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Dhaka Tribune

Brutality in the Gandhi Ashram

Update : 11 Feb 2016, 06:02 PM

In 1946, after communal riots broke out in Bihar, Calcutta, and Noakhali, Mahatma Gandhi started undertaking extensive tours in the riot-torn areas to bring peace and communal harmony. He came to Ramganj in Noakhali on November 7, 1946, after severe communal riots had broken out there.

One of the worst places of atrocities was Ramganj, where a total of about 132 people were killed. He camped in Chandipur village which was another badly affected area. He stayed in a tin-roofed house called Rajbari for one month.

From this house, he started his padajatra to 49 villages and preached among the masses the message of peace and harmony. After one month, he continued his padajatra to other areas of Noakhali for three more months with the same aim. He worked with the communities to build confidence and peace. When Mahatma Gandhi came to Jayog on January 29, 1947, all sections of the local community extended him whole-hearted support.

After about four months, on March 2, 1947, when riots in Bihar broke out, Gandhi left Noakhali for Bihar. A camp was set up in Kazirkhil village near Ramganj for co-ordinating the efforts for peace and harmony in accordance with his instructions. This camp was called Gandhi Camp. The few associates of Gandhi who worked with him during the four months were Charu Chowdhury, Reddy Palli Satya Narayan, Devendra Narayan Sarkar, Madan Mohan Chattopaddhay, Jibon Krishna Saha, Ajit Kumar Dey, etc.

Also among them were Kanu Gandhi (best remembered as Gandhi’s photographer), Abha Gandhi, Mridula Gandhi (widely known as Manuben Gandhi), and Bibi Amtus Salam (a lady from Patiala, Punjab).

Before departure, Gandhi instructed the leaders to continue the peace-building process and to bring harmony among the population. Gandhi’s associates continued the process of peace-building and providing relief to the affected families. Later, a permanent camp was set up as proposed by Barrister Hemant Kumar Ghosh in Jayog village where a permanent ashram was set up, as this is the place where Gandhi received tremendous support for his mission.

Barrister Hemant Kumar Ghosh decided to donate all his property to Gandhi Ashram, but Gandhi advised him to use his funds for development of the poor in his area. Barrister Hemant Kumar Ghosh made a charitable trust in the name of his father (Ambika) and mother (Kaliganga) and named it as Ambika-Kaliganga Charitable Trust, which was registered in 1949 after the death of Gandhi. 2,600 acres of land was donated by Barrister Hemant Kumar Ghosh to this trust which has now been reduced to 23 acres.

After the imposition of martial law by the Pakistan Army on October 7, 1958, the volunteers of Gandhi Ashram were constantly harassed, a number of false cases were filed against them and many of them were arrested and sent to jail. Attempts were made to force them to leave East Pakistan, but many of the volunteers stuck to the ashram.

The properties of the ashram were forcefully taken away by some land-grabbers. It was almost impossible to continue the activities of the ashram. The team manager of peace mission Charu Chowdhury was detained in jail several times during the period 1963-71. He was released in 1971, after the liberation of Bangladesh.

In 1971, after the crackdown by the Pakistan Army, the Gandhi Ashram continued its humanitarian activities of helping the poor and victims of the war. But fear persisted in the area and the minority communities in the area also became victims of the widespread genocide.

On September 4, at around 11am, the ashram was surrounded by the Pakistan Army and their collaborators. The ruthless Pakistan Army and their collaborators entered the ashram and shot dead volunteers and disciples of Gandhi.

Firstly, there was Devendra Narayan Sarkar who joined Mahatma Gandhi immediately when he came to Noakhali. He stayed back in the ashram as per instruction of Gandhi. When Pakistan Army entered the ashram, he was saying his prayer on the roof of the ashram where he was shot dead. Then, Madan Mohan Chattopaddhay was also killed along with Devendra Narayan Sarkar.

In addition, Jibon Krishna Saha, who joined Gandhi in the peace march of 1946 was killed. He was engaged in development and peace activities in Bamni village under Raipur police station. As the Pakistan Army and their collaborators were looking for him, he went to Sylhet where he was captured and killed. Also, Ajit Kumar Dey, who joined the Liberation War and took part in a number of operations in Panchgaon area, was also killed. It is known that he was killed by the collaborators of Pakistan Army immediately after liberation.

The Pakistan Army looted the ashram and took away all the valuable assets, including doors and windows of the ashram. They also burnt all the books and historical documents of the ashram. The ashram lost not only its key volunteers but also all its property, documents, and books. A part of the ashram was damaged.

After independence, Charu Chowdhury started reorganising the ashram and freed some of the land and properties from the land grabbers. In 1974, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave instructions to reorganise the Gandhi Ashram and to give it a legal identity and the file was processed for approval.

It took final shape with the Gazette Notification of the Bangladesh Government on October 2, 1975, where the “Ambika-Kaliganga Charitable Trust” was renamed as “Gandhi Ashram Trust,” which included the property of the Gandhi camp and Ambika-Kaliganga Charitable Trust. The aim of the ashram was mainly for rural development and for human rights.

The ashram was made autonomous. A committee with representatives from both the Bangladesh and Indian governments was formed to run the activities of the trust. 

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