Gandhi's Human Touch
- Lecture by Professor Madhu Dandawate
My colleague, Inder Gujralji, Dr. Vivekanandan, Ladies and gentlemen,
To me it is indeed a privilege to have the opportunity to deliver JP Memorial Lecture on "Gandhi's Human Touch", a subject which is very close to my heart. I think, in the present world, full of hatred, bitterness, cruelty, racial discrimination, communal tensions, inequities, human degradation and erosion of values. Gandhi is more relevant today than at any other time. In the context of the present situation, I strongly feel that there is an imperative need to recapture the spirit and human touch of Gandhi. While I speak on the subject, I am reminded of my recent address at the institute of Applied Manpower Research, in which I spoke on planning in India. I said that in our country, if we have any respect for Gandhi, we must have planning, whose base is social and human and the apex is economic. I deliberately avoided the term 'human face', because in these days of modern cosmetics, face can he human, and yet the soul and heart can be cruel.
Begin from the End
I just ask a question to myself: From where should I begin the subject of my speech? I have made up my mind. I will begin from the end.
Dark Calcutta & Glittering Delhi
Many of you must have seen the famous Attenborough's film Gandhi. When I saw the film my immediate reaction was that if I were to produce that film, I would have begun it in a different way. Those of you who have seen the film must have noted that it began with the scene of assassination of Gandhi. I am sure, from the point of historicity as well as excellence and aesthetics of art, there could have been a better beginning. I would have projected a flash back of two extreme events of 1947. One scene would have been the darkness of Calcutta, where Gandhi was giving the healing touch to the society that was torn by Hindu-Muslim riots. And the second flash back would have been the glittering lights of Delhi on the midnight of 14th August 1947, awaiting the dawn of freedom on 15th August 1947. Glittering lights, loud slogans and a poetic assertion of Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who said: "At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps India will awake to life and freedom and a soul of a nation long suppressed will find utterance." I remember the darkness of Calcutta. I remember the agony of Gandhi. A few weeks prior to Independence Day of 1947, an emissary of Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel was sent to Gandhi at Calcutta, who was working for peace and harmony among the Hindus and Muslims. The emissary reached at midnight. He said: "I have brought an important letter for you from Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel." "Have you taken your food?", asked Gandhi. When the emissary said " No", Gandhi served him food. And after food, Gandhi opened the letter from Nehru and Patel. They had written: "Bapu you are the father of the nation. 15th August 1947, will be the first Independence Day and we want you to come to Delhi to give us the blessings." Gandhi said: " How stupid!. When Bengal is burning, Hindus and Muslims are killing each other and I hear their cries of the agony in the darkness of Calcutta, how can I go to Delhi with the glittering lights?" These words are the heart-rending words of Gandhi. He said "I have to live here for the establishment of peace in Bengal and if need be, I have to give up my life for ensuring that there is harmony and peace." The emissary started for his return journey in the morning. It was a moving sight, full of human touch. Gandhi gave the emissary a sendoff. He was standing below a tree. A dry leaf fell from the tree. Gandhi picked it up and put it on his palm and said: " My friend, you are going back to Delhi. What gift can Gandhi give to Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel? I am a man without power and wealth. Give this dry leaf to Nehru and Patel, as my first Independence day gift." And when he was saying this, tears came from the eyes of the emissary. And with a sense of humour Gandhi said: " How the great is God? He did not want Gandhi to send that dry leaf. He made it wet. It is glistening with laughter. Carry this leaf as a gift full of your tears." That was Gandhi's human touch.
People have no idea about the literary talent of Gandhi and his love for poetry. In the context of this agonizing situation, Pyarelal quotes Gandhi:
" His place in the circumstances, was not in
the capital but with the men of the tattered
battalion which fights till it dies.
Theirs be the music, the colour, the glory,
The gold; Mine be a handful of ashes, a
mouthful of mauled-the maimed- the
halt and the blind in the rain and the cold.."
Women in Champaran
Sensitivity for the problems of women as the weakest among the weak was another trait of Gandhi. Gandhi had sent a team of workers to study and report on the problems of the Champaran district. But the report they gave him did not refer to any problems of the women there "How can any report be complete without an account of the womens problems?', he asked. The workers told Gandhi that the women of Champaran were very shy and would not meet them. Gandhi then deputed Kasturba Gandhi and Avantikabai Gokhale to visit Champaran to report on women's agony. The women of Champaran would not first meet them and even open their doors.
