restricted access Chapter 6 Marriage and the Parvatiya Navjeevan Ashram
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Chapter 6 Marriage and the Parvatiya Navjeevan Ashram In his work with the Praja Mandal in Tehri, Sunderlal came into close contact with the emerging Congress Party. Many in the party had strong ambitions for Bahuguna in the political arena. But in the course of almost eight years as general secretary of the Praja Mandal, Bahuguna was not convinced that party politics would effectively bring about the kind of society that Gandhi had envisioned for the hills or for the nation. In 1954, as general Secretary of the local Congress Party, he began to organize meetings to spread Gandhi’s constructive program and his message of social reform and to attract the youth to this work. Bharat Dogra points out that it was in the course of this organizational work that he met Vimla Nautiyal, a young woman of twenty-three. Having come from neighboring villages, they had actually known of one another from childhood. But now Vimla Nautiyal was working in the hills under the guidance of another celebrated European disciple of Gandhi, Sarala Behn.1 Sarala Behn had already been a decisive influence in the life of this young woman, and her influence would soon have an impact upon the life of Sunderlal as well. A decisive change in their lives was about to take place. Sarala Behn had come to India from England. Her original purpose , like that of Mira Behn, was to work with Gandhi in the cause of freedom. But her background, as Sunderlal explains it, was very different from that of Mira Behn. While Mira Behn had come from a privileged background, Sarala Behn was a woman of the common people. She was born in London on Good Friday in 1901 and was named Catherine Mary Heilemann.2 In her autobiography she explains that her mother was British but that her grandmother was German. Her father was born in Switzerland but had immigrated to England by way of France. She states that 65 66 Ecology is Permanent Economy for these reasons she grew up without a strong sense of belonging to an exclusive community or having a strong national identity. At the same time she grew up deeply affected by the teachings of Jesus, particularly his teachings of love and compassion, nonviolence, and the repudiation of hatred. During the First World War she was puzzled that the priests of her village invoked the name of God for victory over their enemies when she was sure that the priests of their enemies were doing the same. As a young adult she became increasingly uncomfortable with such attitudes and eventually joined an alternative community where people of differing backgrounds lived together. There she met two students from India who impressed her deeply. From them she began to learn about their country, its history and culture, and its freedom struggle. She read the works of such figures as Rammohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda, Rabinranath Tagore, and Mohandas Gandhi. One day while walking in the forests of Surrey the thought of going to India came to her mind. After some reflection she wrote to Gandhi and received a reply from one of his colleagues. It stated that many people come to Gandhi’s ashram but are not able to adjust to the tough living conditions and become a problem to others. Gandhi’s advice was that she should not come. After writing to other prominent leaders and receiving similar replies, she determined that she needed a skill that would make her useful. She took training as a nurse and studied economics, social science, political science, and psychology. Eventually she received a letter from a man named Mohan Singh in Udaipur in Rajasthan, who invited her to join him to work in a new and revolutionary school. Although she insisted that she was not experienced in education, he assured her that her skills were needed. With difficulty she managed to get a visa for India and sailed from Liverpool in January 1932. It was in Udaipur that she was called Sarala Behn or Sarala Devi. While working with Mohan Singh she heard about another educational institution in Wardha, near Nagpur, dedicated to the education of women. In October of 1935 during a school vacation she decided to visit Wardha. Having received no reply to a letter she wrote to the institution, she sent a telegram before setting out. On her arrival at the station she was greeted by someone from the institution. Having tried to catch a glimpse of Gandhi...


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