(FOR THE YEAR 1908)
Before reviewing the work of the year, the Committee of the D. C. M. Society most solemnly offers its deep thanks to the Gracious Almighty Father the source of all goodness and holiness. The work was commenced in simple trust and the Committee prays that it will be enabled to continue it in faith, hope, and humility.
The last Annual Gathering — At the last Annual Gathering of the Mission, the Hon’ble Sir J. W. P. Muir Mackenzie presided and Lady Muir Mackenzie distributed the prizes, when Sir Muir Mackenzie spoke of its work with the kindest feelings of sympathy and appreciation. He said that he had been recently attending numerous gatherings but there was none in which he felt such a warm sympathy as this institution. Referring to the Missioners he laid special emphasis on the point that they were certainly in that institution endeavouring to tackle one of the roost formidable problems with which they were all confronted in India. Not having overcome this sense of the formidable proportions of the Problem, the Secretary could not then do more than present before that meeting a very brief summary of the work done during the first year. Nor does the Committee even now feel bold enough to place on record all that the workers have done and experienced in this field. Yet as the work has covered, during the year under report, a much wider range than was expected and has still better prospects for the coming year, apology is hardly needed for saying here a few words about the origin of this Society.
Origin — The Prarthana Samaj, as the Theistic Church in Western India is called, has been contributing for the last 30 years its own humble share to the elevation of the so-called low castes by opening night schools &c., for them. Especially, during the last four or five years, the Mention of some of its workers was drawn more keenly than ever towards the several interesting movements of self-improvement conducted by such members of the Depressed Communities themselves as had tasted the fruits of the present educational system in India or had come into contact with the Christian Missionaries or the Anglo-Indian masters. They were the Somawanshiya Samaj started by Mr. S.J. Kambale of Poona, the Mohapa Low Caste Association by Mr. Kisan Fagu of Nagpur, and the Somawanshiya Hitachintak Mandali, by Mr. Shripatrao Thorat and Mr. Pandoba Dangle of Ahmednagar. Having closely observed these movements among the Depressed Classes, their growth and also their inevitable decay, one of the members of the Prarthana Samaj wrote in December 1905 a pamphlet on the Elevation of the Depressed Classes. At the end of it he said :—
"Thus I have tried to review briefly from what little I know, the results of both philanthropy and self-help in this great work of the elevation of the Depressed Classes. If each of these will operate in conscious or unconscious isolation from the other, as it has been the case so long, both will perhaps cease to work out of mere exhaustion. It is for the Social Reform Association and the Prarthana Samaj to devise means to bring both these new forces into a happy and new co-operation."
The same writer after further study of the subject — the appalling number and the abject condition of these classes — proved for the first time from the Census Reports in a pamphlet published in August 1906 that the depressed population was more than one-fourth of the total Hindu population and that more than one-sixth of the total population was considered “untouchable". He then pleaded in that pamphlet :-
“ What is wanted therefore is not merely a machinery of education however grand, but a real Mission i. e. an organization in which the personal element presides over and energizes the mechanism; and secondly (which is still more essential) a mission which is not exotic but indigenous or in other words a mission which is bent upon working an evolution in the religion, traditions and Social life of these people and not a revolution as the Christian Missions are doing. .... The City of Bombay in my humble opinion is the fittest centre for such work— The Prarthana Samaj of Bombay is the only Liberal Religious body in this province, that can, if it will, undertake the noble Mission and carry it to its ultimate consummation, viz. restoring, at least such of these depressed souls as are capable, to their rightful though long withheld place in a renovated Hindu Society."
In October 1906, Shet Damodardas G. Sukhadwalla, Vice-President of the Bombay Prarthana Samaj, generously came forward with one thousand rupees as an initial contribution towards the funds of such a Mission; and on the 18th of the same month, The Hon'ble Mr. Justice Chandavarkar, President of the Bombay Prarthana Samaj, inaugurated the Depressed Classes Mission, by opening its first school at Parel, in the presence of a representative gathering of ladies and gentlemen.
