ARTICLES > SPIRITUALISM / RELIGION > Gandhi on Religion and Social Harmony
Gandhi on Religion and Social Harmony
By Malabika Pande*
Democracy and democratic norms such as civil rights, adult suffrage, political pluralism and secular politics, were the dominant themes in international politics till the middle of the twentieth century. Religion was not considered a political force potent enough to disturb democratic societies. But recent history has proved all that wrong. In India, the colonial period saw an aggregation of communal tension culminating in partition. The importance of religion and religious mobilization are now widely recognized as significant factors in national and international politics. Gandhi had anticipated this. After his return from South Africa in 1915 he committed himself to the pursuit of a kind of swaraj for India that went beyond mere political freedom and civil rights, and was marked by the inculcation of ideals of peace, brotherhood and social concord.

THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD continues to be troubled by large scale violence and terrorism, often in the name of religion. The underlying discords in some way reflect our attitude to religion which often colours our approach to culture, though the two are not synonymous terms at all.1 This struggle is sometimes described as 'civilisational conflict'.2 if it is so then what is the way out? M. K. Gandhi's perspective on religion and peace through inter-faith dialogue and cooperation? Gandhi was a believer in the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism which advocates the essential spiritual unity of all mankind. His Hinduism, in his own words, was "all-inclusive. It is not anti-Musalman, anti-Christian or anti-any other religion. But it is pro-Muslim, pro-Christian and pro-every other living faith in the world."3 More revealing is Gandhi's conviction about the relative truth of all religions.
After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true; (2) all religions have some error in them; (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible. The aim of the Fellowship should be to help a Hindu to become a better Hindu, a Mussalman to become a better Mussalman, and a Christian a better Christian.4
Underpinning Gandhi's eclectic view of religion was his faith in anekantavada (the Jain doctrine of relative pluralism) according to which any reality can be evaluated from many different points of view, each estimate true in itself but not expressing the whole truth. This principle, he says, taught him to judge a Muslim from his own standpoint and a Christian from his.5 Perhaps these beliefs made him generally disfavour religious conversion and assert that if one found fault in one's religion, it should be corrected, not abandoned.6 The theory of religious pluralism, which upholds the de jure legitimacy of all institutional religions, was the keystone of Gandhi's philosophy.7
[T]he principal faiths of the world constitute a revelation of Truth, but as they have all been outlined by imperfect man they have been affected by imperfections and alloyed with untruth. One must therefore entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as one accord to one's own. Where such tolerance becomes a law of life, conflict between different faiths becomes impossible, and so does all effort to convert other people to one's own faith. One can only pray that the defects in the various faiths may be overcome, and that they may advance, side by side, towards perfection.8
In his Constructive Programme Gandhi made equal respect for all religions the first step towards national reconstruction, exhorting every member of the Congress party to cultivate "personal friendship with persons representing faiths other than his own."9
The holding of dialogue between different religious groups was a significant dimension of the practice of religious pluralism that people of different faiths lived harmoniously as regular inmates of his ashrams in South Africa and India affirms the value of Gandhi's experience in conducting inter-faith dialogue. Another crucial element of his philosophy was the renunciation of violence in any form as a legitimate means of religious expression. This conviction enabled him to persuade the Muslim leaders of the Khilafat Movement to undertake a non-violent struggle for the success of their cause. They in turn asked him to lead it.10
