– By Sabina Y. Rahman with inputs from Arefa Sultana Hussain
Located at Chuchuyimlang, Nagaland Gandhi Ashram (NGA) takes great pride in being the only Gandhian institution in the state of Nagaland. Celebrating the 150th Birth Anniversary of the Mahatma together with the rest of the nation was a matter of both great honour and joy for the Ashram.
While NGA has traditionally always celebrated Gandhi Jayanti each year since its establishment in the year 1955, this year assumed special significance owing to the Prime Minister proclaiming a year-long celebration as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi.
Here at the Ashram, Gandhi Jayanti celebrations began on October 1, 2019 onwards. NGA organised a morning rally and public event at the central point, Imlong Place junctio in Mokokchung. The highlight of the event was a street play performance titled “We Shall Overcome” by the students of Mahatma Gandhi Academy of Human Development (MGAHD), National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NIELIT), and Government High School, Chuchuyimlang at Mokokchung.
Mr. Bendang Walling of the Hill Theatre directed the said play, and it was based on the life and philosophy of Gandhi. It included messages of nonviolence, women’s education and empowerment, strengthening of the indigenous village economy and saving the planet from plastic pollution.
It was preceded by a flash mob by the students mentored by Mr. Senti and Mr. Akum, and a rally by Chuchuyimlang’s Little Gandhis in the presence of Additional Deputy Commissioner of Mokokchung, W Manpai Phom, who also acknowledged the NGA for their active participation in the Swachhta Hi Seva and following the core values of Gandhi. These Little Gandhis in their Gandhian khadi drapes and metal wires twisted into Gandhi spectacles around their small faces won hearts. Their pictures were widely circulated on social media and people from across the world sent messages of love and appreciation for them.
The spirit of celebrations continued on the next day. In fact, on October 2, Chuchuyimlang community began quite early with students and community members engaging in a cleanliness drive starting from 6 am in the morning. The cleanliness drive was followed by a two hour-long public function at the Anu Mai Amphitheatre, Chuchuyimlang starting at 10.30 AM. The programme began with a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by the oldest man and woman of Chuchuyimlang. The couple was felicitated by the wife of Late Natwarbhai Thakkar, Padmashree Lentina Ao Thakkar, and their children.
The day’s event commenced with a flash mob by the students and youth of Chuchuyimlang. This was followed by the Little Gandhi Competition, which was participated by over 75 Little Gandhis from different schools of Chuchuyimlang village and Chuchuyimlang town. At the end of the Little Gandhi Parade, Mr. Lima, Pastor of Chuchuyimlang Baptist Church, formally inaugurated the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations with an invocation. The invocation was followed by a welcome address by the Chairman of the Chuchuyimlang Village Council, Mr. Aosanen Pongen. He offered a tribute to Late NatwarThakkar as this was the first Gandhi Jayanti celebration in Chuchuyimlang after his death. He spoke to the gathering about how before the arrival of NatwarBhai, the Nagas knew little or nothing about Mahatma Gandhi. Fortunately for Chuchuyimlang that changed as a social worker from Gujarat came to work and settled in this frontier village at a time and age when Naga insurgent movement was at its peak. It was only through the interface with Late Natwar Bhai and his valiant and determined efforts of peace-building and emotional integration, that community learned about the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and adopted a Gandhian outlook towards life.
Mr. Pongen declared that Chuchuyimlang must strive to become plastic free by stopping the use of single-use plastic. He further went on to make another important announcement in memory of the service and commitment of the late Gandhian social worker who started several successful initiatives in Chuchuyimlang to provide education, and develop skills and trainings of locals so as to boost to the village economy, the birth anniversary of Natwar Thakkar, October 9, would be henceforth celebrated as the ‘Noble Deeds’ Day’. Mr. Pongen emphasized that Gandhi Jayanti must not become just another holiday but must be observed in letter and spirit by carrying forward the good works that the Ashram started. Thus, this year would be first celebration of the Noble Deeds’ Day in Chuchuyimlang, which would hopefully set a new tradition in this already legendary Gandhian village.
The next public address was by the Managing Trustee of Nagaland Gandhi Ashram, Dr. Aotoshi who spoke to the gathering about the significance of the Day. Dr. Aotoshi contextualised the celebration of Gandhi Jayanti in Nagaland as he paid tribute to his father Late NatwarBhai. In service of public memory he reminded everyone how Padmashree NatwarBhai Thakkar and the Ashram always ensured the celebration of the three most important days in Chuchuyimlang without fail: The Republic Day, the Independence Day, and Gandhi Jayanti. He reminded people that Gandhi is not a collection of outdated principles as many would like to believe, but it’s a philosophy and a civilisation, and like all civilisations, Gandhian philosophy also moves through history through a process of adaptation and evolution in due accordance with time and place. Gandhian insights about the rural economy are still relevant, and the strengthening of village economy and indigenous knowledge systems is even more urgent today as we struggle to make sense of the impact the rural-urban migration has had on our modes of living, being and thinking. He thus ended his address by renewing his faith in the potential of village economy and hoping for a more sincere engagement with Gandhian thought and practice.
It was then followed by a Hymnal Competition where choirs from various institutes performed “Abide with me”, a favorite hymn of Mahatma Gandhi’s. The hymn competition was followed by a short biographical play based on the life and teachings of NatwarThakkar titled “Mahatma’s Apostle” performed by Students Union and Christian Youth Education members of the village. This is the second play directed by Walling in Chuchuyimlang in a bid to involve community members. Within a surprisingly short period of time, the troops of actors were able to recreate the circumstances that brought Thakkar first to Nagaland. The play depicted the life journey of NatwarThakkar– his commitment to serve the people, how he found love, and the life-threatening political events and challenging conditions under which he tirelessly practiced a path a love, dignity of labour, kindness and peace – so well that his family members in the audience were moved to tears.
The play was followed by prize distribution ceremony for the Little Gandhi Competition and the Hymnal Competition, which the NIELIT choir won. The prizes were distributed by the special guest for the event, Brigadier (Retd) Kataria of the Hans Foundation.
A re-performance of the street play “We Shall Overcome” which was first performed in Mokokchung on the previous day to bring the same messages was presented to a thunderous applause by the audience in Chuchuyimyang. The event at the Amphitheatre concluded with a formal vote of thanks delivered by Smti. Kedimenla, a senior volunteer of the Ashram, and everyone rose to the National Anthem led by Friendship High School, Chuchuyimlang.
At 1:00 PM, guests gathered for the exhibition of indigenous goods and local products at the Ashram. It was themed “Swadeshi”. It had various stalls of locally sourced and produced organic items of food, clothing, and other household and traditional goods. NIELIT and MGAHD also had stalls where they displayed some of their works and projects. The day’s celebration ended with an evening screening of the Oscar-winning film Gandhi directed by Richard Attenborough.