My Invitation to Bhitiharwa Ashram, Champaran, Bihar, which I sent to about 40 selected people. About 25 came and the responses of some of them after the visit are given below:
As you know, I have been on a Shodh Yatra since January 30. One of the places I went to was the Bhitiharwa Ashram in Champaran, North Bihar, where in 1917, Gandhiji came to conduct the famous “Indigo Labour Enquiry” and then launched a Satyagraha against forced cultivation of indigo by poor farmers. This was Gandhiji’s first major public action in India, after returning from South Africa.
Even though I had read about it, being there gave me a deeper insight into the power of Satyagraha, which Gandhiji demonstrated in Champaran. Thus I have decided to return to the area and host a workshop titled “Reinterpreting Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha for the 21st Century” . This is being organised at Gandhiji’s Bhitiharwa Ashram in Champaran on 6-7th April, 2011 by the Jawaharlal Nehru Leadership Institute (JNLI), the Bhitiharwa Ashram Sansthan and the Association for Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA).
The best way to go there is by an overnight (16 hours) train from Delhi to Narkatiyaganj, which is 17 kms from the Ashram. In view of the busy season, please book your train tickets immediately. Narkatiyaganj is also connected by direct train from Lucknow and Howrah. If you wish to fly, the nearest airport is Patna and then there is a five-six hour car ride to the Ashram via Muzaffarpur and Bettiah.
If you wish to participate in some field visits to villages and historical places nearby, please arrive a day earlier, that is on 5th April. I should mention that the boarding and lodging facilities at the Ashram will be base minimum so please come prepared to rough it out. Please bring a bed sheet, an air pillow, a warm shawl/blanket, a flashlight and mosquito repellent. The nearest hotel is at Bettiah, 45 kms away.
I request your participation and confirmation for the above workshop.
With my best wishes
Sent: 09 April 2011 20:45
Subject: Champaran Visit
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to visit Champaran and experience that life. There was really a lot to learn from the visit, and it was an experience worth a while.
I must confess though that I am not referring to the seminar (the sangoshti)that we had ideally gone to the Ashram for. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it interesting. Honestly, I had a better experience while talking informally to people, especially Mr. Ramji Singh than listening to his formal speech. If I could say so, I would have learnt a lot if we would have spent all the time in small informal groups, discussing about the Satyagrah and if it could be used in this century. The talks that the eminent scholars gave, were mainly aimed at what Gandhiji did, how he was as a person, and how the current government is not doing what it is supposed to do. There wasn’t much around how Satyagrah is important or debate around whether it is still relevant.
Saying that, the experiences that I had in Bihar were amazing, some mind boggling and definitely thought provoking. Apart from being a welcome break from the daily routine, it served as a good platform to learn something more about my country. I had never been to Bihar before, and this was truly a good experience. There is nothing like getting to know your country, your people and not from the five star hotels but from the grass roots where the real India lies. There is a lot talk around the divide between Bharat and India, and one gets to experience this debate first hand. The lack of toilets and electricity is the plight of Bharat while India bathes in the lights and uses modern and designer bathroom fittings. While the women in India walk hand in hand with the men, the women in Bharat still sit at homes and not sit in male gatherings. It’s one thing to listen people explain the divide, it’s something else to experience it firsthand.
I would again sincerely like to thank you for the experience.
From: rajanikant kad
Sent: 10 April 2011 19:08
To: Vijay Mahajan JNLI
Subject: The Champaran Yatra – My Learnings and Ideas
Thanks for giving me a chance to visit Bhithiharwa Ashram – Champaran. As a student, I had read the history of Champaran. At that time I could understand the question of ‘Teen Kathia and Neel Farming’. As a school teacher and as a Master Coach, second time I read the Champaran Satyagraha and could understand it as a campaign to bring about change and leadership in the era.
But when I visited the Bhithiharwa Ashram of Gandhiji, I could understand the truth in it. The process of the Satyagrah at Champaran was one of the best which gave the fast result. This process of Satyagraha can be learned very well as an example of that of the development and economic empowerment through the eradication of ignorance and changing the overall attitude of people can only free them from the bondages of slavery and sufferings.
Through the Speech of renowned Gandhian Shri Ramji Singh, I could feel the aspects of good speech, its contents, logical representations, the force and energy in the speech. Then my visit to the Bithiharwa village gave me some of the understanding of the sufferings of people over there.
