The Depressed Classes Mission Society of India

(Established on the 18th of October 1906 and registered under act XXI of 1860 as a charitable society)

Origin - The Prarthana Samaj, or the Theistic Church of Bombay 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 attention 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, Mr. V. R. Shinde of the Bombay 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 of Bombay 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 India 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 in India was considered "un-touchable." 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 consumation, 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. (now Sir) 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, Sir N.G. 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 overselves!" The following members of the Prarthana Samaj formed the First Committee of the Mission.

The Hon'ble Sir Narayan G. 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.

On having started the Mission, Mr. Shinde clearly stated the problem of the Depressed Classes in India in an article published in the Times of India (1907) and also worked up the total number of them in a table as follows:-

The whole population of the continent of Hindustan, whatever its other divisions, may be divided from the point of view of our problem, into the following divisions: - (1) The classes (literary and well-to-do). (2) Masses. (3) Low Castes. (4) Hill Tribes. Thus the third division which forms our subject is clear and definite by itself and is common all over India. It has all the disadvantages of the second division, viz., general poverty, want of education, uncertainty of wages, etc., and something more, i.e., they are for ever forbidden the ordinary social privileges of a citizen, viz. freely mixing among the higher castes for social or even economical purposes of life. They are not detached and unconnected with the body politic as the hill tribes; but yet they have no place in the social communion of this body. They are not even ordinarily touched by the members of the higher castes above them. This pronounced mark of untouchableness is the standing fulcrum on which the level of depression and degradation is slowly lowered down on them, and this Titanic lever will never be made inoperative until this ominous fulcrum is completely demolished. Consciously or not, the lever is set working; it is a fact and not a fiction, and wholesale social depression of these low castes is the result. As to their material and moral condition, some people have the knack of too smoothly gliding into optimistic conclusions. But none of these optimists-at-others cost would ever care to exchange lots with them nor could ever get any other castes higher than the victims to exchange lots with them.

Now let us estimate the number of these people in all India, so that possibly we may not make any unnecessary fuss over the scandal, if it be after all a negligible quantity.
Extracted from the Indian Census Report of 1901 :—

Table 1 (For PDF Click Here)
Total Indian Population                           =   294,361,056
Total Hindu Population                            =   207,147,026
Total Depressed Population                     =     53,206,632
Total Mahomedan Population                   =     62,458,077
Gegraded Mahomedans in Upper India     =      8,628,566

Table 2 
(For PDF Click Here)

Even if we leave out of consideration the number of the degraded Mahomedans shown above, the total figure of the depressed populations in the whole of India is more than one-fourth of the total Hindu population and more than one-sixth of the total Indian population : More than one- sixth of India is then theoretically and in most cases practically untouchable! Are we to disbelieve the Census reports or believing them, are we to still maintain our characteristic coolness over these appalling numbers?

