The Bihar government has stopped the laying of a park in memory of Mahatma Gandhi since the land on which it was planned would encroach on the birthplace of legendary English writer George Orwell, an official said.
The urban development department had wanted to lay the park in Motihari, some 150km from Patna, in East Champaran district, the site of Gandhi’s first ‘satyagraha’ rights movement in 1917 against the high taxes on indigo farmers. Urban Development Minister Prem Kumar had laid the foundation stone of the park last Saturday and his department had sanctioned Rs20mn for the project.
East Champaran district magistrate Vinay Kumar said plans for the park had been dropped after Gandhians and members of the George Orwell Commemorative Committee complained that it would come up around the house where the writer was born.
“An order has been issued to stop work on the park until the land for it is transferred to the Motihari Nagar Parishad by the department concerned,” Vinod Kumar said.
Orwell’s birthplace was a protected monument, he said.
Razi Ahmad, the secretary of the Patna-based Gandhi Sangrahalaya (museum), said that the Father of the Nation himself would not have been too pleased to have a park in his memory encroach upon the home of the author, legendary for his metaphorical depiction of authoritarianism.
Ahmad suggested that the park may instead come up at the site where a pillar was erected in Motihari in 1969 to commemorate Gandhi’s 100th birth anniversary. The pillar stands about 2.5km from Orwell’s birthplace, Ahmad added.
Braj Kishore Singh, former minister and secretary of the Gandhi Memorial Pillar and Sangrahalaya said: “Land for the park is available near the pillar. Besides, George Orwell’s birthplace had little to do with Gandhi’s stay in the district.”
Deo Priya Mukherjee, head of the George Orwell Commemorative Committee, said “We welcome the decision to stop the construction of the park,” adding that it would be rather strange for it to come up as an encroachment.
Mukherjee said the move to lay the park would overshadow the memory of Orwell. “Even (Bihar Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar, during a visit here in 2009, had said that Orwell’s house and the premises would be conserved,” Mukherjee said.
The state government has declared the house a monument under the Ancient Monuments Act, Mukherjee said, adding that even so, the structure had become a “hub of anti-social elements, drunkards, gamblers, urchins and beggars.”
He said that a statue of Orwell had also been vandalised.
Orwell, who shot to fame in the mid-20th century with his novels Animal Farm and 1984, was born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari on June 25, 1903. He later adopted the pen name that he became famous by. Orwell’s father was in the Indian Civil Service during the British colonial era.
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