Tag Archives: Nehru

Tribes and Tribulations – by Graham Davey

How do we bring peace and justice to the dispossessed and who is responsible?

Those who came to the Annual General Meeting at Kingsley Hall on 10 July 2010 were privileged to hear two presentations on the plight of the indigenous peoples of East India. The Adivasis are the tribal people of Orissa and Jharkhand state (formerly South Bengal). They live mainly in the forests and small villages preserving a culture that goes back for several thousand years and maintaining a balance between meeting basic human needs and preserving the natural environment. The Adivasis worship Nature and the spirits of their ancestors. Their megaliths and wall paintings are evidence of an ancient and sustainable civilisation.

The tragedy is that the land they occupy has been found to contain 40% of all India’s mineral wealth. Multinational companies have moved in to exploit huge reserves of coal, bauxite and other metal ores with scant regard for the needs of the Adivasi people. Photographer Robert Wallis showed a sequence of pictures which hinted at the rich culture of the past but vividly portrayed the depths to which the Adivasis have sunk. A people who lived sustainably on the land have been driven from their villages, seen their sacred spaces destroyed, had their water polluted and been forced to scavenge for bits of coal in the spoil heaps of the mines so that they have something to sell and obtain money for food.

The second talk was given by Felix Padel who emphasised the scale of the mining operations – open-cast coal mines, for example, several miles across and moving relentlessly across the landscape, destroying everything in their path. Felix recalled how Gandhi had seen the improvement of the villages of India as being the key to the welfare of the people. He warned Nehru that an industrialised India would never be independent. Nehru saw it differently. For him, the villages were concentrations of poverty and ignorance and therefore providing employment through industrialisation was necessary for the country to advance.

Nehru’s view prevailed and gradually more and more of the countryside has been given over to industry with few benefits trickling down to the poorest people. Roads and ports have been constructed to ship the minerals (and the profits) away to China and the West. In recent years the process has accelerated, driven by increasing costs for mining companies in other parts of the world and futures trading on the London Metal Exchange. The demand for steel is a major problem with firms like Tata and S R Steel exploiting a situation of rampant capitalism and being given support from the World Bank. Since 1947 some 30 million people have been displaced, about a third of them tribal people. Compensation or help with resettlement is rarely given. Inevitably, opposition has grown and the term ‘Maoists’ is used to refer to a range of disparate groups who are seeking to restrict the operations of the mining companies and the government that supports them. Most of the Maoists come from outside the area and have little knowledge or respect for the Adivasi culture. Some groups are well organised and ideologically driven while others are bent only on violence, attacking the police and committing atrocities against innocent people. The mining industry uses other militia gangs to protect their installations and control the population.

Felix saw little scope for effective action in relation to this dangerous and volatile situation. A new minister for environmental affairs in the Indian government showed promise and there was increasing opposition in Britain to British-based mining firms that are active in India. But the overall picture was depressing as a major part of one of the largest countries in the world appears to be sliding into a state of civil war.

For further reading:

  • Out of this Earth: the East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel by Felix Padel
  • Listening to Grasshoppers by Arundhati Roy

Graham Davey is Treasurer of the Gandhi Foundation and has also organised many Gandhi Foundation Summer Gatherings.

Nehru On Gandhi, Views On Political Culture – by Prem Misir

Gandhi and Nehru


In an effort to review India’s emergent move into global economic dominance I thought that it might be useful to look at a few of Gandhi’s ideas of something called ‘political culture’ through the eyes of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. And indeed, Gandhi and Nehru did not have a monopoly over ideas to craft a new political culture. But we have to start somewhere. I present these ideas randomly, not for integrative purposes.

