Dr. Souribandhu Kar
General Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress in Odisha State
Many times we see the statement of Einstein : “ Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in fl esh and blood walked upon this earth.” How prophetic these words are when I look back his Padayatra (foot walk) in Odisha at the time of intense freedom struggle. The personality of Mahatma Gandhi and his vast philosophy, covering every aspect of human knowledge cannot be evaluated but his humanitarian approach and love for the downtrodden masses gives a glimpse of his unique personality.
Gandhi termed Odisha as a tirtha – pilgrimage. Odisha became a pilgrimage to Gandhi because he started the untouchability movement in a different manner. Gandhi visited eight times Odisha from 1921 to 1946. He has started his historic harijan (untouchable) walk from here for the fi rst time.
Gandhi’s visit depicted not only the struggles for freedom but also the Hindu Muslim Unity, spread of Khadi & removal of untouchability. While visiting Odisha, Gandhi could see the poverty of the people. This was moved him very much. For the fi rst time Gandhi came on 23rd March, 1921 when he addressed a Mammoth Public meeting at the sands of Kathajodi river. Pandit Gopabandhu Das welcomed Gandhiji there and termed him not as a man but an angle who has come to ameliorate the plight of the poor masses. Gandhiji’s massages to the people of Odisha was clear and loud. It was satyagraha and non-cooperation. He also never forget to collect Tilak Swaraj Fund. Odisha enrolled three lakh congress membership and thre lakh rupees for Tilak Swaraj Fund.
Gandhiji’s life and massages was widespread in rural Odisha and was worshiped as an incarnation of God. In 1922 during Ratha Yatra (Car Festival) at Berhampur, the non-co-operators used the image of Mahatma in front of the chariot. Gandhi became a household name in Odisha and odia literature depicted vividly on the glory of Mahatma. In 1925, Gandhi with the invitation of Madhusudan Das, the founder of Utkal Sammelani visited Cuttack and the Utkal tannery. Gandhi was deeply pleased when he found the Hindu Muslim Unity in Cuttack. He also met the inmate of Alakashram established at Jagatsinghpur which works on Gandhian Constructive line. Gandhi emphasised the need of national educati on. Gandhi on his visit to Odisha laid great emphasis and the participation of women in the freedom movement. Many women from wealthy families at the call of the Mahatma joined in the Satyagraha struggle. Rama Devi, Malati Devi, Jamuna Devi, Godabari Debi, Subhada Devi and many more joined the freedom struggle.
Gandhi visited Odisha eight times and spent 69 days in Odisha. His eventful fi fth visit to Odisha in 1934 deserves special signifi cance because he has undertaken Padayatra or footmarch. Gandhi in his life-time undertook foot-march twice i.e. first in Odisha and second in Noakhali in 1947. This padayatra has rightly been regarded as the Dharmayatra ( Religious March) of the messiah who travelled on foot for the emancipation of Dalits of the state. Gandhi in this historic padayatra collected Harijan Fund at every place.
Gandhi felt, ‘The Harijan movement is religious by nature. All great religions are their existence to the foot marches undertaken by great spiritual leaders. Puri is a place of pilgrimage and a centre of religion. So the changeover to the really religious method of preaching out to be undertaken here.
Gandhi undertook his padayatra on 9th May, 1934 at 5.30 A.M. along Puri-Cuttack Road. His companions were Amritlal Thakar, Miss Mira Behn, Sushila Behn, Uma Bajaj (Daughter of Jamunalal Bajaj), Pravabati Devi (wife of Jayaprakash Narayan), Balaji Govindji Desai, Damodar Das, Kaka Kalekar, a German journalist K. Butow, Gopabandhu Choudhury, Rama Devi, Harekrishna Mahtab, Nilakantha Das, Raj Krushna Bose and few other leaders. Jadumani Mangaraj, Satya Narayan Sengupta, Bichitrananda Das, Binod Kanungo, Surendra Patnaik, Sahadev Das, Gajendranath Das, Nanda Kishore Das, Karunakar Panigrahi and many others also joined the Padayatra. Mass and massive crowd followed him on his padayatra. He visited harijan basties on his route and advised them to discard alcohol and follow the rule of hygiene. Gandhi was of the view that ‘Hinduism will be effaced altogether’ if this evil is not resisted.
