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History Produces Politics: The Nara-Maveshi Movement in Uttar Pradesh

The Nara-Maveshi Movement was one of the precipitating factors of the new dalit politics that emerged in Uttar Pradesh. Carried out by the Chamars (shoemaker caste) in Uttar Pradesh and adjoining regions to end their caste-based work and the indignities involved with it, the NMM started in the 1950s and continued till the 1980s. But it has hardly been noticed, whether in academic works, literature or even in the media. This article uses methods of oral history, along with police and court documents at village and district levels, to unearth this history. It tries to bring out the multiple layers of discriminations, exclusions and violence in hierarchically caste-divided Indian society, even within dalit castes.


History Produces Politics: The Nara-Maveshi Movement in Uttar Pradesh

Badri Narayan

The Nara-Maveshi Movement was one of the precipitating factors of the new dalit politics that emerged in Uttar Pradesh. Carried out by the Chamars (shoemaker caste) in Uttar Pradesh and adjoining regions to end their caste-based work and the indignities involved with it, the NMM started in the 1950s and continued till the 1980s. But it has hardly been noticed, whether in academic works, literature or even in the media. This article uses methods of oral history, along with police and court documents at village and district levels, to unearth this history. It tries to bring out the multiple layers of discriminations, exclusions and violence in hierarchically caste-divided Indian society, even within dalit castes.

Badri Narayan ( is with the G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

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Manu, the Hindu law giver, in his famous text Manusmriti, discussing about the duties of Shudras states that whether Shudra is a bought slave or not, the king should make him work as one because Lord Brahma created him to serve the Brahmin as slave. It is naturally compulsory for the Shudras to serve the Brahmins. In the next verse, Manu explains that slavery for the Shudra is not their obligation (majburi) but it’s ingrained in their nature (swabhav). Even if the Shudra is freed by his Master, he is not freed of his services. It’s natural for the Shudra to serve. Who can free them!

– Kaushalyayan 2006: 47-48

his paper focuses on how the Nara-Maveshi Movement (NMM), which may be called a social movement, begun by the Chamars in north India around the 1950s to shed their demeaning caste-based profession, was one of the precipitating factors for the emergence of dalit politics in the 1960s and later. We will try to trace and document the history of the NMM in Uttar Pradesh, ranging from the minor incidents of 1950 to the various sporadic incidents at different places between 1955 and 1985.1

The paper also documents the politicisation of dalits in rural society during this grass-roots level social movement. We will also see how caste and class sometimes function together in Indian society and deconstruct the notion of permanent homogeneity of castes and communities, which developed during the identity discourse of marginalised groups of Indian society in recent times. We also observe multiple layers of discriminations, exclusions and violence in hierarchically caste-divided Indian society even among dalits. In addition, this paper describes the dilemma and duality of the state and its apparatus while dealing with the politics of the marginalised communities as they struggle for the right to opt for professions (livelihood).

Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s fifth-largest state has an area of 2,36,286 sq km and its population is 16,60,52,859 (2001 Census). The state’s percentage of scheduled castes (SCs), who constitute a major chunk of the dalit population, is 21.1%. Though the given caste-based profession of Chamars is tanning and skinning, they traditionally worked as agricultural labourers as well (Cohn 1987: 92). As a part of the Nara-Maveshi activity, men of the Chamar community disposed of the corpses and carcasses of animals, while the Chamar women cut the umbilical cords of newborns. During the movement, when the Chamars abstained from doing this work, several villages of UP were transformed into “suppression nodes” for the dalits, particularly the Chamars. The resulting violence reminds us of Ambedkar’s observation that Indian villages have become the slaughter houses for the dalits (Narayan and Mishra 2004: 229). The ruling classes in collusion with the police – who were tacitly or openly supporting the savarna castes (upper castes) – inflicted suffering on the dalits, despite many laws against untouchability. Some of the laws and provisions enacted against untouchability in the Constitution for the protection of the rights of dalits are the Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989), Anti-Untouchability Offence Act (1955) and Protection of Civil Rights Act (1973), among others. These empower dalits to fight the injustices inflicted on them, as during the Nara-Maveshi activity, and also lent confidence to their political assertions.

Silence and Recovery

To trace the history of the NMM, important sources were consulted, such as various studies of the rural life of UP by social scientists, literary pieces such as Hindi novels and stories written by Hindi litterateurs between the 1950s and 1990s, police archives, archives of National Crime Record Bureau, New Delhi, etc. Many American, British and Indian scholars have done intensive studies of UP villages between the 1950s and 1980s. Some of the important studies conducted during this period are mentioned here.

Academic studies have extensively documented the state of Uttar Pradesh and various facets of its rural life. Susan Wadley studied Karimpur village and published her work, Shakti: Power in the Conceptual Structure of Karimpur Religion (1975), from Chicago. To continue the exploration, Bruce W Derr (1979) studied the growing abundance of food and poverty in the same village, Karimpur during the period 1925-75. Bernard S Cohn (1987) studied the Chamars of Madhopur (Senapur). Incidentally, Senapur is a Thakur-dominated agricultural village situated 25 miles north of Varanasi (Benares). Cohn, in his study, explored the functioning of various pasts such as traditional and historic pasts of the Chamars of this village. William Rowe (1968), in the same village, looked into the process of mobility initiated among the Noniya – traditionally salt-makers asserting their Chauhan status. Rudra Datt Singh (1948) also studied the same village to understand the division of labour. He collaborated with C S Coon in bringing out the discussion on the unity and extensions of an Indian village. R D Singh also studied the theme Family Organisation in a North Indian Village (1948).