Secularism of the inclusive kind has to be the sine qua non of a multi-religious country like India and Gandhi was indeed a good protagonist of this doctrine. Secularism for Gandhi was a kind of religion which signified 'fundamental morality' or an ethical approach, "we needlessly divide life into watertight compartments, religious and the other, whereas if a man has true religion in him, it must show in every detail of life."11 "Religion was a personal matter and if we succeeded in confining it to the personal plane, all would be well in our political life."12 That appearance and practice were as important as conviction was demonstrated by Gandhi's public conduct. He began the practice of inter-faith prayers, in which "texts of different religions were read and sung" at his ashrams and later at all his prayer meetings.13
Gandhi's secular approach is further illuminated by his concept of 'nationality'. Though he often referred to himself as a sanatani (steadfast) Hindu, he more than any other leader stressed his Indian nationality above every other kind of identity. In most of his prayer meetings throughout his life he said "We are Indians first, and Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis and Christians after."14
Nationhood for Gandhi was defined in non-religious terms. In Hind Swaraj, which was published in 1909 in the form of a dialogue between a Reader and the Editor (i. e. Gandhi), to the Reader's query as to how India could be regarded as one nation when there were Muslims, Parsis and Christians living in it, the Editor responds that India could not cease to be one nation because people belonging to different religions lived in it. "... in no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms; nor has it been so in India". His very sensible suggestion was that "if everyone will try to understand the core of his own religion and adhere to it, and will not allow false teachers to dictate to him, there will be no room left for quarrelling."15
Gandhi sought to foster abiding social bonds through a mass campaign of "non-violent progressive non-co-operation with the Government for the purpose of securing the rectification of the Khilafat and the Punjab wrongs and attaining swaraj", which took the form of the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22). However, it was called off in the wake of the Chauri-Chaura violence, as communal riots broke out in different parts of India.16
In a series of letters addressed to Gandhi at this time by both Hindus and Muslims, the bleak state of relations between the two was attributed to his own approach, statements or actions. Gandhi responded as best as he could through the pages of his journal, Young India, and in his orations and other communications.17 He analysed the factors that called for serious introspection and collective action by both the religious groups, including the abuse of the freedom of speech and press by sections of both communities. He appealed to his readers to consider it their duty to "never accept without examination and scrutiny, what may be written against Hindus or Muslims" and to consider it their duty to promote trust and harmony between the communities.18
Two persistent causes of friction, Gandhi observed, were cow-slaughter by Muslims and the playing of music by Hindus outside or near mosques (each considered blasphemous by the respective community).19 Though Gandhi upheld the Hindu veneration of cows, he did not resent their slaughter by Muslims for food. The riots that had taken place in the name of the cow had not saved a single cow, he said, but rather stiffened the backs of Muslims. To him, further irony was provided by the fact that the Hindus who owned the cows were responsible for treating them most cruelly. The only time, he observed, when many cows were saved from slaughter was during the non-cooperation movement, as a result of voluntary and generous effort of the Muslims themselves. Cow-protection societies ought to turn their attention to proper care of cattle in their respective areas rather than stir up communal discord, he wrote.20 Gandhi had a similar response on the issue of playing music or conducting arati in the proximity of mosques. Just as Hindus could not compel Muslims to refrain from killing cows, so could Muslims not compel Hindus to stop music or arati at the point of the sword. They could only trust to the good sense of the Hindus. For this, dialogue and mutual understanding were a must between the communities. "To yield to the threat or actual use of violence is a surrender of one's self-respect and religious conviction", he stated, "but a person who never will yield to threat, would always minimise, and if possible, even avoid occasions for causing irritation".21 In fact, "the regulation of cow-slaughter and playing of music must be left to the goodwill of the respective communities".22
Gandhi was firm in censuring individuals irrespective of their religious identity for lapses from logic and good sense in their arguments or actions on community issues, and gave higher place to objective candour than considerations of 'political correctness' in his admonitions. However, given the tendency of sectarian strife on even trivial matters.
