January 30, will always remain etched in the memory of the people of India .It was on this day in 1948, that Mahatma Gandhi, our beloved Father of the Nation, was brutally gunned down as he was going for his evening prayer meeting at Birla House. That night in a voice choked with emotion, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in an address to the nation said, “ The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere”. There could not have been words more accurate to reflect the pain and anguish that millions of people, both in India and across the world, felt at that terrible moment of history. Today, which is traditionally observed as Martyrs Day, as the nation remembered the Mahatma, a large section of the people of India had this one sentiment in mind: The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
Millions of women, men and children across the length and breadth of the country were out on the streets today, on the anniversary of his martyrdom! They were holding hands to form long human chains and were enveloped in silent prayer. They were singing songs of freedom and staging street plays. They were reading from the Constitution and delivering passionate speeches. At 5.17 pm, the time when the Mahatma was assassinated, they stood still in silent prayer. Never before since that fateful day in 1948, has the nation bonded so closely with one heart and one voice saying, “We are the people of India”, but sadly adding, “ The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today”.
When a man brandishes a gun on the protesting crowds and brazenly opens fire and injures a student, it reflects much of what is happening in the country today. Ahimsa (non-violence) was the corner stone of Gandhi’s philosophy of freedom and peace. So when this gunman opens fire chanting, “ Yeh lo azaadi” and police reports reveal that the gunman’s social media posts indicate that ‘he wants to emulate Godse’, the assassin of the Mahatma, there is cause for concern. When a Union Minister provokes a crowd saying, “ Desh ke gaddaron ko”, and the violent crowd responds, “ Goli maaron saalon ko” ( What do the protesters deserve? To be shot dead!) If violence can be mainstreamed in such a blatant manner, can the doctrine of Ahimsa stand the test of time? The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
That Nathuram Godse is being suggested as a national icon is placing the country at an abysmal depth. A senior member of the ruling party called Godse a true patriot. Another member wants to rename a city with the assassin’s name; besides, some of the most powerful rulers of the country, are shown paying homage to his statue. As a nation we have stooped to a new low. The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
Satyagraha was the hallmark of the Mahatma’s efforts to give India freedom from colonial rule. The historic Dandi Salt March of March 12, 1930 reverberated throughout the world. At a time when there was no social media and the television were not even in one’s wildest imagination, Gandhi believed that in order to attain one’s goals, people had to come out and protest, even if because of that struggle one would have to pay a price. Just as Swaraj was the birthright of every India, so was Satyagraha. In the end, it was this potent weapon, the force of truth and the ability to protest come what may, which brought the nation freedom. Today, as millions of Indians are protesting non-violently, every effort is being made to stop their protests, to stifle their voices, to detain and even arrest them, to fabricate false charges like sedition against them, and to even kill some of them. No one who protests is spared. The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
Gandhi believed in dialogue. When those who were victims of violence and in pain like in Noakhali, Gandhi went and listened to the people, especially to the survivors. Interestingly enough, when Anna Hazare, a few years ago launched his campaign and protest against corruption in the country, Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister of India, had the humility to send emissaries to listen to the protestors in order to find an amicable way out. Today however, a scandalous arrogance seems to have got hold of the ruling class. They are certainly not interested in listening or dialoguing with the protestors. On the other hand, every effort is being made to portray the protestors as anti-nationals or people who have been bought-up in order to protest. The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
The Constitution of India is the only sacred book of the Indian people. The constituent assembly represented India’s pluralism, intellectual brilliance and visionary leadership. They gave the people a Constitution that represented the very best of India’s secular and democratic framework. In the Sabarmati Ashram which he founded, Gandhi had one overarching philosophy and spirituality – Ishwar Allah tere naam, sab ko sanmati de bhagwaan. He was inspired by John Henry Newman’s quest for truth in the soul-stirring prayer, Lead Kindly Light. One of his favourite hymns was Abide with Me, which was almost dropped from this year’s Beating of the Retreat. In a cruel but systematic manner, the wealth of India’s pluralism and the sanctity of the Constitution are being destroyed. The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
Freedom to preach, practise and propagate one’s religion is a great gift given to the people of India, whilst maintaining the secular credentials of the country. However now, in a highly manipulative way, religion is being used to divide people and even to discriminate against them. In Gandhi’s Ashram, everyone found a home in keeping with the Indian tradition of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is one family), a phrase found in both, in the Maha Upanishad and the Rig Veda. It is also engraved in the entrance hall of the Parliament of India. In a very calculated and devious manner, a large section of India’s population is made to feel unwanted and excluded only because of the faith they profess. Citizenship to illegal immigrants is sought to be conferred, not because of the fact that they have fled another country but on the basis of the religion they follow. The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
Gandhi also believed that freedom of speech and expression is fundamental for the healthy growth and progress of any nation. He refused to stay silent. He wrote and he spoke. For him, communicating the truth was essential in his quest for liberty. The tragedy today is that hate speeches and lies have gained preponderance. So when a comedian dared to take on in full public view, one who spews venom and falsehood all the time, it is the comedian who is punished with a fiat from a minister of the government, even if the act was on a private airline and both parties were private citizens. Ironically enough, when government ministers and officials display even worse behaviour in public, they get away without even a reprimand. The Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today.
The ‘Mahatma’ is ultimately the soul of India, the soul of every citizen, the soul that has been born in the lives of millions of our country women and men and who continue to yearn for the cherished values of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, so emphatically enunciated in the Preamble of our Constitution. The soul which sees its aspirations emblazoned on our national emblem, Satyameva Jayate (Truth Triumphs). A soul which sings the national anthem in full gusto and in unison, as the tricolor flutters high above. A soul which is in deep anguish witnessing in great pain how the Mahatma continues to be murdered in India today; but above all, the soul who with great courage decides that the time is now to stop this murder!
(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights & peace activist/writer. Contact: email@example.com )(Published on 03rd February 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 06)