Three outstanding Indians died in a single week in Might. All had been vastly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, although every expressed his “Gandhism” in several methods and in several geographical settings. One was in his eighties, the second in his nineties, the third had lived for a couple of hundred years on this planet. So whereas we mourn their deaths we should additionally rejoice their lives.
The primary of those Gandhians to go was Sunderlal Bahuguna of Uttarakhand. When the Chipko motion started within the higher Alaknanda valley in 1973, Bahuguna already had a number of a long time of social work behind him. The preliminary Chipko protests had been led by Chandi Prasad Bhatt, in Bahuguna’s phrases the “mukhya sanchalak” (chief organiser) of the motion. Impressed by what ladies and men had achieved within the district of Chamoli, Bahuguna introduced the thought of Chipko to his own residence terrain, the valley of the opposite nice department of the Ganga, the Bhageerathi. Right here he organised protests towards the felling of inexperienced timber, occurring lengthy fasts within the forests.
I first met Sunderlalji in Calcutta in 1981. I used to be simply starting my doctoral analysis on Chipko, and he had come to the town to speak on this very topic. He was a fascinating, compelling speaker, switching between Hindi and English with ease (likely he was much more fascinating and compelling in his native Garhwali). Two years later, I did a spell of fieldwork within the Badyar valley, interviewing peasant ladies who had labored with Bahuguna in a serious protest he had led there.
Service and activism
In the middle of my analysis I got here to admire each Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna. Journalists and teachers in Delhi had been fast to take sides, selling one or the opposite because the “actual” or “true” chief of Chipko. In reality, each had performed very important roles within the motion. Moreover, their orientations had been completely different, however complementary. After the protests of the Nineteen Seventies had led to a speedy decline in industrial felling in Uttarakhand, Bahuguna took the message of Chipko throughout the Himalaya.
Bhatt, however, centered on grass-roots reconstruction inside Uttarakhand, mobilising ladies and college students in efficiently reforesting hillsides made barren by what one Chipko activist described to me as “andhadhun katai”, the reckless felling of timber by contractors in collusion with the forest division.
Each Bahuguna and Bhatt impressed many youthful Indians to take to a lifetime of service and activism.
Matching Sunderlal Bahuguna in power, braveness, intelligence and charisma was a Gandhian who died 5 days after him. This was HS Doreswamy of Karnataka. He was a decade older than Bahuguna, and thus had a good longer report of service. As a pupil, Doreswamy met Gandhi when the Mahatma got here to Nandi Hills for a spell of relaxation and recuperation in the summertime of 1936. Six years later, Doreswamy performed a number one half within the Stop India motion within the princely state of Mysore, spending a very long time in jail as a consequence.
Within the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties, Doreswamy labored within the Sarvodaya motion, specializing in land redistribution. Nevertheless, when the Emergency was promulgated in 1975, he deserted social work for activism, which resulted in his now being jailed by the federal government of impartial India as he had as soon as been jailed by its feudal and colonial predecessor. He was launched after a couple of months, and spent the remainder of his life working for a extra humane social order in his dwelling state.
I first met Doreswamy within the late Nineteen Eighties, after I took half in demonstrations led by him towards the environmental destruction of the Western Ghats by the military-industrial advanced. Already in his seventies, he was a powerful presence; tall, erect, at all times prepared to steer a procession or go on hunger-fast. Like Sunderlalji, he had a particular method with the younger, his accessibility and sense of humour drawing them nearer to him.
My most up-to-date assembly with HS Doreswamy was in March final 12 months. Within the intervening a long time I had, after all, adopted his work carefully. He was verily the conscience of Karnataka, fearless in taking over land sharks, mining firms and, not least, corrupt politicians. By way of his eighties and nineties he retained his zest and dedication, elevating his voice towards social and financial injustice, all of the whereas refusing to take any favours from the state.
He by no means owned a automobile, preferring to make use of public transport. The photographer, Okay Bhagya Prakash, seeing a 91-year-old Gandhian ready at a Bengaluru bus cease, stopped to take – unnoticed by the person himself – a collection of fairly great snaps of Doreswamy boarding a bus, these reposted on Twitter after his demise.
The Hindutva menace
For all its different achievements, the Gandhian motion in impartial India has by no means paid sufficient consideration to the menace posed to the Republic by the rise of Hindutva majoritarianism. (Sunderlal Bahuguna himself sailed fairly shut to those murky waters, associating with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad once in a while.)
