Unsung Heroes | History Corner | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Ministry of Culture, Government of India

Unsung Heroes Detail

Unsung Heroes Detail

Mangu Ram Mugowalia

Hoshiarpur, Punjab

June 27, 2022

Mango Ram (1886–1980), a revolutionary, social reformer, and political activist was born on January 14, 1886, in village Mugowal of Hoshiarpur district to Harnam Das and Atri. He was the founder of the Ad Dharam Movement in Punjab. Mangu Ram's mother died when he was only three years old. His father looked after him. Harnam Das, was a leather businessman, relatively a well-off person in the village.

Mango Ram, who was initially taught by a village sadhu, was admitted to a school when he was seven years old. He faced a lot of discrimination in school because he was from a lower caste. He dropped out of school in 1905 due to this humiliation and worked with his father. In 1909, like early emigrants from Punjab, he decided to move to the United States. He reached America by the end of 1909 and worked in lumber mills and agricultural farms.  

In America, Sohan Singh Bhakna and other nationalists established the Ghadar Party, a revolutionary organisation, in 1913. Mangu Ram was quick to join it. The Ghadar Party plotted a pan-Indian revolt against the British. Five ghadarites were chosen as part of a plan to smuggle weapons into India. Mangu Ram, a member of this team, was given the alias 'Nizamuddin.' However, on its way to India, S.S. Mavrick, the ship was intercepted and the plan went into disarray. He spent the next twelve years in the Philippines incognito. Mangu Ram learned in the Philippines that another person of his name had been executed by the British. For British authorities, he was dead now.  

Mangu Ram finally decided to return to India in 1925. He arrived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and travelled through many Indian hinterland cities to reach Punjab. Mangu Ram saw widespread discrimination against oppressed castes during his journey. This journey through India provided him with a better understanding of the scope of caste-based oppression. When he arrived in Punjab, he was fairly convinced that Indian society required immediate transformation. He was no longer alive in the eyes of the British government. This aided Mangu Ram in beginning his political activism. He wrote in his biography that the leaders of the Ghadar Party agreed with his proposition and designated him to officially work for the upliftment of oppressed caste groups.

Mangu Ram began teaching in his village's primary school in late 1925. From 1922 onwards, social reformers attempted to organise the oppressed castes in Jallandhar under the banner of Ad-Dharma. All of these reformers were previously members of the Arya Samaj, which had launched an anti-untouchability campaign within a Brahmanical framework. A delegation of such leaders met with Mangu Ram in 1926 and persuaded him to join the movement. The Ad-Dharm Mandal was founded in 1926, at the same school where Mangu Ram taught. He was elected as the organization's President.

The Ad-Dharm Mandal was infused with radical ghadarite spirit with the arrival of Mangu Ram, and the movement caused a storm in Punjab. The Ad-Dharm Mandal declared complete independence from Hinduism. The movement persuaded nearly 500,000 untouchables to register as Ad-Dharmis in the 1931 census. During the second Roundtable Conference, when Mahatma Gandhi opposed Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as the representative of untouchables, Mangu Ram organised a mass campaign and sent telegrams to the conference, proclaiming Ambedkar as their representative.

Mangu Ram was elected to the Punjab assembly as a member of the Unionist Party in 1946 and again in 1972 from the Indian National Congress in the post-independence era. During both of his terms, Mangu Ram advocated for increased educational and employment opportunities for oppressed classes. In June 1928, Bhagat Singh published an article titled "The Problem of Untouchability" in the Kirti newspaper. In the article, Bhagat Singh praised the Mandal's attempt to organise the untouchables independently.

Mangu Ram died at the age of 94 on April 22, 1980. Throughout his dynamic political career of 65 years, he emerged as a beacon of light and hope for oppressed communities. Despite the fact that the Ad-Dharma movement had died out by the late 1930s and was later merged with the Ravidassias in the 1970s, Professor Raunki Ram argues that Mangu Ram’s contribution was crucial in the formation of Dalit consciousness in Punjab.