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On the Participation of Women: A Reading of Ambedkar's “The Mahad Satyagraha”

Ayesha Sultana


“The Mahad Satyagraha’ is a short text included in Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches Vol. 17 first published by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India in 1979. It speaks about the non-violent movement of the lower caste Hindus, led by Ambedkar, to allow them to drink water out of the Chavadar tank at Mahad.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar always made efforts to maintain a balance between thoughts and actions. During the time of the Indian women’s movement, Ambedkar provided a powerful source of inspiration to supervise a feminist political agenda which also addressed the issues of class, caste, and gender. In two of his books named the “Women and Counter-Revolution” and “The Riddle of Women” Ambedkar portrayed the ways in which Manu treated women. Ambedkar was eager to involve Dalit women in all of the struggles he commenced. He was very well conscious of the fact that unless women take part in social movements, the desired change could not be prolonged. Many Dalit women participated in Mahad Satyagraha, Poona Pact Satyagraha, and other contexts. Ambedkar’s speeches, especially at the time of Mahad Satyagraha caused a drastic change in their lives. The social struggles thrown forward by Ambedkar were directed at counteracting the unequal treatment acted upon the untouchables by the caste Hindus. The main objective of this paper is to assess Ambedkar’s teachings during the Mahad Satyagraha focusing on the rights of women and inspect its impact on Dalit women, social and cultural life. This aims on Dr. Ambedkar’s speech to inspire Dalit women about their deserved social and cultural rights.

Mahad is located in Raigad district of Maharashtra. The town located on the bank of river Savitri has a Buddhist historical site. In August 1923, the Bombay Legislative Council passed a resolution stating that people hailing from different classes should be allowed to use places built and maintained by Government. In January 1924, Mahad, which was part of the Bombay Presidency, passed the resolution in its Municipal Council to impose the act. But it failed to administer due to the protest from the caste Hindus. Bashikit Hitakarini Sabha arranged a conference on 19-20 March 1927 in Mahad, where more than a thousand people assembled. At the end of the conference, they stormed into the main tank of the town and they drank water from the tank. The Mahad Satyagraha for the right to water conducted by Dr. Ambedkar was one of the outstanding struggles of the untouchables to gain equal social rights. Ambedkar did not believe in Satyagrahas, but it was one of the ways to inculcate the minds of the caste Hindus. He stated that: “It is not that you can solve your problems by Satyagraha. This is only a request to the upper-class Hindu mind. This movement is going to prove whether the Hindu mind treats human beings like human beings or not. This Satyagraha is going to change the hearts of Hindus. The movement will decide whether Hindu mind regards humanity in the new age”. At Mahad, a conference of the untouchables on March 19 and 20, 1927 was attended by about 10,000 delegates. In his presidential house, Ambedkar addressed the meeting with these words: “ lasting progress can be achieved unless we put ourselves through a three-fold process of purification. We must improve the general tone of our demeanour, retune our pronunciations and revitalize our thoughts. I therefore ask you now to take a vow from this moment to renounce eating carrion. It is high time that we rooted out from our minds the ideas of highness and lowness among ourselves. Make an unflinching resolve not to eat the thrown out crumbs. We will attain self-elevation only if we learn self- help regain our self-respect and gain self-knowledge. There will be no difference between parents and animals if they will not desire to see their children in a better position than their own position”. After the conference, the delegates marched in a procession to the Chowdar tank to avow their right to drink and take water. The caste Hindus acquired the pandal of the conference and rebuked the delegates. Thus ended the first public attempt to assert their rights. Mahad turbulence started in 1927, but the untouchables got permission for the tank only in 1937 through a court order. An elongated prosecution about the use of the tank’s water took place and Ambedkar won the case in Bombay High Court in 1937. The people of the high castes had managed a court order to interdict the entry of “untouchables” into the tank on the grounds since it was a private tank. But Ambedkar struggled through the courts and got justice in 1937, almost after 10 years. In those days it was very difficult to convince women to take part in the movement. Realising the pitiable condition of the women, he initiated to implant confidence among them in their march towards the right to be human and then equal human along with their men.

