NEVER IN the annals of the history of India has the issue ‘of the Depressed Classes assumed importance as it has today, and for this we of the Depressed Classes must for ever be grateful to Mahatma Gandhi. He has told the world, in words which cannot be mistaken, that our regeneration is the fundamental aim of his life. If world conscience cannot be roused even now to the realization of the position of the Depressed Classes, then we can only conclude that all instincts of humanity are dead in the world today. Let me remind the House that ours is an all-India problem and not confined to some provinces as it is in the case of Muslims and Sikhs. I have heard it often repeated that the Muslim claim and the Sikh claim to special consideration is because they are martial races. So have we been in the ancient history of India. If they claim that they have been rulers in this country, so have we been in the ancient time. But, sir, what we claim is that we have in addition been the most law-abiding and loyal citizens even when social laws degraded us to a position of untouchability. We never took law into our hands, and depended upon the moral conscience of our countrymen being roused to a realization of the grave injustice and inhumanity practised against us.
THE QUESTION before the House is the situation created Mahatma Gandhi opposing the grant of commune to the Depressed Classes. I am sure there is no honourable member in this House who will not regret than circumstances should have forced such a great personality to take a vow to play on his life, but sir, the correspondence shows that Government had enough warning. If they did not attach full importance to our considered views expressed in our conferences and in the Rajah-Moonje pact I had signed with the president of Hindu Mahasabha, they should have taken at least the grave warning given by Mahatma Gandhi and desisted from the course of creating separate electorates.
Sir, the situation as it confronts us today is as follows:
The British Government have given their communal decision. They declare that it shall hold good for 20 years in respect of the Depressed Classes, unless there is unanimous request made before the constitution is framed or ten years after the constitution has worked. I wonder what is meain by unanimous request? Has in the political history of and country such literal unanimity ever been attained on and issue? Is the British Government sure that Britishers are unanimous in giving India a further measure of responsibility? Is even the National Government sure that Conservatives as a whole back its Indian, policy This condition of unanimity is thus a dodge to keep us perpetually divided. I claim that my community is already favour of common electorates, and I will prove my contention by a few quotations. YOU ALL KNOW that British Government sent two delegates to represent the Depressed Classes at the Round Table Conference,viz.,Dr. Ambedkar and Rao Bahadur Srinivasan. Dr. Ambedkar presented the Inconsistencies case of the Depressed Classes in Bombay before the Simon Commission and he presented a statement of his Sabha where he pleaded for joint electorates. As regards Rao Bahadur Srinivasan, when he appeared before the Simon Commission in Madras, to a question put by a member of the Commission, whether he wanted separate electorates for the Depressed Classes, he said, “Not at present,” and his reasons were: “our people are not yet advanced to have separate electorates. Unless you give adult franchise, the Depressed Classes should have no separate electorates.” This was in 1929. When he went to the first R. T. C., the Depressed Classes’ Federation of Madras, of which he is the president, passed a resolution supporting joint electorates and giving him that mandate for being placed before the R. T. C. In this connection let me tell the House that even Dr. Ambedkar demanded joint electorates with reservation of seats at the first Round Table Conference. When the Indian Central Committee’s report was published giving the Depressed Classes joint electorates with reservation for all provinces except Madras, there was no hue and cry, and when the Simon Commission report embodying electorates with reservation of seats was published there was no protest raised against it. My friend, Dr. Ambedkar, while speaking on the recommendations of this Commission, welcomed this system as an advancement in the interest of the community and raised objection to the system of panel from which the Governor was to select candidates for Depressed Classes. Indeed, Dr. Ambedkar speaking at Kamptee conference in 1930 declared, “No share of political powers can come to you so long as the British Government remains where it is.It is only in a Swaraj constitution that you stand any chance of getting political power in your hands.” He said in the same speech, “Swaraj is going to be a system of government in which you (Depressed Classes) stand a chance, other things being equal, of being amongst those who will be installed as political sovereigns of this country.”
