Articles published in Anasakti Darshan: July 2010, [Vol.5 No.2] and June 2011, [Vol.6 No.1]
[ International journal for building a non-violent egalitarian society ]
Dr. Ramji Singh
With changing times, it is possible that the values of society and meaning of words might also change. Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s philosophy of Bhoodan was seated in the ancient Indian tradition of ‘danan’ – spiritual clarity. The mythical story of Vaman Avatar of Lord Vishnu in which Raja Bali donated the entire earth is part of our cultural heritage. Disguised as a Brahmin, Lord Vishnu had asked for three steps of land and the Lord covered the entire earth and heaven in two steps. Perhaps, the concept of land donation was there to reduce inequities in society and build a more homogenous social structure. Shankaracharya too emphasised land donation in a high pedestal.
Along with donation of land, cattle, gold, silver, well, tree etc were also in vogue. In some cases, people also donated their bodies and lives, like Rishi Dadhich who donated his body, Ushinar Shitish who donated his life
and Karna who donated his armour. In the modern era, land donation or Bhoodan started at Pochampalli village of Andhra Pradesh with the peace march in Telangana under the guidance of Acharya Vinoba Bhave.
The historical backdrop of the movement was the blood letting that was taking place in the Telangana region at that time. During the day light the police and paramilitary forces used to hunt and gun down the extremists and at night, it was the turn of the extremists ‘Soviets’, as they were called, to kill the landlord and other rich farmers in the Telangana region. At that time, Sant Vinoba Bhave was in Delhi and he was serving the refugees who had come from Pakistan. But the violence and the killings in Telangana region moved his heart and compelled him to start on his peace march.
Jeevan Jakhan Sukaye Jayey Karuna Rasdhara Aiso – The wounds of life are healed by the balm of piety. I have heard Vinoba speak on this topic while addressing members of Bihpur Prakhand Panchayat Samiti at Bhagalpur. He was speaking and crying at the same time. He said that during his peace march he went to a village of Harijans and when he asked them about the cause behind the violence, the villager’s revealed the horrific truth that they were surviving by eating boiled leaves that grow in ponds. That night Vinoba found it difficult to sleep and in his dream he saw God commanding him to ask for donation of land. Next morning when he woke up, he demanded adamantly, “I will have sweets for breakfast.” People rushed out and brought him sweets, but he said, “I want donation of 90 acre of land in the form of sweets.” There were 90 Harijans families and he had demanded 90 acre of land; an acre per family. On the same night, while going to bed, Vinoba wondered, “Duryodhan had refused to give even one inch of land. Will someone donate me 90 acres?”
“Na Datvayang Sui Agre
Bina Yudhye Ne Keshav”
But thinking that it was a command from the God himself, Vinoba began begging for land. History is witness to the fact that a farmer of Pochampalli village, Ramchandra Reddy, immediately donated 100 acre of land and the Bhoodan movement took its birth.
As the peace march turned into Bhoodan march, Vinoba got a little bit of land whereever he went and the Bhoodan movement took wings. Subsequently, Vinoba started his padyatra\Bhoodan march and walked over 40,000 miles all over the country.
Initially, Vinoba got a lot of affection from the people for his movement, along with some land. But at the same time, he also had to face criticism. His most bitter critics were the socialists who were leading land reform
agitation through Kisan Sabha Sangathan. Noted socialist thinker Dr Ram Manohar Lohia sarcastically said, “The way Vinobaji is going, it will take him 250 years to solve the land problem.” In a polite reply, Vinoba observed, “I used to think that it would take 500 years to solve the land problem as he was working alone, but now I will also get the support of Dr Lohia and therefore it will take only 250 years. Similarly, if JP, Z Ahmed, Namoodripad etc. put in their bit to solve the land problem, then the task of Bhoodan would be completed easily.”
History is witness to the fact that slowly the Bhoodan movement became the biggest national movement of its time and collected about 45 lakh acre of land. It is true that some of the donated land included mountains, stony land, forests and poor quality land, which could not be distributed, but now the value of even those lands has increased. Vinoba took the concept of Bhoodan to certain level and then converted it into Gramdan. While Bhoodan was a partial concept based on engendering the feeling of piety and create a conducive atmosphere among the people, Gramdan was a complete philosophy. The philosophy of Gramdan was extensively spread in Bihar.
