Contesting Hindu identity: Ambedkar’s Yeola Declaration and Youth League of Ambedkarites’ in Princely State of Hyderabad, 1935-1939
Mr Venna Abhilash, PhD Scholar, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
In his iconic call at Yeola in October 1935, Ambedkar exhorted the Dalit masses to renounce Hinduism and choose any religion that gave equality of status. This call created ripples in the neighbouring Princely State of Hyderabad and led to the movement away from the Hindu fold under the aegis of the first Ambedkarite organisation called the Youth League of Ambedkarites'. This movement induced tremendous ideological clarity in the untouchable rank and file in Hyderabad regarding Hindu religion and the caste Hindu organisations that defended it.
The Youth League of Ambedkarites' prepared a famous report on conversion in May 1936, which unequivocally stated that Dalits were not part of the Hindu fold. The founding aims and objectives of the Youth League of Ambedkarites contained a sharp critique of the dominant Hindu religion and culture. Based on this critique, it imagined an alternative radical cultural fold and identity for Dalits. It formed the basis for its demand for separate political representation from the Nizam's Government.
The Youth League of Ambedkarites fiercely opposed the caste Hindu social reformer's attempt to denounce 'Ambedkarism' and prosecuted important Sanatanists’ and members of the Hyderabad Congress circles. With these historical actions, they aimed to snap the political cord that aimed to tether Dalits to the imaginary and political Hindu community that was under construction in this princely state.
The sheer scale of Dalit conversions to non-Hindu religions and the political events it shaped in the subsequent years shows the far-ranging effects of Ambedkar’s Yeola Declaration on the politics of Hyderabad. The Dalit masses responded energetically to this call, and mass conversions to Christianity and Islam ensued. Nationalist observers put the estimate for conversions to Islam at eighteen thousand from 1936-1938, while Christianity received far greater numbers with ten thousand conversions for the year 1938 alone.
The scale of Dalit defiance post the Yeola Declaration realigned political strategies of different political organisations and catapulted Muslim politics into one of the principal political forces in this princely state due to its Tabligh campaign amongst Dalits. Despite its visible influence, the historiography on Hyderabad has shied away from subjecting this event to a rigorous study based on archival material.
The movement away from the Hindu fold was a quintessential Ambedkarite movement. It unified the disparate elements of the political assertion that the Dalit Movement championed from its inception in 1915 in this princely state and paved the way for a crystallised political programme. This paper aims to historicise this pivotal event in the Ambedkarite movement in Hyderabad State and its trailblazing role in dismantling structures of tyranny and oppression as sanctioned by the Hindu religion.