At sunset Kasturba Gandhi knocked one door and told the women inside: " We are moving your town from sunrise to sunset. We are now thirsty. Will you not offer us a glass of water ?" A door was then slightly opened. A woman's hand peeped out with a glass of water on her palm. Kasturba drank water and then said: " Sister we have seen your hand. We have seen the glass of water on your palm. But we want to see the women behind this hand." The woman inside broke down. She said: "Three women of our household share only one untorn saree and as one woman has gone out with that saree how could others open the door for you and expose our semi-naked bodies?" Kasturba told the weeping woman: "Close the door. The doors of your heart are opened." Kasturba and Avantikabai, touched by the reply, returned to Gandhi with this heart-rending report about women in Champaran. It steeled Gandhi's determination not to rest till the honour of these women were restored.
Noakhali Peace Mission
I said I will begin from the end and move backwards. I will, therefore, take you now to Noakhali. There were 'brave men' in India who from house tops were saying: "Hindus are being butchered, they are subjected to atrocities in Noakhali and we must save them." But, there was only one Gandhi and his peace mission went to Noakhali. The Noakali episode and Ghandi's peace March brings out his courage as well as compassion. I will give some of the instances which I gathered from no less a person than Sucheta Kripalani, who had accompanied Gandhi on his peace mission to Noakhali. Gandhi went from village to village. He carried holy books with him. He went to every village. He appealed to all the men and women, Hindus as well as Muslims, to ensure peace. They offered prayers and Gandhi made them take a pledge that they will not kill each other. But he waited for a few days in every village to see that whatever pledges that were given were implemented. There was a moving incident at one village. Gandhi visited that village. He asked the Hindus and Muslims to come out of their hutments for a common prayer and a common pledge for peace. No elderly person turned up. He waited for half an hour, not evenone Hindu or Muslim turned up. Gandhi was very ingenious. He had carried a ball with him and then addressing children form the village he said: "Small kids from this village, your parents are frightened of each other but what fright you can have? Elderly Hindus and Muslims might be frightened of one another. But children are innocent. You are children of God. I am inviting you to play the game of ball." The Hindu and Muslim children started moving towards the dais where Gandhi was sitting. Gandhi threw the ball at them. Boys and girls threw it back. He played for half an hour and then he told the villagers: "You have no courage but if you want that courage, induct it from your children. A child belonging to the Muslim community is not afraid of the child belonging to the Hindu community and so also, a Hindu childis not frightened of a Muslim child. They have come together, they were playing with me for half an hour. Please learn something from them. If you have no inner courage, try to emulate it from your children." And one after another elders - both Hindus and Muslims - started coming. A big gathering assembled. He made them take a pledge that they will not kill each other. He stayed there for sometime. Then he went from village to village and brought peace to Noakhali. What type of human experience he had? Horace Alexander, an eminent journalist of those days, gave a story to one of the leaders. He said that when Gandhi's prayer was going on in one village, all of a sudden a Muslim person pounced on him. He caught his throat. Gandhi almost collapsed. While falling down Gandhi recited a beautiful quotation from the Quran. Hearing the words of Quran, the Muslim, instead of throttling Gandhi, touched his feet and with a feeling of guilt he said: "I am sorry. I was commiting a sin. I am prepared to remain with you to protect you. Give me any work, entrust to me any task, tell me what work I should do?" Gandhi had a sense of humour and compassion. He said: "Do only one thing. When you go back home, do not tell anyone what you tried to do with me. Otherwise there will be Hindu-Muslim riots. Forget me and forget yourself." That man went away with a feeling of repentence.
Compassion & Cruelty
There is another agonizing incident. In case, your tears are not yet frozen, be prepared to shed them. This is the story told to me by Acharya Kriplani's wife, Sucheta Kripalani who was a member of Gandhi's peace brigade in Noakhali. She said, one night at 12 O'clock they got the news that some Muslims were going to kidnap three young girls who were a part of the Peace Mission. Sucheta Kripalani went to the next door neighbour, an old Muslim landlord. Sucheta went to him and said: "Please protect these three young girls as your daughters." He put his hand on the Quran and said: "Didiji, I give you u solemn pledge that as long as you want, these three girls will stay in my house as my daughters and I will protect them." They stayed there for three months. By that time peace returned to Noakhali. They celebrated the victory of peace. Armymen celebrate the victory of war with Bugles, but Gandhi celebrated the victory of peace with solemn silence. When members of Gandhi's peace troupe dispersed, the three girls who stayed with the Muslim family, returned home. What was in store for them at the hands of their parents? Their parents told them: "You have no place in our house." They asked: "Why?" "You are Hindus and you stayed in a Muslim family for three months. You have no place in our house", was the reply. Girls asked: "What should we do?" Parents said: "Go to the streets." They said: "If need be, become prostitutes, but you have no place in our house." The only shelter for these uprooted girls was Gandhi's Ashram, which was a refuge for all those who were disowned and disinherited. These girls never got married because orthodox families could not tolerate girls who stayed with Muslim family. Some of them died unmarried, unsung and unwept. That was Gandhi's agonizing experience.