On this regard, Doreswamy was a sterling exception. His final marketing campaign, which he undertook on the age of 101, was towards the immoral Citizenship (Modification) Act. Impressed by the exemplary braveness proven by college students (significantly feminine college students) at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia within the face of police repression, the centenarian Gandhian determined to make a public assertion himself. In March 2020, he positioned himself beneath a shamiana in an open house the place, together with hundreds of different pals and admirers, I went to satisfy him and listen to him converse.
As The Hindu reported, Doreswamy held the CAA to be grossly discriminatory, “antithetical to the founding rules of our nation”. “The Muslims right here selected to be Indians,” he stated. “They can’t be requested to show their citizenship now.” Opposing the regime’s discriminatory insurance policies, noticed Doreswamy, “doesn’t make me anti-national. We have to differentiate between the federal government, the state and the nation.”
Each Sunderlal Bahuguna and HS Doreswamy had been activists who had been totally snug being within the public eye. They had been fairly glad to precise their ideas if a microphone had been positioned earlier than them, and fluently and wittily too. Each had been additionally extraordinarily photogenic. Relatively completely different in character and temperament was a Gandhian who died simply after Bahuguna and simply earlier than Doreswamy. His identify was KM Natarajan. Mild, self-effacing and therefore a lot much less well-known than the opposite two, he admirably embodied the Gandhian spirit in his own residence state, Tamil Nadu.
Natarajanji was extra a constructive employee than an activist. Impressed by Gandhi as a pupil, in 1956-’57, he joined Vinoba Bhave on an extended padayatra by Tamil Nadu, selling the Bhoodan motion. Thereupon he devoted the remainder of his life to rural renewal. He labored on, amongst different issues, the abolition of caste distinctions, the promotion of khadi and of natural agriculture, and the redistribution of land owned by temples to landless labourers.
Amongst his closest associates in these campaigns had been that extraordinary couple, Sankaralingam and Krishnammal Jagannathan, and an American in khadi, Ralph Richard Keithahn.
I first bought to know KM Natarajan courtesy the Indian postal service. Again in 1996, I had written a newspaper article on the Gandhian economist, JC Kumarappa, which prompted a most instructive mail from a person in Madurai who had labored carefully with Kumarappa himself. A few years later, whereas researching the lifetime of RR Keithahn, I discovered Natarajan had recognized him properly too. So I travelled to Madurai to hunt his recommendation.
Over cups of tea within the Sarvodaya workplace within the Gandhi museum advanced, Natarajanji informed me many issues I didn’t find out about Keithahn’s life. Then he despatched me off with introductions to individuals on the Gandhigram Rural College in Dindigul, who had recognized Keithahn properly too.
In the middle of our conversations I found, to my shock and pleasure, that Natarajanji had a eager curiosity in that decidedly un-Gandhian pursuit, the sport of cricket. And his generosity was boundless. After I returned to Bengaluru, I obtained a gradual stream of parcels from him containing authentic letters written by Keithahn, which he had sourced for me from throughout Tamil Nadu. His kindness prolonged to studying drafts of what I wrote on the topic, with my errors gently identified.
As I mirror on these three lives, I see what every of them has to show these of us who nonetheless have time left on this earth.
Bahuguna of Uttarakhand taught us that human beings should not separate from or superior to the pure world, that for our personal survival we now have to respect the remainder of creation.
Doreswamy of Karnataka taught us that discrimination in accordance with caste, class, gender or creed isn’t just antithetical to the beliefs of the Indian Structure, however to decency and humanity itself. To oppose such discrimination, and non-violently, is the responsibility of all who declare to have freedom and justice as their beliefs.
Natarajan of Tamil Nadu taught us that true self-reliance begins with the person, working along with her household and her neighborhood, that native motion for rural sustainability is as very important to the way forward for the planet as worldwide agreements on decreasing carbon emissions.
Three lives, every admirable, albeit in several and distinct methods. But there was a standard thread that certain them. Bahuguna, Doreswamy and Natarajan had been deeply rooted of their dwelling districts, their dwelling states, whereas being keenly taken with India and the world. It was a privilege to have recognized all of them.
Ramachandra Guha’s electronic mail handle is [email protected]
This text first appeared in The Telegraph.