Debate on caste

Vishvajeet Vasantrao Dhawale
3 min readDec 6, 2019


Who had a more convincing argument, Gandhi or Ambedkar?

An interesting question indeed.

The debate between Gandhi and Ambedkar is old — it continues still.

The Similarities:

Both Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi agreed that caste-based discrimination and the age-old custom of untouchability in India were unjust, evil and criminal and deserved a purge

Both ran separate mass movements to help eradicate this societal menace including temple entry agitations in western and central parts of India by Dr. Ambedkar and eastern and southern parts of India by Mahatma Gandhi.

Both also claimed to represent the interest of the people belonging to the so-called lower castes in India.

The Differences :

Being from an upper caste, Gandhi left every privilege that life afforded, and got down to even do jobs like cleaning of latrines, to symbolize that he was the same as the members on the untouchable community.

Dr. Ambedkar, on the other hand, chose to acquire erudition, academic brilliance and even a sense of fashion, to symbolize that he, by birth an untouchable, was no different than the members on the so-called higher castes.

Both thus had opposite approaches to the same mean.

For Mahatma, gaining independence from the British always had a higher weightage than the eradication of untouchability — For Dr. Ambedkar, who was made to go through the harrowing torture of being born in a lower caste, this was priority number 1. Any independence with the status quo on untouchability, in his opinion, would not be independence at all.

While Gandhi thought Ambedkar was trying to bring a sea change too soon and thus might fail — Ambedkar believed tat Gandhi was too slow to adopt and accept the change, thereby becoming meaningless. Where Gandhi foresaw an upliftment — Ambedkar foresee an upsurge.

The Poona Pact of 24th September 1932

The main point of contention between them arrived during the second round of the Round Table Conference of 1930–32.

While Gandhi was okay conceding separate electorates for the Muslims in India- He wasn’t okay with separate electorates for the untouchables and members of the lower castes, as that in his opinion would further divide the Hindu Society.

Thus, when British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald announced the Communal Award on 16th August 1932, giving separate reserved electorates to members of the lower caste and untouchables, Gandhi decided to protest by going on a fast unto death from his jail cell in Yerwada, Maharashtra.

When Gandhi’s condition in the jail deteriorated, Dr. Ambedkar was cajoled by friends and wellwishers to arrive at a consensus with Gandhi. And thus, after frantic negotiations, was signed the famous Poona Pact between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B R Ambedkar, allowing for a single electorate for Hindus, with Untouchables having seats reserved within it.


As far as the debate is concerned, while Dr. Ambedkar managed to secure a separate electorate for the members of the lower castes in India, despite reservations voiced by Mahatma Gandhi, the argument was finally won by Mahatma Gandhi, thanks to the use of his most potent weapon of choice — the fast unto death.

There were two unequal lines and Gandhiji was trying to erase the taller line to make it equal to the shorter one.

Dr. Ambedkar drew the shorter line a bit more to make it equal to the taller one.

In sum, there were important and irreconcilable differences between Gandhi and Ambedkar. Two great personages of Indian history were posed against one another, giving alternative models of humanity and society. The debate goes on!

While Gandhi was proven right in the long run — it was Dr Ambedkar who perhaps had a more convincing argument.

Cheers and peace.

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