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]

Malaviya declared that nothing should be done to ‘damage the Hindu system, which was enshrined in our scriptures’. Congressman Mukul Behrilal Bhargava opposed the bill on the grounds that it incorporated provisions of Christian and Muslim laws. Furthermore, Rajendra Prasad, the first president of the nation, threw his weight against the bill leading to its withdrawal in September 1951. In a letter to Patel, Rajendra Prasad wrote that ‘new concepts and new ideas are no only foreign to Hindu law but are susceptible of dividing every family’. He did not make such comments in public but privately campaigned against the bill by arguing that the provisional parliament had no authority on such critical matters. In utter disgust, Dr. Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet on 27 September 1951 because he felt that even Nehru, with all the political strength at his command, did not stand behind him. In a subsequent statement Dr. Ambedkar said: ‘I have never seen a case of chief whip so disloyal to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister so loyal to a disloyal whip’. He lamented that Hindus were incapable of bringing in reforms in their archaic system. He accused them of creating such an atmosphere that even other communities would not be encouraged to reform themselves. Vasudha Dhagamwar writes” ‘The first round for the Uniform Civil Code had already been lost in the Constituent Assembly where, though no amendments to Article 35 [Article 44 of the Indian Constitution] were allowed, verbal assurances of the kind demanded by dissenting members had been given by Dr. Ambedkar. With his resignation the second round was lost, for the man who had a clear vision in matters legal and constitutional, had departed from the scene’ [4]

Nehru’s fortnightly letters to the chief ministers are replete with evidences of his commitment to the cause of having a uniform code of Hindu personal law. Although the major opposition to the idea had come from Hindu traditionalists, in the forefront of which was the RSS and the Anti-Hindu Code Committee, it was not confined to them alone. Some sections of the Sikh community too opposed it as Hindu law included that community as well. On 3 December 1950, addressing a meeting in Amritsar, Master Tara Singh accused the Congress of driving a wedge between the Hindus and the Sikhs.

5 February 1956: Writing books for future guidance.

Guru Ravidas Jayanti was celebrated at Ambedkar Bhawan, New Delhi. The organizers had requested Dr. Ambedkar to address the function. He agreed but he did not attend the function.

Shankaranand Shastri, the founder of Ambedkar Bhawan notes: ‘When I enquired, he (Dr. Ambedkar) told me that he was busy in writing books for future guidance. Attending the conference would be a waste of time. The time at his disposal was too short. He did not know when he would close his eyes. Therefore, he would like to utilize all his time for writing the literature. He had written books on political, economic, social and other subjects. For us his literature is a great treasure and an invaluable asset’[5].

It is to note that Guru Ravidas Jayanti in 1956 was on 26 February.


5 February 1988: Massive counter demonstration of dalits pin the Government of Maharashtra to publish the “Riddles”

With the death centenary of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and the birth centenary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar due in 1990-91, the state government of Maharashtra had begun the project of publishing the complete works of both.  As part of this project, it brought out a volume that contained Dr. Ambedkar’s hitherto unpublished work, “Riddles in Hinduism” (volume no 4) in October 1987. In this, he made a rational and dispassionate analysis, from the standpoint of social justice, of the life stories of Hindu deities. The work also had a section (appendix 1) which was called “the Riddle of Ram and Krishna”.

The Shiv Sena party in Mahatashtra pounced on “Riddles”, branded it as an intolerable insult to Hindu religion and Hindu deities and demanded a ban on its publication.  It held a huge demonstration in Mumbai on 15 January 1988 and began disturbances all over the state, abusing Dr. Ambedkar and widening caste-communal divisions.  It was only after an even larger counter-demonstration by all Dalit groups that was led by Prakash Ambedkar (grandson of Dr. Amebdkar) on 5 February 1988 that the publication could further proceed with a note from Government that it does not concur with the views expressed in the chapter on Ram and Krishna.

It is worthy to note that as per Nanak Chand Rattu, Dr. Ambedkar had planned to write a separate book on “Riddle of Rama and Krishna”.  Compilation of material under different headings in the form of rough notes, written in small note books and loose sheets, some typed extracts, markings and references put together in file covers and paper bags, under different headings, indicated his ambition to bring out the following books one after the other – (i) Buddha and His Dhamma, (ii) Buddha and Karl Marx, (iii) Revolution and Counter-revolution in Ancient India, (iv) Riddles in Hinduism, (v) Riddle of Rama and Krishna, (vi) Riddle of Trimurti and (vii) Riddle of Woman.[6]

He knew fully well that no body would be able to complete these books and as such he was keen to get these published in his life time. However, his priority was “Buddha and his Dhamma”. But he also devoted time for his other work.

