Category Archives: Today in Dalit History

Siddharth Vihar is gone. And with it, an important piece of Dalit history


Siddharth Vihar, the boys’ hostel in Mumbai that was once the site of important political and cultural activity within the Dalit community, has been demolished. Here’s why the demolition means so much more.

Siddharth Vihar

Siddharth Vihar

February 9, 2015. The 90-odd residents of Wadala’s Siddharth Vihar boys’ hostel – mostly poor Dalit and “lower” caste students from rural Maharashtra – were busy preparing for the upcoming examination season. Around 10am, their studies were interrupted by a group of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials and beat policemen, who asked them to assemble outside the building. Once the students had been herded downstairs, the officials locked the hostel gates. Within ten minutes, the demolition started. The doors and internal walls were the first to go, to ensure that the four-story structure could not be re-occupied. In one stroke, the students were rendered shelterless. With nowhere to go, many are still camped out in the hostel compound.

In another part of the city, the Maharashtra state government is finalizing plans to buy a 2,050sq ft, three-story bungalow in London for Rs 30 crore. This is the house Dalit icon Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar stayed in while studying at the London School of Economics in 1921-1922. The government, with one eye firmly fixed on the Dalit vote in the upcoming local body elections, wants to convert the bungalow into an Ambedkar memorial. On February 18, the cash-strapped government announces that it will dip into the funds allocated to the Mahatma Phule Magasvargiya Vikas Mahamandal – a state-owned corporation whose objective is to help people from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities by offering training and financial assistance so they can be self-employed – to pay Rs 3 crore to a UK-based solicitor to close the deal.

The contrasting responses to these two cases reflect the larger tragedy of contemporary Dalit politics in Maharashtra, where tokenism and symbolism have taken the place of concrete efforts towards the upliftment of the Dalit masses. The state government, which is spending Rs 30 crore on an Ambedkar memorial in another country, did not even notice when an important part of Ambedkar’s legacy was lost forever. Over its 51-year history, Siddharth Vihar occupied a unique role in the struggle for Dalit emancipation in Maharashtra. It was an incubator for Dalit radicals and intellectuals, producing some of the biggest names in Dalit politics, literature, music and theater. And yet there were no public statements on its demise, no long paeans in newspaper columns.

Ninety-odd students were left in the lurch by the demolition. Photo courtesy Dalit Camera.Ninety-odd students were left in the lurch by the demolition. Photo courtesy Dalit Camera.

The silence of Dalit leaders on the hostel’s demolition is especially striking. Take, for example,Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader Prakash Ambedkar, who is BR Ambedkar’s grandson. He is a vocal supporter of the London memorial. But we haven’t heard a peep from him about Siddharth Vihar, even though he’s involved in a power struggle within the People’s Education Society (PES), the organization that managed the hostel. Nor has there been any statement from his rival Ramdas Athawale of the Republican Party of India (Athawale), who built his political career while at the hostel, and was still living in one of Siddharth Vihar’s dingy rooms when he became a cabinet minister in Sharad Pawar’s 1990 government.

But not everyone is silent. Revolutionary balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat, who stayed at the hostel from 1979-1994, called the day of the demolition a terrible day for the Ambedkarite movement. “This was Babasaheb [Ambedkar]’s dream,” he says, anger palpable even over the phone. “And it was that dream that was torn down.”

In many ways, Siddharth Vihar’s story is linked to that of the Ambedkarite movement. This story begins in 1945, when Ambedkar established PES in order to provide access to education for fellow members of the Dalit community – who had been denied access to education for millennia – as well as people from other underprivileged sections of society. To this end, PES set up schools and colleges all over the country, including Mumbai. Aware of the challenges rural Dalit students faced in coming to a big city, Ambedkar set the plans for Siddharth Vihar in motion. In the meantime, his own residence Rajgriha functioned as a hostel for “lower” caste students.

In 1964, eight years after Ambedkar passed away, Siddharth Vihar’s construction was finally finished. “[Ambedkar] had ensured that the hostel had all the facilities students would need – in every room there were tables, lamps, etc,” says Bhagat. “It was better than most of the government hostels in Mumbai at the time.”

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5th February in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule asked economic assistance from Government


5 February 1852: Mahatma Jyotiba Phule asked economic assistance from Government for his educational institutions.[1]

Among the documents at the Mumbai Archives is an application dated 5 February 1852 written by Jyotiba Phule asking for economic assistance from the government for his educational institution. The other copy of the letter is accompanied by a recommendation letter by Major Kandy, the Principal of Poona College. According to this, the first three schools for girls were started on 3 July 1851, 17 November 1851 and 15 March 1852 at the Chiplunkar Wada, Rasta Peth and Vetal Peth, respectively. It has been noted that there were four, three and one teachers and forty eight, fifty one and thirty three girls respectively in these schools. Savitribai Phule was the Headmistress in the first of these schools along with Vishnupant Moreshwar and Vitthal Bhaskar as co-teachers. There were eight girls on the first day of the first school. Soon their numbers went up to more than forty eight.

