1. Health - The strenuous hard work done by BRA during the last four years told upon his health. His body needed rest, nerves clamored for relaxation & he suffered from brainfag. He went to Bordi, Mahableshwar for rest and then returned to Bombay after a few days. It was a matter of great satisfaction to him that the DC were invested with a right to vote. The Bill sponsoring the draft constitution was about to be placed before the British Parliament. Not having anything to do he reverted to the legal profession & acted as part time professor in the Govt Law College, Bombay from June 1934.
BRA built a bungalow at Dadar to house his books and named it Rajagriha. The country was drifting to constitutional & constructive work. There was no enthusiasm for Gandhian non-violent revolution. And not long before did Gandhi support the revival of the Swaraj Party & declared that he had suspended his struggle. The All India Congress Committee accepted this new policy & change in May 1934. In the following month the Govt lifted the ban on the Congress Party & the Congress leaders started reviving their provincial organizations.
The first thing the Congress leaders did was that denounced the White Paper & expressed dissatisfaction at the Communal Award. In order to favor the Muslim League, which was in favor of the award & to discourage the demands put forth by Malaviya for its annulment, the party neither accepted nor rejected the reward.
Just then the Govt proposed to hold elections to the Central Assembly. Gavai, a DC leader from Nagpur requested Gandhi to ask the Congress Party to adopt 5 DC candidates without imposing any conditions to contest elections. But Gandhi reiterated his belief in the sanctity of the Poona Pact and rejected the offer of Gavai, saying it would needlessly bring the DC into conflict with the Govt. BRA was glad to endorse Gandhi’s views and requested him to pass a resolution on the Communal Award at the ensuing Congress session without affecting the Poona Pact. Little did BRA dream that one day he would its worst enemy?
2. Wife passes away - Meanwhile the report of the Joint Committee was out, the Indian Bill was introduced in British Parliament on 19/12/1934. BRA said that DC were not only opposed to the establishment of the Second Chambers, but also to their composition, for according to them the purpose of the Poona Pact would be defeated and what was more DC candidates stood no chance of success against influential caste Hindu rivals in the elections. As regards creations of Second Chambers in the Provinces, BRA had opposed the idea at the time of the Simon Commission & at the RTC as well.
Because the Congress neither accepted nor rejected the Communal Award, they allowed Jinnah to compel the Central Assembly to endorse the Communal Award. As a professor at the Govt Law College, BRA kept a watch on the developments. His wife was very unwell, he decided to give her his attention to someone who was so supportive of his efforts. Profoundly religious Ramabai had a great longing to make a pilgrimage to Pandharpur where everywhere lakhs of Hindus bow their heads in devotion. But being an Untouchable she would be required to offer her prayers from a distance an idea BRA would never accept. He consoled her by saying that virtue of our own selfless life, virtuous services in the cause of the downtrodden we would create another Pandharpur. Sadly she passed away. For a week he wept bitterly like a child.
The respite for consolation was short lived. The Bombay Govt appointed his as Principal of the Govt Law College from 1/6/1935.
3. Ready to embrace another religion - Then all of a sudden news appeared in the press that BRA was thinking of making a declaration of a change of religion at the Yeola Conference to be held in October 1935. The news was shocking, friend/well wishers tried to persuade him against doing so. For the past ten years BRA had tried in vain to create an opening for his people into Hindu society, Mahad & Nasik struggles had pained him. In 1929 he had asked Untouchables to embrace any other religion if things did not improve, 12-embraced Islam. The Conference was convened by leaders of the DC to review the political & social situation in light of the ten-year-old struggle & the coming reforms.
Rankhambe, Chairman of the Reception Committee said that ‘degenerated Hinduism was rightly called Brahmanism because it benefited only the Brahman hierarchy as a class’. BRA spoke at length on the plight of the DC, efforts made without much success. Thus he said that the time for making a final decision had arrived. The disabilities they were facing as a result of being members of the Hindu community. He inquired if it would not be better for them to abjure that fold & embrace some other faith that would give them equal status, a secure position & rightful treatment. He exhorted his followers to sever their connections with Hinduism but warned them to be very careful in choosing the new faith and to see that equal treatment; status was guaranteed to them unreservedly. He said, ‘I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu’. In the end he asked people to stop the Kalaram Temple satyagraha as the past five years had demonstrated the futility of such an agitation against caste Hindus. He exhorted them to conduct themselves in a manner as would leave no doubt to the outside words of their decision to be a separate community outside the Hindu fold, carving for themselves a future worthy of free citizens.
The Conference represented a definite, grave departure from the original aims & objects of the movement. BRA’s address rocked all circles, political parties & social institutions to the bottom. Proselytizing religions like Islam & Christianity looked at BRA’s followers as potential targets for conversion. Everybody wanted to add to their strength the Buddhists/ Sikhs included.
Gandhi view – Gandhi styled his decision as unfortunate when untouchability was on its last legs. He said, ‘Religion is not like a house or a cloak, which can be changed at will. It is a more integral part of one’s own self than of one’s body. I am convinced that a change of faith by him and those who have passed the resolution will not serve the cause which they have at their heart and that millions of Harijans will not listen to him esp. when it is remembered that their lives for good or evil are interrelated with those of caste Hindus’. Savarkar warned against such a step saying that conversions would not solve the problem referring to the prevailing riots between touchable & untouchable Christians in Travancore. ‘Truly speaking any Ism in the sense of religion contains something which is not amenable to reason & which is based on belief. BRA should thus embrace a religion which is based on principles that are not averse to logic & reason’. What they should do he concluded was to fight valiantly for equality by the side of progressive Hindus & rise in the scale of life. Deorukkhar a DC leader was Bombay said that embracing another religion would reduce the untouchable nos in Hinduism but increase it elsewhere.
