Life and Mission of Dr Ambedkar

The Morning Star

1. Comments on Bhakti Movement & Bombay Heriditary Offices Act, 1874  - The DC were now searching with a new light for the scattered resources of their spiritual & historic inspiration. Early 1928, a meeting of the DC was convened to consider a proposal for building a temple in the name of their great saint, Chokhamela. BRA was specially invited to preside over the meeting. After a full discussion it was decided that their energies be used to remove untouchability rather than construct a temple. BRA was one, against the idea of a separate temple, two the building expenses would be a financial burden & three he was a utilitarian than an idol worshipper.

It was BRA’s view that the saints of Maharashtra belonging to the Bhagavat Dharma did not preach directly against the caste system. Their efforts were directed towards establishing equality, not between a Brahman & Shudra as individuals, but between them in the eyes of God. ‘Yet from the view of annihilation of caste’ BRA stated, ‘the struggle did not have any effects on society. The saints did not establish that the value of man is axiomatic, self-evident; it does not come to him as a result of the gliding of Bhakti. On the contrary the movement had a negative effect on the DC. It provided the Brahmans with an excuse to silence them by telling that they too would be respected if they attained the status of Chokhamela. As the followers of different cults were themselves filled with caste prejudices, BRA proceeded; they not only turned a blind eye to their message of equality, justice but also described their miracles with utmost exaggeration. As regards the cult of Ramdas, he said that his followers were notorious for their caste prejudices since its inception.

Under the presidentship of Bhole the DC of Baramati showered praises on BRA and felicitated M K Jadhav on his being the first untouchable Hindu to be appointed to the post of a deputy collector. This was possible because of the untiring efforts of BRA.

1928 - The most important Bill introduced by him was an amendment to the Bombay Hereditary Offices Act, 1874. According to the Act, the Mahars, the holders of post, were required to slave day & night: in the absence of a Mahar servant, his father or other family member was pressed into service. And for all this work, a piece of land called, Watan, some corn & a paltry pittance of app annas two to a rupee was given per mensum. The result was that Mahars had become lethargic, lost self-respect & they were perpetually tied to menial jobs. In order to break these shackles BRA introduced the bill. ‘Friends I wish someone can tell me why did the Brits introduce the 1874 bill, what was the conditions of the Mahar prior to this Bill, better or worse’?

After taking members of his community into confidence a big meeting of over 8,000 Watandar Mahars was held at Bombay & Jalgaon where he explained to them the provisions of the said Bill. Moving the Bill he described their utter penury. The land assigned to them was divided & subdivided to such an extent that that the income these people got from the Watan lands was not worthy of being taken into consideration. Have referred to excerpts of the problems faced. He appealed to the house for ending this atrocious system. He proposed that Watan lands should be given to the holders of those posts at the full rate of assessment and they should be relieved from the obligation to serve. His two-hour speech was so forcible, straightforward and eloquent that all Members heard in complete silence. BRA then moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee consisting of 23 members of the house. This Committee changes its body beyond recognition.

The friction came over the question of baluta (collection of grains made by the Watandar Mahars from the villages) which BRA proposed to convert into a money cess and over the Committee’s opinion that the Watan lands should not be given to the Watandars on payment of the full assessment of their lands but should be given on half the proceeds of the lands. Almost all the representatives of the privileged & orthodox sections showed cold shoulder to the Bill. The Muslim members opposed the bill as they were displeased with BRA for having violently attacked & exposed their anti national designs in the special report he had submitted to the Simon Commission as explained later. BRA was now left with no choice but to withdraw the bill.

2. Simon Commission – In order to ease the troubled situation, the British decided to reexamine the Act of 1919 for which it appointed the Simon Commission. Its non-Indian character was an offense to almost all Indian political parties. It was accorded a black welcome in 1928 & 1929. Meanwhile the All Parties Conference in May 1928 appointed a committee under Motilal Nehru to draft a Swaraj Constitution of India. The first attempt at Constitution making, it was aimed at closing the Muslim breach. They did make any special provisions for the DC’s in the Constitution by way of separate electorates or nominations as these methods were considered harmful / unsound. The Congress Working Committee towards the problems of the Untouchables can be gauged by the fact that it issued invitations to Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, and Christians but not to the DC led by BRA. At this juncture BRA accepted an appointment as acting Professor of the Govt Law College, Bombay more out of economic necessity than anything else.

