BY SAMHITA BAROOAH
This is for all those who have literally grown up with Hind Swaraj, My Experiments with Truth, Early Life. Mahatma Gandhi was a household charm for some families more than anything else. First honesty, then self-reliance, gradually non-violence and then probably the far-fetched dream of peace became our life goals for some who felt that change was inevitable to be free in India. We idealised the Gandhian spirit which fuelled the actions, thoughts and perspectives of our elders who believed in the Gandhian dream of a free and self-reliant India. Our homes had pictures of Gandhiji with a smile on his face. We were fascinated by the three monkeys which depicted restraint from seeing, speaking, hearing all that was untrue and non-violent. But with time Gandhian context became a subject of scepticism and in due course got obsolete. Gandhiji has become an election gimmick, human development scheme for employment for the poor, textile brand, financial symbol and an icon of peace and non-violence in the world platform.
Every 2nd October the country wakes up to some of the more relevant quotations from Gandhiji, children dress up as the naked fakir with spectacles and a stick, Nation gets a holiday and the world remembers the unbelievable fact that a man like Gandhi walked on earth more than a century ago as certified by none other than Albert Einstein. Gandhian ideals are rooted into every sphere of human life in India. His actions, political moves and simple way of life have become normative diktats for most of the population in rural, urban and semi-urban contexts of Indian sub-continent. In fact the Mahatma’s presence can be also felt in the civil rights movements in America, Africa and also in parts of Europe and South East Asia. Gandhiji battled with power most importantly and disapproved any move which concentrated power.
Power which resonates from slavery, intolerance, indignity, inhibition, racism, cultural chauvinism, religious differences and colonialism were the most critical adversaries when it came to the self-made Mahatma. His life was a struggle of self-refection, restraint and reconstruction with the every passing moment when he lived. He was a legend whose relevance is contextual in every social, political, economic and legal sphere. In current era of majority politics in the country, Gandhi has become a state mascot for only cleanliness and sanitation which has great importance but that is not enough. While Gandhian values of cleanliness, physical labour and healthy life are relevant to every human being in the world, peace, non-violence and truth are also the most important ideals which the Mahatma propagated. Indian leaders have been always maintaining a peaceful process, dialogue, deliberation and diplomacy when it comes to the discontented neighbourhood which affects India profusely. But in recent years the nationalistic debates are funnelling a climate of offensive action to defend the country’s honour, pride and prestige. Being non-violent is no longer a constitutional right but it has become obsolete with diverse forms of war technology placed at the cost of tax-payer’s money.
Middle class tax payers in India thinks that a war is like a weekend cricket match which can be won or lost either at the stroke of a batsman or with the fall of wickets. There are chilling comments across social media, print and electronic media about how Indian soldiers have struck the terrorists or the terrorists have attacked the armed forces to provoke the civilians’ psyche further justifying war. Somehow these days Gandhiji’s non-violence does not seem to knock at the doors of war loving Indians. For the middle class all that matters is the bonus before durga puja, diwali, eid and dusherra which can be supplemented with a few bombshells of warheads destroying the enemies outside the territory of India. Gandhian ideals of truth and non-violence doesn’t seem to sink deep into the news bites, snapshots or newsroom debates which dominate public opinion these days. It really does not matter how many children, elderly, women, men gets maimed, mutilated, displaced, disrobed and degraded in either sides of the borders. Peace remains a subject of untouchability in the present era of war mongers. Hence Gandhiji is revisited only in parts to wash off the dirt of human annihilation. His ideals of non-violence and peace does not seem to be the flavour of the month for the nation loving, tax-paying middle class Indians who takes pride in forging bloody wars with disgruntled neighbours, excluded communities and socially marginalised sections of a so-called civilised and independent country.
Gandhian context cannot be sidelined at this critical juncture of nuclear war threats which is looming large in the entire Indian sub-continent. War brings misery, misogyny and mishaps which penetrate through centuries and politics of hate cripples human society. We have glaring examples in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Japan and even in India during the past. War will only have devastating impact on people, ecosystems, social fabric, economy and infrastructure. It bleeds much more than it heals. The scars on humanity can never be removed from the trigger happy, nuclear bombing craze of militarised nations. Yet the policy decisions and strategic moves of India seem to be averse to exploring the alternatives to war. If Gandhiji’s non-violence is not revisited now, then when will it be reconsidered for ensuring peace and stability in the South Asian Region? Let us not glorify violence of any form in this century and revisit Gandhiji’s non-violence as the wheel of resilience. Swach Bharat also needs Shant Bharat.