'Babuji' Jagjivan Ram Jayanti: Celebrating a Dalit icon on his 114th birth anniversary

In 1946, he became the youngest minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's interim government, the first cabinet of India as a Labour Minister and also a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, where he ensured that social justice was enshrined in the Constitution. He went on to serve as a minister with various portfolios for the next 30 years as a member of the Indian National Congress

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Monday, April 04, 2022, 02:26 PM IST
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Left-right: Then Indian Defense Minister Jagjivan Ram, Indian Minister of Commerce Mohan Dharia, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and Indian Minister of external Affairs Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Wikimedia Commons

Jagjivan Ram, popularly known as Babuji, was a former Deputy Prime Minister of India and a spokesman for more than 100 million untouchables, was instrumental in the foundation of the All-India Depressed Classes League, an organisation dedicated to attaining equality for untouchables, in 1935 and was elected to Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1937, after which he organised the rural labour movement.

He was born on April 5, 1908, to an untouchable family in the village of Chandwa in the state of Bihar, a relatively tolerant area. He was among the first untouchables to take advantage of educational opportunities, graduating from school and attending Benares Hindu University and Calcutta University.

At the Benares university, after word of his caste spread, his landlord threatened to lock him out. ''I told him,'' Mr. Ram once recalled, ''that if he broke the lock, I would break his head.''

In 1931, he joined the Congress Party, which was led by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and was the main force behind India's drive for independence. Four years later, he was a founding member of the All-India Depressed Classes League, a political organization founded to gain equality for untouchables, who by Hindu tradition are suffering divine punishment for unworthiness in previous incarnations.

He was imprisoned twice in the early 1940's for advocating the end of British rule. Early Government Posts

From 1946 to 1963, Mr. Ram held a series of important Cabinet posts under Nehru, including the labour, transport, railways and communications portfolios, before being assigned to do full-time party work after state election defeats for the Congress Party.

He returned to the Cabinet in 1966 after Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, became Prime Minister, and in 1967 he was named Agriculture Minister. In that post he presided over a period of great hardship for India, the 1967 famine. He is credited with initiating steps to increase food-grain production and reduce the country's reliance on food imports.

It was when he was Defence Minister between 1970 and 1974 that India won its most decisive military victory over Pakistan. India invaded what was then known as East Pakistan in support of the Bengali autonomy movement there. The defeat of the Pakistanis resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.

From 1974 to 1977 Ram was minister for agriculture and irrigation. He initially supported Prime Minister Gandhi’s declaration of a state of emergency in 1975.

By 1977, however, he and several other politicians had resigned from the cabinet and formed the Janata (People’s) Party (JP; a precursor of the Janata Dal), a coalition that successfully opposed Gandhi and the Congress Party that year in elections to the Lok Sabha.

Disappointed that he was not chosen prime minister, Ram once again accepted the post of minister of defence (1977–79) in two JP governments. He remained a member of the Lok Sabha until his death, on July 7, 1986.

The place of his cremation has been turned into a memorial, Thanmai, and his birth anniversary is observed as Thanmai, (Equality Day) in India. His birth centenary celebrations were held all over the nation in 2008. Demands for awarding him a posthumous Bharat Ratna have been raised from time to time in Hyderabad. Andhra University conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 1973, and in 2009 on the occasion of his 101st birth anniversary, his statue was unveiled on the university premises.

To propagate his ideologies, the 'Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation' has been set up by Ministry of Social Justice, in Delhi.

The training academy for Railway Protection Force officers is named after Jagjivan Ram.

The first indigenously built electric locomotive, a WAM-1 model, was named after him and was recently restored by the Eastern Railway.

In 2015, the Babu Jagjeevan Ram English Medium Secondary School was established in Mahatma Gandhi Nagar, Yerawada, Pune. As of March 2016, the school serves 125 7th and 8th graders from Yerawada. The school honours Babuji and his advocacy of education and opportunity for all people of lower castes by being the first Pune Municipal Corporation public school to offer education past the 7th grade.

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