The full-length study of community projects in a “Rajput” and a “Tyagi” village was published in S C Dube’s book, India’s Changing Villages (1958). McKim Marriott (1955) did intensive fieldwork in the early 1950s, in the Kishangarhi village of Aligarh district in UP. In Faizabad district, Harold Gould (1958) selected a small village called Berauli for understanding jajmani (client-patron) relations as well as the political processes operating at the local and the district levels. P C Joshi (1974) lived in village Bijatka in Meerut district and recorded his fi eld observations about the social classes in the rural setting. Jean Dreze spent a little over a year in Palanpur in 1983-84, and had since revisited the village on many occasions to study the functioning of the village economy. Raheja’s work Poison in the Gift (1988) was based on intensive work in village Pahansu, in Saharanpur district.2 Some of these studies conducted as community development projects also influenced the policymaking process of the Indian state. Community projects, as programmes of rural development, had started in the early 1950s following the establishment of the Planning Commission in independent India (Chauhan 2009: 42).

Thus, we see that numerous important sociological, anthropological and economic studies of UP’s villages, some of which focused on dalits and other subordinate castes, were undertaken by various researchers during the 1950s-70s. However, we cannot find traces of the NMM and the associated violence and oppression suffered by dalits in these studies. Although these studies claimed to understand village social reality and developmental politics, most of them failed to document the social upheavals and the struggle for freedom and equality launched by oppressed groups in post-Independence India, which resulted in violence, massacre and genocide of marginalised and dalit sections of society. Instead the studies and debates focused on the social reality of villages, their relationship with the changing social, economic, cultural and political scenario of the country, the deeply ingrained caste hierarchy, patriarchal structure and heavy dependence on tradition and culture.

Even the Hindi literature written from the 1950s-90s does not refl ect the NMM which was going on at that time. In this context, one can see Shri Lal Shukla’s Rag Darbari (1968), and Pehla Padaav (1987). These literary works have documented the changes happening in the villages of UP. Even though they are based on the politics of rural life in UP, these novels too do not speak about any significant social movements. Similarly, Mudrarakshasa’s novel Dandvidhan (1986) which claims to depict socio-political rural life, especially of the dalits of UP, also has no mention of the NMM. Novels like Mukhra Kya Dekhe (1996) by Abdul Bismillah and Ek Tukra Itihaas (1975) by Gopal Upadhyaya, which are based on the socio-political milieu of UP, also contain no traces of the NMM. Similarly, Markandeya’s Agnibeej (2000), which documents the politicisation of rural UP in the post-Independence era, also gives no clue about this social upheaval.

However, dalit litterateurs who emerged after the 1990s, have in their autobiographies talked of the humiliation of caste-based professions in their everyday life. These autobiographies are the reminiscences of their own past after Independence. In this context we can get a clear picture from Om Prakash Valmiki’s autobiography Joothan (1997)3 and Mohandas Naimishray’s autobiography Apne Apne Pinjare (1995).

Besides village studies and literary Hindi works, the National Crime Record Bureau, New Delhi, a government agency responsible for collecting and analysing crime data does not contain any documentation in its police archives and records of the violence faced by the dalits between 1980s and 1990s because of the NMM.4 Marxist, subaltern and those involved in explaining dalit history too did not document the violence consequent to the NMM in their works.5 The absence and long silence on the history of this violence in sociological literature, governmental documents and contemporary literary texts raises serious questions about the nature and politics of knowledge production about dalits in a brahminical society like India. But without involving myself in this debate, I would like to proceed further to recover the lost history of dalit experiences of violence and oppression in Uttar Pradesh, specifi c to the NMM.

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The NMM is basically linked with the Chamars of UP.6 This study is based primarily on the field survey of fi ve villages: Shahabpur, Bihra, Katka, Babusarai and Jugrajpur located in Allahabad and Bhadohi districts, in east Uttar Pradesh. During the course of our study we collected oral interviews from the dalits residing in these villages about their memory of this movement. We used the oral history methodology. The problem here is not oral versus written but understanding oral as a source of reconstructing the history of the political activities of the marginalised and the subaltern. Allessandro Portelli in his much celebrated book, The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue, appropriately observed the complexities of the oral narratives and suggested that the difference between the time of the events and the time of their telling, the time of history and the time of discourse, the distance between the narrated and narrating self, the time of history and the time of telling, creates a lot of methodological problems while dealing with oral materials (Portelli 1997: 10, 11). While talking about dealing with various memories among one community’s collective memories he talks about “divided memory” and further explains that memories are divided by generations between the institutional memories of the resistance and the collective memories of the communities. Even individuals are internally divided between those who desire to be silent and forget and those who need to speak. To negotiate this plurality of different memories one has to collect all available forms of memories around happenings of the past and try to explore missing linkages, correlate them and make an attempt to develop stories about the processes which make the past or happenings of the past.

Thus, keeping in view all the above points and to make our work more authentic we also explored other state-produced archival spaces such as thana (police station) records, police fi les, FIRs, case diaries and other sources like regional, local and national newspapers to supplement these stories.

Tracing the Nara-Maveshi Movement

After Independence, when a new India was emerging and the superstructure of the new nation was witnessing a political and developmental process, a new republic was germinating at its rural base. The subaltern, marginalised and the dalits were breaking free of the shackles of tradition and were engaged in a struggle for emancipation and empowerment. During these testing times, they had to suffer violence and oppression but these were neither documented nor written about in a proper manner. There is no mention of them, either as notes, or as history. We came to know about the NMM in the villages of Uttar Pradesh after interviewing some of the village elders, both men and women of Shahabpur village, at great length.

