Tag Archives: India

Understanding the Ambedkar – Gandhi Debate By Rajmohan Gandhi

Dr B R Ambedkar in 1951

Dr B R Ambedkar in 1951

In 1936, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was invited to deliver a lecture in Lahore – then very much part of India – by a Hindu group opposed to untouchability. When the group saw an advance text of the lecture, which was entitled Annihilation of Caste, they cancelled the invitation because towards the lecture’s end, the author had declared his intention of leaving the Hindu fold. In a riposte to the cancellation, Dr. Ambedkar published Annihilation of Caste. Its contents elicited an immediate comment from Gandhi in his journal, Harijan, to which Ambedkar issued a rejoinder.

A major text from India’s recent history, Annihilation of Caste has been republished many times and has been translated into several languages, often with the Ambedkar–Gandhi exchange added to the main text. In March 2014, a new edition was published in Delhi by Navayana. In this new edition, Annihilation of Caste is preceded by a 153-page text by Arundhati Roy, entitled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’, which is presented as an introduction to Ambedkar’s classic ‘undelivered’ lecture.

This little book is a response to Arundhati Roy’s ‘The Doctor and the Saint’. However, it also bears an indirect connection to the historic debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi, which took place during a period well removed from our times. While Gandhi’s assassination occurred nearly seven decades into the past, Ambedkar died in 1956, almost six decades ago.

The two were involved in a positive, if impersonal, relationship during the 1920s. Though they did not meet each other in this period, Ambedkar appreciated Gandhi’s concern for the plight of Dalits, and he also welcomed the method of satyagraha that Gandhi had introduced. However, the 1930s saw sharp, and from a historian’s standpoint revealing, exchanges between the two.

The exchanges help our understanding not only of two powerful individuals in history, but also of continuing flaws in Indian society and the tension in the first half of the twentieth century between the goals of national independence and social justice.

To read the full article click here: Independence and Social Justice – Jan 2015

2014 UCL Lancet Lecture by Arundhati Roy – The Half-Life of Caste: The ill-health of a nation

Arundhati Roy giving the 2014 UCL Lecture. image © UCL

Arundhati Roy giving the 2014 UCL Lancet Lecture.  Image © UCL

The 2014 UCL Lancet Lecture was given by Arundhati Roy – The Half-Life of Caste: The ill-health of a nation.

The UCL video of the lecture can be viewed here:

Arundhati Roy, acclaimed novelist and political activist, won the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction with her novel The God of Small Things. She has published several collections of political essays on issues ranging from large dams and nuclear weapons to the corporatisation and privatisation of India’s New Economy.


‘Goddess of big things?’ A rejoinder to Arundhati Roy’s 2014 lectures in London that offered a critique of Mahatma Gandhi by Narinder Kapur

Arundhati Roy, the celebrated author and Booker Prize winner, recently gave two talks in London on the subject of caste, one at University College London (UCL), and the other a few days later at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the South Bank Centre, London. I presume the two talks were very similar, but the one at UCL appears available for viewing, and I did not attend either talk in person.

As Professor Michael Arthur, the UCL Provost, outlined in his Introduction to the Lancet Lecture given by Arundhati Roy at UCL on November 20, 2104 [1], the Lancet Lecture series has been delivered by an impressive feast of minds, including two Nobel Laureates – the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and the economist, Amartya Sen. It was an imaginative and bold decision to invite Arundhati Roy to deliver this year’s lecture, which was both stimulating and controversial, in line with the reputation which Ms Roy has gleaned over the years.

Her lecture was entitled, The half-life of caste: The ill-health of a nation. However, while caste was a key theme of the lecture, much of it was also taken up by a rather savage critique of Mahatma Gandhi. Her criticisms were so strident, and so divergent from established views of Gandhi, that it is only fair that some form of rejoinder is offered. A rejoinder of Ms Roy’s general thesis, which actually takes the form of a 153-page Introduction to a new 2014 edition of the 1936 book, Annihilation of Caste written by Dr B R Ambedkar, has already been written by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Raj Mohan Gandhi (http://www.rajmohangandhi.com/ambedkargandhi-debate-reply-arundhati-roy).

