And thus spoke Gama Ram
The other day, I was pleasantly surprised to have Gama Ram at my home. He is thought of as a "living legend" among senior Dalits. He became a Sub-Inspector with the UP Police in February 1948. "At the time, becoming a Sub-Inspector was a lot bigger than becoming an IPS officer today," Mr Ram informed us.
When the news of the appointment first filtered in, all of Sarai Mir town had descended at his house. His father had enough land to feed the family. He had enough land because he had inherited the traditional family occupation: tanning. His father had saved money to buy land because he knew that if the family was to ever gain some honour in society, he would have to "convert" his occupation. Before Ram, there were only four Dalit Sub-Inspectors with the UP Police.
During his first posting at the Dhanapur police station in Varanasi, he was placed under a Brahmin SHO, who had been promoted from constable but was yet to be confirmed. Technically, Ram wasn't his subordinate because he was a direct recruit and a confirmed Sub-Inspector.
He opted for the UP Police Intelligence Wing in 1950 and was posted at Lucknow. Word spread all over eastern UP that an SC had become a thanedaar. He began to receive a host of visitors. Students came to him for guidance. Those who came to Lucknow for interviews sought his help. Politicians vying for party tickets came to him. Victims of caste violence came to him. His house became a virtual dharmashala. He entertained all and soon became a most admired Dalit in the state capital.
In 1958, he became the first Dalit inspector in UP. He, with sheer hard work and sharpness of mind, won the appreciation of his seniors and solved many "sensitive" cases. He was finally promoted to Deputy Superintendent of Police while serving on deputation with the Intelligence Bureau.
The information he gave out stunned Indira Gandhi. In his dispatch from Lucknow, he informed the IB headquarters that Charan Singh was going to oppose the Government's decision to scrap the Rajas' privy purses. Hitherto, the Government was expecting Singh's support as he spoke for the lower castes and their interests.
How did you get your education, I asked Gama? As he narrated his long journey, he turned a little nostalgic. Although his parents were illiterate, his father would visit Kanpur in order to sell tanned leather. There, he learnt about Ambedkar and in turn, pledged to educate his children. After a certain amount of schooling at Sarai Mir, Ram moved to Azamgarh town and enrolled himself at the Wesley High School, then headed by an Englishman. He joined the Allen Wesley Hostel where the monthly food bill worked out to Rs 5. His scholarship was pegged at Rs 7 a month. I kept thinking that in most states now, pre-matric scholarship rates hover around Rs 24 to Rs 30 a month and that the monthly food bill couldn't be less than Rs 250. Ram passed out with a second division and joined Sibli National College which didn't have a hostel. He rented a room for 75 paisa a month and passed out with another second division in 1945. He moved over to Allahabad for college but his father fell sick and Ram had no option but to sign up for a government job.
The fast spreading anarchy in Dalit movements concerned him. "Why can't Mayawati and Mulayam come together," he asked me? That was difficult to answer as the question would have to be posed to them.
The discussion turned out to be lengthy but I can reproduce the high points. "Sir, if 1996 were to have been a hung Assembly with three major poles: the BSP, SP and Congress, which two of them could have come together," I asked? "Of course, the BSP and Congress," he told me. "If there were three poles in a hung Assembly headed by a Dalit, an Upper Caste and an Upper OBC respectively, which two of them would look like natural allies," I asked? "The Upper Castes and the Dalits," he said. "Then, what is the problem with the BSP and the BJP coming together as the latter is an upper caste party," I insisted?
By now, the senior Dalit was in full flow. "You know, Mandal harmed the Dalits most. Before that, the upper castes had reconciled to the concept of reservation for Dalits. Now, they hate us the most," he said. He then went on to narrate how the Upper OBCs were more violent, more rigid and more unfriendly to the Dalits. He also emphasised that the Dalits and OBCs would never find a common meeting ground either on the cultural front or politically. Can the Dalit intelligentsia go back to senior Dalits like Gama Ramji and redefine the future social coalition of Indian politics?