The concept of Hindu Chaturvarnashrama dictated that the caste of a person determined the status and relative purity of different sections of the population.
It was caste that determined who could get education or ownership of landed property, the kind of profession one should pursue, whom one could dine with or marry, etc.
The worst-hit by the discriminatory institution of caste were the ‘untouchables’ or the scheduled castes/dalits because the disabilities imposed on them were humiliating, inhuman and based on the principle of inequality by birth.
From the mid-19th century onwards, numerous organisations and groups such as theBrahmo Samaj,Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, the Theosophists, the Social Conference and individuals worked to spread education among the untouchables.
Gandhi always had in mind the objective of eradicating untouchability by root and branch. His ideas were based on the grounds of humanism and reason. For this he founded in 1932, he founded the All India Harijan Sangh.
In Maharashtra, Jyotiba Phule, led a movement against the brahmanical domination of Hindu society and for this he formed Satya Shodak Samaj.
He founded Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha in 1924 to highlight the difficulties and grievances of the dalits before the government. Its motto was: ‘Educate, Agitate and Organise’.
Also he founded All India Depressed Classes Association and All India Scheduled Castes Federation to champion the cause of depressed class.
Dr B.R. Ambedkar had also started a weekly paper called ‘Mooknayak‘ (Leader of the Dumb) to champion the cause of the depressed classes in India.
Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar led the Mahad Satyagraha in 1927 to challenge the regressive customs of the caste Hindus.
Self-Respect Movement led by E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker was organised in the 1920s by the non-brahmins demanding that the ban on the entry of lower castes into temples be lifted.
Sri Narayana Guruin Kerala led a lifelong struggle against upper caste domination. He coined the slogan “one religion, one caste, one God for mankind”, which his disciple Sahadaran Ayyapan changed into “noreligion, no caste, no God for mankind”.