When peace returned to Noakhali and later on India became free, Gandhi received an acknowledgement of his mission for peace through a letter from Lord Mountbatten on 26 August 1947. In his letter Mountbatten wrote:
"My dear Gandhiji,
In the Punjab we have 55
Thousand soldiers and large scale
Rioting on our hands. In Bengal
Our forces consist of one man, and
There is no rioting.
As a serving officer, as
Well as an administrator, may
I be allowed to pay my tribute to
The One Boundary Force,
Not forgetting his Second in
Command, Mr. Suhrawardy?
You should have heard
The enthusiastic applause which
Greeted the mention of your name
In the Constituent Assembly on
15th of August when all
of us were thinking so much of you..
Yours very sincerely,
Mountbatten of Burma"
Mountbatten, who was clothed in military uniform all his service life, holding arms in his hands, realized the strength, courage and the spirit of compassion of a sensitive human being called Gandhi.
Not forgetting his Second in
Command, Mr. Suhrawardy?
You should have heard
The enthusiastic applause which
Greeted the mention of your name
in the Constituent Assembly on
15th of August when all
of us were thinking so much of you
Yours very sincerely,
Mountbatten of Burma"
Mountbatten who was clothed in military uniform all his service life, holding arms in his hands, realized the strength, courage and the spirit of compassion of a sensitivity human being called Gandhi.
Pangs of Partition
Now let me go back to the days of partition Gandhi and Gaffar Khan opposed the partition of India upto the last moment. You know what Gandhi told the leaders including Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel? They had said, everywhere violence was taking place. Gandhi observed. 'I don't take pride in my faith. I do not think that there is a greater devotee of non-violence than myself. But mine is the non-violence of the brave and not of the cowards." He said: " I am committed to non-violence. I am against civil war, I am against fratricidal war, I am against Hindu-Muslim riots, but I am not frightened by the blood while taking crucial decisions I have a feeling of compassion." When the final decision of the partition of India was to be taken by the Congress Working Committee, Gandhi said: " I think I should leave", and the President said: " I think there is no sense in asking Gandhi not to leave. At least his views are well known. He does not share our perception." Gandhi had said: "There is still one more opportunity for a struggle. Be prepared to fight. In 1942 you gave me the authority to lead the struggle. I gave the call to the British to quit India and then I called upon the people to do or die. This old man has still the capacity to do or die. Please stand erect and be prepared for one more struggle. We shall retain free India as a United Nation. But probably you have lost the will to fight. You may go your own way." And during the musings, before his prayer, once he said :" This old man is of no use to them. Oh! God pick me up as early as possible", and God too obliged him and he did not allow him to live for long. Gandhi died at the hands of his assassin. Gandhi is dead but his courage and compassion, the values for which he lived, will never be erased.
I would like to refer to the debates on the Indian Independence Bill in the House of Common's in England. I have gone through the debates and I will request you all to read the records of the debate on the Indian Independence Bill. When that debate was going on, Winston Churchill made a Concerted attack on the labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee. He said: " We built the glory of the British Empire for 150 years and you surrendered to Gandhi, who has no arms, no bullets, no guns and no ammunition." Attlee gave him a fitting reply. Sometimes we do not understand our own history. Someone else has to teach it to us Attlee narrating the history said: " Mr Churchill, it is true that we quit India but we quit with grace. Are you under the impression that our Empire survived in India for 150 years on the strength of Indian people? We were there on the strength of the Navy and the army." And he referred to what happened outside India when Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose founded the Indian National Army and the Royal Indian Navy's revolt in 1946 in Bombay, Calcutta and Karachi. I was among the youngsters who participated in the demonstrations in Bombay to express solidarity with the RIN revolt in the midst of bullets showered on the demonstrators by the British soldiers. We are not only students of history but some of us are its participants. Participation in history is a more intense and rewarding experience than merely reading the pages of history.
