Celebrating 50 years of the Chambal valley surrender
Hello, friends of Ekta,
Welcome to the twelfth issue of Voice of Ekta, a newsletter where we update you on the important news and events at Ekta Parishad India, along with giving you an insight into how we work and what we’ve planned for the near future.
In this issue, we’re celebrating 50 years of the Chambal surrender, an unbelievable feat and important milestone in the history of non-violence and Ekta Parishad’s work.
Read on to learn more about how 600 dacoits from Chambal surrendered their weapons to accept the nonviolent way of life and Rajaji’s thoughts on the incredibly challenging process of the surrender. He also shares the way forward to create a nonviolent, peaceful society.
The Chambal Experiment: Editorial by Ramesh Sharma
In the summer of 1970, a motivated young student of Gandhian studies reached Jaura, Morena, with Dr Subba Rao's (Bhai Ji's) guidance. He had always been curious and courageous to understand and act on the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi. He thought Chambal valley and deep-rooted violence in the Chambal valley was perhaps a place where he could do something.
In a completely new area, he started learning everything under the direct support of Bhai Ji. He understood how structural violence rooted in society causes direct violence. He decided to open the windows of dialogue and reach out to both the oppressor and oppressed.
This was a challenging experience for a young person. Under the inspirational leadership of Bhai Ji, he reached out to many youths and mobilised them in various leadership camps over a couple of years. Dialogue and constructive actions like Shramdan opened new windows, and a positive vibe resonated throughout.
Series of leadership camps and Shramdan built the confidence from the ground up, even in the remotest areas badly affected by violence.
He recalls gentle conversations with the dacoits which convinced them of a peaceful path.
Ongoing dialogues by senior Gandhian leaders like Jai Prakash Narayan and Subba Rao Ji at the top and important dialogues by people like him at the grassroots had a miraculous impact that led to a mass surrender of arms by the dacoits.
As a result of this process, more than 600 dacoits surrendered their weapons and decided to transform their lives and accept the path of nonviolence and peace.
This action finally transformed the Chambal region into a peaceful place where people could live and work to achieve their dreams. If you look at Chambal valley today, you will find hundreds of young people trained by him and Bhai Ji and these new generation leaders who are creating hope for justice and peace in the region.
Congratulations to Rajagopal Ji for his visionary leadership and infectious positive behaviour, which motivates thousands of youths' life and life mission.
Congratulations, Raja Ji, for your inspirational social activism over the last five decades.
Lessons from the mass surrender of dacoits: Rajagopal PV, Founder of Ekta Parishad
The mass surrender of dacoits in Chambal Valley in India received the world’s attention. The possibility that the dreaded dacoits of the Chambal region would surrender their arms in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s photograph was unimaginable to many. The first round of surrender was in Madhya Pradesh, the second round in Uttar Pradesh and the third round in Rajasthan.
More than 600 dacoits had put down their arms and happily gone to the prison. This phenomenon was called “surrender through the change of heart.” Instead of forcing people to surrender and give up violence, this was a method of convincing people and bringing about a change in their hearts before surrendering.
They surrendered with conviction. Therefore they had no difficulty accepting long-term imprisonment and the many problems that came with it.
For an onlooker, this may sound like a story, but only those involved know the profound process that took place before each of them were convinced to end violence and accept a path of nonviolence. During our interaction with dacoits before the surrender, we had the opportunity to listen to the stories that forced them to take to violence. These are the stories that helped us design our second stage of operation in the Chambal region.
In most cases, injustice and oppression forced many of them to join the gang of dacoits. All of them wanted to take revenge on those who oppressed them. This is a clear indication that there cannot be a permanent end to direct violence unless injustice is fought. For a student of nonviolence, it is essential to understand how direct violence is constructed from indirect violence. Only when we understand the relationship between indirect and direct violence, can we deconstruct this process.
Immediately after the surrender and rehabilitation, we began to address indirect violence in the region – poverty, landlessness, migration, and many other problems were creating tension in the minds of poor people and an organisation was immediately formed to deal with some of these serious issues.
It was difficult to speak about nonviolence and a nonviolent society without freedom from injustice and oppression. The recent history of the Chambal region will be an example to explain how the large mobilisation of poor and deprived people demanded justice by asserting their rights to live in dignity.
Through such actions, we were able to transform the socio- political environment of the region. The absence of violence in Chambal valley has a lot to do with the surrender, but it also has a lot to do with the mobilisation of the poor and dispossessed after the surrender.
Mass surrender and mass mobilisation are the two components that the social organisations were able to put together. However, there are two more areas that need to be covered if we want to complete the path on which we wish to walk. In fact, these two steps are not for social organisations but for the government and for the system– if they wish to participate in this process..
Step #1: Governance
The first area, according to us, is related to governance. If the system continues to perpetuate injustice and corruption, there is no doubt that the people will lose their hope again. After 75 years of freedom, it’s a shame to realise we haven’t yet learned to govern our society.
Thousands of poor people are spending a large part of their resources every day to solve their problems through the police, bureaucracy, and legal system of our country.
At the end of the day, each of them feels frustrated as they hit their head against a wall. How long should it take for a country like India to create a system that can reach out to ordinary people? How long should it take for every bureaucrat to understand the spirit of the Talisman proposed by Gandhi? This is the time for every political party and government to take responsibility for transforming the system that can lead to delivery of justice, which will ultimately create a nonviolent society.
Step #2: Education
The next step should be to transform the educational system and make it a tool for creating a nonviolent society. Ambitious young people, if not educated and directed properly, will create a violent system that will ultimately create a violent society. The education system in India is competitive and focused on job seeking. Values like truth, nonviolence and justice are not part of our education system and the young people are not motivated through these values.
Even those highly qualified and occupying higher positions in the government also often behave in a way that demotivates and demoralises ordinary people who come to seek justice.
It is time for us to radically transform the entire educational system so that the educated will understand nonviolence and help transform society into a nonviolent one.
Violence is not going to end just because of the goodness in some people. It needs to be addressed structurally in order to create a system that can deliver justice.
The story of mass surrender of arms in Chambal is an Indian story, but there are similar situations in various parts of the world. Let us take the example of Mexico, Brazil or Colombia or even Kenya or Senegal. Even in European countries and indigenous communities in America and Canada, there are similar situations. We have managed to create a system that is unkind and unjust to ordinary and marginalised people.
How much do we really care for the landless people in Brazil or the slum dwellers of Kenya? In every country, people are forced to organise and fight against the governance system born out of this particular education system. If we continue with the same education system, there is a possibility that conflict and violence will become an ongoing reality.
The journey to end indirect violence will help us in a big way to address the problem of direct violence. The 50th anniversary of the arms surrender in Chambal is a call for ending indirect and direct violence locally and globally. Let's use this opportunity to take this message across the world in the interest of the planet and also humankind.
From Ramesh Sharma, General Secretary of Ekta Parishad