The 6th of March, 1930 will stand out as a landmark day in the nation’s struggle for freedom for all time; because it was on that day that Gandhiji proclaimed his decision to fight for the indigenous production of salt and launched the historical “dandi march.” Gandhiji’s dandi march brought about a great wave of excitement in the lives of the entire population. At that time the British government had no idea of the shape this dandi march would take and the effect it would have on the minds’ of the people. That such a great march could be planned, which would instil immense force into the people’s movement, and that not only the leaders but the whole population would show such firm resolve; and above all that Gandhiji would prove his greatness, was perhaps beyond the imagination of the British government. If they realized this then Gandhiji’s dandi march would not have been successful. The dandi march was a milestone in the fight for freedom (from the British), and the British government issued a serious warning and order, “Be warned, any province in Saurashtra, that takes part in this dandi march or the struggle for the right to produce salt, then that province and its people will be severely punished.”
But if Amreli took heed of the British government’s warning, then it would not be Amreli! The people in Amreli had taken a firm decision to join this important phase of the fight for freedom. Considering this struggle as a momentous event in life, the people of Amreli gladly rose up to take part in it. Within a short time Amreli became the main centre for the freedom struggle. The youth of Saurashtra, whose hearts were filled with national pride, reached Dholera via Amreli, to take part in the march, whatever the consequences.
At that time, nobody in the native provinces of Saurashtra dared to wear khadhi because of the strict control of the government. On an agreement between Gandhiji and Erwin, Gandhiji withdrew the satyagrah. Gandhiji always followed his inner conscience and did not think of the effect his actions would have on the people. One of the reasons for this could also be that Gandhiji was confident of his effect and influence on people’s hearts and minds. When the satyagrah was withdrawn a wave of disappointment surged through the people, but needless to say, the people’s faith in Gandhiji did not waver and their devotion towards that great soul did not wane. Once a person had shown his supreme leadership, then to doubt any of his actions or disrespect him in any way was not in the nature of the people. They maintained this fundamental discipline. The people of Amreli accepted Gandhiji’s plans to go ahead with nation’s progress with faith and enthusiasm. As a beginning, the foundation for many activities was laid for the redevelopment of Amreli. The ‘Akhil Bharat Charkha Sangh,’ was well acquainted with Ramjibhai’s activities involving khadhi, and on this basis, the society appointed him as the agent for their Kathiyawad branch.
Ramjibhai separated the management of khadi production and the khadhi bhandars (shops selling khadi). With the hope of keeping the spirit of nationalism alive, Ramjibhai established an industrial centre in Amreli. To mark this event, a special function was held on the 8th of May 1932, which was presided over by Colonel Shivraj Singh, the Minister of State of Vadodhara (Baroda).
This industrial centre established by Ramjibhai was in many ways quite extraordinary. The idea behind setting up this centre was that a person using khadi would be completely independent. Ramjibhai especially wanted the villagers to have this independence by using khadi. The norm of this centre was that the villagers, in their spare time should pick the cotton from the fields and farms, separate the seeds from the cotton, card it, spin it into thread and get it woven into cloth by the village weavers.
A young man who had trained in the ‘Kalabhavans’ of Baroda and Amreli was employed in this centre. Any aspects of the work that he did not know, he learnt from Shri Bhuta of Havero Trading Company.
After all the initial arrangements had been made, Ramjibhai convened a meeting on the 8th of October, 1932 and in his presentation, requested everybody’s cooperation in his venture. Initially the experiment was limited to twelve villages in the vicinity of Amreli.
So that people would really come to know about (the activities of) this centre, Ramjibhai arranged a special exhibition in the hall of the ladies’ library in Amreli. Items manufactured by the underprivileged people from the special type of Kathiyavadi cotton, which they themselves had picked, carded, spun and had got dyed and printed in the centre, were displayed. In addition, an idea of all the activities connected to production of (khadi) cloth, such as carding, spinning and weaving, was given in the exhibition. To enable children, youth and older people to learn these activities thoroughly, Ramjibhai opened a number of training centres in different places.
Such a centre was opened in Amreli, and many small training centres were opened around Amreli’s ‘Baar Gaon’ area, in the villages of Kundla, Bagsara, Chalana, Lathi, Vankiya, Nana Rajkot, Aasod, Damnagar and Kodinar. It was decided that the workers in these centres should operate in about ten small villages within a five mile radius of each of these centres.
Along with the indigenous textile exhibition, there was also an exhibition of household items. Here, in addition to items related to production of (khadi) cloth, new types of grinding machines, lamps, indigenously produced articles used for washing clothes, wooden toys, chappals, slippers, shoes, hand ground spices, samples of milk produce, medicines, – and necessary information related to them – vegetables and their uses, were displayed. It also explained the essential and monetary benefits to be gained by using these items along with the all the necessary facts and figures. There was also a chart which showed the loss that ensued to the indigenous industry by the use of machines.