Ms Roy’s critique of Gandhi comes at the same time that the British government has decided to erect a statue of Gandhi in Parliament Square, and I suspect Ms Roy will not be donating any royalties from her books towards the Gandhi statue appeal (www.gandhistatue.org)! Some of the questioners who raised queries after the lecture prefaced their question by ‘I am a fan of yours’. Well, I am a fan of both Ms Roy and Gandhi, and so Ms Roy has managed to tear me apart, something that hitherto up to now only my children have succeeded in doing! I am a long-standing member of the Gandhi Foundation and have written a number of articles about Gandhi [2-4]. My interest in Gandhi started when I was researching Gandhi and Indian history for my book, The Irish Raj [5]. Sitting in the Oxford South Asia library, and having Gandhi’s volumes of writings in front of me, was a daunting experience while I was researching for the book.

Arundhati Roy has rightly achieved international acclaim for her Booker Prize novel, The God of Small Things. But she seems to have acquired a messianic appeal, akin to that of Mother Teresa, and – dare I say it – Mahatma Gandhi. In the eyes of many people, especially in the west, she can do no evil and say no evil. She appears to have taken on the charisma of ‘Goddess of Big Things’, pronouncing on issues that include nuclear weapons, terrorism and dams. She is seen as a manly figure in a world where we need a strong personality to stand up to male chauvinist pigs. However, as her Wikipedia entry shows [6], she is also a controversial figure, and she has been criticised by many in India for some of her statements and actions. She has also been criticised by the very people, Dalits, whose rights she claims to be defending and upholding. [7]

I do not intend to focus on Ms Roy’s pronouncements on caste nor on what she states were statements and views of Gandhi or Ambedkar in respect of caste. Caste systems lack logic and are relics of a bygone age, though a similar argument might be made of royalty! I wish instead to critique at a more general level the content of her lecture.

Ms Roy made it quite clear in her lecture that she considered Gandhi quite undeserving of the respect and accolades that he has been given, going so far as to criticise the Oscar-winning film on Gandhi by Sir Richard Attenborough. We are then to assume that those who got Gandhi all wrong include not only Sir Richard Attenborough but also Einstein, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and current leading academic figures such as Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard and Professor Lord Bikhu Parekh of London. Even those who disagree with Gandhi on certain issues have recognized his major, outstanding contributions to political thinking, such as a previous Lancet Lecturer, the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. In its recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala and to Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee gave a rare insight into its reasoning behind the award. It made little bones of the fact that it regretted not giving the award to Gandhi, and that the award to Malala and Kailash Satyarthi was in a sense an atonement for that grave error [8]. So, Ms Roy also stands on the other side of the fence to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

In the eyes of many leading figures, both past and present, Gandhi’s major achievements were two fold – firstly, to show that nonviolence was a viable means of bringing about political change and to show this at a time when violent means (two World Wars) was the norm; secondly, to point to superordinate principles of living and thinking which could usefully help to understand and guide human behaviour.

‘God is Truth’, ‘God is Love’, were the two key principles espoused by Gandhi. Where is Truth and where is Love (Compassion) in the Lancet Lecture that Ms Roy gave? Ms Roy’s compassion for those in lower castes is no doubt genuine and unarguable. The caste system is as degrading as it is illogical. What about Truth? How can one distinguish between Truth and Myth? Ms Roy gave the impression that this is an easy task, but I argue that it is not. There are three fundamental problems and flaws in the broad argument behind Ms Roy’s critique of Gandhi, flaws that lead me to doubt whether her lecture represented the Truth. Firstly, a major problem is that Mahatma Gandhi is dead, while Arundhati Roy is alive.

