'Bid to destroy Gandhi’s legacy': Sarva Seva Sangh building in Varanasi demolished, protestors detained

Six bulldozers were reportedly swung into action on Saturday to raze to the ground around twelve buildings of the Gandhian social service organisation.

Published: 13th August 2023 05:11 PM  |   Last Updated: 13th August 2023 05:11 PM   |  A+A-

The Akhil Bharat Sarva Sewa Sangh

The Akhil Bharat Sarva Sewa Sangh (Photo |@aryashekhar1981 Twitter)

By Online Desk

Twelve buildings of the Gandhian social service organisation, Akhil Bharat Sarva Sewa Sangh, were demolished in Varanasi's Raghat area on Saturday. Some media reports state that the buildings demolished numbered between 15 to 20.

The exercise which reportedly began at around 7 am took place in the presence of 500 policemen, The Hindu reported.

Six bulldozers were reportedly swung into action to raze to the ground the property which also included the Gandhi Vidya Sansthan, an institute co-founded by freedom fighter Jayaprakash Narayan. It has now been allocated to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Ten Gandhians were taken into custody after they protested against the demolition. Some even lay on the ground, as per media reports.

The Northern Railways claimed ownership over the 12.90-acre of land on which the Sangh building was built. The building rests on the bank of the river Ganges.

But the Sangh has claimed that it bought the property from the central government via sale deeds purchased in 1960, 1961 and 1970. 

The District Magistrate on June 26 had ruled in favour of the Railways and passed an order for demolition of the organisation's structures built on railway land.

The Sangh failed to get relief on the demolition order from the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court.

In July, the premises of the organisation were evacuated in the presence of police and activists were detained.

Ram Dhiraj, the head of the Sarva Sewa Sangh's Varanasi branch, was quoted by The Telegraph, before his arrest: “The Uttar Pradesh government and the Indian Railways have played a dirty trick to target Gandhi. They proved in court with the help of forged papers that the Sangh’s land deal with the railways was illegal. We lost the case in Varanasi and the high court, but hope to prove in the Supreme Court that we had paid the railways for about 13 acres of land. We had submitted documents to support our claim that the deal was finalised after it was approved by Rajendra Prasad, the then President.”

Sarva Seva Sangh president Chandan Pal in a statement strongly condemned the act: "It is evident that this demolition is being executed under the directive of the Prime Minister’s Office a fact that will stain the pages of Indian history with shame." Varanasi is PM Modi's parliamentary constituency.

"The destruction of precious literary works from luminaries such as Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Jayaprakash, Dada Dharmadhikari, Narayan Desai, JC Kumarappa, Dhirendra Majumdar, Sivananda and J Krishnamurthy represents a dark chapter in our nation’s heritage,” he said in the press statement.

Congress general secretary and UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on her Facebook page had said that the demolition is an “attack on the legacy of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi”.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh condemned the act by saying "the BJP is now crossing all limits of shamelessness." “Attempts to usurp and destroy Gandhi’s legacy have already taken place at Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat and Gandhigram in Wardha,” he tweeted.

Activists like Medha Patkar, Yogendra Yadav and Rakesh Tikait were part of the hundreds of those who protested against the demolition for months.

The Sarva Sewa Sangh was set up in 1948 as a registered society by freedom fighter Acharya Vinoba Bhave to propagate the ideas and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

The concerned property housed a publication house, Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan, a free preschool for children from socio-economically weaker sections, a guest house, a library, a meeting hall, a naturopathy centre), a youth training centre, a khadi bhandaar and a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. It houses around 80 houses, offices and living quarters.

The Telegraph said that the organisation's Varanasi unit has about 50 members, mostly elderly Gandhians who pay a membership fee and also teach at the informal institute.

According to the website of the Sarva Seva Sangh, it was started after a meeting in Sevagram, Wardha in March, 1948. The meeting was attended by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and first President Dr Rajendra Prasad.

“…Sarva Seva Sangh came into existence in April, 1948 after merging five constructive organisations e.g., Akhil Bharat Charkha Sangh, Akhil Bharat Gram Udyod Sangh, Akhil Bharat Go Seva Sangh, Hindustani Talimi Sangh & Mahrogi Sava Mandal,” says the website.


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