Religious and social work

Vinoba's religious outlook was very broad and it synthesized the truths of many religions. This can be seen in one of his hymns "Om Tat" which contains symbols of many religions. He abolished every trace of untouchability from his heart. He believed in communal amity.

Vinoba observed the life of the average Indian living in a village and tried to find solutions for the problems he faced with a firm spiritual foundation. This formed the core of his Sarvodaya (Awakening of all potentials) movement. Another example of this is the Bhoodan (land gift) movement. Non-violence and compassion being a hallmark of his philosophy, he also campaigned against the slaughtering of cows in 1976.

After India won her nationhood, through the bloody communal riots between Hindus and Moslems and through Gandhi's death, Bhave remained in obscurity. In March 1948, Gandhi's followers and constructive workers met at Sevagram. The idea of Sarvodaya Samaj (society) surfaced and started getting acceptance. Vinoba got busy with activities which would sooth the wounds of the partition of the nation. In the beginning of 1950, he launched the programme of kanchan-mukti (freedom from dependence on gold, i.e. money) and Rishi-Kheti (cultivation without the use of bullocks as was practised by Rishis, i.e. the sages of ancient times). Occasional newspaper articles carried his strictures against money. To Bhave, money "tells lies and is like a loafing tramp." For a medium of exchange he favored scrip, showing the number of hours a person had worked to earn it.

Connected with Bhoodan and Gramdan, there were other programs. Important of these were Sampatti-Dan (Gift of the Wealth), Shramdan (Gift of the Labour), Shanti Sena (Army for Peace), Sarvodaya-Patra (the pot where every household gives daily handful of grain) and Jeevandan (Gift of Life). Jayprakash Narayan in 1954 gave the gift of his life. Vinoba acknowledged it by giving the gift of his life. Vinoba knew the strength of the padayatra (march on foot). He walked for 13 years throughout India. He had left Paunar on September 12, 1951 and returned on April 10, 1964. He started his Toofan Yatra (journey with the speed of high-velocity wind), using a vehicle, in Bihar in July 1965, which lasted for almost four years.

Bhoodan movement

In April 1951, he went to the state of Hyderabad to attend a meeting of Gandhi's old disciples to attend the Sarvodaya conference at Shivnampalli. The Communists were terrorizing Hyderabad, especially the Telingana district. He started his peace-trek on foot through the violence-torn region of Telangana (now in Andhra Pradesh). Bhave was appalled by what he found there. On April 18, 1951, his meeting with the villagers at Pochampalli opened a new chapter in the history of non-violent struggle.

In the 10,000 square miles of Telingana, 8,000,000 peasants had long suffered the worst land tyranny in India. They were virtual serfs, without hope of getting land of their own. Communist guerrillas moved in to correct this—in their own way. They killed or put to flight scores of landowners, distributed the land, seized whole villages and set up their own schools. In battles between guerrillas and state constables backed by government troops, 3,000 people were killed and 35,000 Reds jailed. Both landowners and farmers were caught in the murderous crossfire.

Bhave wandered into areas from which the police had warned him to stay away, but he was unharmed. At first he preached ahimsa (Gandhi's old nonviolence), but he soon saw that this was not enough. "I confess," he said, "that the incendiary and murderous activities did not unnerve me, because I know that the birth of a new culture has always been accompanied in the past by blood baths. What is needed is not to get panicky, but to keep our heads cool and find a peaceful means of resolving the conflict. The police are not expected to think out and institute reforms. To clear a jungle of tigers, their employment would be useful. But here we have to deal with human beings, however mistaken and misguided. When a new idea is born, new repression cannot combat it."

The Harijans of the village told him that they needed 80 acres of land to make a living. Referring to this, Vinoba asked the villagers if they could do something to solve this problem. Then Vinoba Bhave thought of asking landowners to give land to the landless, saying (or at least politely implying) that if they did not, the Communists or the government might take it away. To everybody's surprise, Ram Chandra Reddy, a landlord, got up and showed his willingess to give 100 acres of land. This incident, unplanned and unheard, showed a way to solve the problem of the landless. The Bhoodan (Gift of the Land) movement was launched, in bloody Telingana. Even the Nizam of Hyderabad, reputed one of the richest and most miserly men in the world, gave some land, though neither the Nizam nor Bhave would say how much (the merit acquired by giving is lost by boasting of it). Some 35,000 acres were collected and reassigned to the most destitute. Gradually the revolt and the terror died down.

Walking from one to another of India's 700,000 villages, he asks those who have land to share it with those who have none. Without using the words of the gentle Evangelist who preceded him by two thousand years, he tells his audiences that it is more blessed to give than to receive. To those who have land he says: "I have come to loot you with love. If you have four sons, consider me as the fifth, and accordingly give me my share." To impoverished tenants and landless laborers he says: "We are all members of a single human family."

The response to the movement was spontaneous. In Telangana, the gift of land averaged 200 acres of land per day. On the journey from Pavnar to Delhi, the average gift was 300 acres a day. Vinoba had put five crore acre as the target. While walking in Uttar Pradesh in May 1952, Vinoba received the gift of the whole village of Mangrath. This meant the people were prepared to all their land for the benefit of all the villagers, not as individual bhoodan, but as community Gramdan (Gift of the Village). Vinoba received 23 lakh of land in Bihar, while walking from September 1952 to December 1954. Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Kerala contributed significantly to Gramdan.

According to an estimate in total 41,94,270 acres was obtained, and the land actual distributed according to 1975 statistics was 12,85,738 acres. 18,57,398 acres was found unfit for distribution. Some of the remaining land got entangled in legal hassles and some was deserved to be written off. As against it has to be noted that Vinoba's movement rekindled faith in non-violence and human values advocated by Gandhi. It presented an alternative to violence and a vision of non-violent society. It raised important questions regarding inequality prevalent in the society. Vinoba saw the land as the gift of God like air, water, sky and sunshine. He connected science with spirituality and the autonomous village with the world movement. He regarded the power of the people superior than power of the state. Many of his ideas remain relevant and inspiring in the strife-ridden modern times.

The largest single gift was 100,000 acres from a maharajah. The smallest was a gantha (one fortieth of an acre), donated by a Telingana peasant who owned only one acre himself.

To the Western eye, there arc visible shortcomings in Vinoba's Bhoomidan-yagna. It has not increased the number of acres or the quantity of crops, and therefore—his critics say—provides no conclusive answer to India's immense agricultural problem. Although more than 70% of India's people work the land for a living, the nation must import food or starve. Yet Bhoomidan-yagna has given pride of ownership to hundreds of thousands, and hope to millions more.

Sankalp Unit