It’s done and dusted, Mahatma Gandhi’s sesquicentennial birth anniversary. So we may now conveniently forget him and return to our humdrum lives. After all, no less than the PM has pompously declared rural India to be Open Defecation Free (ODF)! What more can we expect of the Mahatma? Just a minute. Are railway tracks a part of rural or urban India? Are they, among others, ODF?
This 2nd October I was livid with my fellow Gandhians. A year ago I had said to them that this sesquicentennial was a golden opportunity to tell people about the relevance and importance of the Mahatma. It was not to be; so I lost my cool and said that we ourselves were the real assassins, because of our apathy and passivity.
I nevertheless shared my thoughts in the shadow of his statue in Phoolbagh, Kanpur’s central park. I chose to identify 5 core values of his, to which I subsequently added two more, taking the count to 7. Since I was speaking in Hindi I chose words beginning with the letter S, for easier memory recall.
I have classified them as the Mahatma’s Seven Sisters. They are 1. Satya (Truth) 2. Sauhard (Harmony) 3. Saadgi (Simplicity) 4. Samay Palan (Punctuality) 5. Satyagrah (An act of non-violent civil resistance, as per wordsmith Shashi Tharoor) 6. Swaraj (Self-rule) and Swachchta (Sanitation). I shall briefly eulogise the Seven Sisters.
1. Satya (Truth): As I said in my previous article, truth was central to Gandhiji’s personal and political life. He would sometimes go to extremes, so as not to compromise on truth. In today’s world, so easily influenced by fake news, alternate facts a la Trump, dubious data and false claims, Gandhiji’s quest for truth should be like a lodestone for all who profess to be his followers.
2. Sauhard (Harmony): Not just in India, but all over the world, people are looking at the “other” with suspicion – be they migrants, Muslims, evangelicals or jihadis. Respect for the other’s beliefs, culture, dress, diet etc is severely stressed. Harmony has given way to hatred and suspicion. More than ever today we need to promote social and communal harmony.
3. Saadgi (Simplicity): British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had scoffed at the “half naked fakir”. The latter had the last laugh. The man avoided every form of ostentation, and was not even comfortable with the title of Mahatma accorded to him. Jesus Christ’s exhortation to “be as wise as serpents and simple as doves” (Mat 10:16) is most apt for him.
4. Samay Palan (Punctuality): We know that Indian Standard Time is jokingly referred to as Indian Stretchable Time, because of our penchant for being late. It is an insult to those who come on time.
5. Satyagrah (Civil Resistance): This was Gandhiji’s most potent weapon against the British Empire over which the sun never set. Tell that to the Brits struggling with Brexit today! Sadly, as Martin Luther King Jr said at Gandhiji’s 10th death anniversary in 1958 – we have acquiesced, adjusted and compromised. We have lost the stamina to stand for truth and justice. Even our “revolutionary” youth just revolve around their mobile phones. Revolutions don’t take place by pressing the like or forward button!
6. Swaraj (Self-Rule): The word has often been interpreted to mean Home Rule; whereas the man really meant “self-rule”, where people were the harbingers of their own destiny. Sadly, the White Colonialists have been replaced by the Brown Bureaucrats. The Iron Frame controls us with an iron fist, or a possible slap on the face. The 73rd amendment to the Constitution on Panchayati Raj in the villages and the 74th for urban areas have either been watered down or not implemented. Hence the people are not the rulers, they are the ruled.
7. Swachchta (Sanitation): I deliberately left this for the last, because it was not a core value, it was incidental to the circumstances of the time. The upper castes expected the lower caste “untouchables” to clean up the filth generated by them. Environmental awareness had not ye assumed major proportions. Unfortunately the Govt’s Swachch Bharat Abhiyan has not addressed the critical issue of disrespect for others. Photo ops of politicians using long handle brooms to sweep dry leaves actually leaves us wondering if this is what Gandhiji meant?
The final blow on 2nd October came with the Bollywood movie release “War” that attracted larger crowds than the apostle of non-violence. It was the last nail in the Mahatma’s coffin. The sesquicentennial is indeed done and dusted; but Gandhiji’s Seven Sisters are crying out in anguish. Is anybody listening?
(The writer is a Kanpur based Gandhian.)
(Published on 14th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 42)