“Now we know Gandhi was our man; not Birla’s agent as we were taught”

Stories of Experience: Hind Swaraj Journey

In Simultala the study camp, 13-16 Sept 2003, was organized by Gram Bharti Ashram, one of the well known Sarvodaya rural institution in Bihar run by a very dedicated and powerful couple, Shri Shivanand Bhai and Sarala Bahen Jha. They have invested more than four decades in this area. For past couple of years the forest and the entire tribal area has come under the grip of Naxalism. In the midst of the forest about one hundred fifty representative of Gram Sabha (the Sarvodaya village councils) assembled for a two and a half day Hind Swaraj discourses. Within the period of past one and a half month at least three major incidents of violence, ambush and encounters had occured in  Simultala and the villages from where these one hundred fifty men and women came. About two months back, around hundred men and women alighted from a local train at Simultala station, walked up to the police station in the little bazaar of across the railway station, attacked it, set fire to it and disappeared in the jungle with some guns.

It was in the midst of this environment that we had gathered to talk about Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj and nonviolence. On the very first morning when I had just began explaining what ‘Swa’ of the Swaraj means, Budhni Devi, a harijan lady who cleaned my room in the morning, sitting right in my front, very clean and alert, could not hold herself back. She got up and said “what you are talking is contained in my “Guru Mantra”. I cannot pass on this Guru Mantra to anyone else, but to you I will surely tell what it is!” This lady later told me how her Guru had taught her about what is the physical self, the body, and what is the mind and how we are all one; even the animals and vegitation” It was my turn here to learn what profound urge and understanding this lady had, though this was my most common experience throughout my communication with participants in all these Hind Swaraj discourses across various sections.

This was one of my most memorable camps. When, on the third day evening everyone had left, Shivanand Bhai told me that a small group of six naxalite leaders of the area had mingled incognito with the participants. At the end of the camp they came up to one of them and revealed their identity. They had something to tell. “We had never known that Gandhi was our man. We were only told that in order to look like one of us he put on  loin cloth and went bare bodied, drank goat milk; but he was Birla’s man. Now we know that he fought for our dignity and justice. We have not taken to guns because we like to kill people. We have taken to guns because we want to protect our honor and livelyhood. We realize that nonviolenc is superior to violence.”  

All the participants had collectively expressed their view that Hind Swaraj needs to be taken to all villages in this area because it can really show us a path to deal with our problems of violence. The study of Hind Swaraj has given us an understanding of our reality and the methods of changing it so that we also don’t become like our exploiters and adversary. It is very clear how struggling against exploitation and injustice turns into fight against only the exploiter and not against exploitation as such.  Indradev Bhai explained  “Your talk is firmly established in every one’s heart and mind….. No one till now has talked to us in this language.  Our attention was fixed when you were explaining Swaraj and civilization.   There is so much power in Gandhiji’s words.  We want you to come to each of our villages… our boys and girls are turning to violence…We can see that Hind Swaraj has power to change this lure of violence.”

Representatives of 50 village councils took a decision to follow-up the teachings by standing against the evil of caste and religious discrimination.  

These responses created a bond between me and the participants everywhere. For example, in a similar camp at village Karjain, in the Saharsa district of Bihar, a lady came up, held both my hands in her hands and asked if I would become her brother and would visit her village one day!  She had offered satyagraha against cow slaughter under the leadership of Sarla Bahen Jha, laid down before a truck carrying cows to the slaughter house and was, at one point, dragged by the truck.  In Karjain we started in a room of the school; next day we had to shift to the varandah as the attendance had risen from 30  odd to more than a hundred with about 50 women as some of the enrolled participants went back to their villages to have their friends and neighbours  the “opportunity to listen to something which was neither a political, nor religious or a spiritual discourse as they know; but it was all in one..” . Third day almost half of the Karjain was there and we were moved from verandah to the compound. My host Haribabu, who has been host to Vinobaji and Jai Prakashji during their movements, said, he had shelved Hind Swaraj long long back. He took it out again with a new meaning.

Swaraj Peeth invites you to join this most encouraging, revealing and meaningful journey for our self renewal.