4. Conversion - No other announcement of BRA got so wide a global publicity as this. No doubt the decision was the last dreadful scream of a suppressed people. BRA hailed a powerful weapon at Hindu society. BRA said he did not agree with Gandhi that a man must stick to his ancestral religion when it did not good for him. He had made up his mind, he concluded, to change his religion, would not care if masses followed him or not. Caste Hindus were unmoved by the decision of the DC. The Nasik orthodox Hindus who had kept the Kalaram temple closed for five years were happy to see the DC go out of the Hindu fold. They applied to the Nasik collector for the removal of the ban on the Nasik chariot procession in the light of the DC declaration.
A famous Hindu missionary, Masurkar Maharaj, who had reclaimed about ten thousand Christians in Goa to Hinduism, had a three-hour talk with BRA. He told BRA that the exodus of the DC would be the death of the Hindus in the long run. Thereafter BRA said that it mattered little, the history of Hindustan would continue. In that case Maharaj said, it would not be the history of Hindustan but be the history of another ‘stan’ namely Pakistan. BRA sadly nodded and admitted that would be so, not a happy thought & added that it was upto the caste Hindus to avert the tragedy. When asked what would make BRA changed his mind, he said that caste Hindus must take a pledge to remove untouchability within a prescribed period, say five to ten years but added sarcastically that in the meantime Maharashtrian Brahmins must install K K Sakat, a DC leader as the Shankarachrya for one year & a hundred Chitpavan Brahmin families should fall at the feet of the new Shankaracharya.
At a caste Hindu deputation meeting held at Nasik to remove untouchability BRA said that as to Conversion, it would be done in five years, if caste Hindus assured him a positive result, he would reconsider the position. He added that he wanted to absorb his community into some powerful community, & he was thinking of embracing Sikhism. On adopting Islam he said, ‘If there any people with whom religious sentiments & practices make it extremely risky to interfere, they are the Muslims.’ According to him India needed a benevolent dictator like Kemal Pasha or Musslini in social & religious matters. He was hoping that Gandhi became one but! Democracy is not suitable for India. Meanwhile the Press received letters for & against his stand.
BRA took an interest in the activities & development of the Law College. They paid him a tribute in the January 1936 issue, college magazine, ‘A lawyer of repute, he is a close student of economics, an authority on constitutional law and a personality known throughout India & elsewhere. Expecting much more from our Principal we shall not embarrass him now but prefer to wait & see’.
5. Conversion - On Conversion, 12/1/1936 at a conference in Poona under the presidentship of Prof N Shivraj said excerpts, ‘The only way to get rid of untouchability is that the DC should leave Hindu religion not by conversion but may be by starting a new religion or reviving an ancient one practiced by the Adi-dravidas, long before the Aryans came to India’. BRA reiterated his declaration on the need for abjuring Hinduism. Three things were significant at this Maharashtra Untouchable Conference. One Dr Solankhi who had opposed BRA on conversion supported him now. Two that the Chamar community began to drift away from BRA on the issue of conversion. Three was that like Gandhi who had extended the time limit for his fast on the entry on the untouchables in the Guruvayur temple but never undertook it, BRA extended the time limit for action to an indefinite time and said that he/his community would welcome the religion which would give them fullest equality of status.
BRA warned his people that conversion would lead them to the paradise of equality. In a new religion too they would need to fight for liberty & equality. Referring to the Harijan Fund started by Gandhi he said that its object was to enslave the Untouchables to the camp of the Hindus. While the conference ended with victory for BRA in his own circle, it positively alienated the sympathy of several supporters of BRA’s movement outside and alarmed the newspapers / political minded Hindus.
Except the Mahar community leaders of other untouchable communities disapproved of BRA’s conversion move as they held that conversion would not materially change their fate & would be disastrously disadvantageous. The caste Hindu workers who were working hard for the upliftment of the DC were irritated at the announcement. They characterized BRA’s attitude as runaway mentality. They pointed towards how the conversions of the DC into Islam & Christianity had failed to change their living conditions. Those who were incapable of assessing the issue described BRA’s announcements about conversion as a mere threat, a bluff & stunt.
It was a fight between BRA the man brought up in an intense religious atmosphere & the iconoclast and expurgator of society. In the early part of his struggle he said that Hindutva was not the property of caste Hindus alone. When some news of Chamar women’s conversion to Islam reached him he was greatly perturbed in those days. He even declared that the Untouchables by their struggle would purify Hinduism & wash its stains with their blood. In those days he had signed a telegraphic memorandum to the Goa govt protesting against the arrest of Hindu missionaries who had carried out reconversions in Goa. At the R.T.C. he insisted that DC be called Protest Hindus or Non-Conformist Hindus. Above all, he had signed the Poona Pact, and these were gestures enough to show that he wanted to remain in the Hindu fold.
‘Friends any one who reads BRA’s book written in 1941 called ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ cannot but call him a nationalist, patriotic Hindu. The way be exposed Muslim anti-national activities and the Muslim mind, in 2003 we would call him Communal.