Let me now hasten to the conclusion. The problem is not for any foreign agency howsoever benevolent it be. It is not again a religious problem — I mean religious in the sectarian or denominational sense. The question is not whether these vast numbers should be saved by Christianity or from Christianity but a broader one that they have to be restored to decent humanity. It is not only an educational problem but a social and philanthropical one. Even so far as it is educational, it is not a problem for the Government of India; it will be better solved by the persuasive and privately organised philanthropy than by a mechanically compelling Government. Nor is this a problem for a professional Indian patriot alone. It is the duty of every person that has a right to reside in India? Christian, Jew, Mahomedan, Parsi, or Hindu, white or black, in Government service or free, to see that one-sixth of this vast country, which is untouchable, will be restored to decent humanity and free citizenship. Of course a Christian missionary or a Hindu patriot or a Government official or an Employer is each quite welcome to his own special point of view of this common problem of the elevation of the depressed and to his own separate share in its achievement. But that a pariah should become a repenting Christian or remain in the fold of renovated Hinduism, or that he should turn out an efficient national asset or a good law-abiding loyal subject or an honest and industrious labourer these are only after results and they depend upon the pariah’s first becoming a decent human being, free to move and free to choose his vocation. It is then the duty of every Indian to see that he becomes so. But what is everyman’s concern is no man’s concern. My final word, therefore, is that if work is actually started by somebody on these broad lines and with these broad aims — and such work is already started in this City of Bombay — it should meet with sympathy from all.
Constitution — The following are some of the most important rules of Constitution of the Society which was duly registered in November 1910 under Act XXI of 1860 as a charitable body. The Trust Deed of the Society was also registered on the 9th of July 1910. Although this Mission is not organically connected with any of the Brahma or Prarthana Samajes in India, its aims and work as will be seen from the following rules and also its annual reports are as well spiritual as secular. The following resolution adopted by the All-India Theistic Conference held in Madras in December 1908 and reaffirmed in the following sessions is to be noted in this connection :—
‘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 Brahma and Prarthana Samajes in India to show sympathy and render pecuniary help to the Mission in its work.”
Rules of Constitution
1. Name — The Society shall be called 'The Depressed Classes Mission Society of India.”
2. Object — The object of the Society shall be to maintain a Mission which shall seek to elevate the social as well as the spiritual condition of the Depressed Classes, viz., the Mahars, Chambhars, Pariahs, Namsudras, Dheds and all other classes treated as untouchable in India, by
(1) Promoting education,
(2) Providing work,
(3) Remedying their social disabilities, and
(4) Preaching to them principles of Liberal Religion (as are not inconsistent with such progressive movements as the Brahma or Prarthana Samajes in India), personal character and good citizenship'
3. Religious Work — The religious work of the Society shall be based on the recognition of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Beyond this, the Society, as such, shall not take any dogmatic or sectarian position.
4. Missionaries — Any person who at the invitation of the Executive Committee agrees to devote himself to the work of the Mission and is accepted as such by the General Body shall be deemed a Missionary of the Society.
5. Board of Spiritual and Social Ministry — To minister to the spiritual and social needs of the Depressed Classes in India there shall be a separate Board consisting of all Missionaries and three other members to be annually elected thereto by the Council from among themselves. This board shall have a charge of all the spiritual and social Institutions and organisations of the Mission, such as the Congregations, Sunday Schools, Young Peoples’ Clubs, etc., and shall be subject to the rules and the control of the Executive Committee of the Society.
6. Membership of the Society — The General Body of the Society shall consist of
(a) Patrons :— (1) That is, persons who make donations of five thousand rupees or more to the funds of the Society. (2) Persons of distinction accepting the Patronship at the special invitation of the Executive Committee of the Society.
(b) Life Members :— (1) Those who pay a donation of Rs. 1,000 or more, or an annual subscription of Rs. 100 for 12 years. (2) Those who have rendered not less than five years’ continuous service as Missionaries of the Society.
(c) Members :— Those paying an annual subscription of not less than Rs. 25.
(d) All Missionaries of the Society ex-officio.
13. Incorporated Branches — The General Body may start new branches or sanction the conversion of existing affiliated bodies into branches in order to further the objects of the Society with due regard to the financial resources of the Society.
14. The incorporated branches shall send to the Executive Committee for its approval a Budget of its estimated expenditure for the next succeeding three months; for any financial obligations incurred in excess of such estimates without the express sanction previously obtained of the Executive Committee of the Society, the Society shall not be responsible. The incorporated branches shall also send a quarterly statement of accounts and also a report of its work.
15. Affiliated Bodies — Subject to the approval of the General Body, the Executive Committee may affiliate existing bodies doing work similar to that of the Society, provided these bodies agree :—
(1) to work in a way not inconsistent with the aims and deals of this Society and
(2) to submit a duly adopted annual report of their work and accounts so as to reach the General Secretary before the 1st of February, every year.

Subject to these conditions of affiliation the Affiliated Bodies shall be independent in the conduct of their affairs, and the Society shall not be responsible for any financial obligations incurred or to be incurred by them.

The Executive Officers
The Hon’ble Justice Sir N. G. Chandavarkar - President.
Shet D. G. Sukhadwala, J.P. - Vice-President.
Mr. P. B. Gothoskar, B.A. - Treasurer.
Mr. V. R. Shinde, B.A. - General Secretary.
Mr. V. S. Sohoni - Assistant General Secretary.
Mrs. L. Ranaday - Secretary, Ladies' Committee.
Mr. L. B. Nayak, B.A. - Captain of the Rupee Fund.
Shet Damoderdas G. Sukhadwala, J.P.
Mr. Hari Sitaram Dixit, B.A., LL.B.
Mr. Vitthal Ramji Shinde, B.A.
Nature of the Mission Work
Speaking at the Prize Distribution of the Society on the 21st of March 1911, His Excellency Sir George Clarke, Governor of Bombay, observed “It is an Indian Society working for Indians, and we may feel sure that it is helping indirectly to mould opinion, and thus to produce effects which cannot be calculated in figures or embodied in reports. As I have said it has a double mission to accomplish — to educate public opinion and to arouse sympathy for the wrongs of the Depressed Classes on the one hand, and to promote the education of these classes on the other.” Sir R. G. Bhandarkar, Ph. D., LL. D., remarks in the visitors’ book — “The whole institution is typical of the times in which reasonableness is invading the domain of prejudice and superstition."
Scope of work (For PDF Click Here)  
In all there are at present 15 Centres with 25 Schools, 5 Boarding houses, 5 Theistic Congregations, 7 Other Institutions, 55 Teachers, 1,100 pupils and 5 Missionaries.

The extent of work and sphere of influence of this Mission may be classified into sections as follow:—