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In Conversation With Gandhiji: Relevance Of Gandhiji In Resolving Hindu-Muslim Conflict Today

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In Conversation With Gandhiji: Relevance Of Gandhiji In Resolving Hindu-Muslim Conflict Today

By Irfan Engineer

In the initial period when Gandhiji gained prominence and became influential within the Indian National Congress, he had opined (and rightly so) that the communal conflict is creation of British colonial rulers. Whenever Gandhiji was asked as to how the Britishers could leave if the communal conflict persisted, his reply would be that the Britishers must leave under any circumstances and we would resolve the Hindu-Muslim conflict. Slavery of Indians was greater violence than the Hindu-Muslim conflict. However, it is equally true that for Gandhiji, Hindu-Muslim unity and eradication of untouchability were two of the six conditions for gaining swaraj (Young India, 1921). Hindu-Muslim unity was so fundamental to his normative view that swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity would have been a meaningless proposition. (Young India, 1921). He was impatient for Hindu-Muslim unity as he was impatient for swaraj (Hindu-Muslim Unity, 1939). India is now independent, and Gandhiji sacrificed his life for the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity in as much as he was martyred by bullets from a right wing Hindu Nationalist. Yet the dream of Gandhiji has not been achieved. In fact the solution to Hindu-Muslim unity is nowhere in sight. Some doubt whether Hindu-Muslim unity will ever be achieved and, others ask, is Gandhi relevant today? How would he have reacted to the issues involved in the communal conflict if he were alive today? This paper examines some of these issues through an imaginary dialogue between the author and Gandhiji. The author has never met Gandhiji but the imaginary answers of Gandhiji are based on his writings and exact quotes wherever possible and where quotes are not available, based on Gandhiji’s approach on similar issues.

I:          Thank you Gandhiji for giving me appointment to meet you. It is privilege for me to meet you and I have been looking forward to this meeting for quite some time in order to understand the Hindu-Muslim conflict and your approach to resolve it, which many believe is outdated.

Gandhiji: The pleasure is mine. The subject on which you seek my opinion has always been dear to me. I do not know how much I will be able to enlighten you but I will be happy to share my views on the subject.

Hindu-Muslim Unity:

I:          When did the necessity of Hindu-Muslim unity came to your mind first?

Gandhiji: If you could dissect my heart, you would find that the prayer and spiritual striving for the attainment of Hindu-Muslim unity goes on there unceasingly all the twenty-four hours without even a monment’s interruption, whether I am awake or asleep. I want unity if only because I know that without it there can be no swaraj (we have independence but no swaraj)… I must be impatient for Hindu-Muslim unity because I am impatient for swaraj. And I have full faith that true and lasting heart-unity between Hindus and Mussalmans, not merely patched-up political compromise, will come sooner or later, sooner perhaps than later. That dream has filled my being since my earliest childhood. I have the vividest recollection of my father’s days, how the Hindus and Mussalmans of Rajkot used to mix together and participate in one another’s domestic functions and ceremonies like blood-brothers. I believe that those days dawn once again over this country (Harijan, 1939).

Hindu-Muslim unity, in fact, non-conflict between all faiths was always fundamental to my understanding. My understanding and approach towards my own religion always taught me to be open and what they say these days – inclusive. Religion for me always was search for Truth. I have always maintained that Truth is God. My search for Truth led me to believe not merely that God is Truth, but Truth itself is God. I always held that Truth is multifaceted and is reflected in all religions. Being born in the Vaishnava faith, I had often to go to the Haveli. But it never appealed to me. I also heard rumours of immorality being practiced there, and lost all interest in it. I regard the Ramayana of Tulsidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature (January 2005, pp. 29-30). My father had Mussalman and Parsi friends, who would talk to him (my father) about their own faiths and he would listen to them always with respect, and often with interest. Being his nurse, I often had a chance to be present at these talks. These many things combined to inculcate in me toleration for all faiths. Only Christianity was at the time an exception (January 2005, p. 31). I happened, about this time, to come across Manusmriti which was amongst my father’s collection. The story of the creation and similar things in it did not impress me very much, but on the contrary made me inclined somewhat towards atheism (January 2005, p. 32). Towards the end of my second year (as a student) in England, I came across two Theosophists. They talked to me about the Gita. I felt ashamed as I had read Gita neither in Sanskrit nor in Gujarati. I began reading Gita with them. Reading of the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. My young mind tried to unify teaching of the Gita, the Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly (January 2005, pp. 63-64).