When a national convention was called in Yelwal, Karnataka, in 1957, the top leaders of all the political parties came – President Dr Rajendra Prasad, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, members of the Planning Commission, Praja Samajwadi Party president Ganga Sharan, Jaiprakash Narayan, Joint Samajwadi Dal representative Z Ahmed and Namoodripad were also present. At that meeting everyone welcomed Gramdan and decided to include it in the national planning.
There was also a section that opposed Vinoba’s Bhoodan on account of their ideology. When Vinoba was in Munger, a socialist came up to him and said, “Along with this citation I am also giving my land in donation, but that will not serve the problem because it is impossible that everyone will have a change of heart and donate land.” Vinoba replied, “You were earlier a Congressman, but now you are a socialist, so how can you say that the other people will not have a change in heart.”
Vinoba’s science of non-violent revolution requires further qualification. For total change in the society, there are three main elements that must also change – one is change of heart, the other is change of thought\philosophy and the third is change in situation. People who are wrapped in ‘Moha’ have a change in heart. There are many examples like Angulimal, Ashok, and Ratnakar etc. William James had also accepted that change of heart was possible, while in the field of religion the concept of change of heart is readily acceptable – what we call confession. But the biggest change of all is changing the status quo or situation.
For example, at present those who talk about atom bombs are either mad or extremists\terrorists. Similarly the excess of land holding and great disparity of wealth are socially and culturally against the good of all. Earlier the communists were firm in their belief about the ‘inevitability of war’, but in the age of atom bombs, which has changed the concept of destruction, they have changed to the concept of ‘peaceful coexistence’. Nowadays, Russia and China have accepted and are moving towards globalisation. Initially, philosophers and thinkers of the western world used to laugh at the concept of Bhoodan, and used to say that if a person like Vinoba asked donation of land in the West, then he would either be put in prison or in mental asylum. But, when the movement started gaining strength then slowly they changed their opinion and started learning more about it.
Bhoodan-Gramdan is only a symbol. What Vinoba wanted was to build a new society where the predominant feeling would be one of giving wealth not snatching wealth. When the evil side of human beings dominate in a
society, then people snatch other people’s rights and property, but when the good side dominates then people become Dadhich and Karna. Therefore, Vinoba talked not only of Bhoodan, but also of donation of wealth, labour, knowledge, wells, resources etc. so that man really starts behaving like human. The true human being is a person who dies for humanity. Therefore, as long as sacrifice is relevant, Bhoodan would also remain relevant. Gramdan is a total and utilitarian concept, where there is community ownership in the place of individual ownership. This is something which people would accept readily and is the best way for building a society. At present there are two concepts of property – capitalism or socialism. The wealth is either owned individually or it belongs to the state. Capitalism talks about ownership of wealth at the individual level for the sake of individual freedom and dignity, but using this pretext they also exploit humans and keep them bonded. It is due to disparities in wealth witnessed by Marx that made him speak out against individual ownership. It is of course another thing that when communists gained power, the rulers created a class of their own. The ownership of wealth in the hands of the State is a dangerous thing. Because the State in itself is a centre of power and when political power joins hands with economic power and ownership of wealth, then it results in tyranny.
There have been three other types of ownership of property as opposed to individual ownership that is prevalent in the capitalist world. The Kolkhoz system in Russia, the commune system in China and Kibbutz of Israeli. Among these three, there is maximum democracy and socialism in the Kibbutz, but Israel itself suffers from racism and militarism. Under these circumstances, the concept of Gramdan and Gram Swaraj are better as an ideology and on the grounds of being practical. Under this arrangement, instead of the state, it is the community that owns everything and there is also scope of individual agriculture. Nowadays both Russia and China are fast doing like the global capitalists. This will only increase the inequalities in the world and increase bitterness and perhaps this will lead to another world war. Competition in trade and technology and consumerism would only increase the chances of another world war.
Also, at present, land is not just there for agricultural purpose, but the forests, river water and minerals under the land are also counted. Not only is river water being sold, but the mineral wealth is also being given away cheaply and creating a crisis. Several State governments in collusion with multinationals are purchasing mountains at throwaway prices and then reaping huge benefits. This can turn out to be disastrous for the environment.
The mineral wealth that was for 200-400 years, is being sold and completely exploited, leaving nothing for the future generations. This is not only infringement of rights of the future generation but also a betrayal of trust. The mother earth has provided enough for our needs, but if we want to fulfil our greed, then the environmental catastrophe will consume everyone around us. Human greed is unbounded–the only way out is self control.
