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Following Gandhi's Path - Part 6

Gandhi's Ashram by the
Sabarmati River

By Jan Oberg
TFF director 


"It is good that Gandhi was shot..." - Hindutva

The bus ride from Bombay to Ahmedabad, also called " India's Manchester", takes 17 hours. My neighbour for the trip is a businessman who deals in gold and famous Hyderabad pearls. That is to say the pearls originally came from Basra, Iraq, but with Saddam and everything happening there, they are now said to come from China.

"India's latest budget is really good for us business people, but otherwise politicians have just managed to ruin this country. Corruption and shit everywhere. Just look at the streets, this bus, or the schools".

The young energetic capitalist goes on:

"You know, what we need is a revolution! You can't keep a country together where everyone only thinks about themselves. We can't be independent unless we start acting like a community. We are also far too many. The Chinese left us behind long ago".



Photo Jan Öberg, © TFF 2001

The mosque of Ahmedabad


When he hears that I'm interested in Gandhi, he says:

"He was for peaceful coexistence, which is really great! But the Muslims wanted to have a country of their own, Pakistan, and ought to have moved to that country, all of them! Here they refer to their religion, Islam, and argue that it's all right to have four wives, but when a Muslim criminal is about to get his hand chopped off, they immediately invoke Indian law. If I may say so, I think it was good that Gandhi was shot…".

With the rapid spreading of Hindutva, the new Hindu fundamentalism, such ideas are getting more and more popular. India is the biggest Muslim country in the world. Evacuation of a little over 110 million people would really deserve the epithet of 'ethnic cleansing'.

I wake up to a grey and misty morning when the bus arrives in Ahmedabad, capital of the state of Gujarat. Luckily, I can't see much of the earthquake now.


Ahmedabad - Vidyapith

In 1920, Gandhi founded Gujarat Vidyapith here, one of the two big universities of the town. I visit the small idealistic troop at the peace institute, where some of the best research on Gandhi has been done -partly by Navajivan Publishers just around the corner. It is the Navajivan Trust that owns the copyright to Gandhi's complete works (100 volumes!). They have published the now classic biographies as well as hundreds of minor publications.


Photo Jan Öberg, © TFF 2001

The peace research institute of Gujarat Vidyapith, founded by Gandhi


So here was where they had printed most of my Gandhi library's dusty, mildew-smelling books, I thought.

Gandhi was born in Porbandar in Gujarat and Gujarati was his main language. Ahmedabad is a dynamic, industrial town, where Gandhi acted as a mediator in a very complicated conflict between striking textile workers and capitalists, with whom he was on friendly terms - a thrilling story described in the psycho-analyst Erik H. Eriksson's classic, Gandhi's Truth. On the Origins of Militant Non-violence (1969).

It was also from here that Gandhi, together with some seventy "satyagrahi" - truth warriors - started one of the most remarkable political demonstrations of our time, the Salt March.



Gandhi's "Sabarmati"-ashram is beautifully located near the river Sabarmati. A range of low, white cottages are situated near the prayer meeting-place, with Gandhi's own "kurti" (hut) closest to the water. At least, that's how it was then, before the big river nearly dried up, so that now there are only a few buffaloes wandering among the puddles of water many meters below the ashram. Entire rivers and villages disappear in India as a consequence of gigantic dam constructions, as is described in Arundhati Roy's touching narrative, The Cost of Living (Flamenco, London 1999).


Photo Jan Öberg, © TFF 2001

The Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad


Photo Jan Öberg, © TFF 2001

Gandhi's room in the ashram


The ashram - today a museum - consists of the buildings in which Gandhi, his wife and the rest of the large family lived, as well as a larger complex of open exhibition halls under giant trees that shelter fantastic bird-life.

Most visitors are probably unaware of the fact that in the neighbourhood there are several institutions and even factories being run in the spirit of Gandhi. They manufacture latrines and equipment for alternative energy and waste management, very beautiful handmade paper, khadi fabrics, looms, soap, and many other products. There is also a school for girls belonging to the Harijan caste of untouchables. Two thousand people are employed, but, unfortunately, not all the units can make ends meet. The ashram raises money, but is not granted any support from the state.



Photo Jan Öberg, © TFF 2001

Paper production in connection with the Sabarmati ashram


This is the right place for those of you who are interested in researching the "Ghandian" archive material. Sabarmati has namely a library containing 34,000 letters written by Gandhi and thousands of original photographs from his life. You have to negotiate in order to come near this, in my opinion, Holy of the Holies. There is a steel cupboard with double locks full of old folio-files, where the yellowish letters and photographs are hidden. Although all of them can also be seen on microfilm and as copies, I can't help wondering when this historical treasure will disappear due to the moist climate.


Photo Jan Öberg, © TFF 2001

Sabarmati's Gandhi archive

Photo Jan Öberg, © TFF 2001

Gandhi's handwritten letters and a film roll


With deep respect, I browse through and read the pages Gandhi filled with his Parker fountain-pen. I would love to sit here for weeks, at some point...


Translated by Alice Moncada
Translation edited by Sara E. Ellis

 Other articles about India, "Following Gandhi's Path" and picture galleries


© TFF 2002  


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