Maharaja Sayajirao-III’ s Ideas and works on Caste system and untouchability
‘’The people were illiterate, they were steeped in superstition,
they clung to the old traditions and the old customs largely
because they new no better , and those who should have
been there guides and teachers had not that breadth of
knowledge to advise them what was good and what was bad,
and to correct the ancient ways of there forefathers by the
light of modern research and modern progress’’
…………..Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad-III
Maharaja Sayajirao-III was the ruler of Baroda Sate from 1875-1939. His long rule of nearly sixty years proved extremely fruitful for the people of Baroda. It is interesting to note that besides being a benevolent ruler he was also a great social reformer of India who tried to reform Hindu society by basing his ideas on two major social issues- Caste system and the status of women. The aim of this paper is to bring into light his progressive ideas on caste system and untouchability of Hindu society and the practical measures undertaken by him to remove senseless distinction between people on the basis of accident of birth.
In fact the caste system of Hinduism and the problem of untouchables always pained the Maharaja. By cast he meant the recognition of the individuality of every man, which distinguishes him from every other, which gives him his own work, his own value in the world. Therefore he had equal respect in his mind for each and every caste. He uttered a fortnight denunciation of the system as he regarded it the most conservative element because it prevents various abilities of people from different communities which is necessary for the general progress of our country.The Maharaja expressed its effect on National life in the following words :
“Its most serious offence is on its national life and national unity. It intensifies local dissentions and diverse interests, and obscure great national ideals and interests which should be those of every caste and people, and renders the country disunited and incapable of overcoming its defects or of availing itself of the advantage which it should gain from contact with the civilization of West.” 1
Cast system, he regarded, is a steady enemy to all reform. He expressed that e very reformer who had tried to secure the progress of our society had been driven out of it by the operation of caste since olden times, when great religious reformer Sankaracharya was himself was out casted by this system.
“By its rigidity it preserves ignorance, superstitions and clings to the past, while it does nothing to make more easy and more possible those inevitable changes that nature is ever pressing on us.” 2
Maharaja always induced the people of his State to forget caste consciousness and to come in contact with one another and to some extent he was successful also. As an example at a great banquet in Laxmivilas palace in 1925 all the leading men of the State sat down to eat together in the same room , presided over by the Maharaja and his brother.3 Caste like Carthage was to him a thing to be blotted out. He said, “For India to be a Nation, and for the progressive development of the country, it is necessary that a social and national consciousness shall be created among the people. Therefore friendly and sympathetic relations must be created between the various castes and communities. Those that are backward must be brought on the same level as the more advanced, and the responsibility for doing this rests on the latter.” 4
The Maharaja Sayajirao III, from his early years devoted his attention to improve the lot of the so called untouchables by ameliorating their social status and by raising their standard of living. He was the first among the Indian princes and the social reformers, to take up the question of untouchability firmly and persistently on a wide scale and aimed to do constructive work in improving their condition and giving them proper place in the society as well as in the administration of the Baroda State.
He regarded this system of Hinduism as most inhuman and said that it is worse than slavery and even more subtly cruel than the physical tortures practiced by the slave hunters in Africa. 5 In his view it as a big social injustice to separate some people on the basis of accident of birth.
He disagreed with the view that the rigid caste system with its concomitant out-castes was a part of the Hinduism in the old Vedic times. In fact, society was then divided into four classes on the basis of division of labour and these four classes were not clastes. One could improve his quality and ability and get into the next higher class. He expressed his views that the ideas of untouchability is only a later refinement born of ignorance and conceit and nurtured by self complacency.6 He pointed out to the fact that untouchables were not feeble in spirit or mentality. As an example he mentioned the names of some famous saints of India who were respected even by the Brahmins. Such as –Nanad in South India, Ravidas in Oudh , Chokamela in Maharashtra, Haridas Thakur in Bengal. He also mentioned the examples of some out-caste boys who had passed the highest tests of the universities both in India and abroad.
