For the love of Gandhi's ideas

BY BHARAT DOGRA| IN Regional Media | 01/10/2016
For over 50 years, the Sarvodaya Press Service has been spreading the Mahatma’s ideas by providing stories with a Gandhian theme to the Hindi press.
BHARAT DOGRA describes this unusual ‘wire service’.

SPS publishes activist writers pursuing Gandhian ideas of development. Image courtesy: www.scientificworld.in

 

How do you keep Gandhi’s message of peace and non-violence alive? A quaint and specialized news service in Indore knows how. Every Thursday for 56 diligent years the Sarvodaya Press Service (SPS) has been sending articles and features to over 200 Hindi newspapers and magazines to spread Gandhi’s ideas.

All the material is distinctive for being in line with Gandhian precepts. The publications which receive the items enjoy the ease of having stories land in their inbox gratis. When they are published, SPS enjoys the satisfaction of having spread Gandhi’s ideas to readers across north India.  

Although SPS appeals to newspapers to send at least a modest payment, very few do so. This creates financial problems for SPS but it continues to keep sending them out because its primary aim is to have its stories published and read.  “An average article is likely to be published in about 25 to 30 places. For outstanding articles, the figure can be much higher,” said SPS editor Chinmay Mishra.

Several highly regarded newspapers such as Deshbandhu,  Jan Morcha, Dainik Bijnore Times, and Dainik Madhya Pradesh publish SPS articles more or less regularly. Sarita Dhurandhar, who edits the opinion pages of Deshbandhu, said: “When we are looking for issues of social concern, then the articles and reports sent by SPS are very helpful. It is particularly nice to get reports written by activists who travel a lot in remote rural areas.”    

Sundarlal Bahuguna, the famous Gandhian and environmentalist, once said that the existence of SPS was a big source of comfort to activists-writers because they feel reassured that at least someone will use their reports – reports often written after arduous visits to very remote areas.  

Suresh Bhai, an activist-writer from the Himalayan region, said: “I am based in a remote Himalayan village of Uttarkashi district and my problem is how can I reach a wider readership? So it is most comforting to know that there is someone who will take the trouble to send my report to about 200 publications. This gives me the strength and the confidence to write more often.”

Covering important but neglected issues has been a huge contribution of SPS. These issues have changed with the times. In the early days, senior Gandhians such as Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Rammurty and Narain Desai used to write for it and the emphasis was on fighting liquor and promoting khadi and bhoodan.

From the eighties onwards, its coverage of environmental issues increased which in turn raised questions about which models of development were desirable for India. ‘The Narmada Bachao Movement was covered extensively. We started publishing more by writers like Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, and Vandana Shiva while our earlier activist writers like Radha Bhatt, Sunderlal Bahuguna, Kumar Prashant, S.N.  Subba Rao and P.V. Rajagopal also continued to write for us,’ said Kumar Sidharth who has been closely involved with SPS for several years.

Other subjects covered extensively were the injustices suffered by tribal communities, traditional farming and the food system, and distress among farmers. Some of these issues continue to resonate. An article published in Deshbandhu on September 22 titled Kheti kisani mein lut-ta kisan is a detailed review of the many-sided injustices suffered by peasants, written by farmer-activist  Vivekanand Mathan. 

Also in September, SPS sent out a very well researched article by Delhi-based water researcher and analyst Himanshu Thakkar which argued that the recent flood in Bihar was largely a man-made disaster. Called Maanav Nirmit Barh Ki Vinashlila, this was published  in Deshbandhu  on September 15. 

All these issues were close to the heart of Vinoba Bhave, the advocate of non-violence, who effectively started SPS during a visit to Indore in 1960. ‘He said someone had to take the responsibility of carrying forward Gandhi’s ideas through the media,’ recalls Sidharth. ‘On the spur of the moment my father Mahendra Bhai accepted the challenge. There is some indication that a small effort already existed at that time in English, probably in Calcutta. My father accepted the responsibility and we have tried to continue the effort after him,’ said Sidharth. 

Mahendra Bhai was a fellow with the Gandhi Peace Foundation and he used this modest financial support to devote himself completely to SPS. Even during the Emergency, when he was arrested, SPS continued functioning.

Rakesh Diwan, senior journalist and social activist, edited SPS for some time after Mahendra Bhai’s death and he is still involved in the support network of SPS.  ‘One  great contribution of the Sarvodya Press Service has been to keep alive a different thinking on the idea of development, on how development needs to be defined or rather re-defined. We have given voice to many activists and social movements, not just in the Hindi-speaking belt but also social and environmental movements in Kerala or Odisha,’ said Diwan.

The SPS is not parochial. In its international coverage, it emphasizes peace, disarmament and justice to developing countries. A recent  article on the aftermath of the Arab Spring, for example, pointed out that new initiatives for Arab resurgence should be more firmly rooted in justice, equality, and peace. Titled Arab deshon ko chahiye loktantra, samta aur nyaya, the article was published in Deshbandhu on September 19.

What of the future? Sidharth said there have been signs of a revival of interest in the kind of issues that are regularly raised by SPS. In order to seize these opportunities, however, it needs to raise more resources since much of the work - editorial, secretarial, follow up - is currently done on a voluntary basis or with the help of small donations from Gandhian organisations.

Apart from SPS, various Gandhian organizations bring out small magazines. For example, Gandhi Marg, edited by Anupam Mishra and published by the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi, has drawn attention for its careful selection of writings based on relevance and good style. Another is Sarvodaya Jagat published by Sarva Seva Sangh from Varanasi which is known for its thought provoking articles.

But the unique contribution, unbroken continuity and dedication of SPS marks it out as a news service with a difference.

 

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist involved with several social movements and initiatives.

 

 

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