Staff Reporter (The Hindu, September 27, 2010)


MADURAI: Dalit movements and major political parties in the State are deviating from highlighting the issues affecting Dalits and have largely failed to represent them on many major issues in the recent past, said Dalit Gnanasekaran, founder, Dalit Liberation Movement.




Delivering a special address on a discussion titled ‘Remembering Poona Pact,’ and a book release event at Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary on Friday, he talked about his experience as a Dalit activist in Madurai and southern districts during the mid 80’s and early 90’s before relocating himself to the northern districts.


Free chappals


In his speech, he talked about his experiences working among the Dalits during the 1989 Uthapuram riots where they organised close to 46 walkathons and protests demanding justice for Dalits.


He reminded how much difficult it was during those days to create an awareness and he cited one incident during the late Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran’s period who introduced a scheme and provided ‘free chappals’ to poor and how many Dalits in the rural villages got those chappals but were never able to wear them.


However, after many protests in a lot of villages the Dalits finally were able to wear chappals provided by the State.


Earlier in the event, he released a book titled ‘Poarali Enum Adhikaaram’ which talks about arguments and debates on Uthapuram Wall Issue from a Dalit perspective.


One of the essayists, Stalin Rajangam in his speech talked about the dearth of substantial works in Tamil on Poona Pact and stated that Dalits of Madras Presidency were actively involved during the colonial period (prior to Round Table Conference) by making major interventions through sending telegrams and letters to the British Government on the status of the depressed classes in the country demanding adequate representation.


The first major work on Poona Pact was published by Ambedkar Study Circle in Chennai in the year 1965; the book was authored by Anbu Ponoviyam and in the early 90’s Dalit writer Ravikumar came out with a work highlighting the need for separate electorates.


J.Balasubramanian of Dalit Intellectual Circle said that Poona Pact remains as an important event in the history of Dalit movements as it was the first major event where Gandhi’s status as leader of the masses and Mahatma came into question.


Jaganathan said that the Dalit parties have become non-functional, many Dalits were murdered recently in the southern districts and Dalit officials targeted but no major Dalit party organised protests or condemned.


The Second Round Table Conference in 1931 saw Dr. Ambedkar emphasising the need for political power and Gandhi insisting upon protective measures as it would divide the Hindus.


The conference ended with the then British Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald announcing the Communal Award on 17th August 1932.


The depressed classes were granted separate seats in the Provincial Assemblies and the right of double vote under which they were to elect their own representatives and to vote also in the general constituencies.


This arrangement was to be for 20 years.


However, on September 20, 1932, Gandhi undertook a fast unto death in protest.


Poona Pact


The Poona Pact was signed by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the principal signatory on behalf of the caste-Hindus and Ambedkar on behalf of the depressed classes on 24 September 1932.

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