Special on Birth Centenary
Very few people are fortunate enough to become a legend in their own life time. The late Ramakant Keshav alias Balasaheb Deshpande, founder of Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, was a top ranker amongst such legendary personalities in modern India. His spiritual bend of mind brought him to the tribal-dominated areas of Jashpur in erstwhile CP & Berar where he devoted his life to ameliorate the material and spiritual state of these hapless tribal people whom he considered as his ‘blood relations’.
Born in a traditional Brahmin family on December 26, 1913 at Amaravati in Vidarbha, Balasaheb inherited the spiritual tradition of his father and grandfather. His mother Laxmibai came from Deoras family. Thus he was related to Balasaheb Deoras, the third Sarsanghchalak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Balasaheb came in contact with the electrifying personality of RSS founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar during his teenage. He became a swayamsevak of RSS and received indelible impressions in patriotism, discipline and Hindutva.
He graduated from Nagpur’s famous Hislop College and after a brief span in legal profession opted for government job in the rationing department. He came in contact with late M S Golwalkar alias Shri Guruji, who succeeded Dr Hedgewar as RSS Chief. Soon he found himself at the same wavelength with Shri Guruji and shared his views with him on many issues of national and social life. Inspired by the examples of Dr Hedgewar and Shri Guruji, Balasaheb too decided to dedicate his life to the service of the society. He participated in the 1942 ‘Quit India Movement’ and was even sentenced to death by a court in Ramtek. However, he was saved by the will of the Providence.
After independence Balasaheb was appointed by the then Ravi Shankar Shukla Government to work in tribal dominated Jashpur area as ‘Regional Officer’ of the ‘Tribal Development Scheme’. This particular area had gone into the iron grip of the Christian missionaries who had converted the simple tribal people to their religion by using all means fair and foul. Their conversion to Christianity had alienated them from the cultural and national moorings. It was a challenge for Balasaheb to work there and bring them back into the national mainstream which he accepted galdly.
The entire education system was controlled by the Christian missionaries then in Jashpur area. No other agency was allowed to work there without the permission of the missionaries. Balasaheb insisted upon opening 100 government schools in just one go in the tribal areas to counter the missionaries and he did so overruling all objections and difficulties. Even the late Thakkar Bappa viewed it as the most difficult task and promised to visit the area if this was accomplished.
Balasaheb took up this daunting challenge and succeeded in establishing 100 government schools in Jashpur area in 1948. Surprised at this achievement, Thakkar Bappa visited Jashpur as promised and praised Balasaheb and his efforts. As a token of appreciation he gave him Rs 251/- as prize for his accomplishment. He showered praises on him in his article in the magazine of Adim Jaati Sevak Sangh wherein he wrote: “Shri Balasaheb Deshpande is an able and competent activist in eastern India”.
But the goverenment machinery was not in a mood to give free hand to Balasaheb in his mission in Jashpur. So he decided to quit the government job. He came to Nagpur to consult Shri Guruji who advised him to give up the government job and start an independent mission for the welfare of the tribal brethrens. Balasaheb did accordingly and entered into legal profession in Jashpur.
The Christian missionaries had been working in India since 1793 with a mission to convert the people here to Christianity. They were acting as agents of imperialism and to strengthen the British empire. The tribal population living in remote and inaccessible areas of our country was the easy target for their conversion activities. The British government too gave free hand to these missionaries. These missionaries concentrated in Bastar, Chhota Nagpur, Assam and North-eastern areas and other tribal areas of the country. Even after independence their activities continued unabated under the protection of so-called ‘secular’ government of Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru. Balasaheb vowed to change this situation and with a firm resolve he resigned from government job and started the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in 1951. He was assisted by Shri Morubhau Ketkar, a senior Pracharak of RSS on the instructions of Shri Guruji.
The Jashpur principality and its royal family always supported the activities of Kalyan Ashram. Late Maharaja Vijaybhushan Singh Deo was very happy to see the progress of its activities. His son Dilip Singh Judeo also helped in his mission. The work was two-fold: To bring back those tribals who were converted to Christianity by fraud, allurement or some other means and to inculcate in them a strong sense of belonging to the Indian culture and religion.
Another most commendable mission that was accomplished during his time was the work of Niyogi Commission. The Ravi Shankar Shukla Government appointed a commission under Justice Bhavani Shankar Niyogi of Nagpur High Court to probe into the activities of Christian missions in Bastar. This step was taken after the Chief Minister was shown black flags in Jashpur by the converted tribals. Naturally, the Catholics took objection to this step and challenged it in the High Court. But the High Court rejected their plea and allowed the Commission to continue with its work. The missionaries approached Pt Nehru but he too declined their request stating that he was bound by the Constitution and could not do anything in this regard. The Niyogi Commission exposed the anti-national character of these Christian missions and their missionaries. This report became the bedrock of Kalyan Ashram’s activities.
Balasaheb accepted the challenge of the tribal areas and with his undaunted courage, untiring zeal and uncompromising commitment plunged into the mission of his life. Education was his basic instrument to reach to the tribal people and once he made a place for himself, he served them treating them as his ‘god’. He gave them love and affection which they wanted very much and in turn realised the highest satisfaction of his life- both mundane and spiritual.
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram is a mission of national renaissance. It has been the most difficult and daunting task. Balasaheb pioneered this seemingly difficult mission and achieved success. He stood there amongst all adversities and unfriendly atmosphere like the legendary Abhimanyu in the Chakravyuha and demolished the strongholds of Christian missionaries and their anti-national activities. Like Dadhichi, Balasaheb too dedicated his all to the cause he held dear to his heart and soul- the cause of bringing the neglected, oppressed and exploited tribal brethren to the national mainstream with love, affection and service. Today Kalyan Ashram owes its expansion to the initial efforts of Balasaheb Deshpande, the embodiment of selfless service, dedication, love, affection and oneness for the tribal brethren. The nation is celebrating his birth centenary to pay homage to this great son of Mother Bharat who became a legend in his own life time.