(1) Most of the people were land less workers. (2) Their source of earning was only agricultural labour. (3) From each family one earning person went to the other states i.e. – Punjab, Haryana etc… but they all come back after the work of four to six months and stay back at home and spend all the money earned. (4) Some of them had cattle also. (5) As informed they were also given land during the Bhudaan Andolan by Vinobaji. But with the passage of time they sold the land. (6) They don’t know about the government schemes for them. (Here we can create awareness.) (7) For them a work of 100Rs. per day is thought to be more than enough and they will be satisfied with it. They don’t have the urge to do something bigger or better for which they will have to work continuously – everyday. (8) I found a bit of liking to remain idle or laziness which is seen there in the males of the eastern part of India.
So, if we want to change their situation, then we will have to start with the development work but also we will have to be ready to change their minds – their way of thinking which will require hard work and patience from our side. It will be good if we can develop a small scale industry that is an industry based on the raw material available in the village. A skill based industry which can give them Rs. 100 or more per day for the whole year.
For those who cannot be included in that, we can train them for some skills rather than the agricultural labour only and through the creation of a co-operative society can assure their progress. I also found that there is no co-operative society actually working in the field of dairy products and the prices are very low.
After all we may need to change their mindset that they continue their work even after getting enough for food and think about better future.
Our JNLI Workshop of IYC and others
As our programme of training IYC and other EOBs is concerned, I would say that it must be done and is a very good initiative of JNLI. Even we should try to find out such places of Gandhiji all over India and explore the possibilities over there also.
As far as our training workshop at Champaran is concerned we would need to design one. I would like to share some of the ideas I have in mind regarding the workshop.
- It can be a national level workshop.
- It can be a seven day workshop with the name of place in the heading.
- At least 48 hour stay with the family like a member doing all their work.
- Every morning there should be a ‘Prabhat Pheri’ – the bhajans with the trainer and trainees together.
- It may have the study of the different ideologies of politics (Socrates, plato, chanakya, kautilya, democracy, communism, capitalism etc..) in General and the Gandhian Ideology in Special. Sessions for each to broaden the horizon of trainees in the world politics.
- There should be a special session/sessions about the Champaran Satyagrah, it’s Historical understanding and Process as to learn the designing of any campaign for social/political change. Even the application of that technique in the present problems of the country.
- The trainees should also be explained village economy and its affects in large scale to the nation’s GDP etc. From Micro to Macro.
- After each day’s learning there should be a presentation made by the participants on the next day morning.
- An exam at the end of the workshop with gradation to understand their growth.
- And the follow up work.
My take away
Personally I would say that I was moved to see such village. First time I saw such villages where there is no light, no sanitation facility, even a school running in huts. I also felt and understood that the Gandhi Vichaar is present in the air: be it any part of India.
After all Champaran is the land of Change, Knowledge and Learning, I also was touched by the spirit. With the experience there and discussions with Vivekji about Gandhian ideology and his guidance of the principles of Gita, I understood how any addiction can dilute me from my vision of serving the nation. So I felt that and have decided to leave smoking and drinking. Drinking was not a major problem to me as it was a new thing to me but I have to struggle a lot about smoking as it has been my 9 year old habit. I don’t know whether I will be able to keep it but I have trust on God within me that he will give me the power to stick to the correct decision. I heartily thank you and Vivekji for Changing my life. Regards,
Rajanikant Kad, Team JNLI
The abandoned tourist bungalow in the Ashram
Sent: 12 April 2011 16:52
To: ‘vijay mahajan’
Subject: My visit to Bheetiharwa Gandhi Ashram at Champaran.
I am thankful to you for giving me the opportunity to visit Champaran and be a part of the workshop. My first reason of excitement was because of getting to a place like the “Champaran Gandhi Ashram” which we have read in history during our school times. Greatness of Mahatma Gandhi is beyond compare. While I was at Champaran I thought myself lucky to be at a place which actually should be the “pilgrimage” for all those associated with politics in whichever way.
We came to know that Bheetiharwa Gandhi Ashram (West Champaran) was the place from where Gandhiji started the “Satyagrah movement” in 1917 which proclaimed the beginning of “Swarajya” and first victory of non-violent protest against the British Government. In our discussion with Dr Ram Singhji of Ashram, we also came to know that Gandhiji told the farmers that he will fight for them but before them he would like to probe into the truth of the matter.
For that, Gandhiji went to homes of 8000 farmers- gathered the individual applications. Gandhiji, at the same time also got the copies of applicable laws and the judgments in the past. Once Gandhiji was convinced that there is truth in what the farmers are deprived of, he fought for the farmers and won this battle against injustice in just 6 months.
