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Kudmul Ranga Rao memorial planned in Mangalore

By M. Raghuram

MANGALORE, APRIL 13. Mangalore will, on Saturday, pay homage to two great personalities who have worked for the upliftment of the oppressed classes -- B.R. Ambedkar, one of the framers of the Constitution, and Kudmul Ranga Rao, who worked for the empowerment of the oppressed, beginning way back in 1887.

In a unique double programme, the Dakshina Kannada District Dalit Workers' Welfare Committee will observe the 110th birth anniversary of Ambedkar and erect a memorial to Mr. Kudmul Ranga Rao. Much has been written about Dr. Ambedkar, but Kudmul Ranga Rao, who devoted his life, and gave up his career and property for the upliftment of the oppressed classes in the pre- Independence era, is an unsung hero.

Ranga Rao, who was born in 1859 in Kudmul in Kasargod District (now in Kerala) had to face financial difficulties at a very young age and migrated to Mangalore in search of employment. He started his career as a teacher with a salary of Rs. 8 per month. He later took to a career in law and was, perhaps, the first lawyer in the pre-Independence era to revolt against the system of barring the oppressed sections from entering the legal profession. After giving up his legal career, Mr. Rao decided to work for the upliftment of the downtrodden at the age of 34.

Ranga Rao studied the teachings of the Buddha, Basaveshwara, Vivekananda and Dayananda Saraswathi to enable him to convince the upper caste Hindus about universal brotherhood.

But he then became convinced that educating the downtrodden was the best way. In 1892, he opened a school exclusively for them in Urva Chilimbi in Mangalore, but the upper caste people prevented the school from functioning. The same fate awaited the schools which he opened in Kankanadi and Boloor. He was the first social reformer to introduce the incentive system to motivate children to attend school. The "Panchama Schools" he opened in various places in Mangalore, Udupi, Nejaru, Ullal, Mulki and Bannanje in Udupi encouraged the children of the oppressed classes to study. He also employed teachers from those sections and worked as a honorary teacher in those schools from time to time.

The other activities taken up by Ranga Rao included the provision of housing, water supply, social empowerment and anti- exploitation programmes. These were organised under the "Depressed Classes Mission" he opened in 1897 with the help of Mr. Raghunathaiah, a close associate. Ranga Rao purchased the "Muli" rights of land in various places in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi and donated them to landless people belonging to the oppressed classes. According to the observation made by the Gandhian scholars here, this act helped Mahatma Gandhi to form his policy regarding upliftment of oppressed classes during his visit to Mangalore in 1920.

But many of his dreams of uplifting the "Thoti" community (traditional sanitary workers' community in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi) did not materialise. But when he died on January 30, 1928, his will stated that he wanted people belonging to the Thoti community to carry his body to the burial grounds. The wish was carried out, but not before a heated debate among the caste Hindus.

Today, thousands of families belonging to the oppressed classes in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts consider Kudmul Ranga Rao as their saviour. Sociologists in Mangalore University attribute the wide social acceptance of the oppressed classes in Dakshina Kannada today to his brave efforts.

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