A great journalist and writer, orator, historian and social reformer
Prabhodhankar Kesav Sitaram Thackeray was a social activist, visionary and a social reformer who carried forward the reforms of Lokhitvadi Deshmukh, Agarkar and Mahatma Phule. His life was a battle against injustice.
Keshav Thackeray, born in Panvel in Raigad district, idolized Mahatma Phule, the social revolutionary. He attained conceptual clarity after studying the literature of Mahatma Phule. And so, when the staunch orthodox Brahmins persecuted Mahatma Phule in Pune, he came to reside in Pune to continue Phule’s struggle. In this work, he vanquished his opponents by overcoming the obstacles put in his path.
Social reform was the sole goal of his life. He never compromised on any count to achieve his goal. Then be it the horrible practice of shaving off a widow’s hair, child marriage, the domination of Brahmin priests in temples, dictatorship, the issue of untouchability or the practice of dowry, he fought against all these to the very end. Many tried to dissuade him from his struggle and his principles and even attempted to tempt him, but he never paid any attention to them. He used the three tools of oration, writing and actual practice to rid the society of unjust practices, class distinction and untouchability by fighting the orthodox people in society.
He was of the opinion that the root of all ills in the society was in the orthodox Brahminical rituals; that all rituals followed by all classes were established by the power mongers among the Brahmin class to their own benefit; and that these practices were the cause of the injustice against women as well as the majority of the society, who were thus deprived of special benefits. Since he felt that the entire uneducated mass was being crushed, he attacked the root cause, which was the Brahiminical order. He had no bad feelings against the progressive, broad-minded Brahmins. But he was a critic of the commercially oriented priests and monk establishments that looted the society. He portrayed the role of true Brahmins through a play based on the life of Saint Eknath titled Khara Brahman (True Brahmin).
Due to the fame he acquired in his work, he came in association with Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj. Shahu Maharaj was himself a social reformist and a proponent of Mahatma Phule’s struggle for truth. He was therefore a fan of Prabhodhankar. He even tested Prabhodhankar and then declared that he had seen only one person who could not be bought or tempted by a bribe and that was Prabhodhankar.
After shifting to Mumbai, he started his struggle for banning the practice of dowry. He formed an army of volunteers from all castes and forced many fathers of bridegrooms to return the dowry they had taken. At that time, when love before marriage was considered a sin and amoral, he got many love crossed couples married. In today’s environment where love marriages are quite common, it is difficult to imagine the intensity of the issue in those times. In those orthodox times, it was difficult to even talk about social reform, leave alone act on it. Today, though there are laws against taking dowry, the practice has not been eradicated from the society completely. Women continue to be harassed. One can then only imagine the intensity of these issues in those times. This demonstrates Prabhodhankar’s foresight and courage to fight against the tide.
Prabhodhankar was a possessed writer. He was also an excellent journalist and a historical researcher. All his writings were to publicize a specific goal. He promoted modern thoughts through the dailies Saarthi, Lokhitvadi and Prabhodhan. He created a heritage of literature through his books like Kodandacha Tanaatkaar, BhikshukShahiche Banda, Devancha dharma ki dharmachi delve, Gramdhanyacha Itihas, Kumarikanche Shaap, VaktruthvaShastra etc. He wrote biographies on Samarth Ramdas, Saint Gadge Maharaj, Rango Bapuji, Pandita Ramabai and an autobiography Mazhee Jeevan Gatha (My Life Story). His Khara Brahman (true Brahmin) and Taaklele Por (the abandoned child) were revolutionary plays. Brahmins from Pune appealed to the Court to ban the show of the play Khara Brahman, but their plea was rejected and the court ruled in favour of Prabhodhankar.
The struggle for United Maharashtra was the most important fight of his life. He was quite aged at this time. Even then, he provided leadership to the struggle and even suffered imprisonment. His only peers who could match his efforts were Acharya Atre and Comrade Dange. He was able to unite people and parties with different ideologies to fight for United Maharashtra. He was also an able organizer.
In hindsight, it would seem that the seeds of the Shiv Sena party were sown by Prabhodhankar’s personality and thoughts. His ideologies continue to be nurtured by the next generations.