On being asked to leave the district by the District Magistrate, Gandhiji submitted an application stating that “people need me here and I am not doing anything wrong ; I am supporting the truth and while respecting your authority, I “dis-obey” your order to leave the district and you are free to give me whatever punishment for this disobedience”.
One more incidence happened at Bheetiharwa Ashram which forced Gandhiji to tell himself that
“Millions of my countrymen do not have enough clothes to cover their body and being their representative, I should also be their true representative”. From that incidence in Champaran, onwards, he used to wear a single unstitched cloth (dhoti) to cover his body.
While Gandhiji was struggling for the farmers’ right, Ma Kasturba Gandhi stayed there at Bheetiharwa for six month and devoted her time in educating children running a school for the poor children.
It felt bad to know that despite of being such an important place of Indian history, there has been no significant development even after 96 years. We need to understand that the place can be a source of inspiration to the budding leaders to build the future of India.
“One work is better than 100 speeches”, we should do something for the Ashram so that it willh will not only benefit the people (staff) of the Ashram but also the visitors. “Vaishnavjan to tenekahiye re” is still in the mind of millions. That used to be the start of day at all Gandhi Ashrams. With time this has vanished. I wish this trend is revived at least in Gandhi Ashrams across India.
On Village industries, Gandhiji was not against not against mechanization but had the view that when there are many hands without work, mechanization will not solve the problem of unemployment. On the contrary it could be a good option when you have few hands to work and work cannot be completed manually.
Gandhiji dreamed of “Gram Swarajya” that is village should be “self-sustainable” in all respects.
Our Intervention at Entry level:
After the village-walk, I think that one of the initiatives can be to start with “Information Dissemination” to the villagers and handholding support can be done by some good NGOs.
Villagers need to inculcate amongst themselves that they themselves are responsible of what they are and they should fight their own battle. Our role should be the source of right information and guidance without giving any grant or aid.
One change I am feeling in myself after Champaran that my capacity to work has increased and I learnt that what is the real “service” to people without any expectations in return. The JNLI team would be happy to initiate any move which brings us close to Gandhiji.
Thank you once again VM for showing us the right direction which gives us immense strength.
Vivek Saran, JNLI.
Click on the link above to see a glimpse of fhe seminar “Re-interpreting Gandhiji’s Chmaparan Satyagraha for the 21st Century”
Sent: 13 April 2011 18:01
Subject: Bhitiharva Report
Before Shodh Yatra with you, it was always a curiosity for me to see the poverty of Bihar as I am locally from Delhi and worked with Migrants from Bihar during TAFI project in Delhi in 2008. While working with them three questions arise in my mind: i) why are they migrants in most of the part of India? (ii) why are they working on low daily wage rates, and (iii) what are the social and political issue for development of the people?
And I got the chance to get the answer of my all the questions during your Shodh Yatra and here are those answers: Large population of Bihar is landless and doing the labour work on agriculture land. They work on daily wage of Rs 50/-. After ending of agri seasons they move to other states. This is the main factor for migration to other states.
But I have seen a major social change in education system during the yatra. A village called Bhitiharwa (fear removing place) under Gonaha block has three govt. schools with more teachers and with few students. There is a private school which have 450-500 students from nursery to 8th standard. It means parents are encouraged for their children’s future. They can spend some amount to get the good education to their children. I visited one of the Harijan Tola in Bhitiharva and got to know from them that now upper caste give them respect because they are now educated towards education/behavior etc to some of the extend. This is the social impact I have seen of education.
I also got an opportunity to support/attend program on “Re-interpreting Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagrah for Contemporary Times” on 6-7 April 2011 at Bhitiharwa village, Narkatiaganj,West Champaran. It was nice to hearing speech of many social workers who worked with Gandhiji. It was also nice meeting and adopting some of principal of Satyagraha from Shri Ramji Singh (age of 90) who were also with Gandhiji for many years.
When I visited Gandhi Ashram on March 9th, it was very peaceful and silent. But between 5th to 8th April, this program made Ashram full fledged with volunteers/NGOs/social workers sharing on Satyagrah and making future plan to improve livelihoods of people around Gonaha Block of West Champaran.
I have not seen how Ashram looked like in 1917 when Gandhiji’s presence was there on Satyagraha but I was able to sense energetic and dynamic environment during that era during the program.
Once again many thanks for giving me the opportunity to join with you in Shodh Yatra and understanding livelihoods and their needs to improve their livelihoods. Taking personal leave for 15 days and bearing travel/hotel cost to see poverty of Bihar was difficult for me.
