ARTICLES > RELEVANCE OF GANDHI > Let us read Gandhiji again...
Let us read Gandhiji again...
By S C Jaini*
Gandhiji was born in 1869 in Porbander, in a small principality of kathaiwar being governed by an Indian prince. His father was the Diwan in the court. The family was well provided for and had a comfortable living, in the given surroundings. His mother Putlibai, was a devout lady and had tremendous influence on the mind of young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Like most homes, religion was taught early in life and the house open to holy men of all religions, who would be frequent guests of the house. Religious rituals including periodic fasts were part of the household culture. The elders of the household were held in high esteem and would be obeyed as a rule. The oldest brother of young Mohandas was responsible for his proper grooming and education, including the decision to go to England for his studies in Law. In school Mohandas was an average student with no spark of brilliance and did his work as any average student of his age. However one particular quality that set him apart from the others was his personal integrity. During one of the inspection by the Inspector of schools, the teacher prompted him to copy from the fellow student, to correct his mistake. Mohandas did not do as directed and was later reprimanded for his foolishness. Gandhiji records, that despite the fact that he did not approve of the cheating, his respect for his teacher remained undiminished.
Once he got involved with a classmate of his, who influenced him to taste meat, on a false pretext .Though he did taste meat, but the regret and shame took over and he left eating meat. Having committed one mistake Mohandas could not commit another mistake of speaking a lie to his parents. While going to England to pursue further studies in Law, he promised to his mother that he would not touch wine, meat or women, since he was already married at the age of 13 years. Though many were not convinced of his resolve, yet his mother believed him, for she knew him more than anyone. She knew that her son would not break his vow, once taken in solemnity. In England he won friendship of many and was generally regarded by one and all, as a man of truth. Once he made a false assertion to his landlady that he was unmarried, but he lost no time in correcting himself with a polite letter next day, seeking her pardon. Of course, the lady was so impressed with his truthful disclosure, that he was again invited that very same evening for dinner at her place. While in South Africa he enrolled himself as a barrister to practice law. In the very first case, he could bring about a compromise between the warring parties and the case got settled outside the court. Both the parties were brought to see the truth of the case and the need to settle the case amicably. While in law practice, Gandhiji records, that he could bring many litigants together for a compromise when they realized the truth of the case. In fact, even the judges in the courts knew that Gandhi would not argue a case which he knew to be false. It is on record that in one case, he withdrew and returned his brief, in the middle of an argument in the court, the moment he realized that his client had spoken a lie and misrepresented the facts to him. His fight in South Africa against the racial discrimination was as a result of his introspection and his intense desire to assert the truth of the cause. He had called his movement satyagraha, which literally means truth by persuasion While fighting in South Africa, he once suspended his satyagraha on the assurance of the Government in power headed by General Smuts, on certain promises , which the government later did not adhere to. The followers of Gandhi were furious and refused to go along with him anymore. Gandhiji still would not agree to deviate from the path of truth and non violence. He was willing to give another chance to the government to prove its credulity. While negotiating with the government in India, very many times, the government played dirty, retracting from its promised stand yet Gandhiji would not return its falsehood with falsehood. He would gently remind the government of its promises and ask it to fulfill its commitment, but would not resort to any violent means to press his point. There was no malice even when he strongly protested against the injustices. Gandhiji is often criticized for his indulgence and being overly patient with the machinations of the government but few realise that while he lost a battle or two, he won a permanent victory. The credulity of the British Government was so high in the psyche of the people, that any radical attempt of overthrow of the Government of India would have been the second repetition of 1857. It was necessary to demonstrate to a very large section of the populace that the British were no less a tyrant than any other, when it came to protect their self interests. Truth and non violence are the only means to reach out to the masses and convert them to the cause. Gandhiji was one of the greatest mind readers of human psychology that this world has witnessed. He had learnt his earliest lessons in human psychology from his mother and later in South Africa, where he led an entirely unlettered Indian indentured labour to protest and fight against the mighty empire of the whites, unarmed and without malice. By his technique, he conquered the hearts of not only his men but that of every conscientious white man. His appeal was more to the heart than to mind but his arguments in favour of racial equality was pure logic, which could not be demolished. He attacked racial discrimination on the sound logic that God never intended to place one man over the other and all devout church goers must respect the law of God. He could demonstrate that a government that treats its subjects unequal and practices racial discrimination has no sanction in the kingdom of God, and hence has to be removed. By a master stroke Gandhiji quietly lifted the struggle to a moral platform and got listed the support of several Englishmen. The Government continued to hold reins by brute force but it suddenly found its clothes removed in the public gaze. It lost all moral authority to rule .Gandhiji knew that the British rule had survived so long only because they had made people believe that the English rule was morally right and it was in the interest of everyone that the rule should continue