Human Touch in Struggle
Before Gandhi came on the political scene, the world knew only two instruments of change, the bullet and the ballot. Once late Dr B. R. Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of our Constitution, said: "It is neither by mere counting of heads nor by chopping off heads that you can bring about a political change. It is by taking cognizance of what is happening inside the head and heart that you will be able to strengthen the motivation for change." That is what Gandhi had believed.
Gandhi to Mandela
Gandhi's struggle did not begin in India. 21 years of his life were spent in South Africa. Many, "who have not suffered from social injustice, do not understand our Language of social justice. They must try to trace as to how did Gandhi's struggle begin? Did it begin as an economic struggle? Did it begin as a political struggle? It began years back, during 21 years of his stay in South Africa, as a struggle for social justice, for the dignity of man and against racialism. And, there he succeeded to a great extent. Whenever I saw Mandela, I saw in his eyes the image of Gandhi. I told him during his visit to India: "You fought and ultimately got freedom and democracy. But to men like us, march from Gandhi to Mandela is a march from social justice to freedom and democracy." Gandhi once wrote: "I was born in India but I was made
Non-violence of Brave
Again I will give another illustration in which there was an intense human touch. It was the Satyagraha movement on the North-West frontier when Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, called as the Frontier Gandhi, was leading it. On the previous night of Satyagraha, he war arrested. Next day, one thousand Pathans stood to offer Satyagraha. Since Pathans belonging to the 'militant race' were to offer Satyagraha, the British did not send the Police to control the situation arising out of Satyagraha. They sent the Garhwal regiment of the Army. And when that regiment reached the spot of Satyagraha, the Captain of the regiment, an Englishman, gave orders to the Pathans to disperse within 10 minutes. No Pathan dispersed. Again he said: "I give you 15 minutes more." They did not disperse. And then he said: "Within 5 minutes I will open fire." The Pathans bared their chests and said: "Captain, we are prepared to be fired upon. Open fire. Fire as many bullets as you want. Let us see whether our chest with the urge for freedom is powerful or your bullets." After 10 minutes, the Captain ordered: "Fire" However, men from the Garhwal regiment did not fire bullets on Satyagrahis. They threw down their rifles. Captain said: "You will be court-martialled. You may be hanged. You might be sentencedto life imprisonment." They told the Captain: "Whether you kill us or imprison us, we have seen the sublime courage of these Pathans. Those who gave us military training, taught us how to fire at those who had guns and rifles in their hands. They have not taught to fire at unarmed patriots." Ten volumes of 'Transfers of Power in India', documents have now been published by the British Government. They reveal all confidential records including the one about the Garhwal regiment defiance.
Human Touch of Humour
Gandhi went to London during the Round Table Conference in 1931. He was in his usual 'dhoti', and was described by Churchill as 'Half-naked Fakir' of India. He went to meet King George V at the Buckingham Palace. One journalist asked him: "Don't you feel embarrassed to see the King George V in this scanty dress?" Of course he was not participating in a beauty contest remember. Gandhi said: "Why should I feel ashamed?", and added: "The King has enough on for both of us." Referring to the boycott of the Prince of Wales during his visit to India, the King George V asked him the first question: "Why did you boycott my son?" And Gandhi replied: "Not your son, your Majesty, but official representative of the Crown and we are against the Crown." Gandhis reply was not arrogant, but it had the human touch of humour.
Concern for public funds
Gandhi had great concern for public funds and their utilisation. Once, accompanied by Acharya Kripalani and Acharya Bhansali, Gandhi went to visit the well known temple at Pune on the Parvati hill. When they returned from their visit to the temple, Gandhi requested Kripalani to hire a horse-driven cart and fix up the fare. In the meantime a young college girl came to Gandhi and asked for his autograph. Gandhi insisted that she must make a modest contribution towards his public work. The college girl paid Rs.10/-, and Gandhi returned her gesture by giving her his autograph. Gandhi handed over the ten rupee note to Acharya Kripalani with instructions to pay the cart-fare from this amount.
When the cart reached the residence of Gandhis host, all three got down from the cart. Immediately after getting down, Gandhi asked Acharya Kripalani as to how much was, paid for the cart-fare. Kripalanis reply was "Rs. 5/-" Gandhi then asked him to return Rs. 5/-, since he had given him Rs. lO/- Kripalani helplessly looked at Acharya Bhansali, who told him that the cartman had run away with Rs. lO/-, without returning Rs. 5/-. On entering the house of their host, where the three leaders were expected to dine, Gandhi told the lady of the house that food should be prepared only for two persons. He told her: "Since Acharya Kripalani had lost Rs. 5/- from the contribution of Rs. lO/- made by a young girl towards our public work, Acharya Kripalani will not be given food to-night." Gandhi was worried over the loss of a paltry amount of Rs.5/-. It strikes a sharp contrast with the present times, when we witness several multi-crore scams involving serious corruption.
