missionary school siting ‘religious neutrality’’ as a reason which was strongly criticized by the missionaries.
The British who recruited the so-called untouchables for 150 years ceased to recruit them in 1890. After Indian Rebellion of 1857 Indian rulers are eliminated without any hope to raise again and the caste Hindus shown more interest to join the British army which is already filled with the so-called untouchables and the British took decision in favour of the caste Hindus and betrayed the so-called untouchables. It’s the Dusads , the so-called untouchables, of 1st Bengal Native Infantry fought with Robert Clive against the Moghal and the French at the battle of Plassey in 1757 and it’s Mahars of Maharashtra fought with the Company against the Peshwas in 1818.
The important lesson that we’ve to draw from Dr. Ambedkar is that the ruling classes would always adjust their relative position and it prefers convenience rather justice.
The Dalits and the backward castes who failed to understand the class character of the ruling classes in adjusting their relative position towards different groups may help to strengthen the neo Peshwas rather over throwing them.
Footnotes and References :
Pax Britannica is referred as peace period in which the British raised as a global power without resistance followed by the defeat of France. It is the period last between 1815 and 1914.
BR Ambedkar : The Untouchables and Pax Britannica
BR Ambedkar Vol 5: Caste and Conversion, Christianising the Untouchables and The condition of the convert.
Missionary Education in India by Rev. Henry Huizinga
S Karthikeyan, Santa Clara, California.
( Disclaimer : The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The opinions appearing in the AKSC blog do not reflect the views of AKSC. The aim of AKSC blog is to promote debates by inviting diverse views on challenging oppressions and discriminations based on class, race, caste, gender and religion et al.)