The Bhoodan Movement

On 18th April 1951, a fragile old man, dressed in traditional costumes of India sages, set out on his first round of begging. It is not for food he begged, but for land; not for himself, but for the countless farmers that raised crops on lands that never belonged to them; farmers that toiled day in and day out, but remained for the countless farmers that toiled day in and day out, but remained for ever poor and hungry. That fragile old man was Vinobha Bhave, a staunch follower of Gandhiji and firm believer in the Gandhian principles of peace and non-violence, and the project he launched was the ‘Bhoodan Movement’.

In those days when the feudal system was in vogue, much of the landed property was in the hands of a few lords and over lords. They never tilled the land nor they ever desired it. A number of landless poor, called tenants looked after this task. Year after year, they ploughed the fields, raised the crops and filled the granaries of these land lords, retaining a fraction of the produce as their wages. They did not acquire any kind of rights on these lands, nor their tenancy permanent. It depended upon the sweet will of their lords and masters. When the system was legally abolished, some of these tenants acquired occupancy rights, but they had to pay heavy amounts before they became the real owners of the land. Some political parties like the communists declared that was no need for them to pay money, and tried to dissuade the farmers from paying their installments. There arose an upsurge in many states, especially ,in Andra and Bengal. It all looked as though Andhra Pradesh would go red. It was in this context that Vinobha Bhave launched his historic movement.

This agrarian problem which was the legacy of the medieval feudalism existed in all parts of the world. Each country tried to solve the problem in its own individual way, that suited its conditions. One was the revolutionary method adopted by the communists, first in Russia and then in China. There was a lot of killings, violence and bloodshed before the owners were exterminated and the land nationalized. The India of Gandhiji could not subscribe to the use of violence and force. Nor was it prepared to abolish the Zamindari system without adequate compensation which the Indian Constitution guarantees. (Kashmir was an exception Shaik Abdullah abolished the Zamindari system without paying a single pie as compensation). The Bhoodan movement solves these two problems with one stroke; no need to use force or violence as in Russia and China and no need to pay any compensation. On the very first day of its launching hundreds of acres were offered. It was an immediate success. It brought happiness to both the giver and the receiver; with a smile on his lips, the donor offered; with a heart full of gratitude the donations received. The Acharya went from village to village, meeting the landed rich, soliciting the grant of land. There was spontaneous response wherever he went.

His movement gathered momentum; his message reached distant corners of the land. An army of young men and women plunged willingly into the task, and carried the mantle. It crossed the rigid boundaries of parties and fascinated great people like Jayaprakash Narayan who decided to serve for the cause of the Bhoodan Movement. True to his decision, he gave up his attractive political career, and devoted himself completely for its cause. In 1954 when Bhave’s Survodaya Samaj held its 6th annual session at Bodhgaya, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Pandit Nehru, Dr.Radhakrishnan attended the session along with many other celebrities.

Within a span of 3 years, more than 27,40,000 acres land were collected, in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh together and more that 55,000 acres were distributed. Many state governments took up to bring in new legislation to cover Bhoodan. As natural corollaries, there have sprung up, Sampath dan, Sramadan and Budhidan. Those who cannot offer land can donate money or offer labor mental or manual. With roads constructed, wells dug, bridges erected, without any external help, many a village wears a new look, thanks to the great Acharya’s movement. There is a new class of land owners in every village, brimming with a new hope, toiling cheerfully for a better tomorrow.

Thus the object of Vinobha Bhave’s movement is nothing short of restructuring the village life – to put an end to the generations of suffering, to drive away the shadows of poverty and to bring cheer and sunshine into the life of the laboring poor that was his aim. It is in essence a real revolution, novel in conception, profound in exposition and exemplary in implementation. It envisions to convert every village into a miniature republic self sufficient in every aspect in food, in clothing and in every other essential need, ready to take its due place in a bigger republic, and finally to create a new order based on economic freedom and social justice.

His theory accepts that inequalities exist between man and man, but rejects the proposition that an element of force and compulsion is essential to narrow the gap. It takes note of the fact that man is endowed with finer sentiments like understanding, compassion and generosity; that he is ready to part with something for the sake of the unprivileged and the underprivileged and that sacrifice is not new to man.

In this land of Bali, Sibi and Karna, what Vinobaji says may not look so novel or strange. It is the essence of our heritage, the sum and substance of our culture; we do not call it charity or generosity; we call it our duty, our sacred dharma.

But to the western mind which brushes aside such great persons as non existent mythological figures, Bhave’s idea itself is novel. Its appeal is immense. They find in it a solution to the undeclared war between the rich and the poor; between the developed and the developing. They are now ready to offer a bit of their wealth to usher in a new era of co-existence.

But the Acharya’s task is unfinished. In the very land where he had launched the scheme a new cult has sprung up. Its aim is the same-to redistribute the landed wealth; but its means is diametrically opposed to Bhave’s path of non violence. It does not believe in the change of heart. As a result, no day passes without blood being shed in the name of a new social order. It is because Vinoba Bhave’s task is unfinished the revolution he dreamt of, has not yet come. It is for those fortunate people who have inherited hundreds of acres and the popular governments, both at the state level and the centre to come out of their state of indecision and whole heartedly support the movement of the great. Acharya and end the unnecessary menace. It is an urgent choice that should be made between violence and peace between selfishness and selflessness.

Michael Ortiz

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