Felicitation time for Nagaland's Gandhi - Undeterred by bullets & fired by the passion to serve society, Natwar Thakkar shows the way

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  • Published 31.12.09

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 People” award.

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,” Thakkar said.

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 “spy”.

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.