Curtain will be raised before long to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, whom I personally consider as a Spiritual Master of a Millennium. I had the privilege of working for Gandhi Centenary Celebrations. As a teenager I joined the National Committee for Gandhi Centenary (NCGC) Head Office in No.1, Rajghat Colony, New Delhi. I worked for NCGC from its inception until it was wound up.
After independence, all these years what we have achieved and what we haven’t achieved. Now, it is quite appropriate to look at these through Sewagram village, which was once known as the defacto capital of India for Gandhiji’s presence there. Sewagram was Gandhiji’s laboratory for experiments of his constructive programmes for rural re-construction. It was here some of the vital political decisions regarding Indian independence viz. ‘Quit India’ were made.
Present Sewagram village was known as Segaon village until early 1940. It was an insignificant and unknown village in Wardha District and Wardha Tahsil, less than ten kilometers away from Wardha Railway Junction.
On 16th June 1936 Gandhiji came to live in Segaon village in a hut built for him. That time there were two Segaon villages in this region. The other Segaon village was famous by the residence there of Saint Gajanan Maharaj. Gandhiji’s letters used to get misdirected to that Segaon. Therefore, on 5th March 1940 this Segaon village was renamed as Sewagram (village of service). Between 1936 and 1940, Gandhiji literally made this Segaon village into a village of services i.e. Sewagram through his constructive programmes for rural re-construction viz. Khadi, Village Industries, Village Sanitation, Basic Education, Adult Education, Prohibition, Communal Unity, Removal of Untouchability, Basic Education, Welfare of Women, etc.
Gandhiji knew well and he had a very clear conviction that India lived through its villages and anything can be done and achieved for the country only through its villages. That is what made Gandhiji chose a village like Segaon in Central India as his headquarters in the last phase of the struggle for Indian independence from British Colonial rule.
Gandhiji devotion to this village is more evident in his speeches and writings, some of which are quoted below for the benefit of present generation. On 20-3-1937 when Gandhiji was invited to address a Congress meet, he declined to go and his reply was as follows:
“Although I am a prisoner of Jawaharlal and I am bound by his orders, at present I am concentrating my attention on village work and that too in Segaon.
“I have chosen one particular course of action and cannot think of anything else. At present, my mind moves in that direction. When I am able to present something before you, I shall come without your asking. There is meaning in my sitting in the village. My hopes are brightening.
“My eyes are on Segaon now.”
On 7-1-1938 while talking with doctors at Bombay Gandhiji said:
“If I cannot get well out of Segaon, I should prefer to face death in Segaon in the process of giving there to the country the work I think I am specially gifted to give.”
Later he told the Press as follows:
“Let me get back to Segaon and try that village. If I go down again, I will return to Juhu.
“Let me see what God has in store for me.”
Look at the concern and commitment Gandhiji had for Segaon village. For Gandhiji the country lived in the villages and he wanted the people to go to the villages to do the country’s work. What Gandhiji saw in Segaon village he saw in every Indian village. Can we scan and trace from history any other leader in the world anytime known to mankind with such devotion for the villages even in the midst of battle?
On 8-7-1937 when a newspaper correspondent (rep. of THE HINDU) drew Gandhiji’s attention to the fact that he was completing his year of seclusion in the village, Gandhiji replied:
“Segaon has an irresistible attraction for me and I feel inclined to stay there indefinitely.”
Gandhiji left Sewagram on 25th August 1946. On the previous day i.e. on 24th August 1946 he told the people there:
“I am leaving for Delhi tomorrow. I do not know when I shall return from there.”
Gandhiji never returned to Sewagram.
Sewagram fully lived up to its name until Gandhiji’s martyrdom on 30th January, 1948. Thereafter it started drifting. Vinoba Bhave virtually closed Sewagram Ashram and drew away the people for his bhoodan movement. Gandhiji’s doctor of village industries J.C.Kumarappa got disgusted and went to south. Until the death of the stalwart of Basic Education (Nai Talim) and a close associate of Gandhiji, E.W.Aryanayakam, who lived in Sewagram Ashram, the village had some life - a life of village of services. Thereafter, the situation started deteriorating and de-generating. There have been materialistic gains, but morally, spiritually and servicewise Sewagram virtually got deteriorated and de-generated and tragically got decayed. The greatest tragedy was the closure of Nai Talim School. During my last vsit to Sewagram a decade back I noticed only a newly painted board “Nai Talim Samiti” existed inside Sewagram Ashram premises. I wonder if there is any change now!
While Nathuram Godse assassinated Gandhiji’s body and made him a martyr, his so called disciples virtually assassinated Gandhiji’s soul and spirit day by day. They now live on alms collected in his name. Sewagram Ashram premises is now used for ritualistic camps, seminars, workshops, conferences, etc. No constructive work of any kind. It now looks like the ransacked laboratory of a Great Scientist. Also it looks like the barracks of defeated and flooded soldiers. What a tragedy! Who is responsible for this? Can the Government of independent India absolve itself of its responsibilities? Can the so called Gandhians absolve themselves of their responsibilities?