It is to note that earlier, the Inspector of Schools Dadoba Pandurang had inspected the school and examined the girls on 16 October 1851. Though not much time had passed since the school began, the progress that girls showed was remarkable.

Mahatma Jyotiba Phule

Mahatma Jyotiba Phule

5 February 1951: Hindu Code bill was introduced in the Parliament[2]

Following India’s independence Jawaharlal Nehru entrusted his first Law Minister Dr. Ambedkar, who belonged to the Scheduled Caste Federation, with the task of codifying the Hindu personal law as the first step towards a uniform civil code. Dr. Ambedkar formed a committee with himself as its chairperson. The other members were K Y Bhandarkar. G R Rajagopal of the Ministry of Law and S V Gupte of the Bombay Bar. The committee made only minor revisions to the draft that was presented to the Consituent Assembly in 1947 before Independence. But even before the bill could be put up to the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) some vocal sections of Hindu public opinion raised the bogey ‘Hinduism in danger’. Dr. Ambedkar and his team, however, was undaunted and continued with their efforts with all seriousness and presented the draft bill to Nehru’s cabinet, which unanimously approved it.  Emboldened by this exercise, on 5 February 1951 he introduced the bill to the Parliament. But to his utter surprise, many Hindu members, including some who had approved it in the cabinet earlier, now resisted it. Sardar Patel as the home minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, Syama Prasad Mookerjee as the industry minister who belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, a tradionalist Congressman, strongly opposed the bill. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the Congress president, also opposed it, particularly keeping in view its negative impacts on Hindu votes in the election of 1951-52. Mookerjee said it would ’shatter the magnificent structure of Hindu culture and stultify a dynamic and catholic way of life that had wonderfully adapted itself to the changes for centuries’. Even women belonging to the Hindu Mahasabha came to the forefront to oppose the bill. Already a year ago, in a long letter to President Rajendra Prasad, Janakibai Joshi, the President of the All India Hindu Women’s Conference that belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha, had written on 4 February 1950 that any move to replace the concept of Hindu marriage as sacrament by making it contractual would destroy the entire family system of the Hindus. ‘The Hindu family should be taken as a unit and fragmentation of the property should not be allowed so as to go away to other family through daughter’.[3]

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4th February in Dalit History – Dr. Ambedkar met Gandhi in Yervada Jail


04 Feb 1889: Phules adopted son, Dr.Yashwant was married to Radha the daughter of Sasane.

The Satyashodhak Samaj (The Truth-Seekerís Society) was established on 24 September 1873, and Savitribai was an extremely dedicated and passionate activist of the Samaj. The Samaj undertook the programme of arranging marriages without a priest, without dowry and at minimum costs. The first such marriage was arranged on 25 December 1873. Later, this movement spread across the newly emerging nation. The first report of the Samaj proudly notes that Savitribai was the inspiration behind this revolutionary initiative of a constructive revolt to reject 21 centuries old religious traditions. The marriage of Radha, daughter of Savitribaiís friend Bajubai Gyanoba Nimbankar and activist Sitram Jabaji Aalhat was the first‘Satyashodhaki’ marriage. Savitribai herself bore all the expenses on this historic occasion. This method of marriage, similar to a registered marriage, is still prevalent in many parts of India. These marriages were opposed by priests and ‘bhatjis’ (Brahmans) all over the country and they also went to court on this matter. Savitribai and Jotirao had to face severe difficulties but that did not deter them from their path. On 4 February 1889, at the age of 16, they also got their adopted son married in this manner. This was the first inter-caste marriage in modern India. The Satyashodhak marriage required the bridegroom to take an oath of giving education and equal rights to women. The ‘mangalashtake’ (the Mantras chanted at the time of the wedding) were to be sung by the bride and the bridegroom themselves, and these were in the form of pledges made by the bride and the groom to each other. Yeshwant was married to Radha (this is another Radha) alias Laxmi, daughter of Satyashodhak Samaj leader Gyanoba Krishnaji Sasane in this manner. To ensure that they got better acquainted with each other and with each other’s likes and dislikes, Savitribai had made Radha stay in the Phule household even before the marriage took place. She also made provisions for Radha’s education.[1] 

04 February 1933: Dr. Ambedkar met Gandhi in Yervada Jail[2].

Dr. Ambedkar was accompanied by S N Shivtarkar, Dolas, Upsaham, Kowly, Ghorpade and Keshavrao Jedhe. In a happy mood Gandhi got up and welcomed the visitors.

