GANDHIAN MARCH TO PORTALS OF FREEDOM

There are certain pages in the histories of nations which are referred to by later generations with pride and reverence. Our age is one such which will be remembered as the era of the resurrection of our nation, when our country passed from a state of subjection to a foreign power to one of freedom. This great transition is consummated by the consecrated will of the people and their determined non-violent resistance to the greatest imperialist power. This emergence of our nation is achieved without a long drawn out armed conflict with its aftermath of hatred, bitterness and decline in moral standards. We owed this in the main to Mahatma Gandhi who vitalised the country, awakened its will, roused its energies and inspired its political thinking with a new ethical passion.

A Saint and a Revolutionary

In his book on "The Yogi and the Commissar" Arthur Koestler observed that the future of European civilization depended on the refashioning of the human mind. "Neither the saint nor the revolutionary can save us, only the synthesis of the two." We have had such a synthesis in Gandhi, who was at once a saint and a revolutionary. His saintliness had little in common with sectarian orthodoxy. For him, the Ultimate Spirit was greater than the scriptures, the One Supreme whom all religions adore. The sacred fire is the same in its essence wherever it may be burning. Historical accidents account for the varied expressions we employ to represent the same meaning. Gandhi's faith in God made him an incorrigible optimist about the future of man. From his faith flowed his devotion to truth and love, his singleness of purpose, his soul of honour, attributes that have endeared him to us all. His call to us was to deepen our spirits and enlarge the scope of our affections. The nobler a soul is, it is said, the more objects of campassion it has. The greatest souls look upon the whole world as their family, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Though Gandhi contributed a great deal to the recovery of our nation, to the revelation of its mental and moral resources so long repressed by enslavement, though he led, guided and controlled for over a generation our liberation movement which has to its credit many sacred memories and sacrificial efforts, our national revival is not the chief or the highest part of his great work.

Prophet of Truth

When the strife of these days is forgotten, Gandhi will stand out in history as the great prophet of truth and love in the settlement of national and international disputes. In clear and confident tones he tells us that this world of blood of tears is not what the world should be. We must build a world of peace and we cannot do so unless we secure for it a truly moral foundation. We may hold different metaphysical views, adopt different modes of worship and there are millions today who do not desire or place their faith in any God at all. But everyone of us will feel highly offended if he is pronouned destitute of any moral sense, if he is said to be untruthful or unloving. All religious and systems of morality are agreed that respect for life, respect for intangible possessions, good name and honour, constitute morality and justice. Do not do unto others what you would not like to be done to you. Atmanah pratikulani paresam na samacharet. Even primitive savages accept this principle. Only for them its appreciation is limited to their own tribe and race and those outside are not regarded as human beings. As our horizon expands, as our moral sense deepens, we feel that these moral precepts are valid for all human beings. The great German philosopher Kant, who was very sensitive to right and wrong, declared, "No evil shocks the mind like injustice; all other evil that we suffer is as nothing compared therewith". He continues, "If justice should perish, it would no longer be worth living for human beings to live on earth". Fear of our own safety or the peril of our country should not prevent us from protesting against injustice and resisting wrongs. Neutrality between right and wrong is a sign of moral perversity.

This aching world longs to live but it does not know how. Our projects for reshaping life which began in hope have ended in failure. Our sorrows and sufferings are being repeated under other forms. All this is not due to the defects of the political machinery of the League of Nations or the United Nations Organization but to the failings of men who operate them. The political and economic factors, geography, and geology, scientific discovery and industrial development are no doubt important but more important than all these is the human element which is a complex of wisdom, judgement, disinterestedness, a sense of fairplay, self-mastery or their opposites of greed, ambition, vanity, pride and jealousy. The real problem is the human one. History is made more by the emotions of men than by the forces of economics. Whether the world makes for achievement or frustration depends on the nature of the human material. The re-education of man, the discipline of his will and intelligence which will cure his weaknesses to which he is inclined and strengthen the virtues which he requires is what we need. We should endow human beings with a sense of right which will burn up the grosser elements of our nature in its consuming flame.

