By Ankita Gupta
It has been 70 years since Mahatma Gandhi passed away. India celebrates Shaheed Diwas (Martyr’s Day) on 30th January, Bapu’s death anniversary to pay respect to the victims who died fighting for freedom. India remembers their sacrifice. However, does it respect them?
Did Gandhi die for a lost cause?
Mahatma Gandhi worked relentlessly to liberate India from foreign abrasions and internal divisions. He gave his body and soul to the mission. That is how he became Mahatma (Great Souled) Gandhi from Mohandas Gandhi. Nathuram Godse, a right-wing supporter of Hindu nationalism killed Gandhi, by shooting him in the chest thrice at point blank range. However, as Venkita Kalyanam rightly pointed out, political parties are taking roundabout shots at Gandhi every day, by abandoning his teachings.
Tushar Gandhi, descendant of Bapu said that judging by the present state of the country, his great-grandfather would not have been pleased were he alive. “He’d have launched another movement to liberate rural India from its fate and shaken them (out of) their complacency and shaken up the administration,” he added. Historian Ramachandra Guha shares similar views: “If he were to be reborn and to return to his homeland, I think he’d have decidedly mixed feelings.”
India is growing at a rapid pace. As per the Economic Survey 2018, circulated in the Parliament, the nation is all set to become world’s fastest-growing major economy. At what cost though? We have openly flouted the ideologies and philosophies of which Gandhi was a proponent.
Equal distribution of wealth
Mahatma Gandhi espoused the theory of ‘voluntary poverty’ to achieve a more uniform distribution of wealth. To him, possession was a crime. The unprecedented rise of the affluent people was one of his major worries. That is exactly what has happened today.
In India, the income inequality gap is widening with each passing year, According to a survey conducted by Oxfam, the richest 1% held 58% of the country’s cumulative wealth, with the top 10% population holding 73% of the wealth. This alarming figure translates to the fact that 67% crore citizens, who are on the bottom rung of the economy, saw their wealth rise by just 1%. Nisha Agarwal, the Oxfam India CEO stressed, “The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system. Those working hard, growing food for the country, building infrastructure, working in factories are struggling to fund their child’s education, buy medicines for family members and manage two meals a day. The growing divide undermines democracy and promotes corruption and cronyism.“
Tolerance and non-violence were the hallmarks of Gandhi’s preaching. He spent a lifetime fighting against racial bias. “True religion is not a narrow dogma. It is not external observance. It is faith in God and living in the presence of God. It means faith in a future life, in truth and Ahimsa. Religion is a matter of the heart,” taught the Mahatma. He worshipped God in the form of truth.
Gandhi argued that an independent India must be built on the foundations of non-violent and democratic politics. However, the socio-political culture of contemporary India has a different story to tell. High profile political figures are frequently casting spiteful slurs at the minorities. Cases of ‘love jihad’ are cropping up each day with increasing number of body counts. Extremist organizations are brainwashing the masses to perpetuate their infernal ideas. Recently, Muslim students chopped off the hands of a Christian professor for setting a grammar question using the name Muhammad. Muslim minorities have become victims of vigilante attacks and targeted by Hindu extremist parties. According to the World Watch List 2017, India ranked as the 15th most dangerous place to practice a minority faith, a steep decline from the 31st rank it held four years ago.
Gandhi had fought for the rights of the Dalits (or Harijans) whom he called the children of God. His acceptance though has not been shared by modern ‘civil’ society. On January 21st, 2018 the Dalit community were protesting a ’caste wall’ in Kerala that barred them from setting foot inside the village temple. The establishment of the wall forced the Dalit villagers to take the longer route to collect water and deprived their children of a playground. Despite conducting a peaceful protest, the police evicted the Dalits and arrested an activist.
Gender equality and rights
Bapu taught us to wholeheartedly accept those who are different from us. Even though there is a sea of controversy surrounding this, evidence suggests that Gandhi liked men. He is an exemplar of the fact that a person’s sexual preference is no reproduction of his merit. Sadly, India has not been able to decipher this lesson yet. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, established in the colonial era, which criminalizes homosexuality is yet to be repealed.
Gandhi also spoke strongly against child marriages, gender violence and the dowry system. Tushar Gandhi highlights that even now when these crimes occur, you hear voices that in a way blame the women for their fate.
Gandhi also believed that women are natural leaders. However, the representation of women in the policy framework is critical. As per the Economic Survey, only 9% of the MLA’s in the Government of India are women.
Bapu’s relevance in modern society
It is now, when India is rallying from communalism and intolerance, that we need Gandhi’s teachings most. The need for keeping his ideologies alive, when they are being continuously attacked, has expanded profoundly. Praising the philosophies of Bapu, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan urged us: “Let not the killers of Gandhi possess him.” Speaking at a commemorative function organized by the Delhi University, Union Minister Salman Khurshid summed up, “If love, truth, friendship are relevant today, Gandhiji is also relevant.”
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