The significance of Gandhi’s idea of ‘Communal Harmony’ in times of cultural intolerance


Today on the occasions of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Jamia Millia Islam has organized a public meeting on the theme of, “Gandhi- his life, work and contribution to society”. On this special occasion, several eminent academicians and renounced Gandhians and social activists have expressed deep solidarity and affections towards Gandhi’s contributions and underlined that in today’s political and social context, we should not forget the sacrifice, struggle and intellectual contributions of Father of the Nation.  This public meeting was held at the Ansari Auditorium, JMI and well attended by the senior faculties, scholars and other students. On the important occasion, Amb. Ashna Kanhai ( Ambassador of Surinam), S.N Subha Rao, Shri Ram Chandra Rahi, (Chairman, Gandhi Smarak Nidhi) Kumar Prashant (Chairman, Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi) shared their thoughts and emphasized the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in the contemporary world.  Amb. Ashna Kanhai delivered the key note address. Many Gandhian scholars and social activists have noted that in the era of communalism, extreme poverty, huge crisis of employments, erosion of ethical and moral values and ecological imbalances; it is crucial to remember Gandhi’s contributions because even after 150th birth anniversary, his ideas are still relevant in the contemporary society. That is why we have to remember Gandhi on this occasion.  Besides, eminent academics, like Dr.  Mukul Kasavan,(faculty member, history department, JMI) Dr. Bulbul Dhar James, and Dr. Krihsna Swamy Dara (faculty members at political science department, JMI) have shared their thought on nationalism, diversity, ecology, gender equality and relationship between religion and truth.

While delivering the key note address, Amb. Ashna Kanhai has at the outset said that my ancestors belong to India and that is why I have deep affection with Gandhi and India too. While delivering her talk, he reminded us that Gandhiji played vital role in the process of de-colonization after Second World War. In this respect, she also underlined that due to Gandhi’s struggle; my country (Suriname, A small country on the northeastern coast of South America) had also got independent in 1975 from the Kingdom of Netherlands. Our country has roots and long relation with India and at the various levels like, Culture, NGOs and people to people relation are strong. She also highlighted importance of Indian Diasporas and cultural relation which still continue unabated (27 percent population belong to Indian origin).

Prof. Shahpar Rasool (faculty member at Urdu department, JMI) has rightly reminded us that Gandhiji played vital role in shaping the Jamia as well. It was Gandhiji who insisted that the world Islamia must not be deleted. While extending his gratitude towards Gandhiji, Prof. Rasool Saheb recited the couplets (relevant to highlight the role of Gandhiji during anti-colonial struggle) written by the famous poet Jigar Moradabadi,


                               Humko Mita Sakei, Yei Zamana Mei Dam Nahi,

                               Humse Zamana Khud Hai, Zamane se Hum Nahi.

S.N. Subha Rao a prominent Gandhian has said that now it is time to move beyond the boundary of nation-state and think about the larger case of humanity. He put forward that now we move from the slogan like Jai Hind, Jai Karnataka to Jai Jgat (think about the whole humanity rather than confine to specific country, say for instance France, Japan America, India etc). On this occasion, while reciting the couplets, Subha Rao appealed to the people to think about humanity beyond the boundaries of caste, race, region, religion and nation. Further, while narrating the story of the South Africa, when Gandhiji faced humiliations and was thrown out from train compartment, he decided not to surrender his political agency and fight against the British colonial master, not through weapon but by the non-violent means and satyagraha. While clarifying how to fight against the British rule, Gandhi expressed that through the ‘moral force’ not ‘brute force’ (for Gandhi, religion and morality is not disconnected from each other, therefore all religions, whether Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, essentially have one message to save humanity) which is a supreme energy residing inside the body, is bigger than any Gun, Rao added. However, the dream of Gandhi was not limited to only free India from the British colonial rule but also from the hunger, violence, and communal hatred.  After 72 years of Independent democratic India the dream of Gandhi now seems to be completely shattered down because of the rise of lynching, mob-violence, extreme unemployment, and widespread corruptions rooted in our society. That is why today at the global level, the credentials of India is not so worthy to celebrate. The secular traditions of Ashoka, Buddha, Akbar and Gandhi who believed in peaceful-co-existence and non-violence seem to be dying. Now we are living in difficult times, as shared by several speakers.

Shri Ram Chandra Rahi, another, Gandhian leaning social activist has reminded the importance of Nai Talim( the craft centered education which was visualized during the anti-colonial movement to educate and provide training to Indian students according to the needs and environment of Indian society).This idea has been put-forward by Dr. Zakir Husain and supported by Gandhiji and Maulana Azad as underlined by Rahiji. To note that for the first time the Nai Talim as concept was formulated at Wardha in Maharashtra and implemented at Jamia Millia Islamia and other nationalist institutions. Since Gandhiji entered the nationalist struggle against the British rule, he put-forward the idea of ‘complete swaraj’ rather than only confine to early nationalist mode of struggle which was based on prayer, petitions and protests. Historians of modern India noted that in doing so, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian national movement had became widespread and acquired the status of mass movement ( Champaran stayagrah could be cited as an example) as also shared by Shri Rahiji. However, it is ironical to note that due to dedications and commitment of Gandhiji towards nationalist cause and the Hindu-Muslim unity including ‘Communal Harmony’; finally he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse who belonged to the Hindu nationalist force (it is ironical to note that, the last general elections, 2019 in which Paragya Singh Thakur ,a BJP candidate, allegedly involved in terrorist activities, got elected hails Godse as true patriot).

