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On Foot through India
Inarticulate Feelings
After India got swaraj (self-government), and especially after Gandhiji’s death, my mind was in a whirl, churning over questions of how the country should go forward, and which road we ought to take.
In those days I had a lot of travelling to do, and for certain reasons (which are now of no importance) I took upper-class tickets on the trains for the first time in my life. I travelled over more than half of India, and was able to see for myself what was going on in places which had only been names to me previously. I certainly benefited from this, but all the time I was asking myself uneasily: ‘Can the coming of non-violence really be hastened by my travelling about like this? Is it possible by such methods to bring about the social change that we desire?’ After all, I thought, I could not even claim that my travels themselves were based on non-violence, and my mind dwelt continually upon such matters as how the railways had been built, and where I had got the money needed for my journeys. It also seemed to me that these speedy means of travel tend to excite the mind rather than to encourage deeper reflection; if that were so, how could they be used to preach non-violence? Could they ever help me to reach the common people?
During that period a fund was being collected in memory of Gandhiji, with the purpose of carrying on his work. The plan did not appeal to me. I had a nagging feeling that such a fund, even though it was to be used for Gandhiji’s own programmes, might easily do more harm than good. I reflected too on the ways in which we ran our Ashrams and managed our own lives. Pondering on these things, I came to the conclusion that the changed times and the new age required of us a new kind of work-that having obtained our political freedom we must take in hand a more radical and much more difficult task, that of social and economic revolution. The old ways would no longer serve our purpose.
At that time (in April 1948) I was working for the resettlement of the refugees and the Meos.1 Amongst those who had come from West Pakistan there were many Harijans. They had asked for land, but the matter was still under discussion and nothing had been settled. Finally it was announced that the Government of Punjab would allocate a few hundred thousand acres for their use. This assurance was given in a meeting with Rajendra Babu2 at which I was present. It happened to be a Friday, and I went direct from the meeting to attend the prayers at Rajghat.3 There I told those present the happy news, and congra- tulated the Government of Punjab on its decision to give land to the Harijans.
Two months later, however, a different story was heard: ‘the thing could not be done’. There may have been good reasons for this change of face, but the Harijans were very unhappy about it, and Rameshwari Nehru4 was greatly troubled. She came and told me that the Harijans wanted to undertake satyagraha; did I think that they should be allowed to do it?
I thought the matter over. A promise had been made, and now it was being broken, but I did not see the way clear. I said to the Harijans: ‘In view of the present state of the country I cannot advise you to undertake satyagraha. I feel very sad that I am unable just now to give you any help with your problem’. But although I said no, I could not so easily dismiss the matter from my mind; deep down, there was an urge that some way must be found of letting the landless have some land.
Moreover, our constructive workers had also become very down-hearted. Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel5 (a man who used to spin every day and produce very fine yarn) had made a speech in which he said; ‘We have been working for so long at khadi and the constructive programme, but no one today has any faith in khadi. If people did not listen to Gandhiji, why should they listen to us? India is now a free country, and what we need now is to set up the kind of industry which has a war-potential.’ That phrase ‘war-potential’ had set me thinking. It seemed to me that what the world needs is not so much ‘war-potential’ as ‘peace-potential’, and that we ought to be setting up industries and activities such as have peace-potential. As I thought about it, I decided that I must travel throughout the country, on foot, in order to spread the idea. However, I kept this decision to myself, I spoke about it to no one. My opportunity arose later, in a perfectly natural way.

The ‘Ganga’ of Bhoodan: its Source
There were plans to hold a Sarvodaya Conference at Shivaramapalli near Hyderabad in April 1951. If one goes by train, Hyderabad is only an overnight journey from Wardha. I decided however to go on foot.
Why not a train, people will surely ask, or even an aeroplane? I could have used a plane, of course, and personally I would be glad to see aeroplanes become even speedier than they are now. But there is a place for every- thing. Spectacles may be of very great service, but they cannot take the place of eyes. In the same way, aeroplanes and other speedy means of travel certainly have their uses, but it is still important to have legs. Walking has advan- tages which aeroplanes cannot provide.
