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Brutality in the Gandhi Ashram

  • Security
  • 11 Months ago
  • 3 min read
Bangladesh,  Brutality,  1971

Gandhi Ashram, Noakhali

Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir
Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir - Bangladeshi Freedom Fighter, Researcher and Author

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 7 November 1946, after severe communal riots had broken out there. One of the worst places of atrocity was Ramganj, where a total of about 132 people were killed. He camped in Chandipur village which was a 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 the message of peace and harmony among the masses. 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 Jayag on 29 January 1947, all sections of the local community extended him whole-hearted support.

After about four months, on 2 March 1947, when riots in Bihar broke out, Mahatma Gandhi left Noakhali for Bihar. A camp was set up in Kazirkhil village near Ramganj for coordinating the efforts for peace and harmony in accordance with his instructions. This camp was called Gandhi Camp. The few associates of Gandhiji 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 Gandhiji’s photographer), Abha Gandhi, Mridula Gandhi (widely known as Manuben Gandhi) and Bibi Amtus Salam (a lady from Patiala, Punjab). Before departure, Gandhiji instructed the leaders to continue the peace-building process and bring harmony among the population. Gandhiji’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 Jayag village where a permanent ashram was set up as this is the place where Gandhiji received tremendous support for his mission. Barrister Hemant Kumar Ghosh decided to donate all his property to Gandhi Ashram, but Gandhiji 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 Gandhiji. 2,600 acres of land were 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 7 October 1958, the volunteers of Gandhi Ashram were constantly harassed, several 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 and anti-social elements. It was almost impossible to continue the activities of the ashram. The team manager of the peace mission, Charu Chowdhury, was detained in jail several times between 1963 and 1971. He was released in December 1971, after the liberation of Bangladesh.

In 1971, after the crackdown by the Pakistan Army, Gandhi Ashram continued its humanitarian activities of helping the poor and victims of atrocities. But fear persisted in the area and the minority communities in the area also became victims of the widespread genocide. At around 11 a.m. on 4 September, the ashram was surrounded by the Pakistan Army and their collaborators. The ruthless Pakistan Army and their collaborators entered the ashram and shot dead the following volunteers and disciples of Gandhi:

1. Devendra Narayan Sarkar: He joined Mahatma Gandhi immediately when he came to Noakhali. He stayed back in the Gandhi Ashram as per Gandhiji’s instructions. When the Pakistan Army entered there, he was saying his prayer on the roof of the Gandhi Ashram where he was shot dead.

2. Madan Mohan Chattopaddhay: He was also killed along with Devendra Narayan Sarkar.

In addition, the following disciples of Gandhiji who served the ashram were also killed near the Gandhi Ashram:

1. Jibon Krishna Saha: He joined Gandhiji in the 1946 peace march. 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.

2. Ajit Kumar Dey: He joined the Liberation War and took part in several operations in the Panchgaon area. It is known that he was killed by the collaborators of the Pakistan Army immediately after liberation.

The Pakistan Army looted the Gandhi Ashram and took all the valuable assets including doors and windows. They also burnt all the books and historical documents. 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 reorganizing the ashram and freed some of the land and properties from the land-grabbers. In 1974, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave instructions to reorganize the Gandhi Ashram and 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 2 October 1975, where the ‘Ambika-Kaliganga Charitable Trust’ was renamed as ‘Gandhi Ashram Trust (GAT)’, which included the property of the Gandhi Camp and Ambika-Kaliganga Charitable Trust. The aim of the ashram was primarily for rural development and human rights.

The ashram was made autonomous and a committee with representatives from both the Bangladeshi and Indian Governments was formed to run the activities of the GAT. The GAT Chairman was Justice Debesh Bhattacharyya; other trustees were Deputy Commissioner of Noakhali, Country Head of State Bank of India in Bangladesh, Principal of Noakhali Government College Bishwaranjan Sen (a Gandhi disciple), Reddy Palli Satya Narayan (a Gandhi disciple) and Charu Chowdhury (a Gandhi disciple and trustee secretary).

(Exclusive to NatStrat)  



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