Gandhi park within Orwell’s home? Bihar government says no

Patna, April 20 (IANS) The Bihar government has stopped the laying of a Satyagraha Park since the land on which it was planned would encroach on the birthplace of legendary English writer George Orwell, an official said.

The urban development department had wanted to lay the park in Motihari, some 150 km from Patna, in East Champaran district, the site of Gandhi’s first ‘satyagraha’ rights movement in 1917 against the high taxes on indigo farmers. Urban Development Minister Prem Kumar had laid the foundation stone of the park last Saturday and his department had sanctioned Rs.2.21 crore for the project.

East Champaran district magistrate Vinay Kumar said plans for the park had been dropped after Gandhians and members of the George Orwell Commemorative Committee complained that it would come up around the house where George Orwell was born.

“An order has been issued to stop work on the park until the land for it is transferred to the Motihari Nagar Parishad by the department concerned,” Vinod Kumar told IANS.

Orwell’s birthplace was a protected monument, he added.

Razi Ahmad, the secretary of the Patna-based Gandhi Sangrahalaya (museum), said that the Father of the Nation himself would not have been too pleased to have a park in his memory encroach upon the home of the author, legendary for his metaphorical depiction of authoritarianism.

Ahmad suggested that the park may instead come up at the site where a pillar was erected in Motihari in 1969 to commemorate Gandhi’s 100th birth anniversary. The pillar stands about 2.5 km from Orwell’s birthplace, Ahmad added.

Braj Kishore Singh, former minister and secretary of the Gandhi Memorial Pillar and Sangrahalaya said: “Land for the park is available near the pillar. Besides, George Orwell’s birthplace had little to do with Gandhi’s stay in the district.”

Deo Priya Mukherjee, head of the George Orwell Commemorative Committee, said “We welcome the decision to stop the construction of the park,” adding that it would be rather strange for it to come up as an encroachment.

Mukherjee said the move to lay the park would overshadow the memory of George Orwell. “Even (Bihar Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar, during a visit here in 2009, had said that Orwell’s house and the premises would be conserved,” Mukherjee said.

The state government has declared the house a monument under the Ancient Monuments Act, Mukherjee said, adding that even so, the structure had become a “hub of anti-social elemets, drunkards, gamblers, urchins and beggars”.

He pointed out that a statue of Orwell had also been vandalised.

George Orwell, who shot to fame in the mid-20th century with his novels “Animal Farm” and “1984”, was born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari on June 25, 1903. He later adopted the pen name that he became famous by. Orwell’s father was in the Indian Civil Service during the British colonial era.

Gandhi, who had visited Champaran on the persuasion of farmer Raj Kumar Shukla in 1916, had urged indigo cultivators in the region to refuse to pay oppressive rates of taxes to the British government. By the time Gandhi visited the region, many farmers had switched from cultivating grain and food crops to cash crops, mostly indigo, and were reduced to penury as they got only meagre compensation for their produce.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])

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