In my first public speech in my life in Pretoria in the house of Sheth Haji Muhammad Haji Joosab, I had laid stress on the necessity of forgetting all distinctions such as Hindus, Mussalmans, Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Punjabis, Sindhis, Kachchis, Suratis and so on (January 2005, pp. 116-117). I purchased Sale’s translation of the Koran and began reading it. I communicated with Christian friends in England. Tolstoy’s The Kingdom Of God Is Within You overwhelmed me and left an abiding impression on me (January 2005, p. 127). On the issue of ‘Indian Franchise’ which sought to deprive the Indians of their right to elect members of the Natal Legislative Assembly, Sheth Haji Muhammad Haji Dada who was regarded as the foremost leader of the Indian community in Natal in 1893, Sheth Abdulla Haji Adam, Abdulla Sheth, Sheth Dawud Muhammad, Muhammad Kasan Kamruddin, Adamji Miyakhan, Kolandavellu Pillai, C. Lachhiram, Rangasami Padiachi and Amod Jiva and other clerks of Dada Abdulla & Co. enrolled as volunteers. In face of the calamity that had overtaken the community, all distinctions such as high and low, small and great, master and servant, Hindus, Mussalmans, Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Sindhis, etc., were forgotten. All were alike the children and servants of the motherland. The agitation had infused new life into the community and had brought home to them the conviction that the community was one and indivisible, and that it was as much their duty to fight for its political rights as for its trading rights (January 2005, pp. 130-130). I always felt that non-cooperation against the colonial government pre-supposes cooperation amongst the different section forming the Indian Nation (Young India, 1920). For me, swaraj was unthinkable without the removal of the sin of untouchability as without Hindu-Muslim unity. Therefore unity of people belonging to all faiths was always my understanding

I:          What was the cause of communal conflict during the colonial period?

Gandhiji: You have decided to dig into a long history!!

I:          Gandhiji, I feel we will not be able to appreciate your approach without examining the history of the conflict. There is lot of misconception, misunderstanding and mistrust between members of the two communities. Different understanding of the past, which is often communally coloured, contributes to the mistrust.

Gandhiji: (laughing) There was no substance in our quarrels. Points of differences were superficial, those of contact were deep and permanent. Political and economic subjugation was common to us. (Harijan, 1939). I do regard Islam to be a religion of peace in the same sense as Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism are. No doubt there are differences in degree, but the object of these religions is peace. I know the passages that can be quoted from Quran to the contrary. But so is it possible to quote passages from the Vedas to the contrary. What is the meaning of imprecations pronounced against the Anaryas? Of course, these passages bear a different meaning to-day, but at one time they did bear a dreadful aspect. What is the meaning of the treatment of untouchables by us Hindus? Let not the pot call the kettle black. Christianity has a bloody record against it, not because Jesus was found wanting, but because the environment in which it spread was not responsive. Same is the case with the message of the Prophet (Muhammad). I have given my opinion that the followers of Islam are too free with the sword. But that is not due to the teaching of the Quran (Young India, 1927).

I had made the religion of service my own, as I felt that God could be realized only through service. And service for me was service of India, because it came to me without my seeking, because I had aptitude for it. I found myself in search of God and striving for self-realization (January 2005, p. 146). Mine is the religion of tapascharya, the way of penance taught by the scriptures and by Tulsidas (Young India, 1927). The golden way is to be friends with the world and to regard the whole human family like members of one family. He who distinguishes between one’s own family and another’s, miseducates the members of his own family and opens the way for discord and irreligion (Harijan, 1947). A man whose spirit of sacrifice does not go beyond his own community becomes selfish himself and also makes his community selfish. In my opinion, the logical conclusion of self-sacrifice is that the individual sacrifices himself for the community, the community sacrifices itself for the district, the district for the province, the province for the nation and the nation for the world. A drop from the ocean perishes without doing any good. If it remains a part of the ocean, it shares the glory of carrying on its boson a fleet of mighty ships (Harijan, 1947). After study of religions, to the extent it was possible for me, I have come to the conclusion that, if it is proper and necessary to discover an underlying unity among all religions, a master key is needed. That master-key is that of Truth and Non-violence. When I unlock the chest of a religion with this master-key, I do not find it difficult to discover its likeness with other religions. When you look at these religions as so many leaves of a tree they seem so different, but at the trunk they are one. Unless and until we realize this fundamental unity, wars in the name of religion will not cease. These are not confined to Hindus and Mussalmans alone. The pages of world history are soiled with the bloody accounts of these religious wars. Religion can be defended only by the purity of its adherents and their good deeds, never by their quarrels with those of other faiths (Harijan, 1940). The essence of true religious teaching is that one should serve and befriend all. It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion (Harijan, 1947). I believe in sovereign rule of the law of love which makes no distinctions (Harijan, 1947). I consider myself as good a Muslim as I am a Hindu and for that matter I regard myself an equally good Christian or Parsi (Harijan, 1947).

