Agnes Kunze 1962

Friday, June 22, 2012

Brahmapuri : The Origins



1. A little history

   Till Independance, India was composed of a big chunk directly or indirectly administered by the British, and the remaining pieces of the puzzle-like territory was under Maharajas or Sultans.

   One of these kingdoms at the extreme North (the upper Ganges forming an
unbridgeable natural frontier to the South) and up to Tibet, was the kingdom of Tehri-Garhwal.

   Composed entirely of middle to high mountains, the area was thinly populated, but its importance was of being the undisputed place for Ganga and Yamuna rivers original sources, an immense appeal for hundreds of millions of hindous as pilgrimage centres.

   Apart for various neighbours (Kumaoni and Nepalese) conquest attempts in the last 5 centuries, the place was left alone by Moghuls and British alike.

   Leprosy was much prevalent , and the lepers were very badly considered and treated: after some time sent to isolated sheep pastures, they usually were forced to scamper away, lest they would be locked in one night and their hut put to fire.

   Going away meant begging in less ferocious conditions, mostly in Punjab with its softer view on their conditions, settled on the outskirts of prosperous cantonment towns, where they could make a living by begging.

   More unpleasant, but far more profitable was to get into the land given out specifically to them by Mahendra Shah Maharaj, on the bank of the Ganges in Rishikesh, last but not least, kingdom out post and starting point for the annual pilgrims to the Sources of Ganges.

   As pilgrims on the way, it was a religious duty to offer alms to all temples and dregs of humanity on the way…

   Winters were harsh, the best part of Rishikesh staying empty with no pilgrim showing, but they could all fall back on a couple of established ashrams for the minimum dry rations, on top of the savings they had from the previous pilgrim season.



2. The shift.

   I leave the description to Swami Chidanandaji, who dictated it to me, much later, in a half-circle development.

   Brief History of the Original Land- Lease Securing at Brahmapuri, Shivpuri Range, Tehri-Garhwal

(as per H.H. Shri Swami Chidanandaji Maharaj, co-founder recollections) :

“Above mentioned 10 acres of land { 10 kms away} was granted to the Kusht Nivarak Samiti (Tehri-Garhwal) in the mid-fifties upon the request of the, then, District Magistrate, Shri Somnath Varma, specifically in order to construct the present Leprosy Colony premises to house about 120 patients who were to be shifted.

Their shifting had become necessary due to the flash- flood waters of Chandrabhaga having washed away a considerable portion of the Muni-ki-Reti Leprosy Colony, taking away numerous hutments situated on the Chandrabhaga bank.

A considerable part of the Funds for the construction of this Colony buildings at Brahmapuri were donated by the, then, U.P.Governor, H.H. K.M. Munshiji; the, then, Chief Minister of U.P., Shri C.M.Guptaji; and the late Revered Shri Kailash Nath Katju Mahodaya, who was, then, in the Central Government.

These Donations were initially announced at a Public Meeting held at the Jhanda Chowk, Muni-ki-Reti, in the first week of April. 1953.
The main request for this new Colony at Brahmapuri came from the, then, Manager of the Baba Kamli Kshetr of Rishikesh, Shri L.N. Chaturvedi. IAS (Retd).” (End of Quotation.)

   In 1957 the Committee and resettlement area were secured. By 1959, lodging and dispensaryn along with “Cottage Industry” room and implement were ready for occupation for 80 people.

   So the first batch of Leprosy patients were shifted from Dhalvala to Brahmapuri, while more construction for the remaining 40 and Doctor’s bungalow were pursued.

   If the dry rations promised were available, no truck was available for reaching them to this new location, 10 Km away, through a dirt road; alternatively it could be said that nobody cared to arrange the transport of those food bags…

   People survived on their judicious use of decent kitchen gardens, and the food rations reached some time every other month, or though the Contractor’s building materials trucks (not many, as all building were built of stones, local sand and mud!)

   At district headquarters, the appointed clerk for receiving the State Annual promised grant, purchasing government controlled sugar, kerosene oil, subsidized cloth, was not quite motivated, and papers and forms were ruling the show, (people reimbursing their “expenses” from the meagre grant on the way), so that hardly anything reached the patients.

   The Medic (whether doctor or not) did not show up more than a couple of times, and it is no wonder to understand why, when the last 40 quarters were ready the following year, the remaining 40 patients of Dhalvala refused to “join” the promised eldorado!