Therefore he believed that, to separate a class of people on the basis of birth is unreasonable, separating men, equal by nature, into innumerable divisions based only on the accident of birth. The eternal struggle between caste and caste has been is and will be a source of constant ill-feeling. Unity and patriotism are so eminently needed to enable us to take rank as a nation. While the whole world is engaged in mighty conflict over fundamental issues, we falter and waste breadth over petty differences. We need a Wilber force for the emancipation of these slaves of Hindu society.7
Thus he considered the problem of untouchability as one of the national importance. He pointed out that the national unity could not be built by subjection and disaffection of large number of people socially, politically and economically. He made it clear that if the “Hindus” wanted to rise as nation, they must all espouse the cause of the depressed classes and raise their status socially and politically.
One striking illustration would be enough to depict his ideal being translated into practice. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar , who distinguished himself as one of the foremost Jurists of
India , received the patronage of the Maharaja in the pursuit of his higher studies leading to B.A. degree in Baroda. Later on, he proceeded to America for higher studies and received his PhD degree in Law . This he achieved with the help of the Baroda State. Dr. Ambedkar worked in the State service and later on was appointed as a member of the State Legislatve Assembly . In 1933 Sayajirao expressed his satisfaction over the progress of Dr. Ambedkar and more for making him a leader of the down-trodden classes
History shows that Dr. Ambedkar devoted his life for the uplift of these classes .
But it should be noted here that although Sir Sayaji rao’s timely financial help significantly contributed towards building the professional career of Dr. Ambedkar, yet Dr. Ambedkar’s experience as an officer in the Baroda State service was not a happy one.
He found the other officers belonging to upper castes over dominating and therefore prepared to resign and leave Baroda. Sir Sayaji rao was a helpless spectator to this episode.
In different places of India at different times, Sayajirao III attended meetings snd conferences, held for improving the status of depressed classes and expressed his views on untouchability. Such as- Speaking before the Arya Samajists at Lahore in 1903, he referred to granting of admission to the lower classes to the lower classes into the Hindu
Society. He emphatically mentioned the numerical deterioration of the Hindu society which had resulted due to a large number of people becoming Muslims and Christians. He exhorted the members of Arya Samaj to arrest this depletion. He said, “If we are not going to admit low class people to their legitimate rights in Hindu society, I do not see any reason why we shold blame Muslims and Christians for doing what we profess our ability to do.” 8 Similarly at the third Anniversary of the Deppressed Classes Mission in 1904 and at the All-India Conference on the Abolition of Untouchability in 1918 at Bombay he expressed his dissatisfaction over this view.
Sayajirao referred to his own endeavours which were “humble” to ameliorate the lot of the depressed classes in the State. It may noted here that for the Antyaja Schools in the state, no Hindu co-operated with him by becoming a teacher. The Muslims and the Arya Samajists came forward and worked as teachers in the schools of the state. Sayajirao was not merely satisfied by appointing teachers in the Antyajas in their homes, schools and the boarding houses. He put into practice his ideas to break the barriers of prejudice of the Hindus against them to eradicate the belief of pollution with their touch. (Pp 54-55)
It is significant to note that in Oct 1932 , Sayajirao in the face of bitter opposition from the orthodox section , threw he opne all the State temples to the untouchables. The harijans of Baroda were led by some high caste leaders in procession to the Vithal Mandir , a State temple near Mandvi in the heart of the city. They all spent the whole day in singing ‘Bhajans’ and in religious activities and made the function success. The funcyion got wider publicity outside the State among the social reformers of the country.
It may be mentioned here that one decade earlier Mahama Gandhi had also by then launched his programme for the uplift of the untouchables and for keeping open temples to them in 1921. On hearing Sayajirao’s gesture , he expressed satisfaction and hoped that other princes would follow him. In the British Indian territories, the movement of opening temples to the untouchables did not materialize to a similar extent.
In 1925, the opening ceremony of a second hostel named “Arya Kumar Ashram” in the Baroda city, became an occasion of great demonstration. This was done by the Arya Samajists not only of Baroda but also by many of the Samajists visitors coming from other parts of India specially for this purpose. Sayajirao in his speech praised the activities of Arya Samaj which aimed at removing the disabilities of the depressed classes.