Ms Roy passionately believes in justice, as witnessed by her campaigns for justice in India. But there is a fundamental injustice in making strident criticisms of a man after he is dead, for the simple reason that he cannot respond to allegations – ‘Dead Men Cannot Talk’. This applies equally to other past figures such as JF Kennedy and Winston Churchill who are often the subject of allegations and innuendos. In the eyes of some people, to be assassinated once while alive is bad enough, without also having a character assassination long after you are dead. Apart from justice, I also argue that such criticisms are fundamentally disrespectful. If I was to criticise Michael Arthur or Richard Horton after they died, their families would quite rightly regard it as disrespectful for me to do so. Secondly, who is Mahatma Gandhi and who is Arundhati Roy? Is Arundhati Roy the combination of sperm and ovum one second after conception? Is Arundhati Roy the little girl in Corpus Christi school in India? Is Arundhati Roy the person on the day she won the Booker Prize? Our biology and our brains change from one day to the next. Arundhati Roy was not even the same person at the start of her UCL lecture as she was at the end of her lecture. Ms Roy tried to make the point that it was the same Gandhi throughout, that he was rigidly and 100% consistent in his views throughout his life. Ideally, one would wish to have gathered Gandhi’s views the day before he was assassinated to be sure that he had not changed his views. The point I am making is that Gandhi was a dynamic figure living in dynamic times, and it is quite likely that snapshots of his utterances, even if completely accurate, were not representative of the ‘true’ Gandhi, and the ‘true Gandhi’ may in fact be evanescent. Thirdly, Ms Roy relies entirely on words and verbal descriptions of events from the past. The Psychology of human memory tells us many things, amongst which the two key messages are that memory can be selective and can distort past reality, and that much of this selectivity and distortion can occur unconsciously, below the level of our awareness [9]. Indeed, we are often fooled by our confidence in how accurate our memories are, and in some cases the more confident we are of a recollection from the past, the more likely it is that we may be fooling ourselves. Memory distortions are so prevalent that they are considered by some to have adaptive value [10-11]. In legal settings, credibility is often given when ‘contemporaneous notes’ were taken of a conversation or event. For verbal utterances, a tape recorder would also be a key source of validity for the record that was kept. We do not know if the written statements alleged by Ms Roy to emanate from Gandhi were not subject to error (perhaps he did not mean ‘sex’, but ‘six’ or ‘sects’, and his secretary got it wrong or the proof reader did not pick it up!). We now have the advantage of modern technology that is more likely to ensure that posterity has a more veridical record of words and events. Such technology was largely absent in the period during which Gandhi is alleged to have made comments that Ms Roy so heavily relies upon.

Towards the end of her lecture, Ms Roy appealed to the audience to ‘apply their minds to false myths’. I respectfully appeal to her to apply compassion, objectivity and science to some of the false myths that may be lurking in her own mind.

Narinder Kapur is a consultant neuropsychologist at Imperial College NHS Trust, London and a Professor of Neuropsychology.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

1 Roy A. (2014). Lancet Lecture: The half-life of caste: The ill-health of a nation. November 20,
2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nawWZYhUWBA&list=PL794B0AE51832BE14
2 Kapur N. How Gandhi’s words speak volumes to the NHS today. Health Service Journal, April
18, 2013.
3 Kapur, N. (2013). The NHS could learn much from Gandhi’s teaching. BMJ, 346: f2411.
4 Kapur N. Bringing Gandhi to Science and Medicine. In: Mashelkar, R. (Ed). Timeless Inspirator:
Reliving Gandhi. New Delhi: Gandhi National Memorial Society, 2010; pp. 228-237.
5 Kapur N (1997). The Irish Raj: historical and contemporary links between India and Ireland.
Antrim: Greystone Press.
6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundhati_Roy
7 http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7283:an-openletter-to-ms-arundhati-roy&catid=119&Itemid=132
8 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Kailash-Satyarthi-was-in-running-for-Nobel-peaceprize-for-over-half-a-decade-Nobel-Institute/articleshow/44774768.cms
9 Schacter, D et al. (2011). Memory distortion: an adaptive perspective. Trends in Cognitive
Sciences, 15: 467-74.
10 Fernandez, J. (2014). What are the benefits of memory distortion? Consciousness and
Cognition, in press.
11 Lillenfeld S, Byron R. (2013). Your brain on trial. Scientific American, 23: 45-53.

Who is responsible for Assam massacre? By Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung

In the Indian political map, clear boundaries have been drawn for the Adivasis, and when they cross those, their identity is suspected, questioned and changed immediately. One is stunned to know that as soon as they leave their territories, they are counted in the general category and their constitutional and legal rights are denied officially.  But at the same time, the same sets of rules are not applied to the people of the privileged sections of the India society. Of course, it keeps happening with the Adivasis precisely because the Indian state is utterly biased against them on the basis of their race. But still they have no choice to cross the political boundaries because their own land, territory and resources have been grabbed in the name of economic growth, development of the nation and for the greater common good unconstitutionally and illegally. Thus, some of them cross their political boundaries in search of better livelihood opportunities, but most of these are forced to do so. However, the end result is, they are being slaughtered, raped, tortured, imprisoned and discriminated against actors across the country.

