Babu Milkhi Ram (1926-1989)
Babu Milkhi Ram Ji was an uncompromising crusader for social justice. Despite heavy odds in his personal and social life, he carried on his campaign of mass awakening and building up pressure on the Government of granting the Dalits their rights to reservation in services, allotment of land with ownership rights to the landless poor. He declined the tempting offers of the berth of a Finance Minister in the State Cabinet of the J&K State under Prime Minister ( As was then designated), Bhakshi Gulam Mohammad, so preferring a life of poverty and suffering , sharing the joys and sorrows of the milieu he spouted from. He fought a relentless fight, both within and outside the legislature, against the discrimination meted out to the Dalits especially in the affairs of the State administration, imparting them quality free education
As Baba Sahib, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Babu Milkhi Ram too did not enjoy very big personnel successes in the literary sense of the term, but the mark made by him on the people’s psyche is indelible, indeed. People, old and young, and socio-political leaders, irrespective of their political leanings, remember him with a sense of reverence.
Born on 14 June, 1926 in a family of a cobbler or shoe maker Shri Rohlu Ram of Jammu, young Milkhi Ram was physically strong and mentally alert. He played football and Kabaddi and was also very found of wrestling and kiting. He was a great lover of sweets and pakoras ( A black gram flour Fried with vegetables dish). A sense of purpose and firm conviction were reflected in his thought, action and speech.
He passed his Matriculation Examination in 1944. He married to a Middle Standard (8th Class) pass lady, Smt. Ishri Devi, in 1947 at the age of21 years. Shri Rohlu Ram was ditched by business associates/ partners at Jammu, so he migrated to Kashmir leaving young Milkhi Ram and otheer family members under his care back home. Shri Rohlu Ram never returned back and breathed his last in Kashmir. Milkhi Ram bravely shouldered the entire responsibility to run the family as an undergraduate, by carrying on tuitions and working in shoe making shop.. To eke out a living and meet his educational expenses, Milkhi Ram Ji worked as a shoeshine boy and made rubber chapels from worn out Tyres which were then popular among the poor hilly people of J&K.
Influenced by the teachings of Swami Jai Gopal Gir Maharaj of Palouta Sahib (Ramgarh, Samba tehsil of then Distt. Jammu ) , a Dalit saint and a staunch follower of Sant Guru Ravi Dass. Palouta area has a large population of Chamars also called as Ravidasias . Shri Milkhi Ram chose the path of service of poor, the downtrodden and rid them of the curse of social discrimination meted out to them in various walks of life. Despite heavy odds throughout his life, he did not budge from his set goal of “Service to masses is service to God” . The life and mission of Baba Saheb, Dr. B.R. Ambedker influenced Babu Ji to whom Babu Ji met in Punjab sometime in 1951-52. Their meeting changed still further the life’s motto of Babu Milkhi Ram, so he dedicated his whole life for the just cause of the deprived, depressed, neglected, illiterate half fed peoples of J&K State. In later years Babu Milkhi Ram was greatly influenced by the working & teaching of Babau Jagjivan Ram and both used to have close contacts & intimate interactions on all matters pertaining to welfare of the Depressed classes peoples.
On the advice of Mr. William, then Principal of a private school, Babu Ji served as a teacher for a while as Babu Milkhi Ram was a trained teacher as he had already passed the B.T. (Bachelor of Teaching) Exam. After a considerable gap of time , he felt the necessity of providing legal assistance to the penniless people from the villages so he perused his Law studies at Delhi and earned LL. B Degree in 1964. He practiced as lawyer at Jammu, which helped the poor peoples to get justice. But he charged very very nominal fee at times even free of costs.
In 1950, he founded Harijan Mandal (Central) in contradiction with the already existing organization of the similar name, viz. Harijan Mandal (founded in 1940 by the Harijan elite after dissolving a single caste organization called Megh Mandal) whose protagonists were pro-establishment. After completion of his graduation, he contested the first Assemble election in 1952 which lost. He, however, won the 1957 Assembly poll but found him self alone as a Dalit leader amongst the opposition.
