Dr R.M.Pal: Human Rights of The Most Marginalised Was His Uncompromising Passion
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
20 October, 2015
It was Prof Y.P.Chibbar, the PUCL General Secretary for years, who introduced me to Dr R.M.Pal when I visited him at ARSD College where he was teaching. ‘Dr Pal is the right person for you. He is the editor of PUCL Bulletin and lives in Greater Kailash. You must meet him,’ suggested Prof Chibbar. And after that it was a relationship that grew up every passing day. As a young aspiring boy from a nondescript town of Uttarakhand, I had come to Delhi ‘incidentally’, during the tumultuous years of anti Mandal agitation where most of our ‘intellectuals’ had been exposed. Staying with Dr Mulk Raj Anand, pioneer of English writing in India, there was a period of great personal churning for me and Dr Pal made it clear to me to earn to learn. ‘What are you doing there’, he asked. Jee, I am looking after his work, typing his scripts and accompany him to various places where he moves, I said. My aim is to do social work and it is a great honor to be with a man who calls himself a ‘Gandhian’. For a young person like me who had so many fantasies about Gandhism as perhaps we did not have the opportunity to know and understand ‘others’ and it seemed the only way to fight against oppression particularly untouchability which Gandhi had claimed to be the biggest ‘sin’ of Hinduism. So for me any one who had seen Gandhi or worked with him became a hero and ‘Lokayat’ where Dr Mulk Raj Anand stayed became my ‘sabarmati’. Dr Pal was a no nonsense person who could speak fearlessly without being hypocritical in front of you and he remained unimpressed. ‘Well, I can tell you Mulk Raj Anand will not help you’, he said. ‘ Don’t live under the romance of ‘Gandhian’ fame as it is good to do ‘social work’ but you need to be independent and earn to do things, he suggested. I know you came from Dehradun and may face prejudices here because of your village background. Better you do some evening courses as you plan and earn for your living and hopefully you will be able to contribute to society as you wish. And I can say with firm conviction that after coming to Delhi and staying here as meek and submissive person for over two and half years, Dr Pal gave me the confidence in myself and helped me become independent and rebuild my self respect and confidence.
Over the years our interaction grew and he became fond of me. He would guide me and ask me write in particular way. He suggested diverse topics to me and so much was the trust that many times he would send me to go on fact finding on particular issues and get direct information for him. It was not just he would ask to write but he would call me and discuss with me the issue in detail and point out those particular references which he would wish me to focus. I was fortunate to have met and acquaint with a number of eminent, Human Rights activists, Ambedkarite scholars and writers at young age and all of them respected me and appreciated my courage and enthusiasm but Dr Pal remain the one who mentored me and guided me. He would appreciate a number of my elderly friends but unlike them he would guide me and even point to me the grammatical mistakes in my writings. I knew them very well and the fact was that being a teacher, it was like a student sitting in his class as if he is dictating and then checking our assignment. Many times, he warned me of being neutral in my criticism and asked me to be as ruthless to Muslim fanatics too who try to defame the community but one thing was clear that he made a distinction between minority communalism and majoritarian communalism and cautioned India of the dangers of the Hindu communalism. He was afraid of the fact that India might become victim of the majoritarian communalism and for that all the like-minded parties and people have to join hand. He would often quote that no movement will succeed unless it is preceded by a political philosophy.
I still remember how he guided me to write a paper for a seminar being organized by Indian Social Institute, Delhi, in collaboration with UGC, on Ambedkar and M N Roy’s relationship and Roy’s thought on rationalism and Buddhism. He was determined despite my own feeling that it was a misfit for a seminar on Human Rights education issue yet he felt only I could have done justice to this and he guided me. Yes, that paper took me to various files including that information where Dr Ambedkar had, as a minister in Viceroy’s Council, sanctioned an amount of Rs 13,000 for anti war efforts of M N Roy and on the basis of this information ‘inspired’ Arun Shourie to write ‘Worshipping the False God’, a book based on hard prejudices and lies. I met Justice Tarkunde several time and got those letters where he mentioned that it was he who took the money many time on behalf of the Party and that Roy never took the money himself. Ambedkar was in deep appreciation of MN Roy and his intellectual honesty and that is why there are lots of similarities on their thoughts and philosophy, which need further elaborations. I can say with conviction that if Dr Pal had not guided me in this regard, I would have missed the great opportunity and work of M N Roy related to caste, religion and fascism.
As the editor of PUCL Bulletin he was able to focus a lot on atrocities against Dalits and issue of communalism in India. Both the issue of caste violence against Dalits and communalism were matter of great concern for him and he remained uncompromising in his condemnation of them. At the various national and international forums he always focused on the issue that Human Rights are not just state laws and their steady implementation which of course are important, but what he spoke and emphasized was ‘societal violation of human rights’ which he always felt, got out of the scrutiny of the human rights defenders and the organsations working for the human rights. It was his conviction that Dalits, Muslims and other marginalized people should join Radical Humanist and Human Rights Movement to raise their issues. As he became president of Delhi PUCL, he ensured that these segments are fairly represented and we know personally many of the radical humanists and PUCL ‘leaders’ were not very happy with his ‘casteist’ approach.