In order to trace the history of the NMM, we collected and collated details of the inhuman torture inflicted on the shoemaker community by the dominant castes. Efforts were also made to search for evidential documents about these atrocities. Hoping that such incidents would have some records, we rummaged through the newspapers of that time and collected literature based on the village life of that period, in which we did fi nd such evidences. Thereafter, we collected documents from

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police stations and courts so that we had conclusive proof for our assertions.

We found that in 1950, a news item was published in a dalit fortnightly named Parivartan, edited and published by Swami Ajudyanath Dandi. The news was about the murder of two “untouchables” who refused to dispose the carcass of a dead animal (Bechain 1997: 253). In 1954, Maila Anchal, a novel written by Phanishwar Nath Renu was published in which he mentioned a small incident of a cow belonging to an upper caste called Ramkirpal Kaka lying dead in its shed and the Chamars refusing to take it away. Jivesara Chamar had then proclaimed himself as the leader of the Chamars (Renu 1954: 170). A reference is also found in Kala Bharat, a dalit fortnightly, in its October 1978 issue. The editorial of the said publication mentions that the savarnas of Allahabad had forced the dalits to remove the carcasses of the dead animals (Bechain 1997: 68).

On the basis of these written sources, it can be said that from 1950 onwards an awareness of not disposing the carcass of dead animals had germinated in the dalit consciousness that led to large-scale tension at different times and places from 1954 onwards. The details of the movement that I am about to unfold cannot be wished away, though the many mainstream newspapers and dominant media had no idea that such a movement was brewing in the villages of UP.

Freedom, Suffering and Dissent

The NMM started in the mid-1950s among the Chamars of north India, one of the most oppressed “untouchable” castes. This social movement was aimed at ending the caste-based occupation of the Chamars, where the men skinned and tanned dead cattle and the women cut newborns’ umbilical cords, all in return for grains and clothes under the jajmani relationship. This movement spread through much of the rural areas of Bihar and UP. It was also present in village Shahabpur, the subject of our study. In our long interviews, the movement was described by some of the dalits of Shahabpur who participated in it, such as Bhullar, Jhuria and Ram Kishor. The story which we reconstructed is as follows:

Nearly 40 years ago, the Chaudharys (chiefs or elders revered by all) of our community explained to the people of our caste that both these activities were very demeaning and dirty and blocked our opportunities to get other kinds of jobs. The words of the Chaudharys motivated all the Chamars of Shahabpur to start the Nara-Maveshi Andolan (movement) in the village to stop carrying out their dirty and polluting tasks. But this invited a painful and insulting backlash from middle castes like the Patels and Mauryas and higher castes like the Thakurs and Brahmins. Since there was no one else in the village who could do our job, we were told to continue with our designated castebased activity and not do any other work, otherwise we would not be allowed to walk on the roads, drink water from the wells or use water for irrigation and cut trees for wood. The Chaudharys of our caste, however, told us categorically not to succumb to the pressure of the upper castes or we would have to pay a fine, but the bitter truth was that because of the poverty of the Chamars and in the absence of an alternative source of income many among us wanted to continue with these professions in order to earn some quick money. Some women especially used to go to the houses of the upper castes on the sly to cut the cords of their newborn babies in order to feed their families. But they had to face the wrath of the other Chamars when they were found out. Soon, all the Chamars were mobilised to fight against the other castes. We were fighting for freedom from our demeaning caste-based profession. But our collective decision led to terrible bloodshed in the village. We were even beaten up by other lower castes like the Khatiks, Pasis, Dhobis and Musahars who started thinking that they were superior to the Chamars. When these castes together could not defeat us the Thakurs came out in a group and started attacking the people of the Chamar community, shouting the slogan “Chamar vaddh hoye, Chamar vaddh hoye” (kill, slay and massacre the Chamars). They hunted out all the Chamars and started beating them with spears and sticks. People of all castes joined in the violence. The terrifi ed Chamars prayed for the earth to swallow them up. Some people hid in huge earthen pots to escape from the fury of the mob. Many women and children were injured in the violence. That period was terrible for all of us as we had no land or alternative source of livelihood and knew no skill other than our caste-based activity. We had to buy food from the shops to feed ourselves and our families with whatever money we had since the Patels, Mauryas and other castes stopped giving us grain and prohibited us from using water from their wells in order to pressure us to continue the leather tanning work. At that time, the shops of Shahabpur Bazaar could have saved us from starving to death but we were denied the right to buy food, since the shopkeepers were under pressure from the dominant castes to not sell to us. We had to trudge 25 kilometres, to townships like Nawabganj and Soraon for our daily necessities. We then decided to approach the District Collector of Allahabad, Bhurelal, who himself belonged to the Dalit community. We explained to Bhurelal that an animal died only once every six months, making it difficult for us to survive the rest of the year. Bhurelal pacifi ed us, saying no one could force us to do what we did not want to do. He visited the village and in a public address declared that there should be no social compulsion on anyone to perform any activity. The Chamars then started looking for alternative means of livelihood like pulling rickshaws in cities since there was no work in the village. Gradually the upper castes started allowing them to work in their fields as labourers. Today, the Chamars have shed their caste-based occupations and are engaged in other kinds of activities that are not dirty or polluting.

