Review: The Struggle of my Life; Autobiography of Swami Sahajanand SaraswatiTranslated and Edited by Ramchandra Pradhan
A new English edition of the autobiography of Swami Sahajananad Saraswati introduces the monk, freedom fighter and leader of the peasant movement to a wider readership
Swami Sahajanand Saraswati’s autobiography, Mera Jeevan Sangharsh (1952), originally published in Hindi, has been translated into English by Gandhian scholar and activist Ramchandra Pradhan. Born on 22nd February 1889 in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, Sahajanand’s (he died on 26th June 1950 in Muzaffarpur, Bihar) great contributions to the cause of depressed peasant-farmers during British rule, to the Indian freedom movement, and to Indian society as a whole is largely unknown outside the Hindi belt.
After Gandhiji’s successful experiment in Champaran, Swamiji followed in his path and agitated for the economic rights of the masses. He united people in Bihar against the British and strengthened the Non-Cooperation Movement. He also played a modernizing role in socio-cultural traditions. With Sardar Patel, he addressed many kisan sabhas in Bihar and advocated for their rights. The waiving of farmers’ loans and the ensuring of farmers’ income, issues that are still relevant today, were his main concerns and he is widely remembered as the founder of the All India Kisan Sabha.
An agrarian economy, India is considered the land of farmers. Even the current narrative and political discourse primarily revolves around farmers and their key challenges. In this context, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati’s teaching and preaching for the welfare of India’s farmers continues to be relevant. Subhash Chandra Bose, the leader of the Forward Bloc had this to say: “Swami Sahajanand Saraswati is, in the land of ours, a name to conjure with. The undisputed leader of the peasant movement in India, he is today the idol of the masses and the hero of millions. It was indeed a rare fortune to get him as the chairman of the Reception Committee of the All India Anti-Compromise Conference at Ramgarh. For the Forward Block, it was a privilege and an honour to get him as one of the foremost leaders of the Left movement and as a friend, philosopher, and guide of the Forward Block itself. Following Swamiji’s lead, a large number of front-rank leaders of the peasant movement have been intimately associated with the Forward Block”.
Divided into nine parts, this book covers all the major aspects of Sahajanand’s life including his childhood, economic condition, journey to sanyaas, social experiences, times in jail, and his critical views of the zamindari system. The Gita was an integral part of his life, and his account of his journey to monkhood is inspirational. He took his daand from his guru Swami Achutyanand and became a daandi swami. A bhumihar, Swamiji wrote extensively on bhumihar-brahmans, but his writing on the peasantry and on zamindaars is even more extensive. Apart from his autobiography, Sahjanand’s works like Bhumihar Brahmin Parichay (Introduction to Bhumihar Brahmins), Karmakalap, Brahman Samaj ki Sthiti (Condition of Brahmin Society), Khet Majdoor (Farming labourers), Zamindaari ka Khatma Ho and Bhoomi Vyavastha, give the reader a greater understanding of Swamiji. This book includes a chapter on social work and sections on his dialogues with Gandhiji and on his own efforts to ensure the success of the Non-Cooperation Movement. The last few chapters focus on his peasant struggles, a detailed account of the events surrounding them, his memoirs from jail and his writing on the Dumraon struggle.
Read more: Why agriculture needs peasant-oriented policies
Both Walter Hauser, professor of South Asian history at Virginia University, and Kailash Chandra Jha, a political adviser at the American embassy, translated Swamiji’s work into English. As most of it was written in Bhojpuri, Hindi and Sanskrit, Sahajanand’s contributions and massage did not get national or worldwide attention. As he did not go along with any political party or found a religious sect which could have carried his work forward, his contribution to the nation is not known even to his own countrymen. This latest book is an attempt to rectify that and to make this inspirational figure better known to non-Hindi readers.
Swamiji continues to inspire millions who dream of an inclusive society with farmers at its centre. He was not only the voice of the farmers of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but also protected farmer-peasants against exploitation by British rule. This new volume presents a true picture of a monk, scholar, freedom fighter and leader of the peasant movement.
KC Tyagi is national spokesperson, JD(U)