Women participation was quite essential in the second Satyagraha at Mahad. Ambedkar’s some of the untouchable colleagues such as Gaikwad, Amrutrao Rankhamble, P.N.Rajbhoj, Shivtarkar, and R.B.More, together with his Hindu supporters, Anantrao Chitre, Bhai Chitre, Surendra Tipnis, Bapu Sahasrabuddhe and thousands of untouchable persons gathered, as decided in Mahad on 25th December 1927. Women were present among them in large numbers. In response to the call by the district collector that the untouchables should not visit the Chowdar tank and touch the water. While the case regarding whether the tank was public or private was perceived in court, some of the activists declared in their speeches that they resolved to endeavour a Satyagraha. A girl named Shantabai was amongst the people who opened up. At Mahad, a Satyagraha conference was again reckoned on December 25, 1927. About 3000 Satyagrahis were prepared, but the District Magistrate requested Ambedkar to postpone the struggle. In that conference, a resolution was taken to burn the Manusmriti, which according to Ambedkar, conserved the social, economic, religious, and political slavery of the untouchables. The Manusmriti was burnt on December 25, 1927. The day after the burning of the Manusmriti, a huge procession of Satyagrahis marched around the lake and back to the assembly hall. Scores of women participated in this procession together with men. Some women came in the afternoon to get a glimpse of Ambedkar. At night Ambedkar delivered a speech addressing the women, which proved to be a revolutionary event in their lives.

Ambedkar wanted women to be confident, displaying themselves with pride in visible signs. He endeavoured to make them understand that they are as important as others. So living respectfully, even with their meagre earnings is to become a human being. He then evoked them to control their houses and train their husbands to be more disciplined. The speech that Ambedkar had given previously about women brought about a radical change in women. His speech proved to be prodigious and unique and every sentence stated by him became the basis for the work of untouchable women activists. The speech remarkably affected the women. The untouchable women of the Konkan region, especially those from Thane, and Colaba districts, started wearing their sarees to disclose and expose themselves in a broader perspective. This would make it visible to everyone to know their caste. Getting motivated from Ambedkar’s speech, the women who turned up for the conference the next day, appeared in their nine-yard sarees draped around their ankles like Brahmin women. Mrs. Chitre and Mrs. Tipnis helped them with this. Ambedkar was astonished to see their loyalty, and he gave them each eight Annas to buy themselves blouses and bangles. His speech also had an impact on the men. They removed the rings and sticks from their ears and gave up eating the meat of carcasses. They stopped begging for a nibble of food as it was part of right of Watan. Some of them even resigned from their jobs as sweepers in the municipality. The credit for this victory was as much as of the united strength and endurance of the untouchable men and women as to Ambedkar’s vigorous leadership. The Mahad struggle had an extensive effect upon the untouchables. Women’s organisations were established and women could speak up with vivacity at meetings and conferences. They went on processions and became more involved in the movement and its struggles. Dr. Ambedkar’s liberal views on women became the driving force behind the transformation of the untouchable women. They were ready to even face prison, holding their babies in their arms. With the awareness that they must fight themselves against the injustice acted upon them and for their rights, women began to organise meetings, conferences etc. Ambedkar’s speeches and thoughts have had a great and strong impact on women in those days. The people who got influenced by the teachings and activities of Dr. Ambedkar launched different social reformative activities. Throughout his lifetime, Ambedkar endeavoured to bring women into public life in a new role, as builders of a democratic society.

According to me, this text is really important to be read as it beholds lots of inner meanings which can be impressive, impactful, and helpful for changing people’s mentality in our modern society. Ambedkar’s speeches are motivating for the Dalit or untouchable women for the transformation of a better version of themselves. It creates a strong effect on women and men as well which leads to the empowerment of women even more. I think many of the Dalit women should get inspired by this and think themselves to be an important part of the society. They should realize that they are no less, and they can be strong enough to protest and take a stand for themselves. The women should show remarkably that even their decision matters and they should also get the social, cultural, and political rights equally.

Works Cited

Ambedkar, Dr. B. R. "The Mahad Satyagraha." Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, 2014, pp. 3-50.

Gore, Madhav Sadashiv. The Social Context of an Ideology: Ambedkar's Political and Social Thought, Sage Publications, 1993.

Keer, Dhananjay. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Life and Mission, Popular Prakashan, 1954.

Kuber, W. N. Ambedkar: A Critical Study, South Asia Books, 1992.

Pawar, Urmila and Meenakshi Moon. We Also Made History – Women in the Ambedkarite Movement, Zubaan Books, 2014.

Author Information

Ayesha Sultana studies English literature at Presidency University, Kolkata.



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