Born in 1857, Deewan Daya Ram Gidumal was among those dedicated men and women who became an icon of service to their people. During the days of the British Raj, Gidumal was known to be the ‘godfather’ of Sindhi Hindus.
A primary student in the days when the official language of Sindh was Persian, and later having had the opportunity to study in an English school since the age of 10, Daya Ram began planning on improving the education facilities for the people of Sindh. His first idea was to build a higher education institute.
For this, he took his brother Mitha Ram and his friend Jethmal, both of them advocates, on board. Together, they laid the foundation of the famous D.J. Science college in Karachi. They expanded their efforts and built a college in Hyderabad as well – the National College. Daya Ram was not only good at Persian, but was also a master at Gurmukhi and Arabic. He was a judge by profession. His decision-making was appreciated throughout the law community.
An impartial judge
Pir Ali Muhammad Shah Rashidi writes in his book Uhay Ddeenh Uhay Sheenh on page 714:
"Daya Ram was transferred from Ahmedabad to Shikarpur in 1889. During his service as a judge there, a case was presented in his court wherein a Hindu business owner, namely Seth Meval Das, had allegedly raped a poor woman. Since it was the time of the British rule, the seth was arrested immediately. When the Hindu community of Shikarpur came to know that the case had gone to their Hindu brother judge’s court, they hoped the seth would not be punished in order to save the Hindu community from being disgraced. Daya Ram gave the criminal the maximum: seven years of imprisonment. A big hue and cry followed."
Sindh has been known for its religious and mystic saints. There are others who claim to be saints, but are merely frauds fooling the innocent masses. They have been responsible for a number of cases in which their followers, on orders of the unsaintly ones, have caused grievous harm to themselves or their loved ones.
One such case was admitted for proceedings into Daya Ram’s court. Not even for a minute did Daya Ram consider the risks involved in a Hindu judge passing the legal sentence in this case.
Rashidi writes about the case:
"A man committed a murder and claimed it was revealed unto him through God’s word that he should kill the man, and so he did. The case, as soon as its proceedings began in Daya Ram’s court, caused a lot of hue and cry. Daya Ram did not have any regard for the rant and rave. He only understood the law. In his sentence, he wrote that if this man is let loose, who knows how many others he will murder in the name of holy revelation. There are thousands of such people across Sindh and they may also start killing thousands only because they believe God has told them to do so. The man was given life imprisonment. God’s revelations to kill people suddenly ceased in the region."
Hindu-Muslim communal feuds over property, especially those related to lands on which places of worship were built, were a common thing even back then. Mostly, such cases were dragged by the benches or the judges.
The judges, hearing these cases, would often hesitate in making any decisions. If a judge was Hindu, how could he favour the Muslims? And vice versa.
Daya Ram would not care about such affiliations. Once, there was a land dispute case in Ahmedabad over a piece of land reserved for a mosque, that had been pending decision for almost a decade. According to Ali Muhammad Rashidi, when Daya Ram began heading the proceedings of this case, in a matter of days, he decided it in favour of the Muslims.
The marriage that caused an outrage
Daya Ram retired from his services in 1911. Afterwards, he moved to Bombay. He became a homeopath and started treating people for free. He also established an ashram in Bombay, where children of the elite would learn to serve the poor.
The ashram existed for many years. All of the ashram students would address Daya Ram as Pita Jee (meaning father).
Suddenly, one day, Daya Ram Gidumal announced that he was closing down the place. Later, he got married to a young student from his ashram. Many opposed his acts of shutting the ashram and marrying a girl younger than him. Op-eds would appear against him in the newspapers. On occasions, he was stoned and injured. He never reacted.
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Deewan Singh Maftoon writes in his book Naaqaabil-e-Faraamosh on pages 280, 281 and 289:
"Deewan sahib (Daya Ram) went to Bandra, which was only a few miles away from Bombay. He rented a kothi (a house) near the shore. He then returned to Bombay to his ashram. He told his students to gather around and then told them that the ashram will close that very day.
"All girls and boys went home. Deewan sahib locked the ashram. He then took the bride-to-be to a gurdwara and asked the granthi to perform the marriage rites. The granthi married the 17-year-old girl and the 70-something man with a long, white beard. They both then went to the kothi in Bandra."
Daya Ram was a famous man in India. He had also presided the Indian Social Conference for many years. Editorials and articles published against his marriage carried titles such as A Father Marries a Daughter, The Height of Selfishness, The Immoral President of Social Conference, The Disgraceful Act of Daya Ram Gidumal etc.
The hatred was not limited to the written word. Once, when he had gone to Hyderabad, his birthplace, for the registry of his ancestral property, people threw bricks and stones at him as he crossed the market. People cursed him and cried out about how he had disgraced Hyderabad in the world.
Virumal Jee was an old friend of Daya Ram’s. He had spent more than two decades with him working for the welfare of the people of Sindh. At the time of the outrage, he was the editor of Daily Sindhi, which used to be published from Sukkur, Sindh. He was shocked when he heard of this marriage and immediately wrote to Daya Ram:
"I am reading in the newspapers and hearing it from people as well that you have married a young girl merely 17-18 years old. You’re a renowned social leader and you preside the Social Conference. How can you commit such a sin? If it is true, please write back to me and confirm. Because, in that case, being a public worker and a journalist, I must write against your monstrosity."
Daya Ram sent Virumal Jee a postcard that read:
"I’ve done my duty. You do yours."
Afterwards, Virumal, who also headed the Hindu Maha Sabha in Sindh, published a number of articles against Daya Ram.
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Months later, Daya Ram’s wife gave birth to a girl. Daya Ram rarely interacted with the world after this marriage. He kept on living with his wife and daughter in the quarter by the seashore at Bandra. Ten years passed. Nobody came to know what exactly had happened.
That year, Daya Ram’s wife got ill. When, after a few months, all hope of saving her life was lost, her parents came to Bombay to visit their daughter. They spent a number of days with their daughter and her family. One afternoon, the ailing young wife of the old man spoke her heart out to her mother:
"Mother, I have a few more days in this world now. There is a secret that I wish to share with you so that I may not depart from here carrying its burden. Deewan sahib married me in order to save me from being disgraced. I was pregnant with the child of another man who rejected me soon after knowing that I was with his child. No one else was ready to accept me after that. Deewan sahib sacrificed everything for me. In reality, we have lived all these years as a father and daughter, just as it was before our marriage. It is only for the world that I am his wife."
Soon after, she died. The mother shared the secret with her husband, who shared it with friends. Sometime later, the secret was no more a secret. One Mr Virumal Beghraj shared it with the editor of a newspaper, Riyasat. Many in Bombay later confirmed the credibility of the news.
Deewan sahib withstood severe psychological pain and social pressure in order to save a young girl from shame. He changed his religion and committed social suicide. Had his daughter-wife not shared the secret, the world would never have known the greatness of the man that was Deewan Daya Ram Gidumal.
Translated by Ayaz Laghari from the original in Urdu here.