As India celebrates her 75th year of independence, we turn the spotlight on some inspiring personalities and incidents that went on to become landmark movements in Indian history. Bhoodan Movement (Land Gifting Movement) is one such incident. Known as the only revolutionary movement in the world to have acquired more than 45 lakh acres of land without bloodshed, Bhoodan Movement was a voluntary land (donation) reform movement in India.
The movement was initiated in 1951 by Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual heir Acharya Vinoba Bhave at Pochampally Village. (The village now lies in Telangana State and is known as Bhoodan Pochampally.). A lesser known historical fact about the popular movement is that it was the gesture of a freedom fighter named Vedire Ramachandra Reddy, a Zamindar those days, who inspired Vinoba to kick off the movement. And the gesture? Of voluntary donating 100 acres of land to the poor!
Proclaiming that Ramachandra Reddy’s inspiring gesture would snowball into ‘Bhoodan Movement’, Vinoba then called on landlords to voluntarily give land to the poor for their livelihood. Soon after, the Bhoodan Movement got India back on the path of peace.
So who was Ramchandra Reddy?
Arvindh Reddy, the 63-year-old eldest grandson of freedom fighter Ramachandra Reddy, recalls how his grandfather had worked with Vinoba in several social movements. “I first met Vinobaji with my grandfather in 1973 in Wardha, when I was studying in the 10th standard,” says Arvindh, adding how during The Emergency when no one was allowed to meet him, his grandfather could. Towards the end of the meeting, Arvindh remembers Vinoba advised him to live up to his grandfather’s expectations.
“He told me to be loyal and truthful to whatever I do, and finally said Jai Jagath,” says Arvindh. “Those words still echo in my mind.” The grandson grew up listening to his grandfather’s heroics and the freedom movement he was a part of. “I used to be beside him all the time, even when ministers visited him. He tutored me, was my guru and even performed my marriage. Then in 1986, he even came to my house warming ceremony,” recalls Arvindh.
In Auroville during the historic occasion
Going back to the Bhoodan Movement, while Ramachandra Reddy continued to encourage landlords to voluntarily donate land to the poor, he was part of the inauguration of Auroville (in Puducherry), the world’s first international spiritual city started by Sri Aurobindo. Arvindh remembers that representatives from over 100 countries joined for the foundation stone-laying ceremony.
“They even brought soil from their respective countries to mix it with the soil at the stone-laying place. It was a historic occasion,” he says. Every country’s representative was required to read out the charter at the ceremony. However, Arabian diplomats couldn’t pronounce the charter correctly. But Ramchandra Reddy, who was a linguist and knew Arabic, translated the words in the charter and read it out in Arabic.
Praises from Gandhiji’s granddaughter
During Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations in 2019, Gandhi’s granddaughter, Ila Gandhi, who is also a social activist and ex-MP of South African Parliament, personally invited Arvindh to join her in South Africa.
Several delegates and researchers in America and Europe who’d worked with leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. also attended the anniversary celebrations. Arvindh delivered a 20-minute speech on how the Bhoodan Movement had begun. Ila Gandhi too said that the spirit of Bhoodan is alive and that it should be taken forward to the GenNext as an act of inspiration.
Serving the Pochampally weavers’ community
Handloom weavers in Pochampally are renowned today, but back in the day, they suffered from the lack of proper livelihood. In 1960, Ramchandra Reddy aided the community by donating around 25 acres of land for their betterment and even constructed houses. He even sent several weavers to Coimbatore for training in weaving techniques.
“Pochampally Ikkat design was a special design even back then and it eventually became a trend,” adds Arvindh adding that the road, a 11-kilometer stretch from the National Highway, leading to the Pochampally Village, has been named after the social activist.
The original back-story to how Bhoodan Movement came about
Despite winning independence on 15 August 1947, India grappled under the clutches of extremism. Mahatma Gandhi announced that he’d start a new movement called Sarva Seva Sangh in February 1948 and even invited Lok Sevaks to be a part of it. Unfortunately, he was assassinated on 30 January that year.
After Gandhi’s demise, however, Vinoba Bhave — a freedom fighter, philosopher, writer, advocate of nonviolence and human rights, and Gandhi’s spiritual successor — took on the torch to continue the movement from 14 March 1948. Then in 1951, as a part of the expansion of the movement, Vinoba arrived at Sivarampally on the outskirts of Hyderabad to attend a three-day Sarva Seva Sangh Sammelanam on 13, 14 and 15 of April.
There, Vinoba learnt from the local leaders that extremism was at an all-time high in the neighbouring villages and districts. The leaders wondered if he could do a Shanthi Yatra to stop the violence, which Vinoba understood later was mainly because of land disputes.
On the morning of 18 April, he headed to Harijanwada in Pochampally to ask the villagers there why they supported the extremists. They replied, it was for the land that was promised to them by the extremists. In turn, Vinoba asked if they’d stop the violence if they were given land. The villagers agreed.
On the suggestion of villagers, Vinoba asked the local zamindar, named Vedire Ramachandra Reddy, to give them some land. Instead of 80 acres, Ramachandra Reddy donated 100 acres to the poor. Soon after, the Bhoodan Movement got India back on the path of peace. That’s when Vinoba announced Pochampally to be his second birthplace....