On 15 JANUARY 1934 an earthquake shook Bihar and caused extensive damage. Mahatma Gandhi declared that this earthquake was God's punishment for the sin of untouchability. Gandhi had no objection to the orthodox Hindus' suggestion that perhaps God was displeased with his teaching on untouchability: everyone had a right to interpret God's purpose as he pleased. For himself, he was absolutely certain that the devastation in Bihar was caused buy men's sinful refusal to permit the untouchables into the temples. (Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi, E. P.Dulton & Co., New York, 1969,p.456)
Although the orthodox
supporters of untouchability may have read the earthquake in a different
light than Gandhi's, they were at least interpreting it at the same level.
But Rabindranath Tagore challenged the very level at which Mahatma Gandhi was
interpreting the event. If for Mahatma Gandhi the earthquake was a natural
phenomenon which nonetheless had a moral cause underlying it, for Rabindranath
Tagore it was a natural phenomenon which could only have been caused by natural causes.
This debate on the point
between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore has been understood as a debate
between moral and natural causation. And to a certain extent, it was
perhaps just that. When it is viewed purely in these terms, a vital
point is overlooked, namely, that it is a debate not between rationality and
irrationality but a debate between rationality and faith. Or, in
Aristotelian terms. the debate is around the final cause. In order to
appreciate this point, a central argument which has been developed in
terms of modern theism needs to be clearly recognised: that if God
really wished from human beings to turn to him in uncovered faith that he would
confront us with precisely the world we possess, in which we cannot decide on
the basis of available evidence whether an act is an act of nature or of God.
The point has been made with exceptional clarity by John H. Hick in recent times.
Mahatma Gandhi was fully aware of this dilemma of faith, without which faith would not be faith. He
concludes his chapter dealing with the illness of his son who he thinks was
saved by God's intervention.
Hence the earthquake will have to be open to both the explanations if Gandhi's interpretation is to be an
act of faith.