Amritlal Vithaldas Thakkar, fondly known as Thakkar Bapa, was born on 29 November 1869 in Basani area of Bhavanagar (Saurashtra), Gujarat. He joined the Anglo-Vernacular School and then the Alfred High School at Bhavnagar. He was awarded the Jashvantsinhji Scholarship. Thakkar joined the Engineering College, Poona (1887), and completed his L.C.E. (Licentiate of Civil Engineering) in 1890.
Thakkar served in various capacities as an engineer in the State of Kathaiwad (1890-1900). In 1900 he went to East Africa to serve the Uganda Railways for three years. After his return from East Africa, he worked as a Chief Engineer in various states. During this time, he was involved in social activities. He started a school for the children of the Kurla sweepers with the help of Ramaji Shinde of the Depressed Classes Mission. He also implemented a scheme for making sweepers debt-free.
He joined the Servants of India Society in 1914 and soon after he carried out famine relief work. Gokhale introduced Thakkar to Mahatma Gandhiji in Bombay around this time. Between 1915 and 1916, he organised co-operative societies for sweepers in Bombay, opened a school for the children of the labourers in Ahmedabad and organised famine-relief work in Kutch. In 1918, Thakkar played an important role in the presentation of the bill on compulsory primary education in the Bombay legislative council.
At Gandhiji’s request, Thakkar accepted the General Secretaryship of the Harijan Sevak Sangh which was established in 1932. He worked for the cause of Harijans (1934-1937) and various committees appointed by the Governments of Central Provinces and Berar, Orissa, Bihar, Bombay, etc., for the welfare for the aboriginal tribes and backward classes (1938-1942).
In 1944, he organised the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Fund and was appointed as the Secretary of the Fund. Subsequently he served as the Secretary of the Trust as well. In the same year, he founded the Gond Sevak Sangh (now known as ‘Vanavasi Seva Mandal’) in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh.
Role in India’s Independence Movement:
He was arrested in Mehmedabad (now known as Mahemdavad), a town near Ahmedabad while supervising the volunteers who participated in the picketing of liquor shops. He played a singular role in the negotiations which led to the Poona Pact during Mahatma Gandhi's fast unto death in 1932.
Contribution to Constitution Making:
He was elected to the Constituent Assembly. He made significant constributions to debates on minority rights including suggestions on the prohibition on the consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs, funding and inclusion of backward castes amongst Hindus and Muslims.
He was appointed Vice-President of the Adimjati Mandal, Ranchi with Dr. Rajendra Prasad as its President in 1946.
He was at Noakhali and other districts of East Bengal with Gandhiji among the victims of communal riots (October 1946 to March 1947). He was a trustee and a member of the Executive Committee, Gandhi National Memorial Fund.
On 29 November 1949, on completion of his 80th year, he was presented with a Commemoration Volume at a public meeting held in Delhi, over which Sardar Patel presided.
He passed away on 19 January 1951 at the age of 81.
In 1969, India Post released a stamp in his honour.
He authored the book ‘Tribes of India’ that was published in 1950.
- Chairman, Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas (other than Assam) Sub- Committee
- Member, North East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas Sub- Committee
Thakkar's contribution to the debates largely revolved around the inclusion of and safeguards for backward classes. He proposed to move an amendment seeking the inclusion of backward castes among Hindus as well as Muslims in Article 37 (Draft Constitution of India 1948) for promotion of their educational and economic interests. During the debates, he argued that if the last census which was adopted, the minorities would not get half of their due representation.
According to Thakkar, the best way to serve the economically poor provinces would be by providing them enough funds from the Centre.
In the debate surrounding Directive Principles of State Policy, Thakkar intervened and provided perspectives of adivasis on the prohibition on the consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health.
1. “Thakkar Bapa” is a biography written by Viyogi Hari