The ninety ninth day of the Jai Jagat yatra began with a heavy rain all night that failed to dampen the spirit of the team despite a delayed start. As it turned out, the rain clouds provided for a stunning misty backdrop to the rich green Sillewani forest range, part of the Satpura range that stretches across the major part of Madhya Pradesh, that the team walked through. The walk through the hills on this clouded winter day with its amazing variety of flora though dominated by teak proved to be an uplifting experience, soothing to the eye and rejuvenating to the spirit.
The padyatrees stopped at a Durga temple right in the middle of the forest reserve where the team interacted with local representatives, a group of elderly people who recounted the stories of the struggle for freedom by the dominated tribal and dalit population of the region. They were children’and grandchildren of local freedom fighters. The elders spoke of the historical significance of this part of Chindwara around the Saunsar tehsil.
This region was home to a relatively lesser known but no less important civil disobedience movement parallel to the famous Salt march; the Jungle Satyagrah, where the tribal and dalit communities under the leadership of Raghunath Bhope and Jagannath Tiwari and under the guidance of advocate Salpekar, broke the law against cutting forest grass on the 21st of Aug, 1930, five months after Gandhi’s Dandi march. The historic incident took place in the jungles of Lakhanwadi, presently in the village panchayat of Khutama, the days destination for the padyatrees. Several villages of the present day Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra participated in this act of civil disobedience when they cut grass with symbolically meaningful silver sickles.
This particular region of Madhya Pradesh with a dominant tribal population takes pride in its history of resistance during the struggle of freedom. It is said that the British couldn’t ever entirely subjugate the people of this state. Perhaps for this reason, the empire came down at the forest Satygrahis quite heavily imprisoning a large number of people and meting out severe punishment and penalties upon them. Even children as young as six year olds who participated in the civil disobedience movement by burning British clothes and other goods of foreign origin were not spared.
Satyagraha is defined as holding on to truth and refers to a nonviolent form of resistance advocated by Gandhi. For Gandhi, it was a moral force born of truth and nonviolence. He translated the term as ‘love force’ and at times referred to it as ‘soul force’. Satyagraha is seen as Gandhi’s most important concept that served to emancipate the nation from British rule and also provided the model of nonviolent resistance to the whole world.
The forest Satyagraha was a part of a greater movement of civil disobedience cashed for by Gandhi. The most prominent of these protest movement in the national narrative is the Salt narch when Gandhi song with 73 Satyagrahis marched to break the prohibition on making Salt. They braved the police brutality as they took blues after blows without retaliating and in this act imprinted, perhaps the strongest image of nonviolence in the collective mind of the nation. Satyagrah is an active and most radical way of action against tyranny and unfair and discriminative laws or any struggle for rights that are based on truth.
Great social reformers who influenced history and succeeded in bringing social and political changes adopted Satyagraha as the model for their civil disobedience movements including Martin Luther King Jr and James Bevel in America and N. Mandela in South Africa.
The peace walkers stopped at a quaint little forest rest house, a charming spot for evening tea. A short distance away was the village of Khutama at the footsteps of the forest range where the group received a very impressive welcome with dance, music, flowers, saplings and rangolis, and most impressive for the team, a large number of women representation. At the end of the cultural programs where the guests from Kerala and the Nepali guests, fellow walkers who have joined the team in solidarity for a short period of time, sang inspiring songs in their language, the padyatrees celebrated the eve of the 100th day with a cake with the villagers.