As we celebrate another birth anniversary of the father of the nation, it is worth recognising that the thinkers, writers, and activists are valuable for a society. Gandhi represented all of these, leaving a mark on the humanity that even his enemies find hard to deny.
Some argue that it was the matter of time and Independence would have come any ways, Gandhi, or no Gandhi. However, in that case, it was more likely that India would be authoritarian like its neighbours such as China, Pakistan, Burma, to name a few.
Besides being a great democrat, Gandhi represented the highest values of humanity in personal life and envisioned the same for social and political conduct, well explained in his book the Hind Swaraj, glimpses of which are found in the directive principles of the state policy of the constitution.
Thus, when writers and activists are targeted, fined, jailed, and even killed in contemporary India, it diminishes the Gandhian spirit and erodes the vital social and constitutional values, essential to a good, civilised life.
Transformation of a Lawyer
Gandhi, by his own admission, was a British educated lawyer who struggled to establish himself as a barrister in Bombay and Surat before setting “forth full of zest to try my luck in South Africa”, he wrote in My Experiments with Truth, his autobiography. He was 24 then and well acquainted with the cruelties of British rule and atrocities of caste system at home that he seemed to have reluctantly accepted as the distressing facts of life.
But the South Africa was worse. The thinker in Gandhi emerged when he was thrown out of the train at Maritzburg while he travelled from Durban to Pretoria. He spent the cold night debating the cause of white hostility against Indians and the means to counter it, concluding that the cause was racial superiority legislated into the law and weapon to counter would be the non-violence.
The renouncing of violence became Gandhi’s truth for the rest of his life which he defined as, “the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles. This truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought also, and not only the relative truth of our conception, but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God.”
Before he arrived in India in 1915, Gandhi was a writer, having penned An Appeal to Every Briton in South Africa and Indian Franchise-An Appeal, better known as, The Green Pamphlet, Hind Swaraj and The Story of Satyagraha in South Africa ; he was an activist, having led Satyagraha against inequal treatment of Indians persuading Gen Smut to abolish £ 3 tax on Indians under an agreement signed just before he left South Africa for home via England.
For the next three decades Gandhi proved to be the greatest modern assets for the country, playing a pivotal role in steering the change that he wanted to see in the country. So presently, when Harsh Mander and Prashant Bhushan are comparted with Gandhi on social media, I am neither surprised nor consider it an exaggeration. In fact, all the social and political activists (numbering in thousands) who are booked under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and sedition sections of IPC symbolise Gandhi in one way or the other.
Value of Writers and Activists
It might be of scholarly interest, whether the writers and activists are getting worse treatment presently than 1920s; or they are freer to write and speak as compared to freedom fighters like Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Prem Chand and others.
Be that as it may, it is safe though to state that all societies require writers and activists as they reveal social truths about people around them and create attitudes, morals, ideals, and values for a nation or the country.
Jawahar Lal Nehru, for instance, discussed some of such values, i.e., humanity, tolerance and peaceful coexistence in his books such as The Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History ; they were also recorded in the constitution, besides becoming part of country’s foreign policy.
The writers provide alternative narratives and solutions to the complex social problems. William Plomer, for example, in 1925, proposed a radical resolution to apartheid in South Africa, in the novel, Turbott Wolfe. The book, perhaps, inspired B. M Ambedkar to write the essay Annihilation of Caste (1936) that continues to impact and inspire millions of Dalits in the country.
The writers point to the reality, exposing inequalities and injustice that Koestler termed as the “sore spots in society.” The writers and activists aspire a world of their belief and vision, a “desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s ideas of the type of society that they should strive after”, surmised Orwell.
By adopting a state policy to persecute the writers and activists, the government is damaging Gandhian legacy as well as the international image of ‘Wonder that is India.’ A reversal of this practice can only be a true homage to the Mahatma.
Pushkar Raj is Melbourne based researcher and author. Formerly he worked with Delhi University and PUCL.