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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 41 New Delhi October 3, 2015

Gandhi for Today

Saturday 3 October 2015

[On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s one hundred and fortysixth birth anniversary on October 2, 2015, we are reproducing the following excerpts from his writings and pronouncements.]

Soldiers drunk with the pride of physical strength loot shops and are not even ashamed to take liberties with women. The administration is powerless in the war time to prevent such happenings. The army fulfils their primary need, and they wink the eyes at their misdeeds...

Hence arise questions which a sister sends me: ‘(i) If a soldier commits an assault on a woman, can she be said to have lost her virtue? (2) Is such a woman to be condemned and ostracised by the society? (3) What should the women and the public do under such circumstances?’

Whilst the woman has in point of fact lost her virtue, the loss cannot in any way render her liable to be condemned or treated as an outcast. She is entitled to our sympathy for she has been cruelly injured, and we should tend her wounds as we would those of any injured person.

A woman is worthy of condemnation only when she is a willing party to her dishonour. In no case, are adultery and criminal assault synonymous terms. And if we were to view the matter in this light, we would not hide such instances, as has thus far been our wont. Public opinion against such conduct on the part of men towards women would then be created and freely exercised.

If the press carried on a sustained agitation, soldiers, white or brown, would be compelled to prevent such misbehaviour.

My advice to women is that they should leave the cities and migrate to the villages where a wide field of service awaits them. There is compara-tively little risk of their being assaulted in villages. They must live simple lives and make themselves one with the poor. If they will display their wealth by dressing in silks and satins and wearing jewellery, they will, in running away from one danger, expose themselves to a double. Naturally, the advice cannot refer to those whom duty compels to live in cities.

The main thing, however, is for women to know how to be fearless. It is my firm conviction that a fearless woman who knows that her purity is her best shield, can never be dishonoured. However beastly the man, he will bow in shame before the flame of her dazzling purity. And there are examples even in the modern times of women who have thus defended themselves. I can, as I write, recall two such instances. I, therefore, recommend women who read this article to try to cultivate this couratge...

But such faith or courage can not be acquired in a day. Meantime we must try to explore other means. When a woman is assaulted, she may not stop to think in terms of himsa or ahimsa. Her primary duty is self-protection. She is at liberty to employ every method or means that come to her mind in order to defend her honour. God has given her nails and teeth. She must use them with all her strength and, if need be, die in the effort. The man or woman who has shed all fear of death will be able not only to protect himself or herself but others also through laying down his or her life. In truth, we fear death most, and hence we ultimately submit to the superior physical force. Some will bend the knee to the invader, some will resort to bribery, some will crawl on their bellies or submit to other forms of humiliation, and some women will even give their bodies rather than die. I have not written this in a carping spirit. I am only illustrating human nature. Whether we crawl on our bellies or whether a woman yields to the lust of man is symbolic of that same love of life which makes us stoop to anything. Therefore, only he who loses his life shall save it. To enjoy life one should give up the lure of life. That should be part of our nature.

So much for what a woman should do. But what about a man who is witness to such crimes? The answer is implied in the foregoing. He must not be a passive onlooker. He must protect the woman. He must not run for police help; he must not rest satisfied by pulling the alarm chain in the train. If he is able to practise non-violence, he will die in doing so and save the woman in jeopardy. If he does not believe in non-violence or cannot practise it, he must try to save her by using all the force he may have. In either way, there must be readiness on his part to lay down his life.

If old, decrepit and toothless, as I am, I were to plead non-violence and be a helpless witness of assault on the honour of a sister, my so-called mahatmaship would be riduculed, dishonoured and lost. If I or those like me were to intervene and lay down our lives, whether violently or non-violently, we would surely save the prey and, at any rate, we would not remain living witnesses to her dishonour.

So much about the witnesses. But if the courageous spirit pervades the entire atmosphere of our country and it is known that no Indian will stand women being assaulted, I venture to say that no soldier will dare to touch them. That such a spirit does not exist is a matter of shame for us. But it will be something if persons ready to wipe out this blot are forthcoming.

Those who have influence with the Govern-ment, will try to get the authorities to take the necessary action. But self-help is best help. In the present circumstances we may rely on our own strength and God’s help.

