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Garvi Gujarat

Gujarat - From Far And Near *
by Prof. Niranjan Bhagat

Gujarat from far and near (page 3 of total 3)

In 1669, in Surat, the mahajan protested against the Kazi because he promoted the conversion of the Hindus and observed a week-long strike against the Maratha rulers. Foreign historians have noted that emperors (Moghul, Maratha and British) may come and emperors may go but the mahajans of Gujarat go on forever!

In the last 100 years there have been four non-political strikes in Ahmedabad by textile workers over problems of wages: an eight day strike in 1895, 15 days in 1917, four weeks in 1918 during which Mahatma Gandhi undertook a fast unto death and resolved the problem peacefully, and a 10 week strike in 1923. There was a unique 100 day political strike by textile workers in Ahmedabad against the British government as an integral part of the 'Quit India' movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi.

As a consequence of the 1918 strike, the Majur Mahajan was found in Ahmedabad in 1920 on Gandhian values and principles. Mahatma Gandhi was its member from day one till he died in 1948. He guided it as a model to be emulated elsewhere in India, making it one of the best organized trade unions in India. It has evolved a unique and highly successful system of industrial arbitration. For the last 80 years Ahmedabad has enjoyed industrial peace, as no other city in India -thanks to the Majur Mahajan which has inherited and imbibed the traditions of the old mahajans of Gujarat. The Ahmedabad Millowners' Association (now Ahmedabad Textile Mills Association) was established in 1891 and has been active for more than 100 years. The Gujarat Vepari Mahamandal (Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry) is a federation which was founded in 1948. At present, about 300 mahajans and associations of the trade, commerce and industry in Gujarat are affiliated to it.

Gujarat is protected by nature on all four sides: by mountains in the north, forests in the east, rivers in the south and the sea in the west. Hence, Gujarat has rarely been invaded, nor has it invaded others. The people have seldom engaged in warfare, being peace-loving.

In pre-historic times, as the Mahabharata, the mythical epic, says, Lord Krishna at a very young age migrated to Gujarat from Mathura, established a kingdom of Yadavas and founded its capital city of Dwarka. In the last years of his life he returned to Gujarat after the battle of Kurukshetra. During the middle years of his life he only acted as a peace-maker. Even on the battle field he acted as a charioteer and not as a warrior, he only drove Arjuna's chariot though he possessed the mightiest weapon of the war - Sudarshana. The myth has made a great impact on the history of Gujarat. Buddhism and Jainism in ancient times, Vaishnavism and the devotional songs of the saints in medieval times and Mahatma Gandhi in modern times preached and practiced love and compassion in Gujarat.

More than anything else, it is the culture of Bania community comprising different religions, faiths and ethnic groups that has moulded the unique character and determined the peculiar nature of the people of Gujarat. For centuries they have displayed their heroism and prowess, a spirit of adventure and supremacy in enterprise on the sea as seafarers, not on the land as warriors. Even the martial races, the warrior castes like the Rajputs who migrated from North India and settled in Gujarat, gave up their weapons and war mania.

Before Independence, there were 396 native states in Gujarat - more than 50% of the total 656 native states in India. In the past, when the subjects of Kutch and Saurashtra revolted against tyranny or rebelled against injustice, they employed the traditional techniques of 'traga' (fasting), 'dharanu' (squatting), 'risamanu' (non-cooperation) and 'baharvatu' (outlawry) against the state. In recent times, there were five strikes by textile workers and two satyagrahas by farmers against the British government on the problem of unjust taxes -at Kheda in 1917 and Bardoli in 1928.

It was here that Mahatma Gandhi experimented with satyagraha (non-violent non-cooperation) and later perfected it during his famous march to Dandi -the Dandi Kutch - in 1930. It is from Gujarat that a bania called Mahatma Gandhi bequeathed the gift of satyagraha to India and the world. Today, it is universally acknowledged that satyagraha, not war, is the only way to peace and happiness. There were two landmark agitations by the students against their own government which lasted for months - the Mahagujarat in 1956 and the equally famous Navnirman movement on 1973.