3. The lean years 1960-72.

   For the 80 Leprosy patients shifted to Brahmapuri, the disease and life were a real misery:

   -Without real treatment yet to be found against Leprosy, the bacilli continued their ravages into the final stage of destroying the optical nerves, if the patients lived long enough…


    -Without real treatment yet to be found against Leprosy, the bacilli continued their ravages into the final stage of destroying the optical nerves, if the patients lived long enough…

   - They did not even have the dubious comfort to be seen by other humans which they could do as “alms-boxes”, and only the spiritual radiations of Swami Sivanandaji and his successor Swami Chidanandaji could alleviate their plea.

   - At times the food situation was so bad, that the inmates undertook a “famine-walk” through Rishikesh  city and ashrams, (a 30 Kms affair on badly ulcerated feet!)

   Each time they were given promises after promises, kept  for a couple or two months.




   Nobody, was ready to commit himself to a minimum of service to the patients. Only Swami Raghunathanandaji pursued the food supply struggle with regularity till his passing away in 1982.

   Also, from 1967 Swami Chidananda managed to convince a Leprosy Paramedical trained worker, Ravindra Kumar, to come and do medical and social work for Brahmapuri. He and his wife were offered a room in Sivananda Ashram, a bicycle and some medicines were provided for the job.

   Still these arrangements did not really solve any long-term problems, and when Major T. Ramachandra (my tutor in the field of social work) took Agnes Kunze, and Pierre Reyniers for a look at the Brahmapuri camp on the festive day of Dussehra, in October 1967, Agnes Kunze and I were aghast at the level of despondency and dejection offered by the patients amorphous and in sad looking condition. On the way back to Dehra-Dun, we met Swami Chidanandaji and Swami Ragunathanandaji, who took good notice of the 5 year-old serious start of a Rehabilitation project with a committed person like Agnes Kunze and Pierre Reyniers.



 Back to Nalapani, Dehra-Dun, Agnes and I felt very bad on the pitiful conditions of the patients in Brahmapuri, and even though of a half-baked project of shifting our joint forces in favour of this forlorn place…

   Still the work of Nalapani Leprosy colony was far from being a smooth ongoing affair, with the successive long term-volunteers, Gina Hald and David MacPhail (who needed training too!), and we realized that the long march was before us, and not behind, human potentialities on hand needing a lot of time and nurturing so that expertise in any technical field would become a second nature to all concerned, brought about by hurdles after hurdles to overcome.

   So the Brahmapuri project stayed in the drawer, the only help we could provide was when the new social worker, R. Kumar came a few times asking for a “food-loan” for the Brahmapuri people, loan we knew fully well he would never be in a position to pay back.

   The stalemate break came in 1971, when an ardent devotee of Swami Chidamandaji was appalled at the situation of the begging lepers from the original Colony of Dhalvala, joined by a very thriving alm-receiving settlement on the road to the famous Lakshman jhula foot-bridge.

   That person, Donna Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro, had left her Haute Couture business in Rome and Paris, and offered her fortune and business acumen under Swamiji’s Blessings.



   Along with lessening personally a few obvious needs in those colonies and Brahmapuri Leprosy Colony, which appealed to her sense of beauty and of earnestness since the inmates were making the most of their kitchen gardens and not begging, she appealed to her contacts.

   Still it was through Swami Chidananda that she heard that a relatively seasoned volunteer, Pierre Reyniers, was on a prolonged”sabbatical”.

   In the spring of 1972, Swamiji wrote me a letter to Paris and proposed I start Leprosy Rehabilitation work in Brahmapuri, on the lines of Agnes Kunze action in Dehra-Dun, and first of all to meet D. Simonetta at her Paris residence.

   Thus, it was without any hesitation, after meeting D. Simonetta, who promised all necessary logistical and financial support, that I embarked in a “white, second hand Mini-Austin” model (according to her specific wishes) to join the Brahmapuri boat, as a “starter”.

   It is thus, after reaching safely India, Dehra-Dun (with a Bavarian traditional Spinning wheel all the way from Munich, that Agnes Kunze, Swami Chidananda, and Pierre Reyniers, in that order, bringing half a dozen of Indian Gandhi’s spinning wheels and a foot-carding machine, textile-work started under a tree, on the Banks of Mother Gangaji on Indian Independance day 1972.

Pierre Reyniers














                             





































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