When Nehru helped an Ambedkarite Sanskrit Scholar get a job
This article is not attempt to portray Nehru as an Ambedkarite, nor is an attempt to project him as a champion of the Dalit rights as I can’t verify the statement from any other sources except that the beneficiary Mrs Kumud Pawde shared with me when I had gone to record a conversation with her in Nagpur about some months back. I am actually thankful to my Ambedkarite friend Rajni Tilak too who passed away on March 30th this year and today co-incidentally is her birthday too, for encouraging me to interview Kumud Pawde ji, an Ambedkarite and first one to get appointed as a lecturer in Sanskrit.
Mrs Kumud Pawde was born in a Phule-ite-Ambedkarite family of Nagpur on November 18th, 1938. She was witness to the historic Dhamma Deeksha ceremony on October 14th, 1956 as her parents were part of Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s movement. She says, ‘I was 18 years old and Second year student. We felt extremely overjoyed about it. We knew about each movement he started. We were proud that such an outstanding and the most educated man is leading us and trying to give us dignity. We were known to his writings being published in magazines like Samta, Bahishkrit Bharat and, Janata’.
Her maternal uncle was the treasurer of Scheduled Caste Federation in Vidarbha region and her mother was influenced by him and joined the social movement. Her father was a Phuleite but as usual all the Phuleites are Ambedkarites too. It is the Ambedkarites who have kept the legacy of Joti Ba Phule alive.
She says , ‘ I feel Baba Saheb was such a person for whom Dalits had enormous regards. Women virtually worshipped him. In the Mahad styagrah movement, he formed Women’s Parishad. Everywhere in each movement he created a women’s wing. Over twenty five thousands women participated in a programme called by Baba Saheb Ambedkar in Nagpur. Women’s were always ready to go to anywhere on his call. Shanta Bai Dane from Nasik was a prominent woman who worked for spreading education. Women came out and participated. Many of them influenced others.’
It was a very curious issue for me as how come a woman from Ambedkarite Buddhist family actually had fascination for Sanskrit language and her answer was interesting.
‘There was a library near a temple not far away from our house. There were Lots of book in library. I read about Baba Saheb there. I read that Baba Saheb was not allowed to study Sanskrit. That time I was in class eighth and decided to study Sanskrit. There was no problem in the school level but in college there was problem particularly at the Post Graduation level. The teachers were mostly Brahmin teachers who were not keen to teach me as according to them only vaidik Brahmin could read Sanskriti. They would discuss among them that she is not a Brahmin, how would I be allowed. I got full marks. I was a topper in my subject.’ Interestingly, she tells me that her high school teacher despite being a Vaidik Brahmin, actually encouraged her. But the problems were not only from her Brahmin teachers but also inside the community where many of the elders were not enthused with her decision to study Sanskrit.
‘I faced problems both the side. What will you get by studying it. It is a dead language, old language. But my father encouraged me all the time.’
And when I ask her about her teaching experience, she says, ‘ I taught Sanskrit for 36 years. I taught in Morris College. Students still remember me.’ It is also interesting and important that Kumud Pawde also did other masters in English literature.
I was wondering as how come an Ambedkarite Buddhist woman, a Sanskrit scholar got into teaching the language ‘reserved’ for the Brahmins. I asked her, ‘How did you find the job’ and the answer was revealing and more fascinating for me. More than that was her absolute honesty in responding to my question.
“I had a lot of problems. After two years of completing my Post Graduation in Sanskrit, I was not getting any offer. I wrote a letter to Babu Jagjivan Ram telling him that he would always say that there was reservation for us. I am a meritorious student but I am not getting a job. In the private colleges, I was discouraged; the government colleges were out of bound. Jagjivan Ram forwarded that letter to Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. Then Nehru ji wrote me to go to Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma and he will help you get a job. He also send rupees two hundred fifty to me from the Prime Minister’s fund. So through Nehru ji and Jagjivan Ram, I got the job. My first posting was in Madhya Pradesh. When YB Chavan became CM, then Nehru wrote him and she met him. Chavan suggested her to do Phd but I told him that it was not possible that I was not having enough time and was very disturbed with the situation. Finally, she got her posting in Amravati and after some year shifted to Nagpur when appointed in a college here.’
Today, when Nehru is being villainised by the current dispensation then it becomes more important for us to share such information in public domain which really shows how Nehru as Prime Minister was so responsive and sensitive to people irrespective of their political ideologies. In fact, Mrs Kumud Pawde categorically said that Nehru was broadminded and a visionary. The leaders of our freedom movement were really big hearted, she said.
Though, Ms Pawde also said, ‘I got job not because of my caste but because of my husband’s caste. I came from Mahar caste and could not have got the job’.
They had an inter caste marriage. She belonged to Mahar community and her husband Moti Ram Pawde, from Kunbi community. There was opposition from both the families but more from the communities. Her father supported her and got the community realize that this is what Baba Saheb Ambedkar dreamt off. There was lot of protest in many of the Buddhist areas but ultimately they agreed but from the side of her husband, the marriage was not acceptable.
