Babu Jagjivan Ram: A Paradigm Of Dalit Consciousness
On April 5, the nation celebrated the 106th Birth Anniversary of Babu Jagjivan Ram who played a crucial role in India’s Independence and in national reconstruction during post-independent period.
Babu Jagjivan Ram was a titanic figure, forward looking, young in mind and spirit, full of noble ideals allied with the constant endeavour to actualize them. His flaming patriotism and selfless character easily made him the hero of depressed and submerged classes. When one looks at his landmark achievements in India’s struggle for Independence and look backwards and forwards in space and time, one is filled with the feeling of pride about his spirit of sacrifice and dynamism which he displayed for freeing our motherland from the shackles of British imperialism and colonialism. The country was in chain, grievously amputated and bleeding and in one her periodic phases of turmoil and trauma.
Born on the April 5, 1908, in Chandwa on the Arrah-Buxa road in the flowering season of spring, that symbolizes the dawn of creative process and unfolds beauty, grandeur, glory, love and hope – his rejoicing parents gave his name of Jagjivan Ram. The name of Jagjivan Ram appears to have been suggested by the following Hindi couplet of Ravidas–
Prabhuji Sangaty, Sapan Tihari,
Jag Jivan Ram Murari.
Born in bondage, in the family of untouchables, who had suffered psychological humiliation, prejudices, social taboos and exploitation of various forms for centuries and were bereft of educational opportunities. His father did odd jobs in the Military hospital but his encounter with Shiv Narayan Sant Sect completely transformed his personality and he became a saint. It was a turning point in the history of the family. His father was an outstanding calligraphist and endeavoured to produce hand-written copies of Swamy Shiv Narayan’s Granth.
Jagjivan Ram was placed under the guidance of Pandit Kupil Muni Tiwari for his primary schooling. His father expired when he was hardly five years old. After the death of his father, his mother who was also a profoundly religious woman, gave significant importance to his studies and devotional approach to life. He was fascinated by religious books, Ramayana, Prem Sagar, Sukh Sagar, Baijal Pachisi, Chander Kanta and Chader Kanta Santalies.
Babu Ji was greatly attracted by Gandhiji’s politics of non-cooperation against the British rulers during his formative period of growth. In 1922, he joined the Arrah Town High School and did face so many indignities but he was determined boy and fought boldly all the problems that inhibited his progressive ideology. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya was impressed by his austerity, oration and ethical and religious approach to life and provided him necessary facilities in Banaras Hindu University to pursue higher education. But he could not escape the discrimination and suffered indignities on account of the wide pervasive climate of untouchability. Finally he took his B.Sc. degree from Calcutta University in 1931.
I do not intend to dwell in length on his crucial role in the freedom movement but what needs to be highlighted is that unlike Dr. BR Ambedkar he fought against the practice of untouchability by remaining within the framework of national mainstream of the Congress and also within fold of Hindu thought. Sharing the perceptions of mystical tradition and philosophy of Kabir, Namdev and Ravidass, who were neither king nor from high caste, he moved like colossus on the arena of political and social life and relentlessly worked for the eradication of untouchability and identified himself with the deprived and submerged segment of the population. Bismark observed that a really great man is known by three qualities: generosity in design, humanity in execution and moderation in success and these are richly embodied in Babu Jagjivan Ram’s personality.
Babuji was greatly influenced by Gandhiji philosophy of life who was the unrivalled leader of the freedom movement and was a devout Hindu: deeply imbued with a reverence for Hinduism. Gandhiji’s commitment to the great ideals of emancipation of Harijans and the unity of all religions, flowed directly from his commitment to Hinduism. Babuji was restless and ambitious from youth and though his formal education had been in the filed of science, however, his socialization and total orientation was directed towards the service for deprived and submerged segment of the population.
Babuji’s appeal was simple, sharp and straightforward to the orthodox pillars of the Hindu establishment. He often said that if Hinduism remains fragmented into numerous sects without any unifying philosophy, it would be difficult to bring about social revolution. Babuji opposed the attempts of Britishers and even of Islamic militants who employed several devices to increase their population by striking at the weakest and most vulnerable sections of the Hindu society. It is tribute to his commitment to dalit consciousness that the untouchability has been abolished by the Constitution and the government has enacted extensive legislations for empowering the dalits with economic and educational inputs, including reservations in almost all walks of life. The situation of Harijans is by no means satisfactory though it has substantially improved since independence. What is needed to accomplish the agenda of Babuji is to bring about a psychological change, an attitudinal change in the minds of the people. .
To sum up: Babu Jagjivan Ram’s life was an odyssey, a voyage to the discovery of self, a voyage to the discovery of dalit consciousness and an adventure in the realm of national reconstruction. An outstanding statesman, a perceptive thinker, a distinguished parliamentarian and pragmatic administration, he has made spectacular contributions to the enrichment of our quality of life and national development process. He is reckoned as the father of our Green Revolution and the Liberator of Bangladesh from the military regime of Pakistan. Both these breakthrough occurred while he was a Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Defence. He is still speaking to us, had we vision to see and care to listen to him, as how to get over the complex and cumulative crises in which we are caught up today!
By Kishore Gandhi