In many places we see that each community harbours distrust against the other. Each fears the other. It is an undoubted fact that this anomalous and wretched state of things is improving day-to-day (Gandhi, Young India, 1919). I know that there is too much distrust of one another as yet. Many Hindus distrusted Mussalman’s honesty. They (then) believed that swaraj meant Mussalman Raj, for they argued that without the British, Mussalmans of India would aid Mussalman power to build a Mussalman empire in India. Mussalmans, on the other hand, feared that the Hindus being in an overwhelming majority would smother them. Such an attitude of mind betokens impotence on either’s part (Young India, 1921). Even the leaders (of the communities) distrusted on another. Distrust never comes from well-defined causes. A variety of causes, more felt than realized, breeds distrust. We have not yet visualized the fact that our interests are identical (Young India, 1924).

Religion is a personal matter which should have no place in politics (Harijan, 1942). It is in the unnatural condition of foreign domination that we had unnatural divisions according to religion. Foreign domination going, (I had then thought), we shall laugh at our folly in having clung to false ideals and slogans (Harijan, 1942). Communalism of the virulent type is of recent growth (Young India, 1925). During the British Colonial period, I was of the opinion that real heart unity, genuine unity, is almost impossibility unless and until British power is withdrawn and no other power takes its place, that is to say, when India not only feels but is actually independent without a master in any shape or form (Harijan, 1942). I had expected non-violence to arise out of chaos (Harijan, 1942). The lawlessness is a monster with many faces. It hurts all, in the end, including those who are primarily responsible for it (Young India, 1925).

I:          Gandhiji, you do not seem to lay much of the blame on the Britishers and British policies as some of the Historians like Bipan Chandra have done or on the political and social causes of the conflict between the two communities. When the elites of the communities were trying to define the contours of the conflict – more imagined rather than real, as you have rightly pointed out – they were in effect trying to draw contours of nationalism in such a way that it excluded an imagined “other”. Hindu nationalists like Savarkar and Golwalkar recast Hindus as a political community, i.e. as a nation and named Muslims and Christians as its ‘other’ from whom there was an existential threat to the ‘Hindu nation’ and therefore advocated an authoritarian state where these communities were to suffer second class citizenship if at all they were allowed to remain within the country. Likewise Muslim elites recast Muslim community as a political entity and a nation that could not survive unless it had disproportionate share in all structures of power, particularly in the Parliament failing which they demanded a separate state. The separate state for Muslims would naturally treat Hindus and other non-Muslims as second class citizens. The Hindu nationalists as well as Muslim Leaguers were responding to the policies of British Colonial masters and in fact serving colonial rulers’ interests. For example, if bargaining for separate electorates and weightage for minorities was a possibility, such a possibility would naturally beget a politician who would do so and Jinnah turned out to be one. Weightage and to some extent separate electorate would naturally be resisted not only by secular nationalist, but would give rise to and political space for elites from Hindu community to resist such a demand. The British policies encouraged the Hindu nationalists and the Muslim Leaguers to make competitive claims for power. This was conscious British measure to undermine and weaken the inclusive freedom movement and the concept of secular nationalism led by Indian National Congress with equal citizenship rights to all irrespective of their religion, caste, region, language, ethnicity or gender.  The Hindu nationalists and the Muslim Leaguers were enthusiastically funded and supported by the feudal landlord, Nawabs and Rajas who aspired to retain their birth based privileges and a society structured on gender, caste and class hierarchies. Communal riots in Malabar and Multan in 1922, in Calcutta and Nagpur in 1923, in Delhi, Gulbarga and Kohat in 1924, in Delhi, Allahabad and Calcutta in 1925 and 1926, in other places were becoming a tool to mobilize and consolidate communal organizations and undermine struggle for independence. These riots went hand-in-hand with Tanzim and Sangathan movement. Physical cultural troops were sponsored by both the communities – Ali Ghol by a section of Muslims and Mahabir Dal of Mahasabha. Proximity or coincidence of festivals, issues of cow slaughter and music before mosques were exploited to trigger off communal riots.

Gandhiji: Were the elites serving their religion by doing so? Have I not made myself clear by saying that the core teaching of religion is truth, non-violence and service to the needy? Could the Britishers have divided us if we did not want to? Followers of all religions have not done their faith proud even before the Bristishers came. Practice of untouchability among Hindus prevailed even before the Britishers came. Now we have to look ahead and see how we can build Hindu-Muslim unity to achieve swaraj. This unity has to be heart-unity if it is to be long lasting. It has to be based on truth and non-violence and not based on political compromises and conveniences. Heart-unity between the communities can be build only if we learn to sacrifice everything we have, even our life for the sake of truth and for the sake of religion. In order to achieve swaraj and which is not possible without Hindu-Muslim unity we have to cement the relations between the two communities with love and as blood brothers and members of joint family. To achieve this unity, blaming Britishers alone will not help, though, they too have contributed. My approach always has been that we should understate the grievances that we have from others and overstate one’s own shortcomings and faults. I understand there are many contentious issues between the two communities and the world has many things to learn in order to live together. I am glad you are interviewing me as it pains me learn that though we have achieved independence, we have not yet achieved Hindu-Muslim unity and swaraj, and in fact it has become worse.

