18. PENETRATING THE VILLAGES
As far as was possible we placed
each school in [the] charge of one man and one woman. These volunteers
had to look after medical relief and sanitation. The womenfolk had to be
approached through women.
Medical relief was a very simple
affair. Castor oil, quinine, and sulphur ointment were the only drugs provided
to the volunteers. If the patient showed a furred tongue or complained
of constipation, castor oil was administered, in case of fever quinine
was given after an opening dose of castor oil, and the sulphur ointment
was applied in case of boils and itch, after thoroughly washing the affected
parts. No patient was permitted to take home any medicine. Wherever there
was some complication, Dr. Dev was consulted. Dr. Dev used to visit each
centre on certain fixed days in the week.
Quite a number of people
availed themselves of this simple relief. This plan of work will not seem
strange when it is remembered that the prevailing ailments were few and
amenable to simple treatment, by no means requiring expert help. As for
the people, the arrangement answered excellently.
Sanitation was a difficult affair.
The people were not prepared to do anything themselves. Even the field
labourers were not ready to do their own scavenging. But Dr. Dev was not
a man easily to lose heart. He and the volunteers concentrated their energies
on making a village ideally clean. They swept the roads and the courtyards,
cleaned out the wells, filled up the pools nearby, and lovingly persuaded
the villagers to raise volunteers from amongst themselves. In some villages
they shamed people into taking up the work, and in others the people were
so enthusiastic that they even prepared roads to enable my car to go from
place to place. These sweet experiences were not unmixed with bitter ones
of people's apathy. I remember some villagers frankly expressing their
dislike for this work.
It may not be out of place here
to narrate an experience that I have described before now at many meetings.
Bhitiharva was a small village in which was one of our schools. I happened
to visit a smaller village in its vicinity, and found some of the women
dressed very dirtily. So I told my wife to ask them why they did not wash
their clothes. She spoke to them. One of the women took her into her hut
and said: 'Look now, there is no box or cupboard here containing other
clothes. The sari I am wearing is the only one I have. How am I to wash
it? Tell Mahatmaji to get me another sari, and I shall then promise
to bathe and put on clean clothes every day.'
This cottage was not an exception,
but a type to be found in many Indian villages. In countless cottages in
India people live without any furniture, and without a change of clothes,
merely with a rag to cover their shame.
One more experience I will note.
In Champaran there is no lack of bamboo and grass. The school hut they
had put up at Bhitiharva was made of these materials. Someone--possibly
some of the neighbouring planters' men--set fire to it one night. It was
not thought advisable to build another hut of bamboo and grass. The school
was in charge of Sjt. Soman and Kasturbai. Sjt. Soman decided to build
a pukka house, and thanks to his infectious labour, many co-operated
with him, and a brick house was soon made ready. There was no fear now
of this building being burnt down.
Thus the volunteers with
their schools, sanitation work, and medical relief gained the confidence
and respect of the village folk, and were able to bring good influence
to bear upon them.
But I must confess with regret
that my hope of putting this constuctive work on a permanent footing was
not fulfilled. The volunteers had come for temporary periods, I could not
secure any more from outside, and permanent honorary workers from Bihar
were not available. As soon as my work in Champaran was finished, work
outside, which had been preparing in the meantime, drew me away. The few
months' work in Champaran, however, took such deep root that its influence
in one form or another is to be observed there even today.