The Influence of B.A Ambedkar:
The Dalit Panthers based much of their ideological aims off of Ambedkarite philosophy. Ambedkar, unlike Gandhi, saw that to organise against caste oppression and the tyranny of the caste-system, a movement built on liberation was essential, rather than one based simply on a sympathy for the Dalit. Ambedkar influenced the formation of the Dalit Panthers due to his more radical ideology of using education and electoral politics as a means of creating social change. Ambedkar was one of the first scheduled caste members to stand up for the scheduled castes, proclaiming that for a total restructuring of society to be successful, all those suffering from socially or economically exploitative times must unit under one movement. Ambedkar’s “We must become a ruling community” became the prominent saying of the movement.
Ambedkar’s philosophy proclaimed the transition from Hinduism to Buddhism, becoming a major ideological facet for the Dalit Panthers; Neo-Buddhism became the new form of religion, derived from Ambedkar’s interpretation and alteration of Buddhist ideas.With the conception of the Dalit Panther movement, a mixed Ambedkarite and Marxist ideology provided the revolutionary and radical platform for its political inclinations, shown particularly within the language of the 1973 Manifesto:
“We do not want a little place in the brahmin alley. We want to rule the whole country. We are not looking at persons but at a system. Change of heart, liberal education, etc. will not end our state of exploitation. When we gather a revolutionary mass, rouse the people, out of the struggle of this giant mass will come the tidal wave of revolutions.”
Excerpt from the Dalit Panther Manifesto of 1973
Leadership of the Dalit Panthers:
When the Dalit Panthers was founded in 1972, the initial leaders were Dhasal and J.V. Pawar. The organisation of the movement was hierarchical, however resided in some form of group or joint leadership. The main four leaders were Dhasal, Dhale, Mahatekar and Sangare. Due to ideological differences, each competed for leadership of the movement, with both Dhasal and Dhale causing the majority of the infighting. With a lack of organisational strategy and structure of decision making, the movement was mainly kept together through a commitment to Ambedkarite ideology (some in so far as pleasing the Neo-Buddhists).
Most of the leaders were well educated but lacked experience when it came to organising a political movement. With the Dalit Panthers seemingly radical position shown within the 1973 manifesto, Dhale had indicated his dismay over its publication. Dhale argued that the manifesto was not a representation of the Panthers’ ideology but was simply published without the consensus of the working committee. This divergent nature of the Dalit Panthers arguably led to its initial split and potentially its demise.
Positions within the movement included the President (Raja Dhale), Vice-president (Vithal Sathe), Secretary (J.V. Pawar), Treasurer (Avinash Mahatekar), Defence Minister (Namdeo Dhasal), Minister for Communication (Thorat), Public Minister (Uddhav Salve), and a position for the women’s wing (Jayavanta Jagdhane).
Division within the movement:
In 1974 (two years after the movements conception) the Dalit Panthers split its organisation due to the political differences of both Dhale and Dhasal. With Dhasal having allegiances with the communists, Dhale found the potential infiltration of communists disturbing, as they would try to alter the ideological composition of the organisation. As a result of this split, Dhale took the majority of the members (due to many holding Amberdkar as the bastion of the caste movement) and Dhasal making his own movement of more radical members. These new organisations had later undergone their own splits, creating four new movements: Mass Movement (led by Raja Dhale), Maharastra Dalit Panthers (led by Arun Kamble), Dalit Panthers (led by Sangare and Mahatekar) and the Dalit Panthers (led by Namdeo Dhasal).
Murugkar, L. (1991) “Dalit Panther Movement in Maharashtra: A Sociological Appraisal, India: Sangam Books
Omvedt, G. (1991) “The anti-caste movement and discourse of power”, Race & Class, 33(2), pp. 15-27
Slate, N (2012) “Black Power Beyond Borders: The Global Dimensions of the Black Power Movement”, in Contemporary Black History, United States: Palgrave Macmillan