They married as per Vaidik rituals. Court had not accepted Buddhist marriages that time. So, Kumud wanted to do it according to Vaidik dharma as she did not want marriage to be broken just for some technical reasons. She wanted stability. We had lot of problem when people heard of marriages. All the time she had seen lathi and sword wielding communities to separate them so it became important for her to make her best effort that things do not go as per the whims and fancies of those who opposed their marriage.
Finally, both families attended their marriage ceremony. The hall was booked by her husband so there was no problem. The mandap was at a place called Amarjyoti. There was no issue at all as it was booked under the name of Mr Moti Ram Pawde but when people realize that the bride belong to Mahar community, they felt offended, all the women working there as domestics, cooks, cleaners, left. None want to cook for a Mahar girl. ‘My mausi and other people from my family did all the cooking and other related work’, says Kumud Ji.
The painful thing was the un-acceptance of the marriage by her father in law. ‘My elder son was three years old when we went to village. My father in law never came to us. He never drank water from my hand. When he stayed at our place, he never touched my son. My Mother in law was near me because of her son but father in law never felt the same way. All the relatives would tell my father in law that they would have killed their sons or daughters if they had done the similar thing but my mother in law wanted to file a case against my father in law for his behavior but I did not want to take this matter outside the family .’
Though ultimately when Kumudji’s son became a doctor and went abroad his grandfather realized his mistake and accepted him. It means that our parents only accept us when we succeed and that is a tragic reality.
Kumud ji feel that caste is there even today. ‘People don’t accept despite achievements. Reservation is based on caste based. We have not changed our castes but only changed our religion. There are Dalit among the Muslims, Christians’ but she feel that Buddhism has removed ‘sub-casteism’.
I ask Kumud ji about their affair and she narrates it beautifully. ‘He was more progressive than me. We met at night school. He started night school. He was in a mission’s college. The principle wanted him to work for the poor people. The missionary principle was of the opinion that we should not depend on others to free us. Unless we have our own leaders and change makers, things won’t change. It is this inspiration by the Christian father that he started working in night school.
She informs that her husband had put a photograph of Dr Saheb Ambedkar in his school in 1956. He was the president of Student Union.
‘My home and night school was close. If the girls were to be encouraged then it was important to have a lady teacher. I had just doing MA and joined the school. This was kind of elementary school. It was a literacy school. My husband started the night school because the Christian missionary wanted him to do.’ So the school was their meeting point and she definitely was influenced by the work her husband was doing.
About Ambedkar Movement, she says, Today Ambedkar’s women are coming up everywhere, in all fields. I am proud’.
She says,‘ We must study Baba Saheb and his speeches. We abuse Manuwadi as abuse in the name of caste but when the question of women comes we become Manuwadi. Women are Dalit among Dalits.’
I feel that it is the Dalit woman who needs to fight against Hinduism. Manavmukti i.e human liberation issue is more important than ‘Strimukti’ or women’s liberation. Buddha, Baba Saheb believed in manavmukti. I don’t believe in foreign imported feminist movement. We want women to lead the manvmukti andolan as an Ambedkarite we have to work for the liberation of all.
She says that we should not consider women as inferior. They should be given knowledge and wisdom. According to her, Hindu religion is like a rotten cloth which cannot be worn by just mending it or stitching it. You will need new cloths now so best way is to leave it and follow the path of Dhamma as guided by Baba Saheb Ambedkar.
Her autobiography ‘Antashfot’ is published in Marathi by Anand prakashan published, Aurangabad.
She says that Baba Saheb’s view does not differentiate between man and woman. We should give respect to all and stop thinking on the basis of sub-castes and gender. We should work for his vision of an enlightened India, a Baudhmay Bharat for which we need annihilation of caste and uplift of women.
For an enlightened India we need all kind of people. It cannot happen with Dalits alone. All should accept it. This is question of 97% people in which 50% are women. Dvijas i.e. twice born, are just three percent and refuse to leave behavior and caste privileges hence they can’t be our people. Buddha said Bahujan Sukhay, Bahujan Hitay and that should be our motto.
She also says that no one should exploit any one. We should not give any pain to anyone. Neither individual nor community.
Kumud Padwde retired in October 1996 and was member Doctoral Committee, Nagpur University. She is still active and is President of All India Progressive Women’s Organisation based in Nagpur. She has travelled a number of countries and attended conferences and seminars world over including participating at the World Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 as well as World Conference against Xenophobia and Racism in Durban in 2001.
Kumud Pawde’s life is an example of how Dalit women face double discrimination at home and outside. It equally give us an understanding that we cannot move ahead with prejudices in mind and assure support from the like-minded people. She studied and taught Sanskrit without diluting her Ambedkarite Buddhist identity is an important lesson and to get justice she approached to Babu Jagjivan Ram and through him to Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru definitely reflect her personality. It also reveal how despite dedicated Ambedkarite and Phuleite, families still feel uncomfortable with their children breaking the caste barriers yet she challenged all those norms at every level nearly 50 is remarkable and succeeded living a life on her own need to be celebrated by all.