January 30, 2022
Who is Gandhi?
I am afraid, one of these days, a young boy or girl may ask the question.
Undoubtedly, the best contribution that India has made to the world after Shri Buddha is Mahatma Gandhi. Undeniably, again, he still stands as the numero uno socio-political activist that India has ever seen. Indeed, his martyrdom, more than seven decades ago, deprived India of the most valuable guidance the then budding democracy could have received.
Eternal Gandhi memorial in Houston was established in 2002 and the most recent news from it is about a grant of rupees three and half crores from the Fort Bend County of Houston which would go a long way in the construction of the first museum on the Mahatma in the US with an intention to preserve and promote Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy and ideals.
If Houston honoured the Mahatma in 2002, Johannesburg did the same in 2003. They erected a statue of the young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in Johannesburg in South Africa. The bronze statue, made by famous sculptor Tinka Christopher, stands on a five meter high plinth with benches constructed around it. This statue which is very different from the statues of Mahatma that the Indians would have been familiar with exhibits the young barrister Gandhi in full suit and in an advocates gown.
Eternal Gandhi Memorial in Houston, USA
Statue at Johannesburg
Pietermaritzburg Railway Station and the Plaque erected in it
It was on June 7, 1893, the young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as a lawyer travelled from Durban to Pretoria. Though he had a valid first class ticket, he was thrown out of the cabin at Pietermaritzburg station because the discriminatory apartheid laws barred a non-white travelling in the first class compartments reserved only for the whites. The South Africans honour him even today by preserving the railway station as it is with many symbols of the Mahatma’s ejection from the train. Even today, trains en route are stopped for fifteen minutes helping people to get down and visit different symbols of Gandhi, including the chamber of the station master where Gandhi registered his complaint after being thrown out. His jolting experience, at this railway station, which started the transformation of the lawyer Gandhi into Mahatma, was complete by the time he returned to India after twenty-one years of public service in South Africa.
In 2015, a statue of the Mahatma was erected in the parliament square, Westminster, London to commemorate his return from South Africa to India.
Recently, the Government of India sanctioned 1200 crores for renovation of Sabarmati Ashram, something which no government in the past had done. It is from Sabarmati Ashram that the Mahatma started his Dandi march. Magan Nivas, different designs of charkhas are exhitied here; Upasana Mandir, a prayer ground; Hriday Kunj, the Mahatama stayed here with Kasturba from 1918 to 1930 and when the Britishers took over the ashram, he vowed never to return till India became independent; Vinoba or Mira Kutir, Vinoba Bhave and Madeleine, renamed Mira Behn by the Mahatma, lived here; Nandini, the guest house; Udyog Mandir, a temple of industry; Somnath Chattralaya, a cluster of rooms for inmates; Teacher’s Nivas, rooms for the Mahatma’s associates; Painting Gallery, eight life size paintings displayed; library and archivers, with 34000 manuscripts, 200 files of photographs, 35000 books, 6000 photo negatives and other items of interest associated with the Mahatma are situated in the ashram. One only hopes that no modern architect or engineer wipes out the peace and tranquility of the ashram as it existed. 1200 crores is a temptation for cement and concrete. Though there are MG Roads and Gandhi statues in different cities in different states, there are no worthwhile establishments that promote the ideals of Mahatma. Sadly the maximum that the political leaderships would do is to remember the Mahatma on second October and thirtieth January every year to commemorate his birth and death.
What are written in a couple of paragraphs hereafter are products of pure imagination, indeed a fantasy. There is no truth in what is described. It is impleaded that the readers forgive the writer for expressing a forgone possibility by bringing up such a probability.
Five thousand acres of land in Porbandar houses a Gandhi Study Centre on Non-violence with a university, schools and several research sections under it. Hundreds of youths in the country come and stay in the Study Centre to do research on Gandhi’s idealism and convictions alongside finding new paths for promotion of non-violence. It has different institutions researching on newer methods of promoting rural development, women empowerment, poverty alleviation, classless society, Indian culture and above all, non-violence in everyday life. It attracts thousands of learners from across the world. It also gets the services of the best of the thinkers, speakers and writers available. It conducts several seminars, workshops and conferences on global issues where Gandhian thoughts would be of great use. It has different pavilions for each of the states which sponsor, funds and do independent activities for research and development. Great care is taken to avoid repetition of similar activities by different states and the Government of India.
