Dalit Groups Launch Parliament Campaign to End Untouchability by 2047
‘This is a program that does not demand any welfare scheme from the government’
Launching a fresh campaign against continuing inequality, Dalits across India have thrown the gauntlet before the Government of India to end untouchability by 2047 marking the centenary of India’s independence.
The 1111 campaign (1 Country 1 Nation; Please repeat, 1 Country 1 Nation) takes a leaf from that launched in 2012 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his avatar as Gujarat Chief Minister when he sought donations of iron in the form of tools and implements for the construction of freedom fighter and Congress minister Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity in Kevadia.
In similar manner Dalit activists along with progressive civil society members have launched an initiative to collect brass articles and utensils from families across the country. The campaign was initiated by Navsarjan, an organisation based in Gujarat, on March 20 to mark the famous Mahad Satyagraha launched to combat untouchability in 1927 by Bhimrao Ranji Ambedkar.
The brass is to be minted into a massive coin with the question engraved, ‘WILL THE 1947 DREAM OF UNTOUCHABILITY-FREE INDIA BE A REALITY IN 2047?’ beside images of the Mahad Satyagraha led by Dr Ambedkar.
Chaturbhai Parmar of Navsarjan told The Citizen that “the coin will be donated to all the Members of Parliament, to lay the same in the foundation of the new Parliament building coming up in Delhi, to remind ourselves of an unfinished promise to abolish untouchability.”
He said that at least one crore people are also contributing a one-rupee coin for the new Parliament building. “After all, Parliament is the only political and moral temple of all Indians, mandated to protect the rights of all its citizens as enshrined in India’s Constitution,” he added.
The massive coin and donation will be presented to MPs on August 15 next year, marking 75 years of independence.
Activists said that an ordinary person too builds their own house once in a lifetime. It is a tradition to lay a coin in the foundation of every house that one builds, as a dream that the house will bring peace and prosperity to all who live within.
The laying of the coin has a history.
In his appeal for the campaign, eminent Dalit activist Martin Macwan recalls the story of Megh Maya. In Gujarat in the times of Siddhrajsinh Solanki, the king had a mammoth pond dug to ensure water for his people. The pond was ready but there was famine for seven years.
The patriarchal legend says this was the result of divine wrath, as the king had laid a lustful eye on a married woman working at the pond, who killed herself to protect her honour instead of submitting herself to the most powerful man.
The royal astrologer found a remedy without naming the cause of the disaster. “If only we sacrifice a perfect person who embodies all 32 qualities, water will flow out of mother earth,” he declared.
The search for the perfect person with all 32 qualities ended in a young unmarried man, Megh Mahya, who lived on the kingdom’s outskirts. He was brought before the king and told he had no choice but to sacrifice himself for the good of all.
Megh Maya demanded a promise in return: “Declare my community free of untouchability.” The promise was made, and with the blood from his body falling on the Earth, water filled the pond.
The tale finds depiction in the famous film Bhav Ni Bhavai.
Macwan claimed the Gujarat government had allocated Rs.3 crore in 2018 to develop a Megh Mahya memorial.
While the story “may be considered a legend, it is a historical fact that in many palatial homes, for their safety, the Dalits were buried in their foundation. This finds mention in an essay published in ‘Gyanoday’ (1955) written by Mukta Salve who was one of the eight girls who attended the first ever Dalit girls’ school in 1847 founded by Savitri and Jyotiba Phule.
“So, even today in memory of Megh Mahya, every new house constructed is laid with a coin in the foundation, symbol of a dream of peace and prosperity for all its dwellers. We need to lay a coin in the foundation of the upcoming Parliament House to ensure that it can truly build India as a democratic nation, free of untouchability,” reads Macwan’s appeal.
“This is a program that does not demand any welfare scheme from the government. There are no rallies, no sit-in programs, no slogans and no call for Bharat Bandh. Neither are there any abuses showered on anyone. This is a program to strengthen and unify the nation.”
In his appeal Macwan raises important aspects of the casteism prevalent in Indian society that continues to manifest violently in several places.
“Should we be content with the fact that Dr. Ambedkar has been posthumously awarded the ‘Bharat Ratna’ and that his portrait is hung on the wall of the Parliament? In fact what Dr. Ambedkar desired was the annihilation of caste, and least his glorification.
“Has Dr. Ambedkar’s dream been fulfilled? How long are we going to continue to live with the untouchability? Do the new born babies in India have to carry the blot of untouchability on their identity? In the presence of untouchability, our great country fails to rise as a single, undivided nation. Hence the cry of Bhim, the Bhim Rudan (wailing) is heard in our streets, only if we can lend our ears to listen,” the appeal says.
Macwan recalls how in 1947, India promised itself a dream. “We shall build a nation on the earth, free of untouchability to respect the call of almighty mother nature that all living beings are equal. While India became an independent country, the task of nation building lay ahead.
“Dr. Ambedkar as the head of the drafting committee articulated this dream in India’s Constitution which promised equality as a fundamental right to all its citizens. Our dream of building an untouchability free nation has turned more than 70 years old. Yet, the wide and deep crack of untouchability on the face of the largest democracy continues to appear.
“So, in 2020, we decided to promise ourselves a new monument of the Parliament. It is not an ordinary house, nor does it reflect the dream of an individual or the few who possess plenty of gold. Parliament is a house of law and political morality which is owned by every citizen of India. The new house of Parliament therefore is relevant only if it can fulfill the dream of building an untouchability free nation,” Macwan’s appeal underlines.
He stressed that India can become a strong, unified nation only when it protects the rights of every citizen.