Post Independence Communal Violence:

I:          Coming to the situation after Independence, your goal of Hindu-Muslim Unity and swaraj has not been attained yet. The conflict has worsened after independence solution baffles us all. Major communal riots from 1950-2002 have claimed about 11,855 lives in India (Engineer, 2004)[1], overall number of casualties (dead and injured) since independence in Hindu-Muslim riots is around 40,000 (Wilkinson, 2005). India is witnessing a low key but steady genocide. There have been a few major riots that continued for days or those in which over 500 persons were killed – in Nellie, Assam, in 1983, in Delhi in 1984, in Gujarat in the year 1969, 1985 and 2002; in Maharashtra in 1984 and 1992-93 and in Kandhamal in the year 2008 and 2009. Communal riots have now become a distinct feature of India, especially since the 1980s. Violence for the making and the marking of identity, collective and individual, is increasing (Robinson, 2005, p. 19). Media covers the riots, generating temporary interest, and then it is business as usual, except for the victims, minorities, and a very small section who affirm secular governance and stand up for human rights. The section that stands for secular and impartial governance and for the human rights though disturbed and concerned, wield very little influence and are a voice of marginalized sections that gets drowned soon in the cacophony of development, progress, growth, stock markets, other issues that concerns politics of the country – like corruption, or extent of welfare measures, growing crime etc. There is a general outcry to forget the riot, and no one who planned, instigated, conspired and abetted the riot is punished and in most cases even the participants are not punished and victims more or less left to their own resources to survive. The policy of amnesia about riots and the victims leads to even larger riot (or some prefer to call it a pogrom) with even higher number of deaths and more ghastly atrocities and that continue for longer duration. Communal riots ghastly as they are, is however only one aspect and small part of the ongoing less visible and even invisible aspects of violence targeting the minorities. Gandhiji

Gandhiji: The greed of the greedy is a bottomless pit. I am the most pained by any riot anywhere in the country. My methods have not been tried by anyone after me. I think my methods are still valid and will yield results.

I remind you of the folly of looking upon one religion as better than another (Harijan, 1947). For God fearing men, all religions are good and equal, only the followers of different religions quarrel with one another and thereby deny their respective religions (Harijan, 1947). The key to the solution of the tangle lies in everyone following the best in his own religion and entertaining equal regard for the other religions and their followers. (Harijan, 1948). Hindu-Muslim unity requires the Mussalmans to tolerate, not as a virtue of necessity, not as a policy, but as a part of their religion, the religion of others so long as they, the latter, believe it to be true. Even so it is expected of the Hindus to extend the same tolerance as a matter of faith and religion to the religion of others, no matter how repugnant they may appear to their (the Hindus) sense of religion (Young India, 1924). The need of the moment is not one religion, but mutual respect and tolerance of the devotees of the different religions. We want to reach not the dead level, but unity in diversity. Any attempt to root out traditions, effect of heredity, climate and other surroundings is not only bound to fail, but is a sacrilege. The soul of religions is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms. The latter will persist to the end of time. Wise men will ignore the outward crust and see the same should living under a variety of crusts (Young India, 1924). The struggle must be transferred to change of heart among the Hindus and Mussalmans. They must be brave enough to love one another, to tolerate one another’s religion, even prejudices and superstitions, and to trust one another. This requires faith on oneself. And faith in oneself is faith in God. If we have that faith, we shall cease to fear one another (Young India, 1924).  I should love all the men, not only in India but in the world, belonging to different faiths, to become better people by contact with one another, and, if that happens, the world will be much better place to live in than it is today. I plead for the broadest toleration and I am working to that end. I ask people to examine every religion from the point of view of the religionists themselves. I do not expect the India of my dream to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu, or wholly Christian, or wholly Mussalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another (Young India, 1927). Differences of religious opinion will persist to the end of the time; toleration is the only thing that will enable persons belonging to different religions to live as good neighbours and friends (Harijan, 1946).

Do NOT see evil everywhere. All Muslims are no bad just as all Hindus are not bad. It is generally the impure who see impurity in others. It is our duty to see the best and have no fear (Harijan, 1947). I appeal to the Sikhs, the Hindus and the Muslims to forget the past, not to dwell on their sufferings but to extend the right hand of fellowship to each other and determine to live at peace with each other (Harijan, 1947). I must confess that I shall lose all interest if Muslims who have produced such men as hakim Ajmal Khan and Dr. Ansari cannot live with perfect safety in the Union. I am told that Muslims are not loyal. I decline to believe in this sweeping condemnation. I am told that every Muslim in the Indian Union is loyal to Pakistan and not to India. I would not agree with the charge. In any event, the majority here need not be frightened of the minority. As for traitors, if there are any, they can always be dealt with by the law. Surely, it is cowardly on the part of the majority to kill or banish the minority for fear that they will be all traitors (Harijan, 1947). To damn crores of human beings for the fault of few belonging to a particular faith seems to me to be the height of madness. Is it not a sign of cowardice to kill a man and his family for fear that he may prove untrustworthy? Picture a society in which every man is permitted to judge his fellow. Yet, that is the state to which we are being reduced to in some parts of India (Harijan, 1947).

