Posted On March 9, 2022

Immediately after Independence when every section and community of the society was aggressively fighting to safeguard its own interests, a Dalit woman rose above the divisive politics and tried her best to preserve the unity and harmony of the nation.

She said in the Indian Constituent Assembly, “I visualise that the underdogs will be the rulers of the Indian Republic. I, therefore, appeal to the Harijan delegates of this Constituent Assembly that they should not harp on separatism. We should not make ourselves the laughing stock of our future generations by doing so. Harijans are Indians and they have to live in India as Indians and they will live in India as Indians.”

That astonishingly valiant woman was Dakshayani Velayudhan, whose journey was marked by smashing the caste and gender barriers to smithereens.

Dakshayani was born in 1912 on Bolghatty Island of Cochin, then a princely state, into the caste of Playas who were agricultural labourers who experienced the worst form of caste oppression. Dakshayani’s father Shri Kunjan was a teacher. Even her name ‘Dakshayani’ meaning ‘Durga’ challenged the existing caste hegemony as it was a name believed to be typically reserved for the upper castes.

The wrongful circumstances in which Dakshayani spent her growing days made her more and more unyielding and valorous. She forged her own path and refused to keep her shoulders bent or to make way for upper castes while walking.

Dakshayani passed BA in 1935 with a scholarship from the Cochin state government to become the first Dalit woman graduate in India. She was appointed as a teacher under the Cochin government service. Her wedding to Dalit leader Raman Velayudhan in 1940 was a revolution. It was held in Gandhi’s Wardha Ashram in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi, with a leprosy-afflicted person officiating as a priest.

Dakshayani wanted to fight against the inhuman institution of untouchability. Hence, she entered the Cochin’s Legislature in 1945 and became the first Dalit woman member of the Cochin Legislative Council, wherein her first speech, she said that as long as untouchability remained, the word Harijan was meaningless. “It is like calling dogs, Napoleon.”

Dakshayani was elected to the Indian Constituent Assembly from Madras in December 1946. At 34 years of age, she was the only Dalit woman in the Assembly and the youngest as well. In the Assembly, she said that in the Indian Republic there would be no barriers based on caste or community and the Harijans would be safe. Dakshayani asked for real protection to the underdogs of the country through the removal of their social disabilities.

Dakshayani opposed separate electorates or reservations for Harijans. Her arguments reflect her utmost belief in economic and social upliftment rather than dissentious politics as a means to eradicate various discriminations. She was afraid that the erroneous ideology might result in the isolation of Harijans and prevent their socio-economic progress by breaking down the solidarity and strength of the newly freed and still vulnerable nation.

November 29, 1948, was the historic day when the Constituent Assembly decided to abolish untouchability. Dakshayani said then: “So I hope that in course of time there will not be such a community known as Untouchables.” She, however, argued that the best way to address untouchability was through sustained propaganda by the Centre and states and not through punishment.

She and her husband R Velayudhan were members of the Provisional Parliament (1950-52) while representing two opposing political parties ie, the Indian National Congress and Socialist Party respectively. For her tireless civil society work with a focus on Dalit welfare and empowerment of the downtrodden, in 2019 the Kerala Government instituted the ‘Dakshayani Velayudhan Award’ for social service in her honour.

Dakshayani’s efforts ensured fair treatment and equal opportunities to Dalits in the Constitution. She believed in working towards creating a well-built and uniform national identity for all residents of an independent India rather than maintaining disruptive practices that would widen the social gaps.

Currently, the political propaganda for Dalit vote bank seems all about playing divisive tactics. It is even more imperative to celebrate the strong, rare, inspiring yet relatively unheralded leaders like Dakshayani Velayudhan.

Courtesy : Deccan herald