While discussing the village economy and Gandhi’s stand on industry and machine including modern civilization, Rahiji pointed out that he was not as such against the process of mechanizations and industrializations; however, if these steps are producing unemployment in the village society, it must be avoided. While concluding his talk, he said that the problems of employment, exploitations of natural resources has created huge crisis in India which are now confronted by the large number of youth. The current problems of young generations could be overcome if we return to Gandhian model of development rather than accepting blindly the capitalist based technological development, added Rahiji.

Before sharing his thought, a Gandhian leaning scholar, Kumar Prashant said that I am highly influenced by Jamia’s Tarana. While sharing his thought on Gandhi’s deep concern about the fate of Indian Muslims, he pointed out that he lastly fasted in Delhi on the question of safety and security of Muslims who preferred to stay in India. Because at that time the communal antagonism was so deep among the Hindus and Muslims, it was extremely difficult to Indian Muslims to feel free and visit to Masjid, vacated home, and public festival like Urse (It is usually celebrated mostly by Barelvis in India while remembering Pirs or auwliyas). However, Gandhji had taken firm stand and said that I will side with Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan and eventually with whosoever suffers across the world. It is sad commentary of our history to note that Gandhiji was assassinated on 30th Jaunury1948 and his body cremated properly at Rajghath. However, after the 150 years of his birth anniversary, he is still alive in minds of millions of the people because he is today more relevant than ever before, added Prashantji.

While speaking on Gandhi’s contributions, an eminent historian Dr. Kesavan said that unlike the European idea of uniform and homogeneous  nation  based on one religion, culture and ethnicity,  in India under  the Indian national congress led by Gandhi believed on the principle of diversity, pluralism and accommodating the diverse communities like Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis  and others communities. It is crucial to underline that no nationalism in the world based on values of pluralism and diversity which had got large number of mass appeal under the leadership Gandhi, added Kesavan. Furthermore, it was Gandhi who advocated the balance between development and ecology. His struggle was based on the principle of non-violence and stayagrah, Dr. Kasavan said.

Another speaker, Dr. Bulbul Dhar James, a noted social scientist while highlighting the relevance of Gandhian values like, peace, non-violent, brotherhood in today’s political context has said that Gandhi’s commitment to gender equality and political participations of women in anti-colonial struggle need be seriously underlined. Besides, Dr. Dhar also pointed that it was Gandhi who strongly opposed the child marriage, sati system, discriminations and violence against women. For Dr. Dhar, Gandhi had advocated widow remarriage and respectful place of Indian women in the socio-political life of the country.  He was against the patriarchal values and practices such as male masculinity, selfish attitudes and violence against women in both public as well as private domain added Dr. Dhar. Gandhi modus- operandi and satyagraha was based on combining feminist concerns with nationalist struggle.

In a similar way, Dr. Dara Swamy while talking about the Gandhian techniques of achieving, truth, intellectual honesty by non-violent means (Ahimsa), underlined the importance of these techniques to achieve unfinished agenda of swaraj. However, the idea of truth itself has now been contested in the post- truth world.  Despite the limitation of truth as highlighted by the post-modern world, yet we can understand truths by applying Gandhian’s tools and techniques. While problematizing the notion of monopoly of single truth (truth (small –t not capital –T), generally employed by the great religious traditions, communal tension and violent attitudes towards other religious group has now sharpened, pointed by Dr, Dara. Intellectually speaking, truth seeking should not be based on self- interest but to achieve the collective goods by recognizing the different perspectives in the larger public domain added by him.  In other words, Gandhi’s notion of truth is based on relative and not on absolute and final truth as claimed by the great religious traditions. Gandhi’s notion of religion and politics was based on the ethical and moral principles where all come together (through the means of non-violence to achieve the agenda of Swaraj, pointed by Dr. Dara.

Broadly speaking, the respective speakers spoke about the Mahatma Gandhi’s views on social violence, Satyagraha, diversity, pluralism, peace education, communal harmony, and ecology, his criticism of unfettered capitalism, colonial exploitations, his notion of politics, truth and gender equality. The responsibility of carrying forward the rich legacy of Gandhi as said earlier lies on everyone’s shoulder, irrespective of religion, caste, and community, particularly young generations in times to come recommended by speakers.

The writer is a, Research Scholar, University of Delhi.




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