Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Palwankar Baloo, Indian Dalit Cricketer icon

                                     Palwankar Baloo, Indian Dalit Cricketer icon
                                        (19 March 1876 – 4 July 1955)
    Palwankar Baloo was the greatest Indian cricketer of his times who deserves to be remembered and celebrated for his game shining through oppressive caste prejudices for his low caste. He was one of India’s first world-class players and its first Dalit cricketer. Palwankar Baloo, the left-arm orthodox spinner could turn the bow both ways with immaculate accuracy .He had been neatly brushed out of the pages of history, but a handful of textual records and oral histories — a condemnation of both India’s cricket writing and the crossing out of Dalit heroes from mainstream history and consciousness.  Except a few unbiased writers, history writing has maintained its old prejudices as said by Jean Henri Febre( 1823-1915) a French entomologist, physicist, Chemist and botanist said “ The history recorded names of royal bastards”. Baloo, a Dalit , of early 20th-century cricketer in colonial times , despite all  caste resistance lead Hindu team of Poona Club  to victories  . Baloo lead a weak Hindu team to wins by his skills. He reached to top slot as cricketer of his times but lost race twice for the captaincy to Brahmin players. Though the Poona team beat the Europeans, Baloo was made to tolerate untouchability , he drank tea from a separate earthen tumbler sitting alone separately.  As  R Guha writer writes, he ( Baloo) must have been an exceptional left-arm spinner.  “His figures were both remarkable and heroic, in fighting against prejudice that modern cricketers cannot dream of.”
Mr. Palwankar Baloo a legendary successful spin bowler was born on 19th March, 1876 in Dharwad  ,  Bombay PresidencyBritish India  now in Karnataka State of India. He was born in village Palwan situated in present day Madha Tehsil of Solapur  District, now in Maharashtra. He was born in a Chamar, leather working family. A Chamar is an untouchable( out caste) as classified in Hindu religious codes . The else while untouchables now SCs, STs. OBC, still face untouchability curses despite free India’s Constitution completely  banned it but made its practice  under Art.17, a punishable Act. Palwankar faced the untouchability curse despite being unmatched cricketer. His father was a sepoy ,  in112th Infantry Regiment  of British Indian. He also worked in Khadki ’s ammunition factory, so they lived in army cantonment area. The army held out the promise of a degree of equality for Dalits impossible elsewhere in a caste-ridden society. However the caste hate was so powerful that even during plague out brake in Poona in 1896, the high caste army men refused to be quarantined with Dalits   , when  death was eminent in  their refusal.  Army forcibly quarantined sepoys from all castes including Dalit untouchables.
  Mr. Palwankar was eldest of four brothers. His other cricketer brothers were Vithal, Shivram and Ganpat. While living in army area all brothers  learnt to play cricket with equipment discarded by officers. They all became bright shining stars in the Cricket History in the later years.
Mr. Palwankar associated with cricket from 1892. He got engaged by Parsee Cricket Club for sweeping the field and to attend all such odd jobs on monthly salary of Rupees three.   Later he got engaged by Poona Club on Rupees Four as monthly wages. He was then 17 years young boy full of mental and body energies.  His duty was to erect, roll back the nets and mark the pitch meant exclusively for Europeans.  He continued with his similar earlier duties for Parsees Club.  Now he was always with Cricket players so developed liking for cricket game. He started helping in net practices to Bowlers. He picked up art of spin Bowling. His ball spinning was marvelous. The main aim of spin bowling is to bowl the cricket ball with rapid rotation so that when it bounces on the pitch it will deviate from its normal straight path, thus making it difficult for the batsman to hit the ball cleanly. His being left hand bowler added to his  skills. On seeing   ball spinning skills of Palwankar the European Cricketer Mr. Trans and Grage engaged him for net   practice paying Palwankar eight Anna each over time practice in addition to his salary. The hundreds of hours bowling at the net helped him grow up into one of modern India’s greatest cricketers. Baloo became so deadly spinner that in later time Dr M.E Pavri (1866-1946) an Indian cricketer born to a  Parsee family , one of Baloo’s opponents said of him as ,“The most deadly bowler on a sticky wicket and called him Wilfred Rhodes( 1877-1973)an English Cricketer”.
