Sunday, July 17, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Jagjivan Ram: Inspiring Dalit Icon

Jagjivan Ram: Inspiring Dalit Icon
Published on: July 13, 2011 - 23:50



INDIA came close to having its first Dalit Prime Minister in the
spring of 1977, but the man who had the opportunity gave up his claim
in the cause of consensus politics. He was Jagjivan Ram whose 25th
death anniversary was observed on July 6.

Jagjivan Ram was among India's first few Dalits who proved his mettle
on his own and came close to becoming the prime minister. He lost the
race to Morarji Desai in the tumultuous days that followed the March
1977 elections held in the backdrop of the dreaded Emergency that
Indira Gandhi lifted for the battle of the ballot.

Popular and Mass Leader

Jagjivan Ram's appeal as a popular and mass leader was never in doubt.
This was evidenced by an incident that happened during the election
campaign. He was to address an election rally at Delhi's Ramli1a
Grounds on a Sunday evening. Doordarshan, in a bid to wean away the
crowd, screened the blockbuster 'Bobby' for its customary Sunday
evening film. Yet, the grounds swelled with people to listen to their
leader. 'Babu beats Bobby' ran a newspaper headline the following day!

The Janata party that defeated the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls was
looking for a consensus candidate to avoid a contest. Jagjivan Ram was
emerging as the man for the top job. But Desai, who had lost out to
Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi in the race for the PM's slot in
1964 and 1966 was firm that he deserved the post most of all and was
prepared for a fight. On the advice of Jayaprakash Narayan, who was
keen to avoid a contest, Jagjivan Ram agreed to withdraw his
candidature. He was made deputy prime minister.

Jagjivan Ram still holds a record as a minister without break for as
many as 34 years in a row. His uninterrupted representation in
Parliament from 1946 to 1986 was a world record, until Tony Benn
overtook him by serving 51 years (1950-2001) in the British

At 38, Jagjivan Ram became in 1946 the youngest minister in Jawaharlal
Nehru's provisional government. He was also a member of the
Constituent Assembly of India. After Independence he was elected to
Parliament unopposed at least once, an event that evidenced his
immense popularity in his constituency Sasaram in Bihar. Jagjivan
Ram's ministerial tenures in Independent India proved momentous. He
was Defence Minister during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 that ended in the
liberation of the erstwhile East Pakistan into an independent
Bangladesh. His contribution to the Green Revolution and modernising
agriculture during his two tenures as Union Agriculture Minister are
still remembered, especially during the 1974 drought when he was asked
to hold the additional portfolio to tide over the food crisis.

He played a major role in the foundation of the 'All-India Depressed
Classes League', an organisation dedicated to attaining equality for
untouchables, in 1935. He was elected to the Bihar Legislative Council
in 1937 when he organised, rural labour movement.

Fight against Discrimination

A turning point in his life came in 1925, when Pandit Madan Mohan
Malviya visited his school, and impressed by his welcome address,
invited him to join Banaras Hindu University. He passed his
matriculation in the first division and joined the BHU in 1927 where
he was awarded the Birla scholarship, and passed his Inter-Science
Examination. While at BHU, he organised the scheduled castes to
protest against social discrimination. As a Dalit student, he would
not be served meals in his hostel, was denied haircuts by local
barbers, a Dalit barber would arrive from Ghaziapur occasionally to
trim his hair. Eventually, he left BHU and pursued graduation from
Calcutta University.

In 2007, the BHU set up a Babu Jagjivan Ram Chair in its faculty of
social sciences to study caste discrimination and economic
backwardness. He received a BSc degree from the University of Calcutta
in 1931. Here again, he organised conferences to draw attention
towards issues of discrimination, and also participated in the
anti-untouchability movement started by Mahatma Gandhi.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose took notice of him at Kolkata, when in 1928
he organised a Mazdoor Rally at Wellington Square, in which
approximately 50,000 people participated. When the devastating Bihar
earthquake of 1934 occurred he got actively involved in the relief

When popular rule was introduced under the 1935 Act and the scheduled
castes were given representation in the legislatures, both the
nationalists and the British loyalists sought him because of his
first-hand knowledge of the social and economic situation in Bihar,
Jagjivan Ram was nominated to the Bihar Council.

He chose to go with the nationalists and joined Congress, which wanted
him not only because he was valued as an able spokesperson for the
depressed classes, but also because he could counter Ambedkar.

In the early 1940s, he was imprisoned twice for his active
participation in the Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement.

Early Life

Jagjivan Ram was born at Chandwa near Arrah in Bihar on April 5, 1908.
He had an elder brother Sant Lal and three sisters. His father Sobhi
Ram was with the British Indian Army, posted at Peshawar. On his
return home, he bought some farming land in his native village
Chandwa, and settled there. Young Jagjivan started going to a local
school in January 1914. But soon his father died prematurely, leaving
the family to face economic hardships. He joined Aggrawal Middle
School in Arrah in 1920, where the medium of instruction was English.

No wonder, he was a facile speaker in English in Parliament and
outside, proving that class was no barrier to accomplishments and the
value of education.

He joined Arrah Town School in 1922, where he faced caste
discrimination for the first time. The school had two water pots, one
for Hindus and another for Muslims. When the young Jagjivan drank
water from the Hindu pot, the matter was reported to the Principal,
who placed a third pot for 'untouchables'. A scandalised Jagjivan
broke this pot twice, eventually leading the school to abandon the
third pot.

The pot-breaking incident became an oft quoted path-breaking event in
Jagjivan Ram's life that symbolised the valiant fight he waged all his
life against discrimination on caste basis.

The place he was cremated after his death on July 6, 1986 has been
turned into the memorial Samatha Sthal and his birth anniversary is
observed as Samatha Oiwas (Equality Day). His centenary celebrations
were held all over the nation in 2008. To propagate his ideologies,
the 'Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation' has been set up by the
Ministry of Social Justice. –PTI Feature


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