By Prarthana Mitra
History sings of a great many martyrs who delivered India to independence. Some vehemently opposed prayers, pleas, and petitions as a form of struggle. Born in 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wasn’t one of them. He came with a unique resilient spirit, which he called non-violence, that went on to inspire thousands to take on the draconian Salt Laws at Dandi during Satyagraha. It is also what gave non-violent and indigenous forms of protest so much power when he spun cloth instead of languishing in prison.
A father and a saint
The Mahatma‘s spartan eloquence, life and actions first made him the mouthpiece of his generation, and only later, the father of the nation. And going by how widely and prominently his life’s teachings and career in the freedom struggle features in college curriculums all over the world, people clearly still subscribe to his idea of non-violence. At least in theory.
Every year on October 2, we celebrate the ideologue but fail to reconcile with the increasing violence and intolerance around and perhaps within ourselves. Singing a litany of praises while rejecting the universality of his teachings makes for a very skewed worldview. Gandhiji did not simply fight for freedom; he foresaw the postcolonial struggles, worked towards abolishing untouchability and spoke out against the hegemony of the caste system. He preached communal harmony along secular lines, stressing that God resides in each of us and all religions speak of a singular power. Ahimsa was his weapon, civil disobedience his strategy, and with it, he charged forward in 1942, launching the final struggle for liberation from the British – the Quit India Movement.
His philosophies resonate with people who may not have the remotest idea of his childhood, his scholastic life, his tryst with apartheid in South Africa, his legal vocation – all of which played a role in his transformation into the fountainhead of Indian politics and protest.
To commemorate his teachings, the United Nations General Assembly affixed October 2 as the International Day of Non-Violence, to “disseminate the message of non-violence, through education and public awareness”.
Today, Gandhi Jayanti is celebrated across the globe in ways that we have come to recognise and grown comfortable with. Biopics and films come like clockwork on cable stations. Documentaries about his historic meetings with Leo Tolstoy, letters to Hitler and Tagore, are revisited and recalled with a special fervour. Historians and political theorists assemble to talk about the relevance of Gandhian principles in a world that tends towards political and religious extremism. And politicians garland the hundred odd statues of our beloved bapu across the nation, while turning a blind eye to mob violence, heinous gender crimes and caste-related lynching. And yet, nobody can repudiate his significance, when people from all walks of life unite in their celebration of this thought leader, decades after the battle is lost and won.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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