Bhagwan Das: : A Legendary Ambedkarite
-S.R. Darapuri I.P.S.(Retd)
Mr. Bhagwan Das was born in an Untouchable family at Jutogh Cantonment, Simla (Himachal Pradesh), India on 23 April 1927. He served in the Royal Indian Air Force during World War II and after demobilisation served in different capacities in various departments of Government of India at Saharanpur, Simla and Delhi. He did M.A. in History (Punjab University) and LL.B from Delhi University. He did research on the ‘Indianisation of the Audit Department from 1840-1915'. He contributed articles and short stories to various papers and journals published in India.
His father Mr. Ram Ditta was fond of reading newspapers and a great admirer of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Inspired and encouraged by his father, Mr. Das worked with Mr. T. R. Baidwan of Simla who was the most prominent leader of the Untouchables in Simla Hills, and joined the Scheduled Castes Federation at the tender age of 16. Since then he had been actively associated with the Ambedkarin movement and had done a great deal to promote the ideas of Babasaheb Ambedkar and to unite and uplift the downtrodden not only of India but also of other countries of Asia. Mr. Das was associated with many organisations of lawyers, Buddhists, Scheduled Castes and Minorities in India. He was General Secretary, United Lawyers Association, Supreme Court, New Delhi; General Secretary, Bouddh Upasak Sangh, New Delhi; Founder Chairman, Ambedkar Mission Society which has branches in many parts of the world; Revived Samata Sainik Dal (Vounteers for Equality) founded by Dr. Ambedkar in 1926-27; Regional Secretary (North). Indian Buddhist Council; Founder, Society for the Protection of Non-Smokers; Founder President of Society for Promoting Buddhist Knowledge; edited Samata Sainik Sandesh (English) 1980-1990. He was also the main person behind publication of “Bheem Patrika” an Urdu and the Hindi magazine published from Jullundar (Punjab).
His mother tongue was Urdu. He learnt English from class 7 th . His command over English and his British accent compelled many to label him as a “Black English Man.” He was Adib Fazel in Persian. He could speak and write in Hindi and Punjabi. Just like Dr. Ambedkar he was not allowed to read Hindi and he had to take up Persian at school. His knowledge about Dr. Ambedkar, Buddhism, Hindu Castes, Religion and many more subjects was so vast and thorough that he was often marked as a “Moving Encyclopaedia.” He was very modest and simple which made Bhadant Anand Kaushlayan to remark, “You are so humble.”
He was married to Ramabai (Lucknow) on 9 February, 1957 through the mediation of Shiv Dayal Singh Chaurasia who was a member of the Parliament. He has one son Rahul and two daughters Zoya and Shura. He became a Buddhist in 1956. His devotion to Ambedkarian movement was very high and he was known as a True Ambedkarite.
He remained in close contact with Dr. Ambedkar at Delhi from 1942 till his death. He also adopted Buddhism in 1956 when Dr, Ambedkar launched his Buddhist Conversion Movement on 14 th October, 1956. He has written his autobiography which has been published as “In Pursuit of Ambedkar” in English and :”Baba ke Charnon me”in Hindi. A documentary film on his life has also been prepared by S. Anand of Navyana.
Mr. Das was associated with the ‘Peace Movement' since the end of World War II, in which he served on the Eastern Front with the Royal Air Force (RAF) under South East Asia Command. He was one of the founder members of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) (India) and had participated in the Conferences held in Kyoto, Japan, 1970; Princeton USA (1979); Seoul, Korea (1986); Nairobi. Kenya (1984) and Melbourne Australia (1989). He was appointed Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights (Asian Conference on Religion and Peace) in 1980 and continued to serve in this capacity till 2004 monitoring the news of violation of human rights in Asian countries and organising camps for training of Human Rights workers, speaking and writing for the cause.
Mr. Das was invited to deliver a lecture on ‘Discrimination' by the Peace University, Tokyo (1980) and he also addressed several meetings organised by the Burakuminsof Japan. He gave testimony before the United Nations in regard to the plight o Untouchables in South Asia, in the meeting of Sub-Committee on Human Rights held at Geneva, Switzerland in August, 1983. He visited England in 1975, 1983, 1988, 1990 and 1991 in connection with lectures and seminars. He participated in the seminar held in ‘Hull University' in 1990 as a representative of the Ambedkar Centenary Celebration Committee, UK and also a seminar on Human Rights in India held at London University, School of Asian and Oriental Studies in February 1991.
He was invited to deliver Ambedkar Memorial Lectures in Milind Mahavidyalya, Aurangahad (1970); Marathwada University (1983); Nagpur University, PWS College, Nagpur; Ambedkar College, Chanderpur and Amravati University in 1990.
