Gandhi ashram adrift in Bihar

Some dreams die with the passage of time. Yet, some remain etched in the memory, drawing sustenance from sheer patriotic sentiments. There is no gainsaying the fact that historically Champaran has been an abode of kings, mahatmas (ascetics) and fakirs (mendicants). So philosophy, tradition, myths, history and legends have had a great bearing on the lives of the local people. But it is a sad commentary that there is hardly anything worth its name to associate with them.

In sharp contrast, the Bhitiharwa Ashram, located in West Champaran district of Bihar, about 270 kms north of Patna, stands testimony to the sublime sacrifice of a mahatma who had vowed to free his motherland from the shackles of British imperialism. The mahatma was none other than Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi.

According to the district gazetteer, it was Bhitiharwa village where Gandhi set up an ashram in 1917 and spent months there along with wife Kasturba for the cause of the indigo planters who were worst hit by draconian British rules. That was a beginning made by the Gandhis. The couple started a school for children of the local people and indigo planters who were caught in the vortex of illiteracy, superstition and ignorance. The school still exists, standing testimony to the Mahatma’s vision for the marginalised and underprivileged and speaks volumes of the post independence government’s ennui towards preserving the nation’s history and heritage.

Gandhiji arrived in Champaran to launch his war against British imperialism and stayed there for months. According to the gazetteer, Raj Kumar Shukla, the then Bihar Congress president, apprised Gandhiji of the agony of the ill-fated people and urged him to help them fight their oppressors.

Bhitiharwa, comprising around 200 dwelling houses, rests on the foothills of Sumershwar Hill. Standing tall in the midst of the village, the original ashram is said to have collapsed and was remodeled a few years ago. The renovated ashram is divided into three unequal-sized rooms in which the bigger one has a bigger claim on Gandhian belongings.
The larger of the three rooms is adorned by several photographs of Gandhi. But a bell hanging on the wall strikes attention. A sticker beneath the bell says, “Gandhiji ke pathshala ki ghani” (bell of Gandhiji’s school).

A wooden table frequently used by Gandhi during his exile here also adorns the room. All its four legs are broken. Next to this is a small room which was Gandhi used as bedroom. However, a Gandhi statue and some photographs on the walls narrate the agonizing lives that were sacrificed for the cause of nation. Anirudh Chaurasia, a Gandhian, told Deccan Herald: “We are somehow managing running the school which was opened by Kastuba with a vision. Despite numerous assurances, the school continues to be a victim of monumental neglect.”

If the Gandhian bounties at Bhitiharwa are today crying for attention, Brindavan, another non-descript village, too maintains its existence with a difference as it bears the reminiscences of Gandhi in West Champaran.
It was here that the fifth Gandhi Seva Sangh conference was held in 1939. At that time, Gandhi layed the foundation of 27 “buniyadi vidhalay” (basic school) in Kumarbag block, including two in Brindavan. But worse still, though these schools still exit, they too are the victim of neglect.

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