Bhaurao Patil : A Social Reformer

2.3 Bhaurao Patil : A Social Reformer

 Bhaurao Patil was born at Kumbhoj, a village on the banks of the river Warna on 23rd June 1887. Thoughagriculture was the main occupation of his family, Bhaurao’s father, Paigonda Devgonda Patil, preferred to work as aclerk in the Revenue Department of the Government of Bombay. It is said that he was the first Jain who had passed the seventh standard examination known at that time as the Vernacular Final Examination. Though he insisted that all his six children including two daughters should acquire education, he could not spare much time for teaching them as, like all revenue officials, he was also frequently transferred from one village to another. 
            He decided to send his eldest son Bhaurao to Kolhapur after the later completed his primary education. Bhaurao was admitted in a Jain students’ hostel run by the
 orthodox Jain Community. It was during his stay at Kolhapur that Bhaurao came under the influence of Satya Shodhak Samaj. The writings of Jyotirao Phule, the activities of Viththal Ramji Shinde and above all the vigorous campaigns launched by Shahu Maharaj to eradicate untouchability inspired Bhaurao, who refused todiscriminate between people on the basis of caste. This led to a clash with the superintendent of the hostel, Annasaheb Latthe (who in the late thirties was the finance minister of Bombay in the first congress ministry 1937-9). In 1907, a Scheduled Caste Students’ Hostel named after Miss Clarke, daughter of a former Governor of Bombay was inaugurated at Kolhapur. Bhaurao’s participation in the inaugural ceremony was not liked by Latthe, who took disciplinary action against the defiant Bhaurao. Finally Bhaurao had to leave the Jain Students’ hostel.
            He however was given shelter by Khanvilkar, brother in law of Shahu Maharaj. He also come in contact with Shahu Maharaj. Though he could not pass even the Matriculation examination, he helped Dnyandeo Gholap, a Scheduled caste student of Islampur, to secure admission in the Miss Clarke Hostel at Kolhapur. Gholap in later was member of the Bombay Legislature.
            In May 1914 the statue of Queen Victoria in a garden near the town hall at Kolhapur was defaced with tar. The British Resident at Latthe accused him of being responsible for the defiling of the statue. They thought that Bhaurao Patil, who had to leave the hostel earlier because of Latthe, would be willing to give evidence against Latthe. When Bhaurao refused to tell lies, the unscrupulous rivals of Latthe conspired against Bhaurao and got him arrested on the charges of committing a theft and setting a house on fire. In the police custody, Bhaurao was beaten so severely by the police that he made an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide. Shahu Maharaj was convinced that Bhaurao was not guilty. He intervened on his behalf; and explained the situation to the British Resident. The ordeal was over when the court also acquitted him. Disgusted with the intrigues of the unscrupulous rivals of Latthe, Bhaurao left Kolhapur and returned to Satara.
            For a decade (1915-25) he worked as a salesman first for the Oglay brothers, who were glass manufactures and later on for the Kirloskars and Sir Dhanjishah Cooper, an industrialist and a prominent leader of the non-Brahmin movement. His work as a salesman made him aware of the colossal poverty and appalling ignorance of the masses in the rural areas. Education, he thought, was a key to the solution of many of their problems. He made it a mission of his life and established the Rayat Shikshan Sanstha in 1919 to educate the masses who for centuries were deprived of educational facilities. This was a Herculean task. It was not enough to raise the money that was needed for establishing a network of schools and colleges. For the success of such a venture, it was necessary to collect around him a team of dedicated colleagues who were willing to make any sacrifice for the cause. It was by no means easy to persuade poor peasants to send their children to schools. Above all, it was necessary to provide education to all, regardless of caste and creed.
            Bhaurao Patil did not like hostels which admitted students on the basis of caste and creed. Hence under the auspices of the Rayat Shikshan Sanstha he managed a hostel at Satara which admitted students regardless of caste and creed. It is Significant that the first student whom he admitted in this hostel was a mahar. He had to face tremendous opposition from the orthodox sections in the society for his attempt to cut across the barriers of caste.
            Unlike some leaders of the non-Brahmin movement, Bhaurao did not keep himself away from the main stream of the nationalist movement. At the height of the non-co-operation movement of 192-21, he attended a mammoth meeting held in Bombay and addressed by Gandhiji. The Mahatma's stirring speech left such an indelible impression on him that he took a pledge to wear Khaddar clothes only and lead a simple life. Later on he also decided not wear a cap or shoes. Though he took part in the Satyagraha campaigns of Gandhiji, he chose to concentrate more on the constructive programme sponsored by the Mahatma and did not seek any position in the organisational set-up of the Congress party. In his own district, the heroes of the underground resistance movement of 1942-5 received considerable help from Bhaurao Patil.
            Bhaurao urged that every village should have a school and every village-school should have trained teacher. For several years he concentrated more on the opening of teacher training colleges and primary schools rather than secondary schools. It was after independence that he established a network of collages for imparting higher education to the poorer people. He wanted his students to be self-reliant and they were expected to learn while they earned their bread. They cultivated waste land acquired by the Rayat Shikshan Sanstha and reaped a rich harvest. Unlike many educated people in this country they did not consider it below dignity to do a job that required manual labour.
            Bhaurao lived long enough to see his Rayat Shikshan Sanstha grow like a banyan tree. He was widely acclaimed as a great educator of the masses. A few days before his death on 9th May 1959, the University of Poona conferred on him an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. This was surely one of the glorious moments in his arduous life he felt happy over the public recognition and appreciation of the noble cause which he upheld against all odds.

Y. D. Phadke