Gandhi visited Gopabandhu Seva Sadan (Kadua Ashram) on 10th May, 1934 and stayed at Harijan boarding. He addressed the Brahmins of Birapurushottmpur who were determined to wipe-out untouchabilty. Even he invited the harijans to dine with the padayatries. He opened the Kunjabihari temple at Balianta for Hindus including Harijans. In 1938, when Gandhiji came to Odisha for Gandhi Sevashram meeting , kasturba was with him. Kasturba desired to have darshan of Lord Jagannath at Puri. Baikuntanath Mohanty, one of the volunteer took Ba to show the different places in Puri and took her to Jaganath temple. The harijans were not allowed to the temple. Hence, Gandhiji took the vow that he should not enter the temple but Kasturba went to the temple without the knowledge and consent of Gandhiji. Gandhi when came to know of this, declared in the prayer meeting to go on fast. He continued fasting and remained totally silent.
Gandhiji advised the Harijan activists of Odisha in a meeting. He said, “ In this pilgrimage those who have directly participated, they would have noticed that real work lies in the village. In this area mostly harijans are staying. The poverty is rampant here. So, this harijan karmi sangh should send their good cadres to the villages. This does not mean that they should neglect the work in town. Village activists should do the work of both touchables and untouchables. They should organise education for all harijan children and adults, provide them clean drinking water and open the doors of the temple- – -. They should teach them to avoid wine and intoxinate habit. Keeping friendship with the touchables, they should take interest to serve the harijans. Never try to do it forcibly.”
He laid emphasis on the purity of character of the workers. Those who cannot change their character should not venture for this work. He specially advised Smt. Rama Devi to look for the proper accommodation and education for the workers and organise the institution. Gandhiji in his harijan padayatra in Odisha stayed on the open below the sky and encouraged the workers to do the harijan work to remove untouchability from the society.
While at Delanga in Puri district, Gandhiji in a public meeting said, “Odisha is the dearest place in India for me. When I reached India, I came to know the poverty, drought of Odisha. I have realised that if I could serve the people of Odisha, I will realise that I have served India. Odisha became a sacred place to me, not because of Lord Jagannath, because his doors are closed for the harijans, so it is for me. This is my tirtha, for this reason is that I have started to remove the work of untouchability system from here on my padayatra. I heard that the orthodox people wanted me to kill and stop the untouchable work. If I go by train or by motor, it was not easy for them to kill me. Apart from this, the pilgrim should go on walk for pilgrimage. The pilgrim take the name of the lord, forgets the pain and anguish and offers his service at the feet of lord while go on pilgrimage by foot. Whether we will backtrack if sanatani brothers disturb at Puri or face them with the policy of non-violence. This is not possible if move in the train or motor. So, I have decided to walk on foot, the rest of the days of harijan padayatra”.
Gandhi was fi rm of his work of social reconstruction. He opened Ashrams and institutions like Akhil Bharat Charakha Sangha, Akhil Bharat Gramodyog Sangh, harijan Sevak Sangh etc. Organisations for constructive work programmes and propagated non-violent agitation, dignity of labour and discipline of austerity. The national movement laid by Gandhiji for various social causes like abolition of untouchability and harijan rights for entry to the temples were indeed very important milestones in the annals of human rights movements in modern India. As a matter of fact, this was a bold step taken by a man of strong convictions and determination.
In respect to his approach and methods, Gandhi explains : “ My mission is to teach by example and precept under severe restraint the use of the matchless weapon of Satyagraha, which is a direct corollary of non-violence and truth. I am anxious, indeed I am impatient, to demonstrate that there is no remedy for the many ills of life save that of non-violence – – – when I have become incapable of evil and when nothing harsh or haughty occupies, be it momentarily, my thought, would then and not till then, my non-violence will move all the harvest of the world. I have placed before me and the reader no impossible ideal or ordeal. It is man’s prerogative and birth-right.”
Gandhiji’s padayatra in Odisha was a historical event and it established fi rmly his philosophy of truth and non-violence through the struggle of satyagraha.