Unfortunately, instead of resolving these problems, the Indian state seems to be more interested in deploying more troops in the Adivasis’ territory, imposing curfews, shooting them, running relief camps and of course, buying their dead bodies too. Besides, the state also blames the Adivasis for their miseries. In the recent Assam violence unleashed on 23rd December by the extremist outfit the ‘National Democratic Front of Bodoland’ (Songbijit), 81 people, mostly Adivasis, were brutally killed, half of them women and children. This includes the killing of 3 innocent people by our brave soldiers, using their mighty power of ‘shoot on sight order’ on villagers were protesting against the violence.  Besides, 15,000 people were made homeless and forced to live in the relief camps. Since then, the state called ‘India’ has been buying the dead bodies. 500,000 rupees has been paid for each dead body. Is this not shameful for the largest democracy on the Earth? How long will the state count the dead bodies and buy them?

Interestingly, whenever violence erupts in Assam, the Indian political class portrays it as the outcome of an ‘ethnic clash’. The state, whose prime responsibility is to uphold the constitution, which guarantees a dignified life to each and everyone in the country, either becomes merely a mute spectator or party to it. The questions to be raised is, why is the Indian state not able to resolve the ethnic clash in Assam? Is it merely an ethnic violence? Has the state not sponsored political violence in the name of the ethnicity?  Everyone knows that the prime cause of violence is ‘self determination in the territory’. The Bodo Tribes claim that they are the owners of the territory, so the other people should desert it. Infiltration, demographic change, loss of land, shrinking of livelihood opportunities and intensified competition for political power have intensified a deadly potency to the issue of who has a right to Assam. Thus, Adivasis are called outsiders by Bodos, and the state has never been serious about resolving the issue for fear of losing the political mandate. Consequently the violence continues.

Of course, it’s very difficult to understand the algebra of the ‘Tribes’ and ‘scheduled’ in India. For instance, the webpage of the ‘Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ states two very strange aspects regarding the identity of the ‘Scheduled Tribes’. On the one hand, it says that when a person migrates from one state to another, he can claim to belong to a Scheduled Tribe only in relation to the state to which he originally belonged and not in respect of the state to which he has migrated, and on the other hand, it also states that a person who is a member of a Scheduled Tribe would continue to be a member of that Scheduled Tribe, even after his or her marriage with a person who does not belong to a Scheduled Tribe. How can there be two different parameters for the same Adivasis? How can persons born as Adivasis fall into a different category just after crossing their state’s boundary, whereas marrying a non-Adivasi make no difference? Why do the upper caste people enjoy the same rights and privileges across the country but Adivasis don’t? Is this not a state-sponsored crime against them?

The state sponsored crime against the Adivasis of Assam[1] began in 1950, when they were denied the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the Indian Constitution.[2]  However, the crime deepened in 1996 in the form of the ‘ethnic cleansing’, when 10,000 Adivasis were killed, thousands injured, and more than 200,000 were made homeless and compelled to live in relief camps for more than 15 years.[3]  Again, on 24 November, 2007, about 5000 Adivasi men, women and children were attacked in Beltola of Guwahati, while they attending a peaceful procession in demand of the Schedule Tribe status.[4]  They were attacked by the local people of Beltola, including shopkeepers. Consequently, 300 Adivasis were brutally wounded, hit by bamboos, iron rods and bricks. More than one person was killed, women were raped, and a teenage girl, Laxmi Oraon, was stripped, chased and kicked.[5] As usual, the ‘police either remained mute spectators or joined the crowd in brutality.[6]  Instead of protecting Adivasis, the government justified the brutalities and fixed blame for this incident on Adivasi organisations.

In 2010, the Assam Government forcefully evicted the Adivasis of Lungsung forest block located at Kokrajhar district of Assam, where they had settled down ‘much earlier than 1965.[7] The forest department claimed that they had ‘encroached’ this highly biodiverse forest, even though there was no forest as such anymore. Thus, the forest department launched an eviction move and deployed the forest protection force to evict these Adivasis. In this process, the forest protection force burnt down 67 villages, reducing them to ashes. Consequently, 7,013 Adivasis including 3,869 adults and 3,144 minors belonging to 1,267 families lost their homes. A 2 year-old boy, Mangal Hembrom, died after struggling between life and death for more than 2 months after being badly burnt during the eviction process. 40 people who were leading the protests against the eviction were arrested. Later on seven of these, who were students, were released, while the rest, comprising 33 men, were sent to Kokrajhar jail’[8]. After protest and legal intervention, these too were released.

