Massive efforts were made by social reformers & freedom fighters during the end of the 19th century to break caste barriers and unite masses across religions in the fight against Independence. One such effort was made by Baloo Palwankar who belonged to the ‘chamaar’ sub-caste of the untouchables. Baloo with his phenomenal bowling skill broke all caste barriers to eventually become a team member of the Hindu cricket club in Poona.
Baloo worked at the Poona club where he got recognition for his cricketing talent as a slow left-arm bowler and eventually went on to become a team member of the Hindu cricket club in Poona. His talent paved way for his inclusion in the Hindu club but he was discriminated off the field for being an untouchable. However, the historic win of the Hindu club over the Satara club celebrated him as a hero for his amazing contributions.
Baloo’s glorious cricketing career gained momentum after he grabbed 8 wickets against the Europeans as a member of the Hindu Gymkhana. His talent had now earned him place to share table with his teammates at the club’s cafe and dine. The game of cricket had broken all caste barriers and raised his social hierarchy.
From then on there was no looking back. Baloo became a legendary figure among the untouchables. Baloo’s exclusion from the Quadrangular squad by the Hindu Gymkhana evoked protests and finally he was included as the vice-captain. Although being the most deserving candidate, he never got a chance to captain the team but with changing social scenario his brother Vitthal got a chance to be the captain of the team.
People from all walks of life paid homage to Baloo when he left for his heavenly abode in 1955 remembering him as a true hero and beholder of national spirit.
The role of Baloo Palwankar in breaking caste barriers, reiterates the contribution of sports in nation building.