Brief Life Sketch of Shri Dharampal
(19th February 1922 - 24th October 2006)
Shri Dharampal was born on 19th February 1922 in Kandhla, in the Muzaffarnagar district of western U.P., and passed away on 24th October 2006 at Sevagram Ashram, Wardha, Maharashtra.
Responding to Gandhiji’s call for individual Satyagraha in 1940, he joined the freedom movement, abandoning his B.Sc. studies in Physics, and became actively involved in the Quit India movement (1942-43).
At the time of Partition, in 1947-48, he was put in charge of the Congress Socialist Party centre for the rehabilitation of refugees coming from Pakistan, and came in close contact with Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, as well as with numerous younger friends, such as L.C. Jain, in Delhi, with whom he co-founded the Indian Cooperative Union in 1948.
Most of the refugees were illiterate landless labourers, and Dharampalji was deeply impressed to see how they organised themselves and rebuilt their lives on their own after being given some land and other essential necessities for survival. This direct experience of seeing the native genius of ordinary people at work was to have a lasting impression on him and his future work.
Intent on regenerating India’s rural population, he worked for some years with Mirabehn, Gandhiji’s British-born disciple, and in the 1950s founded a cooperative village “Bapugram” near Rishikesh. The intention was to create a 'casteless' society, and economically underprivileged people were chosen to form this 'new' village. The community project, however, ran into numerous problems, which Dharampalji realised was a result of imposing ideas and beliefs on the people unilaterally without concern for what the people really thought and wanted. This experience, too, was to guide him in his future quest for understanding how our people and society thought and functioned.
In his endeavour to find ways of how our people could recover from the devastation of British rule to rejuvenate and rebuild their lives, he also studied the Israeli 'Kibbutz' model, but found the 'militaristic' nature of their communes unacceptable.
From 1958 until 1964 he was General Secretary of the Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development (AVARD) which enabled him to travel widely and closely observe local forms of people's organisation. He also directed the Study and Research programme of the All India Panchayat Parishad, until 1965. For several decades, he was closely associated with Shri Jayaprakash Narayan, who deeply appreciated his research and writings.
From 1966 Dharampalji devoted himself (single-handedly and without any official funding) for almost two decades, to an exploration of Indian archives spread over England and India. In this period, he published several books on the nature and functioning of pre-British Indian society. Some of his seminal works include Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century (1971), Civil Disobedience and Indian Tradition (1971), and The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century (1983). These books have led to a radical reappraisal of conventional views of Indian history and society. Collections of his writings have been published in Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, and Kannada [in preparation]; in 2015, an edited volume of his Essential Writings was brought out by the Publications Division, Government of India.
In the 1980s, his guidance served as inspiration for a group of scientists called the People’s Patriot Science and Technology (PPST), based in in Chennai, of which he was the first President. Intermittently between 1987 and 2001, Dharampalji served as a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) for three terms. In 2001, he was appointed Chairman of the National Commission on Cattle set up by the Government of India.
From the mid-1980s Dharampalji was closely associated with Mahatma Gandhi’s Sevagram Ashram, Wardha (Maharashtra) which he considered his main abode until he passed away there on 24th October 2006.
He is survived by his younger brother, Shri Yogendra Pal, three children (with his English wife, Phyllis, who died in 1986), Pradeep, Gita and Anjali, and five grandchildren.
Shri Dharampal lived a long, eventful, productive and influential life, in which there was a consonance between anubhav, vichar and achaar. Above all, he was an outstanding practitioner of nishkama karma.