Indian cricket during those times was organized on caste and faith lines. The top of the season was a tournament in Bombay. Here Hindu, Parsi, British, and, later, Muslim teams competed in three-day matches.  Hindus in Poona (now Pune) had started a cricket club named Parmanandas Jivandas Hindu Gymkhana”. They were in two minds over whether or not to invite Baloo. His low caste was considered a big block for the Hindu team. When left with no choice for their team bright future prospects so  after long deliberations Baloo was inducted.  Hindus team including Baloo played together till break time. During the tea interval in matches, he would be served outside the pavilion in disposable clay ‘matka’.  If he wished to wash his hands and face, a fellow Dalit attendant would bring him water in a corner. He would eat lunch off a separate plate, at a separate table. However all Hindu religious heads and revered   books claim both these people tagged to Hinduism.
In 8 February 1906 Hindus v Europeans, the Bombay quadrangular was held when the independence movement was gathering steam. Each victory of the Hindu team, helmed by Baloo, was cheered wildly. The final saw the Hindus squaring off against the British. The Hindus batted first and posted 242, and then bowled the British out for 191. In the second innings, the Indians made 160, setting the British a target of 212. Fifers  from Baloo and another bowler  PA Erasha, saw the Europeans crumble for a paltry 102. It was Indian’s famous victory.
  Palwankar the top spin bowler with his supper quality playing lead weak team of Hindu  Gamkhana club to victory, beat the Europeans but his low caste disallowed him to captain the team  so said Sadanand More, a Marathi historian. Between 1910 and 1920, there was an unsuccessful campaign every year to make Baloo the captain. Despite this, there was widespread acknowledgement of Baloo’s  talent, as reflected in 1913  in his saying of then  captain MD Pai, “The honour of captainship should have been given to my friend Mr Baloo.”
 Still he was superseded twice for the captaincy by Brahmin  player DB Deodhar  . In anger, Baloo’s brothers Vithal and Shivram withdrew from the team.  After   Baloo played his  last first class  match of 8 December 1920 ( Hindu V/s Pasees) , insult on him was compounded by dropping him from the team in 1921. This cleared grounds for captaincy in favour of a young Brahmin, DB Deodhar  following the illness of the incumbent, M. D. Pai  (Also a Brahmin),who had superseded  Baloo earlier. Baloo with all his qualities being superior cricketer   was hard bitten by caste cobra so lost his just right to captainship.  Vithal Palwankar, an ace batsman, had attained by then ,a commanding position in the team.
The lacuna of Ballo was fulfilled by his younger brother, equally radiantly talented cricketer Vithal Palwankar (1884 or 1886 – 26 November 1971) who captained the Hindus cricket team in the Bombay Quadrangular cricket competition. Vithal was introduced to cricket by his elder brother Palwankar Baloo, who later sent him to attend the Elphinstone College High School in Mumbai (then Bombay), where vithal began playing cricket seriously. Despite Vithal’s rightful claims for captainship, he too was ignored due to his low caste tag. On this Baloo brothers protested   with many of  their team mates against  injustice of by-passing for the captaincy in 1922. Many players protested to resign in protest against ignoring right claims of Baloo brothers. Even Vithal and Shivram with drew from team in protest for injustice. However when   competition was again held in Pune in 1923 Vithal Palwankar was selected captain by Bombay Quadrangular  Cricket  of Hindu team  and he served  for four years.
  It took 12 years and three aborted attempts before the first composite Indian team took to the cricket field in the summer of 1911and played 23 matches. The team was selected on the basis of religion: there were six Parsee, five Hindus and three Muslims. In the 23 matches played with 14 were first-class. It was the first tour by an “All Indian” team. The Indians won just two of their first-class fixtures, drew two and lost 10..
The team was captained by the Maharaja of PatialaBhupinder Singh and its outstanding player was Palwankar Baloo, the slow left-arm spinner who took 75 wickets at 20.12 with a best analysis of 8/103. Baloo, an untouchable ,was a mainstay for the Hindus in the regular Quadrangular tournament .He took 114 wickets in all on the tour.
 playing record of Mr.Baloo Source: ESPNcricinfo  27 January 2009
Runs scored
Top score
Balls bowled
10 wickets in match
Best bowling
 The Indian team of eleven returned from England on 15 September,1911  to Bombay  and  was given a rousing reception.  DR. Ambedkar a  “Dalit Icon” who in later time, earned the honour of being  “ The Father of Indian Constitution”, had  faced many humiliations at the hands of caste Hindus at various times so  was always at  look out  to high light the achievements of any Dalit better performer. Keeping this in mind he encouraged the  Rohidas Vidhayavardhak Samaj arranged a felicitation to  Baloo on his great  achievements  in cricket. From student  times Ambedkar looked at the solid fame of the untouchable bowler with pride. Baloo was presented with welcome address by Dr. Ambedkar. This was first public appearance to Baloo. In his book “Dr Ambedkar: Life and Mission”, historian Dhananjay Key wrote:  Ambedkar tried for Baloo’s elevation to the membership of the Bombay Municipal Corporation and got one seat added to the original one appointed to the untouchables .