This oral narrative of the NMM in Shahabpur informs us about an important happening in the life of marginalised communities in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which is still fresh in their memories. The narratives from Shahabpur describe a situation in which non-Chamar dalit communities too joined hands with the middle and upper caste people in the village to force the Chamars to continue with their inherited caste profession. The dominant section of the village tried to block all other avenues for Chamars to change their professions. It is interesting to observe how the shopkeepers of the village also stopped selling grains to Chamars under social pressure. The state, in the form of the district magistrate – who was coincidentally a dalit – tried to rescue the Chamars from the violence and oppression of the forward, middle and even some lower castes, in this case. The story also presents multiple layers of consciousness and opinion among even Chamar caste about the practice of Nara-Maveshi activity.

Amongst the Chamars who participated in this movement, some want to talk about it, while others prefer to remain silent. It seems they do not want to remember such suffering and humiliation. From a few we heard, Purani bat ke bare me ab kya bat kiya jae (What do we say about the long-gone past?), but for some of them it provided a space for narrating their experiences of suffering, while some others see it as a narrative about their struggle for liberation. This movement took place in many villages in almost all parts and regions of Uttar Pradesh. It is remembered by various names, at various places and sites. Other than the “Nara-Maveshi Movement”, it is somewhere called “Nara-Vyaur” and “Murda-Maveshi” Movement. The forward and middle castes and non-Chamar dalit castes in the villages, who came together against Chamars during this movement, remember this happening in the derogatory sense as “Chamar andolan” (Chamar movement), “Chamaro ka utpat” (hooliganism of the Chamars), etc. Trjugi Patel, of Shahabpur, who belongs to one of the castes that acted against the Chamars during the NMM, dismisses it as “a Chamar khel” (game).

The NMM in Other Villages

We now present case studies of four other villages, undertaken in April 2009, that witnessed the same kind of oppression against Chamars during the NMM. Katka is located south of the Grand Trunk road in the Majhwa block of Mirzapur district of UP. According to the population profile of the village, it is dominated by the upper caste Bhumihar community and has 1,400 Bhumihars, 1,250 Kewat, 400 Chamars, 300 Pasis, 50 Telis, 10 Dhobis, 10 Lohars (blacksmith), five Nais and five Dubeys (Brahmins). The village has a primary school, a girls’ primary school and an inter-college. The Chamars of this village have emerged as an important, upwardly mobile, caste. They hold important positions, i e, they are first class officers, bank managers, assistant development officers, stationmasters and many are teachers too. Many of the women are lecturers and teachers in primary schools. The Chamars believe that the reason for their progress is the NMM, which enabled them to quit their caste-based professions and encouraged them to walk on the path of education. They recall and reflect upon the suffering they had to go through in the days when the movement was at its peak.

The Chamar elders of the village narrated that in the year 1971 a meeting was organised by the influential people of the Chamar community, which included Chaudhari Ramdev of Bihra, Chaudhari Mitairam, Sukhnanadan Prasad (Master), Shivjor, Bindeshwari of Katka village, Ram Bharose Chaudhary, Achaivar Master of Vandaihiya village, Bechanram of Mahamalpur, Dukhi Chaudhari of Gadauli and Jokhan Chaudhari of Babusarai. The meeting was held in the Dulhan Ki Baari (a beautiful mango orchard known as “the orchard of the bride”) of Katka village and it was decided that their community members would no longer render the age-old service of cutting the umbilical cord at the birth of babies or dispose carcasses as it lowered their selfesteem in society. The Chaudhary of the village was authorised to keep an eye that none of them did this task and if anyone refused to comply and continued with this profession then that member would be boycotted from the community and fined as well.

As the discussion carried on, news of the meeting spread like wildfire in all the other hamlets and some “treacherous” elements among the Chamars informed the upper castes of the decision taken by the Chamars. The infuriated upper castes instantly reached the meeting spot and began beating people and destroying their property. Most ran helter-skelter and the few who stayed to fight were left with broken limbs.

On the next day, 14 September 1971, the Thakurs attacked Babusarai village, followed by the nearby dalit-majority Bihra

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village. They plundered almost everything in both the villages and created havoc. This incident created an environment of terror in the village. Insecure, the Chamars hid in farms at night to protect themselves from the wrath of the upper castes. But the Chamar settlement of Katka managed to escape from the violence inflicted by the Thakurs.

The next village we studied, Babusarai is situated at a distance of 1.5 kilometres from Bihra village, in Sant Ravidas Nagar, formerly Bhadohi, district. Its population is dominated chiefl y by Muslims and backward classes. Around 900 Muslims, 100 Musahars, 300 Chamars and overall 600 Gaurs, Lohars, Telis, Dhobis, Guptas and Thakurs reside there. The Thakurs constitute a fragment of the village population.

The Chamars of Babusarai also became the victim of intense violence on their refusal to cut newborns’ umbilical cords. Mundar Ram Jaiswar, a Chamar and 78-year-old resident of the village who had been active in this movement told us that the cause behind the violence in Babusarai was that members of a Muslim family came to the Chamars one night and began forcing them to come and cut the cord of their newborn daughter. But the Chamars refused, saying they would be fined Rs 500 and boycotted by their community. They said they would go to cut the cord if the Muslim family gave them the money to pay the fine. Livid, the Muslims held a meeting at Thakur Saheb’s home to find a way of forcing the Chamars to do that work. In a new strategy, the Thakurs, Muslims, Nats, Kewats and Pasis of that village attacked the Chamars, and about 500 people attacked the Harijan basti (settlement) of Babusarai with rods and lathis. They looted everything that came in their way and set the settlement on fi re. An old dalit man of the village, Jokhan, informed us that his cottage was reduced to ashes. The upper castes hunted out the hiding Chamars by digging in barchis (spike) and spears everywhere. Another dalit, Hari said that his house was ransacked and then demolished. No one was spared, and the anguished Chamars escaped to other villages to save themselves. No one came to their help there. The violent Thakur mob devastated everything in their path and thereafter proceeded towards the Chamar basti of nearby Bihra village. Finally, some people of the Muslim family came forward to help the victims.

