By Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
January 30th 1948 will remain etched forever in the conscience of the nation. On that fateful day at evening prayer, Mahatma Gandhi fell to the bullets of his assassin Nathuram Godse, in Delhi. Godse represented the fascist, fanatic, fundamentalist and ‘feku’ forces, which abhorred the values for which Gandhi, espoused all his life and particularly the idea of an inclusive, pluralistic and secular India. These forces unfortunately are still very alive in India and in several parts of the world today!
There are certainly those who disagreed with Gandhi during his lifetime and there are many who disagree with his philosophy and his methodology even today. Nevertheless, few will be able to contest the fact that Gandhi was a man of principles who lived and died for a cause. His life was frugal and exemplary and unlike several politicians today, he did not care leave alone crave, for the privileges and the trappings of power.
In his lifetime, he internalized and propagated two cherished values TRUTH (Satyagraha) and NONVIOLENCE (Ahimsa). This twin doctrine is today more than ever needed, as sizeable sections of India and other parts of the world fall easy prey to falsehood and hate; to divisiveness and violence. Gandhi believed in the spirituality of inclusiveness. For him, the Hindu Scriptures ‘the Bhagvad Gita’ and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”(particularly the section on the ‘Beatitudes’)had to be read and meditated upon simultaneously since he was convinced that they resonated with one another. He refers to this in his autobiography ‘My Experiment with Truth’
There was plenty of violence and bloodshed in the run–up to India’s independence. Gandhi truly desired an undivided India, in which Hindus and Muslims would live in peace and harmony. In October 1946, he spent weeks in Naokhali (today in Bangla Desh) literally bringing to a halt, in a non-violent way, massacres and mayhem between the two communities. On August 15 1947, as India celebrated her independence, there were no celebrations for Gandhi; he was back in Calcutta with his protégé Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
He encouraged people to be non-violent and peaceful; he himself prayed, fasted and spun yarn. Those actions of his had a profound impact on the people- peace was restored. When C Rajagopalachari, the first Governor- General of Independent India, visited and congratulated Gandhi for restoring peace in the city, Gandhi said he would not be satisfied “until Hindus and Muslims felt safe in one another’s company and returned to their own homes to life as before.” He sincerely cared for those who were forcibly displaced.
On the day Gandhi was assassinated Pandit Nehru, India’s Prime Minister in an emotional address to the nation said,“the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere! “He was just stating a fact. Darkness continues to envelop a good part of the world today; the very forces that murdered Gandhi continue to murder all that he epitomized. True there are some hypocritical gestures like usurping the place of Gandhi at the spinning wheel, for a picture on an official calendar. Gandhi never subscribed to showmanship nor was he arrogant. He fought against sectarianism and racism and would have left no stone unturned today to take sides with the refugees and other forcibly displaced people of the world.
Indian Catholics observed a “Day of Peace” on January 30th. Significantly, in a message for the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (celebrated officially on January 1st 2017) entitled ‘Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace’, Pope Francis emphatically states that, “violence is not the cure for our broken world.” He calls for a new style of politics built on peace and nonviolence, and at the same time for disarmament and the eradication of nuclear weapons. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Abdul Ghaffar Khan are referred to in this message as icons of nonviolence and peace. We certainly have much to learn from them.
The world today is in a turmoil as never before. In ways both subtle and direct; through discriminatory policies and executive orders; through manipulations and coercions, we witness the gradual break-up of our world, even as hasty and unwanted walls are built to keep people out. We need to do all we can to prevent the triumph of these forces who are inimical to the cherished ideals and values of Gandhi, the Apostle of Nonviolence. We must cry halt to their murderous march now!
*Indian human rights activist, currently with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) MENA Region, Beirut