Even at the time of severe communal crises Gandhi's faith in nonviolent means, especially the process of dialogue, was not shaken. In December 1926, at the height of Hindu-Muslim tension in the country, Swami Shraddhanand was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic, Abdul Rashid. Gandhi was apprehensive about a Hindu backlash following the death of Swami Shraddhanand. And sought to calm passions through his statements, speeches at public meetings, addresses at the Congress Session and writings in Young India. "Let us not ascribe the crime of an individual to a whole community ..., let us not think of the wrong as done by a Mussalman against a Hindu, but of an erring brother against a hero,"23 he wrote. He asked Muslims to condemn the murder in unequivocal terms if they desired to prove their bona fides on a peaceful solution to the communal problem. The sword, he said, had to be sheathed if Islam was to live up to its name. Otherwise it would be a calamity for its followers and the world, as the communal problem was a world problem. Reliance upon the sword was wholly inconsistent with reliance upon God.24
After the settlement of the 'Communal Question' at the Lahore Congress, Gandhi made a classic observation on moral secularism: There never can be any conflict between the real interest of one's country and that of one's religion. Where there appears to be any, there is something wrong with one's religion, i.e., one's morals. True religion means good thought and good conduct. True patriotism also means good thought and good conduct. To set up a comparison between two synonymous things is wrong.25
Despite the efforts of Gandhi and his colleagues to engineer a social and political resolution of communal conflict, the following years saw a steady sequence of Hindu-Muslim riots in different parts of India. We find Gandhi leading a determined campaign for communal peace through invocations to the common citizens and strongly worded rebukes to the offending groups, occasional fasts, visits (wherever possible) to the affected localities and meetings with their residents to offer solace and reinforce confidence, personal exchanges with local community leaders and rallying notable individuals and public figures for the larger objective of redressing animosities and restoring the torn fabric of social harmony. Communal conflict became a depressingly regular feature of the social landscape, but Gandhi's persevered in his endeavours to stem the growing tide of inter-communal distrust and discord.26 He was animated by the conviction "that conflicts needed to be straightened out by those involved in them, rather than by the intervention of 'outsiders'" and reflecting the approach that "situations must not be allowed to deteriorate; grievances should be tackled in time; and, at the ground level, every effort to deal with problems jointly would serve to foster a sense of commonality instead of difference; the socio-economic elements of conflicts must be recognized and solutions found, lest the conflicts be dubbed 'religious'."27
Gandhi's faith in communal harmony and inter-faith dialogue was again on trial in the years 1946 to 1947 just before and after the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan. August 16, 1946, the Direct Action Day called by the Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to orchestrate "direct action for the achievement of Pakistan", was marked by widespread rioting and slaughter in Calcutta, which unleashed a period of communal violence in India on an unprecedented scale. In two Eastern districts of Bengal - Noakhali (now in Bangladesh) and Tipperah (now Tripura, India) - several hundred Hindus, who were a minority, were looted, raped and killed by Muslim mobs in October 1946.28 Gandhi went to Noakhali in November 1946 and over the next four months walked barefoot from village to village (like a pilgrim, he said) with a few companions. In a statement to the press, Gandhi explained his plan of action - the group would divide into teams of two and cover as many villages as possible, stay as far as possible in the house of a Muslim League member (who might be hostile) and carry on a dialogue with the local community.29
As was his wont, Gandhi conducted a prayer meeting at every village he visited and spoke to both Muslims and Hindus, asking them to give up fear and hatred of each other, to live like brothers and sisters and rehabilitate those who had fled their homes. His presence impelled the Muslim League Government of Bengal (headed by H.S. Suhrawardy since its induction in July 1946) to set up Peace Committees and institute relief measures, such as provision of rations, house-building material, raw materials for craftsmen, etc.30 The Government also issued appeals to the Hindus to return and actively participate in the peace process.31 Gandhi's prayer meetings were not just about peace but focused equally on the rural economy, on utilising local resources to the optimum level, on self-help for proper sanitation and on arranging for pure drinking water, etc. He thought about converting the fertile land there into a 'land of gold'.32 Addressing local Muslim women, who hesitated to come out because of purdah restrictions, he spoke about the harm done by such practices and went so far as to say that, in his opinion, purdah was "contrary to what the Prophet preached". Though his remarks aroused some criticism from extremist Muslims, Gandhi was not daunted and patiently argued with his critics.33
From the third week of December 1946, there was noticeable improvement in the 'refugee situation' in Noakhali. Hindus felt reassured enough to begin returning to their homes. Gandhi expressed his happiness at this outcome and did not forget to admonish the Hindu refugees against practising untouchability of any kind whether among themselves or towards their Muslim neighbours.
