Meet Vijay Surwade – Living Encyclopedia of Ambedkarism


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Vijay Surwade is a living encyclopedia of Ambedkarism in India. And it is not merely about his in-depth and detailed knowledge of life and time of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar but also his passion to collect Baba Saheb’s original photographs of different events as well as his original documents and letters. His collection of these original documents related to Baba Saheb Ambedkar is a national asset. He worked very closely with Mai Saheb Ambedkar, wife of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. In this very important conversation, perhaps for the first time, an Ambedkarite speak in depth about how Mrs Savita Ambedkar faced all her life allegations about her maltreatment to Dr Ambedkar. Vijay Surwade’s documents prove categorically that a few of the Ambedkarites used their political ambition over the truth and for that Mrs Savita Ambedkar became an easy and soft target. We are placing some excerpts of the entire conversation of Mr Vijay Surwade with Vidya Bhushan Rawat, available on Lokayat channel at Youtube. This is just a very small portion of the entire conversation and we hope one day, we will be able to transcribe the entire script for the benefit of the viewers in the English language.

Vidya Bhushan: How did you come in touch with Ambedkarism? What inspired you the most?

Vijay Surwade: I was born in Jalgaon district. Right from childhood , e had heard about Baba Saheb. My mother’s father was a Gardner in railways. He was illiterate but a staunch Ambedkarite. He used to go to attend the meeting of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. He used to tell me about the movement, about Baba Saheb and his vast knowledge. Hearing from him the curiosity increased day by day. So out of curiosity, I started collecting his photographs. I was three years old during the Mahaparinirwana of Baba Saheb in 1956 so no opportunity to meet him but now I feel if I were born a few years earlier, I would have definitely met him. The curiosity increased day by day, it was increasing as I was growing and learning. I passed matriculation and joined Siddharth College and I was staying in the hostel in 1970. I completed my graduation in 1974 and during this period I got to know many things, it was changing period for me. Dalit Panthers had started during the same period. Raja Dhale, Arun Kamble, J V Pawar and myself would sit together and discuss things. I was more attached to Raja Dhale. He had a different take on everything so he also liked me and the vice versa. We used to read and share. Fortunately, Siddhartha college library was so rich as all the original copies Baba Saheb’s work were there. I started reading them even when I did not know much English as upto 11th, I was studying in Marathi medium. Though English was there in 5th standard yet because it was not my first language hence could not do much in this but after college, the situation changed as Bombay University, right from the beginning is English medium. So, I started reading books of Baba Saheb. I bought an oxford dictionary English-Marathi and started writing meanings of tough words in Marathi and that made me understand the meaning of the word that Baba Saheb had used in his books.

In Childhood, I had kept one note book and whatever photograph that I got, I would paste it in the notebook. There were photographs in wedding invites etc, I would put all the photographs in my note book. So to that extent, my curiosity was there about Baba Saheb. When I came to Mumbai and saw original photographs of Baba Saheb, then I realized the difference between the original photographs and the artificial ones.  Then I started searching original photographs. In the beginning, I would go to photo studios. I was living in Hostel, near Dadar that time. Then I started locating colleagues of Baba Saheb in the movement. Asking about how he looked like. If they had any papers or photographs. They would not give me photographs because of their bad experiences. Once Bhaiya Saheb Ambedkar organized a photo exhibition and he put a lot of photographs but people took it and a lot of important photographs were lost. I used to pursue the case if they had photographs but people would insult me too. People would lie to that I have photographs even when they did not have. I did not have money as I was poor but I had to pursue that I would buy them. Even if I had photographs, I had to have negative. My father was a clerk in the municipality and my mother died when was in 8th standard. My father used to send me some money.

Then my collection was becoming bigger. There was Dil studio in Dadar near Baba Saheb’s House. There was a number of photographs. Negatives were of bigger size. They were 10X12 inch It was difficult to find. I used to go there then he used to do. It was not easy to find. I went everywhere to meet individuals, organizations, institutions. I learnt so many things from these experiences but I learnt how to allure people to get the photographs that I would give you a bigger size. Come along with me. But I learnt from my experiences.

Vidya Bhushan: How many photographs?

Vijay Surwade: I have not counted but those are in thousands. Those are from all over India. I did not go to foreign countries but I have two photographs from round table India which Jabbar Patel gave me. But from India, I travelled everywhere. I joined Bank after graduation. I got married.

