Ambedkar, Non-Brahmins, and the Samaj Samata Sangh

The Samaj Samata Sangh became active around the middle of 1928 with the launch of its periodical, a fortnightly tabloid with eight pages per issue
Ambedkar (centre, crossed leg) with members of the Samaj Samata Sangh, founded with his Savarna associates in September 1927. In this photograph of 9 June 1929, sitting left to right are M.B. Deshmukh, Bhalchandra V. Pradhan, Devrao V. Naik, A.S. Asaikar, M.G. Pradhan, Ambedkar, D.V. Pradhan, S.S. Gupte and G.R. Pradhan. Standing: G.A. Jadhav, R.D. Kawali, N.V. Khandke, P.K. Kangle, Bhaskarrao Kadrekar and V.A. Kadam.
Ambedkar (centre, crossed leg) with members of the Samaj Samata Sangh, founded with his Savarna associates in September 1927. In this photograph of 9 June 1929, sitting left to right are M.B. Deshmukh, Bhalchandra V. Pradhan, Devrao V. Naik, A.S. Asaikar, M.G. Pradhan, Ambedkar, D.V. Pradhan, S.S. Gupte and G.R. Pradhan. Standing: G.A. Jadhav, R.D. Kawali, N.V. Khandke, P.K. Kangle, Bhaskarrao Kadrekar and V.A. Kadam.
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Written by Ashok Gopal

On the occasion of the publication of Ashok Gopal’s A Part Apart: The Life and Thought of BR Ambedkar, on Babasaheb’s birth anniversary, 14 April, here’s an exclusive extract from the chapter on Ambedkar’s political activities and negotiations before he got into the thick of the things with the Round Table Conferences and his clash with Gandhi. During this time, Ambedkar worked closely with the Non-Brahmin movement in Maharashtra, many of who remained lifelong allied. He also came in contact with ‘Periyar’ E.V. Ramasamy Naicker during this time.

The formation of the Samaj Samata Sangh was announced in August 1927 by B.V. Pradhan, a CKP [Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu] lawyer who had helped Ambedkar in preparing his submissions to the Simon Commission. The Sangh’s office address was given as Nagvekar building, Portuguese [Church] Street, Dadar, Mumbai. [Ambedkar was the chairman, and office-bearers of the Sangh included Dr R.N. Bhaindarkar, Devrao Naik, S.S. Gupte, B.V. Pradhan, R.D. Kavali, and D.V. Pradhan (K 2: 169–70). Reports in Samata, the Sangh’s periodical, indicate that among the office-bearers, Naik and the two Pradhans (who were brothers) were the most active.] Pradhan’s announcement was published in Brahman–Brahmanetar (Brahmin–Non- Brahmin), a periodical founded and edited by Devrao Naik, who was soon to emerge as one of the Samaj Samata Sangh’s main activists (K 2: 168).

Born in north Konkan, in a family of priests belonging to the low-ranked Govardhan Brahmin jati, Naik was orphaned at a young age, and was brought up by his married sister. After completing college education in Mumbai, he started working as a partner, later becoming the owner, of a printing press in Dadar. He launched Brahman–Brahmanetar in the mid-1920s to bridge the divide between Brahmins and Non-Brahmins. Initially influenced by Gandhi, he became an admirer of Ambedkar around 1927, and participated in the Mahad conferences. Ignoring opposition from his caste fellows, Naik made his printing press and home a regular meeting place for Ambedkar and his supporters (Y. Bagul 2015: Ch.3). He also edited Samata, the short-lived periodical (June 1928–March 1929) of the Samaj Samata Sangh.

Samata, a fortnightly tabloid of eight pages priced at 1.5 annas, was launched 29 June 1928. It was edited by Devrao Naik, one of Ambedkar’s Savarna associates

The Sangh became active around the middle of 1928 with the launch of its periodical, a fortnightly tabloid with eight pages per issue, priced at 1.5 annas (six paise). A declaration above the masthead said that the publication was issued under the ‘leadership’ of Ambedkar. But Ambedkar did not find the time to write for it. The text of all issues was written by Devrao Naik, B.V. Pradhan, and some other Savarna contributors including Pradhan’s elder brother Dattatreya, who also used to write for Bahishkrut Bharat. Printed above all the editorials were statements of the ‘Golden Rule’ from the Mahabharata and the Bible, in Sanskrit and English respectively: 

Yadanyairvihitan nechchhed atmanah karma poorushah

Na tatpareshu kurveet jaanan apriyam atmanaha

(That which one desires not done by others to self, should not be done to others, knowing it to be disagreeable to self.)

Do unto others as you would be done by.

[This is an uncommon phrasing of the Biblical Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The Mahabharata citation is from Book 13: Anusasana Parva.]