Thereafter, he contested almost all Assembly elections till 1987 but lost with a lower vote percentage in each successive poll. But, paradoxically, his popularity, both among the masses and in the political and Government circles, rose day by day. That was, perhaps, due to the extraordinary qualities of leadership he possessed. Undeterred by his election failures, Babu Milkhi Ram ji continued to hold high the flag of the Dalit Movement in the Jammu region of J&K. He offered resistance, led demonstrations and organized rallies and strikes in protest against the discriminatory behavior of the establishment towards the Dalits.
He provided leadership to the Dalits agitation in Marhin and Chhann Rodian in Kathua Distt in 1956. Unfortunately, meeting at both these places were disrupted by a Dalit Patwari who, obviously, was misled by certain unscrupulous elements from amongst the non-Dalits who didn't approve of the Dalits’ Unity and restoration to them their legitimate rights.
Following this, on 26 July 1956 a team of eleven volunteers went on a hunger strike which continued fro five days, till the Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohd. Came thee and assured of justice to the Dalits in J&K. He commended Babu Milkhi Ram as a true leader and offered him he berth of Finance Minister in his Cabinet provided he merged his Harijan Mandal with National Conference. Later, on 15 November, 1956 a rally was organized at Karan Park Jammu, where the same conditional offer was repeated by the Prime Minister. But he declined the offer both in favour of betraying the movement he had started in 1950, although many that he could have served the Dalits more effectively, had he joined the J&K Govt. as Finance Minister.
Consequent upon bowing down by the Government to the demands of the strikers, many of the miscreants were who had stone pelted the meetings were put behind bars. A couple of them went underground and became Sadhus to avoid detection. 165 pounds of the strikers’ blood lost thus bore fruit in the form of Babu ji’s entry into the J&K legislative Assembly in 1957 and many others became officers and ministers in the later years. He continued raising the reservation and farmers’ tenancy rights issues-with the result the Government of J&K issued an order of reservation for SCs in public services in 1971.
As a precursor to his joining National Conference under the leadership of Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah, in 1975, he participated in the meeting of Democratic Socialist Forum organized by the latter on 2 December,1974. In 1979 he joined Mirza Afzal Beigh’s Revolutionary National Conference and was nominated its provincial president (Jammu).
Irrespective of his political affiliations, Babu ji pursued the Programme of forging and strength the SC- BC unity rather relentlessly. As a step in that direction, he started a news-paper SUBH-E-Jammu in 1980 and presented a 25 point charter of demands to the Government. In 1982 he was nominated as Vice Chairman of the J&K State Scheduled Castes Advisory Board. But, on the fall of Dr.Farooq Abdullah’s Government in 1984 he resigned it and preferred to return home walking instead of using the official car. Thereafter, he founded the SC-BC Federation and became its President.
Once a confidant of Babu ji told him that the people considered him a fool, as he worked for those who worked against him. His reply was, “if you are not satisfied with my way of working, you may also abandon me, but I will continue working for them irrespective of their being my friends or foes”. Such was the greatness of that saintly figure of the Dalit Movement in J&K.
Babu ji breathed his last on 7 May, 1989. Although he is no more with us, physically, but Dalits still cherish his memory. He will be remembered for his straight forwardness, righteousness and his concern for the poor and the meek. He will continue to serve as a beacon for us for centuries to come.
Although the above accounts, based on a write up from one of the close relatives of Late Babu ji, is supposed to be most authentic and comprehensive’ still, as there is always a scope for improvement, readers and his contemporaries and devotees may send more entries on the missed out important points, if any, for publication as supplements to the above articles in the next issue of Samatavadi Bharat. In addition to English, such entries received in other local languages shall be adapted to Hindi or English.
More such entries from other parts of India are invited for publication in the series “Unsung Heroes of the Dalit Movement in India” in the future issues of Samatavadi Bharat.