Friday, March 26, 2021

Sevantilal Kalabhai Solanki

Sevantilal Kalabhai Solanki 

A thin and short man in his late 90s is a regular visitor of top bureaucrats, police authorities, famous personalities and power centre politicians. Dressed always in a white Dhoti, yellowish Kurta and white Gandhi cap, he will be immediately recognised in meetings and gatherings. Polite language, positive attitude, a bag of garland in hand, smile on the face, and no undue demands are his marks of identity. He won’t miss visiting or writing to them on their birthdays, their first day in office, important events days, etc. He welcomes them all at his home and serve them homemade food and won’t forget them to garland, offer a shawl or cloth and a sweet box of famous ‘Devada’ (balusai) of Patan. 

He was born on 31 July 1929 at Patan, in the medieval time capital city of Gujarat. As he belonged to the depressed class, the doors of primary schools were closed those days. 

After the second round table conference in London, British announced communal award for the depressed. Gandhiji opposed it and went on fast until death. On 25 September 1932, Poona Pact was signed between Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and Pandit Madan Mohan Malavia in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi and the importance of equality, voice and welfare of depressed class was first time accepted nationally by the India of unequals. Gandhiji founded Harijan Sevak Sangh (All India Anti Untouchability League) on 30 September 1932 to eradicate untouchability in India with a HQ in Delhi and branches in the States. Nationwide movement was started. The King of Vadodara State Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad first proposed to allow entries of the children of depressed classes in the primary schools. But when the teachers denied their entries due to the fear of their social boycott, he then opened Antyaj Schools for the children of the depressed. Muslim teachers and few teachers from the depressed class (studied in Mumbai) were appointed. 

In one such Antyaj School in Patan, 11 years old Sevantilal was enrolled in 1940. He studied upto 6th Std, then went to a British School, where he studied Std. 1-4 in english medium. Vernacular Final was the precondition to become a teachers those days, therefore, he was appointed as teacher in one Antyaj School with a condition to pass Vernacular. He served the primary section for seven years and then resigned and moved to Ahmedabad to join the activities of Harijan Sevak Sangh in 1962. 

He is a direct witness who has seen and experienced the depression and level of untouchability practiced by the majority. There was a train Vadodara-Patan-Vadodara run by Gaekwad Government, in which a separate coach was assigned with a display board ‘dhedh bhaio no dabo’ for the passengers of depressed classes. It gave me the answer of a customary question  ‘tame keva?’ asked by the fellow passengers, when you meet them in a train or in a bus or at a public place. It was for checking of the caste of the passenger. The depressed had to travel in separate coach and if by mistake somebody entered into the general coach, he would be beaten up badly with a stick, etc, so that none could try in future. In cities like Ahmedabad, there were few cinema halls in which a separate corner was assigned with a board for the spectators of the depressed class. They couldn’t enter into the hotels or restaurants. They had to sit outside and would demand for water or tea by raising a finger from the distance. A boy would then come from the restaurant and would serve them tea-water in old ugly looking cups-saucers kept outside the hotel. They had to wash the used cup-saucer themselves and re-place them so that other depressed could use. The boy would collect the coins for the tea after pouring water over them. The roots of reservation were in these separation of the depressed from the main society for centuries. 

Grown from the depression but literate Sevantilal could later entered into public life and politics and contested parliamentary elections from the reserve seat twice but was defeated. However, he didn’t get depressed with the failure and continued his PR activities of maintaining good relations with all living in public life. His party, when in power had given him few assignments of party positions or placed him as director in some boards or corporations. It surprises many that at 90th year of age, how has he maintained the best of his health, attitude, memories and a courage to move around, meet important people, wish them and happily return home at Patan with a zeal to revisit them again.

Salute to this Gandhian. Surely, he will be a centenarian.

29 November 2018


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