One attempt led by Ambedkar to organise an inter-caste marriage between a Maratha youth and a Mahar girl came to nought, as the youth turned out to be a fraudster (K 2: 175). Reports in Samata do not mention any others attempts to promote inter-caste marriages. The Samaj Samata Sangh chose the less challenging activity of organising inter-caste dining events. In the reports of these events, Samata published the names of the participants as well as their jati affiliations, such as in this list of those who gathered for lunch at Shivtarkar’s home on 3 November 1928:

Dr B.R. Ambedkar (Mahar), D.V. Naik (Govardhan Brahmin), A.S. Asaikar (Maratha), Prof Kagale (Tambasht), Dr M.G. Pradhan (Kayasth), A.W. Phanse (Kayasth), Adhikari (Kayasth), U.A. Kadam (Maratha), K.V. Chitre (Kayasth), D.V. Pradhan (Kayasth), Vanmali (Chambhar), P.N. Rajbhoj (Chambhar), G.R. Pradhan (Kayasth), B. P. Shinde (Chambhar), Changdev Khairmode (Mahar), Mahant Shankardas (Mahar), Jadhav (Mahar), Kamble (Mahar), and Shivtarkar’s friends and relatives. (Samata, 16 November 1928) 

This Samata report did not mention a related event. Even as the food was being served in Shivtarkar’s house, members of the Chambhar jati panchayat, instigated by his Chambhar rival, Devrukhkar, decided to enforce a social boycott on him for dining with Mahars (K 2: 173). Earlier, in April 1928, Shridhar Tilak, one of B.G. Tilak’s sons, who had not inherited his father’s views on social reform, started a branch of the Samaj Samata Sangh in the Tilak family’s wada in Pune, and called it a ‘league to destroy chaturvarna’ (Phadke 1991: 256). The wada was a mansion built by Sayajirao Gaekwad, it was acquired from the Baroda ruler by Tilak in 1905. It housed the offices of Kesari and Mahratta, periodicals started by Tilak, and came to be known as Kesari Wada. Shridhar Tilak’s defiance did not last long. Apparently on account of a protracted legal dispute with the office-bearers of the trust that ran Kesari, the newspaper started by his father, Shridhar Tilak committed suicide on 26 May 1928. In a letter sent to Ambedkar on the previous day, Shridhar Tilak wrote, ‘I am going to present my bahishkrut brothers’ grievances at the feet of Bhagvan Shrikrishna himself’ (BAWS 19: 347). In an obituary published in the 2 June 1928 issue of Duniya, a Marathi periodical, Ambedkar wrote, ‘If anyone from the Tilak family deserved the title ‘Lokmanya’, it was Shridharpant’ (350).

After resigning from Nehru’s cabinet in 1951, Ambedkar returned to Mumbai. On 18 November that year, a function was organised at the Victoria Terminus Railway Station by the Scheduled Castes Federation’s Bombay state unit and the Socialist Party to welcome him and his second wife, Savita, back. When the veteran Non-Brahmin leader and close associate of Ambedkar, Raobahadur S.K. Bole, could not find a seat, Ambedkar sat him on his lap.

Despite these setbacks, the Samaj Samata Sangh took some bold steps. As reported in Samata on 21 September 1928, in August–September 1928, it made plans to secure the participation of Untouchables in the sarvajanik (public) Ganesh festival organised in Dadar, Mumbai. Samata Sangh volunteers urged around five hundred Untouchables to make cash donations to the organising committee of the festival, and then, on the basis of the receipts, demand that they should be allowed to offer prayers to the idol. On the first day of the festival, the organisers called for police protection, and refused to accept the demand made on behalf of the Untouchables by S.K. Bole. Bole sent a message to ‘Prabhodhankar’ Thackeray, who promptly arrived at the venue, and threatened to break the idol if Untouchables were not allowed to offer prayers (Thackeray 1973/2016: 426–30). [In response to the ‘non-public’ character of the Ganesh festival, from 1926 Thackeray started organising a Navratri festival open to all Hindus, which spread to all parts of Maharashtra (430–35).] The head of the managing committee of the Dadar Ganesh festival, M.C. Javale, sought Ambedkar’s intervention. After he arrived at the pandal, a compromise of sorts was worked out on the following lines. No Touchable or Untouchable would be allowed to cross a barrier and go near the idol. Any Untouchable or Touchable who had bathed could stand behind the barrier and offer flowers to a priest standing on the other side, and the priest would in turn offer them to the idol. [The ‘barrier’ solution had reportedly been suggested earlier when Untouchables sought entry into Amravati’s Amba Devi Temple. On that occasion, the solution was rejected (U. Pawar and M. Moon 2008: 117–18).] The solution was unacceptable to the majority of the Untouchables, but Ambedkar urged them to accept it, considering the ‘obstacles faced by progressive Touchables’ like Javale. Ganpat Jadhav alias Madkebua, one of Ambedkar’s trusted Mahar aides, rushed to take bath under a public tap and returned with flowers, which had to be accepted by the officiating priest. [So called because he made a living selling madke (pots and pitchers), Madkebua played a key role in the organisation of all Ambedkar events in Mumbai. He also doubled as Ambedkar’s bodyguard in Mumbai. Though unlettered, he commanded great respect. Ambedkar appointed him head of the Samata Sainik Dal, secretary of the union of Mumbai municipal corporation workers founded in 1934, and secretary of the Bombay provincial unit of the Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF) founded in 1942 (Surwade 2003/2014: 37–38).] 