After creation of Pakistan, the Muslims in the Indian Union have been placed in a very difficult situation and it is up to the majority community to mete out exact justice to them. It would spell the ruin of both Hindu religion and the majority community, if the latter, in the intoxication of power entertains the belief that it can crush the minority community and establish purely Hindu Raj. It is never too late for purging out the dross from the hearts of both the communities by a strenuous effort at self-purification (Harijan, 1948).

We should forget the past and learn the duty of having friendly feelings towards all and being inimical to none. The crores of Muslims are not all angels nor are all the Hindus and the Sikhs.There are good and bad specimens among all communities. Would we be less than friendly towards the so-called criminal tribes amongst us? Muslims are a numerous community scattered all over the world. There is no reason why we, who stand for friendship with the whole world, should not be friends with the Muslims (Harijan, 1948).

On Cow Protection:

I:          Small sections of upper caste Hindus who are politically and socially well connected have been propagating cow protection. There is nothing wrong with the propagation of cow protection but some of them are driven more by hatred against the dalits and Muslins rather than love for cow and they use the issue of cow protection as a tool to spread hatred against dalits and Muslims, promote violence and perpetuate the hegemony of caste system. In Gohana (Haryana) 5 dalits were killed because they were skinning a dead cow on the allegation that they killed the cow. In Dhule (Maharashtra), provocative posters were pasted all over the town showing a bearded person (supposedly Muslim) killing a cow with his sword. The poster was obviously to provoke a communal riot and communal riot did take place. VHP vigilante teams regularly stop vehicles transporting cattle and if the owner or the driver happens to be a Muslim, they extort huge amount or threaten that they would be charged for taking cow illegal to slaughter house and the vehicle would be confiscated. A businessman does not want to undergo so much of legal ordeal and gives in to their demand of extortion and carries on. In cases where they resist, there is a fear that it might provoke communal riot and all the Muslims of the town, whether they have any connection with the cattle trade or not, are under threat of violence.

Gandhiji: Though I regard cow-protection as the central fact of Hinduism, central because it is common to the classes as well as the masses, I have never been able to understand the antipathy towards the Musalmans on that score. We used to say nothing about the slaughter that would take place daily on behalf of Englishmen and even now when other nationals, particularly from Northern countries eat beef. Our anger becomes red-hot when a Musalman slaughters a cow. All the riots that have taken place in the name of cow have been an insane waste of effort. They have not saved a single cow, but they have, on the contrary, stiffened the backs of the Musalmans and resulted in more slaughter (Young India, 1924).

Hindu religion prohibits cow-slaughter for the Hindus, not for the world. Religious prohibition comes from within. Any imposition from without means compulsion. Such is repugnant to religion. India is the land not only for the Hindus but also of the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Parsis, the Christians, the Jews and all who claim to be of India and are loyal to the Union. If we can prohibit cow slaughter in India on religious grounds, why cannot the Pakistan Government prohibit, say, idol worship in Pakistan on similar grounds? I am not a temple-goer, but if I am prohibited from going to a temple in Pakistan, I would make it a point to go there even at the risk of losing my head. Just as Shariat cannot be imposed on the non-Muslims, Hindu law cannot be imposed on the non-Hindus (Harijan, 1947). I am of the opinion that if we try to stop cow-slaughter through law, it would be a great mistake. I have been a devotee of the cow for over half a century. She has a permanent place in the economy of India. The cow can indeed be saved if we can steal into the hearts of the Muslims in such a way that they voluntarily undertake the responsibility out of deference to the feelings of their Hindu friends. This has been abundantly demonstrated during the Khilafat days. Now that India is free, the same old relation could be restored, if we behaved towards one another correctly. Hinduism would be wrongly served if compelling legislation is resorted to in such matters. Hinduism can only be saved by doing unadulterated justice to man, to whatever religion he might belong (Harijan, 1947).