Meanwhile, Bihar was beckoning Gandhi.34 After the observance of 'Noakhali Day' on 25 October, 1946, Hindu peasants in several parts of Bihar had carried out a massacre of Muslims "far more terrible really than Noakhali, with at least 7000 deaths."35 Gandhi was shaken to the core by the brutality of the Hindu reaction to the Noakhali wrongs. He had gone on a 'restricted diet' on October 30, and hinted that he would stop eating altogether if the Hindus of Bihar did not observe complete restraint.36
In the weeks that followed, Gandhi was assured that the atmosphere in Bihar was returning to normal, though very slowly. However, on learning from Syed Mahmud, an old associate and a Minister in the Congress Government of Bihar, about the continuing fear and insecurity of the Muslims and smouldering communal emotions on both sides of the divide, he decided to leave Noakhali for Bihar on March 2, 1947. He began a walking tour from village to village, holding prayer meetings and dialogues with the local population. "I have come here to do or die," he said, and if "communal peace is not established, I shall pray to God to hasten my end, because in that event, I shall not be in a position to serve anyone." The only way, he said, Hindus could atone for their sins was through persuading the Muslim refugees to return to their homes and help them rebuild their houses, clean their wells and sink new wells to replace the old ones filled with the corpses of massacred Muslims.37 The organisation of this volunteer service was taken up by Gandhi and his companions who included Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi), Shah Nawaz Khan of the Indian National Army and Mridula Sarabhai, well known social worker of Ahmedabad. As in Noakhali, Gandhi talked to the local women, both Hindu and Muslim, asking them to give up mutual suspicion, fear, anger and feelings of revenge as that constituted true bravery.38 In some villages Muslims demanded separate police stations headed by Muslims and the appointment of Muslim policemen as measures of security; Gandhi reminded them that these demands were the result of a communal mindset created by the separate electorate system and would lead to many Pakistans not only in Bihar but elsewhere as well. Rather, majorities, he said, everywhere should win the confidence of the minorities through proper rehabilitation work and the government must do justice by giving proper compensation and appropriate relief as and where necessary.39
In August 1947, when Punjab was in the grip of a communal holocaust, there was a simultaneous outbreak of communal violence in Calcutta, and Gandhi who had been planning to return to Noakhali, stopped in Calcutta and went to stay in a deserted Muslim house in Beliaghata, one of the worst affected areas of the city. H. S. Suhrawardy, the Provincial Premier (Chief Minister), agreed to stay with him there. On August 31 a crowd of aggressive Hindus attacked the house he was staying in, and Gandhi narrowly escaped being wounded. Next day, the violence resumed with vengeance in Calcutta.40
Gandhi adopted the only method available to him in such a situation. He decided to fast from September 2, 1947, to bring pressure to bear on the gangs who were responsible for the attacks. The moral pressure exerted by this event soon saw several of these "goondas" coming to Gandhi to beg forgiveness and promise to stop the violence if he called off the fast.41 On the evening of 4 September a deputation of leaders from the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha, the Sikh community and other bodies came to plead with him to end the fast. Only after they promised to lay down their lives to prevent further communal violence did Gandhi call off the fast. There was no more communal violence in Calcutta during that period,42 and Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, hailed Gandhi as a 'One Man Boundary Force' for stopping the rioting in Bengal, while several regiments failed to do so in the Punjab.43
Gandhi's next test was in Delhi. Here, from the beginning of September 1947, in reaction to the carnage in Punjab, Muslim houses and shops were targeted by the Hindus and Sikhs and large numbers of Muslims killed.44 Much of the Muslim population of Delhi fled to relatively safe places like the Purana Quila (Old Fort), Humayun's Tomb and elsewhere where they camped in very difficult conditions. The authorities initially treated these places as mere transit camps on the route to Pakistan.45 Hindu and Sikh refugees who had fled from Pakistan (Punjab mainly) were living in much larger numbers and equally difficult conditions in places like Jamia Millia, Diwan Hall, Wavell Canteen and Kingsway.46 It was in these depressing circumstances that Gandhi arrived in Delhi on September 9, 1947 and began visiting the camps of both sets of refugees almost immediately. Later, at his prayer meetings, he said, "what is going on is not Sikhism nor Islam nor Hinduism"47 and that all had become savages.48 He upbraided the Hindus for making Muslims refugees in their own land; in the same breath he condemned Pakistan for driving away the minorities. Lahore, he said, was the city built up by Hindus and "today is almost empty".49
