|Born||15 March 1934
Pirthipur Bunga village, Khawaspur of Rupnagar District of Punjab (India)
|Died||9 October 2006 (aged 72)
|Political party||Bahujan Samaj Party|
Kanshi Ram (15 March 1934 – 9 October 2006) was an Indian politician and social reformer who worked for the upliftment and political mobilisation of the Dalits, the untouchable groups at the bottom of India's caste system. Towards this end, Kanshi Ram founded the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees' Federation (BAMCEF) in 1971 and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984. He ceded leadership of the BSP to his protégé Mayawati who has served four terms as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Kanshi Ram was born to Bishan Kaur and Hari Singh in Ravidassia (Ad-Dharmi/Mulnivasi) Sikh community of the Scheduled Caste group, which is the largest group in Punjab, at Pirthipur Bunga village, Khawaspur in Rupnagar district of Punjab. Kanshi Ram's father, who was to some extent literate, made sure that all his children were educated. Kanshi Ram had two brothers and four sisters, out of them all, he was the eldest and most highly educated with a BSc degree. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Science (B.Sc) from the Government College at Ropar affiliated to The Panjab University. After completing his graduation, Kanshi Ram joined the Department of Defence Production and took up the position of scientific assistant. This was in Pune in 1958.
Kanshi Ram joined the offices of the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL), then became part of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in Pune. During his tenure in the DRDO in 1965 he joined the agitation started by SCEWASTAMB (All India Federation of Scheduled Caste/Tribes Backward Class & Minorities Employees Welfare Associations) of Government of India to prevent the abolition of a holiday commemorating B. R. Ambedkar's birthday. It was after he joined the struggle against the abolition of Ambedkar's birthday as a holiday, in 1965, that his career in the fight for the oppressed communities started. He studied the entire caste system and the works of Ambedkar closely and came up with many efforts to help the oppressed rise from the ditches they were tossed into.
In 1971 he quit his job and together with his colleagues established the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Minorities Employees Welfare Association. The Association was registered with the Pune Charity Commissioner. Through this association, attempts were made to look into the problems and harassment of the above mentioned employees and bring out an effective solution for the same. Another main objective behind establishing this association was to educate and create awareness about the caste system. This association turned out to be a success with more and more people joining it. In 1973, Kanshi Ram again with his colleagues established the BAMCEF: Backward And Minority Communities Employees Federation. The first operating office was opened in Delhi in 1976 with the motto-"Educate Organize and Agitate". This served as a base to spread the ideas of Ambedkar and his beliefs. From then on Kanshi Ram continued building his network and making people aware of the realities of the caste system, how it functioned in India and the teachings of Ambedkar. Wherever he travelled he did the same and had many followers. In 1980 he created a road show named "Ambedkar Mela" which showed the life of Ambedkar and his views through pictures and narrations.
In 1981 he founded the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti or DS4 as a parallel association to the BAMCEF. It was created to fight against the attacks on the workers who were spreading awareness on the caste system. It was created to show that workers could stand united and that they too can fight. However this was not a registered party but an organization which was political in nature. In 1984, he established a full-fledged political party known as the Bahujan Samaj Party. However, it was in 1986 when he declared his transition from a social worker to a politician by stating that he was not going to work for/with any other organization other than the Bahujan Samaj Party. During the meetings and seminars of the party, Kanshi Ram stated to ruling classes that if they promised to do something, it would pay to keep the promise, or else just accept that they were not capable of fulfilling their promises.
In 1973 he formed the, BAMCEF, a purely non political,Non Religious & Non Agitional organisation. Later on he formed another Social organisation known as DS4. He started his attempt of consolidating the Dalit vote in 1981 and by 1984 he founded the Bahujan Samaj Party. The BSP found success in Uttar Pradesh but struggled to bridge the divide between Dalits and the Other Backward Classes.
He unsuccessfully contested from East Delhi (Lok Sabha constituency) in 1991 and came at fourth position. Then he represented the 11th Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur(Punjab), Kanshiram was also elected as member of Lok Sabha from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh . In 2001 he publicly announced Mayawati as his successor.
Announcement for conversion to Buddhism
In 2002, Kanshi Ram, announced his intention to convert to Buddhism on 14 October 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of Ambedkar's conversion. He intended for 20,000,000 of his supporters to convert at the same time. Part of the significance of this plan was that Ram's followers include not only Untouchables, but persons from a variety of castes, who could significantly broaden Buddhism's support. But, he died 9 October 2006. Mayawati his successor said "Kanshi Ram and me had decided that we will convert and adopt Buddhism when we will get "absolute majority" at the Centre. We wanted to do this because we can make a difference to the religion by taking along with us millions of people. If we convert without power then only we two will be converting. But when you have power you can really create a stir," she said.
Illness and death
He was already a diabetic and he suffered from a heart attack in 1994 followed by the formation of a clot in the brain artery in 1995. He has suffered a brain stroke in 2003. From around 2004 or so, Kanshi Ram stopped appearing publicly as he was suffering from various health problems. He convalesced at the home of Mayawati.
On 9 October 2006, he died of a severe heart attack in New Delhi. Kanshi Ram, who suffered from multiple ailments such as stroke, diabetes and hypertension, was virtually bed-ridden for more than two years.
According to his wish, last ritual were performed as per Buddhist tradition, the pyre of Kanshi Ram was lit by his sole heir Mayawati. His ashes were placed in Urn and kept at Prerna Sthal, with huge procession accompanied by lakhs of supports.
In his condolence message, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Mr Ram as "one of the greatest social reformers of our time...his political ideas and movements had a significant impact on our political evolution". "He had a larger understanding of social change and was able to unite various underprivileged sections of our society and provide a political platform where their voices would be heard," Mr Singh said. Under Mr Ram's leadership, the BSP won 14 parliamentary seats in the 1999 federal elections.
- "Kanshiram was born in Pirthipur Bunga village, Khawaspur, Ropar district, on 15 March 1934, to Bishan Kaur and Hari Singh.".
- The Dalit Chanakya Ram Narayan Rawat in Outlook – 23 October 2006
- http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/oct/16look.htm?zcc=rl Mayawati claims Kanshi Ram's legacy
- HT News
- "Kanshi Ram's ashes will not be immersed: Mayavati". Rediff.com. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
- "Maya gives city traffic blues!". Hindustan Times. 19 October 2006. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6032563.stm Indian Dalit leader passes away