When Gandhiji came to live in Segaon (now Sewagram) the village population and their literacy status then are better described by Gandhiji himself as stated below in his speech at Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad, Madras on 27-3-1937:
“Our country lives in the villages, but we have not gone to the villages to do the country’s work. What I saw in Segaon is to be seen in every Indian village. You will be surprised that out of about six hundred villagers in Segaon, not two can read good literature. Everyday a gentleman goes to the village to read out to them the day’s news from the dailies. But it is with great hardship that he is able to get two villagers to listen to him. You can very well understand from this what a stupendous task it must be to carry good literature to their door.”
Gandhiji converted this Segaon into Sewagram and this tiny village became a centre of attraction not only for the then un-divided India as a whole but the world over. Now, Sewagram village has got 3500 population with a Post Office, one Medical College, one Engineering College, two High Schools, two primary schools, high-way like full-width asphalted approach road, shopping complex of over 100 shops, etc. etc. Four/three/two wheeler vehicles have replaced bullock-carts, bicycles and even spinning wheels. The vehicle population has virtually polluted the village air. Concrete structures are fast replacing the old village mud houses. Electronic media including Cable T.V. completely captured the village as a whole boosting the sales of cosmetic products, Lever products, Pepsi/Cocoa Cola drinks, etc. One cannot find any more the health drink “Neera” that Gandhiji propagated. But one can find enough illicit liquor brewed in Sewagram village itself. This is what I noticed during my last visit to Sewagram. As Wardha District is officially dry there are no licensed bars. Never mind illicit liquor flow through Sewagram much thicker than the Dham River. The village self-reliance is lost in Sewagram now. Right from milk, vegetables and fruits everything required for the village now come from other places. People buy paying exorbitant prices. Former cattle grazing lands almost occupied by Medical College and Engineering College campuses and the lucrative residential layouts business taking root in this tiny village. What a metamorphosical change!
Sewagram village has got from amongst its own children doctors, nurses, technicians, engineers, teachers, etc. One of its own sons built in educational as well as co-operative empire in the whole Wardha District. In spite of the increase in literacy rate and the so called materialistic development, the village is starving for the spirit of service as well as the moral, social and spiritual strength it had during Gandhiji’s time.
Only one habit of villages of Sewagram and other villages are in tact unchanged in spite of media and materialistic revolution and that is open field defecation. Whether it is in the asphalted road near Ashram Main Entrance Gate or on the four-side slops of Medical College hill-top, open field defecation by men, women and children is a regularly early morning scene creating a great public health hazard. Sewagram has also now become a pig farm for this open field defecation. This reminds one what Gandhiji told Sewagram villagers on 12th June, 1937, which reads as follows:
“....There is the question of sanitation. I cannot make your village neat and clear and sweet-smelling without your co-operation. We have engaged scavenger here. We pay for his service, but it is for you to keep your street and lanes clean. We have quantities of human manure stored up there, but I am told that you would not give your carts on hire to car this manure. Nowhere do we come across such apathy on the part of the people. Peasant everywhere in India and the world handle manure and burn it to good account.”
Conduct of our present day political parties and their elected representatives in both the houses of Parliament and State Legislatures, is virtually political defecation in the skirmish for power. This goes uncontrolled and unchecked. How can then anyone stop the open field defecation by people at Sewagram!
How nice it would be if the first citizen of India i.e. the President of India make Sewagram his retreat for orientation in rural re-construction and change Sewagram and change all the Indian villages. It is worth remembering the old Chinese saying “You read, you forget; you see, you remember; you do, you understand it.” In this case further drifting can be checked and Sewagram brought back to its past glory. This will have a signaling effect on other villages in India. Otherwise Sewagram which has now neither ‘sewa’ nor ‘gram’ will fast become a “Mewanagar” for a few. Let the nation resolve to avert such a situation before the curtain drops over Golden Jubilee Celebrations of Indian independence from British Colonial Rule. Newly elected President or Prime Minister ritualistically visit Rajghat Gandhi Samadhi. They will find enough time to visit foreign countries, but will never find time to visit Sewagram. Even if the spiritual master is not their his spirit is there in Bapur Kutir and that can transform anyone who sit inside and meditate. One has to personally experience to believe it.
May be a new leadership will emerge from the younger generation to save not only India but the whole world from total destruction. We badly need someone not to lead the country and the whole world into destruction, but someone who could lead us all into that heaven of freedom as beautifully described by Rabindranath Tagore in the following lines:
“When the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.”
Who would not love to live in such a freedom, if same can be achieved? It is time everyone worked hard for the same. If we leave the matter in the hands of few politicians alone, we are bound to be disappointed. All of us will have to struggle together against the evils of destruction. Truth, love and non-violence shall be the only weapon used in this struggle. Then only the success shall be ours.
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