Santram B.A., an eminent anti-caste ideologue, is fondly remembered for his unwavering opposition to the caste system in its entirety. Despite being born into a Kumhar family, a socially disadvantaged community in the Hoshiyarpur district of Punjab, Santram was fortunate enough to belong to a relatively affluent family that shielded him from the stifling grip of caste-based discrimination.
Ironically, it was in the urban milieu of Ambala where Santram first experienced the pangs of casteism. He recollects in his autobiography, "Mere Jeevan Anubhav" (My life experiences), how his classmates would taunt him with derogatory slurs associated with his caste, thereby triggering a realization of his own caste status.
As Santram grew older, he became acutely aware of the bitter realities of caste-based discrimination that pervaded Indian society. With a resolute spirit and an unflinching commitment to justice, Santram dedicated his life to combating the pernicious effects of the caste system and championing the cause of the oppressed and marginalized communities.
During the period when cow beef was not banned, Brahmins would outwardly oppose it, but secretly indulge in its consumption. In response to the deeply ingrained caste system, Santram explored various avenues to combat it, including the Arya Samaj, which he was drawn to due to its founder Dayanand Saraswati's belief that caste was determined by skill, rather than birth. Santram believed that this organization was dedicated to ending the caste system.
Santram played a pivotal role in the establishment of the "Jati Pati Todo Mandal" in 1922 at Lahore, an organization that aimed to eradicate the caste system. Parmananda, a veteran Arya Samaji, was appointed as its head, while Santram was made a minister within the organization.
Despite being involved in the establishment of the Jati Pati Todo Mandal within the Arya Samaj, Santram gradually became aware of a subtle double standard among its members. He realized that many Arya Samajis were, in fact, proponents of the caste system, contrary to the organization's professed ideals. Santram recounted an incident in his autobiography where he recommended an "untouchable" boy for a job within the Arya Samaj, but the upper-caste members dithered for a few days before eventually declaring that they did not want "untouchables" to study beyond class 4-5. This experience left Santram deeply disheartened and led to suggestions to rename the Jati Pati Todo Mandal to reflect the organization's true caste-sustaining ideology. Santram was so dismayed by the irony of the organization's name that he changed the name of his own magazine from Jati Pati Todo to Kranti.
Santram was greatly impressed by the intellectual prowess of Ambedkar and believed that his views were crucial in addressing the caste system. He invited Ambedkar to deliver the annual lecture as the chairman of the Jati Pati Todo Mandal in 1936. However, the organizers of the event demanded to see the speech beforehand and asked Ambedkar to remove the parts that were contrary to Hindu scriptures. Ambedkar refused to comply with their demand, which led to the cancellation of the meeting. Nevertheless, the speech that Ambedkar had prepared for the event was later published as a part of the famous book "The Annihilation of Caste." Santram is credited with inspiring Ambedkar to write "The Annihilation of Caste" by inviting him to the Jati Pati Todo Mandal event and subsequently canceling it due to Ambedkar's refusal to censor his speech.
While Santram was vehemently opposed to Brahminism and all forms of superstition, he remained a Hindu at his core and did not support Ambedkar's decision to convert to Buddhism. This sets him apart from other Bahujan ideologues like Jyotiba Phule and Periyar who attacked Hinduism in its entirety. However, Santram B.A. made a significant contribution by exposing the double standards of Brahmins and organizations like Arya Samaj. His efforts to combat the caste system through the Jati Pati Todo Mandal, and his role in inspiring Ambedkar to write "The Annihilation of Caste" will be remembered as important steps towards social justice in India.
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