Tridip Suhrud, Director, Sabarmati Ashram on centenary of Champaran satyagraha
Swati Chandra | May 1, 2017 | New Delhi
Tell us about the documentation work of indigo farmers’ testimonies.
The testimonies of indigo farmers of Champaran were placed before the agrarian commission in 1917 but afterwards there was no study. These testimonies are housed with the National Archives of India. The National Archives and the Sabarmati Ashram have entered into a kind of partnership by which all the testimonies, which are approximately 4,000 in number – summing up in eight volumes, are to be transcribed, annotated and footnoted with an introduction. That work has been assigned to the Sabarmati Ashram and is underway. It will take some time to complete it, say two to three years. Right now, there is a team of three people headed by me and we will slowly expand the team. Once transcribed, the text will go through a process of verification, standardisation and annotation.
When I visited the Bhitiharwa ashram in Champaran, I was told it was renovated with the help of the Sabarmati Ashram.
That is not true. We have had no role to play there. It’s a credit that should not be given to us. I think there is a misconception. The Sabarmati Ashram cannot renovate other sites. The mandate of the ashram is to look after the ashram itself. We help other institutions in terms of architectural documentation and help them prepare what are called the conservation documents. That is how we help and we are efficient and capable. We have been doing this across the country. But the actual rebuilding and conservation has to be done by the institutions with the help of whichever agencies they can find. Our expertise is in the preparation of conservation documents.
What was the uniqueness of the Champaran satyagraha?
The Champaran satyagraha is not just about Gandhi but it is actually about indigo farmers. Unless their voice is heard any celebration or anything that we do would be incomplete. And therefore it is important their voices, as recorded by Gandhiji and Babu Rajendra Prasad, should come out in public domain. Of course, Gandhiji played a very important role of a catalyst but the important players were the peasants and their voice should be heard.
The Sabarmati Ashram too will complete 100 years soon. What are your plans to mark the centenary?
There are two things that one needs to understand. Dates and events are important and we will mark them appropriately. But it is the everyday work of the ashram which is of equal significance. Days or dates are the reminder to us about the work that we need to do. The everyday work of the ashram is significant. Of course, there would be events, prayers, involvement of the schools, youth, memories of individuals…, all of it will be there. That is also the time for an institution to renew its own pledge on what it would like do. So, I think this is what we would like to do.
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