Rajarshi Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was the great king (1894–1922) of the princely state of Kolhapur of Maharashtra. Chh. Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj realized the importance of education for all. At present, the Government of India and state governments have adopted the same strategy of providing free primary education to all. But even now the objective has not been achieved. Political, social changes have in turn changed the nature of education and training. However, there are clear signals about the insufficient educational advancement in the nation. His Highness, the late Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, in spite of being a Prince of a small principality in the Deccan, was a great radical social reformer, an administrator of unequaled caliber and a champion of the cause of the backward and the downtrodden masses in Maharashtra. From 2nd April 1894 when he assumed power in the governance of the Kolhapur state to 1922, a period of 28 years, Rajarshi Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj ignited the Indian social fabric with his constructive work, views and his philosophy of the protection of the weak.
The idea of free education
Shahu Maharaj wanted to promote the Depressed Classes in the education sector, and the administrative process of his state. Hence, he started the idea of free education (Bagade, 1982). Through education, he wanted to include the lower caste community in the administration.
In his period, the untouchables were not aware of the long-term benefit of education. Hence, Chh. Shahu decided to provide education as compulsory merit good to them all. He was very familiar with the concentrated power of the forward communities in administration and bureaucracy. So he realised it was essential to spread knowledge in all society before transferring power to the lower castes. Hence he made education compulsory for all. He advised that free and compulsory primary education is the only invigorating tonic that will enable the lower classes to throw off the burdens of the past (Kumbhar, 1992).
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj believed that no country could make progress without education. The best politicians, great warriors are not born in an illiterate country (Keer, 1976). So it is essential to give free and compulsory education to the people. He identified the importance of education to the masses, and the need to make it free and compulsory. Education is essential for survival and national progress: therefore, to compel parents to send their children to school, Chh. Shahu Maharaj issued a declaration that it is the responsibility of all parents to send their children to school when they attain schooling age. If they delayed it, Mamledar used to fine each parent Rs.1 per month. Chh. Shahu Maharaj instituted scholarship programs for students from the backward sections of society, since 1911. To bear the educational expenditure, he taxed officers, doctors, and businessmen whose incomes were more than Rs. 100. They used to pay 2% of their incomes for the educational cess.
History doesn’t focus on the efforts undertaken by Chh. Shahu Maharaj for women’s’ education, but he had made significant endeavours for providing education to women, especially to those from backward communities. On 3rd March 1913, he announced Radhabai Akkasaheb Maharaj Scholarships and Shri Nandkuvar Maharani, Bhavnagar, Scholarships for lady students in Kolhapur state. As Vakil and Natarajan, 1966, recorded in their writings, the backward community girls of the time hesitated in the taking up education in schools and colleges. Hence, to solve this problem Maharaj had appointed the lady servants belonging to backward communities to assure lady students. Chh. Shahu Maharaj also made efforts to provide English language education to girl students. From 1911 to 1914, a total of 8369 girls had received education through this system.
Education for Equality
Chh. Shahu Maharaj knew that without providing education to all equality in society wasn’t possible. Traditional society had many superstitions, ideas, and beliefs which adversely affected the principle of equality in society. According to Shinde (1995), Chh. Shahu thought that education is a weapon that is very useful in the war of life. He also mentioned that in this age the struggle to survive was increasing and only the educated will survive. In his opinion,without proper nutrition, man becomes weak and without knowledge, man becomes backward (Latthe, 1924; 4. Kavalekar, 1979). Hence, education is the most important tool for solving many problems.
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was visionary and really democratic in nature and he had the ambition to bring about social change through the education. He realized the importance of education in social change, empowerment of the backward, empowerment of women and socially disadvantaged people. The Maharaja was also aware of the various types of education and training, he focused his efforts on not only conventional education but also undertook efforts for industrial education, medical education, agricultural education. Most importantly, he realized the concept of free and compulsory education for all in that era. He not only realized that, but also worked on a comprehensive program of promoting free and compulsory education for social change.
The author assumes that the importance of these strategies is not over, they still have relevance and need in the present scenario. The Maharaj had worked on free and compulsory primary education for all, now there is a need for free and compulsory skill education for all. Skill education may be either in agriculture, technical education, trade education, skill-oriented education in the services sector, industrial education. If we adopt the spirit of the Maharaja’s vision it will definitely lead to change in Indian society through inclusive education.
Ram Gaikwad is a student of Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.