Eighty six years ago, on March 20, 1927, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar led the Mahad satyagraha – for drinking water from the Cavdar tank at Mahad. This was the “foundational struggle” of the dalit movement, a movement for water – and for caste annihilation.
In his statement at the time, Dr. Ambedkar put the movement in the broadest possible context. Why do we fight, he asked. It is not simply for drinking water; drinking the water will not give us very much. It is not even a matter of only of our human rights, though we fight to establish the right to drink water. But our goal is no less than that of the French Revolution. This was fought for the reconstruction of society, for the eradication of the old society based on feudal inequality and the establishment of a new society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. Similarly, we want to end the old inhuman caste society based on inequality and reconstruct the world, reconstruct society on the basis of liberty, equality and fraternity. This is our goal!
And so dalits went to drink the water at Mahad. They were met with ferocious repression: at attack by caste Hindus followed. The dalits retreated, came back several months later on December 25 for a renewed struggle, and since the collector had given an injunction against any further attempt, Ambedkar decided to honor this and instead burned the Manusmriti. A fitting climax to the first battle of dalit liberation!