Historically, Adivasis were brought to the state of Assam in three different circumstances. Firstly, Adivasis in general and Santals in particulars were brought to Assam for their resettlement after the Santal Revolt of 1855.[9]  They were settled down especially in western Assam, in the area that is now the north-west of Kokrajhar district. This settlement is recorded in the year 1881.[10]  Secondly, in 1880, as the tea industry grew very fast, a large number of tea garden were set up In Assam, wor which there was soon a scarcity of labourers. The planters appointed, agents and sent them to various places to recruit people for labour.[11] Thus, Adivasis were ‘coerced, kidnapped and incited to come to Assam, to live and work under appalling conditions.’[12]  Thirdly, large scale land alienation for ‘development projects’ also pushed Adivasis into Assam in search of a better livelihood, as there were many job opportunities in the tea gardens. This is how Adivasis settled down in the state of Assam. Over a period of time, they cleared trees and bushes, and made cultivable land by shedding their sweat and blood.

Obviously, these Adivasis enjoyed the ‘Scheduled Tribe (ST) status during British rule. However, after India’s independence, they were de-scheduled in 1947, and from the moment when the Indian Constitution was enacted in 1950, they were considered as outsiders, since the then Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi, opposed scheduling the Adivasis of Assam.[13] Whereas the same ethnic groups enjoy the status of Scheduled Tribe (ST), with its rights and privileges, in their parental states, i.e. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa, they are denied this status in the state of Assam. The government merely recognizes them as either tea or ex-tea tribes. Consequently, the people of Assam treat them as sub-human, terming them derogatively as Coolie-Bengalis or labourers – a classic example of discrimination of Adivasis by state and society.

The Adivasis are discriminated against at every level, which is, of course, a crime.  For example, when the government evicted Adivasis in 1974, after strong people’s resistance, they promised to give them land entitlements.[14]  At that time, Samar Brahma was the forest minister, and as per his promise, he started the process of land allocation in a phased manner. However, he allocated the land to the Bodos and some other communities. With his expulsion, the whole process of land allocation also stopped, betraying his promise to the Adivasis.[15]  Similarly, according to the Forest Rights Act, 2006, Adivasis are entitled to claim their rights on the forest land which they possessed before 13th December, 2005. However, Adivasis in Assam are denied their rights under the FRA as well. In fact, the Adivasis who had been ‘living in Lungsung Forest areas much earlier than 1965’,[16]  were not given rights and entitlement on the forest lands which they had been cultivating for decades.

Indeed, the history of Assam suggests that the ‘state is itself a problem, not the solution.[17]  There are more than 70,00,000 Adivasis[18] residing in the state of Assam, who are still not recognized as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ merely due to the political fear of losing Bodo voters. The most stunning factor in this episode is the complete silence of the outspoken India Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He has not yet opened his mouth on the Assam massacre, though the nation wants to know his reaction. On 25th December 2014, when the Adivasis of Assam were burying their dead bodies and crying for justice, he was busy in celebrating ‘good governance day’. Why is he silent? Is it only because the victims are marginalized people? Is it merely because most of the victims were Christians? How can the head of state be so narrow-minded, biased and selective? Or does he open his mouth only for the political gain?

The track record of Narendra Modi shows that after taking office as Prime Minister, he has spent most of his time either with the corporate sharks or wooing voters in political campaigns. It’s now the right time for him to show his courage through action aimed at protecting the rights of Adivasis, as he has been preaching other Adivasis territories. The ruling elites must understand that the violence in Assam is not just ethnic violence, but has become political ethnic violence, well-scripted and sponsored by the state. It is the need of the hour to uproot the main roots of violence, instead of using every incident to serve political interest. Since the ethnic problem of Assam is political, therefore the solution must be political. The billion dollar question is who will bell the cat?

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and writer from Jharkhand, India.

@Gladson Dungdung

Courtesy of countercurrents.org

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.


[1] Dungdung, Gladson, 2013. Whose Country is it anyway? Kolkata: Adivaani.

[2] PAJHRA, HUL, PAD, DBSS and NBS, 2011. Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Assam Tribune, 1st December 2007. ‘Beltola Violence and its Political dimension.’ Guwahati.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005. Adivasis and the Culture of Assam. Kolkata: Anshah Publishing House, p 78

[10] Chhetri, Harka Bahadur, 2005.Ibid. p 48

[11] Gokhale, Nitin A. 1998. The Hot Brew: The Assam Tea Industry’s most turbulent decade. Guwahati: SP, p 6

[12] Ibid.