Today the world is like a ship with no captain, heading for the rocks. It is swept by passion and folly. We do not know whether it is passing through birth pangs or death throes. If we adopt the path of greed, hatred and self-interest, we will become sometimes less than human. If we take the other path of fortitude, unselfish service and sacrifice, we will reach heights of splendour in body, mind and spirit of which we can hardly dream. Irreligion is our malady and religion as an adventure of spirit, as radical transformation of human nature is the cure for it.

Concept of Non-Violence

Such a religion will be revolutionary in character requiring us to embrace by an act of faith a vision of humanity based on justice, racial and national. Enslavement of one people by another, whatever may be the reason, is an act of injustice. Those who suffer from such injustice wish to get rid of it by armed resistance. It is Gandhi's supreme contribution that he substitutes for this method of force the method of love.

It is said that non-violence is the dream of the wise, while violence is the history of man. It is true that wars are obvious and dramatic and their results in changing the course of history are evident and striking. But there is a struggle which goes on without arms and violence in the minds of men. The consequences of this deeper struggle are not recorded in the statistics of the killed and the injured. It is the struggle for human decency, for the avoidance of physical strife which restricts human life, for a world without wars and famines, for raising humanity to a higher plane. Gandhi was the most effective fighter in this great struggle. His message is not a matter for academic debate by intellectual highbrows. It is the cry of exasperated mankind which is at the crossroads. Which shall prevail the law of the jungle or law of love! Every child that is born into the world offers by its advent the assurance that love is the basis of life. The common people are simple and kind. They love their neighbours and go out of their way to help them. It is wrong to assume that human nature is warlike and it is difficult to change it. Violence is not born in men but is built into them. Human nature is plastic and is capable of improvement. Cannibalism and human sacrifices are abolished. The diseased and the insane are not cut off. We are not happy about the execution of murderers. We look forward to a time when criminals and lunatics will be treated as objects of remedial care.

It is argued that it will not be possible for one nation to adopt non-violence while others are heavily armed. Such a view will make all progress impossible. The human race did not get on its hind legs as one man. However general the consciousness that the posture is possible may have been someone had to make a start with the gesture. Even now someone thas to express consciously the half-realised resentment of the ordinary human being to the organization of war. Gandhi felt that he could make a start with the Indian people who, in his opinion, had an innate love of truth and hatred of force. If India by the practice of non-resistance overthrows foreign rule, she will help to build a new humanity out of the ruins of a war-weary and worn-out world.

Gandhi believes that non-violence is the most effective remedy in all conditions. In this battle he who wins gains freedom, he who falls is already free. "To experiment with Ahimsa in face of a murderer is to seek self-destruction. But this is the real test of Ahimsa. He who gets himself killed out of sheer helplessness, however, can in no way be said to have passed the test. He, who when being killed bears no anger against his murderer, and even asks God to forgive him, is truly non-violent. In a world curse by obstinate prejudice, held together by unfading memories of ancient feuds, who can measure the value of this matchless weapon of reconciling love".

One with the Poorest of the Poor

"Physician, heal thyself," is the challenge of the successful nations to the people of India. Gandhi has accepted this challenge and has spent his life in the task of the healing of the nation. He has known the physical poverty intellectual intertia and spiritual decadence of his people. He has seen in his life thousands of ragged skeletons of human beings crawling to the wayside ditches to die. He has seen workers huddled together in tenaments leading a poor careworn existence on a petty wage condemned to insecurity and poverty never far removed from destitution. He has seen middle classes grow up, Eurasian in mentality, insensitive to ideals. He has felt the moral injury inflicted by political subjection. Patiently he has addressed himself to the task of the regeneration of his people. He has roused their sense of self-respect, goaded them to strive for better conditions and look at their masters, white or brown, with fearlessness. None are so fitted to break the chainso as those who wear them. He symbolizes the struggle of the common man and has identified himself with the starving millions by forgoing privileges which others cannot share. His loin cloth, his spinning wheel, his third class travel are symbolic of his community with the poorest of the country.

