Dev Kumar, belonging to the Bhangi community, was born on 6th February 1972 in Haddi Godam locality of Kanpur. His mother Ganga Devi worked as a maid-servant in a school and his father Prabhudayal was a Supervisor in Municipal Corporation, Kanpur. He had four children and, thus, the burden of their up bring and education was enormous. But it did not deter him from encouraging his children to join school to obtain education. Dev had his primary education in a school set up by members of his own community and was situated in his own locality. All students in his school were either Dalits or Muslims. Not a single upper caste student even studied there. He passed his 8th standard from this school in the year 1984. In 1987 he passed his High School from Bishambhar Nath Sanatan Dharma Inter College, Kanpur. He sought admission in the Christ Church College for pursuing his B.sc. in 1991. He was admitted to the college, but this time his fortune had something different for him in store. When he was in the 1st year of his graduation, his father died; a trauma too severe for a man struggling economically to raise his educational status. Suddenly, all his dreams were shattered, and he had no option but to leave his studies. Being the eldest in the family, he had to shoulder the entire responsibility of looking after his ailing mother and other members of the family. As per law of the land, he was offered a job on his father’s post i.e. a supervisor in the Municipal Corporation which he accepted with a heavy heart.
During his early days he encountered multiple instances of discrimination on account of being a Dalit, and that too a Bhangi, a torment that he had to bear for no fault of his. What afflicted him more was his neglect by the members of the other Dalit communities, as the community of sweepers was considered to be the lowest in their hierarchy. While studying in Inter College, one day he missed his classes. The next day, a Brahman class fellow of his inquired from him the reason for his absence. He replied, “I had gone to the dentist for getting one of my teeth extracted”. On this his friend knocked him down with his shoes, saying “When you people perform everything with your own hand why should you visit a doctor for this”. Dev was amazed and failed to understand the hidden meaning in this act.
The insult he met in his intermediate class was not a solitary incident of rebuke and repression. There were several other such humiliating and tormenting experiences. He began to understand what all this meant after reading the works of Ambedkar. Ambedkar gave him the vision through which he viewed not only his own past, but also the shortcomings in the Dalit communities and the injustice meted out to them by the savarna (the upper caste people). Ambedkar’s books transformed his perception of life, and evoked in him the zeal to work for the uplift of the marginalized communities. He pondered for many days on the status of the culturally marginalized communities. How to improve their condition? How to bring them out from a history that stretched so much into the past? At this critical moment, Ambedkar’s thought helped him to formulate strategies. Pen to him was mightier than the sword. So he took to writing booklets.
‘More Bazaar’ was his first booklet to be published from the money he had saved from his tuition fee in 1992-1993. He published other booklets which include ‘Haan Haan Haan Main Bhangi Hoon’. Two booklets ‘Dom Se Mahar Tak’ and ‘Aatmaghati Dasta’ are the in press. His unpublished writings include Bhangi Tola, Yugdarshan-Sudarshan, Meri Lal Diary, Bheem Bawani (Poems), Vo Jhelti Gaadi, Bharat Mein Bhangi: Bhangi Mein Bharat, Abhang Shastra, Barood and Bhangiyon Ke Bachche. His desire for social transformation is so deep that he has no reluctance in paying for the publication, even at the cost of his means of livelihood.
Conscious of the fact that the booklets do not reach out to all sections of society, he set up his own theatre known as ‘Apna Theatre’ on 14th April 1992. Through the medium of this theatre, he strives to awaken consciousness among the people of the Dalit communities. His first Natak (drama), ‘Daastan’, was based on the ill deeds of the Aryans. His other plays include Nakhuda, Bhadra Angulimaal, Chakradhari, Sudarshan, Kapat, Bhulni, Bhamti, Lautri Ke Beemar, Nihang, Agyat Etihaas (based on Veerangana Udadevi Pasi), Amar Shaheed Matadin Bhangi and Jamadaar Ka Kurta, etc.
In the year 2000, he also started publication of a bi-monthly newsletter called ‘Jai Bhim’, which was completely dedicated to the Dalit issues. But it closed down in 2001 due to financial crisis. He organized discussions among children, helping them to learn about leading a respectful life, unlike his own. He brings out pamphlets for distribution in different localities. These pamphlets contain messages to awaken self respect among the people and develop a feeling of pride in being a member of their own community. But now he is a disillusioned man due to the attitude of indifference and apathy of his own community members towards his efforts. They refuse to give up their traditional occupation of sweeping. To inspire them, he has created captions like ‘Jharu ke upar kalam, kalam ke upar taj’, (pen over broom, crown over pen). His other slogans are, ‘Jharu chodo Kalam Pakdo’ (Leave broom, hold pen) and ‘Vote se raj tak, jharu se taj tak’( From vote to governance, from broom to crown). Despite his community’s attitude he refuses to lose faith in future and believes that the tears of Baba Saheb Ambedkar will never let him sleep and always encourage his dream of establishing an egalitarian social system. His passion for social work propels him to do anything and everything for the uplift of the marginalized communities.