And thus began Bhoodan
Vinoba Bhave, 1978 Photo by Mark Shepard
Vinoba had no desire to be a leader, preferring a secluded ashram life. This preference, though, was overturned by events in 1951. Telengana was at that moment the scene of an armed insurrection. Communist students and some of the poorest villagers had united in a guerilla army. This army had tried to break the land monopoly of the rich landlords by driving them out or killing them and distributing their land.
Vinoba hoped to find a solution to the conflict and to the injustice that had spawned it. So, refusing police escort, he and a small company set off on foot.
On April 18, the third day of his walk, Vinoba stopped in the village of Pochampalli.
Late that afternoon, by a lake next to the village, Vinoba held a prayer meeting that drew thousands of villagers from the surrounding area. Near the beginning of the meeting, he presented the Harijans’ problem to the assembly. Without really expecting a response, he said, “Brothers, is there anyone among you who can help these Harijan friends?”
A prominent farmer of the village stood up. “Sir, I am ready to give one hundred acres.”
Vinoba could not believe his ears.
Here, in the midst of a civil war over land monopoly, was a farmer willing to part with 100 acres out of simple generosity. And Vinoba was just as astounded when the Harijans declared that they needed only 80 acres and wouldn’t accept more!
Vinoba suddenly saw a solution to the region’s turmoil. In fact, the incident seemed to him a sign from God. At the close of the prayer meeting, he announced he would walk all through the region to collect gifts of land for the landless.
So began the movement called Bhoodan—“land-gift.”