Bhagat Singh on Problem of Untouchability: A Brief Discussion on his article ‘Achoot Samasya’

October 13, 2015

By Devesh Khatarkar

Bhagat Singh, the much celebrated and admired Indian revolutionary, not only criticized the rising nature of communalism in Indian society but had also written on the grave issue of untouchability and caste in the years of independence struggle. At the early age of 16 years, in June 1928, he wrote an article titled Achoot Samasya (Problem of Untouchability). This article came in the backdrop of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s proposal in the Congress meeting of 1923 to divide the untouchables amongst Hindu and Muslim missionary organizations. In this article, Bhagat Singh sensitively puts forward the situation of untouchables in those times and offered solutions to some extent.

He pointed out how 6 crore people out of a total population of 30 crores were considered ‘untouchables’ and their touch allegedly contaminated other humans, temples and water in the wells. That such attitudes persisted in the twentieth century is indeed shameful. On the one hand Indian masses are trapped in spirituality, on the other materialistic societies of Europe are revolutionized for centuries. Equality was already declared during French and American revolutions. Even Russia lately witnessed revolution to eradicate all forms of inequality. Bhagat Singh also emphasized that people who don’t treat their fellow citizens from depressed community equally don’t have right to demand political rights.

He criticized the castiest Hindu society in which dog roaming in the kitchen is not a trouble but a Dalit entering into the temple or Brahmin’s house makes everything ‘impure’. This practice is inhuman and Dalits are considered inferior to animals in this societal system. Muslim, Sikh and Christian religious groups have started assimilating Dalits, often as equals, in their communities offending caste Hindus in the process. He cautioned Dalits not to be used for other’s politics and suggested they should be organized.

Deliberating on the solution for eradication of untouchability, he says we should decide first that all people are equal irrespective of birth or occupation. It is irrational and illogical to say that a person born in Mehatar family will clean the latrines for entire life and has no right to develop. Aryans did this injustice to Dalits and introduced the concept of re-birth fearing that Dalits will revolt. Aryans exploited them for years and suppressed their sentiments of self-confidence and self-reliability. Now it’s time to confess all the injustices done to the depressed.  He admired the methods of Naujawan Bharat Sabha and Naujawan Congress of abolishing untouchability. Untouchables should be apologized to for the injustice and treated as human without any ritual of purifying or reading Kalama (rituals of Hindu and Muslims). They should be included and caste-people should drink the water from their hands. Nevertheless, priority for untouchables is to organize. It is a positive sign that they are demanding equal rights as they are more or less equal to Muslims in population. He writes that it is the duty of councils and assemblies to provide them freedom and equality in schools, colleges, wells and roads. He demanded that they should have their own representatives. He then recalls the proud chapters of history when depressed communities played important roles. Untouchables were the real power of Guru Govind Singh. Shivaji also depended on them and his name is still alive today. He then addresses Dalits saying ‘Your sacrifices are golden.’ He appealed freedom fighters to work for untouchables.

As a solution, he again emphasized the need for organizing Dalits and to challenge the society. He suggested not to depend on others. Imperialistic bureaucracy is also the reason of slavery and poverty. He calls untouchables the proletariat who need to be organized to get rid of slavery. He suggests untouchables to revolt against the present system and calls for a political and economic revolution followed by a social revolution.

In Achoot Samasya, Bhagat Singh very adeptly discussed the situation of untouchables in colonial period when Indian political system was undergoing change in the light of freedom movement. It is interesting to note how he attributed imperialistic bureaucracy as the cause of poverty. He called for the need of organizing the untouchables with their own representatives in the process of achieving equality in various spaces – political, social and economic. There might be differences among people about how Bhagat Singh approaches the menace of untouchability. Yet it is important to know the context of the time when the piece was written by the author. What is striking is the fundamental values the great revolutionary young leader of his times wishes to address and spread.