By Jamuna Rangachari
Vinoba Bhave’s lofty example of using a humanist approach to resolve conflicts can teach us how to solve contemporary problems like the Telangana issue or the Maharashtrian manoos issue
Telangana!” Each time I heard the word, I had a sense of deja-vu. And I heard it often enough as the issue of creating a separate Telangana state vaulted into the public domain, and newspaper headlines went ballistic
“Naxal-infested,” “Dangerous territory,” “Move to demand a separate state” they screamed …
And then I realised why the name struck a bell. It had to do with a wonderfully wise and selfless solution to the same problem of poverty and lack of progress that is driving the people to agitate for their own state. And I wondered, were there not lessons to be learnt from this?
Back in 1973, distraught at the violence and poverty around, Vinoba Bhave, the great humanitarian and staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi, left his ashram in Pavnar to see how he could help the landless people in India.
Naxalism, he knew, would never succeed as it wa s rooted in violence, which would only create more problems. Surely, there was another way.
First, he chose to go to one of the most poverty-stricken and afflicted zones, Pochampally, a village in Telangana.
Setting himself up in the courtyard of a prayer compound, he was soon receiving visitors from the entire village. The landless people told Vinoba they had no choice but to support the people fighting for land, because they had no land. They asked him if he could ask the government to give them land so that they could grow the crops.
Vinoba replied, “What use is government help until we can help ourselves?” Late that afternoon, by a lake next to the village, Vinoba held another prayer meeting that drew thousands of villagers from the surrounding area. Without really expecting a response, he said, “Brothers, is there anyone among you who can help your landless friends?”
Slowly, a prominent farmer of the village, Ramachandra Reddy, stood up. “Sir, I am ready to give one hundred acres.”
Vinoba could not believe his ears.
Vinoba was just as astounded when the landless people declared that they needed only 80 acres and would not accept more!
Vinoba suddenly saw a solution. So began the movement called Bhoodan —“land-gift.” Over the next seven weeks, Vinoba asked for donations of land for the landless in 200 villages. “We do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness, but at creating a kingdom of kindness,” Vinoba Bhave used to say.
A farmer willing to part with 100 acres out of simple generosity! There were even more surprises in store.
Basically, the Bhoodan mission’s aim was to convince wealthy landowners to voluntarily give a percentage of their land to the landless. Vinoba walked across the entire country on foot and was followed by crowds nearly everywhere he went.
Bhoodan did not succeed as much as Vinoba wished, but surely, a remarkable way of solving problems through simple kindness had been shown.
Another remarkable initiative is that of the Timbaktu Collective in the Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh, where a small group of development activists located themselves in a 32-acre plot of dry, degraded land in 1990 with the aim of healing and regenerating this ravaged land and creating an agro forest habitat. Slowly over the years, not only Timbaktu but also the surrounding hills had greened themselves, while insects, birds and animals have reappeared.
Are these initiatives successful? Certainly they are.
The average Maharashtrian’s hospitality and openness in accepting all others is well- known. The fact is, however, they do feel swamped by others today. In fact, the highly successful Marathi movie, Mee Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy highlights the issue very well. A typical middle class Maharashtrian family living in Mumbai finds itself out of place when dealing with members of other communities who have migrated to Mumbai and made it big, while they do not really know how to cope with the aggressively competitive and ambitious outsiders, who beat them on their home turf. Instead of merely protesting, the protagonist in the film then turns to being more active and assertive and yet accepting of all human beings in Maharashtra as Maharashtrian.
How wonderful it would be if this happens in real life too. Today, when the fire rages in Telangana, and a debate on who is a Marathi Manoos rages on and off in Maharashtra, perhaps we need to remember and pay a tribute to people like Vinoba Bhave, a Maharashtrian, an Indian and a humanist above all.
Seeing Vinoba Bhave’s genuine interest in finding a solution, Ramachandra Reddy too was inspired enough to see the landless as his own brothers.
In Pochampally, Andhra Pradesh, there stands a temple housing the statues of Acharya Vinoba Bhave and of Ramachandra Reddy.
Undoubtedly, this is an honour but perhaps they would have been happier if people followed the path they showed of understanding, acceptance, and compassion, and thereby created more Timbaktus and Bhoodans.
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