Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj
Rajarshi Sir Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaj Sahib Bahadur, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO.
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, also known as Rajarshi Shahu was considered a true democrat and social reformer. Maharaja of the princely state of Kolhapur. Greatly influenced by the contributions of social reformer Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, and long patronized the Satya Shodhak Samaj, formed by Phule. Shahu Maharaj was an ideal leader and able ruler who was associated with many progressive and path breaking activities during his rule. From his coronation in 1894 till his demise in 1922, he worked tirelessly for the cause of the lower caste subjects in his state. Sahu was a strong advocate of equality among all strata of society and refused to give the Brahmins any special status. He removed Brahmins from the post of Royal Religious advisers when they refused to perform religious rites for non- Brahmins. Primary education to all regardless of caste and creed was one of his most significant priorities. Like the Compulsory Primary Education Act of 1917,he also form laws such as the Legal Sanction to Inter-caste and Inter-religion Marriage Act of 1919, the Law for Prevention of Cruelty against Women, 1919, and the Manifesto against Observance of Untouchability, 1919. He introduced a law banning the devadasi Pratha, the practice of offering girls to God, which essentially led to sexual exploitation of girls at the hands of the clergy.
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj
The 1902 notification says: “His Highness is pleased to direct that from the date of this order 50% of the vacancies that may occur shall be fixed by recruits from among the backward classes. In all offices in which the proportion of officers of
the backward classes is at present less than 50% the next appointment shall be given to a member of those classes.” He is said to have built as many as 21 hostels in Kolhapur for various castes and communities, several of which survive and have
contributed immensely to the cause of education among the backward classes. These measures greatly changed the social and administrative profile of the princely state. In 1917, when the Act making primary education free and
compulsory was passed, Kolhapur had only 27 schools with 1,296 students. By the time he died in 1922, Shahu Chhatrapati had helped build 420 schools which admitted more than 22,000 students.
The Maharaja was greatly impressed by the great intellect of young Bhimrao and his revolutionary ideas regarding untouchability. The two met a number of times during 1917-1921 and went over possible ways to abolish the negatives of caste segregation. Together they organised a conference for the betterment of the untouchables during 21-22 March 1920 and the Chhatrapati made Dr. Ambedkar the Chairman as he believed that Dr. Ambedkar was the leader who would work for the amelioration of the segregated segments of the society. He even donated Rs. 2,500 to Dr. Ambedkar when he started his newspaper ‘Mooknayak’ on 31 January 1921, and contributed more later for the same cause.