Gandhi circuit planned in Bihar

Gandhi circuit planned in Bihar

Ninety-nine years back when Mahatma Gandhi came to know about the plight of indigo workers in Champaran, he decided to take up the cause of the oppressed against the British. Flanked by freedom fighter Raj Kumar Shukla, he travelled from Kolkata to Patnaon April 10, 1917 and went to the residence of Dr Rajendra Prasad (who later became India’s first President). But Rajendra Babu was not present in his house. A prominent barrister Mazrul Haq received him and invited him to his house.

Four days later, Gandhiji proceeded from Patna to Champaran to solve the problems of about 10,000 farmers who were forced to grow indigo. It was Gandhiji’s first satyagrah against the British. One year later, on May 1, 1918, Champaran Agrarian Act was passed by the Britishers which relieved the farmers from the curse of indigo farming forced by the foreign rulers.

The Champaran satyagrah catapulted Gandhiji on national scene during the freedom struggle. The restis history.  

The state government now plans to showcase Gandhiji’s visit to Champaran and other nearby places in a grand way in the form of year-long centenary celebrations which will start from 2017. “Gandhiji cannot be confined to any particular political party as he belongs to all,” said Chief Minister Nitish Kumar while chairing a meeting of leaders, academicians and scholars, convened to plan the centenary celebration of Champaran satyagrah.

It was decided at the meeting that the basic school, which was launched by Gandhiji during his visit to Champaran in 1917, would be revived. 

“Buildings of many of these schools are now in a dilapidated state. All the structures will be renovated and basic amenities built there. Villages where he spent time during the movement period will be developed. Signage and plaques having Gandhiji’s connection with these places would be installed at these villages and routes leading to these villages,” Nitish said.  He wants people to join hands for satyagrah celebrations irrespective of their political affiliation.

It was decided that a Gandhi memorial will be constructed in Champaran which will display the life and thoughts of Gandhiji and also display the objects used by him. 

“The focus should be on farmers as the satyagrah was launched especially for them. Their development and welfare will remain at the centre of all activities,” said the Chief Minister.

Praising Gandhi Sangrahalaya where the Mahatma visited first in 1917, Education Minister Ashok Choudhary, who also attended the meet, said that Gandhi museum had always been a source of awareness for the new generation.

 “Champaran Satyagraha is a symbol of a powerful movement. Even in the present era, it’s a source of inspiration for others,” he said while sanctioning Rs 25 lakh for the development of Gandhi museum. 

Recalling the genesis of the Champaran movement, noted Gandhian and secretary of the Gandhi Sangrahalaya in Patna, Razi Ahmed said, “In January 1915, Gandhiji returned  to India from South Africa and landed at the Mumbai port.

 Before leading the freedom struggle, he met his political guru Gopal Krishna Gokhale who suggested to Gandhiji that he should travel across the country to gauge the prevailing mood in India.”

Gandhiji writes
In 1916, when Gandhiji visited Lucknow, many leaders from Bihar met him there and urged Gandhiji to launch a movement against British’s atrocities on farmers engaged in indigo cultivation. It was then that Gandhiji decided to come to Bihar in April 1917. In fact, Gandhiji later wrote a letter to his confidante Mirabehn saying that “it was Champaran which introduced me to India.”

But apart from Champaran, it was Bihar Vidyapeeth which was closely associated with Gandhiji as it was Bapu who laid its foundation on February 6, 1921. This institution, which gave education in science and arts, besides imparting training in social works like weaving/stitching, was started as an initiative under civil disobedience movement to boycott British-run educational institutes. Later many engineering students too joined the institute after Maulana Mazharul Haq donated a piece of land near Sadaquat Ashram.

“The centenary celebration will therefore kick-start from Gandhi Sangrahalaya (museum) followed by other functions at Muzaffarpur, Motihari, Bettiah and Bhitiharwa,” said Ahmed. It was precisely at Bhitiharwa Ashram in Champaran from where Gandhiji started his satyagrah against forced indigo cultivation in 1917.

The Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation too will be preparing a Gandhi circuit as part of the centenary celebrations of Champaran Satyagrah. But the past experience of creating a Gandhi circuit has not been good as despite proposals and provisions of fund, tourists still remain unaware of places visited by Gandhiji.

 “In fact, in the 1970s, a marble plaque carrying details about Gandhiji’s visit and stay at the villages in Champaran was installed on the main Motihari-Raxaul road.

But it disappeared a few years ago,” informed a Tourism department official.Similarly, not much has been done  at Bhitiharwa Ashram where Gandhiji stayed during his Champaran visit. “Only the pictures of Gandhiji and the other Champaran movement leaders have been put in a systematic manner in the almirahs. Earlier, they were on the Ashram walls,” said Brajkishore Singh, secretary of the Gandhi Memorial Museum, Motihari.

The various departments will have to pull up their socks and work in tandem to make the Champaran satyagrah centenary celebration a success.

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