Foreigner on 1,000-km padyatra
Vijaysinh Parmar, TNN 28 July 2009,
RAJKOT: This will be a walk like no other. Jeff Knaebel, 70, former US citizen, is going to embark on a 1,000-km ‘Gandhi Swaraj Padyatra’ from
Jaipur to spread Mahatma Gandhi's message of gram swaraj and self-reliance in villages.
The walk is likely to begin around August 15 and the route is being finalized. Knaebel came to India permanently in 1995 to live a peaceful life the Gandhian way. He is currently staying with Rajkot businessman Velji Desai.
During the padyatra, he will traverse Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Knaebel feels Gujarat, being the land of Gandhi, is already aware of his beliefs. "I want to walk in rural India to spread Gandhi's idea of gram swaraj, organic farming and make people realize the fallout of the western development model," he says.
Born in 1939 in California, he studied to become an engineer and spent four years in the US Navy in Vietnam. "I served as a commander near Da Nang and Chu Lai. After that, I worked in a mining business for nearly 22 years in US and Canada. I realized that nature and mankind were being destroyed by the system and decided to leave my native country and come to India," says the idealistic Knaebel.
Interestingly, he is now a stateless person. On June 19, 2009 he destroyed his US passport at Gandhi samadhi at Rajghat in New Delhi. Police didn't arrest him, instead they allowed him to roam freely in the country.
"I chose Gandhi samadhi because it's a symbol of nonviolent resistance to corrupt and violent governments. The way out of this mess is the way of Mahatma Gandhi," says Knaebel.
The ardent Gandhian has donated all his savings to organizations working for the underprivileged. He has assisted in school and library construction, village waterworks, farming technology projects, book distribution and adult literacy programmes. His book Experiments in moral sovereignty: Notes of an American Exile'' was published in 2006.
Knaebel says his mission is to reclaim the human birthright to self-ownership and right to respect the lives of others. "For me, the great challenge has been to learn to direct anger at senseless destruction and killing into proactive work grounded in compassion. It has been difficult to understand that the problem is more of an evil system than evil people," he says.
To view more work and for updates on Jeffs walk go to Freeofstate.org and thetreeoftomorrow.org