R.B.More —Stressing the importance of Anti-Caste Work within Communist movements
by Shaheen Abulla
R.B. More (pronounced Mor-eh)
“Among the few people whose efforts led me to enter political life, one is R B More!” Champion of Dalit cause, B.R. Ambedkar declared in a public meeting in Mumbai, pointing to a lean man in the crowd (1). The words of Ambedkar reflect the significance of R.B. More in the early half of the twentieth century. The revolutionary leader who later considered himself a “Dalit Communist” began his activism well before he was a teenager.
More was the first person to publicly call Ambedkar by the appellation of “Babasaheb” which became highly popular.
More stands out as one of the rare Indian reformists who tried to introduce Dalit questions in leftist manifestations. The Communists considered the anti-caste movement as a force that divided “class unity”. Despite this, More remained a communist for four decades, but kept strong ties with Ambedkar and anti-caste movements.
R.B. More was born on 10 June 1902 at Dasgaon, Taluka Mahad, Raigad district in Maharashtra. Dasgaon village was a place of retirement for the untouchable Mahar military personnel, who played an important role in reforming Mahar community. More writes about it in his memoir. It was this section of the retired “untouchable” military personnel who took initiative to make education inclusive. Their intervention helped More go to school. But it was no easy journey.
At the age of eleven, during a scholarship examination, he was made to sit outside the hall and the question paper was tossed to him from a distance.
More writes, “when I had finished writing my paper, I pushed it forward. It was picked up from there and taken away. All this was carried out with the utmost care to avoid touching me at any point”.
Eventually, More won the scholarship out of 200 students who attended the examination.
His father Babaji More, an agricultural labourer, died in the year 1915. Following his demise, More and his mother shifted with his maternal uncle to Ladvali in Mahad.
More writes about Mahad in his memoir that “the real agitation against untouchability began in Mahad under the leadership of Ambedkar”(2).
In Mahad, when More tried to join the English school, the schoolmaster informed him that the Brahmin owner of the school building, threaten to evict the school if a Mahar boy was admitted.
More wrote a letter to the British and the same was published in the newspapers. It got the attention of the colonial state and gave him admission to the school.
More recalls that he had spent an inconsiderable amount of time in a restaurant that served water for the “untouchables”. “The importance that Mahad has assumed in the movement for the liberation or freedom of the untouchables can be traced back to that restaurant,” writes More.
Mahad Revolt of 1927
Untouchability rules dictate that Dalits can’t use public amenities like wells and reservoirs because oppressor castes believe that they touch of a Dalit can pollute the whole water source. In 1923, the Mumbai legislative council passed a resolution opening up all public lakes, wells and other public places to Dalits. More organised Dalits in his village to drink water from the Crawford public lake in 1926. This led to the 1927 Mahad Satyagraha which became a landmark moment in modern Indian history and marked the beginning of the politically assertive Dalit movement.
The Mahad convention of 1927 under Ambedkar’s leadership witnessed thousands of Dalits for the first time drinking water from the Chavdar lake that for centuries had been set aside only for oppressor castes. More was one of the main organizers of the Satyagraha.
There was widespread violence against Dalits for “polluting the water”. More formed an organisation of Dalit youth in Mumbai and named it the “Dr Ambedkar Seva Dal”(3). Dr Ambedkar changed its name to “Samata Sainik Dal” or The Equality Army.
More began the study of Marxism by reading the then banned classics like the Communist Manifesto and other Marxist literature. In 1930, he joined the Communist party. Ambedkar had disagreements with him on this but respected his decision. More was introduced to trade unions in Mumbai. He was one of the founder-members of the famous Girni Kamgar Union of Bombay Textile Workers. He also initiated the peasant movement by forming Maharashtra Kisan Sabha in 1945.
Ambedkar offered More an opportunity to contest the 1937 elections as a part of his Independent Labour Party. When Ambedkar was the Labour Member in the viceroy’s council, he used his influence to add More as a delegate for the 27th session of the International Labour Conference in 1945 in Paris.
More raised the issue of Dalit exclusion at the conference. This is possibly the first instance of highlighting the issue of caste discrimination at the International Labour Conference.
It has been said that More’s support for the Ambedkar-led anti-caste movement became an obstacle for him to rise in ranks in the communist party.
More was a powerful writer and journalist. More was one of the founding members of Ambedkar’s second newspaper, Bahishkrit Bharat. He was also involved with Janata, and an editor of the Left-identified newspaper, Aavhan, and the CPI(M) publication, Jivan Marg.
More only penned down his life till the year 1927 in his memoir. His son, Satyendra More wrote the biographical part that covers the period from late 1927 till More’s death. It was Subodh More, More’s grandson, who finally published it.
The autobiography — biography of R B More was published in the Marathi language in 2003 under the title Dalit Va Communist Chalvalicha Sashakta Duva: Comrade R.B. More [A Powerful Link Between Dalit and Communist Movement: Comrade R.B. More]4. English translation of the book; The Memoirs of a Dalit Communist: The Many Worlds of R.B. More, was published in 2019.
He died on 11 May 1927 at Goregaon, Bombay at the age of 70.
Shaheen Abdulla is a freelance Multimedia journalist and independent researcher.
1 Atmashodh by Datta Kelkar.