| Natwar Thakkar (left) with his wife and grandchildren in front of his residence at Chuchuyimlang in Mokokchung. A file picture |
Kohima, Dec. 30: In the
turbulent fifties, when a young man from the west coast of Maharashtra
arrived in Nagaland, militant groups asked villagers not to give him
shelter or food. Over half-a-century later, a small village in
Mokokchung district has honoured him with the “Lifetime Service to Naga
Life has indeed come full circle for
Gandhian Natwar Thakkar. The founder secretary of Nagaland Gandhi
Ashram, now a 77-year-young wisened man, today said the award meant
“nothing compared to the love and respect of the people”.
The award, presented to him yesterday, carries Rs 1 lakh and a citation.
Thakkar’s work in Nagaland includes
vocational training for school dropouts and physically handicapped,
primary schools in villages, medical centres and libraries. He helped
people earn a livelihood by engaging in apiculture and jaggery-making
and by setting up oil mills, biogas plants, mechanised carpentry shops
and khadi sales counters.
The remote village of Chuchuyimlang which
he chose as his home now has a telephone exchange, a post office, a
government hospital, water supply, a branch of the State Bank of India
and a government high school.
When he arrived in Nagaland, he was just
a 23-year-old, fired by the upsurge of nationalism and inspired by the
ideals of the Father of the Nation. “When the country gained
Independence, I was just starting to understand what freedom meant,”
Born to Gujarati parents, the Gandhian
arrived in Nagaland in 1955 voluntarily to serve the people in the
insurgency-ravaged state. At that time, the Naga rebels and the army
were constantly at “war” and hence any “Indian” was looked upon as a
Thakkar boldly stepped into Nagaland and established the Gandhi Ashram at Chuchuyimlang, about 35km from Mokokchung town.
The Naga militants, however, viewed Thakkar with suspicion and warned the villagers not to give him shelter and rations.
In this war of attrition, the young
Gandhian had to be always prepared for nasty surprises. A police
outpost near Chuchuyimlang was attacked and the village council leader
kidnapped and murdered on allegations of being an agent provocateur.
But Thakkar was made of sterner stuff and
stayed on. He married a local girl, Lentina Ao, who soon started
helping him in his mission.
Without fearing for his life and braving
militant bullets, Thakkar acted as an intermediary between the army and
the villagers, sorting out conflict and normalising the situation in
the area. This infuriated the militants further. Threats of attacks
forced him to move like a vagabond as the villagers appealed to the
militants to spare his life.
A big morale booster during this
difficult phase was when then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
encouraged him to continue his work and allotted funds for the purpose.
He, thus, stayed on in Nagaland,
strengthening the bonds of goodwill and brotherhood through personal
contacts, talks and discussions.
Thakkar has donated the Rs 1 lakh award
to set up a senior citizens’ retreat at Chuchuyimlang and has entrusted
the village Baptist Church to initiate the project. He had also donated
the Rs 1 lakh he had received from the Assam government as part of the
Siu-Ka-Pha award for the purpose.
Chuchuyimlang villagers also composed a special ode to him.
Latongwati Ao, a former secretary of the
village development board, said: “The award is a first of its kind,
given to Thakkar in recognition of his selfless and dedicated service
to the people of Nagaland in general and Chuchuyimlang and its
surrounding villages in particular for more than five decades.
“With a single-minded devotion and at
great risk to his life, Natwar Thakkar continues his mission of service
till date,” he added.
The main objective of Thakkar’s mission
is to promote goodwill and emotional integration through voluntary
social service on Gandhian lines.
His latest mission is to move Delhi to establish a computer centre at Chuchuyimlang.
The villagers also lauded his efforts to
get IGNOU to accept his proposal of establishing a major educational
project, which would include a Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College of
Social Work, at Chuchuyimlang.
Thakkar said the award conferred on him
by Chuchuyimlang was “the most precious” of the awards he had received
in his life. He reminisced about various amusing and touching
experiences during his long sojourn in troubled Nagaland.