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One of the major causes was the grievances of the educated men belonging to the lower and intermediate castes. They raised their voice against a system which discriminated against them, as for instance in justice movement in south India and Satyashodak movement in Maharashtra.
The desire of some of the lower castes to move upward in the social ladder through the process of Sanskritisation (castes asserting a higher status for themselves through borrowed customs, manners and taboos from groups traditionally superior) also led to these movements, for example, movements of the Nadars and Pallis of Tamil Nadu and those of the Ezhavas and Nairs of Kerala.
Further, the desire of some radical elements to improve the lot of the lower and intermediate castes by attacking Brahmin domination and at times by challenging the very basis of the caste system played a dominant role in these movements, for instance. Self respect movement in Tamil Nadu and the Mahar and Satyashodok movements in Maharashtra.
Finally, the British also contributed to the rise of these movements. Their contribution was indirect before 1901 (through their policy of divide and rule, that is turning caste against caste) and direct after 1901 (the 1901 census began the practice of classifying castes in a social hierarchical order which encouraged a flood of claims and counter claims by different castes).
Justice movement – It was an intermediate caste movement launched in Madras around 1915-16 by C N Mudaliar, T M Nair and P Tyagraja Chetti on behalf of intermediate castes (like Tamil Vellalas, Mudaliars and Chettiars, Telugu Reddis, Kammas and Baliza Naidus and Malayali Nairs) against Brahmin predominance in education, government service and politics. They founded a new political party known as the justice party which exhibited its loyalty to the British government in the hope of getting more government jobs and representation in the new legislatures.
Self Respect Movement - It was a populist and radical movement founded in 1925 in Tamil Nadu by E.V Ramaswamy Naicker popularly known as Periyar against the Brahmin domination. It advocated weddings without Brahmin priests, forcible temple entry, burning of the Manu Smriti and outright atheism at times. Periyar founded a Tamil journal, Kudi Arasa, in 1924 in order to propagate his ideas.
Nadar movement – In the Ramnad district of south Tamil Nadu, an untouchable caste of agricultural labourers, originally called ‘shanans’, emerged as a prosperous mercantile class by the end of the 19th century and began to call themselves by the prestigious title of ‘Nadars’ to claim Kshatriya status. They organized a ‘Nadar Mahajan Sangam’ in 1910, imitated upper caste customs and manners (sanskritisation) and raised funds for educational and social welfare activities.
Ezhava Movement – The untouchable Ezhavas of Kerala, under the leadership of Nanu Asan (also known as Narayan Guru), began in the early 20th century a movement known as the SNDP yogam (Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalana Yogam). Its twin objectives were to abolish untouchability and to build a simplified system of rituals regarding worship, marriage and funerals. They also imitated some of the customs of the higher castes. In the latter period they became the firmest supporters of the communists in Kerala.
Nair Movement - In the state of Travancore the intermediate caste of Nairs (numerically the dominant caste) started in the late 19th century a strong movement against the social and political domination of the Nambudri Brahmins and the non Malayali Brahmins (Tamil and Maratha). C.V. Raman Pillai organized the Malayali Memorial (1891) which attacked Brahmin predominance in government jobs. His historical novel Martanda Varma (1891) attempted an evocation of the lost Nair military glory. His group was, however, easily accommodated within the official elite by the late 1890’s. After 1900, however a more energetic Nair leadership emerged under K Rama Krishna Pillai and M Padmanabha Pillai. The former edited the Swadeshabhimani from 1906 till 1919 when its attacks on the court and demands for political rights led to his expulsion from Travancore. Padmanabhai Pillai founded the Nair Service Society (1914) which worked for the social and political advancement of the Nairs.
Satyashodak Movement - It was a movement started by Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra. Phule, through his book Gulamgiri (1872) and his organization Satyashodak Samaj (1873) proclaimed the need to save the lower castes from the hypocritical Brahmins and their opportunistic scriptures. This movement was dual in character. That is, it had an urban elite based conservatism (the trend representing the desire of the urban educated members of the intermediate and lower castes to move upwards in the social ladder by Sanskritisation) as well as a more genuine rural mass based radicalism (the trend representing the desire of the rural Maratha peasants to do away with the evils of the caste system itself).
Mahar movement - It was the movement of the untouchable Mahars of Maharashtra, under the leadership of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar (their first graduate), which gained momentum in the 1920s. Their demands included the right to use public drinking water tanks and enter temples, abolition of the mahar watan (traditional services to village chiefs) and separate representation in the legislative councils. From 1927, some of them even started burning the Manu Smriti as a symbol of a sharper break with Hinduism.
C.V. Raman Pillai, K. Ramakrishna Pillai
C.N. Mudaliyar, T.M. Nair & P.T. Chetti
Self Respect Movement
E.V. Ramaswami Naicker (Periyar)
Nanu Asan (Narayan Guru)
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