At the refugee camps he appealed to the inmates not to look to the government for everything but to try to help themselves especially in the matter of sanitation. The government of course had to take responsibility for providing food and drinking water. Hindu refugees thought that he was being harsh with Hindus as Pakistan was much more culpable for the whole situation, but he explained that he was only doing his duty in trying to be even-handed, and that no one ought to harbour feelings of revenge or hatred, otherwise the newly won freedom would be lost.50 Gandhi was aware that Hindu extremists could target him and said as much to a Muslim delegation, "I shall not be surprised if one day I fall a prey to this fury," a prophecy that was to prove true very soon!51
Muslim refugees in Delhi looked to Gandhi for succour especially after his success in Noakhali, Bihar and Calcutta. Gandhi was unequivocal in telling them that they should openly declare their loyalty to the Indian Union to win the hearts of the Hindus and condemn the atrocities on the Hindus in Pakistan. He gave similar advice to Muslim League members of the United Provinces.52 He instructed both Hindu and Muslim refugees to surrender their arms and live like brothers, as had happened in Calcutta.53 Gandhi had a mixed experience when he visited the Muslim refugee camp at Purana Quila on 13 September. While some Muslims resented his presence, most welcomed him with 'great love and affection', and said: "This old man has come to save us, to wipe our tears. We are hungry and he has come to see if he can find bread for us somewhere...."54 Gandhi's healing touch can be gauged from one example. Two Muslim craftsmen came to him with blankets and money and said that they should be distributed among the Sikhs and Hindus who had suffered in Punjab. Gandhi applauded their sentiment and later at his prayer meeting said "any such act must be written down in letters of gold."55 By late October, the communal tension had lessened and there was relative peace. Though Gandhi did not publicly oppose the acquiescence of Congress leaders with the League's demand for Pakistan, he openly contested the idea of Pakistan till the very end. Thus, in late September, 1946, he said:... I am firmly convinced that the Pakistan demand as put forward by the Muslim League is un-Islamic and I have not hesitated to call it sinful. Islam stands for unity and brotherhood of mankind, not for disrupting the oneness of the human family.56
As sporadic violence against Muslims continued in Delhi, Gandhi launched an indefinite fast (his last, incidentally) on January 13, 1948, declaring that it would "end when and if I am satisfied that there is a reunion of hearts of all communities brought about without any outside pressure, but from an awakened sense of duty".57 The only condition on which he would remain alive, he said, was if he was assured that every Muslim would feel safe walking freely in the streets of Delhi.58 He reiterated his message to Muslims to openly declare their loyalty to the Indian Union and not Pakistan as many of them till recently supported the Muslim League and Pakistan. Only on such a basis could trust between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims be built.59 The impact of Gandhi's fast was almost immediate. "In Delhi", writes Abul Kalam Azad, "the effect was electric. Groups which had till recently openly opposed Gandhiji came forward and said that they would be prepared to do anything in order to save Gandhiji's precious life."60
Gandhi's fast had another major fall-out. One of the main bones of contention between India and Pakistan (and consequently a factor in communal tension in India) was the division of cash assets after partition. The Indian government wished to delay payment of the total amount pending an honourable settlement on many other contentious issues with Pakistan.61 But on January 16, 1948, when Gandhi's health was deteriorating rapidly, the pressure of his fast led to the momentous decision of the Government of India to transfer the entire amount of 55 crore rupees to Pakistan, thus altering a 'deliberate settled policy'.62 Ghulam Mohammad, Finance Minister of Pakistan, in a statement, gratefully acknowledged Gandhi's role in settling the matter.63 But Gandhi did not give up his fast, stating that the letter of his vow would be satisfied only "if the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of Delhi bring about a union, which not even a conflagration around them in all other parts of India and Pakistan will be strong enough to break."64
Gandhi was now joined in his fast, along with thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan, by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Arthur Moore, Editor of The Statesman, both former critics of fasting as a form of coercion.65 On January 17, the fifth day of the fast, a hundred thousand government employees signed a pledge to work for peace. The police signed their own pledge.66 Gandhi desired similar written and signed pledges from all representative groups, not mere verbal assurances; he told Abul Kalam Azad about seven conditions that had to be fulfilled before he would give up his fast. Accordingly, on January 18, 1948, a seven-point declaration (written, at Gandhi's instance, in the Persian and Devanagari scripts) signed by representatives of all major Hindu and Muslim organizations was submitted to Gandhi. The declaration called for the total rehabilitation of Muslims in Delhi, restoration of their mosques and the establishment of cordial relations between Hindus and Sikhs on the one hand and Muslims on the other, and concluded with these words: We assure that all these things will be done by our personal effort and not with the help of the police or military. We request Mahatmaji to believe us and to give up his fast and continue to lead us as he has done hitherto.67
