Monday, Jun 27, 2022
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A Part That Parted

Gandhi and Ambedkar feuded over how they saw untouchability, one as just a sin of Hinduism, the other as the denial of rights to an oppressed people

A Part That Parted
A Part That Parted A Part That Parted

The confrontation between Ambedkar and Gandhi was a historic one. It had its beginnings in the Round Table Conferences of 1930-32. Ambedkar had gone for the first, as the prime representative of Dalits, or Untouchables. But when Gandhi finally decided to attend the second conference, he argued fervently that he represented the Untouchables, because they were an integral part of the Hindu fold—which he represented. To Ambedkar, the Untouchables were not a part of the Hindus but “a part apart” (a phrase he had once applied to himself), a uniquely oppressed people. They could accept, even welcome, the coming of independence and its inevitable domination by the Congress (i.e. by caste Hindus), but they needed “safeguards”.

Ambedkar had originally felt that with universal suffrage, reserved seats would be sufficient. But universal suffrage was not given, and the issues at the conference revolved around separate electorates. Gandhi was reconciled to giving this to Muslims; he had already accepted their identity as a separate community. Not so for Dalits. When the Ramsay MacDonald Award gave separate electorates to Dalits, he protested with a fast unto death. And this brought him into direct confrontation with Ambedkar.

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