 Ambedkar ‘s praising Baloo as a hero of the Dalit, naming him as an inspiration to himself and others of their caste was a great honour to cricketer. However  over the following years a rift was to grove between these  two over the methods of dismantling the caste system. The main cause of rift may be based upon their caste differences (Chamar and Mahar) exploitation by caste Hindus. Dr. Ambedkar was for complete annihilation of caste but he knew, that was not possible so leaving Hindu religion to join some other religion with promises of social equality for his untouchable people was better option. Baloo got swayed by the theory propagated by Mahatma Gandhi of promised reformation of Hindu religion by removing untouchability and other such short coming. Due to relentless efforts of Dr. Ambedkar from 1916 to 1932 through his contacts with possible religious, political, social ,government meetings forums, he succeeded in convincing the British Government to grant separate voting rights to  the untouchables to safeguard their human rights in future proposed Constitutional reforms . In 1932 the British Government granted separate  voting rights to Depressed classed people under Communal Award against wishes of Hindus. Mahatma Gandhi under took fast unto death to get it scraped. The British had put up the condition to effect any modification  in the award on mutual agreement between Untouchables and Caste Hindus.  The High caste Hindus had raised no objection for giving separate voting rights   to Muslims, Sikhs, Christians but to Depressed classes.  Mahatma Gandhi when lost all hopes to block this communal Award sanctions, he resorted to fast unto death. When a meeting under Chairmanship of Pt. M. M. Malvia  on 19 September ,1932  in Indian Merchant Hall Bombay was held  to negotiate solution to safe Mahatma’s life  Baloo was sitting with Hindu leaders. This practice was followed by Baloo in all future meeting for  negotiating  possible agreement.
P Ballo and Rajah from Depressed classes met Gandhi separately and assured him ,in Poona Jail , they will secure an agreement to save his life. Long negotiations were held between Hindu leaders under Gandhi’s command and Dalits with Dr. Ambedkar shaped  agreement to save Gandhi’s life . That agreement was called  Poona Pact  was signed  on 24th September 1932.  Baloo and Rajah also signed this document.  Dr. Ambedkar signed under duress with only thing to safe Gandhi life an act of non violence. Later all Hindu leaders washed away  their pollution by drinking and sprinkling on them Ganga water  ( My memories and experiences by S.Shastri page151) showing the pretended change of heart of Hindu leaders against untouchability and untouchables.
 Dr. Ambedkar raised his political party IPL and put up 17 candidates for elementary Provincial Elections held on Febuary17, 1937 under terms of India Act of 1935. The Congress party and Sardar Patel first convinced Baloo to contest on Congress ticket for Bombay Provincial elections. When Baloo agreed he was made to contest against his onetime   mentor   Dr. Ambedkar. As per R. Guha   in ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field, Baloo told, “It was Sardar  Patel who decided to pit Baloo against Ambedkar for the Bombay Presidency elections. Despite squaring off on opposing sides, Baloo wasn’t very keen on taking on Ambedkar and reportedly told a crowd in January 1937 that he agreed to fight elections on a Congress ticket without knowing which seat he would contest from”. Despite the facts Congress put all resources   against Dr. Ambedkar, he won with thumbing support for Bombay Provisional Assembly. The IPL won 15 seats out of 17 contested, which was a big win for the newly formed Political party. This was first political win of Dalits and  gained  grounds to  safeguard their rights democratically, after centuries.
Before his death on 4 July 1955, Baloo was reported to be with Dr. Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar had a big accommodating heart. He had pardoned many of his opponents like, Rajah, Rajbhoj etc. When Baloo died, his funeral was attended by national leaders as well as cricketers besides his son Y. B. Palwankar.
 Explaining ever super cricketer Ballo ’s qualities and capabilities, Ramchandra Guha  said” It was Panwalkar Balu and not Ranjitsingji (1872-1933) the first Indian  cricketer  who was known across Western India and INDIA",
   Dated 10-07-2020               Words 2449
                                 Material Source :- 1.Wikipedia
                                          2.  R. Guha   in ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field
                                           3. My memories and experiences by S.Shastri page151


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