After a while, the conversation turned to the question of temple entry. Gandhi requested Dr. Ambedkar to lend this support to the Dr. Subbarayan’s Bill and that of Ranga Iyer.  Dr. Ambedkar flatly refused to have anything to do with Subbaraya’s Bill, since the Bill did not condemn untouchability as a sin. It only said that if a referendum favored the temple entry, temples should be thrown open to the Depressed Classes, but nothing of the right to worship the deity in the temples. He told Gandhi that the Depressed Classes did not want to be Shudras in the order of the caste system and added that he honestly could not call himself a Hindu. Why, he asked, he should be proud of the religion which condemned him to be a degraded position. If that system was to continue, he had no use of the benefits of the temple entry. Gandhi said that according to him, the caste system was not a bad system. He continued: “Let the touchable Hindus have an opportunity to expiate their sins and purify Hinduism. Do not be indifferent to this question. If the reformation takes place, the Untouchables would rise in society.” Dr. Ambedkar differed from Gandhi. He was convinced that if the Untouchables made progress in the economic, educational and political filed, temple entry would follow automatically.

531

Discussing the propriety of two Bills – Dr. Subbarayan’s Bill and Ranga Iyer’s Bill.

Dr. Ambedkar: The one-paragraph Bill (Dr. Subbarayan’s Bill) is a very simple one. It’s fair point lies in admitting that this custom is immoral. There is no such admission in the second Bill (Ranga Iyer’s).

M K Gandhi: No, it is there in its preamble.

Dr. Ambedkar: But it is not clear…. I also think that the two Bills do not go together…

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3rd Feburary (2015) in Dalit History – Best wishes to everyone on birth-anniversary of Guru Ravidas


Also read – I, Ravidas, proclaim all Vedas are worthless

Birth

12 Chamma134Guru Ravidas FotorCreated

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2nd February in Dalit History – Death anniversary of Subedar Major Ramji Maloji Sakpal


2 February 1915: Death of Subedar Major Ramji Maloji Sakpal, father of  Dr. Ambedkar.

Dr. Ambedkar’s ancestral village is Ambavade, five miles off Mandanged, a small town in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. His grand father Maloji Sakpal was a retired Havaldar in the Bombay Army of the East India Company. He is said to have been allotted some land for acts of bravery in the battle field.[1]  Maloji had two children – Ramji (son) and Mira Bai (daughter).

Like his father, Ramji also joined the army. He was an enlightened person who worked hard and attained proficiency in English language. He obtained Diploma in Teaching from the Army Normal School in Poona.[2] Consequently, he was appointed as a teacher in the Army School. He served as Head Master and had attained the rank of Subedhar Major. The Sakpal’s belonged to the Kabir cult along with the untouchability (Mahar) tag attached.

Ramji had 14 children, the 14th being Bhimrao (Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar). However only three sons – Balaram, Anandrao and Bhimrao – and two daughters – Manjula and Tulasa –survived. The Bhakti movement in Maharashtra had impressed the Sakpal’s family to imbibe its spiritual content, Ramji Sakpal brought up his children under strict religious atmosphere at time performing poojas and offerings with great devotion. Thus, during childhood Bhimrao used to sing devotional songs. Ramji Sakpal’s attitude towards his children was basically responsible to the all-around development of Dr. Amebdkar. Ramji was good in English and Arithmetic. He was a teetotaler and as mostly interested in his won and his children’s spiritual development.

Father of Dr. Ambedkar

Father of Dr. Ambedkar

Ramji Sakpal retired in 1894 and the family moved from Dapoli to Satara two years later. Shortly after their move, Bhimrao’s mother (Bhima Bai) died. After the death of his wife Ramji married for the second time, which was opposed by Bhimrao. The children were cared for by their paternal aunt. However, Ramji did not curtail the ambition of Bhimrao towards his education. Ramji stood firm and committed to his children’s betterment and Bhimrao’s intellectual aspirations in particular.

