In a tiny village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra, there is a memorial which does not have a statue of a person or anything inscribed. Built by a farmer in 1998, this one-of-a-kind memorial is not for a single social reformist or freedom fighter—it honours over 700 of them!
Sampatrao Pawar, a sugarcane farmer in Maharashtra, wanted to build a suitable memorial for all the patriots who laid their lives for the country in the freedom struggle and even before it.
The year 1992 was the golden jubilee of the Quit India Movement, which started on 9 August 1942. This was when Pawar came up with a unique idea to pay tribute to the martyrs.
In a barren patch of land in Sangli, Pawar started planting trees—one for each person who gave their life for India’s freedom.
“Kranti Van is a living memorial to martyrs,” he told the Times of India, adding, “Martyrs never die.”
Pawar could not achieve his goal singlehandedly, and his fellow villagers were not of any help. They mocked him and would never support his cause. So, Pawar contacted school and college students, in the hope that they would be more enthusiastic about the “green” memorial.
So, with the help of thousands of students, the farmer planted over 1400 trees by 1998. They started with pouring layers of mud to the barren land and making it cultivable.
Their efforts were successful, and in 6 years, Pawar’s dream of building a green memorial was brought to life. Each tree was named after one freedom fighter. An open auditorium in the ‘van’ or forest would host school picnics and teach students about the freedom struggle.
Unfortunately, Pawar’s dream was short-lived.
The district government gave Pawar a notice that the land belonged to the government and therefore, no work could be carried there.
Even as Pawar struggled to keep the memorial going and the trees alive, the government cut them all down. All of his dreams, history lessons and tributes ended in one blow.
However, Pawar was not one to give up. Undeterred by the government’s reclamation of land, Pawar now decided to utilise his sugarcane farm for the memorial. He, quite obviously, invited the wrath of his family and friends, whose livelihood depended on sugarcane farming, but he simply informed them that farming could be carried out on another patch of their farming land.
Even as villagers, family and friends refused to support Pawar, his son, 21-year-old Vaibhav helped him create his green memorial. Planting and maintaining hundreds of trees would require a dependable source of water. So, father and son started digging a well on the land. It was here that Vaibhav lost his life in an unfortunate accident.
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Even this tragedy did not dissuade Pawar, and he carried on with his mission.
From Mangal Pande to Chandrashekhar Azad to the lesser known Pritilata Waddedar and Birsa Munda, each freedom fighter is resting in peace in the Kranti Van in Maharashtra. Today, 20 years after restarting his Kranti Van project on his sugarcane land, 700 trees stand tall, one dedicated to each martyr.
“Not trees. They are martyrs, and they are standing without the government’s help,” Pawar says. He is clear that he does not want any government support, and instead, requests ordinary people to come forward and help.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)