Vidya Bhushan: Tell us about the conspiracy theories that Mai Saheb faced about Baba Saheb. All these need to be cleared as it is too much and people are using it for their own purposes. What is your impression?

Vijay Surwade: I have been hearing this since childhood. Some people said that she poisoned him in buttermilk. Other said she was giving him slow poison. Lokhande said that she killed him throttling him in the pillow. There were so many conspiracy theories. Was Baba Saheb such a small child to be done like that.

Baba Saheb wrote a preface on Decmeber 5th about her role. Most of the people like Sohan Lal Shastri and others used to feel bad when Mai Saheb would deny. So most of the friends of Baba Saheb would come him unusual time and without any preplanned visit. She was a doctor as well as a wife. So she had to play a dual role. Today, doctors don’t allow people to meet even wife. Wives’ will have their own concern. She was a doctor and always concerned about his diet. She had written about his diet and was very particular about Baba Saheb. She was strictly going according to the time table required for Baba Saheb from the point of view of medicine, health, food and rest. If anyone comes in between why should she allow? He was doing such an important task for the community, his time was important. How would a wife concerned so much allow people to disturb him? We were ultimately deceiving Baba Saheb. We are trying to tell as if Dr Ambedkar was a fool. They had a love affair for over a year. She was Baba Saheb’s lover. My daughter has written a book on that.

Vidya Bhushan:  Tell us about Mai Saheb’s relations with Baba Saheb

Vijay Surwade: I came to her contact when I was a student in Siddharth College. She used to come to Baviskar’s house. It must have been around 1972. She knew I have been working on Baba Saheb and it was a passion for me. One day she called me and showed me all the letters between them.  They were big letters.  Each one letter of baba sahib to her are 18,20, 25 pages. They were in a relationship for a year. She had written to Baba Saheb, a huge bunch of letter she showed to me and said these are the ‘’motio ki mala’’. His hand writing was so beautiful. She said, just have a look, don’t read them. They were a very personal letter. It was between 1947 and 1948.  They wrote around 40-50 letters to each other during this period. All letters were lengthy. All the letters of Baba Saheb were in mid night as he was very busy. Her name was Sharda and Baba Saheb used to call her Saru and later named her Savita. Her letter-head mast was S and Baba Saheb was B. In one letter Savita wrote to him that she would like to come and take care of him as he needed a doctor to take care of his health particularly. Baba Saheb wrote to her that he would only love to bring her legally after duly getting married. He was advised to keep a nurse. He wrote to Mai too. Fortunately or unfortunately, my people consider me as their god. My opponents are afraid of my character, which he wrote to Mai.

Vidya Bhushan: Did Baba Saheb ever speak to his son Yashwant about corruption?

Vijay Surwade: Mai wrote it. It was a story of two builders who wanted to influence Baba Saheb when he was labour Minister in Viceroy’s Council and CPWD was under him. It was related to some contract and Yashwant had come to Delhi. As soon as Baba Saheb came to know about this he got enraged. He asked Yashwant to leave immediately for Mumbai and need not to come to Delhi.

Vidya Bhushan: Do you think that Mai never deserves how people behaved with her after the demise of Baba Saheb?

Vijay Surwade: I was helping Dhanajay. He knew that I was close to Mai. Keer wrote what Nanak Chand Rattu gave to him. I can prove all this by the document. Nanak Chand gave to Khairmudhe and Keer. He wrote that Baba Saheb was very sad during his last days. Baba Saheb was singing was a sign of happiness. It was a doha. He finished his thesis before going to bed. Kautslyayan said that the preface was on the table. The biggest credit he gave to Mai Saheb.. I was a dying flame by a doctor. The successful rekindling of this dying flame is due to my doctor wife and Dr Mavalankar. I am immensely grateful to them. She was an Ambedkarite, She was a Buddhist lifelong. Many people did not accept her. But this is changing. J V Pawar, Arjun Dangle says that we did not do justice to Mai. Shanti Swroop Baudh too was of the opinion formed by Rattu but later all of them changed due to my work. People did not inform us about Mai’s contribution.  Baba Saheb married to Brahmin but she was a Buddhist. She became Buddhist. I have seen her very closely. For Riddles, she spoke passionately.

Vidya Bhushan: What is her role in the Riddles movement?