To propagate the activities of these centres, a number of such exhibitions were held in places such as Bhavnagar, Kundla, Lathi, Wadhwan, Rajkot, Vadia, Varasda, Dhari, Bagasara, Chalana, amongst others. They had a very good effect and in an issue of the magazine ‘Phool Chhab,’ Shri Kakalbhai Kothari wrote an excellent article entitled, ‘Ek Anokhi Udyoghmandir,’ (An Extraordinary Industrial Centre).
In 1924, under the auspices of the ‘Kathiyavad Punarachana Gram Samiti,’ which carried out the work, its directors, Ramjibhai and Harilalbhai, brought out an account of its activities in a book entitled, ‘Vastrasvalumbanni Dishama Majal Paheli,” (roughly translated as, “The First Step Towards Independence in the Garment Industry).
Why Ramjibhai left the activities connected with khadi production, rejoined business in 1924, and then again retired from business in 1931 and took up this work once more, is explained in his own words:
“I had not realized the importance of what was in my mind and saw everything in those who had not really given me much importance. I had not looked closely into things, but as I looked deeper and deeper, it became clear that even if the mind did not accept it the heart knew that the main business partners, smaller partners, chief workers and their relatives had made enough money to build their own houses and gardens. They had cars and had accumulated wealth and assets, but after all these years, the real workers in these factories, apart from the exceptional case, did not even have a hut, let alone a brick house to call their own. Whether it was the last rites of their mother or the weddings of their children, they were always in distress due to financial problems; ‘Please give us a loan so that we can get through this function, we will pay you back from our salary.’ What kind of business and what kind of shared benefits was this?
I understand now that the shared benefits of the khadi industry had won over my heart. It suddenly occurred to me at the end of 1931 that now I should start a straightforward, fair business. The mind and intellect could not play any part in guiding me in this work.”
Shri Jamnala Bajaj had advised Ramjibhai to indulge in productive activities, his inner voice also urged him to do the same and he became totally engrossed in such pursuits.
In 1932, the ‘Kathiyavad Swadeshi Sangh’ was established. Ramjibhai was elected its president. For the first time in the whole of Kathiyawad, he declared a celebration for Gandhi Jayanti and announced a program in which its 50,000 members should produce khadi worth Rs. 25,000. Abbas Tayabji, Manishankar Trivedi, Mohanlal Virjibhai Patel, Kakalbhai Kothari, Hargovind Pandya, Mohanlal Mehta, Rasiklal Parikh and Ramjibhai – they all visited different places and celebrated Gandhi Jayanti. To awaken a love for khadi and other indigenous goods in the hearts of the people, a weekly magazine called ‘Jai Swedeshi,’ was instituted.
How could Ramjibhai, the leader of activities related to khadi, work so dear to Gandhiji, remain indifferent to Harijans (untouchables), who were so close to Bapu’s heart? Gandhiji was appointed president at one session of the Kathiyavad political assembly. On that occasion, in no uncertain terms, Gandhiji advised the leaders who were present, “Sell the rafters of your house, sell yourself, but do not allow the houses and schools of Harijans to be demolished.”
At this time four Harijan ashrams (shelters) and twelve Harijan schools were functioning in Saurashtra. In the state of Vadodhara, Harijans were studying with children from all castes in Gujarati and English schools. Financial difficulties started to arise in Harijan schools. In Rajkot, the leaders of the Harijan community met and Thakker Bapa planned the future strategy to collect funds. ‘Asprushthanivaran Sangh, (Society for Harijans),’ was established and Ramjibhai was elected its president. The society made arrangements for funds for the schools and shelters. Efforts were made to see that Harijan children could study with children from all other castes. Once Ramjibhai started working for Harijans, his first move was to invite Harijans to his own house and make arrangements so that they could move about freely. This was the first time a wealthy person from another caste had opened his doors to Harijans.
Believing that primary education and basic training useful to farmers, would lead to the success of the efforts of this class of people, Ramjibhai focussed his aims on these activities. He contacted the state’s training department. In his own house in Jesangpura, Amreli, Ramjibhai opened a training centre for farmers. This was the first of its kind in the whole of Saurashtra. He suggested that the social workers start literacy programs in villages having a population greater than 350. He carried out written correspondence with the state’s training department in this matter. Wherever there were no schools he saw to it that they were established. In these schools, in addition to literacy programs, he made arrangements for instructions to be given in spinning and weaving. In addition agricultural knowledge was also imparted. The school in Amrutpur, where khadi production was doing really well, was inaugurated by Ramjibhai himself. On this occasion he declared: “This is a new type of school. Its syllabus and timings are also unusual. Along with formal education, instruction on household work, new methods of farming, properties of the medicinal plants and herbs that grow at the edges of the village, how to look after cattle and management of village councils (Gram panchayats) will also be imparted. The timings will be in the morning and afternoon. Holidays will be as per the festival days in the village. Unnecessary holidays will be dispensed with and at sowing time a short holiday will be merged with Diwali vacation and there will be a two month holiday at harvest time. In short, the program will be such that it is beneficial to farming activities.”
