A true visionary, Babu Jagjivan Ram spoke about cultural-capital and hegemony of the individuals in arenas of administration, education, and government. Khetihar Mazdoor Sabha for agricultural labour and the All-India Depressed Classes League were established by him for social reform and political representation.
New Delhi: Always clad in Kurta and dhoti, a true revolutionary and an indelible leader, and a people’s man. Born in Chandwa in Shahabad District of Bihar in 1908 to Shobhi Ram and Vasanti Devi and a follower of the Shiv Narayani Sect. Since his childhood, he was driven to fight for social justice, during his school days he vowed against separate water pitchers for students hailing from different castes. His principal, on seeing this, issues a rule that all students are equal and that everyone must drink from the same source of water. Although he was able to make his demands meet, the bigotry of the caste system played a dual role of effects on his life. It traumatised him for the coming days and solidified his urge to establish his community’s identity in the existing power structures.
A fresh graduate from Banaras Hindu University, Babuji was now a student at Calcutta University where he organised a labour’s gathering at the Wellington square with almost 35,000 thousand people. This huge triumph within the first six months of his arrival in Calcutta drew the attention of stalwarts like Subhash Chandra Bose. Some of his fellow revolutionaries like Chandra Shekhar Azad and Manmath Nath Gupta also gained his acquaintance. From the beginning of his rebellious career since his student days, he was clear about what he wanted- the freedom for his country, sure, but also for empowerment of the depressed classes. As a true leader of the people, he scrutinised the society at every juncture, understanding every little nuances of stratification and intersectionalities. He believed the manoeuvring of caste system from its original form to the rigid and wrongly divisive stratification system was the ill of the modern Indian society. The only way to extinguish a system that was so ingrained and so ancient, was assimilation and unification of the individuals across the spectrum and to voice their opinions against the systematic oppression that they have generationally faced.
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In 1942 the Indian National Congress led the quit India Movement. The historic Quit India resolution was passed by the AICC. Most other Congress leaders were jailed soon after, leaving Jagjivan Ram to lead the Quit India Movement to victory. He organised a big anti-British uprising in Bihar. He was the sole Dalit leader of the twelve leaders of the country called by Viceroy/Lord Wavell to join the Interim Government on August 30, 1946, and he had the Labour portfolio.
A true visionary, he spoke about cultural-capital and hegemony of the individuals in arenas of administration, education, and government. Khetihar Mazdoor Sabha for agricultural labour and the All-India Depressed Classes League were established by him for social reform and political representation. Apart from this, Babuji was appointed the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Co-operative Industry and Village Development. His involvement in the liberation movement and his work as a Congress leader were inextricably linked. He stood for the national cause as a leader of the party by his strong organisational work and successful participation in the numerous programmes the party conducted in its war for independence. He was vocal about his support for reservations for the depressed sections of society in educational institutions. He was aware of the vicious cycle of unemployment due to lack of education and then lack of education to the next generation due to poverty and advocated that these segments well deserve a place in educational institutes.
Under his regime, several significant labour laws were passed, including the Minimum Wages Act of 1946, the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, the Indian Trade Union (Amendment) Act, the Payment of Bonus Act, and others. By enacting two significant Acts, the Employees State Insurance Act of 1948 and the Provident Fund Act of 1952, the groundwork for social security was laid. During his tenure as Food and Agriculture Minister from 1967 to 1970, he sailed the country out of a catastrophic drought, the Green Revolution, and made India food self-sufficient for the first time. The stage was prepared for a midterm election in March 1971. Babuji was re-elected to the Lok Sabha for the second time. He reshaped the political map of the globe and made history as the defence minister from 1970 to 1974, liberating Bangladesh. On June 26, 1975, a state of emergency was declared and the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights were suspended. Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi, on the other hand, suggested that the Lok Sabha be dissolved, and new General Elections be held on January 18, 1977. On February 2, 1977, he resigned from the Cabinet and the Congress Party, citing the impact of the emergency on everyone and defied Indira Gandhi after which he created ‘Congress for Democracy’ (CFD) and aligned with Janata Party with the support of Jai Prakash Narayan. In the General Elections, he was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from the Sasaram Constituency in Bihar. Jagjivan Ram was also one of the 200 leaders from across the country who met Swami Chinmayanand and SS Apte of Mumbai who were engaged in proliferation of Hindu culture Hindu philosophy and the treasure of Hindu knowledge after the inception of VHP
A gentleman in nature, his fiery speeches never inspired animosity amongst people but also gave enough impetus to bring change from the grassroots. He had spent all his life in the public eye- from becoming a member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly to serving as a member of the government from after independence till his last years. Serving from under Jawaharlal Nehru to Morarji Desai, he had a wide spectrum of contributions under his belt. The holistic approach of development including socio-economic-political changes in the country to end stratification was exemplary, to say the least, and has been seen only a few times from after his demise, making him a man both ahead of his years and irreplaceable.
(Dr Aditi Narayani Paswan is Assistant Professor, Sociology, Maitreyi College University of Delhi and founder of Dalit Adivasi Professors and Scholars Association )