Vijay Surwade: She was a leader. She went all over, spoke everywhere. She spoke against Bal Thackery. Mai Saheb was very particular about the unpublished work of Baba Saheb. And this is 1959 when none knew about her except Rattu. For unpublished work, she got Mr Jadhav. She did not get any Royalty though Prakash gets it even today. I have the agreement. I was close to both Dhananjay Keer and Mai. I have the original copy of the letter. When he received that he admitted the contribution of Mai Saheb. He realised that a lot of injustice was done to Mai Saheb. In fact, Keer wanted to write a book on her but Mai never wanted him to do so.

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I asked her you killed Baba Saheb when I met her. I heard it from childhood. I felt she would be angry but she laughed. ‘What is the new thing that you are asking’, she said. ‘I have been hearing this for years’. Later Dhale discussed with me and we felt that Baba Saheb did all of the work because of her. It would have been impossible if she was not cooperative to him. She was with him at the most critical moment. She would have stopped him against Deeksha.  Mai and Baba Saheb took deeksha May 2, 1950, at Birla Mahabodhi Vihar in Delhi by Aryawansh Bhante. Bhadant Anand Kautslyayan also wrote about this deekhsa.

I felt she should allow Keer to write about her life. I have the audio-recorded Mai’s original voice about herself. Mai was very active. She would go to meeting and conferences. Later Keer too got ill and died so the project remained unfulfilled. She would tell me so many stories. And I felt all those stories must come out. I used to think with that positive angle. When she would tell us her memoir, I felt Mai’s contribution must come out. Letters must come out at any cost. There are a lot of personal things, I removed them and decided to write.  She used to speak Marathi but she had command over English. I would help you to write memoirs and then she accepted it.

I decided a frame about the book. Baba Saheb’s up and down must come out. What was his physical position when Mai came in his life? What work Baba Saheb did during the time when Mai came in his life.

So, I decided since 1930. All the health issues, I had. At one point of it became too critical. Nobody was there to help him. The stage when he had blood pressure. ‘’You are doing great work. I needed to help him. He needs my help, it was saying my doctor inside me. I took up the decision’’, Mai said.  It was Mai’s revolutionary step despite being Brahmin and that too a medical doctor from Grand Medical College during British from 1937 she decided to marry Baba Saheb. Sohanlal wrote about her that she was a nurse but fortunately I got the original certificate. I have the original certificate of Mai.

About Role of Nanak Chand Rattu

It has been dubious. I knew him from closely. Mai was too stubborn sometimes. Bhiaya Saheb was fighting with her on property issue so Shankaranand Shastri and Nanak Chand Rattu had sympathy for him. Many people would ask me how I could stay with her. She was blunt. She used to say, I am Ambedkar, hence it is my right. When I don’t take anything from any one then why should I be afraid?

The bungalow at 26 Alipur Road was on rent. It was owned by Sivai’s Maharaja.  Baba Saheb had helped him through adjudication. They had two bungalows 26 and 27 and wanted to sale them to Baba Saheb for one lakh rupees each. Dr Ambedkar said he did not have the money. So they had the problem of staying in Delhi after he resigned from the government. So, the Maharaja gave it on rent. Mararaja died and the new legatees asked Mai to leave the place. She did not vacate it. She went to the court. She came to Mumbai to live with her relatives. People blamed her that she sold the property. Rattu used to assist Mai Saheb. He was continuously in touch with her. I have a letter in 2001 written to me seeking my cooperation to get help from Mai. One case, Mai could not go and the court gave the ex-parte order. The bungalow was sealed and the household items, precious books and belonging of Baba Saheb were thrown away. It was in 1967. It was raining so many things was left out. So it was distributed into three places to keep them safe among Rattu, Shastri and others. You will be surprised that Mai stayed a Rattu’s place. So Rattu was speaking against her outside but kept her inside her.

Shankaranand used to meet me whenever he used to come to Mumbai. We were travelling in Bus to Mazgaon. He told me Rattu was the stooge of Mai. After Shankarnand told me, I felt it. He helped in selling the plot. I asked Mai and then she told me that he kept me at our house. He was just a typist. He used to do initial in whatever he typed. I told her the copy of his letters which she did not know. She was shocked. He has so many letters written on islands to Mai.