For long he listened to many youngsters claiming that ‘human rights’ organisations in India have no space for the Dalits. He always mentioned to me this point that PUCL is a membership based organisations and if the Dalits, Muslims wanted to lead it, they need to become member and increase their numbers. He introduced many eminent persons in the human rights and said that there is no point complaining if you are unable to be member of it. People’s organisations are led by people and need further understanding and working of the organisations and its structures. Merely blaming the organisations for being representative of ‘upper castes’ was not correct according to him though we knew that many activists became members but frankly speaking the functioning of the organisations like PUCL did not change. The dark fact is that he was not liked inside the PUCL as well as in the Radical Humanists circle for his ‘overemphasis on caste and communalism. His unambiguity and openness made many people his enemy who would be jealous of his forthrightness. The man always enjoyed being with young activists, guiding them and providing ideas to write on particular issues. I can vouch with my own experience having met numerous people of eminence how they just use you. The dirty secret of the ‘intellectual’ world is that it does not want to engage in dialogue with people but work on ‘networking’.
We had lots of disagreement particularly on the issue of Gandhi and Ambedkar. He knew it well that I have no liking for Gandhian philosophy, which I called humbug and absolutely patronizing as far as Dalits are concern. He would always say that though Gandhi made eradication of untouchability and fight against communalism pivot of his philosophy, he failed in both count yet he felt that Gandhi’s intention were not wrong but lots of discussions and debate on the issue actually saw his opinion changing. He said any one who read ‘annihilation of caste’, will only find Gandhi on the wrong side and Ambedkar fighting for the rights of the people. He felt Ambedkar was wronged.
His personal association with M N Roy and later working on the human rights issues had broadened his horizon much bigger than many of his contemporaries who remained very narrow in their personal lives. There are very few who would spare time for you and guide you whatever possible ways and feel good at your achievements. He loved speaking Bangla and always followed the incidents happening in East Bengal or what we call today Bangladesh. The pain of division and migration was always with him and that is why he was always warm to people like me who left home in search of a new identity and to fulfill their commitments. He would always warn me like a teacher of what to do and what not to do. There are so many things to remember where he asked me to write on and suggested me to attend particular programmes.
The last togetherness of mine with him was at a seminar that he has been trying to organize for years in Mumbai on Dr Ram Manohar Lohia but always felt lacking supporting hands there as he would have them in Delhi as it was the city he always missed and left after he had paralytic stroke that confined him on wheelchair and external help. Many of my friends actually spoke to me after visiting him and felt pained to see a vibrant man depended on people for help, a man who was always active doing things at his own. But it was his strong willpower that despite being confined to bed he could do a lot of work, which is highly impossible for many of us to do. I never saw him complaining about himself whenever I spoke to him on phone as it was work work and work. He would ask for certain book or speak to certain person or provide the phone numbers of some friends. He complained that being in Mumbai has curtailed his freedom as he always enjoyed his friendship circle in Delhi and felt that he has got isolated in Mumbai.
The seminar on Ram Manohar Lohia in Mumbai reflected how he wanted to do things so fast. Academics saw him speaking passionately on Lohia-Ambedkar relationship where he quoted Lohia saying that he wanted Dr Ambedkar to lead the entire Indians and not confined to the leadership of the Dalits even when people like me questioned Lohia suggesting his vision ended at Gandhsim, Dr Pal remain open to new ideas which supported freethinking and secular democratic traditions in India.
There are so many fond memories of him. I can only say that he was the one on whom I could count for guidance and support. He never failed and once promised would go to any extent to finish the task. I grew up admiring him for his courage and forthrightness as whenever he spoke he was to the point and blunt. At a seminar, a leading human right academic, who happened to be a Muslim, actually supported practice of Sati as cultural practice and therefore outside the purview of human rights laws in the name of ‘personal laws’ of Hindus. I got up and objected saying whether he feel that veil and Burqa should be put beyond the limit of human rights laws. It became heated and Dr Pal came for my rescue saying that he always wanted human rights defenders and organisations to speak against societal violation of human rights as human rights in South Asia are not just violated by the state but majority of violation happen because of cultural practices and we need to come out in open against such rigid and inhuman practices such as caste system and untouchability.
The demise of Dr R M Pal at this crucial moment is a great blow to all the right thinking secular forces as we would often go to him and seek his advice on many issues confronting us. He was the man who always believed in the idea of a secular inclusive India and spoke regularly against the Hindutva’s communalism. Though he is no longer with us, his writings will always inspire us to work for a secular democratic India. We promise to carry on his legacy for our better future.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: firstname.lastname@example.org