TBI Blogs: How an 89-Year-Old Man Used Love and Non-Violence to Fight Addiction in Garhwal

Using Gandhian principles, Man Singh Rawat has successfully helped the tribal communities of the Garhwali Himalayas get access to education and better quality of life.

A staunch Sarvodaya Sevak, Man Singh Rawat hails from the Garhwal District of the Himalayan region. Born January 24, 1928, he vowed to lead a life of simplicity and dedicate his being to the welfare of the masses, when he was still in his youth.

Man Singh Rawat is spiritually bonded to the ideologies of Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, and Loknayak Jayprakash Narayan. As such, he is committed to the fundamentals of Gandhiji’s Gram Swaraj, Vinoba’s Sarvodaya, and JP’s Jeevandan to the core.

After completing his graduation in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1952, he participated in the Bhoodan movement, and got involved in other activities initiated by Vinoba Bhave. In this, he drew inspiration from Gandhi’s British disciple Sarala Behn, the founder of Lakshmi Ashram in Kausani, Almora.

Rawat undertook the Vishwa Maître Padyatra across Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Kotdwara to propagate peace and brotherhood. In course of the padyatra movement, he closely observed the prevailing poor educational system in the region for women and tribals. Thus ‘Education for women, and upliftment of Boksa tribes’ became the focus of his future work.

The Boksa tribes are indigenous people residing in the foothills of the Himalayan region.

Man Singh Rawat has dedicated his life for the upliftment and development of the Boksa tribes in Haldukhata, and its surrounding villages in Uttarakhand. He initiated work in the realms of village cleanliness, life-skills development in children, alcohol de-addiction, peace and friendship, village infrastructure development, environment and forest conservation, and women empowerment and related activities in the Boksa villages. He helped release bonded land from the landlords.

Rawat addressed these issues as part of the Swaraj movement by facilitating meetings and forming village development committees. All this necessitated the people’s proactive involvement, which Rawat could muster solely because they had faith in him, and their belief that he worked for the welfare of the Boksa community.

Man Singh Rawat has ceaselessly worked for decades, primarily focusing on:

  • De-addiction
  • Empowerment of women by honing their revolutionary and leadership power
  • Coordination with people of all castes
  • Education of the Boksa children

Rawat first sensitized the village women on liquor prohibition. Gradually, he and the people of the region channelized their energy to eradicate and prohibit alcohol. There was picketing against liquor vendors and shops, mass rallies, etc. Man Singh also undertook fasts during this agitation. Pressure from all corners resulted in prohibiting liquor, and declaring the Garhwal region as an alcohol-free region.

In this process, Rawat “fought” the liquor promoters and vendors with love, peace, and non-violence, thereby earning their respect and affection.

During 1984-98, significant developmental work was carried out in Nayaar Ghati villages (which is one of the neglected areas of the Garhwal region) to bring transformation through people’s participation. Under the chairmanship of the Block head, Rawat guided the formation of Nayaar Ghati Gram Swaraj Samiti Baadiyun Garhwal to carry out the development work.

Women were empowered to be the pillars for further upliftment and development of the villages. They emerged as a strong group in Nayaar Ghati. Women were encouraged to form women’s councils and self help groups. Rawat – along with these women – worked on the holistic development of the village, focussing on activities like stopping felling of trees, collectively guarding the cultivated crops, balwadis, sanitation and hygiene, forest conservation, and infrastructure development. Owing to persistent demand of women, the Government started new schools, and upgraded some in several villages.

85 villages were empowered following the philosophy of Gram Swarajya. A Mahila Bank was also established. Presently, over 40 self help groups are empowering the society, five villages have initiated library set-up along with innovative educational programmes, and eight villages have formed Kishori Sangathans.

The women have also represented communities on the village Panchayat level.

In the field of education, Man Singh Rawat started balwadis in Haldukhata, Sitabpur, and Bijnor villages in 1955, which continued for almost a decade. Later, he started the Boksa Janjati Balika Vidyalaya in 2001, which has gained recognition over the years. Efforts have been afoot to change the mindset of the Boksa community and sensitize them about educating children.

Children from the Boksa, Van Gujjar, and other communities attend this school. It conducts non-formal classes and life-skills education to prepare the children for mainstream and formal education. Seven batches have completed and passed Class VIII. Currently, there are 181 students and nine teachers.

The school is supported by The Hans Cultural Mission.

Man Singh Rawat propagated Jeevseva to prohibit forest hunting and animal killing. He has also worked for saving rivers and other water resources, as issues of Jal (water), Jungle (forest), and Jameen (land) are also major areas of concern in the region.

Rawat worked on the formulation of Jal Niti (water policy) submitted to the Government of India. Recently, Rawat undertook a fast for 15 days and successfully got a promise from the government and its functionary to undertake any legislative measures only after taking into consideration their benefits for the common people of society.

Throughout his work, Rawat sensitized, mobilized, involved, and encouraged villagers for all developmental activities. He facilitated formation of social groups/organizations to carry out these. Public participation is an important feature of Rawat’s work.

Man Singh Rawat found his soulmate in his wife Shashiprabha, who has stood by his side and supported him throughout his journey of work and life. Shashiprabha has participated in the satyagrahas, padyatras, alcohol prohibition, the Chipko movement, Bhoodan, and gramdan work alongside her husband. What characterizes this couple is generosity and compassion for mankind. Their life and lifestyle are purely Gandhian. They lead a saintly life amongst the tribals.

Man Singh Rawat is a guiding star and an inspiration to the local community, especially the younger generation. Across gender, caste, and creed, Rawat is a facilitator. He has provided motivational, inspiring, and participative leadership to the community in a fair and fearless manner.

Rawat’s devotion, dedication, and spirit of sacrifice show his allegiance towards Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave as their silent crusader. His relationship with the common people, and above all, being fair, fearless, and a friend to all, is noteworthy.

Rawat is simplicity personified, and a hero and worker of the “old school” in the Sarvodaya fraternity.

In the year 2015, Man Singh Rawat received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award, in the category of Constructive Work.

For more information about other past winners, visit the Jamnalal Bajaj Awards website.

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