Natwarbhai, as the man is popularly known in the Naga village where he serves, is now 85-years-old. Environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna said in 1983 that Natwar has “followed to the letter the last wish of Bapuji when he appealed for one life-worker for each village”. The man is known to be an exceptional Gandhian which subsequently led him to be known as the Gandhi of Nagaland. Here are 5 interesting facts you should know about Nagaland’s Gandhi:
#1 Born to a lower-middle class Gujarati family, Natwarbhai was exposed to the freedom struggle and the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi in his formative years. Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 deeply affected him. He vowed to work as a social worker for the rest of his life.
#2 Natwarbhai expressed his inclination to serve in a border area. When LM Shrikant, the first Commissioner for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the Vice President of the Bharatiya Adim Jati Sevak Sangh learnt of his intentions, he immediately requested Kalelkar (the Chairman of the First Backward Classes Commission) to send Natwarbhai to the Naga-Hills district of the erstwhile province of Assam.
#3 Natwarbhai gladly accepted. In 1955, he settled in Chuchuyimlang – a remote Ao Naga village in the Mokokchung district of Nagaland and established a unique Gandhi ashram under the auspices of BAJSS. In 1956, he married Lentina – the first Naga woman to be trained as a Gandhian voluntary worker, at the Kasturba ashram in Guwahati in the early 1950s.
#4 Confrontations between local, unarmed Nagas and the army were common. As the only non-Naga inhabitant in the region, Natwarbhai played a key role in settling confrontations and defusing tense situations. Immediately after his arrival, Natwarbhai undertook two activities – he opened a medical clinic in the village and started teaching Hindi in a local school.
#5 Many Nagas viewed Natwarbhai either as a Hindu missionary or a government spy. He had barely settled in the village when the militants began a series of executions in the region, targeting public servants and government sympathisers.
Later, Natwarbhai relocated to Guwahati, where he set up the ashram’s camp office and worked in the North Eastern states for two decades. In 2014, old age and illness compelled him to shut down the camp office and he permanently returned to Chuchuyimlang, where he continues to serve today. He has worked closely with four prime ministers and won numerous prestigious awards including the Padma Shri. Natwarbhai is popularly called “the Gandhi of Nagaland.”
“My feet are too small to step in his giant shoes,” he said. “Even at my best, I could be but a footprint of Gandhi in Nagaland… which is far too great an honour for me.”
Source Inputs: Scroll.in