Gandhian saint of Bharawan - Surya Prakash Srivastava ' babaji'
He was merely a youth of 17-18 years, fresh out of college, when he first got a chance to see Mahatma Gandhi. He had heard of Gandhi ji as a brave man fighting the British. He had imagined him to be in the mould of a warrior like Chattrapati Shivaji or Maharana Pratap. But he was awe stuck when he saw a dhoti clad man coming. The nature of Gandhi’s bravery dawned on him and the mesmerisation continues even today after about seven decades. Surya Prakash Srivastava, popularly known as Baba ji in his work area Bharawan, about 60 kms. from Lucknow has lived the message of Gandhiji at the time of independence that educated youth should go and work in rural areas.
Surya Prakash Srivastava was attracted towards the freedom movement and the Congress as a youth. Once in an exhibition being organized in his college he wanted to slip in a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. He came up with the idea of putting up pictures on the theme of rural economy. He titled it ‘Help your poor country by using Khadi.’ To depict the spinning process he used Gandhi’s picture working on a charkha. However, since any association with the Congress was considered treason and it was a government college, the picture was promptly removed the very day by the college authorities. Upon enquiry his economics teacher expressed helplessness. For the same reason on another occasion Surya Prakash was disappointed that there was a very poor attendance in a lecture delivered by the Noble prize winner Rabindra Nath Tagore in his college. The Principal and all teachers abstained from this lecture.
Surya Prakash also went to jail in 1941 while participating in the freedom movement but decided to become a teacher as he saw the freedom approaching even though he had become a very dedicated worker of the Congress and knew some of its top leaders from UP like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Keshav Dev Malviya and Krishna Dutt Paliwal personally. He became the Principal of a Higher Secondary School in Lucknow in 1947. This school located in Lalbag is known as Lucknow Inter College today.
After a stint at this school he decided to go to Bharawan upon invitation from people there who were looking for a suitable candidate for the post of Principal to run a High School. At that time there was no High School in a radius of 25 kms. from Bharawan. It was a backward area and criminally infested too. He faced a number of difficulties in acclimatizing himself to a rural area.
The educational institutions established by Surya Prakash include Vidya Mandir Intermediate College , Janata Intermediate College , Raja Dev Singh Junior High School , and Rani Lakshmi Bai Balika Vidya Niketan. His disciple and Principal of Janata College later started a Surya Prakash Girls’ Intermediate College next to his college naming it after Baba ji. Baba ji also helped establish Vishala Devi Intermediate College , Junior High School in Ismailganj, Sitapur, Junior High School in Janigawan and Junior High School in Usraha near Nevada Pipargaon. The manner of his working was he would establish an institution, head it for sometime, transfer the management to a committee after a while when the institution was recognized by the government or started receiving funds and then move on to his next school. It was amazing that he didn’t attach himself with any educational institution permanently. It was because of this quality of his that he was called the ‘Saint of Bharawan’ or Baba ji with affection.
Baba ji was also convinced by local people to contest an election for the head post of a Village Panchayat. He won the election easily but didn’t enjoy his position. Rather he felt suffocated and never contested an election again in his life. He is a very simple person and was not comfortable with the rough and tumble world of politics. It shows that his involvement in freedom struggle was genuine and selfless. He didn’t remain with the Congress to derive any benefits from it after independence. If he had decided to pursue the political path, like many did in the Congress, he could have benefited a lot personally. But he did not even take the credit for all the important work he did in establishing at least half a dozen educational institutions in a backward area.
Baba ji was a religious person in the true sense. The upper caste people appreciated his religiosity but didn’t like his stand against untouchability. In fact, they were shocked when he accepted a glass of water from a dalit for the first time in Bharawan. Similarly, Baba ji took a stand against communalism and always encouraged programmes meant to promote communal harmony between the Hindus and Muslims. He proved by his behaviour that a true believer is always a humanitarian.
Baba ji also believed that dying for one’s country was easier than living for it. He believed that whereas dying was a matter of short term sacrifice, getting involved in social transformation work required life long commitment. It is amazing that he has carried his commitment in a down to earth manner and continues to lead a very simple life. Today he is not physically active. He is spending his last years of life in a small rented house in Lucknow with his only daughter. But he is mentally as active as ever. He can recognize every visitor and can engage in simple conversation in spite of hearing problem.
Surya Prakash Srivastava should be a model for public life if we have to restore respect for public service in India . His life is a message which must be imbibed if we are to remain a humane society. As he spends his last days peacefully, away from any publicity or glamour but free from any kind of disease - mental or physical, we must think about the purpose of life and how it should be lived. When Baba ji leaves this world we’ll be satisfied that he didn’t leave behind any problem or any unresolved disputes. He tried his best to make this world more humane in whatever little capacity that he could. He always tried to give to the world, not take away from it.
Dr Sandeep Pandey
(The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) for emergent leadership, heads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley in control theory which is applicable in missile technology. He taught at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur before devoting his life to strengthening people's movements in early 1990s. He can be contacted at: email@example.com, www.ashaparivar.org)
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