forever. The fallacy of this argument was shown by Gandhiji by his own belief, in the greatest of truths, that all men are equal and no one particular race has any divine right to subdue and lord over other races. Gandhiji got an opportunity to hit back the British after the aftermath of Rowlatt Act, in the massacre of hundreds of innocent and unarmed civilians in Jalianwala Bagh. The conscience of the nation was aroused and so was the indignation of several Englishmen in India as well as in England. The reprehensible act of violence by the British General and its justification by the Government opened the eyes of the strongest supporters of the British rule. Gandhiji did not retaliate with violence; instead he called for hartal and prayer meetings. This was a novel experience for any nation so far in the history of freedom struggle, where violence was replied with non violence. Many eminent historians have said that reply by non violence, to brutal violence by the British Government, shook the very conscience of the Englishmen and exposed the extreme brutality of the British forces against the peaceful citizens, protesting against an unjust rule. The British lost the moral authority to rule from then onwards and their collapse was now a matter of time. Truth and non violence was therefore the most potent weapon in the hands of unarmed citizenry against an oppressor. The story got repeated again in the Dandi march, when the silent protestors were again beaten up and the news with live photographs got relayed to the world at first hand. Gandhiji again replied with his characteristic brhamashtra of truth and non violence. Every satyagraha and its repression by the British brought the nation closer to freedom. Every satyagraha brought out more and more fence sitters into the freedom struggle till the entire nation was ablaze in 1942.The British dealt every non violent civil disobedience movement with brute force and lost millions of supporters every time. The world was awakening to a new order and the British understood that they could not hold on forever. Often it is argued, if violence and armed struggle could have brought nation to independence earlier. There cannot be a straight answer; possibly yes and possibly no. The British government would have come down heavily on the people by resorting to greater violence and very possibly would have projected the entire struggle as purely law and order problem. Gandhiji’s methods of truth and non violence were put to severe test again, when communal violence broke out on the partition of the country. The massacre of innocent people by hoodlums in the name of religion followed by communal frenzy by common people, led to mass migration, probably the biggest that the world has ever witnessed. Communal fire was sweeping the country particularly in the Punjab, Bihar and Bengal. The Indian Government then headed by Prime Minister Nehru with Lord Mountbatten as the Governor General ordered for the deployment of Armed Forces in Punjab to control the rioting and massacre. There were no forces for Bengal, which was the scene of gruesome killings. Gandhiji went to Bengal and prayed for peace and sanity. He was the single man army and he could achieve what no army could achieve. His appeal was to the ‘heart of the man’ and that worked wonders. Gandhiji’s appeal was to remove hatred and suspicion from the hearts of people. Bengal came under the spell of Gandhiji, while Punjab continued to suffer. Lord Mountbatten wrote to Gandhiji, “In the Punjab, we have 55 thousand soldiers and large scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal, our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting.” Nehru pleaded with Gandhiji to return to Punjab. Gandhiji returned to Delhi and began his peace mission. His prayer meetings had huge gatherings and the madness of communal frenzy slowly abated. The last fast of Gandhiji undertook on 13th January 1948, brought an end to the communal violence in both the countries. The fast was undertaken against communal violence and was terminated on 18th January, when community leaders undertook to maintain peace. It was his martyrdom 12 days later, which shocked the people of both the countries and virtually ended the communal violence in the subcontinent. His assassination on the 30th January 1948 was the final victory of non violence over violence. The blood of saints purifies the hearts of men; all saints have to pay for the sins of others, through their suffering and penance. This is the universal law of nature.
The truth and non violence are universal principles; universal principles are those, which sustain the world .To what extent and degree, each one of us can practice, depends upon our resolve and circumstances. Gandhiji writes in the last chapter ‘farewell’ of his autobiography (My experiments with truth), “My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And if every page of these chapters does not proclaim to the reader that the only means of realization of truth is Ahinsa, I shall deem all my labour in writing theses chapters to have been in vain. And, even though my efforts in this behalf may prove fruitless, let the readers know that the vehicle, not the great principle is at fault.” Gandhiji admitted that he has been a seeker of truth all his life and sometimes he ‘caught only the faintest glimmer’ of truth. “The seeker of truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should be so humble that even dust could crush him.”
The first lesson that any mother would teach to her child is to speak the truth and not to hurt other children. She does it naturally, not being aware that in the little teachings of hers, lay the greatest truths of existence. Was there anything new in what Gandhiji said? He said that truth and non violence are as old as hills and therefore he has nothing to teach. “My life is a message.” Those who scoff at Gandhiji and his teachings do not know the power of truth and non violence. Do these parents teach their children falsehood and violence and hatred? Gandhiji simply applied the fundamental truths of life to public life and demonstrated that moral force is superior to brute force. So long mothers of the world would teach morals to the children, through nursery rhymes and fairy tales, so long Gandhiji lives along. Gandhiji and his teachings cannot be obliterated; Gandhiji manifests himself in every parent who silently prays that his child should grow up into a ‘good human being’.