The Mussalmans are under no religious obligation to slaughter a cow (Young India, 1921). It is generally known that I was a staunch vegetarian and food reformer. But it is not equally generally known that ahimsa extends as much to human beings as to lower animals and that I freely associate with meat-eaters. Hindus may not compel Musalmans to abstain from meat or even beef-eating. Vegetarian Hindus may not compel other Hindus to abstain from fish, flesh or fowl. I would not make India sober at the point of sword. Nothing has lowered the morale of the nation so much as violence (Young India, 1921). Once, while in Champaran, I was asked to expound my views regarding cow-protection. I told my Champaran friend then, that, if anybody was really anxious to save the cow, he ought once and for all to disabuse his mind of the notion that he had to make the Christians and Musalmans to desist from cow-killing. Unfortunately, today we seem to believe that the problem of cow-protection consists merely in preventing non-Hindus, especially Musalmans, from beef-eating and cow-killing. That seems to be absurd. Let no one, however conclude from this that I am indifferent when a non-Hindu kills a cow or that I can bear the practice of cow-killing. On the contrary, no one probably experiences a greater agony of soul when a cow is killed. But what am I to do? Am I to fulfil my dharma myself or am I to get it fulfilled by proxy? How can I ask Musalmans to desist from eating beef when we Hindus eat beef ourselves? We forget that there are Hindus who gladly partake of beef. I have known orthodox Vaishnavas who eat beef-extract when it was prescribed by t heir doctors. But supposing even that we did not kill the cow, is it any part of my duty to make the Mussalman, against his will, to do likewise? (Young India, 1925). As a Hindu, a confirmed vegetarian and a worshiper of the cow whom I regard with the same veneration as I regard my mother, I maintain that Musalmans should have full freedom to slaughter cows, if they wish, subject of course to hygienic restrictions and in a manner not to wound the susceptibilities of their Hindu neighbours. Fullest recognition of freedom to the Muslims to slaughter cows is indispensible for communal harmony, and is the only way of saving the cow (Harijan, 1940).

Hinduism does not consist in eating and not eating. Its essence consists in right conduct, in correct observances of truth and non-violence. Many a man eating meat, but observing the cardinal virtues of compassion and truth and living in the fear of God, is a better Hindu than a hypocrite who abstains from meat (Young India, 1926).

Musalmans can be won over to protect cow through love and persuasion. During the Khilafat agitation, many Musalmans had taken up the role of protection of cow. Khilafat workers, themselves Musalmans, were working to prevent cow killing. Was it a small matter that the burden of cow-protection had been taken over almost entirely by Mussalman workers? Was it not a soul stirring thing for Hindus to witness Messrs. Chhottani and Khatri of Bombay rescuing hundreds of cows from their coreligionists and presenting them to the grateful Hindus (Young India, 1921)? I used to tell Maulana Shaukat Ali all along that I was helping hin to save his cow, i.e., the Khilafat, because I hoped to save my cow thereby. I was prepared to place my life in the hands of the Musalmans to live merely on their sufferance. Why? Simply that I might be able to protect the cow. I hope to achieve the end not by entering into a bargain with the Musalmans but by bringing about a change of heart in them. So long as this is not done, I hold my soul in patience. For I have not a shadow of doubt in my mind that such a change of heart can be brought about only by our own correct conduct towards then and by our personal example. I offered to share with the Musalmans their suffering to the best of my capacity not merely because I wanted their co-operation for winning swaraj but also I had in mind the object of saving the cow (Young India, 1925). I am satisfied that during 1921 more cows were saved through the voluntary and generous efforts of the Musalmans than through Hindu effort during all the previous twenty years (Young India, 1925). Without any assistance of law, but because of my being able to cultivate friendship with the Muslims of India during the Khilafat days, I have been instrumental in saving more cows from the butcher’s knife than any other individual (Harijan, 1947). I would not kill a human being for protecting a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious. To attempt cow-protection by violence is to reduce Hinduism to Satanism and to prostitute to a base end the grand significance of cow-protection. The Hindus must scrupulously refrain from using any violence against Musalmans. Suffering and trust are attributes of soul force. I have heard that, at big fairs, if a Musalman is found in possession of cows or even goats, he is at times forcibly dispossessed. Those who, claiming to be Hindus, thus resort to violence, are enemies of the cow and of Hinduism (Young India, 1921). I make a bold assertion without fear of contradiction, that it is not Hinduism to kill a fellowman even to save the cow (Young India, 1921). To nurse enmity against the Musalman, for the sake of saving the cow, is a sure way to kill the cow and is doubly sinful. Hinduism will not be destroyed by a non-Hindu killing a cow. The Hindu’s religion consists in saving the cow, but it can never be his religion to save the cow by a resort to force towards a non-Hindu. (Young India, 1924). The Musalmans claim that Islam permits them to kill the cow. To make a Musalman, therefore, to abstain from cow killing under compulsion (by legislation), would amount in my opinion to converting him to Hinduism by force. Even in India under swaraj, in my opinion, it would by unwise and improper for a Hindu majority to coerce by legislation a Musalman minority into submission to statutory prohibition of cow-slaughter (Young India, 1925).

Gandhiji On Gujarat Carnage:

I:          Gandhiji I don’t know if you are aware of the carnage that took place in Gujarat in the year 2002 that followed brutal burning of a compartment of Sabarmati Express in which 56 people died. There are varying estimates of those killed during the carnage ranging between 500 and 2,500. Besides the spectacular carnage Muslims are being discriminated in every aspect. How would you promote communal harmony in the state of Gujarat?