Before giving the first lesson to the children assembled, Mr. Chandavarkar in his inaugural speech charged the workers in the memorable words “Let us not approach these people in a spirit of patronization. Let us always remember that in elevating the depressed we are but elevating ourselves!" The following gentlemen who are all members of the Prarthana Samaj, formed the First Committee of the Mission.
The Hon’ble Mr. Justice Chandavarkar — President.
Shet Damodardas G. Sukhadwala, J.P. — Vice President.
Mr. N. B. Pandit, B.A. — Hon. Treasurer.
Mr. S. R. Lad — Hon. Superintendent.
Mr. V. R. Shinde, B.A. — Hon. Secretary.
The Object of the Mission is to seek to elevate the condition of the Depressed Classes viz. the Mahars, Chambars, Pariahs, Namsudras and all such other neglected Classes in India by means of —
(1) Promoting education,
(2) Providing work,
(3) Remedying their social disabilities, and
(4) Preaching to them ideals of religion, personal character, and good citizenship.
Although all the members of the Managing Committee of the Mission are members of the Prarthana Samaj, still, as yet it is in no way formally connected with that body. Such formal relations are left free to be developed in future. It is open for any one to become a member of the Society and also to be elected on its committees under the prescribed rules. However, it is a known fact that the work of the Mission is carried on essentially Theistic lines. The All India Theistic Conference held in Madras last December passed the following resolution :—
“That this Conference with great pleasure recognizes the aims and work of the Depressed Classes Mission Society of India as Theistic and heartily calls on all Bramha and Prarthana Samajes in India to show sympathy and render pecuniary help to the Mission in its work.”
Constitution — Naturally the work of the Mission was commenced without any elaborate rules which are often a hindrance rather than a help. However as the work increased not only in Bombay but expanded out of it, it had to be placed on a sound constitutional basis. To the original Committee the names of Dr. (Mrs.) Manekbai Bahadurji L.M. & S.L.R.C.P. and Dr. Miss Kashibai Nowarange B.A., L.M. & S. were added in 1907 and those of Prof. N.G. Welinkar M.A., LL.B., Mr. V. S. Sohoni and Mr. Sayyad Abdul Kadir were added in 1908. In a meeting of the committee is held on the 5th Nov. 1908, a sub-committee was appointed to draft the rules of constitution, and in a meeting held on the 10th December 1908, the draft constitution was duly passed.
Expansion — To the centres opened in the previous year, was added during the year under report a vigorous branch at Poona, so ably and successfully conducted by Mr. A. K. Mudliar, B.A. and the smaller centres at Akola, Amraoti, Igatpuri and Dapoli. A good beginning is made in Madras and a committee formed at Calicut for preliminary work. The Committee also notes with great pleasure the Depressed Classes Mission started under the auspices of the Sadharan Brahma Samaj at Calcutta and the work done there, and also the splendidly promising efforts of the Association for the Promotion of Education among the Depressed Classes at Kolhapur under the enlightened lead of the Divansaheb of that State and the liberal patronage of H. H. the Maharajah Chhatrapati.
Concentration — The main energies of the workers of the Mission are however concentrated at Parel, as will be seen from the report of the Nirashrit Seva Sadan or the Depressed Classes Mission Home. The members of this Sadan besides teaching in the schools of the Mission, minister to the various needs of the poor people by arranging lectures, games and excursions, giving medical relief, holding Sunday Classes, Bhajans and divine services, visiting the poor in their houses, distributing clothes and such other small charities in times of emergency. It is gratifying to note that the Sadan has secured the active services of four high caste ladies. One Chambhar woman is taught sewing and she is now the teacher in the sewing class and helps in getting women to attend meetings arranged for their benefit. The existence of this Sadan is solely due to a generous philanthropist, who regularly pays a monthly subscription of Rs. 100 towards the funds of the Sadan, which are managed and accounted separately from the general funds ol the Society.
Bhajan Samajas — As a result of this concentrated method of work there have been organized two Associations called Bhajan Samajas, among the Depressed Classes themselves, one at Madanpura, Byculla, and the other at Elphinstone Road, Parel. A regular habit of congregations worship is created among these people, who not only meet every week for the purpose of worshipping the one True God in spirit but also often hold meetings to discuss subjects of their secular well-being. The Mission finds these associations the most efficient means of approaching the bulk of these communities and of being easily understood by them in its efforts.
