Shri Dwarko Sundarani, 90 years old, has been empowering the tribal community for the last 58 years in Bihar at Samanvay Ashram

by Vivek Umrao Glendenning MCIJ


Dwarko Sundarani, 90 years old, is a follower of Vinoba Bhawe and has been serving the tribal and local communities in Gaya district of Bihar state for the last 58 years without a break. He was born in Gujarat and belonged to a prestigious family.  But he left his family and home 60 years ago in order to serve poor people.

Sundarani participated in the various movements of Vinoba Bhawe, until one day in the year 1954 Vinoba told him to go Bodhgaya to establish a model of self-sustainability from scratch. 

Vinoba ji told him to go Gaya railway station and donate all his money to beggars in the railway station and then walk to Bodhgaya from Gaya railway station. Dwarko ji followed Vinoba ji’s suggestion without any complaint. 

Vinoba ji gave Dwarko ji Rs 30 each month for food, clothing, living and administrative expenses for community work. For seven months, Dwarko ji managed with Rs 30 per month, even though it was very less to manage all these expenses.

“Books are not education, they are containers. Rote learning and writing answers in examinations is not education. Rote learning of a book is not a happening in the life. Education is an art of living that we do not follow.” Dwarko Sundarani

With  time though, the local community started to support Dwarko ji.  Today there is a large self-sustained ashram internationally known as “Samanvay Ashram”. Vegetables, grains, food and other crops are grown in the agricultural fields in the campuses of the Samanvay Ashram.

Samanvay Ashram : a model of self-sustained residential education centre

Dwarko ji established eleven new villages in Gaya district, Bihar.  The region is a drought prone area, so he supported the work of water harvesting structures including ponds, mud dams and other water bodies. He motivated the local tribal communities to begin farming and started farming centres in the region.

After establishing these villages, Dwarko ji started to think for children’s education.  Dwarko jiestablished a residential education centre for the children of the Mushahar community.  The Mushahar community catch and eat mice, but do not own any land.

According to Dwarko Sundarani ji, in India, the government education system is anti-human and anti-nation.  He says, “Books are not education, they are containers. Students read books to write answers in examinations and get marks. Rote learning is not an education. If a student is expert at rote learning then (s)he gets good marks and qualifies in competitions to get jobs. India has been run by the rote learners. Rote learning of books is not a happening of life.  It does not have any relationship with the understanding of life. Education is an art of living that pursues an understanding of life.”

Dwarko ji goes on to say, “How can a person, who does not understand life, contribute towards a better nation and society though (s)he gets very high marks in the paper writing examinations?”

Dwarko Sundarani ji invested decades of his life to convert almost 100 acres of wasteland into a fertile land:

When some land was donated to the Samanvay Ashram a few decades ago, it was a barren land. Dwarko ji started to treat the land by storing water through water harvesting activities. 

GRI visited that land in 2012.  When entering the region it is clear that it is very drought prone and dry.  The GRI team was highly surprised to see a fertile land, with thousands of trees, manmade lakes and ponds, wells with high water levels, birds and many varieties of grains and vegetables grown there. It seemed like a fertile land surrounded by a desert.

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Eye operations in Samanvay Ashram:

For many decades now, each year, Samanvay Ashram has done thousands of eye operations. In the last three years, more than 30,000 eye operations are performed with high efficiency.  To the eye patients, Samanvay Ashram provides free food, free accommodation and free operations. Renowned business persons and doctors come to perform eye operations each year and stay in Samanvay Ashram premises from one to two months. These business persons and doctors have donate between1 2 million US$ each year for these eye operations. 

Many thousands people get food three times and tea per day in the time of eye operations, the day starts at 3 am in the very early morning and ends at 11 pm or 12 pm in the late night.

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