Following Babasaheb’s footprints in Dharwad

Dharwad may not be the town that immediately springs to mind when you talk of the struggle for Dalit rights in Karnataka. But, this town in north Karnataka has an enduring connection with B.R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Constitution and a champion of Dalit rights, whose birth anniversary falls on Tuesday.

Among the buildings that stand testimony to his activities in the State include a tiled-roof structure where Dr. Ambedkar stayed with wife, Ramabai, for a few months. Then there is a hostel he built for Dalit students and another which once housed the co-operative society of Dalits established at his behest. But little about them is documented.

Dr. Ambedkar’s tryst with Dharwad began in the 1920s when he discovered that it was an “untouchable” from the region, who was instrumental in securing admission for Dalit children in schools way back in 1856.

When a school in Dharwad denied admission to the son of this person (referred to simply as “the Mahar from Dharwad” in Bombay government records) because of his caste, he approached the Bombay Native Education Society head, Edward Elphinston, who in turn forwarded his plea to East India Company. The British government subsequently issued orders allowing admission in its schools to all.

A curious Dr. Ambedkar later came to Dharwad searching for that person’s family in 1927. Though he could not trace them, it cemented his connection with the city. The person Dr. Ambedkar looked for remains unknown to this day.

His next visit began on a personal note, when Ramabai took ill and needed a change of weather to recuperate. In 1929, Dr. Ambedkar and his wife not only lived here for a few months, but also made Dharwad the launching pad to expand his activities of Dalit amelioration in the south.

The co-op experiment

One of the ventures started by Dr. Ambedkar during his stay in Dharwad was the setting up of a cooperative society of Dalits.

Activist Lakshman Bakkai said the Machigar Cooperative Credit Society was set up by two of his followers — Parashuram N. Pawar and Yallappa Hongal — cobblers by profession. They are believed to have taken part in the historic Mahad Satyagraha, headed by Dr. Ambedkar.

Interestingly, the first members were all illiterate cobblers. But Dr. Ambedkar infused in them courage and guided them. It was a big success and when the society moved to its own building, Dr. Ambedkar came down to Dharwad to inaugurate it. Today, the society is not active, but the old building exists. “It should be preserved and developed into a museum,” Mr. Bakkai said.

A student hostel too

During his stay in the region, Dr. Ambedkar encouraged Dalit youth in Dharwad and surrounding areas to pursue education. To help such students, he built the Depressed Classes Student’s Hostel at Koppadakeri here in 1929. Dr. Ambedkar approached the district collector and obtained two acres of land for the purpose. The college managing trustee, F. I. Jakkappanavar, told The Hindu that the original title deed of this land was in Dr. Ambedkar’s name.

Dr. Ambedkar himself served as the managing trustee of the society and ran the hostel for many years. Wife Ramabai too had great concern for the hostel. His trusted follower, B.H. Varale, was appointed the honorary superintendent of the hostel.

When Dr. Ambedkar could not send money to India when he was in England to attend the Round Table Conference in 1931, he asked Ramabai to visit Dharwad, and she found the school in bad shape. She immediately sold her gold ornaments and arranged for money and ration. In later years, local residents took charge of the hostel. Former Minister Basavalingappa built a residential school here in 1967.

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Printable version | Oct 13, 2021 6:00:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/following-babasahebs-footprints-in-dharwad/article7101462.ece

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