Freedom is not merely the improvement of physical conditions or the achievement of political independence. It is advance into a new life when all things undergo transformation and all forms of human oppressions cease. Gandhi seeks to emancipate us from the network of social restrictions imposed on us by centuries of tradition. He enlarged the progress of the Congress and made it include the removal of the curse of untouchability, the evil of drink, the pride of caste and the prejudice of religion. The caste and the outcaste, the rich and the poor, the Musdim and the Hindu, the Sikh and the Christian, are all brethren in his integrated vision of the new India which is in the making. Every period of transition is one of friction, resistance, conflict, distress of mind, a cruel clash of rival loyalties. The old dose not yield without protest, the new is not accepted without resistance. In our generation there has been a considerable dislocation of society, decay of conventions and beliefs and breakdown of authority. Our society is heaving like some huge animal in pain. We feel that there has been no age so disillusioned, so electric, so unbelieving as ours. In such a period when all things are on the move, Gandhi asks us to hold fast to the great loyalties of spirit, to virtue and to truth.

Ends and Means

In his anxiety to get rid of British rule he does not resort to falsehood or cunning, deceit or violence. He would rather postpone the achievement of Indian freedom than resort to wrong means. When he returned from Second Round Table Conference, he said, "I admit that I have come back empty handed, but I am thankful that I have not lowered or in any way compromised the honour of the flag that was entrusted to me. It has been my constant prayer that I may not in an unguarded moment of weakness betray myself into act or word that may be unbecoming to the dignity of my country or the trust which my countrymen have reposed in me. Thanks to his leadership, the struggle for Indian freedom has been unmixed with any racial animosity. There lurks no ill will for the British in Indian hearts. If we compare the way in which anti-British feeling expressed itself in Ireland or is expressing itself in Palestine today we will see how the Indian movement for independence has been a clean one. That times are exceptional and tempers frayed, there is a temptation to commit excesses but Gandhi does not tolerate them. When the Bombay naval disturbances occurred, he scolded those who started them. He was fully aware of the extent of corruption in high places, of the failure of services, of masking of secular amibition by the profession of religious purpose, of the irritation of the people and yet he warns us not to lose grip over fundamental principles. He advises us to view the affairs of our disordered and long suffering country in the light of great ideals.

That we established freedom without any bloodshed and anarchy was a great triumph for Gandhi and his principle of non-violence. He certainly did not ask us to acquiesce in wrong or submit meekly to injustice. He advised us again and again to resist injustice as embodied in British rule. Suffering there has been but it has been the suffering of our own people. Thousands lost their lives. Many more lost their property and still more suffered in prison. The British Government's realisation that it was impossible to carry on the old line was due to the organised resistance of the Indian people to British rule. The war of course gave great impetus to the liberation movements. Public opinion of the world was insistent that imperialism should be liquidated. The British Government's acceptance of independence to India was a response to the necessities of the case.

His Faith in Human Goodness

There were many among the younger members of the country who viewed the British Government's proposals with profound misgivings. They saw in it under cover of a generous gesture a manoeuvre more complicated but similar in trend to the old policy of divide and rule. But Gandhi advised us not to lose faith in ourselves or even in the British. To suspect motives is a species of weakness. When division of country was forced on us, Gandhi opposed it passionately to the last moment and when this division bore its gory fruit and fierce and brutal fraticidal war raged and sanity and goodwill were totally lost, Gandhi alone remained steadfast in his all embracing compassion, in his faith in human goodness and his endeavour to bring the people back to sanity and goodwill. Full freedom for the country could not be achieved by the transfer of political power. The achievement of political freedom was a step but only a step towards realisation of the ideals which the Congress set to itself when established in 1885. Gandhi was the embodied voice of sixty years of our struggle for freedom, and the unity of our people.

When we pass from the ease and security of servitude to the risk and adventure of freedom, we have to face dangers and differences. The tragic chain of events starting from August 16th, 1946 in Calcutta with all their frightfulness and brutality, in Noakhali, Bihar, and other places, reaching culmination in unabashed mass terrorisation and massacres in the Punjab and the N.W.F. Provinces were unfortunately the result of the doctrine of hatred preached and provoked openly by some of our leaders.