Another village where the NMM led to large-scale violence against the dalits, especially the Chamars, was Bihra. Situated 3 kilometres north of Babusarai, in Sewapuri block of Varanasi district, the village is dominated by the Yadavs (intermediate caste). It has about 1,400 Yadavs, 1,400 Chamars, 100 Pasis, 100 Musahars, 250 Thakurs, 300 Brahmins, 30 Pals, 35 Kumhaars, 110 Patels, 15 Kahars, 50 Lohars and 105 Binds residing there. The Yadavs are the largest landholders. Jawahar, a Chamar victim of Bihra recalls:

A violent crowd of roughly 1,500 people entered Bihra. They set fi re to nearly 32 houses, destroyed the standing crops, killed innumerable animals and created havoc everywhere. The villagers were brave and battled the angry crowd but when they could not resist their blows they ran back to their houses to save themselves. But misfortune lay at their doors. Their houses were gutted and they were injured very badly, some lost their lives. Such was the intensity of violence that some victims urinated in fear. The men fought the attackers to defend their women, but it was all in vain. The women tried to fight them off with

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whatever weapons they could find. They ran to other villages or hid in the farms the whole night. Had these attackers been from outside the village the villagers might have mustered the courage to fi ght them. Unfortunately, these wicked faces were from their own and adjoining villages. This stopped them from lifting their hands against them. Otherwise so many people would not have died in the Bihra kand (massacre) that it would have been difficult to count them. So, holding their breath, people hid in places like kothila, machaan, tand. It was a very agonising state.

People lost hope on seeing the atrocities committed on their friends and family. Their eyes filled with tears on seeing the houses of their near and dear ones destroyed; they were helpless and had lost all the means to support themselves. The proverb roz kuaan khodna aur pani peena (digging a well daily to drink water) is very common in the dalit locality. It means that they earn their livelihood on a daily basis and so, with everything gone, they had nothing to sustain themselves. There was no food, and even had there been any, the cooking vessels were all broken. The local grocer, afraid of being punished by the upper castes, refused to allow the Chamars to enter his shop. A dead animal was thrown into their well of drinking water.

The police came after many days, wrote the fi rst information report and detained some of the culprits. The matter was then placed before the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) to be resolved but the accused were released on a bail of a mere Rs 500. A case number 107/17 was filed in the Mirzamurid police station, district Varanasi, in which 32 people were arrested from both sides. Twelve people were arrested from the first party and 20 from the other party under the IPC Sections 504, 506, 114, 148, 395.7 The case went on in the district court of Varanasi and five people – Thakur Kashi Singh, Bhola Singh, Munni Singh, Kalpnath Singh and Phoonan Singh – were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment but they later appealed in the Allahabad High Court and were released on bail. The victims could not afford to fight their case in the high court and eventually the case was dismissed. The leaders of many political parties including the then state irrigation minister Ram Lakhan, member of Parliament Ganpat Ram of Robertsganj constituency, social activists Sankataprasad Shastri and Moti Ram Shastri of Varanasi – all four from Congress Party – visited and consoled the victims but did little else. Platoons of the provincial armed constabulary (PAC) were stationed in and around the villages for the safety of the dalits, but as many of the jawans were from upper castes, the dalits recall feeling insecure in their presence.

The fourth village where the NMM gained momentum was Jugraajpur in 1981. This village is situated at a distance of 55 kilometres from Allahabad, on the Allahabad-Kaushambi highway. It is a brahmin-dominated rural community but lower castes like Pasis, Dhobis and Kumhars also reside in good numbers here. There are around 70 Chamar households in the village. A resident of the village, Shivlochan, narrated the incident, saying all the people of their caste had decided that they would not pick up the cadavers of animals and nor would their women cut the umbilical cord of newborn babies. When the people of the other castes heard about this, all of them except the brahmins came with rods and lathis. They started assaulting the villagers and also held them captive. They could not meet anyone from outside the village. The women and children were incarcerated in their houses and were not allowed to step out. Shivlochan pointed towards a well and said that the attackers mixed cow dung in its water to deprive them of drinking water.

Continuing with the tale of oppression that took place during the NMM, some other Chamar residents like Raniya, an elderly dalit lady, said the confined women were not even allowed to go for their toilet as none could leave their house or get food and water. The village merchant was given strict instructions not to sell anything to them. Lakhiya, another victim, admitted that in their desperate hunger one day they even gobbled down the pebbles found around their houses. Ram Dulare continued and added that Shivlochan and Chaudhary fled to Allahabad one night, where they met a lawyer and filed a case in court. At first, no action was taken by the Sarai Akeel police station and the atrocities against them kept rising. Then they met the district magistrate after which finally, on his orders, the PAC was posted in the village.

