Home India News Orissa villagers remember Gandhi, and gardener Raghu

Orissa villagers remember Gandhi, and gardener Raghu


Kendrapada (Orissa) : Residents of a village in Orissa’s Kendrapada district not only paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary Tuesday – they also remembered Birla House gardener Raghu Naik who had pinned down the Mahatma’s assassin.

Naik, who hailed from Jaguliapada, some 150 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, was the gardener tending the sprawling lawns of Birla House in New Delhi Jan 30, 1948, when Nathuram Godse fired bullets at Gandhi after a prayer meet.

There was pandemonium as Gandhi collapsed and it was Naik who acted with alacrity, pinning the assassin to the ground.

Naik died Aug 3, 1983, at the age of 72, forgotten and unsung – except for a cash reward of Rs.500 and a letter of appreciation from India’s first president Rajendra Prasad.

Like every year, residents of Jaguliapada organised a prayer meeting that was attended by over 500 people. Statues of both Gandhi and Naik were garlanded, a villager said.

Till his death, Naik would personally organise prayer meets every Oct 2 and Jan 30 to remember the father of the nation. After his death, Nayak’s widow Mandodhari and other relatives have carried on the tradition.

“My husband used to serve goat milk to the Mahatma,” recalled Nayak’s wife Mandodhari who lives in the village with her daughter.

Gandhi’s private secretary Pyarelal in his book “Mahatma Gandhi – The Last Phase” has described how Naik had overpowered Godse who was still holding a revolver.

But Mandohari lives in abject poverty now. Her only son Bidyadhar, a driver with the police, was killed in a road accident three years ago.

During his lifetime, Naik was completely ignored by the government. Last year, automobile giant DaimlerChrysler learnt about the unsung hero and took an avid interest in his life.

It donated Rs.100,000 to the Gandhi-Raghu Memorial Committee of Jaguliapada village and installed a statue of Naik alongside Gandhi’s near the village school.

Soon after, the department of culture too decided to build a memorial in Naik’s name.

Though Rs.1.5 million were allotted two years ago to build a park, road and statues of Naik and Gandhi in the village, authorities are yet to start work, said Subhrashnu Sutar, president of the Gandhi-Raghu Memorial Committee.

District Collector Kashinath Sahoo said the administration had already selected land for the project which will be completed in a year.