Ambedkar was subsequently invited to deliver a talk on the last day of the festival. He gave a measured speech on ‘Thoughts on the Untouchables’ campaign against untouchability and objections to it raised by some Brahminical Touchables’. One of his statements, reported in Samata on 5 October 1928, gave an inkling of the direction his thought was to take: ‘If there was ever a dharamveer (one who bravely upholds righteousness) who manifested in this county for killing the sin of untouchability at the root by wielding his axe against caste discrimination, it was Gautama Buddha.’

Activities of the Samaj Samata Sangh and like-minded bodies in other regions of India were regularly reported in Samata, but the periodical itself had to be closed down after nineteen issues, in March 1929. As the mouthpiece of a few progressive Savarnas like Naik and the Pradhan brothers, it was of little interest to Ambedkar’s DC supporters. Nor was it of interest to the large number of Savarnas who did not admire Ambedkar. As such, its role in the Ambedkar chalval might seem marginal. However, the Samata experience was instructive in the founding of Janata, the longest-running organ of the chalval, started in 1930.

Ambedkar read Samata regularly, and he may have been influenced by some of the writings published there. One of the pieces that could have drawn his attention was a Marathi translation of an article published in Revolt, the English journal of the Non-Brahmin Self-Respect Movement founded in the Madras province by ‘Periyar’ E.V. Ramasamy Naicker in 1925. [The translation was published in Samata on 28 December 1928.] Written by R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, a Swarajist member of the Central legislature, it was about how ‘democracy’ did not refer only to a kind of political structure, but also implied a particular kind of social structure and citizenry that was incompatible with the caste system—an argument Ambedkar was to make forcefully in Annihilation of Caste.

Ganpat Jadhav alias Madkebua, one of Ambedkar’s trusted aides and chief organisers of the chalval [movement] in Mumbai, at the third conference of the All-India Scheduled Castes Federation in Mumbai on 6 May 1945

The reference to the Self-Respect Movement in Samata was not incidental. In Periyar’s words, the primary objective of the movement was ‘the destruction of Brahminism’ (Geetha and Rajadurai 1998: 296), and there is some evidence to suggest that the Self-Respecters were in touch with the Samaj Samata Sangh. Revolt carried a report on a conference organised by the Samaj Samata Sangh in Nashik in May 1929, describing it as the ‘first session of the Maharashtra Self-Respect Conference’. A message from Periyar was read out during the event (Geetha and Rajadurai 2008: 259–60). The

periodical also carried a report on the Dadar Ganesh festival events, under the title ‘Brahmanism exploded!’ (261–63). Earlier, Bahiskhrut Bharat had carried a small report on the first provincial conference of the Self-Respect Movement, held in Chengalpattu on 17–18 February 1929, and Ambedkar had welcomed it as a necessary step for destroying Brahmanism and ‘generating true splendour in Hindu society’ (BAWS 20: 56). However, there is no evidence to suggest a growth in the association between Ambedkar and members of the Self-Respect Movement.

Key to Abbreviatons

BAWS — Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, multiple volumes

K — Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar by C.B. Khairmode, multiple volumes


Bagul, Yogiraj. 2015. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar aani Tyanche Dalitetar Sahakari (Dr Ambedkar and His Non-Dalit Associates). Mumbai: Granthali.

Geetha, V. and S.V. Rajadurai. 1998. Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Thass to Periyar. Kolkata: Samya.

———. 2008. Revolt—A Radical Weekly in Colonial Madras. Chennai: Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam.

Pawar, Urmila and Meenakshi Moon. 2008. We Also Made History: Women in the Ambedkarite Movement. Translated with an introduction by Wandana Sonalkar. New Delhi: Zubaan.

Phadke, Y.D. 1991. Visavya Shatkateel Maharashtra (Twentieth Century Maharashtra), Vol 3. Pune: Shrividya Prakashan.

Surwade, Vijay. 2003/2014. Samkaaleen Sahkaryanchya Aathvanitil Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (Recollections of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Associates). Mumbai: Lokvangmaya Griha.

Thackeray, Prabhodhankar. 1973/2016. Majhi Jeevangatha (My Life Story). Mumbai: Navta Book World.

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