Sir Chhotu Ram was born on 24 Nov 1881 in Ghari Sampla in Rohtak district. His father’s name was Chaudhary Sukhi Ram, who died in 1905 leaving behind heavy debt.
School and college life
Sir Chhotu Ram joined a primary school in Jan 1891, passing out four years later. He studied for his middle school examination in Jhajjar, 12 miles from his village. He left Jhajjar to be enrolled in the Christian Mission School in Delhi, though it was not easy for the family to raise the funds for his education as he belonged to a poor family.
Sir Chhotu Ram’s stay at the Christian Mission School was eventful. He organized a strike against the incharge of the boarding house for which he was given the nickname “General Roberts.” In 1901 he returned to his village and passed his intermediate examination inn 1903. Then he enrolled in St. Stephens College from where he graduated in 1905. It was his stay in this college that he was drawn to the Arya Samaj. He studied Sanskrit rather than English. He took his law degree in year 1911 from Agra.
He was particularly concerned with the educational and economical backwardness of Jats. He had a deep desire, which later grew into a passion for uplifting Jat class educationally, economically, socially and politically.
In an article published in the college magazine, he reflected on the ways to improve the life in rural areas, to end the isolation of people and curb the monopoly of the village bania, whom he called ‘the incarnation of Shylock in our times.’
In 1905, he worked as the assistant Private Secretary to Raja Rampal Singh of Kalakankar in the United Provinces, but left the job within a month because he resented the Raja’s attitude towards him on one particular occasion. He went to Bharatpur but returned to Kalakankar because he could not get suitable job there. After returning he worked as the editor in English newspaper Hindustan and then proceeded to study law in Agra. He took his degree in 1911.
While teaching in St. John’s High School and reading his law in Agra, Chhotu Ram studied the local conditions of Agra and Meerut division. This Knowledge strengthened his desire to ‘respond to inner call for action in the direction of improving the conditions of the Jats’. In 1911 he became the honorary superintendent of the Jat Boarding House in Agra. In 1912 he set up his legal practice with Chaudhary Lal Chand. Both became involved in recruiting soldiers during the First World War. Owing to their efforts, recruitment figure rose from 6,245 in Jan 1915 to 22,144 in Nov 1918. He was convinced that recruitment to the army was economically beneficial and helped Jats to emphasis their Kshatriyas status.
Sir Chhotu Ram established the Jat Sabha at Rohtak in 1912. He founded educational institutions, including the Jat Arya Vedic Sanskrit School in Rohtak. The school was established on 7 Sept 1913. He encouraged Jat students to join the young Jat Association and study at the Jat School in Rohtak and at St. Stephen’s College and provided support to students for the same.
He advises strongly his friends to wear the sacred thread to establish their identity. He saw it as ‘a sign of Dwija or twice born, a status conceded to a Jat by the orthodox Hindu only avaricious.
Aa a leader
Sir Chhotu Ram worked as the president of the Rohtak District Congress Committee from 1916 to 1920. He resigned on 8 Nov 1920 because the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee identified with the urban and the commercial classes had ignored the rights and claims of the rural population. Other reason behind leaving the Congress was his conviction that a disadvantaged class like Jat could not afford to fight against the Government. He emerged as the sole spokesman of Jat interests. During the war years, and also thereafter, he developed the links between Jat and Arya Samajist leaders, such as Chaudhary Piru Singh, manager of the gurukul in Matindu. Soon he became Piru Singh’s legal advisor. His associations with the gurukul also brought him in contact with Swami Shraddhanand. His close ally in Rohtak was Master Nathu Ram, who worked as a ‘recruiting orator’ and was popular as an Arya Samaj Preacher.
In 1925 Sir Chhotu Ram organized a Mahasabha Jalsa at Pushkar in Rajasthan, momentous event in Jat history. In 1934 he organized a rally of 10,000 Jat peasants in Sikar in Rajasthan to launch an anti-rent campaign. The campaigners clothed the sacred thread, made offerings of ghee and read from the Satyarth Prakash. The rally was a major event and enhanced his stature.
After 1920, Sir Chhotu Ram also tried to create a non-sectarian peasant group consciousness. He was actively associated with the Punjab Zamindar Central Association, established in 1917 to advance the interests of Hindu and Sikh Jat agriculturists. This was the first step towards the formation of a homogeneous rural block based on economics rather than religious interests.
He asserted that the impoverishment of the peasantry was itself the soul cause of indebtedness. He challenged official’s assumptions on the ‘wasteful habits’ of peasants and the ‘overspending’ on marriage, death and festivals. He insisted that land revenue was the principal cause of indebtedness and ruin. He rejected the advocacy of cooperatives as a method to curb moneylenders, arguing instead that market forces would not release the peasantry from debt.
Writer in the leader
Sir Chhotu Ram began writing while in college and continued through out his public life. Most influential writings were ‘Thug Bazaar ki sair’ series of ‘ Bechara Zamindar’ of this series 17 appeared in Jat Gazette. The first series of ‘Bechara Zamindar’ was written in 1935 and the second in 1936.
His relations with British
There was an ambivalent relationship between Sir Chhotu Ram and the British, an aspect ignored by historians who have studied his role within the framework of military loyalist and imperial patronage in Punjab. These historians view the Jats as the mainstay if imperial authority in Punjab and regard Chhotu Ram as the spokesman of the rich and middle peasants. The reality, however, is that he was primarily concerned with the plight of the deprived, the downtrodden and the neglected.
Sir Chhotu Ram was equally vocal in assailing the pre-colonial state for its unjustifiable claims over land. He criticized the British for reinforcing pre-colonial principles of ‘darkness’ by claiming ownership of land. He moved away from the prevalent political rhetoric of Unionist Party (between 1925 and 1933) which was primarily concerned with the greater employment of Zamindars in government services.
He argued that a peasant was called peasant by virtue of his ownership of the land. He also demanded the recognition of women as cultivators. By the 30′s, he was disenchanted with the colonial state. His pronouncements disturbed officials in Punjab who went so far as to accuse him of spreading socialism among peasants. While recognizing the role of the colonial state in the life of the peasant Sir Chhotu Ram exposed the Government’s discriminatory policy towards agriculturists, and their lack of representation in public services.
Sir Chhotu Ram dead in 1945. After his death he was equated with Dayanand Saraswati, their names evoking notions of heroism and serving as reference points for the collective identity of Jats. Muslim Jats too gave him the title of ‘Rehbar-I-Azam’ (a great protector).