People did ask me how my work would benefit by taking a month over a journey that could have been done in a day. ‘I have only one task,’ I replied, ‘to repeat the name of God, and to teach others to do the same. I know of no other source of strength by which my work may be done-except this, the name of the Lord.’
I had decided that during this journey I would say nothing about my own ideas and opinions, but would leave things to take their natural course, and would simply help to provide the opportunity. I made no plans about how I would travel or what I would aim at. I simply wanted to meet and talk with people in the various places I passed through. If I found they had any difficulties to which I could see a solution, I would suggest one. I had no plans for the future; that could be decided after I reached my destination.
Going on foot brings one closer, both to the country and to the people, than any other from of travel; that was why I did it. It is true that I saw nothing which I might not have imagined, but unless I had gone on foot I would not have seen it for myself.
The people in the villages had a great liveliness of spirit. True, there was also plenty of liveliness among the towns-folk, but in the villages it had a special quality which made me realise how important it was for me to have visited them. Whenever possible I stayed in the smaller villages and visited the people in their homes. I cannot speak Telugu, but I can understand it, and even this limited knowledge of the language was a great help in creating a friendly atmosphere. At the prayer meeting I would recite in Telugu the passage in the Gita about ‘the man of steadfast wisdom’, and I could see how the message went straight to listeners’ hearts. It made them feel that I was one of themselves, and they welcomed me with great affection.
There were a number of villages where I would have liked to have stayed on for a few days, if I had not needed to reach Shivaramapalli on time. It seemed too bad to visit a place, see where things were wrong and how they might be put right, and then go away without doing anything about it. But I could not help it, so wherever possible I tried to get the local people to take up the work. But this experience, in short, convinced me that if each one of us were to settle down in a friendly spirit in one village, work of great importance could be done.
In 1949 I had had the good fortune to meet my fellow-workers at the Rau Sarvodaya Conference, and it was a great joy and pleasure to see them all again at Shivaramapalli, where we met from the 7th to the 14th of April 1951. I thought that when the meeting was over I would walk, God willing, through the Telangana region where the Communists had been at work,7 and which was reported to be in a disturbed state. This Communist question had been much in my mind, I had heard a lot about the bloodshed and violence which had occurred, but it did not shock me, because I had made some study of how human society develops. Whenever a new culture establishes itself, the process has always brought friction and bloodshed.
The Government had sent police to keep the peace in Telangana. The police however do not deal in ideas. They can hunt down tigers and keep us safe from them, but in Telangana the problem was not one of tigers but of human beings. The Communists’ methods may be wrong, but their actions are based on a principle, and where principles are involved the police cannot provide an answer.
Thinking on these lines about the immediate problem of Telangana, I decided to tour the area. The question was how it should be done. In dealing with ideas peaceful means must be used. In former days men like Shankaracharya, Mahavir, Kabir, Chaitanya and Namadev had travelled about India on foot. If they had so chosen they could have ridden on horseback. They used no such speedy transport, because their aim was to correct people’s mistaken ideas, and the best way to do that is to go on foot. This is something that does not readily occur to us nowadays, but if one thinks things over quietly, it will become clear that there is no alternative. I too then would go on foot.
The first thing was to meet the Telangana Communists, understand their point of view and have a heart-to-heart talk with them. The leaders were in jail in Hyderabad, and I asked the Government’s permission to meet them. This was granted, and on Ramanavami8 day I had a talk with them which lasted two hours. I believe I was able to convince those I met that I sincerely desired their good. This was so both in the jail and with those I met outside, and even with those to whom my views could reach indirectly.
On this tour I had to deal with three groups of people-the Communist terrorists, the prosperous villagers and the common people. To the Communists I said: ‘You must at least admit that the ideal you aim at has never yet been realized by any nation, and that no one can say when it will be realized. Secondly, even if we agree that the use of force cannot be completely ruled out, and in some circumstances may be necessary, it would be a mistake of the first order for you to use it now, when India is free and adult franchise has been granted. Force should be discarded, so far as your aims are concerned.‘ These arguments, I believe, made a considerable impression on them.
