Backward Classes and Dalit Movements in India (Summary)

backward classes and dalit movements
                   Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal

Historically speaking, India is of those countries where there is a maximum number of downtrodden sections. The idea of education especially western education was made compulsory for superior classes only. Moreover, lower castes were detached from every cultural and religious activity. M.N. Srinivas described that more Sanskritization was not adequate for the lower classes. Therefore, backward class movements were obvious to break where only one caste, i.e., Brahmins was enjoying everything.

Due to the diverse count of backward classes, it is very difficult to define them. Scholars like M S A Rao differentiate them into 3 categories. Landed class backward classes, non – landed service class and Untouchables. These are generally below upper castes and above schedules castes. According to the Kaka Kalekar Commission of 1952, there are more than 3000 backward classes which form 52% of the Indian population.

The movements were triggered by numerous factors like British policies, improper land distribution, and growth of western education, the extension of the railway network and all over the popularity of modern politics. These led poor people to realize the extent of using hard power and soft power against them. M S A Rao classified such movements into three big categories which are Brahmins vs others, Brahmins vs lower nor – Brahmins and Dalit vs all others.


This term was given by various scholars. These people come under the category of scheduled caste according to the Indian constitution. These are exploited economically, socially and politically. This is the most vulnerable and exploited section of society for their whole life. Dalits believe in humanism. Before independence, they were grouped with backward caste movements but after independence, they recognized themselves as another distinct identity. Several Dalit movements are linked with backward class movements and peasant movements. There are many root causes for Dalit movements like Brahmanism,  Dalits treated like animals, the situation of Dalit women and so on.

Some backward class movements are:

  1. Satya Shodhak Samaj:

    Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was known for his struggles to uplift lower castes. This society was established by him in 1873 He belonged to a Mali caste; he faced exploitation and humiliation. These circumstances led him to turn against caste inequalities. He criticized Brahmins and the congress party due to its ignorant attitude towards weaker sections. The main aim was to free Shudras and Ati Shudras from suppression. This movement condemned Brahmins for being mediators between God and his followers. Phule believed that no one can become an intermediary in religious matters. He wanted the representation of all classes in local bodies and services. The movement emphasized education for a social change and revolution. For the same, he opened many educational institutions. He was also elected as a member of the Poona Municipal Committee in 1876 and honored with the title of ‘Mahatma’ in 1888. The efforts led to the scope of reservation for underprivileged and weaker sections in the Constitution.

  2. Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam Movement:

    The SN is also an important pre-independence movement. It was founded in Kerala in 1903 under the leadership of Shri Narayana Guru. He faced humiliation in various forms because he belonged to a backward Ezhava caste. The caste constitutes 26% of the total Kerala’s population. The problem of traditional caste hierarchy was prevailing and people suffered from many humiliating causes. It was against the conflict between depressed class and upper-class people. Moreover, the common thing here also was suppression caused by the Brahmins. He took a motive called ‘SNDP Yogam’. Several issues like government employment, biased temple entry, education, political representation, etc. were taken out under this act. The movement brought transformations in social positions and helped in bringing social mobility. He studied many religious and marital rituals and simplified them. Wrapping up his every beneficial step he gave one slogan “one religion, one caste, and one God for mankind”.

  3. Justice Party:

    There was a lack of representation of non – Brahmins. India was fighting against the colonial rule but on another side, a real fight continued for the liberation of weaker sections. In the Madras presidency, they were left illiterate and not allowed in various public places. The political scenario was dominating with no job security for backward class masses. In 1916, nearly 30 essential non-Brahmin leaders took a stand and formed South Indian Liberation Federation (SILF) which was popularly famous as Justice Party. It released a very crucial document as non-Brahmins manifesto in December 1916 that later formed the basis for Dravidian Movement. Tamil Nadu gained many advantageous results from the Justice Party and shaped its social and political justice. Moreover, the party was not male dominating because it played a vital role in promoting women to contest elections. It paved a way for Muthulakshmi Reddy to designate as a first woman legislator. Nair claimed that this movement also affected north India. The party formed a new faith among people about political scenes.

