From a violent event to a philanthropic trust: Gandhi Ashram at Noakhali

Debashrita Mazumder

The name Mahatma Gandhi is a famous one in India but his values and teachings are admired globally. His preaching on the values of non violence, honesty and Gandhian principles have been adopted by many around the world. Of many anecdotes and stories that one may have read about the eventful life of Gandhiji, his visit to Noakhali district after 1946 riots is a tragic one.  However, it was his visit to Noakhali that led to the establishment of Gandhi Ashram Trust or previously known as Ambika-Kaliganga Charitable Trust.

Rewinding back to 1946, the political situation of the Indian subcontinent was tense. The British government had finally promised to grant much awaited freedom to the country. However, communal tension was at its peak. The Muslim league demanded a separate Islam state which was not agreed upon by many which led to sporadic riots in many areas. On August 16, 1946, Muslim League called for ‘Direct Action’ to show their strength and fulfill their demand of Pakistan. The Great Calcutta Killings were one of the major consequences of the protests on Direct Action Day.


The riots in Noakhali started much later on Oct 10. Muslim national guards and private military targeted the Bengali Hindus in the area causing, approximately 5000 death, forceful conversion, desecration of temple, loot, vandalism, rapes etc. In order to stop the rioters and spread his message of Ahimsa, Mahatma Gandhi visited Begumganj Upazila of Noakhali district. He visited a place called Jayag in the present Sonaimuri municipality. Although he largely failed in his objective to bring calm and peace in the affected areas, he established the Gandhi Ashram.

The Gandhi Ashram, under Begumganj sub district also has a museum named after Gandhiji which preserves more than one hundred pictures of Gandhiji’s visit to Noakhali at that time and used items and published writings. The trust was originally registered as the Ambika Kaliganga Charitable Trust. In 1975, the trust was renamed a Gandhi Ashram Trust (GAT).

The Gandhi Ashram has a historical importance in Noakhali and is located about 25 km north of Noakhali District Sadar Maijdi Court on the side of the road adjacent to Joyag Bazar in Sonamuri sub district. The museum preserves more than 100 pictures of Gandhiji’s visit to Noakhali at the time, used items and published writings. The ashram was established in the house of late barrister Hemant Kumar Ghosh, the then zamindar.


On January 29, 1947, Gandhi reached the village of Jayag during his 4 months long visit to the affected areas of Noakhali.  The first son of barrister Jayag of Noakhali district Hemant Kumar Ghose dedicated his movable and immovable properties of his zamindari to Mahatma Gandhi to serve the purpose of public welfare. The management of the ashram was taken over by a public servant novice and a close disciple of Gandhi Chirkumar Shriyukta Charu Chowdhury Mahasay.



Since 1946, the ashram has operated on the basis of Gandhian philosophy of rural development, peace and social harmony. The trust is primarily known as a shelter for distressed humanity. At its inception, the ashram took up activities to help the rural poor, especially women along with the rehabilitation of the riot victims. Until the partition of 1947, the ashram has been actively promoting communal harmony and non violence among the locals around the ashram.

After the independence of Bangladesh, the trust had been rendered a non-political public welfare organization by the government. Since then the committee manages all charitable activities for the economically disadvantaged.

The vision of the Gandhi Ashram Trust is quoted as,

“GAT envisages that dignity and well being of all community people (especially poor, marginalized and socially excluded) are ensured and they will take challenges of protecting their rights and entitlements and they will maintain non-violence, peace, tolerance and communal harmony among them"


The aim and works of the Gandhi Ashram Trust has deviated from its initial objectives. Presently, the trust works for the upliftment of the economically deprived community and women empowerment. The main focus of the trust is to raise the standard of living, both materialistically and eternally.


Mrs. Jharna Dhara Chowdhury is the present secretary of Gandhi Ashram Trust.

The works of ashram is mainly focused at developmental and training activities such as:

·         The trust provides preliminary training in accounting and small business management to produce skilled individuals.

·         The members have free access to the institutional credit market.

·         Economic upliftment of the distressed.

·         Works to empower the position of women in the society.

·         To eradicate water borne disease, the ashram ensures supply of pure drinking water.

·         Runs a junior school and non formal primary school.


The ashram runs its charitable operations in 102 villages under 5 sub districts of Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Feni districts and Noakhali and Chatkhil municipal areas. The ashram in present, works directly with 25000 of the poorest families in the areas of vicinity.


Problems faced by the ashram

The ashram faced major setback after the partition and assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The followers of Gandhiji had mostly left Noakhali. The non secular government did not encourage the Gandhian philosophy prevailing in the area. Rather the government adopted oppression; the properties of the trust were snatched away by land gravers and anti-social elements. Many followers were in jail most of their lives in Pakistan.


The manager of the peace mission Charu Chowdhury was detained several times through these years and finally imprisoned in the years from 1963 and released in 1971 after the independence of Bangladesh.

After the independence of Bangladesh, Charu Chowdhury started reestablishing the ashram and freed the properties. In Oct 2, 1975 with the gazette notification of the Bangladesh Government the Ambika Kaliganga Charitable Trust was renamed as Gandhi Ashram Trust. A committee with representatives from India and Bangladesh runs the operation of this charitable trust.

The government has turned the ashram into a non political organization that works for the economically distressed community.

Recent News

On Oct 3, 2021 the museum at Gandhi Ashram was renovated and inaugurated on the occasion 152nd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Indian government has supported the renovation of the museum in Gandhi Ashram. The inauguration was done by the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr A K Abdul Momen, Law Minister Advocate Anisul Huq and High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami.

However, the activities of the trust have been heavily crippled by the COVID in recent years. The Gandhi Ashram Handloom Factory is responsible for providing employment to locals, especially marginal women.

The factory was established in 2003 in Sonaimuri sub district and since 2006 have been successful in producing a turnover of Tk50 Lakh. However, after the pandemic period, the turnover has drastically dropped to Tk6 lakh. This has threatened the eventual closing of the factory, thus risking employment of thousands of people. The factory started with 10 women workers which grew up to 70 workers. During the pandemic period, however, the demand has gone down and around 53 workers have been relieved of their duties, leaving only 17 workers presently.

Raha Nobo Kumar, the director of the Gandhi Ashram trust is therefore requesting the assistance of the government in renewing the factory to its old glory.


The issue of unequal wealth distribution in society is as old as the beginning of civilization. And complete removal of poverty is almost impossible if no miracle plan is adopted. The Gandhi Ashram Trust works to support those poverty stricken sections of the society, the section of the society that struggles with maintaining the very basic standard of living. They not only provide economic assistance but provide training in necessary skills to sustain a healthy living. And that is why this charitable trust is relevant and will remain relevant in the future ahead, if not the governments find a permanent solution to get rid of poverty and unemployment globally.