Chatrapati Shahu Mahara
Born in the Ghatge family of Kagal in Kolhapur district, Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj was given the name Yashwantrao. After the death of Shivaji IV, the king of Kolhapur Princely State, the young child Yashwantrao was adopted by Anandibai, the King's widow, and subsequently coroneted King in 1894. His rule in the period 1894 to 1922, lasting 28 years, is an important chapter in the history of Maharashtra.
During his reign, Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj gave special importance to the education of the masses and introduced several programs for them. He started separate hostels in Kolhapur for students from the Maratha, Lingayat, Panchal, Jain, Muslims, Shimpi, Devadnya, Vaishya, Dhor-Chambhar and Nabhik communities and the Miss Clark Boarding especially for the students from the untouchable (socially quarantined) communities. He offered scholarships to the needy and intelligent students from the backward castes so that they could continue their education. He made primary education compulsory and free for all in his Princely State. His royal decree held up the cause of women's education. To abolish untouchability, he stopped the cruel system followed by many institutions to hold separate schools for the upper and lower castes in 1919. He started Patil schools so that village heads could be good administrators. In times when the study of Vedic literature was considered a domain of the Brahmins (higher caste Pundits), he established Vedic schools that taught the Vedas to the masses and Sanskrit schools for the propagation of the Sanskrit language.
He also ensured suitable employment for students thus educated, thereby creating one of the earliest Affirmative action programs in history. Many of these measures were effected in the year 1902.
He vehemently opposed caste discrimination and took many steps to abolish untouchability. He introduced reservation for the untouchables in government jobs. He issued a royal decree in his Princely State to treat all humans equal and to give equal access to the untouchables to public utilities like common wells, schools, hospitals and common buildings. His commitment to abolish untouchability was such that he was even ready to give up his throne for the service of the dalit or lower class people. He legalised inter caste marriages and discontinued the hereditary tenures (Watan) of revenue collectors (Kulkarni), infamous for exploiting the masses, as also the Mahar tenures that enslaved the Mahars (a lower caste). In 1917 he legalised remarriages and widow remarriages in his Princely State. He also introduced a law banning thepractice of Devdasi (a tradition where a girl is offered to God).
Rajarshi Chatrapati Shahu is considered one of the leaders of the anti-Brahmin movement. He strived for giving the masses and lower class communities equal participation in political power. In 1916, he established the Deccan Rayat Association in Nipani with the objective of securing political rights for the non-Brahmins. He toured Maharashtra extensively and held public meetings to promote the cause of the anti-Brahmin movement. The struggle over the right to recite the Vedas occurred in Rajarshi Chatrapati Shahu's time. This struggle created a storm in the social life of Maharashtra, and gave birth to the Satyashodhak (truth finding) movement.
He helped Babasaheb Ambedkar for his education and for his newspaper, the Muknayak. He provided financial aid to gymnasiums and wrestling pitches for instilling health consciousness amongst the youth and he brought prestige to the sport of wrestling. It is because of these efforts that Kolhapur is known as the Pandharpur (one of the most important pilgrimageplaces) of wrestling.Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj was very fond of wrestling and encouraged it in his kingdom. Many wrestlers from all over India came to Kolhapur, as wrestling enjoyed royal patronage in Kolhapur.
The positive effects of his work in the cultural, social, political, educational, industrial and agricultural spheres are seen all over Maharashtra. Despite being a king of the Kolhapur Princely State, he was a democratic ruler. Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar appropriately described him as the 'Pillar of Social Democracy'.