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119. A venture in faith
Early in the morning on Wednesday last Gandhiji announced to his party an important decision. He had decided to disperse his party detailing each member, including the ladies, to settle down in one affected village and make himself or herself hostage of the safety and security of the Hindu minority of that village. They must be pledged to protect with their lives, if necessary, the Hindu population of that village.
He was going to bury himself in East Bengal until such time that the Hindus and Mussalmans learnt to live together in harmony and peace. He would deprive himself of the services of all his companions and fend for himself with whatever assistance he could command locally.
That evening he explained his idea further to the party. A discussion followed in which Shri Thakkar Bapa and Shrimati Sucheta Kripalani also took part. His Ahimsa would be incomplete, he argued, unless he took that step. Either Ahimsa is the law of life or it is not. A friend used to say that the Ahimsa Sutra in Patanjali, Ahimsa pratishthayam tatsannidhau vairatyagah ( अहिंसा प्रतिष्ठायां तत्संन्निधौ वैरत्यागः। ) was a mistake and needed to be amended and the saying Ahimsa paramo dharmah ( अहिंसा परमो धर्मः। ) ought to be read as Himsa paramo dharmah ( हिंसा परमो धर्मः। ) in other words, violence, not non-violence was the supreme law. If at the crucial moment he lost faith in the law of non-vio­lence, he must accept the deceased friend's amendment which appeared to him to be absurd.
"I know the women of Bengal better than probably the Bengalis do. Today they feel crushed and helpless. The sacrifice of myself and my companions would at least teach them the art of dying with self-respect. It might open too the eyes of the oppressors and melt their hearts. I do not say that the moment my eyes are closed theirs will open. But that will be the ultimate result, I have not the slightest doubt. If Ahimsa disappears, Hindu Dharma disappears."
"The issue is not religious but political. It is not a movement against the Hindus, but against the Congress," remarked one member of the party.
"Do you not see that they think that the Congress is a purely Hindu body? And do not forget that I have no water-tight compartments such as religious, political and others. Let us not lose ourselves in a forest of words. How to solve the tangle—violently or non-violently—is the question. In other words, has my method efficacy today?"
Another member asked whether it was right to invite people to return to their villages under the prevailing conditions which involved a considerable amount of risk. Gandhiji's reply was that there was no harm in asking them to return to their villages if the Muslims of that village collectively guaranteed their safety and their guarantee was backed by one good Hindu and one good Mussalman, who would stay with them in that village and protect them by laying down their lives, if necessary. If there was that much guarantee, the refugees ought to return to their homes and face whatever risk there might be. If they had not the courage to live on these terms, Hinduism was doomed to disappear from East Bengal. The question of East Bengal is not one of Bengal alone. The battle for India is today being decided in East Bengal. Today Mussalmans are being taught by some that Hindu religion is an abomi­nation and therefore forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam a merit. It would save to Islam at least the descen­dants of those who were .forcibly converted. If retaliation is to rule the day, the Hindus, in order to win, will have to outstrip the Mussalmans in the nefarious deeds that the latter are reported to have done. The United Nations set out to fight Hitler with his weapons and ended by out- Hitlering Hitler.
"How can we reassure the people when the miscreants are still at large in these villages?" was the last question asked of him.
"That is why," replied Gandhiji, "I have insisted upon one good Mussalman standing security along with a good Hindu for the safety and security of those who might be returning. The former will have to be provided by the Muslim Leaguers who form the Bengal Government."
In a letter to a friend he wrote from Dattapara: "The work I am engaged in here may be my last act. If I return from here alive and unscathed, it will be like a new birth to me. My Ahimsa is being tried here through and through as it was never before."
Khajirkhil, 16-11-'46
Harijan, 24-11-1946