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22 Jul 2024, Edition - 3296, Monday

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Remembering the Mahatma in the blue mountains

Radhakrishnan Dharmalingam


With Freedom 70 celebrations just a day away focus in various parts of the Nilgiris now is on sprucing up statues and busts of the Mahatma. Not many are aware that such sculpted forms of the father of the nation abound in this hilly district.A survey reveals that in most of the villages, especially those inhabited by the Badagas,they figure prominently.

A perusal of records triggered by the survey makes interesting reading.

Gandhiji began his country-wide Tour against untouchability at Wardha on November 7, 1933, in an effort to create social awareness and raise funds for his movement. As part of his crusade he is known to have visited the Nilgiris after covering the southern and western parts of the State.

Alighting in Podanur from a train amidst a tumultuous welcome on January 29, 1934, the Mahathma is known to have travelled by car to Coonoor where he arrived at midday and stayed at Mount Pleasant and spent the first three days receiving visitors, conducting prayer
meetings and accepting contributions for his fund for the cause of social uplift.

On the fourth day Gandhi attended a public meeting held at Kotagiri, which was attended by around 6000 people, mostly Badagas. He his known to have commended the latter community for its age old custom of social tolerance and the entire absence of the social evil of
untouchability within its echelons.

He then rushed back to Coonoor to visit Ottupattarai and another hamlet, both inhabited by people belonging to the depressed classes and proceeded to cheer them up vis a vis their occupation.He reportedly observed that though it was considered derogatory by their fellow humans, it was noble in the eyes of God.He further exhorted them to give up certain vices such as alcoholism.

He then visited Ooty the next day and addressed a meeting attended by more than a 10,000 individuals from all walks of life.Among them were a good number of Anglo-Indians and Europeans.

Gandhi exhorted the people living in India and outside to donate money and materials for the eradication of untouchability and the upliftment of the impoverished and downtrodden.

On hearing this a Scottish Doctor is reported to have walked upto the platform to put a ten rupee note (a considerable sum in those times) into Gandhi’s hand stating that it was his humble contribution to the Mahatma’s cause.

After the meeting he visited the Om Prakash Mutt and the Dakshinamoorthy Ashram, both maintained for the cause of social uplift.

Gandhi left the district for Mettupalayam on February 6, but his short visit helped in boosting the independence struggle.

Pointing out that the simplicity which is his mark touched the hearts of the residents,Chronicler P.J.Vasanthan observed “perhaps it is one of the reasons for Gandhi statues or busts adorning many village squares or crossroads in the district”.

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