Born On: April 23, 1873
Born In: Jamkhandi, Karnataka
Died On: January 2, 1944
Career: Social Reformer
His greatness as a distinguished reformer is sufficient to recognize him as one of the most liberal thinkers India has ever given birth to. At a time when India was battling for independence from the British Raj, Shinde stepped forward towards bringing equality amongst the depressed classes of the Indian society and provide them with the same rights and parity as enjoyed by the upper classes. This was a well-thought and planned mission not allowing the British to take advantage of the divisions prevailing in India while fighting for freedom. Being influenced by the writings of several eminent intellectuals, like Hari Narayan Apte, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and Max Muller, simply added to his societal beliefs towards eradicating untouchability and stimulating the education of the Dalits.
Maharshi Vitthal Ramji Shinde was born in a small princely state of Jamkhandi, now a part of Karnataka, in a Marathi-speaking Maharashtrian family. This proved to be a perfect confluence of both linguistic cultures of Kannada and Marathi over Shinde. He learnt other languages like Sanskrit, Pali, and English while at school. Further, his family friends and other social contacts belonged to various religions and caste, which further enhanced his thinking as a liberal believer. He spent his childhood with beliefs of religion symbolizing to get personally and emotionally involved in worshipping God and not just about blind faith and performing meaningless rituals and customs.
Shinde completed his Bachelors of Arts from Fergusson College, Pune in 1898 and completed the first year of law. He was paid a monthly scholarship of Rs. 25 from Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad (a progressive reformist of the Baroda Princely State) on the pretext of working for his state on completion of his studies. However, he moved to Bombay to sit for the LL.B. examination. But Bombay had more to offer Shinde apart from his law studies. He bid goodbye to his course and joined the Prarthana Samaj, thereby becoming its missionary after sometime. His inspiration and influence had been the famous scholars, namely, G.B. Kotkar, Shivrampant Gokhle, Justice Mahadev Govinda Ranade, Sir Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, and K.B. Marathe. He was selected by Prarthana Samaj to study comparative religion in Manchester College, Oxford, England in 1901. The college was founded by the Unitarian Church. A part of Shinde's travel and living expenses were borne by Maharaji Sayajirao Gaekwad.
On his return from England in 1903, Shinde dedicated his entire life towards religious and social reforms. Though he continued working for Prarthana Samaj, but he emphasized on the abolition of untouchability from India. This proved true when he established a night school for the children of all untouchables in Meethganjapeth, Pune in 1905. Later in 1906, he set up the Depressed classes Mission in Bombay. He founded the Somvanshiya Mitra Samaj on March 14, 1907 to abolish the Devdasi system amongst Mahar and Mang women. Devdasi system is a practice wherein young girls are sent to temples and forced to spend the rest of their lives dancing at the whim and fancy of men, and being exploited by them in the temple. His association with Prarthana Samaj ended in 1910. With endless efforts in criticizing the practice of untouchability in India, he succeeded in inducing the Indian National Congress to pass a resolution for the same in 1917.
He even established the Akhil Bhartiya NirashritAkhil Bhartiya Nirashrit Asprushyata Nivarak Sangha, through which he organized an All-India convention in Mumbai emphasizing on the removal of untouchability, during the years 1918 to 1920. He was supported by Mahatma Gandhi and Maharaji Sayajirao Gaekwad. He visited Burma between 1925 and 1926 to study social ethics and Buddhist religion. On his return to India, he took active participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement with Mahatma Gandhi in 1930 and served six-month imprisonment in Yerawda prison near Pune. Thereafter, he worked towards social and political issues through various organizations, such as Rashtriya Maratha Sangh, Samata Sainik Dal and Bahujan Samaj Paksha. He made exemplary efforts towards the entry of untouchables in temples, animal sacrifice during Holi festival, and Murali tradition (young children are offered to God and exploited). He wrote a book titled "Bhartiya Asprushyatecha Prashna" (India's untouchability question) that was published in 1933.
Depressed classes Mission
Shinde founded the Depressed classes Mission in Mumbai on October 18, 1906 as an effort of raising the standards of untouchables and providing education to the Dalits. The mission aimed at getting rid of untouchability, providing educational facilities for untouchables, solving their social problems, and starting up schools, hostels, and hospitals for them. The mission set up several schools and hostels over the years. By 1912, the mission had successfully established 23 schools, 5 hostels, 12 branches, 55 teachers, 1100 students, and 5 canvassing volunteers, across 7 states, 14 locations, and 4 languages. The mission even set up an ashram named Ahilya Ashram in Pune in 1922. However, there were regular conflicts between Shinde and some members of the organization on pretexts of casting their own leaders belonging to their caste rather than an outsider managing the mission. As such, he resigned from Depressed classes Mission in 1923. Even then, he provided his support to the mission although he was disheartened on the behavior of the separatist leaders. He was a determined follower of Mahatma Gandhi which was evident from his efforts for creating unity amongst Harijans (untouchables) and Hindu caste.
Maharshi Vitthal Ramji Shinde, who worked dedicatedly against untouchability throughout his life, left for the heavenly abode on January 2, 1944, aged 70.
1873: Born on 23rd April in Jamkhandi, Karnataka
1898: Completed graduation in arts from Fergusson College, Pune
1898: Went to Bombay to complete his law course
1898: Joined Prarthana Samaj and became its follower
1901: Went to Manchester College, Oxford, England to study comparative religion
1903: Returned from England
1905: Established a night school for kids of untouchable at Meethganjapeth, Pune
1906: Founded the Depressed classes Mission in Bombay
1907: Set up the Somvanshiya Mitra Samaj
1910: Ended his membership with Prarthana Samaj
1917: Indian National Congress passed a resolution for untouchables
1918-20: Organized meetings and conferences on untouchability across Mumbai
1922: Ahilya Ashram completed in Pune
1923: Resigned from Depressed classes Mission
1925-26: Visited Burma to study social ethics and Buddhist religion
1930: Joined the Civil Disobedience Movement with Mahatma Gandhi
1933: Published the book "Bhartiya Asprushyatecha Prashna"
1944: Died on January 2 at the age of 70 years