Jagjivan Ram was born to a Dalit family on 5 April 1908 in Chandwa, Bihar. Despite facing caste discrimination, he completed the Inter Science Examination from Banaras Hindu University, and then graduated (B. Sc.) from the University of Calcutta.
Role in India’s Independence Movement:
While studying in Calcutta he organized a huge mazdoor (workers) rally attended by 50,000 people, and thus caught the attention of leaders like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In 1931, he became a member of the Indian National Congress. In 1934, he founded the Akhil Bhartiya Ravidas Mahasabha in Calcutta, Khetihar Mazdoor Sabha for agricultural labour and the All India Depressed Classes League for social reform. In the subsequent years, his fight for independence and social reform merged into greater political participation. He was jailed twice for his involvement in the Quit India Movement against the British.
Contributions to Constitution Making:
He advocated for social justice to be guaranteed in the Constitution. It was due to his request to Mahatma Gandhi suggesting that reserved constituencies in proportion to the Dalit population be made, that clauses on reservation in elected bodies and government services were included in the Constitution.
Jagjivan Ram served as a Member of the Central Legislature for over 30 years consecutively (starting from the First General Election, till his death) and holds the record of being the longest serving Minister in the Government of India. He was the Minister of Labour (1946-52 and 1966-67) where he introduced laws for labour welfare; Communications (1952-56) ) where he nationalised private airlines and spread the postal services to the most rural parts of India; Railways (1956-62) where he modernised railways, took measures to ensure railway employees’ welfare, and ensured that the Brahmaputra bridge (considered by many as an engineering marvel) was built; Transport and Communications (1962-63; Food and Agriculture where he established the Public Distribution System, and made India self-sufficient in food (1967-70); Defence (1970-74 and 1977-79) where he was integral in dealing with the East Pakistan crisis; and Agriculture and Irrigation (1974-77). He also became the Deputy Prime Minister (1977-78) and headed the Defence Ministry then.
Jagjivan Ram died on 6 July 1986 while still a sitting member of the Lok Sabha – his eighth term. The place of his cremation is now a memorial, Samta Sthal, and his birth anniversary is celebrated as Samta Divas, or Equality Day.