Subedar Major Ramji Maloji Sakpal
(14 November 1838 to 2 Feb,1913) By: Er. Hem RAJ PHONSA
Revered Ramji Sakpal was father of Bharat Ratna Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Ramji Maloji Sakpal had strong vision to educate his children. He was dedicated ,hard working but strict disciplinarian. His vision with matching hard commitment of sacrifices for bright future of his children as well his Samaj. His inbuilt desire was that after growing his sons shall help their Samaj , to bring them out of the Brahman enforced caste hate miseries. He guided all his sons well out of whom his youngest son Bhimrao alias Bhiva strove hard to get highest possible education. Son, father duo was convinced that education was solution to all their family and community miseries. Ramji Sakpal himself fearless , trained his children to face all problems with courage and strong will. Ramji Sakpal groomed his children well to have qualities of strong body, clear heart and mind so made them strong, fearless besides argumentatively strong to face caste infested society outside. Ambedkar was bright out of all his children so became his father’s dream child. He was obedient, bright in studies and fearless so could rise to great worldly and spiritual heights. Bhimrao hair were cut at home by his elder sister as no barber would agreed to give him hair cut for fear of other caste Hindus boycotting ,so effecting his earning. Same Bhiva by his hard work became world famous as Dr. Ambedkar and attained great heights earning the distinctions of being the father Of Indian Constitution. Ramji ‘s well grooming of of Dr. Ambedkar about whom it was said to be one of the six top world intellectuals of his times and knew ten languages. Dr. Ambedkar also earned the distinction to be single Asian whose portrait is displayed in Gray’s Inn from where he had earned Bar-at Law degree on June 28,1922.
It is said Mahars were original habitants of Maharashtra and its name is based on (Mahar+ Rashtra). Some say it as Maha+ Ari , meaning great enemy. The later term seems to be devised by Aryans. Maharashtra state earned pre-eminence as economic hub.It also known for raising and supporting revolt against caste dominance of Brahmins. Many men and women of distinction were born in Maharashtra. Social , education and political revolutionaries like Mahatama Jyotirao Phuley, Savitribai Phuley, Jaibai, Maharishi Vithal Rammji Shinde, Gadge Baba, Chhaterpati Shahu Ji Maharaj, Siyaji Gaikward-III of Baroda, Gopal Baba Walangkar , M.G. Ranade ,V. R. Shinde, S.K. Bole, Ram ji Sakpal, Dr. Ambedkar and many more who were born in and were groomed in Maharshtra . The social awakening among Dalits was aroused so much by their leaders that as many as 29 (35%) Dalit Organizations out of 83 in all India (1857-1957) grew in Maharshtra (Gujrat included). Other states remained far behind Maharashtra in social awakening including education. Ramji Sakpal had great liking for the philosophy of Mahatama Phuley , so became his follower.
Maharastra being on the sea coast line, many foreign nationals including Aryans, while in search of fertile place for living, business reached Maharashtra. It is said when Aryans invaded Maharashtra they killed and enslaved natives, who had numerical majority but ill equipped. Many run for life safety into Jungles. When these natives could not meet their survival needs in jungle, they returned towards habitations. They were caught by Aryans, severally beaten and assigned menial dirty jobs by Aryans. The aboriginal, once rulers were made to live away from Aryan habitation mostly on Southwest sides, so the untouchables and untouchability was born. This ill treatment at the hands of Aryans reduced these natives to paupers, diseased and hungry beggars. They were kept miles away from education so could never think of decent living means and were denied even their due wages.
Although the Bombay Government has issued instruction in 1858 to all government schools to open all education facilities to students irrespective of their castes or creeds. The government also had warned to withhold government support to such school who deny admission to students because of low caste. Still due to biased thinking of the upper caste Hindus towards low caste people, they ignored such Government orders The Hindus labeled these Government orders as interference with Hindu’s religious norms. So such government orders were ignored and schools continued discrimination with untouchable students for long when such government instructions had good effects at root level. With this a little easing of conditions for education for untouchable students was seen at low level.