Gandhiji: I am glad I did not live to witness such a day. I would not have allowed such brutalities in my Hindustan in my life time. Hindustanis have forgotten my legacy. There cannot be swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity. Heed my warning, if you want continue to remain independent and sovereign and struggle with major issues of wiping the tears from the eyes of most marginalized, the real swaraj that I struggled for, Hindu-Muslim unity is still a must. Without Hindu-Muslim unity, other greedy powers may try to take advantage and undermine our hard won independence. I feel the pain of by every innocent killed – whether it is those of people who were burnt in the Sabarmati Express or in the riots that followed.

I:          The train burning incident was preceded by reported harassment of the hawkers on railway platforms and at Godhra station. It was feared by the hawkers that a Muslim girl was pulled into the train and being abducted. Somebody pulled the chain and the train was stopped twice and it was found burning…

Gandhiji: The karsevaks were mistaken and if any one of them was indulging in any violence along the way, it cannot be supported. They have to be left to the God to deal with them, even though I would not support their acts. They are not without noble traits (Young India, 1924). However, the burning of Sabarmati Express is equally condemnable, that is, if it was burnt. The Courts will find out the truth and we all should assist in the work of the Court. It is cowardice to act violently in group against those vulnerable – whether it was against the hawkers or against the karsevaks. In what followed the burning of the Sabarmati Express – the Hindu-Muslim riots is a result of lack of faith in God’s omnipresence and reliance on one’s physical strength. Reliance on one’s physical might is the way of violence. Both (reliance on God’s omnipresence and reliance on one’s physical strength) have a place in the world. It is open to us to chose either. If all the Hindus and Mussalmans both elect the way of violence it must mean prolonged fighting and rivers of blood. (Young India, 1924). Way to get rid of cowardice is for educated person to fight goondas. We may use sticks and other clean weapons. My ahimsa will allow the use of them. We shall be killed in the fight. But that will chasten the Hindus and Mussalmans. As things are going, each party will be the slaves of their own goondas. That means dominance of the military power (Young India, 1924). My whole soul rises against the very idea of the custody of my religion passing into the hands of goondas. Goondas came on the scene because the leaders wanted them (Young India, 1924).  Goondas do not drop from the sky, nor do they spring from the earth like evil spirits. They are the products of social disorganization, and society is therefore responsible for their existence. In other words, they should be looked upon as a symptom of corruption in our body politic (Harijan, 1940).

I am really ashamed of the nature of violence unleashed and was reminded of Partition riots. I had hoped that after Partition Hindus and Mussalmans would live as blood brothers. Even as justice to be justice has to be generous, generosity in order to justify itself has got to be strictly just (Harijan, 1940).

To establish peace, I would remind you of my recommendations for victims of partition riots and refugees. Peace must be with honour and a fair security for life and property (Harijan, 1947). True repentance with the consequent repertory action alone can abiding peace between the two sister communities. Contemplate on what internal strife means, to forgive and forget what has happened and to bear to malice in your hearts for all the tragic and bestiality happenings (Harijan, 1947). Riots are a matter of great shame and sorrow. But the shame of sin can be turned to good account by adequate repentance. All the religions that I have studied are full of instances proving the maxim: “The greater the sinner the greater the saint.” I wish that the maxim can be proved true in the reformed life of the people of Gujarat. Surely the repulsion caused by mental dirt which the insanity of the Hindus of Gujarat meant is much greater than the pain caused by any physical dirt however great. We should think how we can evoke genuine repentance in the hearts of Hindus in Gujarat. Those Hindus from riot affected areas who are reading this should invite Muslim sufferers to return[2] (Harijan, 1947). What does it matter if you know everything but do not know how to live in brotherliness with your neighbours? (1947, p. 3) If some people have committed grievious mistakes in their dealings with their neighbours, they should repent and ask their pardon of God. Peace Committees should be formed to ensure that poor Muslims are rehabilitated, just as the Hindus have to be rehabilitated in the areas from which they have been evacuated. Local peace committees should be set up in each mohalla; and they must find at least one Hindu and one Muslim of clean heart to work together. These committees must tour the areas under their jurisdiction. They should work together. These committees must tour the areas under their jurisdiction. They should work to create the feeling of friendliness wherever it is lacking (Harijan, 1947)[3]. Full justice and reparation should be made through a tribunal admittedly impartial. The Tribunal can also go into the question of compensation. (Harijan, 1940)

Gandhiji On Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Conflict:

I:          You must be aware of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid movement since 1980s. The Sangh Parivar people are insisting that Lord Ram was born at a particular spot in Ayodhya, to be precise, the spot where Babri Masjid was. While the entire matter was in court, the Sangh Parivar mobilized some followers who were led to believe that Ram was born on the specific spot, while others who had been trained for the job demolished the Masjid. What do you have to say to that Gandhiji?