Nehru admired Gandhi’s constant focus on the ‘right way’ of doing things; using the correct methods for doing things. Stress on using the right means to achieve ends was one of Gandhi’s great contributions to public life. Where most people think about ends, it seems strange that Gandhi would concentrate on means; but it is an extraordinary way of thinking; thinking linked to the moral law of truth that may have hugely impacted India. Nehru endorsed the use of an ethical or moral perspective on life; and both Nehru and Gandhi sought to infuse this moral law of truth in politics. Gandhi’s moral approach to problem solving brought a significant new dimension to Indian political behaviour; Nehru observed the moral impact on politics, thus:

“Politics cease to be just expediency and opportunism, as they have usually been everywhere, and there is a continuous moral tussle preceding thought and action. Expediency… can never be ignored, but it is toned down by other considerations and a longer view of more distant consequences … Bernard Shaw has said that though he (Gandhi) may commit any number of tactical errors, his essential strategy continues to be right. Most people, however, are not much concerned with the long run; they are far more interested in the tactical advantage of the moment.”

Nehru noted too the cultural impact on India of a Turkish invasion, an Afghan invasion, and a Turco-Mongol or Mughal invasion; and highlighted ‘purdah’ (seclusion of women) as one new cultural development, among others; ‘purdah’ possibly emerged during the Mughal times. Isolating women in both public and private life was noticeable in Delhi, the United Provinces, Rajputana, Bihar, and Bengal. Gandhi spoke out against ‘purdah’; through the Indian Congress Party and with the help of thousands of middle-class women, Gandhi advocated that women should have the same freedom and opportunity for self-development as males; and an end to domestic slavery. Note the constitutional provision in Guyana for the Women and Gender Equality Commission; still on paper, as the PNCR withdrew its parliamentary services on the day the item was put to the vote. Guyana is poorer with this loser mentality.

At the beginning of World War I, Pandit Nehru asked “How could we pull India out of this quagmire of poverty and defeatism…?” Nehru captured Gandhi’s answer and teaching, thus:

“… He did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition. Get off the backs of these peasants and workers … all you who live by their exploitation; get rid of the system that produces this poverty and misery.”

For Gandhi, the squalor of poverty and the great divide between the rich and the poor owed their existence to foreign rule and foreign exploitation, and capitalism through introduction of technology; Gandhi was not opposed to technology per se, but believed that it should be applied to absorb labour and not produce new unemployment.

To alleviate some poverty, Gandhi devised a programme of the spinning-wheel and village industry to address the problem of India – scarcity of capital and abundance of labour. Gandhi believed that the ends, such as profitability from technology, cannot justify the means, as unemployment to attain prosperity; he understood that moral values must first triumph, as the ends cannot substantiate disreputable means, no matter how good the ends are.

But Nehru believed that the real meaning of Gandhi’s teaching was fearlessness and truth with allied action, at all times upholding the welfare of the masses. This was the period of British rule of India, at a time when deep-seated fear stalked the land; fear of British institutions. Gandhi’s voice on truth and fearlessness brought some change and a psychological reaction that enabled people to feel ashamed about their long capitulation to foreign rule; and indeed the desire to do something about it. And this is true, too, of his nationalism, inevitable for the freedom of India.

It always has been the norm that a country will first protect its national interests before it considers the international community interests. And Nehru noted that Gandhi’s nationalism deviated from that norm; for the longevity of foreign rule and exploitation in India became an irritant to the mind and distorted all thought and action; producing frustration and bitterness. But Gandhi’s nationalism had a world outlook, where he visualized a world federation of interdependent states; and Gandhi created a nationalist movement that reduced irritation and animosity that Indians felt against the British. Nehru remarked that he had not seen any other nationalist movement like Gandhi’s, largely devoid of hatred. Incidentally, Dr. Cheddi Jagan also spoke about interdependence between the North and South in his New Global Human Order proposal.

Through Nehru’s eyes, we saw how Gandhi’s passion for democracy transformed the Congress Party into a mass movement; becoming an agrarian organisation; how the success of anything was premised on the quantity and quality of benefits the masses receive; a unique and quiet kind of democracy for the masses, definitively linked to the freedom of India.

Prem Misir is Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana.