[From the article “Criminal Assaults” written on the way to Wardha from Calcutta, February 1942]
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I am an irrepressible optimist. We have not lived and toiled in vain all these years that we should become barbarians, as we now appear to be becoming, looking at all the senseless bloodshed in Bengal, in Bihar and the Punjab. But I feel that it is just an indication... as we are throwing off the foreign yoke. All the dirt and froth is coming now to the surface. When the Ganges is in flood, the water is turbid. The dirt comes to the surface. When the flood subsides, you see the clear blue water which soothes the eye. That is what I hope for and live for. I don’t wish to live to see Indian humanity becoming barbarian.

Who can predict the future? Some years ago I read Butler’s Analogy and therein I read that the ‘future is the child of our somewhat past’. This thought has persisted with me, because it coincides with Indian belief. We are the makers of our own destiny. We can mend or mar the present and on that will depend the future.

[From what Gandhiji told the Chinese Ambassador to India, Dr Lo Chia Luen, New Delhi, July 25, 1947]

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The economic conflict which you envisage, is likely to make the Hindu-Muslim tension less acute. Even the end of the Hindu-Muslim conflict will not end all our troubles. What is happening is this. With the end of slavery and the dawn of independence, all the weaknesses of society are bound to come to the surface. I do not see any reason to be unnecessarily upset about. If we keep our balance at such a time, then every tangle will be solved. As far as the economic question is concerned, it has to be solved in any case. Today, there is gross economic inequality. The basis of socialism is economic equality. There can be no Ram Raj in the present state of iniquitous inequalities in which, only a few roll in riches, while the masses do not get even enough to eat. I accepted the theory of socialism, even while I was in South Africa. My opposition to the socialists and the others consists in attacking violence as a means of effecting any lasting reform...

It can, however, be asked whether the present rajas and the others can be expected to become trustees of the poor. If they do not become trustees of their own accord, force of circum-stances will compel them to reform, unless they court utter destruction. When the panchayat raj is established, public opinion will do, what violence can never do. The present power of the zamindars, the capitalists and the rajas can hold sway, only so long as the common people do not realise their own strength. If the people non-co-operate with the evil of zamindari or capitalism, it must die of inanition. In panchayat raj only the panchayat will be obeyed and the panchayat can only work through the law of their making.

[From the editorial “How to Combat Himsa”, written on May 25, 1947]

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Before I ever knew anything about politics in my early youth, I dreamt the dream of communal unity of the heart. I shall jump in the evening of my life like a child, to feel that the dream has been realised in this life. The wish for living the full span of life portrayed by the seers of old and which the seers permit us to set down at 125 years, will then revive. Who would not risk sacrificing his life for the realisation of such a dream? Then we shall have real swaraj. Then, though legally and geographically we may still be two states, in daily life no one will think that we were two separate states. The vista before me seems to me to be, as it must be to you, too glorious to be true. And yet like a child in a famous picture, drawn by a famous painter, I shall not be happy, till I have got it. I live and I want to live for no lesser goal... I remember to have read, I forget now whether in the Delhi Fort or in the Agra Fort, when I visited them in 1896, a verse on one of the gates, which when translated reads thus: ‘If there is paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.’... I should love to see that verse with justice inscribed on the gates of Pakistan at all the entrances. In such paradise, whether it is in the Indian Union or in Pakistan, there will be neither paupers, nor beggars, nor high, nor low, neither the millionaire employers, nor the half-starved employees, nor intoxicating drinks or drugs. There will be the same respect for women as vouchsafed to men, and the chastity and the purity of men and women will be jealously guarded. Where every woman, except one’s wife, will be treated by men of all religions, as mother, or sister, or daughter, according to her age. Where there will be no untouchability, and where there will be equal respect for all faiths. They will be all proudly, joyously and voluntarily bread labou-rers. I hope that everyone who listens to me or who reads these lines, will forgive me, if stretched on my bed and basking in the sun, inhaling the life-giving sunshine, I allow myself to indulge in this ecstasy.

[From the address at a prayer meeting during his last fast in Delhi, January 14, 1948]