Gandhiji: My alliance with the Mussalmans presupposes their perfect tolerance for my idols and my temples. I am an iconoclast in the sense that I break down the subtle form of idolatory in the shape of fanaticism that refuses to see any virtue in any other form of worshipping the deity, save one’s own. This form of idolatory is more deadly for being more fine and evasive than the tangible and gross form or worship that identifies  the deity with a little bit of a stone or a golden image (Young India, 1924). I ask you to accept the slavery of the one Omnipotent God, no matter by what name you address him. Then you will bend the knee to no man or men. It is ignorance to say that I coupled Rama, a mere man, with God. I have repeatedly made it clear that my Rama is the same as God. My Rama was before, is present now and will be for all time. He is Unborn and Uncreated. Therefore, you should tolerate and respect the different faiths. I am myself an iconoclast, but I have equal regard for the so-called idolaters. Those who worship idols also worship the same God who is everywhere, even in clod of earth, even in a nail (Harijan, 1947). Even though a thousand temples may be reduced to bits, I would not touch a single mosque and expect thus to prove the superiority of my faith to the so-called faith of fanatics. I would love to hear of priests dying at the posts in defence of their temples and idols. Let them learn to suffer and to die in the defence of their temple, even as God allows himself to be insulted and broken up in the insult and damage done to the idols in which, being omnipresent, He undoubtedly resides. Hindus will not defend their religion or their temples by seeking to destroy mosques, and thus proving themselves as fanatical as the fanatics who have been desecrating temples. To the unknown Mussalmans who are undoubtedly behind these desecrations, I submit: Remember that Islam is being judged by your conduct. I have not found a single Mussalman defending these outbursts, not even under provocation (Young India, 1924).

I had visited a mosque in the village Bola which was damaged during the disturbances. I was told that on the Holi day the mosque was again desecrated by some villagers who played Holi inside the mosque premises. If it is true, it is undoubtedly a notice given by them to the Muslims not to enter their homes even when they are rebuilt nor dare to visit the mosque. If this reported desecration on the Holi day is a fact, it is a bad omen for Hindus, for Bihar and for the whole country (Harijan, 1947).

An idol has no value unless it is duly installed in a consecrated place by duly qualified devotees. Forcible possession of a mosque disgraces Hinduism. It is duty of the Hindus to remove idols from the mosques and repair the damage. I have not heard of any mosque being turned into a Gurudwara. The Sikhs worship the Guru Granth Saheb. It will be an insult to the Granth Saheb if it is placed in a mosque (Harijan, 1947).

The dispute over the site in Ayodhya appears more to be about power and not about the Omnipresent God. Mussalman brothers should not build a Masjid on the land where idols of Ram and Sita were placed. They should sacrifice that piece of land and hand it over to the Hindus and offer to help them build their Temple. Hindus should not build a Temple on the site where a Masjid was demolished even if they get legal possession of the land. Respecting and sacrificing for other’s faith is the highest religion. The religious leaders from both the communities who have learnt to sacrifice and respect other faiths as much as their own should come together and they may be able to find a solution to the problem when they put their heads together. But they will be bitterly opposed, I must say, by those who are more interested in objectives other than religion and worship. It is for the religious leaders to create a brotherly feelings and relations between the Hindus and Muslims and dispel the atmosphere of distrust. They may not be able to arrive at an acceptable solution unless they are able to create brotherly feeling and this can be done by mobilising both the communities for their common issues just as I had done by supporting the Khilafat movement and mobilizing the support of Muslim community for the non-cooperation movement in 1920s. The religious leaders who stand up for Truth and Non-violence will have to do a great deal to dispel the atmosphere of distrust between the two communities.

I:          Thank you Gandhiji, You have enriched me a lot but I am not yet satisfied and I have lots of questions still in my mind. I hope I can come back to you.

Gandhiji: Whenever you remember me, I will share my views with you


[1] This figure is computed from Table 24, Pp 230-235 in the book under reference. The figure is merely indicative and may not be an accurate figure. There are discrepancies in different tables given at the end of the book depending on the source from which the table is derived. Table 17 on page223-224 gives a total figure of those killed in riots as 14,686 in 13,952 incidences of riots with 68,182 injured for the same period – 1950-2002. These figures also do not include communal riots in Nellie, Assam, in which more than 3000 persons were killed.)

[2] From Gandhiji’s speech at prayer meeting on 20th May 1947 at Hilsa, Bihar.

[3] Speech at prayer meeting, Calcutta, August 20, 1947

Author: Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution

We work for peace and conflict resolution through peace courses, education and awareness. Our Aims are: •To study about the diversity in the society and making everyone aware of it. •To bring about policy change whereby promoting rights of the marginalized groups mentioned above. •To create democratic spaces in educational institutions, communities and public life on the whole through debates and reflection. •To encourage the discourse on peace education and human rights.

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