Bhoodan: A New Taste of Nonviolent Revolution

Bhoodan movement turned out to be an unprecedented demonstration of the efficacy of nonviolence as a method of social reform. Over 6 lakh land holders offered 45 lakh acres of land for the benefit of over 1 million landless families. It was a revolution without a coup or bloodshed.

The politically independent India was still reeling under feudalism.

Zamindari tenancy, caste hierarchy, to name a few, exacerbated by massive poverty and illiteracy, weighed heavily on the masses.

Vinoba Bhave, the chosen satyagrahi, went into contemplation. When Sarvodaya-samaj, a newly formed network of Gandhian constructive workers, convened a conference in Telengana, the epicentre of communist revolt, Vinoba went there walking, brooding over the painful fall out of independence. On his return, at Pochampalli he held (April 18, 1951) a meeting. ‘No peace in empty stomach’ poor people retorted. A piece of land to each family would solve the problem, they observed. Sh. Ramachandra Reddy, a noble land lord, volunteered to donate hundred acres land for them.

Ignited by the new prospect, Vinoba launched a nationwide land donation drive. For the next thirteen years he walked continuously through UP, Bihar, Orissa, AP, TN, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kashmir, MP, and Assam. Everywhere, he learnt the language of the people and spoke in their tongue, accepting their life, their pain and their aspiration. People saw in him their own self and shared the best in them for the languishing neighbors. He called it bhoodan-yagna.

“I am not here”, he told people, 'to beg (bhiksha), but to initiate you (offer you diksha) into nation building.' People in return offered large chunks of their land at the altar of the new nation, and along with it their feudal supremacy. He saw in it the resurgence of patriotic fervor in the new born India, that prompted him to call this movement, the new phase of ‘Dharma Chakra Paravartan’.

The front line leaders of freedom struggle joined the movement, with Jayaprakash Narayan leading it in Bihar. Thousands of youth gave up their studies for a year and campaigned for gramdan. Over 80 teams of volunteers had parallel bhoodan campaign in various corners of the country.

The bhoodan coffer was overflowing. The UP offered about 295054 acres, and Bihar gave 28 lakhs. Over 5000 villages declared themselves Gramdan villages. AP and TN offered large chunks of fertile land. In Odisha there were instances of land lords donating their entire land (100 acres in one case) and accepting 5 acres in return, while in the same village landless larger families getting more than five acres. It was an act of unbelievable human gesture of social justice and equality, evoked by the passion of nationalism, reiterating the supremacy of nonviolence as a means of civilization.

While the Bhoodan met with a number of procedural hiccups, including that of the distribution, monitoring the utilization of the land, etc., the campaign proved beyond doubt the fact that appropriate application of nonviolent force can bring about a social reformation which the world hitherto thought, would be possible only by bloody revolution.

- Dr. D John Chelladurai,
Dean Academics, Gandhi Research Foundation