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Another Gandhi

"Many call him Guruji or Sir. But he is more famous as Gandhi of koraput. When many people find Gandhian principles difficult to practice or irrelevant, Biswanath pattanayak still follows the footsteps of Gandhiji. After an intimate talk with this Gandhiji of Orissa, Subrat Swain tries to explore the reasons behind the claim."

Subrat Swain : May 25, 2009

Sometimes if you sit silently and open your ear carefully you would hear the sounds of communal violence here… It may also come to your sight that a half naked tribal woman is selling her child only for the bread and butter… you may even see a tribal folk who knows nothing about the modern society beyond his hamlet over the hills… Such kind of people and communities are still available in Kandhamal, Kalahandi and Koraput districts of Orissa. On the other side along with the sound of communal violence, child selling view you may also get to see a man who roam around all places in  these three districts to built religious and ethnic amity, easing poverty, expanding women’s right and ending untouchability.. “What gandhiji wanted,” says Biswanath pattanayak, a true gandhian leader who religiously follows the footsteps of Gandhiji.

He is a mesmerising character - intense, articulate, idealist and lastly a man who seeks nothing for himself. So many books have been written on the struggle and sacrifice during his life and significantly most popular book ‘Agyana’(sir) written by Subash Chandra Mishra, which has won the Orissa Sahitya Academy award. He has got honorary doctorate for social service at the age of 93 last year from Brahmapur University.

Well, he is a man of mission, born in Orissa-in the village Kumarada of Ganjam district in the year of 1916, who wants nothing but service to the society. After 8th class in schooling he could not go for more education due to his poor financial condition. Then he chose the profession of a teacher where he got influenced by Gandhiji and joined the freedom movement. In undivided Koraput district, he was the prominent leader among others and spent 3 years in jail with martyr Laxman Nayak.   

He started his life in social service from Bari of undivided Cuttack district and then moved to tribal populated district of Koraput. He found it the right place to serve people and started his Bhoodan Ashram to promote donation of land to the landless at Kujendri, a tribal village of Rayagada, wherefrom his journey extended to Banabasi Seba Samiti in Baliguda of Kandhamal and ahead.

Two hundred fifty KMs drive south from Orissa’s capital city Bhubaneswar takes you to the small town Baliguda amidst forests in Kandhamal infamous for caste conflicts and communal violence. Here Biswanath pattanayak started his Banabasi Seva Samiti only with 5000 rupees. Today this foundation is widely popular and known as one of the oldest organizations in Kandhamal, which provides education, food and shelter to blind, orphan and poor tribal students free of cost.

Apart from this, Biswanath Pattanayak has set up so many orphanages, residential schools, kanyashram (residential school for girls) in Kandhamal, Koraput and Kalahandi taking the noted freedom fighter and socialist Gopabandhu Choudhury as his ideal. His respect for Gopabandhu Choudhury is quite evident from the fact that Biswanath left his lunch and salt permanently and dedicated it to poor people in memory of late Choudhury. “Where millions of the people aren’t able to get their one time meal, how could he take his meal thrice a day”, says Rabindra kumar Panda, secretary of Banabasi Seva Samiti quoting the version of Biswanath.

Biswanath remained unmarried as he never thought marriage more important than the freedom struggle. To him, society is his family and the ordinary people his kith and kin. “I will be happy if I die while walking along the forests. At least, my body can also help few wild animals to survive a day” - this is what Biswanath Pattanayak wishes. A letter in this regard has also been published by Banabasi Seva Samiti.

On award of honorary doctorate degree from Berhampur University for his dedication and achievements in social service, Biswanath wandered - What is the use of this award? Really what is the meaning of an award or a doctorate degree for a saint like Biswanath Pattnaik, who has dedicated all his life to the poorest and the society?

 

Author is a senior Journalist from Orissa

 

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