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31st January in Dalit History – Baba Saheb Ambedkar started Mooknayak newspaper


31 January 1920: Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar started ‘Mooknayak’ newspaper.

Chatrapati Shahuji Maharaj had donated Rs 2500 as seed money to start Mooknayak (Leader of the Dumb). This Marathi weekly paper championed the causes of the depressed classes. Shri Nandra Bhatkar was the editor, later Shri Dyander Gholap was the editor. Dr. Ambedkar wrote in the first issue of this paper dated 31 January 1920 the following:

 “The hindu society is like a tower of many stories. It has neither a ladder nor a door to go out. And therefore there is no way to interchange stories. Those who are born on a particular storey die in that storey. Even if the lowest storey person is worthy deserving to be promoted to upper storey he cannot move to that level. And if the person in the upper storey is most unworthy and undeserving still he cannot be pushed down…….. …. A Society which believes that God exists even in inanimate things, also says that people who are a part of that very society should not be touched!”

Newspapers started by Dr. Ambedkar

Newspapers started by Dr. Ambedkar

31 January: National bird day.

In Buddhism, Peacock,  the National Bird symbolizes wisdom.

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30th January in Dalit History – All India Schdeuled Caste Federation Conference was held at Kanpur


30 January 1944: All India Schdeuled Caste Federation Conference was held at Kanpur under the chairperson-ship of N Shivraj.

This was the second such conference of the federation and it went on till the next day i.e. 31 January 1944.

30 January 2000: Press release by Manyawar Kanshi Ram on the review of constitution.

The press release was on the backdrop of the Warning given by the President of India (K R Narayananan) to the Nation and Government while speaking in the Central Hall of Parliament on 27 January 2000, the 50 year of framing of Indian Constitution. He had advised the Government of India not to go in for a review of the Constitution, but to study and analyse the way the successive Governments were working to implement the Constitution and various provisions there in. The Governnment of India was headed by A B Vajpayee (Bhartiya Janta Party). The press release by Manyawa Kanshi Ram (Bahujan Samaj Party) is as follows:

“I welcome the warning sounded by the President about the Government’s move to Review the Constitution.  It is strange that instead of clearly identifying the areas where Review or Amendment is needed, the Government is keeping everything under the cloak of secrecy, by proposing a Review of the whole Constitution.

The Constitution of India as drafted by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, although not fully accepted still, reflected the aspirations and hopes of the vast millions, who were made to live degraded sub human lives for centuries.  As a result of the change in the Political and Social Scenario brought by the Constitution, the shackles of the old social system have weakened, and now there is tremendous awareness and awakening in the Bahujan Samaj.  In fact, the political instability which has been witnessed in the last few years is the result of social mobility and dynamism of the Weaker Sections which has been generated by the constitutional framework.  The political stability of yester years, was the result of not strong popular base of the political parties, but the strict political control exercised by the socially dominant groups over the Bahujan Samaj.

Saheb Kanshi Ram

Saheb Kanshi Ram

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29th January in Dalit History – Birth anniversary of Jogendranath Mandal


Today is birth anniversary of Mahapran Jogendernath Mandal (1904-1968) a man today largely forgotten except living in the imagination of Bahujan community was a learned person from Bengal. As the leader of Schedule Caste Federation in Bengal forged an alliance with Muslim League and mobilised numbers to get Babasaheb elected to constituent assembly from Bengal. Similar to Babasaheb, he too went on to become the first Minister of Law and Labour of independent Pakistan. Later, he too resigned due to the differences and discomfort arouse on multiple issues. According to him, ‘On battlefield, sword is powerful, on battleground of Philosophy, Pen is Mighty. In democracy, rights of every creature if safeguarded as it is based on liberty, equality, fraternity and justice’. Let’s strive to carry on his dream of creating a social and economic equality in India and establish a Bahujan rule in India.

jogendra-nath-mandal

Jogendra Nath Mandal was the leader of Scheduled Caste communities in Bengal, born in an untouchable Namasudra family. He was the son of Ramdayal Mandal and Sandhyadebi. He passed his B.A examination in 1932 from B.M College located in Barisal then he joined Calcutta Law College and passed the Law examination in 1934. He was the member of Bengal Legislative Assembly 1937 from the Bakarganj North-East General Rural Constituency.

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28th January in Dalit History – First ever infanticide prohibition home of India was started by Savitribai Phule


28 January 1853: First ever infanticide prohibition home of India was started by Savitribai Phule[1].

Due to the Brahminical Social Order, those were the days when women irrespective of their caste and class were very much oppressed in all fields of life. There were many patriarchal and brahmnical traditions, values and rituals which were against women. Savitri Bai Phule, in Pune, worked hard in this regard too (apart from the education field). To resolve the dowery problem, she started organizing simple group marriages. When a women at any age happened to be widow (even girl child widow), she was forced to have her hair cut so that she could easily be identified as a widow.  In this regard, she met with the people of barber community and requested them not to cut hair of widows. After a long pursuance, they got convinced. They boycotted the hair cut ceremonies of widows. The upper caste communities got infuriated with Savitribai due to the step taken by the barbers.

