R.B. More makes his first address to a Bombay audience

Ramchandra Babaji More was one of the leaders of the Mahad Satyagraha in 1927. A great admirer and follower of B.R. Ambedkar, he later joined the Communist Party of India (and the CPI[M] in 1964); though that didn’t sour his relationship with Ambedkar who remained his friend.

Today we’re sharing an extract from our book Memoirs of a Dalit Communist: The Many Worlds of R.B. More by his son Satyendra More. Translated from the Marathi by Wandana Sonalkar and edited by Anupama Rao, it also contains an (incomplete) autobiography by R.B. More. In this extract he talks about how he came to give his first speech in Bombay.

… Later, in 1924, in the month of May, I went to Bombay and met Ambedkar Saheb. The people of the Social Service League had given him a room on the first floor above the Damodar Hall in Parel.1 When he returned from England after appearing for the bar examinations, this room was the first office that he set up. When I went to meet him, Shivram Sambhaji Gaikwad was with me. We first met Anantrao Chitre of the Social Service League and then met Ambedkar and told him what we had to tell him. The presence of Chitre made things easy for me. He (Ambedkar) inquired about where I lived, what I did, how far I had studied and so on, and expressed his satisfaction. He then said to me, ‘You don’t know what people of the Konkan are like. They are very obstinate. They will always say, what we do is as it should be. They will say, who is this Christ-lover coming here telling us what to do? And they won’t listen to me.’ To which I answered, ‘Saheb, they listen to me so they will certainly listen to you.’ In the end he said, ‘I have no time just now. Come back during the Diwali vacations and we will see what we can do.’ Then I went back to Chitre who was in the next room. He asked me how I intended to collect money for the conference [that More intented to organize in Mahad to which he had come to invite Dr. Ambedkar], and I told him that the people from villages all over would raise a little money. He then promised to help us in the financing and so we chalked out a plan. The plan was to put up a play and use the income from that for the conference. He was so impressed by the idea of a conference being held in Mahad under Doctor Saheb’s chairmanship that he called me the very next day and finalized the plans for the play.

The Social Service League worked in the working-class vicinity under the leadership of the Servants of India Society, which had been established by Mr. [Gopal Krishna] Gokhale. One could say that this Society had laid the foundations of the cooperative movement in the working-class area of Bombay about fifty years earlier. The Social Service League began its work by way of setting up a cooperative credit society at Elphinstone Road, a cooperative printing press and a cooperative theatre company. Kadam was the leader of this cooperative theatre company. Sant Tukaram was the first play they had rehearsed. They promised to dedicate the takings of the first performance of this play to our conference in Mahad. We had secured a free performance of this play solely on the word of Chitre and Kadam. But who was to carry out the responsibility of selling the tickets? The play was to be performed in the Damodar Hall, and this hall was owned by the Social Service League. So we were to get the hall also for free. We only had to arrange for the sale of tickets. I felt that Balaram Ambedkar (Bhimrao’s elder brother) could help us out in this, and so I went to see him and asked for his help. He too was very happy to learn that a conference was to be held in Mahad. He promised that he would come to Mahad for the conference, but he did not undertake the responsibility of selling tickets. He said, ‘Our people do not watch plays, they go to see tamashas. So I cannot do anything for you in this regard.’ On which I told him, ‘If you give me the names of some of your acquaintances, I will go and meet them.’

He then gave me the name and address of Sambhaji Tukaram Gaikwad. At the time he was working as foreman in a French motorcar company, and he earned a salary of two hundred rupees. In those days a workman or a clerk hardly earned twenty to twenty-five rupees a month. He was a dedicated social worker of the time from the Mahar community. That was the first time I had met him. When he heard that I had received my Marathi and English education in the villages and when he heard about our plans for the conference, he was overcome with emotion. But when it came to the question of selling tickets, he flatly refused to sell the tickets himself or to get someone else to sell them, pointing to the people’s bad habits and addictions.2

Balaram Ambedkar and Sambhaji Gaikwad were at the time the only two people I knew in the whole of Bombay who had a concern for social activity, excepting Dr. Ambedkar himself. Since both of them had turned me down, I was very disappointed. Then I went to meet three friends of mine who lived in the servants’ quarters of St. George Hospital in the Fort area. I told them about all this business of selling tickets for the play. All three of them were working as uniformed guards or peons. Two of them were barely literate and the third had passed the fourth standard examination in Marathi school. With the help of these friends I managed to sell some four-anna tickets and about twenty eight-anna and ten-anna tickets. And on the actual day of the performance these three came with me to the Damodar Hall to see to the other arrangements. I seated the one who was most educated at the ticket window to sell tickets, and gave the job of checking the tickets of people entering the theatre to the other two. Since the hall had four or five entrances, these two were not able to do their job properly. A large number of freeloading spectators eluded them and they filled up the hall.

When the play started Doctor Saheb was sitting in his office seeing to some work. I went to him and pleaded that he should request Balaramdada or someone else to give thanks before the play ended to the Manoranjan Theatre Company and to Chitre and Kadam for donating this show to us. He said, why do you need anybody else, you can thank them yourself. So I had no alternative but to propose a vote of thanks myself. After the last act of the play was over, the curtain was brought down and a table and chair placed on the stage, where I seated myself. After a while the curtain was raised and I stood up. There was a clamour of applause. I placed my hands on the table to steady myself and gave thanks in a few words speaking slowly, as if I was giving dictation to a class of schoolchildren. This was the first speech I had made before an audience of the educated of Bombay, on the dais of a public hall. …

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1. The Social Service League was founded in 1911 by N.M. Joshi. Joshi was an important member of the Servants of India Society, which was founded by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He also founded the All India Trade Union Congress, together with Lala Lajpat Rai. The League undertook relief work and welfare programmes for the poor. Anantrao Chitre and A.V. Tipnis, who played an important role in the Mahad satyagraha, were prominent members of the Social Service League.—Ed.

2. S.T. Gaikwad’s refusal to sell tickets for the play was based on his belief that the people were not used to seeing plays, they preferred tamashas and would spend their money on ‘bad habits and addictions’. He did not want to engage with these problems, perhaps because he belonged to a higher income class. But in the end R.B. More succeeded in selling cheap tickets to his fellow workers, though he was unable to stop gatecrashers.—Tr.

Featured image: Ramchandra Babaji More (1 March 1903 – 11 May 1972). Courtesy of Subodh More.