During the last three days of his life Gandhi conducted his daily prayer meetings, advocating brotherhood and non-violence even when there was news of violence from the Frontier Province of Pakistan and the resurgence of bloodshed in Noakhali (East Pakistan). To further his vision of social and political cohesion of India he planned to reorganise the Indian National Congress not as a political party but into a Lok Sevak Sangh, with a missionary zeal to effect radical changes in society ensuring justice, tolerance and economic equality.68 On January 30, while on his way to his daily prayer meeting, Gandhi was shot dead from point blank range by a Hindu fanatic (his own prophecy) - Nathuram Godse.69
The assassination of Gandhi was like a shock-treatment to the embattled psyche of the nation, for, in the words of Humayun Kabir, it "had a cathartic effect and throughout India men realized with a shock the depth to which hatred and discord had dragged them. The Indian nation turned back from the brink of the abyss and millions blessed the memory of a man who had made redemption possible."7 Sumit Sarkar is of the opinion that "the Gandhian way in 1946-47 was no more than an isolated personal effort with a local and often short-lived impact."71 On the other hand David Hardiman writes, "Gandhi's death in itself went a long way in achieving what he had been striving for in those final months of his life".72 The immediate impact of his death was that, at last, the Muslims of Delhi felt secure and able to return to their earlier way of life. Qazi Jalil Abbasi of Delhi later stated with tears in his eyes, "Gandhiji made it possible for Muslims to continue to live in India."73
The essence of Gandhi's teaching was the need to inculcate "an attitude which would go beyond toleration..., and he did this in various ways: encouraging greater knowledge about one's own tradition and that of others; developing a self-critique which would not foster skepticism so much as bring about what he called 'purification'; praying that others would receive the light that they needed; and realizing that the special loyalty that was aroused by one's own religion did not warrant feeling superior to others."74 His legacy was carried forward in post-Independence India by dedicated followers like Jaya Prakash Narayan, Vinoba Bhave, Narayan Desai (son of Mahadev Desai) and Baba Amte,75 and lives today in myriad ways in the social and cultural fabric of India. On the international plane, Gandhi has received equal, if not greater, recognition, in the pursuit of human equality, dignity and freedom. Thus, the civil rights movement in the U.S.A., the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the pro-democracy movement in East Europe and the pro-peace movement in Palestine all have acknowledged their inspiration from Gandhi.76 Though the Hindu-Muslim relationship in present-day India is not as idyllic as it might be were regressive memories of perceived triumphs and humiliations not made to persist by those whom Gandhi called "selfish and false religious teachers", the fact that the Muslims are by and large a numerous and thriving community in constitutionally secular India is testimony to the success of Gandhi's ideas and endeavours.
We may conclude with Ramachandra Guha's tribute to Gandhi, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 30, 2011, to mark the International Day of Non-Violence, observed every year on October 2 (Gandhi's birthday). Recalling that Gandhi "encouraged inter-religious dialogue, so that individuals could see their faith in the critical reflections of another", Guha observed: Gandhi was at odds both with secularists who confidently looked forward to God's funeral, and with monotheists who insisted that theirs was the one and true God. Gandhi believed that no religion had a monopoly on the truth. He argued that one should accept the faith into which one was born (hence his opposition to conversion), but seek always to practice it in the most broad-minded and non-violent way.
And he actively encouraged friendships across religions. His own best friend was a Christian priest, C. F. Andrews. At the time, his position appeared eccentric; in retrospect, it seems to be precocious. In a world riven by religious misunderstanding, it can help cultivate mutual respect and recognition, and thereby diminish conflict and violence.77
This paper was earlier presented to the International Workshop on Intercultural Peace: Global Perspectives, organised by the Malaviya Centre for Peace Research, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair for Peace and Intercultural Understanding, on March 16-17, 2011.

Notes and References:
  1. For analytical insights on religion and culture, see Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a cultural system", in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (London, Fontana Press, 1993), pp.87-125.
  2. The concept of ‘civilisational conflict’, propounded in Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1997), has been widely contested; see Amartya Kumar Sen, "Democracy as a Universal Value", Journal of Democracy, Volume 10, Number 3, July 1999, pp. 3-17.