The concept of Gramdan and Gram Swaraj are based on self control and cooperation. Today, rulers of States like Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, among others, have been trapped in the web of international capitalists and greed. They are selling away the water of their rivers. They are taking land from the poor and giving it to the multinationals at cheap rates. In their turn, the multinationals are exploiting the mineral wealth and thus leaving nothing for the future generations.
Therefore, at present, property and land should not be held either by the state or the individual. State is an incomplete entity and it becomes an instrument of people who are in power. In contrast, Gram Swaraj is a living and human system and it cannot go beyond its boundaries. Since the people of the village will keep an eye on the activities of a person, they can protect themselves against exploitation. Bhoodan had sowed the seeds of this feeling – that the land, water, forest, minerals etc. all belong to the community. We can also say that it is God’s wealth. “Sabyai Bhoomi Gopal Ki. Sampatti Sab Raghupati Ke Aahi” - When all the land belongs to Gopal then all the property belongs to Raghupati.
The Bhoodan movement can be seen as an attempt to bring heaven on to earth, and at the same time the selfishness of the human nature resulted in some of its curses. Some of them were visible when Vinoba himself was alive. In their quest for meeting targets, the workers of the Bhoodan movement were not bothered with what kind of land they got, and whether it was really cultivable and really belonged to the donor. They were only interested in getting the signature of the donor in the deed. Many of the land given as Bhoodan were disputed and many gave away useless land. In return, they wrongly gained social prestige and blessing of Vinoba. It is for this reason that in united Bihar—of the 22 lakh acre of land that was received under Bhoodan, only 11 lakh acre could be distributed. But of course, today, the forest and hills have also become valuable and they should also be distributed. Soon Vinoba elevated the concept of Gramdan to the ambitious Bihardan as a result of which numerous problems and misunderstandings arose. It is perhaps due to this that Vinoba sarcastically said, ‘B’ for B(V)inoba and ‘B’ for Bogus.
The race for getting land for Bhoodan was grand but the problems that arose during its distribution cause much pain and distress. While the distribution of land under Bhoodan gave lakhs of landless the ownership of land and a means of livelihood and sense of self-respect in society, the corruption among the members of Bhoodan committee who were paid very little gave the movement a bad name. Giving the same piece of land to
different people became a norm. Under these circumstances, the poor landless farmer had nowhere to appeal. In some cases, thousands of acres of land were donated to one particular person, on the understanding that he would redistribute it, but he never did and kept the land with himself. The commission set up in Bihar to tackle land problems clearly said that such land should be redistributed.
The biggest blot on the Bhoodan movement was the illegal sale of Bhoodan land and minting lakhs of rupees through it. The Bhoodan Act and also the spirit of Bhoodan was that the land would be given to the landless and they would be able to live a life of dignity. The Act was perhaps the most progressive and just Act in the realm of revenue Acts. But some vested and greedy people sold the Bhoodan land to big builders and rich people and took lakhs and crores of rupees in return. This was not only unethical, but also a punishable criminal act. Some people have sold the Bhoodan land that were near the cities and are now shamelessly saying that with that money they have purchased land for the landless in the villages. These people do not have any account of this money. This is a big sin that they have committed. If the lands were in the cities and the poor and slum dwellers had got it, it would have given solace to Vinoba’s soul. But some people have made it their business to earn profit from Bhoodan land. Under the Bhoodan Act no one has the power to sell the land once given under Bhoodan. Even the landless farmer who is given the land cannot sell it or mortgage it to raise money. He can only till it and earn his livelihood.
But the evil deed of selling Bhoodan land was done in several States by the Bhoodan committee itself, or fake societies that were formed in the name of Bhoodan. There should be a judicial inquiry into the matter and all the buildings etc. that have been constructed on these lands should be handed over to the slum dwellers. And those who have sold the Bhoodan land should be prosecuted at the earliest.
The deed done by the mischievous people are not mere mistakes made due to some misunderstanding, but they have been done deliberately and are crimes in both the criminal and civil law. The laundering of Bhoodan land was mostly done when the land was adjacent to any expanding city and the sky high price of land made it possible for such elements to earn huge amounts of money.
Therefore, there should be a thorough enquiry into this and it should be found out under whose authorisation it was sold. The problems being faced by the Bhoodan movement are not due to problems in the concept, but due to the narrow minded people who were handling the work of Bhoodan movement. Bhoodan is pure and it will remain so, and the 21st Century Bhoodan will be synonymous with that of Revolution.
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