Impact of League Action

The Indian National Congress adopted direct action under the names of non-cooperation, civil disobedience and Satyagraha but it was generally controlled by the principle of non-violence. In the murder, arson and loot that followed the Muslim League programme of direct action which did not exclude violence from its conception, the human bonds were united and the beast in man loosened. Those who talked incessently of violence, of bloodshed, of civil war, could not escape responsibility for the excesses of the mobs and violent attacks on person and property.

Terrorism became a regular instrument of politics in the months after second world war. It was a new and disturbing force in the politics of the world. It emerged from the practices natural to total war where the justice of the means was derived from the righteousness of the end. A deliberate cult of toughness spread and we were feeling ashamed of pity as of a crime. Gangster methods were used as a form of pressure on the Government by those who believed that the march of events was too slow and needed a kick.

History demonstrates that murders breed murders and we can cut across the vicious circle only by getting behind and trying to understand. That the end justifies the means, that morality may be subordinated to the interest of the groups, race or nation is an anti-social doctrine. Though Gandhi was deeply disturbed by the rising wave of violence, he felt that the spirit of violence would be killed and would not continue as it was contrary to the spirit of this land. These terrible happenings in the country demonstrated not only that there were barbarians in all groups but also that there were finer elements capable of quiet charity and elemental goodness.

The great Buddha said that the republic of the Lichchavis would prosper so long as the members of their assembly met frequently, showed reverence to age, experience and ability, transacted business in concord and harmony and did not develop selfish parties engaged in perpetual wrangling for their narrow and selfish ends. If we are to adopt his advice we must produce a framework which will reduce internal conflict and foster the virtues which make for the values of civilization, humility, understanding and justice.

Indians Are One

The people-whether they are Hindus or Muslims, Princes or peasants-belong to this one country. Earth and Heaven have combind to make them belong to one another, if they try to disown it, their gait, their cast of countenance, their modes of thought, their ways of behaviour, they will all betray them. It is not possible for us to think that we belong to different nationalities. Our whole ancestry is there. Take the problems from which we suffer: our hunger, our poverty, our disease, our malnutrition-these are common to all. Take the psychological evils from which we suffer-the loss of human dignity, the slavery of the mind, the stunting of sensibility and the shame of subjection-­these are common to all: Hindus or Muslims, Princes or peasants.

 I remember how Anatole France went up to the Musse Guimet on the first of May 1890 in Paris and there in the silence and simplicity of the gods of Asia reflected on the aim of existence, on the meaning of life, on the values which peoples and Governments are in search of. Then his eyes fell on the statue of the Buddha. Anatole felt like kneeling down and praying to him as to a God, the Buddha, eternally young, clad in ascetic robes, seated on the lotus of purity with his two fingers upraised admonishing all humanity to develop comprehension, and charity wisdom and love, prana and karuna. If you have understanding, if you have compassion, you will be able to overcome the problems of this world. Asoka, Budha's great disciple, when he found his Empire inhabited by men of all races and religions said:

"Samavaya eva sadhuh"

"Concord alone is the supreme good"

 A Symphony-that is India

India is a symphony where there are, as in an orchestra different instruments, each with its particular sonority, each with its special sound, all combining to interpret one particular score. It is this kind of combination that this country has stood for. It never adopted inquisitorial methods. It never asked the Parsis or the Jews or the Christians or the Muslims who came and took shelter there to change their creeds or became absorbed in what might be called a uniform Hindu humanity. It never did this. "Live and let live" -that has been the spirit of this country.

If we, therefore, stand out for the great ideal for which this country has stood, the ideal which has survived the assaults of invaders, the ideal for which, unswervingly and even alone, Gandhi stood amidst a contagion of madness and brutality, if we are able to do it, the flame which sustained us in overcoming foreign rule, would fire our efforts to build a united and free India.

To what destinies our nation is marching we do not know. But this at least we know that those destinies have been perceptibly affected by the life and work of this great soul, this central figure of our age who has disclosed to an unheeding world the beauty of truth and the power of love. Gandhi belonged to the type that redeem the human race. His life which has been a testimony of devotion to freedom, of allegiance to faith, of the undying glory of duty fulfilled, of sacrifice gladly accepted for all human ideals, will continue to inspire countless generations for nobler living.

S.Radhakrishnan