Bhagwan Das As I Know Him
14 August, 2010
I have known Bhagwan Das for the last thirty six years. He was known in Delhi as one of the most learned and dedicated followers of Baba Saheb Ambedkar.
I heard him for the first time in the weekly meetings of the Boudha Upasak Sangh in Lakshmi Bai Nagar, New Delhi. Ambedkar Bhavan was the centre of Buddhist activities for some years. Buddhist society of India organized weekly religious meetings. Two Shastries, Mr. Y.C.Shaankranand Shastri and Mr. Sohan Lal Shastri, both product of the Braham Vidyalaya, an Arya Samajist institution of Punjab, were the leaders of the Buddhist movement. They organized these weekly meetings on the pattern of the Arya Samaj meetings. For some reason some differences developed between the two Shastries and they parted company. Mr.Shankranand Shastri along with some of his friends formed the Boudha Upasak Sangha and began to hold weekly meetings in front-yard of one room flat owned by Mr. Rama Rao Bagde, an employee of the reserve Bank of India. He and his wife devotedly made the preparations, cleaned the floor, provided flowers, incense etc. Mr. Das was one of the prominent speakers in these meetings.
He was interested in the unity of Dalits and had tried to bring in many castes like Dhanuks, Khatiks, Balmikis, Helas, Kolis into the movement.
Besides working at grass root level he contributed articles on diverse problems of the Dalits and minorities which were published in the Sarita, Milap, Naya Zamana, Ujala and, Bheem Patrika etc. He has good command over English and Urdu. He can read and write in simple Hindi and Punjabi in Gurmukhi script, Bengali which he learnt while serving in the Air force in Bengal and Arakans, he has forgotten.
I have traveled throughout India and know many officers, professors, teachers and leaders belonging to the Scheduled Castes. I believe Mr. Das owns the largest collection of books and journals. He is a voracious reader and spends most of his working hours in reading. He spends good deal of money on purchasing books and journals. In his collection one finds some very rare books written by foreign and Indian writers. In his files lie many good articles and booklets on diverse subjects which he could not get printed or just forgot about them.
From the talks I had with him, I have come to the conclusion that although he was brought up in a Cantonment near Shimla, the summer capital of India, and the family was well to do, yet he suffered from insults and humiliations owing to his birth in an untouchable family. He is proud of his father who has contributed a great deal in molding his character. He was an admirer of Baba Saheb Ambedkar and very fond of reading newspapers. Study of Ayurveda was his hobby beside reading scriptures of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. Mr. Das has inherited love for knowledge from his father.
It seems Mr. Das was influenced by Christianity like most Untouchables of his times. Later on he studied Arya Samajists literature and Koran and other books on Muslim theology. For considerable time he had been reading Marxist literature and also wrote on Marxism. Class character of Communist leaders, however, deterred him. To cap it all he read Ingersoll, Tom Paine, Voltaire, Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell. He developed his own ideas about religion before he came in direct touch with Baba Saheb Ambedkar.
He was introduced to Baba Saheb Ambedkar by late Mr. Shiv Dayal Singh Chaurasia, an imminent leader of the Backward Classes who served as a Member in Kaka Kalekar Commission and also as a Member of Rajya Sabha.
Mr. Das had no plan to marry but it was Mr.Chaurasia who got him married to a well educated girl belonging to Dhanuk caste of Lucknow. Mr. Das was sixteen when his father died. He had to brave another calamity. Immediately one month after the death of his father, his house caught fire on the 14th May 1943 and in the evening of that fateful day he was reduced to the level of a pauper. He had to support a large family of six members of his family getting them reasonable high school education and later on they themselves improved their acquisitions and status.
Mr. Das has written many books besides compiling and editing the speeches and writings of Baba sahib Ambedkar long before this work was undertaken by the Government of Maharashtra. He wrote four books on the Sweepers and, Scavengers and a booklet on the Dhobies. His books on Buddhism and caste and the seminar papers which he has presented in the seminars and conferences in India and abroad give an idea how deep is his study and how dedicated he is to the cause of the down-trodden and discriminated against people of the world. If Marx gave a call to the workers of world unite, Das’s call has been Dalits of India Unite, Dalits of Asia Unite. I do not think there is any body who has tried to bring all Dalits of Asia on a common platform and struggle for liberation and for the right to live with dignity. At present Mr.Das has 23 books to his credit. He has three books in hand: Untouchability in Asia, History of Reservation and Balmiki but his failing health and memory are the biggest impediment.
He leads a very simple life; eats little, just enough to do the work which he has chosen to do. He is modest and in the words of late Bhadant Anand Kausalyaayan, “You have too much of humility”. He has very strong ascetic tendencies. As a lawyer he works hard when he accepts a brief but choosy about the kind of cases he would like to handle. Avarice is certainly not his weakness. Mr. Das does not have many friends nor does he happily attend social functions. He feels more at home in the libraries or in the company of the intellectuals and people who are working for the upliftment of the oppressed and the discriminated against people.
Mr. Das has visited many countries of the world and addressed public meetings or read papers on Human Rights, discriminated nation, problems of women and disadvantaged people, revival of Buddhism in India. He does not only preach Buddhism but also practices Buddhism.
There are few people in India having vision, courage, intelligence, commitment and dedication to the cause of the deprived and disadvantaged people – Untouchables, indigenous people, other backward classes, unorganized labour, victims of the violation of human rights and women as Mr. Das has.
His contribution towards the propagation of ideology of Baba Saheb Ambedkar whether it is appreciated in India or not, officially recognized or not is great and has attracted the attention of scholars and leaders in the sub-continent and abroad. He is by nature quiet and unassuming and avoids publicity.
One wishes if there were a few more followers of Baba sahib Ambedkar with the same qualities, commitment, knowledge, courage and character as Mr. Das has the caravan of Baba Saheb would have covered great distance and attained great heights. One wishes he lives longer but those who know him intimately know he lived as he liked and will die according to his wishes. Euthanasia has great attraction for him.
But we do not want to loose him. We wish them long life.
S.R.Darapuri is a retired I.P.S. officer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org