November 18, 2021
Once again there are concerted attacks on Bapu (Mahatma Gandhi), to demean the freedom movement and insult freedom fighters. Who is doing it is insignificant. What must be realised is that it is orchestrated and conducted according to a plan. In India today, the voices of truth are being shouted out of the public discourse by a deafening crescendo of lies. But no matter how loud the lies are and how faint the voice of truth seems, truth sustains; lies have to be kept alive with a continuous progression of more lies. Some of the lies being shouted out these days need to be responded to.
As the liars shout from the rooftops, a pliant media amplifies their voices. Lunatics, meanwhile, attack Bapu by erecting statues of his murderer. They are welcome to their worship. Both these groups are emboldened by official silence and inaction, which implies tacit support from the ruling dispensation.
“We gained freedom as bheekh (alms).” It does not matter that someone demeans the entire freedom movement with such a blasphemous statement; there are a growing number of subscribers and supporters of such a belief – some through active support, others through tacit silence. It does not matter that there is a further comment that India gained real independence in 2014, not in 1947. A hate-filled, venomous, rabid India received official sanction in 2014, and for those who subscribe to those ideals it was nothing less than Independence Day.
Unparalleled bravery at Dharasana
I will only state why I feel offended by the statement that India was given freedom as “bheekh”. It demeans the courage and sacrifice of thousands of freedom fighters. I will cite a few examples, starting with the satyagraha at the Dharasana Salt Works. I take pride in narrating this incident because my grandfather, Manilal Gandhi, was its hero.
Bapu was arrested the night before he was to lead the peaceful raid on Dharasana. He had informed the Viceroy about his intentions and knew he could be arrested. So, he put in place the leadership succession. Abbas Taiyabjee was to lead the raid in his place and, if he too was arrested, Sarojini Naidu would take his place. Manilal was to be amongst the first batch of satyagrahis.
When Bapu was arrested, Taiyabjee led the march from Kradi to Dharasana. He was arrested too, so Naidu led the marchers to Dharasana. Manilal was chosen to initiate the raid.
Dharasana, a coastal village near Valsad, turned into a fortress as a large contingent of policemen was stationed there with strict orders to crush the revolt. The Pathan constables were commanded by British officers.
Those who have watched the movie ‘Gandhi’ will not have forgotten the brutality of the police and the heroism of the non-violent satyagrahis. Manilal was brutally assaulted multiple times on the first day itself. In the final assault, he was brutally hit on the head by a baton that cracked his skull. He was picked up in an unconscious condition, charged with a crime against the crown and arrested before being admitted to a prison hospital. There he remained, unconscious, unidentified and unknown to his family, which was desperately trying to find him among the hundreds of his similarly-injured comrades.
There are many records of the Namak Satyagraha at Dharasana and the world noted the brutality of the British administration and the heroism of the satyagrahis. It took another 17 years for us to win freedom but, having witnessed the heroism of common Indians at Dharasana, there was never any doubt that India would eventually be free.
Even in Bombay, satyagrahis raided the salt depot at Wadala and were dealt with in a similarly brutal manner.
One more instance of heroism was in Quetta. Pathans were to participate in the satyagraha, the police was informed, and they immediately proclaimed prohibitory orders. However, thousands of Pathan men, women and children gathered in the town square. The police chief, determined to teach the insolent Pathans a lesson, mounted a machine gun on the roof of the police headquarters. He ordered his men to fire on the peacefully protesting Pathans. Many were killed, many more were injured.
Later, the Congress sent a fact-finding mission to inquire into the atrocities. Its report stated that “all the bullet wounds were on the chests, none on the backs”. A simple statement narrating a saga of unparalleled valour. In the face of death, none of the satyagrahis turned and fled; they took the bullets on their chests with pride.
Those who allege that Gandhians only turn the other cheek and are, therefore, cowards cannot understand the courage required to be so brave. They are incapable of understanding such heroism. But we must not forget.
Courage with compassion
There was another significant occurrence at Dharasana. The satyagrahis and the police force were not provided for. The satyagrahis were told to subsist on whatever was available. The local villagers rallied in support and provided food for the satyagrahis, but refused to do the same for the policemen. At meal time on the first day, villagers brought meals for the satyagrahis but refused to feed the police. When the satyagrahis saw this, they gave half their food to the policemen – even though the police had brutally beaten them. This became a recurring theme through the satyagraha.
Today we scoff at such “cowardly” behaviour, but it was humanity and heroism in action. This was the morality and heroism displayed by satyagrahis in all their campaigns, which ultimately resulted in our liberation. Indians paid a price in blood. Only the most ungrateful would dismiss these sacrifices as begging.
The fakir that toppled an empire
Bapu would welcome being labelled a beggar. For the sake of his nation and its people, he did not mind begging. He applauded being dismissed as a “half-naked fakir” by the British prime minister. Ultimately, the British Crown surrendered to this fakir, who India now dismisses as a beggar.
On several occasions, he pleaded with the Viceroy “on bended knees; but when the time came he stood up to the British astutely and ensured that they conceded his demands – not only for satyagrahis but for revolutionaries too.
Sensationalists and purveyors of lies allege that he did nothing to save those who followed the doctrine of violence. The case of his not saving Shaheed Bhagat Singh is sited to buttress this. But those interested in the truth should read records of his dialogue with the British Viceroy. They will find that in the course of several meetings, and in their correspondence, Bapu begged the British to spare Bhagat Singh and his partners. He did not demand a complete pardon but on several occasions requested that the death sentence be commuted.
But no matter how many times we, who know the truth, repeat it, the liars will keep at it. They do so to hide the fact that the founders of their ideology did not lift a finger to save the revolutionaries while they themselves were firmly ensconced in the laps of their British masters.
When Indian National Army (INA) soldiers were being prosecuted by the British, neo-historians now allege that Bapu and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did nothing to save them. They conveniently ignore the fact that Nehru, along with a battery of Indian lawyers, accepted the legal brief to appear for the INA soldiers in court. If the pseudo patriots had studied history even a little, they would have saved themselves the embarrassment of being caught lying.
When the INA soldiers were being court martialled at the Red Fort, Pandit Nehru appeared to defend them. Bapu, meanwhile, made a pardon for them a precondition to the negotiations with the Cabinet Mission that was to initiate a transfer of power. He did not beg; he demanded. And the allegation that he collaborated with the British to hand over Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, if he came to India, is too hilarious to respond to.
To turn the other cheek is not the act of a coward. It takes a lot of courage, and Indians of that time displayed it in abundance. They were all heroes; the cowards were those hanging on to the coattails of their masters, the ones who did not bat an eyelid before submitting pleas for mercy and clemency to the crown for personal benefit.
Liars are very loud in India today, but the truth does not require decibels. It resonates with strength. The only way to counter haters is to dispassionately tell the truth. It does not require fancy packaging.
Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma, is an activist, author and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. Reach him here: firstname.lastname@example.org.