I DO NOT KNOW what brought about the revolution in tha state of mind of Dr. Ambedkar and Mr. Srinivasan at the second Round Table Conference when they sacrificed the system whereby they would have obtained the right to be political sovereigns, and secured instead the expression of minimum voice for the people who deserved the maximum elector power to direct the government from within. Now, sir, it will be clear to the House that joint electorates were accepted to my community from the time they understood that there was to be a transfer of power to Indian hands. The position we took was that under the scheme of government in which Indians would rule, our safety lay not in finding channels for voicing our opinions, but in taking our due share in the governing of the country. Indeed this is my chief attack a Premier’s letter to Mahatma Gandhi. He tells us that he has given separate electorates for twenty years to enable to get the minimum number of seats to place our views before the Government and legislature of the day. I contend that this privilege we have already enjoyed under the Montford reforms which have enabled us to get representation in numerous local bodies and in legislature both provincial and central. We are sufficiently organized for that purpose and do not need either special pleading or special succor. In future what we do need as real remedy for our uplift is definite power to elect our representative from the general constituencies and hold them responsible to us for their actions. I do not know why the Prime Minister calls the scheme of joint electorates with reservation of seats as impracticable. It is already in force in local bodies in Madras and some other provinces and has worked very satisfactorily.I contend, sir, that the scheme enunciated in the communal decision involve sour segregation and makes us politically untouchables. I am surprised at the argument of the Prime Minister that there is no segregation because we can vote for Caste Hindus who will have to solicit our votes. But, sir, how can we bring about a common ideal of citizenship when Depressed Class representatives are not to solicit votes of higher castes?
THERE IS, sir, another tragic controversy. When we claim special protection from Government for some share in official services which is given by the Government of India to other minorities and backward classes, we are told that we are classed as Hindus and have no special claim,and when we declare that in the matter of legislative representation we would like to join the general body of Hindus, we are told that we are a separate community. The sufferings which my community has undergone at the hands of Caste Hindus have been acknowledged by Caste Hindus themselves, and I am prepared to admit that there are a large number of reformers among them who are doing everything possible to improve our status and position. I am convinced that there is a change of heart and a change in the angle of vision of Caste Hindus. We, Depressed Classes, feel ourselves as true Hindus as any Caste Hindu can be, and we feel that the moral conscience of the Hindus has been roused to the extent that our salvation lies in bringing about a change from within the main body of Hindu society and not segregating ourselves from them. The course adopted by the Government would certainly arrest the progress of this most laudable movement. I must say, sir, that the Prime Minister’s letter in its entire conception and expression has disappointed me. He argues, for instance, that reservation of seats under join electorates would not be genuine representation for us. Does the Prime Minister know that the Simon Commission, consisting of seven chosen Britishers, held after a most thorough investigation on this spot that such system would produce genual representation for us? Even the fear expressed by the Prime Minister is resolved by Mahatma Gandhi, who has said that he is ready to enroll every adult member of the Depress Class as a voter and impose stricter test on Caste Hindu May I ask why the Premier is not prepared to consider solution?
NOW LET ME summarize the position. The Premier’s award of separate electorates is solely to secure a minimum number of spokesmen for the Depressed Classes. Mahatma Gandhi’s decision is on over-representation of the Depression Classes. In joint electorate my pact with Dr. Moonje of the Hindu Mahasabha gives my community reservation of seats on a population basis. In conclusion, let me add that I have known and studied the question of the Depressed Classes in all its bearings all over India, during the quarter of century of my public life. I was privileged to review it fully during our tour with the Simon Commission. I would, therefore, ask the Government to take this assurance from me that our best interests require that we should not be dissected from the Hindu community but that we should have our due representation in legislatures on the basis’ of reservation. The crisis that faces us today is very grave. There hangs in the balance the life of the greatest Indian of our time, and there hangs in the balance the future of millions of the down-trodden people of this country Is Government going to take the responsibility for killing the one and reducing the other to perpetual servitude ? Let if make its choice well and wisely.
A speech in the Legislative Assembly on September 13, on the adjournment motion relating to Gandhiji’s grim resolve to ‘fast unto death’.