Gandhians of North and South
Three brilliant Indians died in a single week of May. All of them were deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, though each of them expressed their Gandhism differently and in different geographical areas.
One of them was in the eighth decade of age, the other in the ninth decade and the third had spent more than a hundred years on this planet. Therefore, along with mourning his death, we should also celebrate his life.
The first of these Gandhians to bid farewell was Sunderlal Bahuguna of Uttarakhand. By the time the Chipko movement began in the Upper Alaknanda Valley in 1973, Bahuguna had spent several decades in social work.
Chipko’s early demonstrations were led by Chandi Prasad Bhatt, who in Bahuguna’s words was the ‘main driver’ of the movement. Inspired by what women and men did in Chamoli district, Bahuguna brought Chipko’s idea to the Bhagirathi valley, the great stream of the Ganges, located in his home region.
Here they protested against the felling of lush green trees and observed long fasts in the forests.
The journalists and scholars of Delhi were competing to describe either of them as the ‘real’ and ‘true’ leader of Chipko. The truth is that both played an important role in the movement.
Apart from this, their inclinations were definitely different, but they complemented each other.
Another Gandhian armed with energy, courage, intelligence and charisma like Sunderlal Bahuguna did not live five days after his death. It was HS Duraiswami of Karnataka.
In the summer of 1936, when Gandhi had come to Nandi Hills for recuperation, Duraiswami had met him as a student. Six years later, Duraiswami played an important role in the Princely State of Mysore during the Quit India Movement and spent a lot of time in jail.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Duraiswami worked in the Sarvodaya movement and focused on land distribution.
However, when the Emergency was imposed in 1975, he left social work and switched to activism, as a result, he was imprisoned by the government of independent India in the same manner as his feudal and colonial predecessor.
I met HS Duraiswami for the first time in the 1980s when I participated in a demonstration led by the Military-Industrial Complex against environmental degradation in the Western Ghats. My last meeting with him was in March last year.
Despite all its other achievements, the Gandhian movement in independent India never paid enough attention to the threat posed to the republic by the rise of Hindutva majoritarianism. (Sunderlal Bahuguna was also associated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad on several occasions).
HS Duraiswami was an exception in this respect. He did his last agitation against the immoral Citizenship Amendment Bill at the age of 102.
Inspired by the exemplary courage shown by students (especially female students) in the face of police repression at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, the Gandhian of over a hundred years himself decided to hold a public protest.
In March 2020, he staged a sit-in dharna along with thousands of friends and well-wishers by putting up a canopy in an open space. I too went there to listen to them. The Hindu wrote in its report, ‘Duraiswami termed the CAA as grossly biased and immoral against the basic principles of our country.
“Muslims chose to live as Indians,” he said. They can no longer be asked to prove their citizenship. Opposing the partisan policies of the government will not make me anti-national. We need to differentiate between government, state and country.
Sunderlal Bahuguna and HS Duraiswami, both were comfortable in public. Another Gandhian of a different mood died after Bahuguna’s death and before Duraiswami’s death.
His name was KM Natarajan. He embodied the Gandhian spirit admirably in his home state of Tamil Nadu. Natarajan Ji was more a creative worker than an activist.
Influenced by Gandhi as a student, he joined Vinoba Bhave’s long march through Tamil Nadu to encourage the Bhoodan movement in 1956–57. He then decided to devote the rest of his life to rural renovation.
He worked towards ending caste discrimination, promoting Khadi and organic farming, and distributing temple land among landless labourers, among other things.
People close to him on this campaign included a scintillating couple Sankaralingam and Krishnanammal Jagannathan and the khadi-wearing American Ralph Richard Calhan.
In 1996 I wrote an article in a newspaper about Gandhian economist JC Kumarappa. On this, I received a letter from Madurai from a person who himself had worked closely with Kumarappa.
Several years later, while researching RR Kaithan’s life, I learned that Natarajan knew him very well. So I reached Madurai to take his advice. While having tea at the Sarvodaya office, Natarajan Ji told me many things related to Kaithan’s life.
Reflecting on these three personalities, I saw what each of them could teach us. Bahuguna taught us that humans are neither separate nor superior from the natural world, so we must respect the rest of creation for the sake of our existence.
Duraiswami taught us that discrimination based on caste, class, gender or sect is not only immoral against the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution, but it is also against decency and humanity.
Natarajan taught us that true self-reliance begins with working individually, with our family and our community, that local action for rural sustainability is as important to the future of our planet as it is to reduce carbon emissions. related international agreements.
All three of them were tied by a common string. Bahuguna, Duraiswami and Natarajan were deeply attached to their home district, their home state, and had a keen interest in India and the world. He used to think globally while working locally. I am privileged to have known them all.