The Indian Express newspaper also published the news of the injustice being committed on the Chamars of Jugraajpur village. The news stated:

Since the Brahmins dominated the village, other communities were brought into the gherao by convincing them that they were as much affected by the Harijans’ defiant attitude as the Brahmins. The Harijans had no grievance against any of the other communities. With all the conceivable tactics having proved unsuccessful the Brahmins at a meeting held in a temple, decided to impose ‘economic sanctions’ on Harijans. The sanctions included no work on agricultural fi elds, no loans, not allowing them to collect firewood from their trees, and to crown it all, not allowing them to walk through their fi elds except through those indicated in the Government land documents. The other communities such as washermen and barbers have been asked not to render any services to the Harijans. The Harijans were unmoved by these threats. According to one person, this is ‘a revolt against the caste subjugation’ and proof of ‘social awareness’ of their status and position in the society.8

The Chamars of this village still referred to themselves as Harijans. Bhulli, a Chamar resident of Jugraajpur village called himself a “Harijan” in the petition to the district magistrate. The petition fi led by Basati’s son, Hari Mohan, of village Jugraajpur, against the atrocities inflicted on them reveals that some members of a few dalit communities like Dhobi, Pasi and Nai had also joined hands with the brahmins and other upper and backward castes of the village and were suppressing them. The petition states that the Harijans called a meeting of all communities in the village, including brahmins, on 27 May 1981, to declare that they would no longer render the age-old and customary service of cutting the umbilical cord at the birth of babies or dispose of animal carcasses.9

At 5 pm that day, when Ramdulare Pasi’s cow died, in fear, the Chamars Dahari and Ram Vishal disposed of its cadaver but did not skin its hide. On seeing this, upper caste people started threatening them. Then, an application was filed at the police station, by Hari Mohan, a Chamar, against these atrocities. After the application was submitted, the sub-inspector settled the matter among the villagers. On the evening of 2 June 1981, all the brahmins and people of other dalit castes such as Pasis, Dhobis, Nais, Kumhars, Gaderias, Darjis and so on called a meeting, where the panchayat put a stop on the Chamars stepping out of their houses. The upper castes forcefully entered their hamlets and started beating them with sticks and shoes and abused them. The Chamars were not allowed to draw water from the well or carry on with any trade. Not just this, according to an advocate, G P Madan of Allahabad, Kallu Kumhar, son of Nanku, Ramai Dhobi, son of Shri Bhallu and Shobhai Pasi, son of Daddu filed false cases against 39 Chamars of Jugraajpur village under brahmin pressure.

Bhagdu, a Chamar resident of village Jugraajpur, district Allahabad, wrote to the district magistrate,

We filed an application with the SO [station officer] of Sarai Akeel police station that our case is not being heard and we are facing grave atrocity but the SO scolded and abused us. That is why we have approached you for help. After the stationing of the PAC in the village


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there has been a decrease in the atrocity committed by the Brahmins and other backward classes on Chamars. But, the Brahmins and the people of the other castes have socially and religiously boycotted us. They have put a stop on our occupation and trade. We have to traverse a long distance of 10 km to Sarai Akeel to buy things of our daily requirements. We are not even allowed to walk on the village’s unpaved (kuccha) road. On 6 August 1981, Bhagadu Chamar was stopped from using the kuccha road. On 15 June 1981, Vishwanath was going to the neighbouring village of Kanauli with some villagers and women. They were stopped on the way and beaten badly. The Chamars are so frightened that they have sent their cattle to their relatives’ houses and some of them have even sold them.10

The Chamar victims of “Jugraajpur kand” also informed the president, prime minister and home minister of that time about the atrocities they were facing and the conditions they were living in. The case filed by Chamars against other castes under IPC Sections 147/323/149/45211 went on for five years. A case diary of approximately 100 pages was prepared. Reading it, we fi nd that the police kept refraining from taking action in the matter. As a result, rather than ending, the atrocities kept increasing. A careful scrutiny of the case diary and other papers of the court shows that in order to coerce the Chamars, false cases were filed against them. The motive behind these cases was to compel the Chamars to come to an agreement with the upper castes. Ultimately, in the absence of genuine evidence, the 5-year-long case ended with the court releasing those guilty of all the atrocities against the Chamars.12

However, the eventual consequence of this long-drawn struggle was that the Chamars of Jugraajpur managed to successfully rid themselves of their caste-based profession. They then modifi ed their professions and many of them went to the cities and took up jobs like brick-making, house construction, rickshaw pulling, etc. Trilochan, a resident of the Chamarpatti of this village says that it was because of their long struggle that the Chamars are now free from the curse of untouchability and oppression, which is their biggest emancipation.

Politics, Dissemination and Dalit Public

The new consciousness among the Chamars of quitting their naramaveshi jobs merged with their desire to be free of the curse of untouchability. Caught in the fetters of these degrading occupations, they could not attain economic security and were treated as bonded labourers by the other castes. A Chamar family narrated its misery in the newspaper titled Hindi Republic, published in 1968:

In my family, I have a wife and four children. We pick up the carcasses of humans and animals in the village. Last month only two animals died in the village. We earned four rupees by selling their hide. We also made two pairs of shoes from which we earned three rupees. We earned 18 rupees by doing other small tasks. Like this with a meagre amount of 25 rupees we have to feed six mouths. This is not enough to satiate our hunger (Hindi Republican Bharat, 8 May 1968).

