Saturday, March 03, 2007

Gopal Chandra Chakraborty ushers in the dawn at Ushagram

USHAGRAM TRUST Vill.- Ushagram, P.O.- Birnagar Dist.- Nadia, Pin.- 741 127, WEST BENGAL - INDIA
Ushagram Trust is a Non-Government, Non-Political Voluntary Organisation. It is not like so many NGO's now growing and functioning in this country. It runs on the ideology and line of thinking of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother though it is not a Unit of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India
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Following the Mahatma’s footsteps Home> Kolkata> The Real Page 3 Sunday , November 13, 2005 The Indian Express Shamik Bag visits Ushagram, a model village in Nadia conceived by veteran Gandhian Gopal Chandra Chakraborty, and is taken in by what he experiences. Shamik Bag
It’s only around dawn that villagers find dadu taking a stroll along the road, informs Biswajit Joardar, a Plus Two student and an ashramite at Ushagram for nine years.
“These days, he mostly stays indoors owing to his failing health. But at least now he has a concrete roof over his head and an electric fan, which the doctor insisted upon. Earlier, he refused even the basic necessities,” Biswajit adds.
The appellation of dadu, jethu or kaku might depend on the age of the addressee, but sharing of the legend of Gopal Chandra Chakraborty is a trait that cuts across generations in Nadia district’s Ushagram. “We are fortunate to have met him,” says Sanat Chakraborty, a grocery store owner staying in the village for the last 21 years. “For, very rarely do you find a person who gives up everything he has for others. His selfless idealism makes him one in a million,” he adds.
It was this idealism, borne out of Gopal Chakraborty’s active participation in the Indian freedom movement and his faith in the Gandhian belief that India’s development should begin from its villages, that in the late 1960s first brought him to the place where now stands Ushagram. What he saw was a barren wasteland that, according to Tanmoyee Chakraborty, a longtime acquaintance and senior volunteer at Ushagram, “was a haunt of criminals and hardly the place anybody would want to settle down.”
But Chakraborty, a native of Bangladesh’s Rajshahi district who served two jail sentences during the Independence movement, remained undeterred by what he saw, and instead remained true to his vision: that of building a model village.
Digging into his savings — culled while he worked as an instructor in the Department of Community Development in Fulia and as the principal of Fulia Sikshyaniketan school — Chakraborty invested in 26 bighas of land on which he planned to base his dream. “The first thing he built was the Vidyaniketan Shikshya Vihar. A few volunteers came forward to help, but a problem remained: whenever Chakraborty brought the poor village kids to the school, their fathers would pull them by the ear and take them to the fields to work. It was then that Chakraborty realised that if he had to do something for the children’s education, he also needed to think of enhancing the income of rural families around Ushagram. He promptly set up a vocational training centre for rural women,” informs Tanmoyee Chakraborty.
One thing led to another, and while Ushagram Loko Shikshya Niketan provided training to women in fields like handicrafts and food processing, a sales outlet was also set up for distribution of the products. “Other than a few occasional grants, he refused government aid for the school since he realised that will also bring in political pressure. But Ushagram’s reputation had already spread and Mastermoshai (Gopal Chakraborty), who was by then joined in the effort by his friend Jyotirmoy Basu, found foreign volunteers from France and Germany chipping in with monetary help.
All-weather roads came up, a library and medical centre was constructed and a pre-school was set up to inculcate school-going habit among toddlers. Mastermoshai wanted a different way of life that was distinct from the babu culture prevalent then and all activities took place surrounding him,” says Subir Bhattacharya, the accountant of the Ushagram Trust to which Gopal Chakraborty donated all his properties in the village.
Today Ushagram’s transformation from heath to hearth has found many takers. For people like Sabita Pal, who works as a batik work artist at the vocational centre, and Rishipada Sarkar, a cultivator, the village moves around the Gopal Chakraborty’s vision. “I used to earn by giving tuitions earlier, but batik work has substantially increased my income,” informs Pal.
They are among the 3,500-odd people who are part of a model success story that is now being replicated across 14 villages in the Barasat Gram Panchayat area. “Ushagram has recently had its first generation of literates and former students of the school like Nirjhar Nandy and Aniruddha Mukherjee are now professionals in London and Delhi. It all comes back to Mastermoshai,” informs Bhattacharya.
At 86 and short of hearing, the man himself has shied away from being in public focus. “Tell me something,” asks Gopal Chakraborty, his voice firm and authoritative. “When your mother cooks, does she publicise her work? Ushagram was a piece of imagination. A place where the neglected, ignored and uprooted could come and settle. I hope the work will continue after me.”

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