Memorial triggers controversy

Memorial triggers controversy

Vested interests have drawn the two legends into controversy.

Champaran in Bihar finds a significant place in the annals of history of national movement as Mahatma Gandhi staged his first Satyagraha in 1917 against higher taxes on indigo farmers in that place.

The district also has the distinction of being the birth place of one of the most eminent writers of the 20th century – George Orwell. The acclaimed author, who penned classics like “1984” and “Animal Farm” was born as Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 at Motihari, the district headquarters of Champaran. His father Richard Blair was a British revenue officer and worked in the opium department of the Indian Civil Service during the British regime.

Nearly a century after Champaran made history, supporters of Gandhi and Orwell are at loggerheads with one group demanding a park in memory of Mahatma, while the other insisting that the house where George Orwell was born be renovated and developed as a park.

A group of family members of freedom fighters and Gandhians is up in arms against the government’s decision to renovate the house of Orwell because they were denied land to set up a Satyagrah Park in memory of the Father of the Nation.

The Bihar Government had initially proposed to develop the Satyagrah Park, but gave up the idea when it was informed that it could encroach upon the land which was the birthplace of George Orwell.  Orwell’s birthplace is a protected monument under the Ancient Monuments Act.

“Just see the irony. Gandhiji fought against British. But here we have a government which has stopped work on Satyagrah Park as it wants to glorify an Englishman, who made no contribution to India,” said Rajkishore Sharma of the All India Freedom Fighters’ Successors’ Association. “We have, therefore, urged the government to stop work at Orwell Park and stop discrimination agains Gandhiji,” he added.

Orwell’s supporters term such opposition by Gandhians as fascism and racism, which Mahatma Gandhi abhorred. “Such a controversy has shamed Champaran. Do these people, who are protesting development of Orwell Park, know Gandhi well. Had they known Mahatma, they would not have opposed Orwell, whose contribution to the literary world is well known.

Both Gandhi and Orwell fought injustice. We all feel proud that Motihari is the birthplace of such an eminent writer like Orwell besides being the place which was the launchpad for Gandhi’s satyagraha,” social activist RN Sinha told Deccan Herald.

Local lawyer Vidyanand Giri concurs with him and argues that Orwell’s books “Down & Out”, “Burmese Days” were written to highlight the plight of underprivileged. He drew parallel how this was much similar to Gandhi taking up the cause of
Dalits. “Unfortunately, a section of vested interest, which has no knowledge of history, has drawn the two great persons into unnecessary controversy,” lamented Giri.

The whole controversy started when the Bihar’s Art and Culture department sanctioned money to renovate Orwell’s crumbling single-storey brick house which was in a dilapidated condition. “The renovation work started in August this year after the government sanctioned Rs 59 lakh for it,” said an official of the Art and Culture department.
Amid the showdown between the two groups opposing construction of park, a meeting was held in Motihari where D Mukherjee, who chairs the commemorative committee of Orwell, said that a fitting memorial would only help the cause of Motihari. President of the Rotary Motihari Lake Town B Prasad, however, said that both Gandhi and Orwell were equally respected and, therefore, both sites should be developed.

“Gandhi was a global philosopher whose stand on truth and non-violence has been appreciated throughout the world. Similarly, George Orwell’s attack on totalitarianism, fascism and imperialism was thoroughly appreciated in the whole literary world but a few feudal elements were hell-bent on bringing a bad name to Motihari,” said social scientist Ripusoodan Tiwari.

Orwell’s mother, Ida, took him to England at the age of one. He (Blair alias Orwell) did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again until 1912.

In 1933, Eric Blair adopted his pen name George Orwell. He lived in acute poverty for several years. At times homeless but doing itinerant work. Eventually, he found work as a schoolteacher until illness forced him to give this up to work part-time as an assistant in a second-hand bookshop at Hampstead. In 1944, Orwell finished his book Animal Farm, which was published the following year with great critical acclaim and success. The royalties from Animal Farm” provided Orwell with a comfortable income for the first time in his adult life.

From 1945, Orwell was the Observer newspaper’s war correspondent and later contributed regularly to the “Manchester Evening News”. In 1949, his best-known work, “1984” was published. He wrote the novel during his stay in Scotland. At the age of 46, Orwell died of tuberculosis.

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