Allow me to welcome the New Year with some old words. Actually they are timeless words, always relevant. They are reminders of our heritage, our possibilities, and our shortcomings. Let them speak for themselves.
MK Gandhi, January 1948: My fast, as I have stated in plain language, is undoubtedly on behalf of the Muslim minority in the Indian Union and, therefore, it is necessarily against the Hindus and the Sikhs of the Union and the Muslims of Pakistan.
It is also on behalf of the minorities in Pakistan. The fast is a process of self-purification for all. It is meant to bring sanity to all those who inhabit both the Indian Union and Pakistan. It is impossible to save the Muslims in the Union if the Muslim majority in Pakistan do not behave as decent men and women. (Gandhi lived in the age of enlightenment when India considered itself above narrow religious sectarianism. Therefore, he could speak about minorities and majorities in the tone of a secular Indian who saw humanity as one. Today’s rulers speak in a different tone because they are majoritarians with a religion-based outlook. They want to strengthen their hold on the country with a divide and- rule strategy.)
Rabindranath Tagore, 1928: I was anxious to see village life in the minutest detail. The everyday tasks of village folk and the varied cycle of their work filled me with wonder. Then, slowly, the poverty and misery of the people grew vivid before my eyes. I was struck with shame that I was a Zamindar... The poor in our villages have borne many insults. The powerful have done many wrongs.
On the other hand, the powerful have had to do all the welfare work. Caught between tyranny and charity, the village people have been emptied of self-respect... If we could free even one village from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for the whole of India would be established. Let a few villages be rebuilt this way and I shall say these are my India. That is the way to discover the true India. (That was probably the dream that led Debendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s father, to rent 20 acres of land from the talukdar of Raipur at an annual payment of Rs 5 and start Santiniketan. That was in 1863. What began as a place for meditation and Brahmo prayers became 25 years later the home of Brahmavidyalaya. Rabindranath developed it into Visva- Bharati, a central university.)
Commissioners’ report on the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre submitted in 1920: When any extraordinary law either provides for or operates in such a manner as to permit confinement up to two years without a proper trial and when this affects ‘large bodies of people’, the prevailing situation is ‘not one of law and order but of organised terror and disorder, or martial law without the name.’
Extraordinary laws must never be used for purposes for which they are not meant, or for the purpose of stifling political agitation or of restraining political freedom. Executive action and extraordinary laws must not cause punishments the object of which is to degrade the human being. Extraordinary powers to the police can only be given at the cost of the liberty of citizens. Any special benches, or extraordinary tribunals or boards set up under extraordinary laws will provide only illusionary justice. (The commissioners appointed by the Congress were M K Gandhi, C R Das, Abbas Tyabji and M R Jayakar.
They submitted the report in the shadow of the Criminal Law (Emergency Powers) bill which came to be known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919). To give the Devil its due, the British colonial government was a foreign government with the primary aim of keeping a colony enchained. The situation today is very different with an elected government in control of a free and independent India. Yet, some of the laws enacted by today’s government seem to have the same underlying intention that the colonial government had, namely, keep the subjects enslaved.
The mass protests across the country against the citizenship law are reminiscent of the mass awakening against the British government. Why have we reached such a stage after 70 years of self-government under a democratic Constitution? Because, for the first time in all these years, communally inclined leaders are subverting the ideas Gandhi propagated when he fasted on behalf of the Muslim minority. Gandhi was great enough to rise to the greatness of India. Modi-Shah in their smallness, want India reduced to smallness. They must be stopped.