[13] Assam Adivasis Cry for Justice, 2011.

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Tully, Mark, 2003. India in Slow Motion. New Delhi: Penguin Books, p xiv.

[18] Bahadur, 2005, Adivasis and the Culture of Assam, p 78

Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand by Bulu Imam

Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand


The new book Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand by the 2011 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award recipient Bulu Imam, is the result of thirty years investigative work. It describes the archaeological heritage, Mesolithic rock art, village rural painting tradition and culture. It is hoped that this comprehensive volume will go a long way in highlighting Jharkhand’s extraordinary ethnographic, archaeological, cultural, artistic and environmental heritage and the urgent need for it’s preservation and protection.

Dr.Syed Ahmed, Governor of Jharkhand in the presence of a select gathering in the Darbar Hall of the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi on 12th Nov.2014.

Dr.Syed Ahmed, Governor of Jharkhand (centre left) with Bulu Iman (centre right) and other guests in the Darbar Hall of the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi on 12th Nov.2014.

To read more about the book and it’s author click here

Read more about Bulu Imam’s work and the tribal art of Jharkhand:



Sept.2014, pp.xvi+552
Halftone Illus. 182 Size 17cmx24 cm
Bibliography Index
ISBN 978-81-7305-529 Rs.1950/-

If you would like to order it please contact,
Mr.Vikas Arya
Aryan Books International, New Delhi
Website: www.aryanbooks.co.in
Tel: 0091-11-23287589 / 23255799


Can you help this Kickstarter Project?

Sandhya with her new legs

Sandhya with her new legs

Can you help this Kickstarter Project?
To make a documentary film showing how the BMVSS, an organisation that makes free limbs for amputees, is giving people their lives back – Stepping Forward from Jaipur by Christine Booth

Forty five years ago in Rajasthan, a young Indian Government officer, Devendra Raj Mehta, suffered a near-fatal car crash. Among other injuries, his left leg had been broken in 43 places – and it was only the skill of his surgeons that saved it from being amputated. As he recovered, his gratitude made him think about the many people who aren’t as fortunate – and he vowed to someday help them. Just five years later, he founded the BMVSS, to give artificial limbs free of charge to anyone who needs one, and to help restore dignity and self-esteem to people who would otherwise be forgotten by society. So far, it’s helped to transform the lives of over a million amputees all over the world.

For further information, photographs and donations click on the link below:


Was this Gandhi’s worst decision? By George Paxton

Gandhi in the Boer War

Gandhi in the Boer War

2014 has been chosen by the British Government to commemorate the start of the Great War. The idea strikes me as very odd, unless its aim is to encourage a determined effort to avoid war in the future. But there is little sign of that in the everyday business of government. However the commemoration does give opponents of war the opportunity to present their different approaches and peace organisations are attempting to do that this year. [See www.noglory.org for some events planned]

But what about Gandhi and WWI ? Let’s start with Gandhi’s first experience of war, namely the Anglo-Boer War. Although critical of the treatment of Indians by the white South Africans, he believed at this stage in his development that the influence of the British Empire was generally benign. So, although sympathetic to the Boers, he offered to form an ambulance corps of Indian volunteers to serve in the British army. The corps was 1,100 strong and for 6 weeks it served in the battlefield removing the wounded to field hospitals. Gandhi also felt that this support would improve the standing of the Indians in the eyes of the British. In 1906 fighting broke out between Zulus and the British and this time Gandhi gathered a smaller corps to serve with the British under his command as a sergeant-major. The corps in fact helped to treat Zulus who had either been flogged as a punishment or were ‘friendlies’ who had been shot by mistake. In both cases Gandhi believed that as the SA Indians accepted the protection of the British Empire they should be prepared to defend it when it was under threat.