The NMM continued in various villages of UP, led by the Chaudharis of the rural Chamars; but even the educated populace played an important role in spreading awareness about this movement. A section of the UP Chamars had become educated prior to India’s Independence. Unfortunately these literate people also could not set themselves free from the oppression

Economic & Political Weekly

october 2, 2010 vol xlv no 40

and operation of untouchability. Their rejection was apparent in the everyday humiliations encountered in both the rural and urban milieus. They articulated this pain of untouchability, thereby transforming it into a politics of social liberation. They aroused a consciousness among their people in their own and adjoining villages to abandon their abhorrent work. Trilochan, a resident of Jugraajpur village, reflects on this process and says,

Wherever we went, whether it was a wedding ceremony or banquet or society meeting, everywhere people (of our community) asked us to leave this work. The political leaders and the employed people, especially the teachers, said that it was a detestable job and that we should quit it. If you continue doing this work you will never get recognition in society.

The educated sahebs (schoolteachers and government employees among the dalits), who had come from distant places motivated the people to quit this profession. The Chamars, who migrated to Kolkata and Mumbai as labourers, returned to the villages and also played a crucial role in propagating this movement. Most of them were inspired by Ambedkarite thoughts and motivated the people to educate their children (Hans 2003: 77). Before independence, Swami Achootanand had carried out a movement in this region and motivated the people to take out a handful of grain from their house everyday and use it to educate their children by selling it. The Arya Samaj through its campaigns also aroused a consciousness of resistance towards nara-maveshi work among the Chamars. The Republican Party of India (RPI) movement, which started in UP in 1954 played a pivotal role in propagating this consciousness through the RPI workers and the newspapers published by them. People were given the message to quit this profession and to educate their children. The RPI workers and the educated dalit groups pressurised the government to ban the suppression of dalits participating in the NMM.

The role of the Arjak Sangh, which was active in UP during the 1970s, can also be evidenced from oral descriptions of the dalits. The Arjak Sangh was established by Ram Swaroop Verma on 1 June 1968, and the Arjak Weekly was published from 1 June 1969 onwards. The main motive of Arjak Sangh was to obliterate brahaminism and form an egalitarian society. Ram Swaroop Verma was a companion of Ram Manohar Lohia. In the assembly elections of 1952, Verma contested the election as a candidate of the Socialist Party from the Rajpur assembly seat of Kanpur district but lost by only a 100 votes. In 1956, he won the election and lost again in 1962. In 1967 he won again and was made fi nance minister in the government led by Chaudhary Charan Singh (Patel 2001: 6). The Arjak Sangh carried on a campaign for dalit emancipation in the various belts of UP. In this campaign they supported the NMM and the Chamars. Wherever the NMM was going on, the people of Arjak Sangh became active. Ram Swaroop Verma himself went to Bihra and Katka after the subjugation of the Chamars there. Arjak Sangh articles based their discussion on the dalits and the condition of untouchability, and published booklets such as Achooton ki Samasyayein Aur Samadhan (The problems of untouchables and their solutions), Niradar Kaise Mite (How to end humiliation), and so on. It was a determined effort to arouse the consciousness of resistance among the “untouchables” through scholarly articles.

In this way, educated and employed dalits who were well versed with city life were emerging as a dalit public in rural society. These dalits, engaged in building up a reform movement within dalit communities, were creating a critical dalit public in the villages. All of them were associated with the symbolic power of the Chaudharys of the traditional caste society in this movement. This mixed group of dalit political workers and the political groups in favour of the dalits carried forward the consciousness of this movement. As Bhullar of Shahabpur says, “We all gained confidence when we read Jagjivan Ram’s statement, which was published in the newspaper, in which he requested the people to put an end to this heinous work and told them that the government and law is there to help them all.”

According to Ramdulare, who was active during the Jugraajpur kand part of the movement, Babu Jagjivan Ram did a highly commendable job; yet he did not become the prime minister. He said that all the dalits were hurt because he was not offered the post simply because he was an “untouchable”. This goaded all the dalits of his village to decide that henceforth they would neither cut the umbilical cord of babies at birth nor pick up the carcass of animals, but would educate their children.

On the other hand, Ram Chet Ram, an elderly dalit of village Mitpur, post Jahanganj, district Azamgarh, who was himself involved in this movement near Azamgarh, puts forth the other facet of this movement. He says that the sad part of the story is that many SCs were themselves unwilling to quit this work. They even spoke ill of Ambedkar. These people used to worry about what they could do if they abandoned their traditional occupation. They were very happy with the meat of a dead animal, drying it in the sun for later consumption over a long period of time. They mocked those who asked them to stop. It has taken a long time for other Chamars to open their eyes. It was also not that all Chamars took part in this movement of their own accord. It was decided in their panchayat that no one would wed their daughters into those houses where this work continued and the family that continues with this work would be boycotted by Chamar society. Many Chamars also beat up those who did not quit this profession. Many people left this work for these, external, reasons.

This also makes it clear that the thoughts of the “elite” classes within the Chamar community and those of the politically active groups did not reach the lower sections of the people easily but that social pressure in the form of bans, persuasion and violence also played a major role in their dissemination. It is interesting to note that the traditional means of social boycott, suppression and subjugation used by the people of the upper and other castes to compel the Chamars to continue their heinous profession, were the same tools used by the struggling Chamars to force their fellow Chamars to discontinue their caste profession. However, even those Chamars who had not wanted to be involved in this movement earlier are today very happy with its success.