Treading the Gandhian Path – by Sunderlal Bahuguna

Born in a remote Himalayan village and that too in a princely state, I could know about Gandhi when I was a High School student at the age of 13. My inquisitiveness to know about a strangely dressed young man, who was dressed neither like the officers of the state nor like the poor subjects with loin cloth, but was putting on white Khadi cap, Kurta, Jacket, dhoti and chappal, inspired me to chase him.

He had a small box in one hand and a bag in another hand. I guessed he must he somebody like an archer, who had demonstrated his feats in archery and we were so much impressed that we left going to the school for some days and followed him. The idea came to my mind that his small box must contain something of our interest. I along with a few friends asked, what are you carrying in your small box?’. He very gently replied, ‘come I will show you’. He sat under a banyan tree, opened the box and demonstrated his feat. He was spinning yarn. Looking at this new wonder, we said, ‘It may take you a year to produce yearn sufficient for a shirt’, He promptly replied, whether I get enough yarn for my shirt or not, Gandhi with confidence says that we can end the British rule and become independent, if every Indian starts spinning. This is Gandhi’s Yarvada Charka (the spinning wheel he invented inside Yarvada prison).

‘What else does Gandhi say? How can a spinning wheel bring freedom’. The young man said, “if you want to know more, you can buy these small booklets”. I spent the whole amount of six annas, (about five pennies), which my mother had given me for a week’s breakfast on three small booklets. One was by Gandhi – How to achieve Swaraj? Other was of national songs and the A Word to Young Men by Prince Kroptkin.

The young man was Sri Dev Suman – a smart hillman of 25, who had become Gandhi follower at the age of 15. He asked me, ‘what are you going to do after finishing studies?’ I said, ‘service of the ruler’. And he again asked, ‘But who will serve these poor with loin cloth?’ I immediately replied ‘we will also serve them too’. ‘How can a person serve two masters?’ He silenced me by asking this. ‘Then what should I do?’ He said, ‘That you have to decide, but I ask you, will you sell yourself for a few silver coins?’ And I firmly said, ‘No, never. I also join the army of Gandhi’.

It occurred to me that the soldier of Gandhi’s army should wear Khadi (hand-spun, hand woven cloth), know spinning and above all know more about Gandhi’s life. Our small group could manage to get a spinning wheel, Gandhi’s autobiography and some other books. We were cautious not to be detected, so we practised spinning and study of Gandhi’s autobiography in the cemetery.

Sri Dev Suman after three years was arrested and charged with treason. He was tried inside the prison, where he undertook fast unto death for the protection of civil liberties. I myself was arrested for getting his statement published in the press and kept in the police lockup for five months. Gandhi’s writings and Suman’s penance strengthened me and as a boy of 17, I felt glorified in being imprisoned for being a humble soldier of Gandhi’s army.

Another opportunity to study Gandhi and practice his teachings came, when I went underground from Lahore, where I was studying in the University. I was in a remote village in Lyalipur district teaching children of a Sikh family. I felt I should take up Gandhi’s constructive work programme. I started spinning for self-sufficiency and scavenging the village streets. Though I was laughed at, I felt very much satisfied.

The British had left India, but slavery in the native states continued and thus the freedom struggle in the states was intensified. I was prevented by the Army from entering into Tehri town. I went on a fast. They dragged me some distance and I remained sitting. My fast continued for a week and finally they had to yield. I had seen Gandhi during his last days in his prayer meetings in Birla House. We met him a day before his martyrdom. He expressed his happiness over the success of non-violent struggle of Tehri-Garhwal state’s freedom.

Gandhi in his last will had called upon the freedom fighters to settle down in villages, liquidate the Congress and take up constructive work among the villagers. I could not do so. I was working as a general secretary of the Congress party in my district but this work did not give me satisfaction. Untouchability was still there. Scavengers were regarded as untouchable. They, in order to forget their miserable life, used to take liquor and fight among themselves. The police would not intervene. On Gandhi’s birthday, October 2nd, 1949, I started a night school in their colony. We used to sing the devotional songs and Ramayan. Now they were under a new type of intoxication – the intoxication of Ram-nam — so dear to Gandhi.

