British woman retraces 'Dandi march'

Jill Beckingham (centre) begins the Dandi march from the Sabaramati Ashram along with Gandhians and members of an NGO in Ahmedabad. Photo by K Bharwad

Jill Beckingham, wife of British Deputy High Commissioner Peter, began the 390-km march from the Sabarmati Ashram at dawn under the “India-UK Friendship Walk” banner. She is expected to complete the march on December 4.

Asked what motivated her to take up the arduous walk, the Briton said: “Mahatma Gandhi”. “Visiting the Ashram is a very moving experience. I’m honoured to be a part of this event and to raise money for poor children through this walk,” she said, energised by the enthusiastic welcome she received at the Ashram as she arrived with a group of Gandhians.

“I’m determined to complete the Yatra. It’s not just about helping poor children, but also to send out the message of peace,” she said. The funds raised through the walk would be given to six NGOs, three each from Mumbai and Gujarat.

Amongst the beneficiaries in Gujarat will be Akshar Trust that works for the hearing impaired children, Shram Mandir that works with leprosy patients and Bhasha Centre that works for tribal welfare. Magic Bus that conducts sports events for the disadvantaged children, a teaching and community centre, Muktangan, and an organisation serving children in and around dumping sites, Apnalaya, are the recipients of financial assistance from the march in Mumbai.

Beckingham personally visited the NGOs and has been impressed with the work they do. A group of tribals from Bhasha Centre will also walk the final 10 km to Dandi with her. She admitted this wasn’t her first trip to the Ashram and the idea of undertaking the walk indeed occurred to her during one of her previous visits.

“His walk was against the British… To protest against the British rule and against the salt tax. I decided to walk the same distance in a spirit of friendship between our two countries and also help the cause of the children,” she said.

For Gandhians though, the march would be an opportunity to show the relevance of his thoughts and ideals in  the 21st Century. “Gandhi may have taken out the march against the British, but the fact that a British woman is undertaking the mission today shows how much the Mahatma’s teachings of peace and welfare of the poor are revered even now,” said Mahesh Kothari, a Gandhian.

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