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Bhoodan Movement: Development & Mission

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Private property has been an important factor in world history, but today we'll look at it through a different lens. In this lesson, we'll explore the Bhoodan movement and see how it challenged conventional ideas about land usage.

The Bhoodan Movement

In the modern world, we take private property pretty seriously. People work their whole lives to gain property, and they defend it with all their might. So, imagine if an old man in rags walked up to you one day and asked you to give him part of your property for free. We may not imagine that he'd have much success with this tactic. That's probably accurate, unless of course that old man is Vinoba Bhave, who collected over 4 million acres of land in 1950s India as part of the voluntary land reform system known as the Bhoodan movement.

Origins of the Bhoodan movement

In the mid-20th century, there was a lot going on in India. The nation was fighting for its independence from the British Empire, a movement largely led by the nonviolent activist and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's nonviolent protests of civil disobedience helped set the tone for Indian independence in 1947 and created a generation of spiritual activists to whom the Indian people looked for guidance. One of these men, a close associate of Gandhi's, was a man named Vinoba Bhave.

Vinoba Bhave with Gandhi
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Bhave (1895-1982) was a Hindu leader who had participated in many of Gandhi's demonstrations and took a leadership role in the Indian independence movement. After Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, Bhave was seen as the successor to Gandhi's role as India's spiritual leader, and he began focusing his attention on the poor and landless members of Indian society. These people had no money, were entirely reliant on others, and really had no way of gaining land or money in the strict class system of India.

In 1951, Bhave developed a radical solution. In the village of Pochampally in the southern Indian state of Telangana, Bhave met with the destitute members of India's lowest caste, known as the ''untouchables''. In this meeting, they claimed that they could survive with some land of their own but that the government would not give them any; however, after a series of prayers, a wealthy landowner named Vedire Ramachandra Reddy offered to donate a large portion of his land. The property would be transferred as a gift to Bhave as a spiritual leader, who would then redistribute it to the poor families of the village. This was the first Bhoodan.

The Movement Expands

This first Bhoodan, or gifted land, sparked a voluntary land redistribution campaign in India. Over the next few years, Bhave standardized the system, creating a movement that was met with a good degree of success. So, here's how it worked. Bhave, as a spiritual figure, would walk on foot from village to village across India, a tradition known as padayatra. When he arrived in a village, he asked landowners to essentially count him (again, as a spiritual leader) as a member of their family. The target goal was for the landowner to give Bhave a gift or donation equaling 1/6th of their total land. Bhave then became the proprietor of the land, and handed over its administration to a local Bhoodan council or Bhoodan leader who parceled the land into individual plots. The plots were given to destitute families. The goal was to give poor families a piece of farmable land so that they could grow their own food and end their reliance on the government or others. They were to become self-sufficient, relying on their own labor and nothing else.

Vinoba Bhave walking with Indian prime minister Nehru and others
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