In order to impart proper techniques of farming and horticulture, ‘Adarsh Krushishetra,’ a model farm was set up in the state of Vadhodhara. Many such farms were set up, and the king himself used to take a personal interest in them, and when he came to see the farmer’s schools in Jesangpura, Amreli, he requested Ramjibhai to set up similar schools (in Vadhodara). The very next year, in 1934, Ramjibhai purchased 25 vighas (about 10 acres) of land on the banks of a river, in a village near to Dhari, planted fruit trees there and started to nurture them. He named the place ‘Rambagh.’ Ramjibhai’s son also joined him in looking after these fruit trees. He introduced and grew a very sweet, seedless variety of papaya, and gave it the name ‘Madhubindu.’ These papayas were highly praised and requests for their seeds flowed in from other parts of the country and from abroad. Africa and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) were some of the countries these seeds were sent to. In 1936, a company was established in Dhari taluka to cultivate fruit trees. Ramjibhai was its president. He carried out written correspondence with the agricultural department and developed it. This society’s services included ensuring that waste land was sold to farmers at a cheaper rate; high quality seeds were supplied at the lowest prices and that officers, with the necessary expertise, from the state’s agricultural department visited the fruit orchards to give advice on how to prevent disease in the trees and other problems. The state of Vadodhara officially recognized this organization and gave them the land and extended other facilities required to start nurseries. Due to this organization and the state’s support, people became interested in cultivating fruit trees. Besides Dhari, orchards came up in Govindpur, Sarasia, Amrutpur, Dharani, Nagdhra, Dudhala, Dalkhania, amongst other places. In all almost twenty-five thousand fruit trees was cultivated. Seeing the success of this venture, the state’s agricultural department decided to spread the activities to other districts, starting with Kodinar.
Many different kinds of trees like sweet lime, lime, coconut and added later.
Ramjibhai had great foresight, and after gaining success in which ever field he had focussed upon, he would look at activities in associated areas. So once he had achieved success in the fields of farming and horticulture, he turned his attention to the closely related field of tending to cattle. Due the carelessness and ignorance of the villagers, the cattle were weak and sickly. Ramjibhai realized the simple fact that if the cattle were looked after properly, it would lead to agricultural prosperity. Due to the fact that the cows were not being tended to properly, there was a shortage of healthy animals. To awaken people to the importance of rearing cattle properly, Ramjibhai opened an animal shelter in Amreli. Bulls and cows of good stock were brought here. To increase milk production and ensure that the cattle got sufficient nourishment, necessary changes were made in the cattle feed and dietary habits. He proved to people that due to these practices milk production was increased and the animals were healthier. Thus a model gaushala was established in Amreli.
Ramjbhai was the trustee of the panjrapole (a charitable shelter for weak, injured animals and birds and old animals that cannot work anymore) in Visavdhar. It was due to his deep interest and vast knowledge of animal husbandry, especially how to increase and improve the stock that he was made a trustee of the panjrapole. He divided the cows into two groups, those which gave milk and those who were unable to do so because their milk had dried up. He acquired a large area of land and arranged to grow grass and fruit trees, and thereby gave the institution a permanent means of revenue. Even today, Visavdhar’s panjrapole often receives financial aid from Ramjibhai’s sons; and they also help the gaushala in Kangsha.
Ramjibhai was so enthusiastic about farming and the cultivation of fruit trees that he sent his eldest son Shri Poonamchand, to Japan to study the feasibility and scope of farming as a commercial activity.
Seeing the abundance of fruits in Rambagh and having enjoyed the taste of the papaya, which went by the name of ‘Madhubindhu,’ the king of Vadodhara was extremely impressed with Ramjibhai’s efforts. His respect for him grew and he awarded him the title ‘Rajyaratan,’ on account of his work in agriculture.
After retiring from Jivanlal (1929) Ltd., Ramjibhai took up constructive work. His deep understanding, all comprehensive vision, practice of doing perfect work, and putting his heart and soul into any work he took up, getting fame and success in it and extending the work for people’s welfare gave his efforts a firm foundation. All these virtues involved in taking up these constructive activities were not only strengths for him, but they gave a new direction to his life.