Lower Caste movements in India began around the mid-19th century. The pioneer of these movements in India was the Jyotirao Phule. By the end of the 19th century, several anti-caste movements took place in different parts of the country. By the 1930s, Mahatama Gandhi and Dr B. R. Ambedkar had emerged as the leaders of the depressed classes in India. Gandhi Ji used the term “Harijan” for the oppressed or depressed classes, which means “Children of God“.
These movements were encouraged by the combination of various factors such as the growth of the western education system, the British policy of divide and rule, the extension of the railway network, the popularity of modern political thoughts, and the growth of national consciousness.
In this article, we take a look at important lower caste movements in India.
Nair Movement (1861)
Nair Movement started in 1861 in the state of Travancore under the leadership of C. V. Raman Pillai, K. Rama Krishna Pillai, and M. Padmanabha Pillai, against the domination of Nambudri Brahmins and non-Malayali Brahmins (Tamil and Maratha). In 1891, C. V. Raman Pillai formed the Malayali Memorial against the Brahmin predominance in government jobs. After 1900, the movement continued under the strong leadership of K. Rama Krishna Pillai and M. Padmanabha Pillai. In 1941, M. Padmanabha Pillai founded the Nair Service Society, which worked for the socio-political advancement of the Nairs.
Satyashodhak Movement (1873)
In 1873, Satyashodhak Samaj was founded by Jyotirao Govindrao Phule in Pune (Maharashtra), against the Brahminic domination, for the political access to the underprivileged groups and the upliftment of lower castes, untouchables, and widows. The famous Marathi Journal Deenbandhu served as an outlet for this movement. Phule was also the pioneer of women’s education in India. In 1848, he founded the school for girls in Pune. He also wrote books, such as Tritiya Ratna in 1855, Gulamagiri in 1873, and Sarvajanik Satyadharma Pustak in 1891. He advised the non-Brahmins not to employ the Brahmins for their rituals.
(Read in detail: Satyashodhak Samaj)
Aravippuram Movement (1888)
Arravippuram Movement, also known as the Ezhava movement, was led by Sri Narayana Guru in 1888 at Aravippuram in Kerala against the Brahmin domination and for the rights of depressed classes, especially the Ezhavas or Iravas caste of Kerala.
Sri Narayana Guru belongs to the Ezhava caste of Kerala. In 1902, He set up Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, having its branches outside Kerala. Its twin objectives were to abolish the practice of untouchability and to simplify the system of rituals regarding marriage, worships, and funerals. He builds several temples that were open to all castes. He also gave the slogan: “One Caste, One Religion, One God for All“.
Nadar Movement (1910)
By the end of the 19th century, an untouchable caste of agriculture labourers (originally known as Shanans) in the Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu, emerged as a prosperous mercantile class. They began to call themselves by the prestigious title: “Nadar” to claim the status of Kshatriya. They started the movement against social bias and to promote educational and social welfare among the Nadars. In 1910, they formed the Nadar Mahajan Sangam, imitated the upper caste customs & manners, and raised funds for social welfare and educational activities.
Justice Party Movement (1916)
Justice Party Movement was an intermediate caste movement led by Dr C. N. Mudalair, P. Theagaraya Chetty, and T. M. Nair in Madras in 1916, against the Brahmin’s domination in government service, educational, and political fields. In 1916, the South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF), popularly known as Justice Party, was formed. It represented before the Secretary of State for India Lord Montague for the reforms and demanded reservations for the intermediate caste in Madras Presidency. The efforts yielded in passing the 1930 Government orders to provide reservations to these groups.
(Read in detail: Justice Party Movement)
Self-Respect Movement (1925)
In 1925, E.V. Ramaswami Naicker, popularly known as Periyar, started the Self-Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu against the Caste bias by the Brahmins and to improve the living conditions of the Dravidian people. The movement encourages the backward castes to have self-respect, and it aims for equal human rights in a caste-based society. Periyar also started the Tamil journal “Kudi Arasu” in 1925 to propagate his ideas. He also advocated not to invite Brahmins to the rituals, and weddings without Brahmin Priests and opposed the idol worship, forcible temple entry, and bonfire of Manu Samriti.
(Read in detail: Self-Respect Movement)