There were a large number of widows in the Pune City and the nearby villages during days. Adolescents and young girls were happened to more among in the widows. These widows were boycotted publicly and with meger financial support they were clandestine subjects to sexual exploitation. They happened to be pregnant due to lack of contraceptives or other measures. So they had to be victimized for the reason for which they had not been responsible. Women had to lose their life due to unhealthy ways of abortion. Many newborns were been killed after delivery by widows to avoid social ostracism. Many a times they had to leave their home.

On 28 January 1853 Savitribai started a shelter for such women – infanticide prohibition home – the first of its kind in India. In this shelter widows could give birth to their children and leave them there. Sixty six women gave birth to their children in that shelter upto 1873.This was a great historical work that Savitribai did at that time – in the dark ages. Later on this shelter started working as a hospital. Savitribai did not remain as one who served to widows but she went further in this regard. She adopted a child from a Brahmin widow (Kashibai) and thereby gave a message to the progressive people of the society. This adopted child was named Yashwant Rao who later became a doctor.

Savitribai Phule

Savitribai Phule

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27th January in Dalit History – Dr Ambedkar before Southborough Commission: Fight for separate electorate


27 January 1919: Dr. Ambedkar submitted a memorandum and gave evidence before the Southborough Commission. The memorandum was attached as a supplementary in the commissions report.

In the examination of Dr. Ambedkar‘s views the commission found that he had unmistakenly presented the division of Hindu society into touchables and untouchables. If a particular community had a majority of votes in a constituency, there was no need for that community to have separate communal representation. If the untouchables had a majority of votes in a particular constituency, he would not ask for communal representation. It was because they were in a minority and would always remain so on a uniform franchise that he asked for separate representation. He was opposed to any system under which the representatives of the depressed classes were drawn from other classes. His justification for asking for a low qualification for franchise was that as a result of being untouchable, the untouchables had no property; they could not trade because they could not find customers. He remembered a case in which a Mahar caste woman was taken to the police court for selling watermelons. In the mills in the Bombay Presidency the untouchables were not yet allowed to work in the weaving department: in one case an untouchable did work in the weaving department of a mill saying that he was a Mohammedan, and when found out, he was severely beaten. The definition of an “untouchable” as a person, who would cause pollution by his touch, was a satisfactory one for electoral purposes. It was not the case that some castes were considered to be untouchable in some districts and touchable in others.

In the whole Bombay Presidency there was one B.A. and 6 or 7 matriculates among the depressed classes. The proportion of those who were literate in English was very small, but not much smaller than in the case of the backward classes. The depressed classes especially the Mahars and the Chamars, were fit to exercise the vote. He would also give them the votes by way of education. He could find at least 25 or more men amongst them who had passed the 6th or the 7th Standards of a High School, and, although the number was not large, the 9 seats which he suggested for the depressed classes could be filled from amongst them. Such a candidate in practical matters would be as good as a graduate although the latter might be able to express himself better.

He suggested large constituencies for the depressed classes'; if such large constituencies had been accepted for the Mohammedans he did not see why they were not practicable in the case of the depressed classes.

In order to obtain the required number of seats for the depressed classes he would reduce the number of seats suggested by Government for the Mohammedans, from 38 to 10. This reduction was justifiable, as on the population basis the Mohammedans were only entitled to 20 per cent of the seats. He did not consider the Congress League Pact as binding on all.

In the evidence he piointed out that Untouchables were persons to whom certain rights of citizenship had been denied. For instance, it was the right of every citizen to walk down the street, and if a man were prevented from doing so, even temporarily, it was an infringement of his right. Whether a man was prevented from exercising his rights by law or social custom, made very little difference to him. Government had recognised custom and persons belonging to the untouchable classes were not employed in Government service.

His view was that British rule in India was meant to provide equal opportunities for all, and that in transferring a large share of the power to popular assemblies, arrangements should be made whereby the hardships and disabilities entailed by the social system should not be reproduced and perpetuated in political institutions. As regards the exact position at present, he admitted that, for instance, at the Parel school which was meant for the depressed classes, there were many higher-caste pupils, who came there because it was a good school. Similarly as a professor he, being a member of a depressed class, had pupils of all classes and found no difficulty in dealing with his higher caste pupils. If the untouchable classes were recognized by Government by the grant of seats, their status would be raised and their powers would be stimulated. He was not very particular about the number of their seats; all he wanted was something adequate.

Dr. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar

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