Mangoo Ram was born on January 14, 1886 , in village Mugowal, Hoshiarpur district, where this father,Harman Dass, had left the traditional Chamar caste occupation of training and preparing hides and attempting to sell tanned hides commercially. Mangoo Ram’s mother, Atri, died when Mangoo Ram was three, so the father began to depend heavily on his sons – Mangoo and an older and a younger brother for assistance. Because the leather trade required some facility in English, Mangoo Ram’s father was forced to rely on literate members of upper castes to read sales orders and other instructions to him. In payment for their reading instructions for an hour, he would have to do a day of crude labour. For that reason, Mangoo Ram’s father was eager to have his son receive an early education.
When Mangoo Ram was seven, he was taught by a village Sadhu (Saint) and soon after attended a variety of schools in the Mugowal area (Tehsil Mahilpur of district Hoshiarpur). He also attended school in a village near Dehra Dun , where his older brother has settled. In most of the schools, Mangoo Ram was the only Scheduled Caste student. He sat at the back of the class, or even in a separate room, and listed through the open door. When he attended high school in Bajwara, he was forced to stay outside the building and listen to the classes through the windows. Once when he came inside during a heaving hailstorm, the Braham teacher beat him and put all the classroom furniture, which he had “polluted” by his presence, outside in the rain to be literally and ritually washed clean. Nonetheless, Mangoo Ram was a good student: he placed third in his class in primary school. But whereas the other good students were encouraged to become patwaris (village record-keeper) or to seek higher education, Mango Ram was encouraged to leave school and help his father at a more proper “Chamar task”. In 1905, he did quit school; he married, and for three years helped his father develop their leather trade into a thriving business.
In 1909 America as in the air. Scores of upper caste farmers from Mangoo Ram’s area of Hoshiarpur had gone to the United States , and those who had not gone were talking about it. Mangoo Ram decided to go also. He persuaded his father that it would be good for the business – he would send money back from America – and his father responded by giving him some savings from the family business. Amid assurances from some of the local Zamindars (“landowners”) and two Chamar friends set off for the new world.2