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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Gandhi Jayanti: Mahatma Gandhi’s abode in Bettiah lies in ruins

The front court of Hazarimal Dharmshala, once an open garden, now houses a multi-level commercial complex which came up about two decades back. 

patna Updated: Oct 02, 2019 12:40 IST
Sandeep Bhaskar
Sandeep Bhaskar
Hindustan Times, Bettiah
The ruins of the Hazarimal Dharmshala building is covered with thick vegetation all around it.
The ruins of the Hazarimal Dharmshala building is covered with thick vegetation all around it.(Gama Kumar/ HT photo)
         

Hazarimal Dharmshala, which was Mahatma Gandhi’s abode in Bettiah when he landed in Champaran over a century ago, lies in ruins today. 

Having heard tales from the past, senior residents say Gandhi stayed at the dharmshala for several weeks after he reached Bettiah on April 22, 1917, to take up the cause of indigo planters.

“In place of lullabies, we were lulled to sleep with stories of Gandhiji. It was during his stay here that he recorded statements of the oppressed peasants with assistance of his lawyer associates, including Rajendra Prasad,” says Naresh Verma, who is now in his 80s and a follower of Gandhian ideology. 

Also read: Hindustan Times and the Mahatma

“It is a tragedy that the place which Gandhiji used as his abode to fight for peasants and was frequented by bigwigs like Dr Rajendra Prasad, Brajkishore Prasad, JB Kripalani and Bapu's wife Kasturba Bai is a victim of neglect. It should have been renovated and opened for public viewing,” says Verma. 

Today, the building lies in ruins, with thick vegetation coming up all around it. In sharp contrast, the front court, once an open garden, now houses a multi-level commercial complex which came up about two decades back. 

In 1996-97, local activists approached the court seeking the arrest of dharmshala trustee Uma Shankar Jhunjhunwala on charges of getting the dharmshala demolished.

“It actually collapsed owing a heavy spell of rain. But my father had to be sent to jail for one day on the charge of stealing bricks of the dharmshala,” said Vaibhav Kumar Agrawal, son of Uma Shankar.

In 1996, the state government sought to acquire the property under the Bihar Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains and Art Treasures Act, forcing the trustees to approach Patna High Court. 

Uma Shankar, however, has his own story. 

“Imagine how difficult it would had been standing against the British and offering abode to Gandhji. But it was all possible because my predecessors wanted freedom at any cost. We want to renovate the dharmshala and put the room used by Mahatma Gandhi for public viewing. We don’t need any assistance from any quarter for all these. But the government should not take away our rights on the building for which our family members risked their lives and gravitated towards Gandhian ideology,” says Uma Shankar, speaking to HT from Pune.

The owner of the commercial establishment on the outer court of dharmashala, however, favours renovation of the decrepit structure. “Some solution should be arrived at. Sooner it happens, better it would be, either by court or by mutual agreement,” was the common refrain of the businessmen here.

First Published: Oct 02, 2019 12:40 IST

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