With kind regards,
Sent: 14 April 2011 16:32
Subject: Champaran / Shodh Yatra
It is exactly a week since our visit to Champaran. I have had enough time to absorb and reflect on what I saw.
The plight of the Musahar community was a revelation, and a very disturbing one. The decline of the Small Farmers’ Associations (SFAs) structure in Bihar strikes me as a huge setback, on any measure of progress and development, and I am surprised that no government agency has thought it important to revive and support them. The constant requests for schools and school funds that one heard everywhere underscored the sad state of schools there, but it also made me hopeful about the future of these communities. Stories of graft in the SHG-bank programme I heard in Bhitiharwa were not new, but when viewed collectively with all other issues, the adversity and the inequity are hard to digest.
When one thinks about it – the corrupt and mismanaged issuance of BPL cards and the PDS system, lack of employment opportunities outside of the farm sector, the miserable working conditions for farm workers, corrupt banks, no electricity, no proper schools – one can’t help but feel daunted by the enormity of the task. But there is a desperate need to do something.
In terms of action, one approach could be to break it down to small, focused projects based on the team’s capability and the ability to create some impact in a near enough time frame. But then, given that all these aspects are so interwoven, to pick just one or two would be an inadequate response, especially when the aim is to find a long term solution. What we ideally need is a comprehensive, an “integrated” plan – an integrated Champaran development plan.
The Plan, of course, needs to be put together by someone who is experienced in this kind of development work. Perhaps PRADAN or The Aga Khan Rural Support Program can do this? I neither have the training nor the experience to work through the specifics, but think that it requires people from a variety of backgrounds to contribute to it, including those from the government and the commercial / corporate sector. And, the corner stone of the Plan has got to be building intermediary/ institutional structures that put the responsibility of managing the Plan back on the shoulders of those who would benefit from it. I should add here, Vijay, that while I may have known the importance of these intermediate, people-managed, structures earlier, it was at best a very theoretical understanding. The experiences during the Shodh Yatra made it come alive and I couldn’t have got more clarity any other way.
Personally, I have been struggling with the question of my own commitment to this and whether I have enough of it to be part of the solution. I have waited these last few days to try and get an answer, but maybe with more engagement that clarity will come.
Does the “Plan” idea sound a bit fanciful? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Again, thank you for your time during the yatra and for being so generous in sharing your knowledge and views with all of us.
From: Arijit Dutta
Sent: 09 April 2011 20:55
Subject: “Re- Interpreting Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagrah ” for Contemporary Times.
At last, I could make it happen – joined Champaran with you. I re-visited the Indian History, before I went to Gandhi Ashram, Bhitiharwa, West Champarn. This is because, I thought that, it would help me to understand more, what Gandhians would talk about Gandhi.
It was a long train, as well as, road journey from Kolkata to reach Gandhi Ashram – took 18 hours. However, train journey was utilised for reading Gandhi’s first Satyagraha in Champaran. Being a development professional, I could understand the problem of shifting traditional farming practices, which sometimes development professionals try to do the same mistake. I also thoroughly read about the “Tharu” – the original inhabitants of West Champaran – who are generally very simple, innocent and straightforward people. I could understand this community more during my visit to villages.
Gandhians talked more about his contribution towards Indian Independence and how he started his campaign from Champaran. Personally, I am confused – most of the speakers talked about in-equality, corruption about present India and called for greater movement along these lines. As I understood that, this requires a strong social movement, which I understand is for “right based” initiative. Now, being a Livelihoods based Development Professional – I do agree that, this strategy could also help for livelihoods improvement, but professionally, I do not practice the same – so, I’m confused personally.
Visit to the villages – I could understand that, land holding is a major issue here. The fertile tarai land is owned mostly by a few landlords and like other parts of Bihar, absentee landlordism is also common here. Village households, do practice farming, after taking land on lease. The landlord would take 50% of the produce – therefore, even Gandhi started his campaign from here against the British land grabbing for Indigo cultivation, still ownership of land is yet to be sorted out. More so, the great Bhoodan Movement originated from this state.
From: Somnath Ghosh [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 19 March 2011 08:40
To: Vijay Mahajan BASIX
Subject: RE:”Reinterpreting Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha for the 21st Century” workshop at Champaran on April 6 and 7th, 2011
|Dear Vijay,Been following your blog. The range is such that it makes comments on them look so inadequate. All one can do is “walk along” with you through your blog, and see the things you do, and absorb as much as one can.
Much that I’d have liked to be at Bhitiharwa Ashram at Champaran – and see you – I seriously doubt whether I’ll be able to make it.