Gandhi's legacy in Champaran drifting into oblivion, a task fit for taking up by INTACH

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Bhitiharva Village (Bihar), Sep.24 : As the nation is getting ready to pay tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his 139th birth anniversary on October 2, a historical Ashram founded by him in Bihar, as the centre from where he started his first Satyagraha, taking the cause of indigo workers, is drifting into oblivion.

Mahatma Gandhi established this Ashram at Bhitiharva in Bihar's Champaran region taking up the cause of indigo workers. Among those who joined him were people like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who later became the first President of India.

It was from this place that Mahatma set forth his historical Satyagraha movement, and confronted the colonial rulers.

In 1917, one of Gandhi's ardent followers, Rajkumar Shukla, invited him to counter the oppression of the people by colonial rulers. Gandhi obliged and arrived in Bhitiharva Village and wished to establish an Ashram on a land, and decided not to pay taxes to the colonial government.

The Satyagraha movement took shape in Champaran.

Bhitiharva Ashram today maintains a small museum inside where Gandhi's study table is kept and along with his traditional Charkha (the spinning wheel).

The leaders, who stayed in Champran, were required to clean their latrines themselves. Gandhiji told them to cook for themselves and not to depend on servants. Gandhi along with villagers led the cleaning campaign in their villages, setting up schools, hospitals and encouraging the rural leadership to do away with the traditional Purdah (women's veil) system.

In this crusade, Mahatma was joined by many young nationalists from all over India and among them were many prominent individuals including Ramarshi Deo 'Rishiji' Trivedi, Brijkishore Prasad, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Pt.Jawaharlal Nehru, Jagjivan Ram among others.

A religious leader who used to stay next to the area where Gandhiji established the Ashram, gave away the land to Gandhiji to make an Ashram grew indigo and refused to pay taxes, recalls Arun Kumar Shukla, son of Rajkumar Shukla.

A school, named today as Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, was also built next to the Gandhi Ashram. And, girls from underprivileged families would study at this school. Mahatma's wife Kasturba Gandhi wanted to ensure that the girls in the village were educated, and do not remain confined to four corners of their houses.

The school exists even today, but is in a state of disrepair.

"The Bihar Government has announced that it will revive the school, but is unable to get teachers with a sense of mission. The love and dedication with which the students were taught in the past is now missing in the school," said Ashish Kumar, a local resident of Bhitiharva Village.

The school has boarding facilities and students are taught vocational courses Moreover, the girl students here are paid rupees 50 for their monthly expenses.

"This school offers free education, books, stationary items to these girls. The girls also undergo physical education activities and are taught stitching," said Rajini, one schoolteacher.

But sadly, the enthusiasm seems to be lacking. The occupants of the school do not seem to be aware of the role that the ashram played during the freedom struggle.

A few elderly people remember the role that the Ashram played during the freedom struggle, but are unable to generate enthusiasm among the local people or the powers at the state headquarters in Patna.

It is time that the State or the Central Government tries to approach a NGO like the INTACH to take interest in preserving the institution at Champaran. y Pawan Shah

ANI

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