  3. M. K. Gandhi, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi [CWMG] (New Delhi: The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, and Ahmedabad: Navajivan Trust, 1958-1994, 100 Volumes), Vol. III, p. 72.
  4. N. K. Bose, Selections from Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1948), pp. 226-27. Bose drew on Gandhi’s speech as given on pages 17-19 of the published Report of the Meeting (January 13- 15, 1928). An abridged version (original draft?) of the address was published as ‘Discussion on Fellowship’ in Young India, January 19, 1928, vide CWMG, Vol. XXXV, pp. 461-64. The Federation developed from a group called International Fellowship founded at Madras in 1922 by "A. A. Paul, an Indian Christian who wanted to put into practice Gandhi’s conviction that differences of opinion about politics or religion need not and should not prevent people from enjoying each other’s company as fellow human beings": Martha Dart, Marjorie Sykes, Quaker-Gandhian (York: Sessions Book Trust, in association with Woodbrooke College, Birmingham, 1993), p. 31.
  5. CWMG, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 122, 216.
  6. CWMG, Vol. XIII, pp. 219.
  7. Anthony J. Parel, Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 107.
  8. Observance XI (‘Tolerance’) of the Satyagraha Ashram Rules (June 1928) revised in consultation with other members by Gandhi (who had drafted the original Rules in May 1915), CWMG, Vol. XXXVI, p. 401.
  9. CWMG, Vol. LXXV, p. 109.
  10. CWMG, Vol. XVI, p. 312.
  11. CWMG, Vol. XXXIV, p.449.
  12. CWMG, Vol. LXXXIX, p. 29.
  13. Ramachandra Guha, "Gandhi’s Faith, and Ours", Hindustan Times, January 30, 2008, at, accessed on March 05, 2011].
  14. CWMG, Vol. XXXVIII, p. 232; Vol. XLVIII, p. 374.
  15. Hind Swaraj, CWMG, Vol. X, pp. 29-31.
  16. The quote is from Gandhi’s Draft Resolution on Non-Co-Operation placed before the Congress Session at Nagpur (December 1920), CWMG, Vol. XIX, pp. 182-83. The final form of the Resolution is in the same Volume at APPENDIX I, pp. 576-78. The background, progress and withdrawal of the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement need no elaboration as they are well-documented in the literature.
  17. The letters were not always recriminatory, and in fact several expressed sincere doubts or misapprehensions about Gandhi’s views and pronouncements. For these letters, or references to them, and Gandhi’s replies, see the issues of Young India for the period after April 1924, when he resumed its editorship following release from prison. The most instructive of his responses in this context is a lengthy article "Hindu-Muslim Tension: Its Cause and Cure", Young India, May 29, 1924 (which was subsequently issued as a booklet), CWMG, Vol. XXIV, pp. 136-54.
  18. CWMG, Vol. XXIII, pp. 411-12.
  19. Cf. Sarkar, p. 233: "The recurrent ostensible issues were the Muslim demand for stopping music before mosques, and Hindu pressures for a ban on cow-slaughter. Communal bodies proliferated, and political demands were made increasingly on a communal basis":
  20. CWMG, Vol. XXIV, p. 151.
  21. Ibid, p. 141.
  22. CWMG, Vol. XXV, p. 178.
  23. CWMG, Vol. XXXII, pp. 453, 455, 461.
  24. Ibid, pp. 474-75.
  25. CWMG, Vol. XLII, p. 379.
  26. See Judith Brown, "The Mahatma in Old Age: Gandhi’s Role in Indian Political Life, 1935-1942", in Richard Sisson and Stanley Wolpert (eds.), Congress and Indian Nationalism- The Pre-Independence Phase (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp.271-304, esp. pp. 272-82.
  27. Margaret Chatterjee, Gandhi and the Challenge of Religious Diversity: Religious Pluralism Revisited (New Delhi: Promilla and Bibliophile Asia, 2005), p. 356.
  28. Sarkar, pp. 432-33.
  29. "My ideal is to live in a local Muslim League family, but I see that I must not wait for that happy day." CWMG, Vol. LXXXVI, pp. 138-39.
  30. Ibid, pp. 140-51.
  31. Ibid, pp. 238, 243, 246-48
  32. CWMG, Vol. LXXXVI, p. 319.
  33. Ibid, pp. 356-59.
  34. For a detailed narrative, see Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi- The Last Phase, Volume 1 (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1956), pp. 356-62.