In mid nineteenth century some initiates were taken by good hearted saintly persons like Mahatama Phuley to open 18 schools on his own starting from January 1, 1848 . He impressed upon masses the importance of education. Other like Christian Missionaries from 1784 started educating Anglo- Indian students, Arya Samaj ( Vedic education) also joined in to impart education to all including women. Women in India were most neglected lot. Maharajas Of Baroda and Kohlapur also had open help to Dalit students in their education, including education in foreign Universities.
Despite the worst restrictions enforced by Caste Hindus, for education of untouchable, preaching and supporting practice of untouchability, a Mahar boy could earn world’s highest academic degrees because his father had served in East India Army, who had specifically ordered for unrestricted admission in schools of wards of army, ex army personals. Bhimrao’s father had inculcated in him importance of education which in turn aroused in him urge for highest possible academic learning’s.
Ramji Malogi Sakpal was born on 14th November 1838 in village Ambavade, five miles off Mandanged, a small town in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, British India. Ratnagiri is in Konkan a region of Maharashtra which provided Indian with great intellectual ,academic brains and also great fighters. His father Malogi Sakpal was retired army Havaldar from the British army of East India company . Malogi Sakpal had six children out of whom three survived namely Meerabai, Bhimabai, Ramji Sakpal. Ramji Sakpal played football and Hockey well in his youth. He was confirmed teetotaler and never touched meat. Ramji Sakpal also joined British army of East India Company following his ancestral footsteps. He rose to the rank of Subedar Major. Honest, Hard working, dedication, urge to get higher education, boldness in his conduct and to work for elevation of his fellow untouchables were parts of his character. Later he retired as Army School Head Master in 1893 at a monthly pension of rupees fifty.
He was married in 1865 to Bhimbai, daughter of Subedar Major Dharma or Dharmaji Murbadkar of Murbadkar village then in Thane district Of Maharashtra. Dharma’s six brothers were also Subedar Major in the British army. Both Dharma and Ramji Sakpal were serving in the same Battalion. Dharma was impressed with the personality, respectful conduct, bright future and refined behavior of Ramji . Their marriage was ceremonised although bride’s parents had better financial position than the groom’s family. Bhimabai had fair complexions with curly hair round glowing eyes and broad forehead. She was intelligent, respectful, soft spoken and gentle in behavior. The couple had 14 children out of whom the 7 died in fancy. Bhim used to say that he was chaudhava Ratan of his parents. Those who survived were Balaram, Ramabai, Anandrao, Majula, Tulsi and Bhimrao Ambedkar. As all untouchable including Mahars were treated with bias by high caste people to which Ramji Sakpal was alive. So he thought best way to ward of ill effects of untouchability on his children by giving them good education and to teach them Bhagati Moment principles of “ Jatt Patt Pushey Naa Koyi, Harr Ko Bhajey so Harr Ka Hoyi”
His family was follower of Bhagti Movement saints. Abhangas and Bhajan of Kabir Ji , Moropant Pant, Tuka Ram, Namdev were regularly sung in the family . Ramji read Epics also to his children. So Bhim got a clear idea in childhood itself, what Hindu religion was in real sense. All their children joined the daily Bhajans sessions, morning time must and evening session optional , as children had to finish school home work before going to sleep.
Before British landed in India the Aryans including Peshwas( Brahmins) treated Untouchable including Mahars, in the most inhuman ways. When British came, they needed armed guards to their personal safety besides their establishments. Later British also needed soldiers for their army for territorial expansion. The British recruited Mahars in Maharashtra in a big way, as the Mahars soldiers have proven their bravery skills and helped British in fights out Peshwas in their early settlement .Similarly Dushads of Bihar and Pariah in Madras were also in British army in large number. Before the 1857 rebellion, Mahar regiments reportedly made up one-sixth of the Bombay units of the British East India Company. But thereafter they were pensioned off and gradually removed from military service under terms of Ashley Eden Commission 1879. East India Company (1612-1857) ruled India between (1757-1858) and came under direct control of British crown from 1858.
Ramji Sakpal had obtained Diploma in teaching from the army school in Poona. During service Ramji Sakpal was also posted at Military cantonment Mhow (now Dr. Ambedkar Nagar) in the Central Provinces (presently in M. P) as Head master in the army school Mhow. It is here his last sibling Bhimrao was born on 14th ( Baisakha Purnima ) April,1891.This was the same auspicious day when in BC 523 Lord Buddha was born as Sidhartha and in 1699 Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa Panth. This day has now been declared to be observed as Student’s day in Maharastra.
