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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 6 New Delhi January 27, 2018 - Republic Day Special

On Ninetieth Anniversary of Mahad Satyagraha

Saturday 27 January 2018, by Subhash Gatade

Remembering Mahad

“Can Water Catch Fire?”

The question may surprise anyone in her/his senses. Yet any person who keeps an open eye for social and political movements would know that when masses forge ahead, breaking the millennia-old chains of slavery, then not only can the sky be pierced, but water too can catch fire.

In December 2017 fell the ninetieth anniversary of the Mahad Satyagraha when thousands of people had gathered at Mahad in Maharashtra to challenge the practice of untouchability by drinking water from a public pond. It may appear to be just one event in one corner of the country, but it gave voice to many new notes of rebellion in the social and cultural landscape of India.

It needs to be noted that this historic satyagraha is known as the Mahad Revolution Day in the social movements of Western India, when in the first phase Ambedkar and his followers had gathered to drink water from the Chavdar pond, in the second phase on December 25, 1927 he had publicly burnt Manusmriti. It may appear today that all they did was to drink water from a pond; yet this one simple act was a declaration of revolt against the centuries-old pernicious practices of the Brahminical caste system. They openly challen-ged the injunctions ordained by religion, which did not mind animals drinking from a pond, but would punish a section of humanity doing it. It is not without reason that in Marathi it is said, with pride, that it was the day when ‘water caught fire’. This was a symbol of the self-respect of Dalits, and they announced their arrival at the forefront of the battle for equality. This declaration of their basic rights by Dalits forever changed the face ofse bonds and become victims of selfish parties that seek to divide and rule. Perhaps 1857 wasn’t all that bad.

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