Swami Sahajanand Saraswati
Recognized as one of the principle and significant leaders of peasantry in Bihar, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati was a brilliant intellectual and a striking master of debate. Gifted with numerous qualities of mass leadership, Sahajanand grew as a social reformer and politician and won a circle of several admirers. However, to his ill-fate, all his contributions towards the freedom movement of India and raising consciousness of peasants are forgotten today, except amongst a small number of historians and social scientists. The most attractive and instructive respect that he earned during his life was his intellectual transformation, which makes him distinguished even today, though with a small population. He was a versatile genius with performing several roles during his entire working career, such as linguist, polymath, sociologist, historian, philosopher, writer, grammarian, ascetic, revolutionary, Marxist, and politician.
Swami Sahajanand Saraswati was born as Naurang Rai on February 22, 1889 in the village of Deva, Dullahpur in Ghazipur district of Uttar Pradesh state. He was born as the sixth and last son in a Jijhoutia Bhumihar Brahmin family. His father, Beni Rai, was a cultivator and hence, stood away from priestly functions. His mother died when he was kid and was raised by his aunt. The family survived on a small zamindari income that was carried from his grandfather’s time. However, with time and extension of the family, the land was divided and the family had to take up cultivation to earn its living. However, this did not stop the family from sending Sahajanand to school. After receiving formal education in a primary school, he went to German Mission High School where he obtained his education in English medium.
Since childhood, he was attracted towards religious practices. He objected on people believing in fake religious rituals and hence, opted for studying religious texts in order to find real spiritual solace by biding goodbye to the world. To prevent him from doing this, his family got him married to a child bride, but his wife died in 1905 or early 1906, even before the marriage could even stabilize. On his last attempt to adopting the sanyas, he was initiated into holy orders and took the name of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati. By adopting sanyas, he was abandoned from sitting in the matriculation examination. But he spent the first seven years studying religion, politics, and social affairs.
Beginning his public appearance from Bhumihar Brahmin, he graduated towards Indian National Congress and Peasant Movement, initially in Patna, Bihar, and later across India. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, he took up political schooling under him and started serving in the Congress as a true Gandhian. By 1920, Sahajanand was ready to plunge himself into the nationalist movement under Gandhi. But he was not satisfied with the working of Gandhians. The final break up with Gandhi came in 1934 when Bihar was affected with a massive earthquake. Although relief operations were carried out, Sahajanand found that people were actually suffering due to the cruelty of the landlords rather than the earthquake.
After the break up, he kept away from party politics though he shifted his interest towards mobilizing the peasants. He was a Dandi sanyasi and hence, carried a long bamboo stick with him. Later on, this stick became the symbol of peasant resistance. He gave the Bihar peasants the slogan “Danda Mera Zindabad” (Long live my stick) which was assumed to be “Long live the danda (lathi) of the Kisans” and became an important motto in the movement. In response to this, the peasants took up “Swamiji ki Jai” (Victory to Swamiji) and “Kaise Logey Malguzari, Latth Hamara Zindabad” (How will you collect rent as long as our sticks are powerful?).
Sahajanand Saraswati formed a smaller Kisan Sabha in Patna district in association with a formal organizational structure, though it was institutionalized only after few years. Later in 1929, he established the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS). With this, he emerged as the foremost kisan leader in India. Immediately after the formation of the Sabha, Bihar was plunged into the Civil Disobedience Movement that helped in creating awareness amongst the masses, but did not give enough time for the leaders of the Sabha to formalize its structure. As such, the experiences of the Civil Disobedience Movement inside and outside the jail created crevices between the Kisan Sabhaites and some Congress leaders. Thus, Sahajanand cut himself entirely from the political world for several years
The membership of this Sabha was estimated 80,000 in 1935 with the numbers increasing to 2,50,000 in 1938, thereby making it the largest provincial body in India. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was formed with some Congress Socialists at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress on April 11, 1936. Sahajanand was elected as its first President. The Sabha comprised of many eminent leaders, like N.G. Ranga, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Pandit Karyanand Sharma, Pandit Yamuna Karjee, Pandit Yadunandan (Jadunandan) Sharma, Rahul Sankrityayan, P. Sundarayya, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev, and Bankim Mukerji. It demanded the abolition of zamindari system and cancellation of rural debts. Thereafter, in October 1937, it adopted the red flag as its banner.
Soon, the leaders started keeping distance from Congress and got more involved with Congress governments in Bihar and United Province. With the formation of the All India Kisan Sabha, the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha became one of its provincial units. Sahajanand organized the Anti-Compromise Conference with Subhas Chandra Bose against the British and Congress. He even worked with the Communist Party of India during World War II. However, he broke from all politicians to form his own Kisan Sabha and speak up for the peasants of Bihar. With his standards of speech and action, he was successful in creating a reputation for himself amongst peasants. He communicated with them and assured them about improving their conditions. In a short duration, he earned love and respect by the peasants, but was equally respected and feared by landlords, Congressmen, and officials.
Swami Sahajanand Saraswati died on June 25, 1950 in Patna, Bihar at the age of 61.
A commemorative stamp was issued by the Government of India in memory of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati which was officially released by the then minister of Communications, Ram Vilas Paswan on June 26, 2000. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has instituted the Swamy Sahajanand Saraswati Extension Scientist/Worker Award in his honor.
An agrarian economy, India is considered the land of farmers. Even the current narrative and political discourse primarily revolves around farmers and their key challenges. In this context, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati’s teaching and preaching for the welfare of India’s farmers continues to be relevant. Subhash Chandra Bose, the leader of the Forward Bloc had this to say: “Swami Sahajanand Saraswati is, in the land of ours, a name to conjure with. The undisputed leader of the peasant movement in India, he is today the idol of the masses and the hero of millions.”
Swamiji continues to inspire millions who dream of an inclusive society with farmers at its centre. He was not only the voice of the farmers of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but also protected farmer-peasants against exploitation by British rule.
1. Bhumihar Brahmin Parichay (Introduction to Bhumihar Brahmins), in Hindi
2. Jhootha Bhay Mithya Abhiman (False Fear False Pride), in Hindi
3. Brahman Samaj ki Sthiti (Situation of the Brahmin Society), in Hindi
4. Mera Jeewan Sangharsha (My LIfe Struggle), in Hindi
5. Jang aur Rashtriya Azadi
6. Gita Hridaya (Heart of the Gita)
7. Kisanon ke Dave