The prosperous people from a number of villages had fled to the cities because they were afraid to remain in their village homes. I met with some of them, and they told me frankly that they dared not stay in the village; if they had to visit it, they got the police to go with them. To them I said: ‘You are wealthy men; God is testing you about your care for the poor. You should take a vow before Him to serve the needy, and then go back home boldly and live in that spirit of service: If you should be murdered, take it as a boon from God-is it not worse than death to be doomed to spend your life in hiding and in fear? If you ask me who can be fearless, I answer: ‘Those who love and serve the poor.’
To the common people I said: ‘Your whole village ought to have such a spirit of unity that those who are wealthy are held in as much affection as the rest; the whole village should take the responsibility of giving them whatever protection they need.’ I said all this boldly, for I felt it was very important.
When I first decided to go to Shivaramapalli it was with no definite plans or expectations. Before I left Wardha, however, a small farewell meeting had been held at Lakshminarayan temple. As I took leave of the people there I told them that they may regard this as our last meeting, for I did not know when we should meet again. I knew that I was going into an area of turmoil. If some way of calming that turmoil were to be discovered, well and good; if I myself were to be involved in it, that also was well and good, for some peaceful way might open itself out of that experience. These were the thoughts with which I set out and by God’s grace there came about a complete change in the whole atmosphere.
On the 18th April, the third morning of my tour, the Harijans of Pochampalli village come to see me. They said that if only they could get a bit of land, they could work the land and so make a living. They needed eighty acres, they said. ‘If I can get the land for you,’ I replied, ‘you must all work it together; you would not get separate individual holdings.’ They agreed, and promised to cultivate the land together. ‘Then give me a statement to that effect’, I said, ‘so that I can send your petition to the State Government.’ At that a man who was present in the meeting, Shri Ramachandra Reddy, offered on the spot to give the Harijans one hundred acres of his own land. There in my presence he gave them his word: ‘I will give you one hundred acres’.
What was this? People murder for land, go to court over land, yet here it comes as a free gift. This was something so completely out of the ordinary that it must surely be a sign from God ! All night long I pondered over what had happened. It was a revelation-people may be moved by love to share even their land.
On hearing the news Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru sent me a letter to say how pleased he was. I answered that for my part I believe that any problem can be solved in a non-violent way, provided only that the heart is pure. Up to that time this had been for me a matter of theory and of faith, but now I had seen it in actual practice.
This problem of land is world-wide in scope; if we in India can solve it peacefully, we may indeed claim to have made a great discovery since we became a free country. If we let our minds dwell on this event we shall find hidden within it the seeds of world revolution. I don’t think of it as my own doing, that would be false egoism. But I do say, because I have seen it for myself, that we have here a principle which can solve the problem of land, provided that we make the effort to understand and apply it.
This means that we must grasp and put into practice the essential principles which lie behind Communist activities. Brahmin as I am, I got the idea of acting the part of Vamana,9 and asking as he did for a gift of land. Little by little, the idea took hold and grew. God filled my words with power; people began to understand that this was a revolutionary work which is beyond the capacity of any Government, because it aimed at radical transformation of the whole life.
I have called this land-gift movement a yajna, an offering to God. It is no ordinary offering. I have witnessed the great goodwill which inspires people to give away land; without doubt, this happening of our day and age is a remarkable thing. Wherever I go, I try to make it clear that the good results I hope for will not come about, if the donors make their gifts in a patronizing spirit, imagining that they are granting a favour to the poor. Every human being has as much right to land as he has to air, water and sunlight; so long as there are people with no land at all it is wrong for an individual to keep more than he needs. When he gives it away it should be because he wants to right the wrong. That is the spirit of the land-gift movement, as I have said many times. If there was the slightest suspicion that land was being offered in a spirit of vainglory or with some base ulterior motive I refused to accept it. I had no intention whatever of amassing land at any price, by hook or by crook.
My travels have given me rich experiences, but they may be summed up very briefly. When I considered what words I might use to describe them, the only phrase which suggested itself was sakshatkar, direct vision-they had given me a kind of direct experience of God. I had done my work in the faith that the human heart has goodness in it, goodness ready to be called out; God let me see that goodness in accordance with my faith. If, on the other hand, I had expected to find human hearts full of back-biting, malice, greed etc., God would have given me that kind of experience. God, it would seem, is a Kalpataru;10 He appears to us in the form we expect.