We see a lot of inequalities based on caste, religion, economy, gender, colour etc. in societies of past as well as present. From time to time, several individual and community efforts have been made to eliminate these inequalities through various initiatives. Bhoodan Movement was one such initiative, addressed to eliminate inequality based on possession of land.
- The word Bhoodan comes from two words: Bhoo (land) and dan (to donate). It was a movement that attempted to persuade large landowners to voluntarily donate a percentage of their land to landless people.
- The movement was initiated by Acharya Vinoba Bhave in 1951 at Pochampally village in modern day Telangana. The movement was inspired by the ideals of ‘Sarvodaya’ propagated by Mahatma Gandhi.
Sarvodaya and Bhoodan:
- The first reference to word ‘Sarvodaya’, is found in ancient literature but its modern philosophical meaning was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi.
- Gandhiji translated John Ruskin’s book ‘Unto This Last’ into Gujarati and named it ‘Sarvodaya’. The title ‘Unto This Last’ was taken from a Biblical story, which means that even the last person should get an equal share.
- Gandhi said that Sarvodaya meant the rise of all, and it was not merely the greatest good of the greatest number or of the last person standing in the queue. The detailed explanation of the meaning of Sarvodaya can be found in ‘Hind Swaraj’ that was written by Gandhi in 1909.
- Vinoba announced that after ‘Swaraj’, it was now time for ‘Sarvodaya’. Till he was 32 years, Vinoba continued his work quietly at Antevasi ashram, one of the less known ashrams of Gandhiji. In 1951, he left the Ashram and started the Bhoodan movement.
Vinoba Bhave and Bhoodan Movement:
- Vinayaka Narahari Bhave (Vinoba Bhave) was born on 11 September 1895 in Gagoji in Kolaba (Maharashtra).
- He exchanged letters with Gandhiji and after meeting him, he started living at Kochrab Ashram in Ahmedabad.
- In 1940 he was chosen by Gandhi, to be the first individual Satyagrahi against the British rule.
- On April 18th 1951, Vinoba went to visit the Harijan (the Untouchables) colony in Pochampally (Telangana). The Harijans asked for eighty acres of land (forty wet, forty dry) for forty families that would be enough. Then Vinoba asked,” If it is not possible to get land from the government, is there not something villagers themselves could do?” To everyone’s surprise, Ram Chandra Reddy, the local landlord, got up & said in a rather excited voice: “I will give you 100 acres for these people.” This unplanned incident was the very genesis of the Bhoodan movement.
- From Pochampalli, he reached Pavnar and in the next 70 days, he got 12,000 acres of land. Two months later, he went to Delhi on foot and got 18,000 acres of land in 62 days. This meant that he got 300 acres every day.
- The gift of land was not meant for temple, dharmashala, school etc. While asking for Bhoodan, Vinoba used to say that this was not ‘Bheeksha’ but ‘Deeksha’. “This is deeksha for nonviolent revolution. We have to build a Sarvodayi community, and on behalf of the poor I have come to you asking for their right.’
- After 1954, he started to ask for donations of whole villages in a programme he called Gramdan. The Gramdan idea did not prove popular in the non-tribal areas & this partly accounted for the decline of the movement at the end of the 1950s.
- Bhave died on 15 November 1982 after refusing food and medicine for a few days by accepting “Samadhi Maran” / “Santhara” as described in Jainism.
- Vinoba Bhave was the first recipient of the international Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership (1958).
- He was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1983.
Consequences of the Movement:
- The movement gathered slow pace in later stages. While nearly 4.5 million acres of Bhoodan land was available, barely 6.5 lakh acres was actually distributed among 200,000 families.
- The Movement spontaneously attracted the attention of many fellow-seekers & thinkers from outside India.
- Louis Fischer, the American correspondent said: “Gramdan is the most creative thought coming from the East in recent times”.
- Hallam Tennyson, the grandson of English poet, Alfred Tennyson, wrote a book, “The Saint on the march”. He narrated his memorable experiences as he moved with Vinoba into rural India.
- Chester Bowles, the American ambassador to India, observed in his book “The dimensions of peace”: “The Bhoodan Movement is giving the message of renaissance in India. It offers a revolutionary alternative to communism, as it is founded on human dignity”.
- The British Industrialist, Earnest Barder was deeply impressed by the Bhoodan movement & implemented the Gandhian concept of Trusteeship by allotting 90% share in the company to his industrial workers.
- The American Rev. Kaithan turned himself into a Sarvodaya co-worker & established a community centre in South India.
- Arthur Koestler, in 1959 wrote in London Observer, that the Bhoodan Movement presented an Indian alternative to the Nehruvian model of Western development.