  4. The Self respect movement:

    Comparatively, South India faced more violent movements than north India. The position of Brahmins in southern parts was discriminatory and high. Organizations like Arya Samaj in North India helped these areas to be united and equal to a great limit. The self-respect movement broke out in 1925 by Ramasamy Niacker. It was started to uplift Dravidian people, expose Brahmins tyranny and those ways through which high-class people were controlling every authority. This movement holds the ideas of equal human rights. He wanted to advocate a separate Dravida Nation. He also backed the creation of Pakistan because this might help in creating a Dravida nation. The basic dogma for this separatist idea was that the lower classes and non – Brahmins were facing a lot of heinous issues. It would help them to get rid of these difficulties. He wanted that nation as an egalitarian society. His principal motive was to remove every religious motto which justifies ill practices and evils. His ideas were violent and he urged every non – Brahmin to boycott Brahmin ceremonies. Then this Dravidian movement later involved in politics and formed DMK that was supported by backward and Dalits of Tamil Nadu.

The Dalit movements also took various forms. Some of the important phases are:

  1. The phase of the republic party of India and the Mahar Movement:

    Mahar is an untouchable caste that was very downtrodden and passive in Maharashtra. Their villages are on the outskirts of Maharashtra and they constitute 9% of the population. The movement gave a very clear picture of their situation. GB Walangkar was first to fight for their sake. He used media to show their grievances. He strongly critiqued and denounced the idea of religion and caste to validate certain wrong practices. The formation of All India Scheduled Caste Federation was another landmark in the history of Dalit mobilization. After this, the Republican Party was formed in 1957. The party stood for the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the Dalits. It became famous in UP and Maharashtra. Till this time, the Mahar movement was already triggered. All these situations helped in forming an anti – Brahminical ideology and advocated the total rejection of caste.

  2. The phase of Dalit Panthers:

    It is a group formed in 1972 in Maharashtra. This organization was influenced by several Marxist ideas therefore the agendas are revolutionary. The initial ways were violent. The name was taken from the Black Panther movements in the USA. After a certain period, devices like literature, debates, discussions were being used to show rage and anger against the Hindu caste system. It helped in creating a new turn in the politics of Maharashtra. It is very crucial in the history of Dalit movements. It also created situations to bring renaissance in Marathi literature.

  3. The phase of Bahujan Samaj Party:

    The BSP is a major national political party with its social agendas. It was formed to represent people from vulnerable sections like scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes. It was formed by a Dalit leader Kanshi Ram in 1984 and inspired by the philosophy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. After various Dalit movements in other parts of the country, the movement in Uttar Pradesh came in a political form. The arrival of BSP was its illustration. It began as a Dalit party but later it included other castes and religions also.

  4. New socio-religious movements:

    There was a wave of new socio-religious movements in India during the 1970s. these movements helped in bringing secular balance. However, these didn’t only stick to Dalit people but open to other castes and communities also. The organizations like Radha Swami Satsang movement, Dera Sacha Sauda were formed as a result. Dalit people are still supporting these organizations.


Movements are of utmost importance in shaping the conditions of society. In all the given movements, the common factor that remained highlighted was the discrimination against the weaker. The powerful tools were religion, political agendas, education and so on. Even today caste discrimination prevails. Provisions like affirmative actions are not able to reconstruct the Indian civil society. These backward class and Dalit movements helped a lot in reshaping the position of vulnerable sections. These movements gave us many prominent leaders, political parties and a new way of thinking.

Share on:

A drop of ink may make millions think. With this spirit, I chose to write for my passion. I am a student studying BA Programme at Miranda House, DU. My core areas are Economics and Political Science. My interests are reading and writing in various fields especially geopolitical issues, International Relations, Social Issues, etc. I will go for UPSC to administer people using my skills and aptitudes. Writing always elevates our creativity and imagination power.