Kochrab ashram: Gandhi’s first abode  

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Kasturba and Raliatben were against their stay at the ashram as they belonged to the untouchable community…reports Asmita Dave

Mahatma Gandhi’s first ashram in India after returning from South Africa was at Kochrab village near Paldi, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

The ashram was setup when Gandhi’s barrister friend Jivanlal Vrajrai Desai rented a premises and gave it to Gandhi. Mahatma who moved into the place on 25 May 1915 named ‘Satyagraha’. The ashram was a witness to Gandhi’s first fast in his initial days of public life. It also bore witness to an incident where Gandhi witnessed the evil of untouchability.

Among the 25 people who lived with Gandhi, Kasturba and their sons Ramdas, Devdas, and daughter Raliatben were Gujarati poet Tribhuvandas Purushottamdas Luhar, writer Kakasaheb Kalelkar, Vinoba Bhave, Mamasaheb Phadke and others.

Pravin Parikh, director of Kochrab Ashram, said that the ashramvasis first encounter with untouchability is a well-known incident. After three to four months of the ashram’s establishment, Dudabhai – a reference from Gandhi’s old friend Thakkarbapa –came to the ashram.

Kasturba and Raliatben were against their stay at the ashram as they belonged to the untouchable community. Gandhi tried to convince Kasturba, but many other inmates who also believed strongly in untouchability were not happy with Dudabhai’s family being there and were not cooperating with them.

When Gandhi was informed by ashram manager Maganbhai that the guest had left the ashram, Gandhi informed that he would go and live with the untouchable community. When the ashram’s donors came to know about this incident, they stopped their donations. They had put a condition before Gandhi before starting the donations to not support untouchables. Gandhi had remained silent and did not promise anything.

Gandhi was left with two days’ ration, so they were about to leave the place. Suddenly, industrialist Ambalal Sarabhai, father of scientist Vikram Sarabhai, reached there and gave a cheque of Rs 13,000 to Gandhi. This enabled them to stay on for about two years.

Now the ashram which started with 25 people increased to 80 and it became too crowded. There was also an outbreak of plague in the Paldi and Kochrab area. To save the inmates’ lives and to have more space this ashram was shifted to Sabarmati.

Pravin Parikh shares an interesting anecdote about the first meeting of Gandhi and Vinoba. Parikh said Vinoba was confused about taking the path of spiritualism and going to the Himalayas and someone suggested he meet Mahatma Gandhi. Vinoba thought of Gandhi as a spiritual saint.

Gandhi was cutting vegetables for cooking when Vinoba reached him. Gandhi made him sit and cut vegetables with him. Vinoba was surprised to see Gandhi and thought what kind of a Mahatma was. Vinoba then went on to stay with Gandhi for two years.

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