Bhagat Amar Nath

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Bhagat Amar Nath

D.R.Bhagat , A tribute to Shaheed Bhagat Amar Nath "Daily Excelsior" 1/6/2016

Shaheed Bhagat Amar Nath

Bhagat Amar Nath was one of the tallest leaders of Dalit Rights movement of Jammu and Kashmir. Although there were many leaders who fought for the constitutional and human rights of the depressed classes of the state, Bhagat Amar Nath struggled throughout his life for these rights and led the final phase of the movement with the core issue of reservation and remained successful by giving the supreme sacrifice of his life.

He was born in a small village Champa in Batote Tehsil of Ramban district. After completing his school education from Batote, he got a job in Notified Area Committee Batote and then in Health Department. As he was moved by the plight of the poor and downtrodden people of the society, he left the job after sometime and dedicated his services for upliftment of the underprivileged people of the society. The people of the depressed classes were already struggling hard for the basic human rights which were otherwise denied to them by the so called upper castes of the society. The struggle of these people was going on under the banner of Megh Mandal which was merged into Harijan Mandal formed in 1940. The prominent leaders of this movement were Mahasha Nahar Singh, Bhagat Chhajju Ram, Babu Milkhi Ram and Daulat Ram advocate among others. The depressed society was united under the banner of Harijan Mandal and a big Dalit Sammelan was organized in Kirpind village in R.S.Pura in 1946 in which thousands of people of the community participated. A remarkable protest was also held in Chhan Arorian in Kathua district in 1956. The people of the community sat on hunger strike for 17 days under the leadership of Babu Milkhi Ram. The main demands included the stoppage of atrocities on Harijans, to safeguard their life and property and to give them the ownership rights on the land they are cultivating. They ended the hunger strike only when the then Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed along with Mr Girdhari Lal Dogra visited the spot and assured them that their genuine demands shall be accepted.

At the same time Bhagat Amar Nath was busy in Batote area in his crusade against untouchability and dalit emancipation. He asked them to be united for achievement of their fundamental and legitimate rights. He himself was always ready to sacrifice anything for the cause of the poor. It is said that when Vinoba Bhave visited Jammu in 1956 in connection with his Bhoodaan Movement, Bhagat Amar Nath met him in Jammu and accompanied him to Batote. Bhagat Amar Nath donated him his entire agricultural land for further transfer of the same to the poor. But when Vinoba Bhave came to know about his large family of seven children to feed, he immediately returned the land to his family. Vinoba Bhave was very much impressed by his gesture and noble thoughts. Bhagat Amar Nath now decided to pay a greater role in the dalit emancipation struggle. He therefore, shifted to Jammu in mid- sixties to accomplish his mission. He rented a room in Shaheedi Chowk area and made it headquarter of his activities. He started an Urdu newspaper ‘ Pashmandgi’ and wrote articles highlighting the problems and demands of his community. At the same time another newspaper ‘ Mazloomon Ki Awaz’ was also being published by Pishori Lal another dalit activist and social worker. This paper also gave space to the write ups of Bhagat Amar Nath. This created awareness among the oppressed people for their rights which gave further momentum to the struggle. He also highlighted the problems of refugees who were living in miserable conditions at Mazdoor Basti, Reshamghar and Qasim Nagar areas after migrating from West Pakistan and Chhamb areas in 1947 and 1965. He took up the matter of their settlement with the authorities. He became a member of ‘Depressed Leauge’ an all India organisation started by Babu Jagjiwan Ram. Babu Jagjiwan Ram was invited to Jammu in 1968 and a large meeting including leaders and activists of depressed and backward classes was held at Parade Ground Jammu in which Bhagat Amar Nath was elected the president of the League unanimously for Jammu and Kashmir. He presented the demands of the community to the authorities and also took up with Babu Jagjiwan Ram and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for redressal of their grievances. The core demand of the League was the reservation for scheduled castes and backward classes in state assembly and in Government jobs. The reservation had already been implemented in Central Government services and in all other states after the constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950 but the State Government was dilly dallying to grant this constitutional right to the depressed classes of the state.

The movement to get the right of reservation for Dalit community was intensified in 1970. Meetings were organized in various villages to unite the people of the community. A memorandum of demands was submitted to the Government in April 1970. This memorandum in addition to the demand of reservation in Government services along with reservation in promotion contained other demands like allotment of Government land to scheduled castes, their representation on Public Service Commission and recruiting agencies, allotment of plots for homeless and financial assistance for construction of houses etc. Along with the memorandum, a notice for hunger strike with effect from 21.5.1970 was also served in case their demands were not acceded by that date. The Government did not respond to these demands and hence the hunger strike was started in Karan Park opposite secretariat under the leadership of Bhagat Amar Nath as per schedule. Some of other members who accompanied him in hunger strike were Chaino Ram, Simer Dass, Kishori Lal, Mejra Singh, Munshi Ram, Sheru Ram, Charan Dass Thappa and others. The hunger strike continued for some days and when the government did not take the matter seriously, Bhagat Amar Nath decided to convert his fast into fast-unto- death. Efforts were made to dissuade him not to do so but he was determined to sacrifice his life for the cause of genuine rights of the depressed classes. His condition deteriorated and doctors were deputed to monitor his health and persuade him to break the fast but he refused to take any treatment. On May 31 when his condition became worst, he was forcibly shifted to SMGS hospital. He did not respond to any treatment and passed away in the early morning on next day i.e June 1. But his family was not informed. His wife Smt. Shanti Devi only came to know about his death when she visited the residence of Ayub Khan, a prominent Congress leader and a Cabinet Minister who was also close to Bhagat Amar Nath who told her that her husband has expired today at 4A.M in the hospital. Hearing the news of his death entire community for whom he sacrificed his life fell into deep mourning. The demand of reservation was accepted by the government. Thus Bhagat Amar Nath became a martyr of reservation and a martyr of social justice. The entire depressed class who is enjoying the fruit of his martyrdom is indebted to him. He is remembered as the emancipator of depressed society of J&K.

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