The Gandhi Study Centre on Non-violence is financially supported by many funding agencies from different countries in addition to the funds provided by different state governments and the union government of India. It has a lot of voluntary workers who are given one year appointments for working in the institution leading different types of research on Gandhian idealism and non-violence and doing their field work in different parts of the country. The Centre also connects itself with several Gandhi museums and study centres, established not only in India but also across the world. The Centre allows different institutions from different places to affiliate them to it as long as such institutions are doing research and development in areas associated with non-violence.
There is a replica of the Pietermaritzburg railway station within the campus which is built on the models of the Pietermaritzburg station between Pretoria and Durban where it stops for some time to visit the symbols of Gandhi set in it. There is a small Indigo plantation, indeed a replica of one from Champaran where people could go in and see the house where Gandhi stayed during those days of his resistance movement in Bihar. At one corner of the land, there was a model of Sabarmati Ashram constructed and a footpath of 385 meters; representing the distance of 385 kilometers that the Mahatma had walked then; at the end of which there was a lake named Dandi with the statues of people in batches of seventy-eight recreating the Dandi march the Mahatma had had with seventy-eight freedom fighters then; from the Ashram to the end of the pathway the enactment of salt making to commemorate the Mahatma’s resistance against the then British salt monopoly in March-April 1930. There are different other stations of importance of the Mahatma’s life.
The three paragraphs provided above are only a fantasy as stated earlier. The truth remains that though the Mahatma’s name is given to several institutions, of course this is an addition to names for roads and his bust in street corners, ironically, there is nothing significant that is being done to promote Mahatma’s idealism and associated convictions including some of the rare insights that he brought up during the freedom struggle. It is very disappointing that we do not have a memorial of suitable stature for the Father of the Nation and his belief in non-violence. Without blaming anybody or by blaming the political class of the country, one has to declare that no significant academic institution of excellence is available for studies in Gandhian idealism and convictions, barring some departments or study papers in universities or colleges. His busts in street corners and roads named after him are insignificant though they may express the love and affection of the common human for the Mahatma.
The second half of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century had plenty of liberation struggles led by famous leaders. All the same, the Indian freedom struggle led by the Mahatma is very different from all of them because of the philosophic strategy that the leader used. Non-cooperation with non-violence as the basic principle of the fight for liberation was Gandhi’s contribution to the whole world. No doubt, the concept of non-cooperation had been taken from Henry David Thoreau, the American poet and non-violent resistant who was arrested and jailed in 1843 for not paying poll tax as a strategy to oppose Mexican war and slavery. Of course, he was released from jail because his aunt paid the tax. The Mahatma did not have any aunt to pay and he would not have wanted anybody else to pay when he exercised non-cooperation against the British government and its rules. So, he remained in jail which inspired thousands to non-cooperate and go to jail. What makes Indian freedom struggle and its leader, the Mahatma stand out from all other liberation struggles is this philosophy of non-violence for any form of resistance.
The second best contribution that the Mahatma made to the world is his rejection of colonialism. He did not accept the right of any country to occupy another country and a colony out of it and exploit the riches of the country making the people of the colonised country slaves who had no right to question the usurpers of their own mother land. A few years of life in England and his two decades of life in South Africa gave him the conceptual clarity on colonialism and its associated unacceptable value practices. This led him to believe that he had to liberate his country from colonialism. The best about it is that he also believed that his country should not win freedom through the methods adopted by African and South American countries where they used armed rebellions. He lived in peace, and therefore, he was able to communicate his message through his life.
Apart from non-cooperation through non-violence and rejection of colonialism, the Mahatma also committed himself to the emancipation of the poor and the lower classes. This indeed, probably, was a buildup on what he experienced in South Africa. He witnessed in India the same kind of ill-treatment and discrimination that he experienced in South Africa being meted out by the upper castes to the poorer classes as untouchables. He committed himself on the side of the latter. He did not have any hesitation to declare at the top of his voice that he was on the side of the lower classes and that if his first fight was to liberate his country, his second fight was to liberate the lower classes from the shackles of systems that allowed the upper classes to ill-treat them.
Perhaps, the best is to refer to a statement from late Martin Luther King Jr. who was also assassinated for working against racism. He said that if humanity had to progress, Gandhi was inescapable because he lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. He also added that the world may ignore him at its own risk.