Bhimrao’s other names were Bhiva, Bhima Bhimrao Ambawade. Latter this surname Ambawade was changed to Ambedkar in school records. Some writers say it was Bhimrao’s Brahmin School teacher with Ambedkar surname gave Bhimrao this name. But Rajratna Ambedkar (of 4th generation Of Dr. Ambedkar family ) refuted it saying he got searched school old records, no teacher with name Ambedkar was found. So to ease spelling of Ambawade name it was changed to Ambedkar by Ramji Sakpal himself. However it is said, a Brahmin teacher despite all caste hurdles put by his caste people, took special care of Bhimrao and helped him in all possible ways. This good hearted school teacher helped Bhimrao with reading material and at times shared his lunch with Bhimrao.
Ramji Sakpal had served also in 2nd Grenadier, retired from Military Batallion School 1893 as Headmaster. His monthly pension was rupees fifty only. After retirement he along with his family moved to Depoli in Ratanagiri District, to settle there permanently. Bhimrao was admitted in Primary school Dapoli at 5 years age. Ramji Sakpal moved to Bombay for short time. But the caste hate with low castes was so deep rooted in the Hindu , so Bhimrao had to face utmost difficulties at school as child. Shortly after their move to Depoli , Bhimrao’s mother (Bhimrao Bai) died in1896 when Bhimrao was about 6 years in age. Bhamabai’s Samadhi is at Depoli. On death of Bhiamabai Ramji Sakpal’s family got badly shattered. She was a great help to her husband and took great care of his children despite her falling health. Ramji Sakpal always kept in his mind the prophecy of his hermit uncle that a child will soon be born to them whose fame will spread far and wide. As per this prophecy the child shall be a historic personality. At times when Bhimrao made his mother angry, irritated by pranks and she was about to slap him, Ramji admonished her saying “ Look Bhim’s palm lines are great, his ears and stomach like Lord Ganesha , both signs of his being a great man in future”.
With his Mother’s death Bhimrao felt the severest shock being youngest of all her siblings. He was her darling baby from whom she had great expectations in life. Whenever she scolded Bhimrao for his flanges after a while she shall embrace, kiss and lovingly pressed him in her arms, so showered lot of love on him. This he was missing .The children were cared for by their paternal dwarf aunt Mira, she had trouble with her legs, so needed help for walking. Dr. Ambedkar described her as the kindest soul and did her best to look after children. However, Ramji was to fulfill ambition of Bhimrao for higher education.
Ramji Sakpal got a job in Military school Satara so he moved with family to Satara. Ramji Sakpal stood committed for good education and better life comforts for his children.
Sakpal being a trained school teacher of army, he had great command particularly on Marathi and English subjects. This helped Bhimrao also to have strong grasp on these subjects. Bhimrao also learnt the art of exchange of Marathi to English words and visa verse from his father. This way Bhimrao had an edge on his class mates in the class. Both Ramji and Bhimrao had complete understanding on all matters throughout their lives and respected views of each other. But Bhimrao greatly disliked him remarrying after Bhimabai’s demise. Ramji Sakpal remarried Jijabai. Bhimrao hated his step mother for wearing his mother’s ornaments and saris’. On annoyance with his father Bhim wanted to get separated and so worked for some time as HAMAL( Sweeper, Rly.cooly, porter ) at Satara railway station. He even tried to run away from home, so tried to steal money , from the sari knot of his aunt Mira, with whom he used to sleep during night. For continuous efforts of four nights he succeeded in his efforts but found only half an anna or 1/32 of a rupee .This showed him what poverty is and he thereafter left his villainous activities and concentrated on his studies. In Satra no barbar could cut Bhimrao or others hair. Their elder sister did this job. At times their home looked like a barber’s shop. Here at school nobody would give Bhimrao water to drink, he had to sit outside the class room on a mat brought daily from his home. He was not allowed access to class blackboard, for fear of pollution of the lunch boxes of high caste students, as these were kept behind the board.
Observing low caste based ill treatment to his children at school, market Ramji shifted his family to Bombay. He shifter his family to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1904. Ramji Sakpal got on rent accommodation in Dabak Chawl at lower Parel, a labour area. The surroundings were as bad as in underworld. The house lord lady had warned them to close lights early. So Bhim used to go to a nearby garden and read there under street light pole. He met here a golden hearted Krishana Ji Arjun Keluskar, a teacher in Wilson High School. Keluskar used to enquire from Bhimrao asking him, why he was reading long time in park. When Bhimrao explained his difficulties and his desire to get higher education, Keluskar could judge the supper qualities in Bhimrao and wished him bright future . Keluskar ji, also a Marathi writer, promised Bhimrao all helps in his studies, and he carried his promises sincerely.
The Bombay government had started excavation of a tank at Koregaom in Katava Taluka ( Tehsil) of Satara District , to give employment to famine ( 1891-97) starving masses, who were dying in thousands. Ramji Sakpal who always wanted to supplement his income, got employment as cashier at Koregaon and he moved to Koregaon leaving the family in the care of his sister Mira and some kind neighbors. The family included Bhimrao , his elder brother, two sons of his sister who was dead. The children were asked by Ramji Sakpal to come to him in summer vacation, where he could help them in their studies besides to enjoy their vocations. But their journey taught them worst experience and treatment at the hands of a High caste horse cart man. Bhimrao had written in details the horrifying treatment of journey in a write up “ Waiting for a Visa” ( Vol.12, page 661,W&S Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar).
During their stay at Bombay in a one room tenement, Bhimrao was admitted in Maratha High School and later to the Elphinstone High School established in 1822. The Elphinstone High School ( Now college) Bhimrao was only Mahar student. Since accommodation for family was very small so Ramji would ask his son to go to bed early and he himself would work till 2 ‘o’ clock in the morning and go to bed after awakening his son for study. He also helped Bhimrao in studies at home. Under his father’s guidance Bhimrao gained experience in translation work. With time Bhimrao‘s desire to posses books was unquenchable, but his father supported by his noble father. Ramji though under financial distress, tried to meet books demand including general knowledge new books. At times Ramji borrowed money from his two married daughters. Some time his daughters gave him, their ornaments, he pawned their ornaments and money so got spent on purchasing books for Bhimrao. On getting his pension he got redeemed the ornaments and returned to his daughters. This way whole family supported Bhimrao’s need.
Besides having great concern for education of his children, Ramji Sakpal was for welfare of his community. The Mahar soldiers had helped the British in their initial days to settle and fought many battles on their behalf. But in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857(First war of Independence for India) the British came to know that the Dalit people had sided with local rulers. The Dalit soldiers had sacrificed their lives for freedom from foreign rule. The British also knew that the caste hate among low and high castes in Hindus was unending process. So to rule over India they need to earn good will of upper castes, who were powerful, educated and had domination over low caste population. Based on these notions, the British started weeding out Dalits from their armed forces So Untouchables lost their major source of livelihood including other low castes. The majority of untouchables were classified as non martial races (Ashley Eden Commission 1879) under terms of the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 . This proved beyond doubts that in the First War of of Independence Dalit soliders played major roll so made them common enemy of the British and upper caste Hindus. This made the life conditions of Dalit Tribes miserable as they were asked to remain present in their local areas and to prove it by periodically reporting into respective police stations. Irony of the fate was that no upper caste Hindu organization raised even a finger against these ruthless laws against those who Hindus often declared as their religious brothern. Only a few Hindus in their individual capacity raised some voices. Some relaxations were announced for Indians in the Indian Councils Act 1892,but with thses only Upper Castes were got benefits. This Act introduced various amendments in the composition and function of legislative councils in British India. Most notably, the act entailed provisions on the number of additional members to be represented in the central and provincial councils. This all went to enrich the Caste Hindu mixing with the British Crown affairs concerning the British India affairs. A British member of the Imperial Civil Service (later the Indian Civil Service) Mr. Hume found founded INC in 1885 with India political and financially rich. These later refused to give any political rights to untouchables under M. K. Gandhi. During RTCs, minority Community deliberation, Simon Commission deliberations, Communal award 1932 Mr. Gandhi is said to have told the British that he did not want Indian Independence where depressed classes people get political rights. However he did not object of giving such rights to Muslims, Sikhs, Christians etc. Here the childhood fearlessness injected in his son Bhimrao by Ramji Sakpal , proved its worth . Dr. Ambedkar declared during RTC deliberations that he will not compromise on the vital interests of his people for the sake of winning freedom for India. To Dr. Ambedkar winning equal constitutional rights to his people was no way less important than winning freedom for India from the British yoke. His speech in RTCs was a all time record of scholarly wisdom and fearless of mind ,clear motto of freeing his people from slavery chains of upper caste Hindus. To take such a stand against uncrowned king of Hindu forces with Indian Nation Congress unquestionable boss, Mahatama Gandhi was nothing less than, inviting insurmountable troubles for Dr. Ambedkar, but he face it with courage and conviction.
