An inspiring memorial for unity

Tags: Op-ed
An inspiring memorial for unity
PRESERVING THE PAST: Miniatures of the Dandi March marchers designed for the National Dandi Salt Satyagraha Memorial project displayed at IIT-Bombay
On March 12, 1930, Bapu commenced the Dandi March from Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, leading a band of 78 handpicked volunteers, who were also ashram inmates. The youngest member was 16 years of age and the eldest 63. On the first night, two more joined the group and rounded up the number to 80.

The march to Dandi in south Gujarat to break the British monopoly over salt and to herald another push for freedom, was a symbol of unity, where common Indians from all regions, communities and castes were selected by Bapu to walk with him. After the march, most of the 80 participants returned to anonymity and were forgotten; today no one remembers any of them.

In 2005, while commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Dandi March, the prime minister declared that a magnificent monument would be erected at Dandi and it would also enshrine the memory of the 80 marchers who walked with Bapu. The prime minister also declared that the entire route from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi would be declared a historic heritage route and preserved for posterity.

Work on the monument has progressed slower than snail’s pace. But then providence played a hand. Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay came into the picture, initially to provide solar energy solutions for the project and then getting more involved in the form of its professor Kirti Trivedi and his Industrial Design Centre (IDC). He helped translate our vague idea of a beacon of light and arms holding a crystal of salt into a design of the monument: two tall arms holding aloft a crystal symbolising salt and a pyramid of light along with a larger than life statue of Bapu marching, and behind him lifesize terracotta statues of the 80 marchers. He and the IDC team, along with other professors and director of IIT-Bombay, Devang Thakkar, worked enthusiastically to ensure that the project moved on.

During November and December this year, a miracle happened on the campus of IIT-Bombay. Trivedi, with the backing of IDC and the ministry of culture at the Centre, organised two camps where 20 sculptors at a time, from all over India were invited and given all facilities to create the perfect memorial monument.

After extensive research, many of the 80 marchers of the original march were identified and their images, many blurred, were provided by the IDC team to the sculptors. Other reference material was also provided to help them recreate the marchers as accurately as possible.

Every evening during the camp, lectures by Gandhians and historians were organised, and films were screened to get the sculptors acquainted with Gandhian philosophy, especially the Salt March and the subsequent Salt Satyagraha. At the end of the first camp, they created 40 statues of 40 marchers. The work done by these young sculptors is amazing. They may not have got the likeness perfect, but they captured the spirit of the marchers perfectly.

The remaining 40 sculptures were made at the next camp. I interacted with both the groups of sculptors, the first lot in November and the second lot in December. A senior sculptor in his 90s created the 16-foot tall sculpture of Bapu — a remarkable statue that depicts his moral strength in a physical manner. The December camp saw international participation as sculptors from Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, Japan and the US participated along with sculptors from all over India.

The workshop concluded last week and it was a nostalgic moment when the prepared statues were placed on one of the internal roads on the campus. Traditional drummers from Kerala played in the midst of the Dandi statues. For a moment, one forgot that it was just a scattering of statues and felt as though one was witnessing the arrival of the marchers lead by Bapu at Dandi. It was a magical moment when history came alive. Even though the event took place in the IIT-Bombay campus, one got transported back 83 years in time and witnessed the culmination of Bapu’s Dandi March.

The 80 marchers in the original march were picked from all regions of India. They were a representation of Indian unity and solidarity for the cause of freedom, ‘the battle of right against might’ as Bapu termed it. The effort to create the 80 lifesize sculptures is also a united effort and in assembling the 40 sculptors to create the sculptures, Trivedi and his team have once again shown the quality, ability and strength of unity. The monument, whenever it comes up, would be the real symbol of unity and strength of the common man.

A true monument of unity, not grand, yet evocative. Not exorbitantly expensive yet historic. Not intimidating in size, but inspiring. True symbols of unity, both the event, and its memorial.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)

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