The ajaat was a bold social movement of the 1920s and ’30s that at its peak had tens of thousands of committed followers in what are present-day Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It was led by the colourful and eccentric social reformer Ganpati Bhabhutkar better known as Ganpati Maharaj. Chaitanya Prabhu and Shyam Maharaj are his surviving grandsons. Apart from the usual anti-liquor and anti-violence norms of such movements, Ganpati Maharaj threw in others. He attacked caste frontally. Many stopped idol worship at his call. He pressed for gender equality and even railed against private property. And, in the 1930s, he and his followers declared themselves as ‘ajaat.’
…….Ajaat candidates can’t contest panchayat polls. Poll officials refuse to accept their forms — which state no caste. “Ajaat folk can’t get ration cards without a huge struggle,” says Prabhu. College admissions, scholarships and government jobs elude them for the same reasons. Other villagers won’t marry into these families now as their caste status lacks clarity. In short, the followers of a once proud anti-caste reform movement have been reduced to a couple of thousand people viewed as something like a caste themselves.
P. Sainath writes