Leaving South Africa in 1914 for the last time Gandhi called in at London before returning to India but the European war broke out just two days before the ship reached port and so once more he felt called on to establish an ambulance unit, this time made up of Indians in Britain, including many students. Gandhi’s health was poor during his stay but the corps was able to give aid to wounded Indians when they started to arrive from the front although they were not given permission to go to France. In all three cases the Indians led by Gandhi were non-combatants but his actions were now criticised by some of his colleagues and friends. His close friends and colleagues Henry Polak and his wife Millie Graham Polak objected to this support for the war as being inconsistent with ahimsa. Olive Schreiner, the South African writer who knew Gandhi wrote to him saying that she had been “struck to the heart … with sorrow to see that you … had offered to serve the English government in this evil war in any way they might demand of you. Surely you, who would not take up arms even in the cause of your own oppressed people cannot be willing to shed blood in this wicked cause.” [Olive Schreiner by Ruth First and Ann Scott]

The issue of participation in war was to arise more dramatically when he was back in India. The war was not going well for the Allies early in 1918 and the Viceroy hoped to recruit more Indians for the war in Europe. For this purpose he convened a War Conference to which prominent Indians were invited. At first Gandhi thought of boycotting it but then decided to attend. He was persuaded to support recruitment. The argument put forward on the previous occasions still stood. Gandhi always greatly admired bravery – perhaps having been a timid child had something to do with that – and he perceived soldiers as displaying bravery. But he also thought that by supporting Britain now it could lead to the politicians taking a more generous attitude to Indian political aspirations after the war.

Gandhi then threw himself into a recruiting campaign in the Kheda district of Gujarat, significant because only a few months earlier he had launched an anti-tax campaign there. But the villagers could see more clearly than Gandhi. The contradiction in the votary of nonviolence recruiting for a war that had already led to the slaughter of tens of millions of human beings was clear to them and they refused to join up. Not only that but villagers did not greet Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel who accompanied him, nor feed them nor provide carts for the journey and so the recruiters often had to walk 20 miles a day. Gandhi now experienced non-cooperation used against himself. His actions were also once again opposed by friends and colleagues including C F Andrews.

The physical and mental strain on Gandhi led to a severe illness that was to last for months. It is clear that there was serious conflict in his mind and Erik Erikson the psychoanalyst attributes his physical collapse at least in part to a nervous breakdown at this time.

By the following year the war had ended but the Government had decided to pass the Rowlatt Acts which were perceived by Indians as oppressive, the very opposite of what Gandhi had expected following his support for the Government. So he launched the first all-India satyagraha and when a peaceful crowd in Amritsar were massacred by the Army his hope for a generous attitude by the Government was finally shattered.

Over the next decade or so Gandhi’s past attitude to war continued to puzzle Western pacifists and some like the noted Dutch pacifist Bart de Ligt and the Russian Vladimir Tchertkov, Tolstoy’s former secretary, argued with him through correspondence. Gandhi gave the reasons for his participation that he had given at the time, reasons that did not satisfy his correspondents. However Gandhi spoke and wrote increasingly strongly against war during the rest of his life. There was still occasional room for confusion over his positions as, although he would not participate in war himself, he knew that most people did not share his belief in nonviolence and so he believed there were circumstances when such people should fight. On the other hand in the 1930s and 40s he advocated only nonviolent resistance against the forces of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. As on other issues Gandhi could be inconsistent, or at least apparently so. But certainly he believed that satyagraha was universally applicable and that was the direction in which humankind should move and ultimately war should be completely replaced by nonviolent action and the willingness to suffer rather than kill.

Below are some quotations from Gandhi which reveal something of his evolving views over the last 30 years of his life, although this did not follow a straight unwavering line but rather a clear direction.

I hear and read many charges of inconsistency about myself.
…. Not only did I offer my services at the time of the Zulu revolt but before that, at the time of the Boer War, and not only did I raise recruits in India during the late war, but I raised an ambulance corps in 1914 in London. If, therefore, I have sinned the cup of my sins is full to the brim. I lost no occasion of serving the Government at all times. Two questions presented themselves to me during all those crises. What was my duty as a citizen of the Empire as I then believed myself to be, and what was my duty as an out-and-out believer in the religion of Ahimsa – nonviolence?
… Under Swaraj of my dream there is no necessity for arms at all. But I do not expect that dream to materialise in its fulness as a result of the present effort. Young India 17/11/1921

I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest causes. Young India 11/12/1924

I should be against compulsory military training in every case and even under a national Government. Young India 24/9/1925

I do justify entire nonviolence, and consider it possible in relation between man and man and nations and nations; but it is not “a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness”. On the contrary, the nonviolence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. Young India 8/10/1925