Charitable Dispensary — To improve the sanitary condition of the Depressed Classes, to introduce habits of cleanliness and temperance among them, to afford cheap or free medical relief in order to substitute the right notions about the laws of health in place of many superstitions rampant among them, are among the aims of the Mission. With this view a Charitable Dispensary was conducted at Parel for the last two years. The existence of this institution was solely due to the self- sacrificing zeal of Mr. Santooji Ramji Laud, pensioned 1st class Hospital Assistant who went from Thana every morning not only to attend the Dispensary, but to visit the poor people in their homes. The Dispensary supplied a real need felt in the neighbourhood. The Bombay Municipality has now opened a regular Dispensary there since some months past and the Mission Dispensary is therefore no more required at Parel. From the expenditure shown by Dr. S. R. Laud in his report, it will be seen that the Dispensary was conducted with the utmost frugality by him, he sometimes having had to pay his own railway fare. To make it efficient an annual income of five hundred rupees is required. Unless some charitable donor comes forward with help, the committee will be unable to open this useful department of its work in some other suitable quarter of the city.
The Purity Servant — Originally this was a fortnightly English journal conducted by Babu A. C. Muzumdar at Lahore. Mr. V. S. Sohoni took it from Mr. Muzumdar and made it by the permission of the Depressed Classes Mission, its official organ. He has been conducting it since May 1908, as a monthly magazine, solely on his own editorial and financial responsibility for which the Mission is much indebted to him.
General Sympathy — Before concluding this review the Committee roost cheerfully records its sense of grateful appreciation of the general sympathy with which this work has been received by the public. Even the most sanguine of them could not have expected that the small beginning they made two years ago would attain the proportions it now reaches and rouse such a wide spread sympathy among the high and low, the conservatives as well as liberals, on the public platforms, in the press and in private circles. And yet any intelligent friend of the Mission will easily detect the fact that neither the wealthy section of this proud city which contains no less than 83,000 members of these despised communities toiling for its prosperity, nor the ruling Princes this province have bestowed any thing like serious attention upon the struggles of the Mission which has therefore had to depend upon the tender mercies and slender means of the work-a-day middle classes. The Committee however gladly takes this opportunity of remembering the noble-hearted sympathy which the head of the province, His Excellency Sir George Clarke and his daughter Miss Clarke showed by holding the concert at Poona and paying the proceeds (Rs. 3467-13-6) — towards the funds of the Mission and thus quickened a more general interest in the work than before. Another encouraging instance of kindness is that of the Mahomedan Mill-owner Mr. Haji Yusaf Haji Ismail Subhani, who not only paid off the cost of the hut of the Mission School at Deonar but made a gift of 500 new clothes specially prepared for all boys and girls of the three schools of the Mission. Mention must also be made of the substantive token of sympathy received from the distant Unitarian friends of England. Mrs. Sitabai Sukhtankar while she was in England as Miss L. Bishop of the Manchester Domestic Mission, raised about 700 rupees from her Unitarian friends and sent the sum as a Christmas present to this Mission.
The Ladies Committee—Mrs. Sukhtankar has now still more closely connected herself with the Mission by becoming the Secretary of the Ladies’ Committee specially organized for the purposes of creating sympathy and securing financial aid for it, with Lady Muir Mackenzie and Mrs. Laxmibai Chandavarkar as Vice-presidents, Mrs. Stanley Reed as the Chairman, Mrs. Laxmibai Ranade as Joint Secretary and Miss S. K. Kabraji as the treasurer.
Lastly the Committee offers its sincere thanks to all those who are working in connection with the branches and affiliations of the D. C. Mission Society in the different parts of the country with such a self- sacrificing zeal and singleness of purpose and also sends its cordial greetings to all those who are labouring, though independently of this Society, yet in the same field of national duty and human well-being.
V. R. Shinde
Depressed Classes Mission Society of India)
Ram Mohan Ashram
13th March 1909