Mr. Das also visited Nepal (1980 and 1990); Pakistan (1989); Thailand (1988); Singapore (1989) and Canada (1979) to study the problems of deprived and disadvantaged members of society, women and children. He delivered lectures in Wisconsin University (USA) 1979 and North- field College (USA) on Caste in contemporary India. He was invited to give lectures on Dr Ambedkar at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow in June, 1990.
Mr. Das practiced law in the Supreme Court of India. With a view to improve the professional competence of and helping upcoming advocates belonging to Untouchable and indigenous groups he founded Ambedkar Mission Lawyers Association and Legal Aid Society in 1989. He was General Secretary of ‘Professions for People', an organisation founded in Delhi to elevate professional standards.
Mr. Das was invited to preside at the Dalit and Buddhist Writers Conference held at Akola (Maharashtra) in 1989 and was closely associated with various organisations of Dalit Writers.
Mr. Das had written more than five hundred articles, papers for seminars, short stories for various newspapers and journals. His papers on ‘Revival of Buddhism'; ‘Some problems of minorities in India'; ‘Reservation in Public Services' have been published in Social Action brought out by Indian Social Institute, New Delhi and Delhi University Buddhist Department. He had written many papers on Reservation and Representative Bureaucracy, Discrimination against the Dalits in Public Services and Minorities etc. His short stories were published in Sarita (Urdu), Naya zamana (Urdu), Milap (Urdu), Bheem Patrika (Urdu and Hindi). He had edited “Slavery and Untouchability' (an incomplete book written by Baba Saheb Ambedkar). He also edited “Untouchable Soldiers- Mazhbi and Mahar” written as M.A. Thesis by Ardith Basham, an American Scholar. He had also written about Dalit politics under the title “Dalit Rajniti aur Sanghathan.”(Dalit Politics and Organisations).
He was a member for the ‘Committee for evolving new strategies for the development of Scheduled Castes and Tribes - VIII Plan' set up by the Government of India and also a member of Ambedkar Centenary Committee of the Government of India. Mr. Das had written many books in Urdu, English and Hindi on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar; Untouchables; Scavengers and Sweepers; Human Rightsl; Discrimination etc. Prominent among them are Thus Spoke Ambedkar (Vol I to IV Ed) a pioneer work; Ambedkar on Gandhi and Gandhism (Ed); Ambedkar Ek Parichey Ek Sandesh (Hindi); Main Bhangi hoon(Hindi), the story of an Indian sweeper told in the first- person (this book has been translated into Punjabi, Kannada; Marathi and German); Valmiki aur Bhangi Jatian (Hindi); Valmiki (Hindi); Dhobi (Hindi), Revival of Buddhism in India and Role of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar; Dr. Ambedkae Ek Parichay Ek Sandesh; Dr. Ambedkar aur Bhangi Jatiya and Bharat me Bauddh Dhamm ka punrjagran tatha samasyayen. He translated into Urdu former President of the USA Lyndon Johnson's book ‘My Hope for America'; Dr Ambedkar's ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah'in to Urdu; besides editing Bhadant Anand Kaushalyayan's ‘Gita ki Buddhivadi Samiksha.'
Other books in hand were “Reservation and Representative Bureaucracy in India”;
“Untouchables in the Indian Army (Mahar, Mazhbi, Chuhra, Pariahs, Mangs, Dhanuks, Dusadhs, Chamars, Kolis, Bheels)”; “Mandal Commission and the Future of Backward Classes”; “Twenty-Two Oaths of Buddhism and Conversion”; “Balmiki; Ravidassis and Balmikis of Northern India”; “Buddhism and Marxism” and “Ambedkar as a Religious Leader.”
Mr. Das had toured almost the whole of India to study the problems of Hindu-Muslim riots, religious conflicts, atrocities committed on the Untouchables and Tribal people, with the group ‘Threat to Diversity', ‘Swaraj Mukti Morcha and as Chairman, Samata Sainik Dal.” He was also the founder President of “Dalit Solidarity People”, an organisation aiming at uniting Hindu Dalits, Dalit Christians, Sikh Dalits, Muslim Dalits and Burakumins of Japan and Korea. Like Marx his slogan was “Dalits of the World Unite.”
Mr Bhagwan Das was a storehouse of insight and information, his residence at Delhi had been a mandatory stopover for many renowned scholars like Eleanor Zelliot, Mark Juergensmeyer,Owen lynch, Marc Gallanter, R K Kshirsagar, Sukhadeo Thorat down to younger scholars like Vijay Prashad,Nicolas Jaoul and Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp.
We were expecting much more from Mr. Bhagwan Das but he suddenly left us on 18.11.2010. We can pay a true homage to him only by following in his footsteps. He was truely a legendary Ambedkarite