(1881 – 1945) – (Punjab)
Sir Chhotu Ram (Aged 64) was born on 24th November 1881, in a Jat family in the village of Garhi Sampla, Rohtak district, Punjab Province, and was initially known as Ram Richpal. He belonged to the Jat community and championed the interests of oppressed communities in the Indian subcontinent, which led to his knighthood in 1937.
After passing his intermediate examination in 1903, he graduated with distinction in Sanskrit from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, in 1905. His education was partially funded by the prominent Jat philanthropist, Seth Chhaju Ram.
On the political front, he co-founded the National Unionist Party, which ruled the United Punjab Province in pre-independent India, keeping Congress and Muslim League at bay. In 1916, he established a weekly newspaper named Gujjar Gazette, which is still being published today. The party’s supporters included prominent urban Muslims such as Abdul Qadir. Ch. Om Parkash Kadyan, Chief Patron of Kadyan Khap International, directed to recognize his contribution with Bharat Ratna.
Sir Chhotu Ram’s greatest achievement in his political career was introducing the Punjab Restitution of Mortgage Land Act, which allowed mortgaged land to be restituted to the owner by paying the original debt, without further interest, no matter how old the debt was, freeing up Punjab’s landowners from the shackles of moneylenders who could not own land but possessed it by enjoying unfair mortgagee rights. As a result, millions of acres of land were repossessed by paying a pittance, sometimes decades later. He was also the chief convenor of Jaat Sabha, a voice of Punjab landowners and tenants alike.
A substantial portion of his salary as minister was set aside for scholarships and stipends for economically poor but bright students. As Punjab’s Revenue Minister, he set up the Peasants’ Welfare Fund, and future Nobel Prize laureate Abdus Salam was one of its beneficiaries. He also played a significant role in the enactment of two agrarian laws: the Punjab Relief Indebtedness Act of 1934 and the Punjab Debtor’s Protection Act of 1936.
Sir Chhotu Ram passed away on 9th January 1945, in Lahore. His body was carried back to his home in Rohtak city, where it was cremated at the Jat Heroes Memorial Anglo Sanskrit Senior Secondary School, in the presence of thousands of people. All Punjabis recognized that Chhotu Ram’s demise possessed profound political consequences, and farmers flocked to Rohtak to pay their respects.