Ramji Sakpal got prepared a petition through Justice Mahadev Gobinda Ranade (1842-1901) to request the government to rescind its orders of 1892 where by recruitment of Mahars in armed forces was stopped. Ramji Sakpal even met the British Governor of Bombay and presented this petition requesting him to help Mahars by getting withdrawn their stoppage of entry into armed forces.
When Bhimrao passed his Matriculation in 1907, and earned the distinction of being first Mahar, to pass such examination. This occasion was celebrated by his community and a function was arranged which was attended by good hearted teacher Krishana Ji Keluskar and S.K.Bole, both Brahmins and well wishers of Bhim and Mahar’s. Krishana Ji Keluskar , a famous Marathi writer gave his book” Life Of Gautam Buddha” to Bhimrao . Bhimrao read this book and this brought turning point in his life. This book laid the foundation of Bhinrao’s embracing Buddhism on 14th Oct. 1956 along with lacs of his followers. Bhimrao ’s teacher Krishana Ji Keluskar, who had great liking for Bhimrao’s studies got an interview for him with Maharaja of Baroda Sri Siyajirao Gaekward III. Maharaja had promised, in a Bombay town hall meeting , to help any untouchable student who had difficulties to carry on his studies. Maharaja also was impressed by interview replies of Bhimrao and so sanctioned a monthly scholarship of Rupees twenty five in his favour. This solved financial difficulties of Bhimrao . Bhimrao passed his B.A. Examination in 1912. This way Bhimrao became first graduate of Bombay Presidency from untouchables . Later Maharaja of Baroda sanctioned scholarship for Bhimrao.s studied in American university Columbia.
In 1913 Bhimrao applied for, and was appointed Lieutenant in the Baroda State Forces in thus following his family elder’s service esteem. However Bhimrao’s stay at Baroda was short, about fifteen days, when he received a telegram about the failing health of his father.
Bhimrao immediately started for Bombay by train. At Surat station he got down to purchase some sweets for his father but lost his train as its stoppage was much less than Bhimrao expected. Next day when he reached Bombay he found his father’s state of health very serious. He was sinking but searching eyes of dying Ramji Sakpal moved to his darling son, on whom he had built all his hopes. He moved his shaking hands over the back of his son and breathed his last. Bhimrao cried at the top of his voice and whole family started wailing with grief. It was the saddest day of the family, it was 2nd February 1913. It was severest shock of Bhimrao’s life as his mentor was no more. Ambedkar was confused how to live without his loving father whose heart always reverberated for the progress, well being,name and fame of his darling son.
Subedar Ramji Sakpal will go down in the history of Indian Depressed classes masses for whom he and his groomed son Dr. B.R. Ambedkar fought and achieved equal constitutional rights as for others with out distinction of caste,creet,place of birth. Neta Ji Subash Chander Bose asked Indians to give him blood and he will get them freedom. But Baba Saheb Dr.B.R.Ambedkar with right education from his father Ramji Sakpal got freedom to Indian Dalits without shedding even a drop of blood. May long live the memories of these who stood for the welfare of depressed, neglected, suppressed, half naked including women folk. Ramji Sakpal and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar stood to care to whom even Universal Creator did not care.
Dated 26th August,2020
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