Issue of Untouchability: Divergence & Convergence of Gandhi & Ambedkar

18 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2014

Date Written: August 7, 2013


Untouchability is a ‘direct’ product of the caste system. It is not merely the inability to touch a human being of a certain caste or sub-caste. It is an attitude on the part of a whole group of people that relates to a deeper psychological process of thought and belief, invisible to the naked eye, translated into various physical acts and behaviors, norms and practices. The problem is of great amplitude and has various facets that are studied and researched time and again.

The greatest contribution of Ambedkar and the Congress, which represented the views of Gandhiji, for the cause of the Scheduled Castes, was that in the Constitution of India, the fundamental rights including equality before thelaw were made applicable to all citizens of India, irrespective of caste and creed. It should not be forgotten that Ambedkar was the only member of the Scheduled Caste in the Constituent Assembly who was elected on a non-Congress platform. The Constituent Assembly was dominated by the Congress. Although Ambedkar had a major role as Law Minister in the drafting of the Constitution, all the provisions were much debated and scrutinized by various luminaries.

Over 80 forms of untouchability have been identified, many of which are apparently free India’s additions to the list. From time immemorial Dalits have been deprived of their right to education and the right to possess land and other forms of property. Left with nothing but their physical labor to earn their livelihood they have all along been forced to do the toughest and most menial jobs for survival. Apart from the denial of access to public roads, tanks, temples and burial/cremation grounds there are other forms of untouchability. While untouchability is still rampant and is taking new forms particularly in villages, the constitutional ban and compulsions of modernity and development have to some extent blunted its rigor. Rail transport has been unifying forces in society. Although all state governments claim that they have abolished manual scavenging reports reveal that this practice is very much alive in many places. Postmen have also been found to practice untouchability.

Both Gandhiji and Ambedkar were great men. While Gandhiji was the Father of the Nation, Ambedkar was the Father of the Indian Constitution. While Gandhiji was an apostle of peace and non-violence, Ambedkar became a convert to Buddhism, which preached universal peace and non-violence. Both of them work edassiduously for the emancipation of the Scheduled Castes, though their means differed. For Gandhiji, the change had to come primarily in the hearts of caste Hindus. He staked his life for retaining the Scheduled Castes within the Hindu fold. Gandhiji wanted political freedom before the rights of various classes could be secured. Ambedkar agitated for separate electorates but showed generosity of spirit and gave up this demand to save Gandhiji's life. Ambedkar was fortunate enough to see for himself the initial progress made by the Scheduled Caste arising out of the safeguards provided in the Constitution.

Keywords: Untouchability, Untouchability in India, Gandhi, Ambedkar

Suggested Citation

Shakya, Shail, Issue of Untouchability: Divergence & Convergence of Gandhi & Ambedkar (August 7, 2013). Available at SSRN: or
No contact information is available for Shail Shakya

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