  35. Sarkar, p. 433; CWMG, Vol. LXXXVII, pp. 29, 133.
  36. CWMG, Vol. LXXXVI, pp. 70, 72, 75, 80, 92-93; the letter to Nehru (November 05, 1946) is on pp. 78-79.
  37. Speech at Prayer Meeting, March 21, 1947, CWMG, Vol. LXXXVII, p. 137.
  38. Ibid, pp. 126, 132, 135, 140, 145.
  39. Ibid, pp. 168-69, 173. See also, Dennis Dalton, Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action (New York, Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 161.
  40. Hardiman, p. 186.
  41. CWMG, Vol. LXXXIX, pp. 150-54.
  42. Ibid. Cf. a first-person account of the time: "The riots would not have stopped easily in Calcutta but for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He undertook a fast unto death in one of the worse-affected localities of the city. No one thought the fast would work. Some of our elders in school were openly sarcastic. But it did work. In fact, it electrified the city. The detractors, of course, continued to say that had he not fasted, the Muslims would have been taught a tougher lesson. But even they were silenced by the turn of events." Ashis Nandy, "The Death of an Empire", in Sarai Reader (Delhi: CSDS and The Society for Old and New Media), No. 02 (2002), p. 17.
  43. Acknowledging the work of Gandhi in Bengal, Lord Mountbatten wrote to him on August 26, 1947: "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. As a serving officer, as well as an administrator, may I be allowed to pay my tribute to the One Man Boundary Force, not forgetting his Second in Command, Mr. Suhrawardy." CWMG, Vol. LXXXIX, f. n., p. 116.
  44. Hardiman, p. 187.
  45. Ibid.
  46. CWMG, Vol. LXXXIX, p. 169.
  47. Ibid, p. 246.
  48. Ibid, p. 261.
  49. Ibid, pp. 184-85.
  50. Ibid, pp. 169-70.
  51. Ibid, p. 384. It is instructive to recall Gandhi’s observations in Young India (December 30, 1926) in his tribute to Swami Shraddhanand, who had died at an assassin’s hand: "Death is at any time blessed, but it is twice blessed for a warrior who dies for his cause, i.e., truth. Death is no fiend, he is the truest of friends. He delivers us from agony. He helps us against ourselves. He ever gives us new chances, new hopes. He is like sleep, a sweet restorer. Yet it is customary to mourn when a friend dies. The custom has no operation when the death is that of a martyr. I cannot, therefore, mourn over this death. He and his are to be envied." CWMG, Vol. XXXII, pp. 473-74.
  52. Ibid, pp. 512, 176, 186.
  53. Ibid, pp. 176, 186.
  54. Ibid, p. 181.
  55. Ibid, p. 339.
  56. CWMG, Vol. LXXXV, p. 367.
  57. CWMG, Vol. LXXXX, p. 409.
  58. Ibid, p. 417.
  59. Ibid, p. 415.
  60. Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom: An Autobiographical Narrative (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1975), p. 194.
  61. CWMG, Vol. LXXXX, Appendix V(A), pp.550-55.
  62. Ibid, pp. 436-37; Appendix V(B), pp.555-56.
  63. Ibid, p. 437.
  64. Ibid.
  65. Ibid, p. 453.
  66. Pandey, pp. 143-44.
  67. CWMG, Vol. LXXXX, p. 444.
  68. Ibid, p. 506, 527.
  69. Ibid, p. 536.
  70. Quoted in Dalton, p. 167. Dalton himself observes here that there was "no higher tribute to his life than the impact of his death, his final statement for swaraj".
  71. Sarkar, p. 438.
  72. Hardiman, p. 190.
  73. Interview with Qazi Jalil Abbasi, Delhi, 31 January 1995, in Pandey, p. 145.
  74. Chatterjee, p. 352.
  75. Hardiman, pp. 191-95.
  76. Pande, pp. 229-30.
  77. Ramachandra Guha, Why Gandhi Matters (London: The London School of Economics and Political Science, 2011), pp. 5, 9.
Source: Gandhi Marg, Vol. 34, No. 2 & 3, July-December 2012

* MALABIKA PANDE is Associate Professor, Department of History, Faculty of Social Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, UP. Email: