Life & Legacy of a Social Reformist: Dr. Baba Adhav

Dr. Babasaheb Pandurang Adhav (born 1 June 1930, Pune, Maharastra, India) fondly known as Baba is an Indian social activist and trade unionist well know for his work in creating social reforms for unorganized and underprivileged daily wage workers. These include head loaders, waste-pickers, street vendors, and other weaker denominations in Maharashtra and parts of India. Taking his ideological inspirations from Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Mahatma Gandhi, he continues his work in getting India’s unprotected laborers social security, legal protection, medical insurance, credit and most importantly, life of Dignity.

Some of his key social reforms include establishing unorganized workers’ trade union the Hamal Panchayat, and introducing minimum wages for head loaders and laborers, the creation and implementation of Maharashtra Mathadi Hamal And Other Manual Workers Act and instigating the Ek Gaav, Ek Panavtha (translation One village, one pond) movement to ensure India's Dalits/untouchables get access to water in rural Maharashtra. Baba has played a key role in pursuing the state authorities to enact progressive legislation like the Slum Rehabilitation ActDam, and Project-Affected Rehabilitation Act, and the Devdasi Rehabilitation Act.

Early Life

Baba was born in Pune, Maharashtra, on June 1st, 1930. His father Pandurang, had an established lentil's distribution business. His father's business got folded in the great economic depression of 1930. Subsequently, his father passed away when Baba was 3 months old. Baba and his 4 siblings (1 elder brother and 3 sisters) were raised by their mother Babutai Pandurang Adhav (Nee Zende). They were brought up in their mother’s maternal home in Nana Peth, Pune, supported by her brother Bapusaheb Zende.

Baba took primary school education with Pune municipal corporation’s public school and higher education in Shivaji Maratha School, Pune. In 1952 he graduated from Tarachand Ramnath Ayurveda college and started his medical practice in his Nana Peth home in Pune.

As a young man, Baba was inspired by the thoughts of Bhausaheb Ranade, S. M. JoshiN. G. Gore, and Rammanohar Lohia. Their socialist doctrines made him a secular forward thinker. From his formative years in Rashtra Seva Dal, he worked with other socialist leaders including Bhai Vaidya, Pannalal Surana, Bapu Kaldate who became his close friends and allies throughout his career. Baba shared a special bond with veteran socialist thinker-leader Bhai Vaidya and Bhai remained his closest friend and ally till Bhai passed away in 2018.

Baba married Sheela Garud in 1966. Her entire career Sheela worked as a nurse and raised their two sons Aseem and Ambar.

During the 1952 famine in Maharashtra, Baba was approached by few Hamals/head loaders to lead their union in a Satyagraha against high prices and food rationing. He served time in prison for 3 weeks and since began his struggle to grant the unorganized sector equal opportunity for work and a voice in society.[1]

Political Career - 1963-1971

In 1963, Baba was elected as a Municipal Councilor (corporator) of Bhavani Peth, Pune constituency. The municipal election was fought under a front Nagarik Sanghatana (translation: Citizens Forum). As an elected member he worked for the underprivileged and resolved many issues for slum dwellers and their rehabilitation.

In 1968, he got re-elected as Municipal Councilor (corporator) and continued his work towards reformation and upliftment for the socially discriminated. He had contested the Mayoral election as well but got defeated. However, he left an everlasting mark as Municipal Councilor by setting high standards as an elected representative of the opposition party.

In 1967 and 1971, Baba a member of the United Socialist Party (lead by S. M. Joshi), contested for the Member of Parliament. He was defeated by his Congress Party opponent both the times. Subsequently, he stepped back from his political career and has focused his work on creating social reforms for the unorganized sector.

The formation of Hamal Panchaya

The Hamal Panchayat in Maharashtra’s first unorganized workers’ trade union. The Hamals or load carriers form a significant group of the urban unorganized workers engaged in service in India. In the early 1950s, the Hamals had no legal protection and thus were exploited by merchants. It was very difficult to organize unorganized workers because of the absence of clear employer-employee relations, the scattered nature of workplaces, poor resource base of workers, and neglect by the state. In 1955, Baba began his efforts to organize the Hamals, to form the first unorganized labor union – Hamal Panchayat. [2] In 1956, Baba and a group of Hamals on their first Satyagraha demanded minimum wages along with provident fund and gratuity that they deserved for their work. The state government finally recognized the Hamal Panchayat as a trade union and minimum wages were fixed. It took almost 10 years for the panchayat to be recognized as a trade union. The panchayat's most famous slogan in its initial years was 'I own my back.' Members clearly preferred self-employment and contractual labor, rather than the trader's wage-workers.[3]

Since its formation, Baba along with the Hamals and other prominent social workers in Pune, have managed to establish, free secondary schools, medical clinics, and subsidized housing as well as other socio-economic needs. Following the successful formation of the Hamal Panchayat, Baba along with other prominent social activists formed the Pathari Panchayat, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat, Bandhkam Kamgar Panchayat, and Rickshaw Panchayat.

The implementation of the Maharashtra Mathadi, Hamal and Other Manual Workers Act

Following the formation of the Hamal Panchayat, one of the most significant achievements during the initial era was the development and implementation of the Maharashtra Mathadi, Hamal and Other Manual Workers Act. The Mathadi Act provides the unorganized workers with economic and social security. The Hamals could not get protection under existing labor laws due to the lack of a definite pattern of employer-employee relations in their occupation. Baba instigated the creation of a separate law known as the Mathadi Act which provided the Hamals ‘levy’ or economic security, regularization and controlling the labor market, and the establishment of district-level boards (Mathadi Mandals). The point of the act makes traders take responsibility for the workers’ socio-economic welfare rather than getting exploited. In 1981, Baba became the chairman of the Mathadi Mandals and since has been creating socio-economic welfare regulation to support many minorities including, Rickshaw drivers, woman workers, and many others.[4]


1930 - Baba Adhav born in Pune

1942 - Became an active member of Rashtra Seva Dal and started participating in various social activities inspired by Sane GurujiS. M. Joshi: supporting, hiding freedom fighters, secretly printing and distributing Quit India Movement handbills and help other senior Seva Dal activists in India's home stretch of the independence struggle.

1948 - Through Rashtra Seva Dal, Baba supported Sane Guruji in his fight to allow Dalits access to Vithoba Temple in Pandharpur, Maharashtra. Also, he participated in peacekeeping and protecting Brahmins who were targeted and attacked in riots after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.

1952 - Goes to jail for the first time protesting high food prices and continued working for Nagarik Sahakari Bhandar (subsidized food rations) started by his elder brother Ramchandra Adhav, for people affected with a severe famine.

1953 - Starts medical clinic in Pune’s Nana Peth.

1955 - Organizes Hamals and forms Hamal Panchayat, the organization of head loaders is still active. This union helped organize and unionize head loaders for the fight against their exploitation by their employers and get them appropriate wages for their work along with provident fund and gratuity that they deserved. Along with financial security, this org brought social respect for their work and credit to these poor exploited Hamals/head loaders.

1955- Participation in Goa Freedom struggle as a Doctor.

1956 - Participation in Samyukta Maharashtra movement (Unify Maharashtra)

1956 - Hamals/head loaders are successful with their first-ever strike for minimum wage and decent working conditions.

1959 - An organized movement to eradicate slums and rehabilitate slum dwellers.

1960 - Starts Maharashtra Arogya Mandal's hospital with Dr. Dada Gujar, Dr. Sundhu Ketkar, Dr. Martand Patil, and Dr. Gopal Shaha with a primary objective of providing affordable medical service to the poor rural population. And quits his private personal medical practice.

1962 - Baba forms a group to fight for the rehabilitation of people, farmers displaced due to the construction of Dams. Forms, Maharashtra Rajya Dharan, and Prakalpa Grasta Shetkari Punarvasan Parishad, (the union representing Dam Oustees: farmers and people who lost their lands, houses, livelihood under construction of large dams and raising water levels as an effect.[5]). In one of the Satyagrah's for Kukadi dam project, he lost eyesight in his one eye due to police brutality. "Rehabilitation first before construction of Dams Movement" was established and the Dam and Project-Affected Rehabilitation Act was enacted by the Maharashtra state government.

1966 - Baba marries Sheelatai, quits his personal medical practice to become a full-time social activist

1966 - Establishes Credit Union for Hamals and helps them get much required credit/loans which other banks denied, and personal lenders exploited. Today this credit union is a nationalized bank and operates for unprotected labors to provide them much required credit accessible.

1968 - Initiates project to build a community center for Hamals and other laborers. In 1977 Hamal Bhavan, a three-storied community center was constructed )funded by Hamal Panchayat).

1969 - Made Maharashtra government pass the first social security legislation for unorganized labor – Maharashtra Mathadi, Hamal, and Other Manual Workers Act. It has become the rallying point for dozens of other unorganized labor movements seeking social security legislation

1970 - Under Baba and Bhai Vaidya's guidance, Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal was established. This organization worked to provide a status of equality and justice to Muslim women, fight against Muslim fundamentalism, and worked towards national unity and peace for different religions. Under Baba's leadership, the group met Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and requested the abolishment of verbal divorce, Talak (a common practice at that time among Muslims).

1970 - Dr. Anil Awachat, Baba's friend and ally converts Baba's personal clinic to provide an affordable medical practice run by his wife Dr. Anita Awachat. This dispensary was financially supported by the Hamal Panchyat. Medical services were either free or a nominal fee (1 INR) was charged for medical equipment usage.

1972 - Launches Ek Gaav, Ek Panavtha (translation One village, one pond) initiative to ensure Dalits/untouchables get access to water. He walked with his supporters within the state of Maharashtra in the attempt to educate, and inspire people to open their hearts and minds against caste discrimination and abolish untouchability.

1972 - A community kitchen that makes affordable and nutritious meals for workers set up on a no-profit no-loss basis – Kashtachi Bhakar (translation: hard-earned food) started on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. From one eatery in 1974 in Pune has now 12 branches and also spread across Maharastra.[6]

1975 - Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared an emergency and locked up all the opposition leaders, Baba was jailed for 19 months

1977 - Forms Vishamta Nirmoolan Samiti, movement and a group fighting against cast, untouchability, and gender discrimination. The group successfully lead many movements to eradicate caste discrimination in Maharashtra noticeably in Warkaris to unify them.

1977 - Formed the Pathari Panchyat, a union working for the upliftment of street vendors and hawkers to give them social security and life of dignity

1978 - Forms Devadasi Nirmoolan Parishad, a group fighting to eradicate Devadasi custom and their rehabilitation. Devadasis are destitute women left on the mercy of god mostly forced towards prostitution. This awareness and movement helped play a role in pursuing the state authorities to enact legislation the "Devdasi Rehabilitation Act".[7]

1979 - Lays foundation of Hamal Nagar: affordable housing for daily wage Hamals/head loaders. Bhai Vaidya then the home minister of Maharashtra helped Baba get the land for this housing complex at a very affordable rate from the state government. Today this social housing scheme hosts more that 400 multi-story apartments in Pune city.

1982 - Forms a group, Rashtriya Ekatmata Samiti after the communal riots in Pune, Mumbai, and Gujarat with the primary objective of bringing unity amongst religiously diverse communal sects in India.

1986 - Along with Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Dr. Sriram Lagoo, Nilu Phule, Dr. Ram Apte forms Samajik Krutadnyata Nidhi, a social gratitude fund. This fund was aimed at expressing gratitude towards social activists across the state by raising funds for them; well-known activist Medha Patkar was one of the beneficiaries.[8]

1989 - Inspires Dr. Narendra Dabholkar to form Andha Shradhha Samiti, Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti an organization dedicated to fighting superstition in India, particularly in the province of Maharashtra.

1993 - Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat , a waste picker’s collective, mentored by Baba formed by Laxmi Narayan and Poornima Chikarmane in Pune; primarily to supports waste pickers, their families and their collectives. The support ranges from direct financial assistance to indirect support in the form of training, facilitation, and research.

1993 - Forms Bandhkam Kamgar Panchyat, a union for unprotected construction works.

1994 - Forms Rikshaw Panchyat, a union for the Pune's auto-rickshaw drivers to bring social security to these drivers, improve their living standards.

1995 - Baba initiated a Satyagraha for social security to protect unorganized daily wage laborers in India.

2000 - Builds Hamal Panchyat Kashtakari Vidyalaya and library. A school for grades/years/class 5 - 10 mainly for the children of unprotected laborers and Hamals.

2000 - Starts movement to remove Manu's Statue, a symbol of inequality and casteism, installed in front of Jaipur high court. Thousands walked alongside with Baba from Mahad to Jaipur, this was a fight for equality.

2005 - Leads a bicycle rally (at the age of 75) from Mahad, Maharashtra to Delhi from 20th March till the 1st of May. The 20th March signifies Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's Pani Mukti Andolan (translation: Water for Everyone) movement that took place in Mahad in 1927. The cycle rally instigated protests in 5 states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Delhi. The goal was to increase awareness and demand for comprehensive legislation ensuring social security and employment guarantee to the unorganized sector workers across India.

2007 - Baba along with his team, traveled by motorcycle from Pune to Delhi to organize a Satyagraha of some 5,000 workers representing 20 trade unions across the nation; outside Parliament of India on August 13, 2007. The intent was to press the demand for the introduction of the Social Security Bill.

2007 - In Delhi, Baba, Aruna Roy and Elaben Bhat of SEWA, Ahmedabad, led a delegation to Sonia Gandhi, met parliamentarians and got 60 eminent people, including writer Khushwant Singh, Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising, human rights activist Swami Agnivesh, economist and former minister Yogendra Alagh, actor and social activist Shabana Azmi and historian Ramachandra Guha to sign a petition in support of the legislation for Social Security to unprotected workers.

2008 - Goes to jail for 53rd time, for again protesting high food prices.

2012 - Baba along with the leader of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan and RTI activist Aruna Roy, holds Pension Parishad: a press conference that raised the demand for universal pension rights to India's large unprotected informal workers.

2013 - With Aruna Roy continues the national movement and Satyagraha for pension and social security to India's unprotected daily wage workers. Out of the 400 Million workers in India, less than 20 million are protected by some form of labor legislation. They have work security, minimum wages, an eight-hour working day, a weekly off, paid leave, sick leave, annual bonus, provident fund, pension, and so on. The remaining 380 million workers have been ignored. These include porters, head loaders, landless laborers, construction workers, domestic workers, brick-kiln workers, quarry workers, cycle/rickshaw pullers, waste-pickers, hawkers, and vendors.

Image source:

At 90, Baba remains a doyen of the working class movement in India, committed to the ideals of equality and non-discrimination, the ideals of the Indian freedom movement. 

Baba says, the Indian political framework is based on a foundation of inequality, and depends on a sense of disparity. For this, he faults the education system in India which does not offer an understanding of discrimination based on gender, religion or caste, class, and therefore cannot spark a struggle against the same. An education that focuses on values is lacking and is what is required to remedy this. "Until a social, educational and political program to tackle the inequities of any discrimination is undertaken, Indian democracy will simply adjust to this system"

Author: Aman Adhav

References & Sources

  1. ^ [], “Baba Adhav: A Working-Class Hero and His Labour of Love: India News - Times of India.” The Times of India, TOI, 22 2011,
  2. ^ [], Rajeshwari Deshpande. “Organising the Unorganised: Case of Hamal Panchayat.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 34, no. 39, 1999, pp. L19–L26. JSTOR, Accessed 31 May 2020.
  3. ^ [], Rajeshwari Deshpande. “Organising the Unorganised: Case of Hamal Panchayat.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 34, no. 39, 1999, pp. L19–L26. JSTOR, Accessed 31 May 2020.
  4. ^ [], Rajeshwari Deshpande. “Organising the Unorganised: Case of Hamal Panchayat.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 34, no. 39, 1999, pp. L19–L26. JSTOR, Accessed 31 May 2020.
  5. ^ [1], Brahme, Sulabha. “Drought in Maharashtra.” Social Scientist, vol. 1, no. 12, 1973, pp. 47–54. JSTOR, Accessed 31 May 2020.
  6. ^ [2], Umbrajkar, M. (n.d.). Kashtachi Bhakar, an eatery for laborers and weaker sections of the society, completes 40 years: Pune News - Times of India. Retrieved May 31, 2020, from
  7. ^ [3], “When a Devadasi Cuts Her Hair, It Becomes a Rebellion against Tradition.” The News Minute, 3 Aug. 2015,
  8. ^ [4], “A Legend Remembered - Indian Express.” Archive,