With modern times, this traditional work became less important and they moved into occupations like road building, railway work, dock work, menial jobs in factories and mills and into the army and others. Mahars had served with Shivaji and the Peshwa's armies but it was service in the armies of the British that started the Mahar movement for attaining a higher status.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Mahars were already beginning to become organised. They petitioned to re-enter the British Army, held conferences to protest against the practice of untouchability and started hostels and a few schools.
With the coming of education and political awakening in the twentieth century, there came a desire to participate more fully in Hinduism. In the 1920s Mahars tried to participate in the Ganapati festival in Bombay and they held satyagraha in Amravati and Poona for temple entry. From 1930 to 1935 a massive satyagraha was held at Nasik in a futile effort to get the famous Kalaram temple opened to the untouchable castes and Mahatma Gandhi began his temple entry campaigns in the 1930s.
After attempting to participate in the Ganapati festival and watching the failure of temple entry attempts, Ambedkar called a conference in 1936 to consider the question of religion. The Mahar conference declared its intention of giving up Hinduism after an impassioned speech by Ambedkar.
Two months before his death, Ambedkar called his followers to Nagpur and was converted to Buddhism by the oldest Buddhist bhikshu in India, Mahasthaveer Chandramani. On 14 October, 1956, five lakh people, including many Mahars, joined Ambedkar.
(Last Updated on : 08-04-2009)