To cooperate with the Commission, the Central govt appointed a committee for all British India, and every legislative council elected its provincial committee to work with the Commission. BRA was co-operating with the Commission, was thus stubbed a British stooge. 18 DC Associations gave evidence before the Commission of which 16 pleaded separate electorates for the DC’s. On 23/10/1928 members of the Commission, Central & Provincial Committees examined BRA in Pune, excerpts from the conversation –

Q. Can you give me a strict definition of the DC?
A.  Castes, which causes pollution.

Q. Do inter-marriages take place between Mahar & Mang castes?
A. No, caste Hindus has spread the poison to the rest.

Q. Would you class the DC as real Hindus?
A. I do not care for nomenclature. It does not matter whether I call myself a Hindu or not as long as I am outside the pale of Hinduism.

Q. If you were outside the pale of Hinduism you would not be subject to Hindu Law. Then by what law could you be governed?
A. We are governed by Hindu Law.

Q. What is it that you want to represent us as the proper way in which the Constitution of India & more particularly that of Bombay Presidency should deal with these people?
A. One is that we claim that we must be treated as a distinct minority, separate from the Hindus. Two the DC’s need far greater political protection because they are educationally backward, socially enslaved, poor. We want reserved seats in case of adult franchise.

Q. And if there is no adult franchise?
A. Then we would ask for separate electorates.

BRA was always watchful about the civic rights of the DC. It was due to his efforts that the DC ‘s in 1928 secured rights to worship Lord Ganesh in the pandal of Bombay.

Another event was the first textile worker’s strike in Bombay effecting 1,50,000 workers. Mill owners introduced a new system whereby one worker had to work on three looms so they resorted to retrenchment. One of the main unions, the Girni Kamgar Mahamandal fanned the resentment & the strike began. BRA did not favor the strike for many reasons. One the poor DC’s were the worst sufferers. Two DC’s were not allowed to work in profitable departments like weaving. Three in his view, Communism & strike were inseparable twins. He decided to get his men back to work & succeeded to a large extent.

3. Rising Star- The Bombay Provincial Committee submitted its report not agreeing to the separation of Sind & Karnatka from the province, suggested 10 reserved seats for DC with joint electorates & 33% of elected seats out of 140 seats to Muslims with separate electorates. BRA did agree with the Committee and refused to sign the report but submitted a separate report. On separation of Karnataka BRA’s comments are noteworthy, ‘the principle of one language one province is too large to be given effect to in practice. The most vital need of the day is to create among the masses of people the sense of common nationality, the feeling of being Indians first and Hindus, Muslims, Sindhis, Kanarese afterwards’. On the separation of Sind he said it was a sectional design to make the communal majority of the Muslims a political majority in five provinces. The motive involved the maintenance of peace by retaliation and stemmed from the premise that the best way of keeping peace was to be prepared for war. To support his views he quoted Gandhian leader Maulana Azad from a Muslim League session ‘Whatever treatment Hindus accorded to Muslims in Hindus majority provinces the same treatment would be accorded to the Hindus in the five Muslim majority provinces’.

On Muslim demand for separate electorates he described how different people lived in Europe lived under a common Government in proximity of each other without objecting to a common electorate. ‘India is not the only country where Muslims are in a minority. In Albania, Yugoslavia & Russia they form a large majority while in Bulgaria, Greece & Rumania they are in a minority. Have the Muslims there insisted on separate electorates? Thus the Muslim case in India overshoots the mark & fails to carry conviction? I am against separate electorates; the golden mean is joint electorates with reserved seats’.

The Report, viewed in context of principles, theories & personalities, then prevailing, was as rationalistic as it was patriotic. It had both a balance & ballast. When published BRA was overnight found to be a great politician – patriot, a diamond in the abysmal coalmine of Untouchables, statesmen of rare gift. He emerged as one of the great political minds of his generation.

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