By enlisting men for ambulance work in South Africa and in England, and recruits for field service in India, I helped not the cause of war, but I helped the institution called the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character I then believed. My repugnance to war was as strong as it is today; and I could not then have, and would not have, shouldered a rifle. Young India 5/11/1925

…. But that still does not solve the riddle. If there was a national Government, whilst I should not take any direct part in any war, I can conceive occasions when it would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in nonviolence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a person or society nonviolent by compulsion.
… But the light within me is steady and clear. There is no escape for any of us save through truth and nonviolence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom. Would that all the acts alleged against me were found to be wholly indefensible rather than that by any act nonviolence was held to be compromised or that I was ever thought to be in favour of violence or untruth in any shape or form. Young India 13/9/1928

I would not yield to anyone in my detestation of war. Young India 7/2/1929

Czechoslovakia has a lesson for me and us in India. The Czechs could not have done anything else when they found themselves deserted by their two powerful allies. And yet I have the hardihood to say that, if they had known the use of nonviolence as a weapon for the defence of national honour, they would have faced the whole might of Germany with that of Italy thrown in. They would have spared England and France the humiliation of suing for a peace which was no peace; and to save their honour they would have died to a man without shedding the blood of the robber. I must refuse to think that such heroism, or call it restraint, is beyond human nature. Human nature will only find itself when it fully realises that to be human it has to cease to be beastly or brutal. Harijan 8/10/1938

I do not think that the sufferings of Pastor Niemoeller and others have been in vain. They have preserved their self-respect intact. They have proved that their faith was equal to any suffering. That they have not proved sufficient for melting Herr Hitler’s heart merely shows that it is made of harder stuff than stone. But the hardest metal yields to sufficient heat. Even so must the hardest heart melt before sufficiency of the heat of nonviolence. And there is no limit to the capacity of nonviolence to generate heat.
… Herr Hitler is but one man enjoying no more than the average span of life. He would be a spent force, if he had not the backing of his people. I do not despair of his responding to human suffering even though caused by him. But I must refuse to believe that the Germans as a nation have no heart or markedly less than the other nations of the earth. They will some day or other rebel against their own adored hero. If he does not wake up betimes. And when he or they do, we shall find that the sufferings of the Pastor and his fellow-workers had not a little to do with the awakening. Harijan 7/1/1939

My personal reaction towards this war is one of greater horror than ever before. I was not so disconsolate before as I am today. But the greater horror would prevent me today from becoming the self-appointed recruiting sergeant that I had become during the last war. Harijan 30/9/1939

As against this imagine the state of Europe today if the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the French and the English had all said to Hitler: “You need not make your scientific preparation for destruction. We will meet your violence with nonviolence. You will, therefore be able to destroy our nonviolent army without tanks, battle ships and airships”. It may be retorted that the only difference would be that Hitler would have got without fighting what he gained after a bloody fight. Exactly. The history of Europe would then have been written differently. Possession might (but only might) have been then taken under nonviolent resistance., as it has been taken now after perpetration of untold barbarities. Under nonviolence only those would have been killed who had trained themselves to be killed, if need be, but without killing anyone and without bearing malice towards anybody. I dare say that in that case Europe would have added several inches to its moral stature. And in the end I expect it is the moral worth that will count. All else is dross. Harijan 22/6/1940

Japan is knocking at our gates. What are we to do in a nonviolent way ? If we were a free country, things could be done nonviolently to prevent the Japanese from entering the country. As it is, nonviolent resistance could commence the moment they effected a landing. Thus nonviolent resisters would refuse them any help, even water. For it is no part of their duty to help anyone to steal their country. But if a Japanese has missed his way and was dying of thirst and sought help as a human being, a nonviolent resister, who may not regard anyone as his enemy, would give water to the thirsty one. Suppose the Japanese compel resisters to give them water, the resisters must die in the act of resistance. It is conceivable that they will exterminate all resisters. The underlying belief in such nonviolent resistance is that the aggressor will, in time, be mentally and even physically tired of killing nonviolent resisters. He will begin to search what this new (for him) force is which refuses co-operation without seeking to hurt, and will probably desist from further slaughter. But the resisters may find that the Japanese are utterly heartless and that they do not care how many they kill. The nonviolent resisters will have won the day inasmuch as they will have preferred extermination to submission. Harijan 12/4/1942

George Paxton is a Trustee of the Gandhi Foundation, Editor of the Gandhi Way and an author of several books on Gandhi.


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