Mai would call me around three to four times. She told me Rattu came and added, ‘’I asked him what has you written about me. He said I have been helping you’’. Then she threw the file at him and just asked him to leave the place. I think this is about 1990s. In 2001 he wrote to me. He gave much ‘’belonging’’ of Baba Saheb in Chichuli and Wolver Hampton. but many things are absolutely duplicate but most of the stuff was given provided by Mai. Many things I have heard that he ( Rattu)  purchased from the old market and gave them in the name of Baba Saheb. He died in 2002. Mai passed away in 2003. He knew that Mai has known it. He wrote to me in 2001. He said you are so close to Mai. It is easy to get the things done. Actually, the things donated to Chicholi was given to Mr Godbole. There was some misunderstanding. Godbole knew things. Rattu wanted a letter from Mai that the stuff that he has and given to Godbole belonged to Rattu. I typed it. By 2001 Mai’s conditions had deteriorated. Her memory was lost. My wife cleaned her many times. I had typed the letter. I felt it was not right to get signed. Rattu sends me a letter send me a sample of letter head of Mai Saheb on her behalf. In 2002 he died and in 2003 Mai passed away.

This is an important part of Ambedkarite movement. Why should a woman who was dutifully and legally married to Baba Saheb Ambedkar be seen as conspirator and outsider? She was boycotted. It shows that caste system has so much in our blood that we could not give her justice. Baba Saheb gave us the path of Buddhism. How much have we succeeded? There are success stories. The dream of Prabuddha Bharat is yet to be fulfilled.  There are very few examples. I would say sadly. Everyone is working according to his own agenda. We failed politically completely.

What is the use of joining hand with BJP? It is painful.

We do not want Dalit word but as a movement, we needed Dalit Panther today. Mai Saheb used to say, don’t dissolve it. Let it like be an aggressive wing, fighting against injustice. She said in a speech. Make it three wings: Political, religious and educational. Those who are interested should lead it so there would not fight against it. So if Dhale was interested in religion so he should lead that. Ramdas was interested in politics so he should lead that. It was actually a very wise advice.

Today there are over 100 groups of RPIs. Everything has become an opportunist. It is not going accordingly. They must unite. During the riddles movement, all people have got united. They were together fighting against the ban on Riddles. I have heard Kanshiram saying that you worship anyone but just vote us. I heard it in Jabalpur and did not like it.

Vidya Bhushan: What are you planning to protect this ‘national asset’ that you have which is of great importance as a history of Ambedkarite movement? Many stories people have not heard. They have remained unknown.

Vijay Surwade:  I have not begged from any one. None want to become like Baba Saheb. People do not care. They are unable to bring real Baba Saheb. We are not bringing him to people. It is backstabbing with the movement. Baba Saheb became very sensitive when he saw and said if do not take this movement any further don’t take it back.

Vidya Bhushan: Where is the movement?

Vijay Surwade: I don’t know anything about politics. I am not interested. Practically everyone knows me personally. We lived together in hostel including Gavai, Kavade. I am not interested in their politics.

Vidya Bhushan: An Ambedkarite you have lived your life. What are those things you won’t compromise?

Vijay Surwade: We can’t survive on our own politically but We will have to alliance with those who ideology with Baba Saheb. We can’t compromise with Hindutva at any cost. We can’t compromise with Psychology, a philosophy which made us enslaved till date. It is not essential that they agree to everyone but you have to agree on complimentary ideas. He had good relations with M N Roy. Baba Saheb helped him and it was debated in Parliament. People have become selfish. How could an Ambedkarite be part of Shiv Sena?

Vidya Bhushan: What is your vision and what would you appeal to the Ambedkarites world over?

Vijay Surwade: I won’t ask anyone to help me. I have two options. First, we have a Foundation. Athawale has promised. Mai has done so much and we must do it for her. You make a trust and I will get the land. Mai used to give her (my wife) saris, shawls, chashma, letters, photographs to my wife and we have kept them as safe. We have to preserve them but for that one need money. Athawale is saying that he would take me to the chief minister.  Athawale used to give me a lot of respect because of Mai. He gives respect to all. Second, fortunately, I retired as deputy general manager, IDBI. I have a flat in the society. If I get my possession then I will live there and leave this house as a memorial. Somebody will be here. We will donate the material. WE need to preserve the material. The third option, Symbiosis is ready to do this. They have money, place and machinery including technology. If I give them then, they can preserve it. So these are three options. My son is in USA. I don’t know whether he comes or not. He reads but may not have the same interest. The way I have done, he might not have the same. This is the property of Ambedkarite society. It is of Ambedkar Samaj.  I don’t consider it for any one. I will donate it.

Source – People’s Voice

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