Gandhis concern for a clean life and probity in financial matters had influenced his senior colleagues in the freedom movement as well.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was in the Ahmnednagar fort prison dring the 1942 Quit India Movement. While he was in jail, Azads wife, Begum Azad, died at her residence. As a gesture of courtesy Aaad's friends started collecting funds to be used for Begum Azad's memorial.
When Maulana Azad released from the prison in 1945, he came to know about the collections being made for Begum Azad's memorial. On 17th September 1945, Azad issued a statement saying that memorial should be raised only for a towering person in public life. He humbly pointed out to his colleagues that Begum Azad was just a housewife and had made no
significant contribution to public life to qualify for her memorial. Maulana Azad, through a public statement, appealed to his friends to stop any further collections for his wifes memorial and asked them to donate the money collected so far to the Kamla Nehru Memorial Hospital. Such were the men of integrity who grew in the company of Gandhi and experienced his human touch.
Gandhis touch lent dignity to the instruments and innovations he introduced, evidence of which could be found in a moving episode during the individual Satyagraha of l940.
You must have seen Charlie Chaplin, the great humourist, on the screen. On the screen, he makes you laugh but when he returns home he cries in anguish. Once Byron wrote: "If I laugh at any mortal things, it is that I may not weep." Gandhi went to see Charlie Chaplin in a small house in a slum district of London. After their meeting was over, Gandhi asked Charlie Chaplin: "Would you like to see the demonstration of our prayers?" He said: "There is no room for you." Gandhi said: "You sit on the sofa, we will sit down on the floor", and he offered the prayers, Charlie Chaplin wrote. "Gandhi and his men did not feel embarrassed to sit on the floor in front of me but I literally felt embarrassed to sit on the sofa and look down upon Gandhi and his colleagues."
Human influences on Gandhi
Gandhi never lived in isolation. He did not insulate his mind from the views and influences from others. Ruskin, Tolstoy, Romain Rolland and several others had deeply influenced his life. Ruskin wrote his famous work Unto this last and Gandhi admitted: "I derived great inspiration from Unto this last' by Ruskin and his concept that good individual is contained in the good of all". The concept of Sarvodaya and Antodaya were the products of this influence. Following Ruskin's views Gandhi stated: "Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: 'Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? then you will find your doubts and your self melting away." Tolstoy wrote hisfamous book 'The Kingdom Of God Is Within You, which also influenced Gandhi. When Gandhi spoke of inner voice, people made fun of him. You may not believe in the inner voice. But in essence it connotes conscience or conviction.
Such sterling men were created by Gandhi out of the dust-men more glittering than gold, men of character, men of suffering. That was the human touch of Gandhi. Mahadev Desai had a son, Narayan. He has written a very fine book in Gujarati. Chitra Desai has translated it under the caption "Rose and Fire". In that she has narrated a poignant story. Before his entering the jail, Narayan told his father, Mahadev Desai: "Father I will pack up your luggage." Mahadev Desai observed: " This time no luggage will be required, because Gandhi is going to die in the prison." Mahadev Desai was arrested along with Gandhi and he knew well that this time Gandhi was determined to die. "I have lived with Gandhi but I donot want to see his death. I feel so much agonised, my sensitive heart is so much disturbed that I dont think that I will live for more than 7 days in prison." Mahadev Desai entered the Aga Khan Palace jail on 9th August 1942 along with Gandhi and he died exactly on the 7th day, on 15th August 1942. Probably, he had the premonition that he would die. After his death Gandhi said: " All my colleagues tried to persuade me with words not to undertake fast unto death in the jail, but my disciple, Mahadev Desai, knowing fully well that Mahadev alive cannot persuade Gandhi to give up the fast, died and through his death he has persuaded me to give up the fast." And so Gandhi gave up his determination to die through fast.
An incorrigible optimist like me feels that irrepressible spirit of Gandhi will one day assert itself and it will be Indias finest hours. If a man like me still feels that I should live, it is only to see that glorious moment.
Friends, let me conclude. In England, when King dies, they say: " The king is dead, long live the king." After the martyrdom of Gandhi, I would like to say in the same vein:
Gandhi is dead
Long live Gandhi,
His human touch.