It was a movement in which multiple layers of violence and oppression on each other were visible. On the one hand, the upper and middle castes were suppressing the Chamars, while on the other hand, some dalit castes like the Nais, Dhobis, Pasis, etc, had joined hands with the upper castes and were subjugating those Chamars who were reluctant to continue with their age-old profession. There were differences amongst the Chamars as well, as those who were campaigning to stop this profession were oppressing those who wanted to continue with it.

Circulating Untouchability and the Politics of Protest

Was this movement successful in bringing the work of nara-maveshi to an end in the villages of UP? Did it succeed in wiping out the practice of untouchability and the assaults which emanated from this caste-based profession? The answer could be both “yes” and “no”. When the Chamars resident in the villages stopped doing their traditional work, other Chamars were brought in from areas like Rewa, Bilaspur in Madhya Pradesh and even from parts of Bihar and were settled in the villages. Till today, these immigrants earn their livelihood by doing the traditional work of cutting the umbilical cord and clearing and cleaning carcasses. They even tolerate the curse of “untouchability”.

Ram Nihore and Surajdin were brought from Rewa and their families settled in Shahabpur village for doing this work while Indralal’s family was called from Rewa to do this work in Jugraajpur. Apart from them there are two or three other families, who were called from Bilaspur. They are referred to as Kor Chamar in these villages and the other castes of the village treat them the same way as they earlier treated the Chamars who had traditionally lived in these villages. They do not have any relations with them nor drink water touched by them. These Kor Chamars continue to be treated as untouchables and have to sit apart in village marriages and ceremonies.

In this way untouchability has not come to an end in rural society even today. But the NMM played a signifi cant role in liberating a sizeable part of the Chamar community from untouchability, helped in their progress, educated them and encouraged them to modify their professions. Simultaneously, this movement also played a crucial role in the development of a political dalit public in the rural areas of UP. Many of those associated with this movement are today organising others around similar issues and a cadre has also emerged due to this movement which is working as an agency for dissemination of political ideas and awareness which provides a strong base for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). This cadre comprises both educated and illiterate dalits in addition to elderly men and women.

Bhullar, of Shahabpur, is the organiser of BSP and Trilochan of Jugraajpur is an active member of the party at the age of 80 years. There are many people in the nearby villages of Jugraajpur and in the regions of Kaushambi and Bindaki, who united during the NMM. Many of them today are the conveners of the BSP at the local and block level. Some of them are from the active dalit group which was awakened during this movement. Earlier, they supported the Congress and then the Communist Party. When the BSP was formed in 1984, many of them became BSP workers. However, in spite of being BSP workers, many of them are critical about those policies and works of the BSP that mar the benefi ts of the dalits. It appears that their consciousness has not lost its critical edge which emerged in their struggle against caste oppression and for dignity.

october 2, 2010 vol xlv no 40

A dual role of the state was visible in these movements. The laws, castes. Due to this, those responsible for the subjugation of dalits provisions and Acts of the state were in favour of the dalits but in went mostly unpunished. At the same time, the role of the state their implementation, state agencies like the police remained un-was positive in those places where the government offi cers were der the sway of the influential people who were from the dominant sympathetic towards the atrocities committed on the dalits.


1 This social movement was not only apparent in UP but also in other north Indian states like Bihar, as is obvious in Phanishwar Nath Renu’s novel Maila Aanchal (1954) and Buddha Sharan Hans’s book ‘Gau Brahmin Namo-Namo’, Ko Rakshati Vedah (2003). Though they do not fall under the category of historical facts, they do reflect the social happenings of those times.

2 Apart from the many important rural studies conducted during the 1950s-80s, scholars like Ravi Srivastava and Jens Lerche too did intensive village studies during the 1990s. Ravi Srivastava wrote Rural Labour in Uttar Pradesh: Emerging Features of Subsistence, Contradiction and Resistance (1999), Jens Lerche inquired into the village Deogaon in Jaunpur district about the lower caste groups and their political socialisation (2003).

3 Valmiki’s autobiography (1997) is a reminiscence of his atrocious conditions in the past, although there is not sufficient evidence of Valmiki’s participation in the Nara-Maveshi Movement in the villages.

4 Web site of National Crime Record Bureau, New Delhi (

5 There are very few historians who have worked on post-Independence UP. They have mostly worked on the history of colonial times in UP. Please see the works of Gyanendra Pandey (2002), Shahid Amin (1995), Majid Siddiqui (1978) and Kapil Kumar (1984).

6 Lynch (1974) in his book has documented the cultural and social transformation of the Jatavs in the urban milieu but we do not find any refl ection of the Nara-Maveshi Movement – the most widespread movement in the villages in those days in his work.

7 Section 504: Provoking breach of peace intentionally. Section 506: Punishment for criminal intimidation. Section 114: Abettor present when offence is committed. Section 148: Rioting armed with deadly weapon. Section 395: Punishment for dacoity.

8 Indian Express (1981) 8 June, New Delhi, pp 1, 7. 9 FIR by Harimohan, Jugraajpur at P S Sarai Akeel, Allahabad, 2 June 1981. 10 Letter to District Magistrate, P S Sarai Akeel, District Allahabad, UP by Bhagdu S/O Buddhu Saakin, Jugraajpur, 21 August 1981. 11 Section 147: Punishment for rioting. Section 323: Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt. Section 149: Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object. Section 452: House-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint.

12 Judgment Order by Special Chief Judicial Magistrate Ajay Swaroop Chaudhary, District Court Allahabad, UP, 26 April 1983.


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Narayan, B and A R Mishra (2004): Multiple Marginalities: An Anthology of Identified Dalit Writings (New Delhi: Manohar Publishers).

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