Gujarat simultaneously worships both mammon and the muse. Both Laxmi (goddess of wealth) and Saraswati (goddess of learning) have showered their blessings on Gujarat. While being materially rich, it is certainly not intellectually poor. It is rich in matters of the mind. Since medieval times the people of Gujarat and their language and literature have been derided: 'Gurjarnam mukham bhrashtam' -the mouth of the people of Gujarat is corrupted - and 'Shun shan paisa char' - their language is worth four paise. This is an unfair and distorted perception.

Gujarat has a history of learning comparable with any other state. In ancient times, Hsiuan-Tsang and I-Tsing noted in their travelogues that the university at Valabhi, the then capital of Gujarat, was as great as those at Nalanda and Taxshil. In medieval times, at Patan, the then capital of Gujarat, Hemachandracharya's grammar 'Siddhhen' was placed on an elephant and taken out in a procession which was led by Gujarat's king, Siddharaj. Hemchandracharya and Vastupal were great scholars and their disciples were known for their learning. At Patan, Siddharaj founded 21 libraries, one of which had a collection of 15,000 books. He even had the manuscript of Agam sculptures written in gold ink. Gujarat claims the great Sanskrit poet Magh and the great astronomer Brahmafupta s its own.

In the history of medieval Gujarati literature, the 'prabhatiyas' (metaphysical poems) of Narsinh Mehta, the 'chhappas' (satirical poems) of Akho, the 'akhyanas' (narrative poems) of Premchand and the 'garabis' (lyrical poems) of Dayaram are rare achievements. In the history of modern literature, Balashankar, Manishankar Bhatt, Sursinhji Gohil 'Kalapi', Balvantrai Thakore, Nanalal, Sundaram and Umashankar Joshi stand out as major poets; Govardhanram Tripathi and Pannalal Patel as major novelists and Manilal Dwivedi, Narmadashankar Mehta and Anandshankar Dhruv as major essayists. Gujarat has claimed two Gyanpith awards -Umashankar Joshi in 1968 and Pannalal Patel in 1986.

For generations to come, Gujarati will be known throughout the world as the language of Mahatma Gandhi. The fact is that Gujarati men of letters have kept a low profile, practicing their art in the midst of a very practical people. In 1959, at the Nikhil Bharat Bang Sahitya Sammelan in Ahmedabad, Devesh Das, listening to Gujarati poets at the poetry reading session said to Umashankar Joshi, 'Gujarati poets exercise great restraint'. Umashankar Joshi answered, 'It may be so. We write poetry in the midst of people who are pragmatic. We would seem absurd if we let our emotions loose'.

A few facts and figures regarding education in Gujarat speak for themselves. There are six universities and 42,000 educational institutions from the primary to the higher secondary levels in which 9800,000 students pursue their studies. Currently, Ahmedabad has half a dozen educational institutions of national and international repute: IIM, PRL, NID, ATIRA, CEPT and GLI. Literacy levels stand at 60%, which is higher than the national average and makes Gujarat the fourth most literate state in India.

Gujarat is not a large state. Its total area is 196,000 sq km which is 6% of the total area of India. It has a population of 44,400,000, which is 5% of India'a population. Its land is fertile. It is famous as 'Urvisar Gujarat' -the essence of the earth. 60% of the population is engaged in agriculture and 18% in industry. A part of its prosperity comes from the sea. Gujarat is vertically split, as the poet Nanalal says , 'into two wings, one blue, one green.' The western wing is blue and the eastern is green, with the se on the west and the forests on the east. There is, therefore, prosperity in the west and poverty in the east.

Of the total population of Gujarat, 7 % (3.5 million) are harijans, 15% (6.5 million) are Girijans and adivasis. Thus, they make 22% (10 million) of the total population of Gujarat. In other words, one in five persons in Gujarat is either a harijan, a girijan or adivasi. Of the total population of Gujarat, 30% live below the poverty line against 40% of the total population in India.

In the 21st century, illiteracy will pose the greatest challenge To Gujarat. The large number of illiterates are a matter of shame and concern. Illiteracy is a man-made evil. It is the root of all evils, namely poverty and disease. When Gujarat eliminates these three evils, it will be worthy of itself, it will be true to its name 'Garavi Gujarat' - the glory that is Gurjardesh.

End. Thank You.

Prof. Niranjan Bhagat

* Article published in October 1998 SEMINAR 470
- published here with due courtesy from the Author

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