The book “Riddles in Hinduism” that he started writing in the frist week of January 1954 as brought to completion by the end of November 1955 and four press coipes typed out on a fine strong paper. When his attention was drawn by Nanak Chand Rattu that to prepare four copies of the manuscript was unnecessary he lost no time to quip with a smile. “Look”, he said, “what is the title of the book – Riddles in Hindusim – which is itself a reply. I haven’t got my own press and naturally it has to be given to some Hindu Press for printing. It can be lost, burnt or destroyed and my several years of hard labour will thus go waste. Doesn’t matter what the cost involved. I must have a spare copy with me.”

The book though complete in all respects, its printing was held up as he wanted to add two very important photos. One related to Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of Indian Republic, when he went to Benares, worshipped Brahmins, washed their toes and drank the water. The second photo related to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, when on 15 August 1947 he sat at the yagna performed by Brahmins of Beneras to celebrate the event of a Brahmin becoming the first Prime Minister of free and independent India, wore the Raja Danda given to him by these Brahmins and drank the water of the Ganges brought by them. Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s photo had become available, search was on for the photo of Nehru.

Whenever Dr. Ambedkar took up the writing of a book he did it with hope, belief, confidence and determination. He felt overjoyed after completion, having a look at the manuscript ready to be sent to the Publisher. He got heavenly joy when the book was published and his thoughts printed. He would then enjoy the event in a jubilant mood, cutting jokes and singling a song in tune with his favorite song displayed on the radiogram.

But alas! He could not see the book in his life time. Tragedy is that, after his death, all the four copies of the manuscripts disappeared all at once. Savita Ambedkar had stayed in the Bunglow at 26 Alipore road where her husband Dr. Ambedkar breathed the last till 1967. One Madan Lal Jain had purchased the bunglow in 1966 and allowed her to stay in the rooms already in her possession. Madan Lal quietly moved an application in the court to evict her. And on 20 January 1967 when she went to Alwar district, Madan Lal Jain and his son-in-law entered the premises with three bailiffs and 20 muscle men and forcibly opened the rooms and a big store room taking bunch of keys from Mohan Singh, her servant, who was listening, at ease, the radio program.

On 27 January 1967 with the facilitation of Nanak Chand Rattu she got the help from Home Minister Shri Y B Chavan, Lt Governor and Deputy Commissioner. Consequently she was permitted to enter the premises and have access to rooms in her possession. The worst was that Madan Lal Jain and his the men had removed countless precious documents and important papers, nicely kept in several racks of the big store room and recklessly dumped in an open yard opposite the shed in a shameful manner, not realizing the importance of these. In addition the store room had contained manuscripts of his several wirtings which at that time were unpublished. But many of them were destroyed and reduced to waste paper due to the reckless handling and rain the same night.

Subsequently the papers were taken into the custody by the custodian of the High Court of Delhi. Later these were transferred to the Administrative General of the Government of Maharashtra. Later Shri J B Bansod, an Advocate from Nagour, filed a suit against the Government in the High Court at Nagpur making a simple request seeking permission from court to allow him to publish the unpublished writings of Dr. Ambedkar or to direct the Government to publish the same. Government then formed a committee called as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee and appointed Vasant Moon as the Officer on Special Duty. The work of Dr. Ambedkar then got published due to the unrelenting hard work of Vasant Moon.

Nanak Chand Rattu in his book ‘Last few years of Dr. Ambedkar’ has thanked the Maharashtra Government for bringing together the scattered material from different sources and publishing the work in the form of a book – “Riddles in Hinduism” – the original one disappearing immediately after Dr. Ambedkar’s death. However “Riddles of Rama and Krishna” were added only as an appendix to the book that was published by Government of Maharashtra. Perhaps the papers were destroyed and reduced to waste during reckless handling and rain between 20 and 27 January 1967. The dream of Dr. Ambedkar of a separate book on “Riddles of Rama and Krishna” had remained unfulflied.

[1] T Sundararaman, Savitribai Phule First Memorial lecture, NCERT, 2008, pg 12-13

[2] Partha S. Ghosh, The Politics of Personal Law in South Asia – Identity ,Nationalism and the Uniform Civil Code, book 2007, chapter 3

[3] Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha Papers, File No C 184, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi

[4] Vasudha Dhagamwar, Towards Uniform Civil Code, book pg 5

[5] Shanakarand Shastri, My memories and experiences of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, book pg 151

[6] Nanak Chand Rattu, Last few years of Dr. Ambedkar, book page 59


1 Comment

Filed under Constitution of India, Dalit-Bahujans, Dr B R Ambedkar, Today in Dalit History, Today in History

One response to “5th February in Dalit History – Mahatma Jyotiba Phule asked economic assistance from Government

  1. Pingback: 5th February in Dalit History – Dr. Ambedkar introduced Hindu Code bill in the Parliament, Hindu leaders opposed | Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's Caravan

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