On the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee celebration (1st January 1936) in a message to the people, Sayajirao referring to the untouchability proclaimed, “it is repugnant to our common humanity that those who should be regarded as our brothers and sisters are branded with this unnatural stigma.” 9
He sharply criticized the higher classes which deprived millions of their fellow creatures of self-respect and hope of betterment. He added that those classes would inevitably suffer from moral decay. Though he and his government stove hard to improve the lot of the untouchables, they were pained to mark the stiff and unrelenting attitude of the orthodox section of the society.
At the fifth Rotary Conference in Baroda in 1938, he spoke on the subject of untouchability for the last time. He urged the Rotarians to strive hard for the eradication of taint of untouchability from India as it had led to the downfall of man.
Thus till the end of his life, he cherished noble ideas on the subject of untouchability and made earnest efforts to improve their in his State.
He also passed two acts to improve the status of the untouchables, such as The Caste Tyranny removal Act(1933) and The Social Disabilities Removal Act((1939) .
But he could achieve only limited success in bringing changes to status of the untouchables . Prevailing social, cultural and religious beliefs and practices were largely responsible for that and not because of the lack of enthusiasm, interests or efforts of the Maharaja. But this also shows that it was difficult even for a ruler like him to act against the prevalent influence and hold of caste system of Hindu society. Even India of tiday is facing a great challenge in regard to social reforms in matters of marriage. Divorce, dowry, condition and status of women and caste system. Barring such limitations he greatly succeded in his policies and programmes for reform.
1 Sergeant Phillip W., The Ruler of Baroda, An Account of the Life
and Work of the Maharaja Gaekwad, London, 1928 pp.159-160)
2 Ibid, p.160
3 Ibid p 217
4 Ibid p.217
5 Widgery A.G., Speeches and Addresses of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, Vol.II, 1877-1927, London, 1928 p 449)
6 Ibid p 454)
7 Ibid p 459
8 Parikh R.G. : The Social, Economic and Political Ideas of Sayajirao III of Baroda, June 1973,(unpublished thesis p.130
9 Newham C.E., Speeches and Addresses of Maharaja Sayajirao
Gaekwad, Vol. IV, 1934-38, edited, London, 1938,p.808
Books & References :-
1 Sergeant Phillip W., The Ruler of Baroda, An Account of the Life
and Work of the Maharaja Gaekwad, London, 1928.
2Rice Stanley S., Life of Sayajirao III, Maharaja of Baroda, Vol. II,
3.Tottenham E. L., Highness of Hindustan, An Account of the eight years (1911-1920) spent at the court of Baroda, London, 1934
4. Gaekwad, Fatehsinhrao, Sayajirao of Baroda, The Prince and the Man,
5.Widgery A.G., Speeches and Addresses of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, Vol. I & II, 1877-1927, London, 1928
6. Saunders K. G., Speeches and Address of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, Vol. III, 1927-1934, London, 1934.
7. Newham C.E., Speeches and Addresses of Maharaja Sayajirao
Gaekwad, Vol. IV, 1934-38, edited, London, 1938
• Census Report
1.Census of India, 1891 Baroda State, 1891.
2.Census of India, 1901 Baroda State, 1901. vol. XVIII, Baroda state, 1901.
3.Census of India, 1901 Baroda State Bombay, 1901, Vol. XVIII, B. Baroda, Part III. Baroda. 1901.
4.Census of India 1911, Baroda State, 1911.
5.Census of India, 1921, Baroda State, 1921,vol. XVIII, Part I, Bombay, 1922.
6.Census of India, 1931, Baroda State, 1931.
7.Census of India 1941, Baroda State, vol. XVII, Baroda,1941.
1.Gazetters of Baroda state
2.Desai G.H. & Clarke A.B. Gazetter of the Baroda State vol II ,
Bombay , 1923
• Baroda Administrative Reports 1881-82 to 1945-46.
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