The anniversary of the Poona Pact of 1932, signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, falls on September 24. Much water has flown in the Ganges in the last 80 years since the Poona Pact was signed but the condition and the fare of the dalits in India did not change much for the better, in spite of legal and constitutional provisions made even in the constitution of India. The much needed empowerment of dalits remains an issue even after 65 years of independence. Let us analyze the subsequent developments, after the Poona Pact, which have directly or indirectly affected the empowerment of dalits which was the sole purpose of the Pact.
It is known history that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s intense struggle against the British rulers and the Indian society and its leaders resulted in recognizing for the first time the political rights of dalits in the Communal Award of 1932 given by PM Ramsay MacDonald after the debates and decisions of the Round Table Conferences. Like other communities, dalits were also given separate electorates to send their representatives to the central and provincial assemblies. With this the political and social identity of the dalits got established. The Hindu society and its leaders led by Mahatma Gandhi were dead against this happening. The manuwadi mindset was at work. They were not interested in the empowerment of the dalits but wanted to keep the dalit community in their fold to serve them as dictated in the scriptures. The ‘oligarchy of the high castes’, as somebody has said, was the riding consideration of the society rather than addressing the problems of caste and untouchability. Mahatma Gandhi termed the Communal Award 0f Ramsay MacDonald as “injection of a poison is calculated to destroy Hinduism and do no good whatever”. . Gandhi strongly opposed the communal award on the grounds that it would disintegrate Hindu society. He began an indefinite hunger strike from September 20, 1932 to protest this award. In view of the mass upsurge generated in the country to save the life of Gandhi, and appeals of orthodox Hindu leaders, Congress politicians and activist, fearing a communal reprisal and genocide of untouchables, Dr. Ambedkar was compelled to soften his stand. He agreed to joint electorates under massive coercion from the supporters of Mahatma Gandhi. As a result of the agreement, A compromise between the leaders of caste Hindu and the depressed classes was reached on September 24, 1932, popularly known as the Poona Pact signed in the Yerwada Jail where Mahatma Gandhi was on hunger strike. The resolution announced in a public meeting on September 25 in Bombay confirmed -" henceforth, amongst Hindus no one shall be regarded as an untouchable by reason of his birth and they will have the same rights in all the social institutions as the other Hindus have". This landmark resolution in the history of the Dalit movement in India subsequently formed the basis for giving due share to Dalits in the political empowerment of Indian people in a democratic Indian polity.
But it was not to be. Ambedkar and his followers were soon disillusioned. The provisions of separate electorate as envisaged by the communal award were enough to establish political and social identity of the dalits. The opportunity was cleverly denied by the Poona Pact. Ambedkar was disappointed and he made his disenchantment known to Mahatma Gandhi in his letter dated February 11, 1933 bluntly refusing to give a message for the inaugural issue of the Harijan“. . . I feel I cannot give a message. For I believe it will be a most unwarranted presumption on my part to suppose that I have sufficient worth in the eyes of the Hindus which would make them treat any message from me with respect . . . I am therefore sending you the accompanying statement for publication in your Harijan.”
“The Out-caste is a bye-product of the Caste system. There will be outcastes As long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the Out-castes except the destruction of the Caste system. Nothing can help save Hindus and ensure their survival in the coming struggle except the purging of the Hindu faith of this odious and vicious dogma.”
Dalits continue to suffer from this disability of having an identity till today. Babu Manguram Mugowalia and his associates tried their best through the Ad-Dharam Movement to establish dalit identity by stating and pleading that dalits were neither Sikhs nor Hindus. Subsequently Babu Kanshi Ram also rose and disapproved the Poona Pact. He wrote in Preface of his book the Chamcha Age that Chamcha age started from the Poona Pact giving joint electorates instead of separate electorates. The purpose of book was to make Dalit Soshit Samaj of the existence of Chamchas or stooges, and to awaken masses how to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit leadership. The reservation issue is still alive as the dalits could not be empowered as desired. Moreover, the thinking of Mahtma Gandhi in saving the Hinduism has fallen flat otherwise also. Sikhs have asserted their separate identity independent of Hinduism. The Poona Pact it seems was an act of treachery and fraud on the dalits. The point is not to blame Dr. Ambedkar as he had no other option as he was a nationalist to the core. He did not want to create friction with the majority Hindus on one hand and stand against the national movement of independence against the British on the other.
मस्जिद तो बना दी सब भर में; इमां की हरारत वालों ने,
मन अपना पुराना पापी है; बरसों से नमाज़ी बन न सका !
इकबाल बड़ा उपदेशक है; मन बैटन से मोह लेता है,
गुफ्तार का तो यह गाजी बना; किरदार का गाजी बन न सका!