A renowned Gandhian, Chunibhai Vaidya spent his life in service of the marginalised and underserved sections of society.
Chunibhai Vaidya was born on the 2nd of September in 1918, in Sander village of Patan district in Gujarat. He completed his schooling in the Tata High School in Navsari, where his father had settled with the family.
After successfully passing his Class 10 examinations, Chunibhai began working as a clerk at the Surat Municipal Corporation. When the Freedom Movement swept through India, he gave up his comfortable job and threw himself wholeheartedly into the country’s struggle for independence.
After the independence struggle, he devoted his time to fighting for the rights of the oppressed and the underserved in the country.
As a close discipile of Vinoba Bhave, Chunibhai took Bhave’s advice to heart and undertook the mammoth task of publishing Sarvodaya literature at Varnasi, for 12 years. He also became closely involved in the Bhudan Movement.
1974 saw Chunibhai return to his homestate of Gujarat to spread the word about the Gramdan Movement. During this period, he also took on the role of Editor for ‘Bhoomiputra,’ a magazine he started with noted leaders, Narayan Desai, and Prabodh Choksi. The magazine helped in disseminating the message of the land donation movements rampant in the country at the time.
The 1970s also saw Chunibhai work closely with Jayprakash Narayan and raise his voice against the injustices of the Emergency. He openly defied the censorship and pre-censorship orders and was detained for 7 months.
In his role as President of the Gujarat Loksamiti in Ahmedabad, Chunibhai successfully compelled the Rajasthan Government to close down liquor shops in Ratanpur. He also advocated for the continuation of the prohibition policy in Gujarat and led movements to galvanise support for the cause.
Chunibhai was also successful in getting the MLA’s Pension Law cancelled. He also joined the movement to ensure access to drinking water for more than 352 villages.
Chunibhai’s dedication to the underserved sections of society saw him become the face of several movements, including the six-year long movement he led to achiever Riparian rights of the Banas and Sipu rivers in Banaskantha district. Chunibhai got several canals de-silted to ensure access to water for countless villages. He also oversaw the construction of 5 ‘gupta bands’ or underground check-dams, that helped irrigate more than 8000 acres of land spread over 17 villages.
Chunibhai was also an active proponent of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project, expressing his support for the project in public, as well as in the Supreme Court.
In 1997, Chunibhai played a key role in stopping the MNC, Cargill’s entry into Gujarat, by leading a foot-march in co-operation with other sister organisations. He also successfully opposed the Government of Guajarat’s deal of offering 200 bighas of grazing land to an MNC, and got the deal cancelled.
In 1998, Chunibhai led the movement against a mega-port project at Umargaon. He opposed the violence perpetrated against Christians in dangs and demanded legal action on forced conversions.
When the 2000 earthquake rattled the state of Gujarat, Chunibhai was at the forefront of relief operations and ensured that relief materials worth hundreds of crores of rupees reached affected villages.
In 2002, when Ahmedabad was straining under the effects of religious violence, Chunibhai became the face of peace by leading a 1500-strong procession to spread the message of communal harmony. He worked for the rehabilitation of affected persons and oversaw the rebuilding of close to 250 homes. He even went so far as to provide victims with means of livelihood, like push carts, sewing machines, etc.
From 2005 to 2006, he actively protested the Government of Gujarat’s move to cancel its policy of allotting waste land to the landless, free of charge. His untiring opposition resulted in the allotment of 20000 acres of land to 7000 beneficiaries.
Given Chunibhai’s untiring efforts in working towards a just society, it is no wonder that he is known as the most renowned Gandhian of Gujarat. Having dedicated his life to the upliftment of the poor and marginalised, Chunibhai was synonymous with ‘Resistance to Injustice’ in Gujarat.
The great leader breathed his last on 19th Decemeber, 2014, at the age of 97. His work, however, continues to create ripples of change across the country, even today.
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