I met Thakkar Bapa in Delhi. He had devoted his life for the upliftment of tribals and untouchables. He asked me, ‘Have you seen the cells in which those where you teach live?’ I admitted, I never saw these. Shewing his stick he told me that he had measured thousands of dark and dirty cells where these servants of the society lived. This was a practical lesson to me. We launched a programme of making better houses for them. Untouchability was in practice in the school hostel. There was a scheduled caste boy, who was served food outside. Two young caste students raised voice against this, but their protest was not paid heed. So we started a hostel where students of all castes could live together. It was later named as Thakkar Bapa Hostel.

We started the construction of its building when the number of students increased. I used to work as a and some construction labourer, helper to the masons. The students also worked after their school and study hours. Within five years, we could construct a building. This become the centre of anti-untouchability movement. We had a group of young students, who led the temple
entry in the holy shrines of Gangotri and Yamunotri. Spinning and other manual labour along with their studies became a part of their routine and these students could be ion of civil recognised separate from others.

But it was Mira Behn, the English disciple of Gandhi, daughter of Admiral Slade, who persuaded me to work in the villages. She established her Pashulok (Animal’s World) Ashram in the Himalayan foothills at Rishikesh. In 1949 Ganga was in spate and damaged the Ashram. Mira Behn rode on horse back towards the source of Ganga in the hills to find out the causes of the flood. She could see it was deforestation and, more than that, conversion of natural broad leaved oak forests into commercial Chir-pine forests. She wound up her foothill Ashram and set up a new Ashram-Gopal Ashram (Ashram for the service of cow) in the remote hill village of Geonli. To reach there one had to walk 40 Kms. Mira Behn looked after the cows, worked in the kitchen garden and simultaneously could find time to listen to scriptures, read books and write articles. In her life I could see a balance between head, heart and the hands.

Tehri-Garhwal was the poorest district of India. There were forests, but of no use
to the people. The contractors made fortune out of these forests. Mira Behn had a plan to change the land use in which tree species giving fodder, fuel and fertilizers were to be encouraged, but bureaucracy came in the way, in spite of Pandit Nehru’s full support. Finally she left the area and settled in Kashmir. But she created in me a village worker, passionate for Ashram life.

Finally my dreams were fulfilled, when I and Vimala—an assistant of Gandhi’s other British disciple, Sarala Behn, who had established an Ashram to train women workers in Kumaon hills—were married. I left party and power politics forever on June 1956.

We constructed huts, with the help of Thakkar Bapa Hostel students, on a degraded piece of land covered with thorny bushes. Two huts were made—one for
We used to living and other for kitchen. Vimala found work for herself. She gathered cowherd children and taught them during the night. I tended cow, worked with the villagers in the fields, sat with the villagers for evening prayers.

Gandhi’s prayer of the Sevak (people’s servant) sustained me. One of the sentences of the prayer was, ‘Oh God give me strength and eagerness to be one with the common masses of India’. Common people earned their livelihood by doing manual labour. We formed a labour co-operative and worked through it in constructing the canal and the roads. The villagers were addicted to liquor and used to distill liquor. The ladies were the worst victims. They could not speak anything against their drunk husbands, but in our evening prayer meetings the issue was raised. Women become vocal and the men took pledge to give voice against up this bad habit. When complaint of their breaking the pledge came, I went on fast in lonely place and they repented.

In 1960, in the wake of Chinese aggression, Acharya Vinoba Bhave—the spiritual heir of Gandhi—called me to Agra, where he was halting during his padyatra (foot march). He said in a challenging tone, ‘look here, I am an old man walking all over the country but you being a young man are sitting in your Ashram. The threat from China is psychological more than physical. China is not a tiger to be threatened by the guns. China has a philosophy of alleviating poverty. We have the superior philosophy of Gandhi’s Gram Swaraj (village rule). You should go from village to village in Uttarak hand (Central Himalayan) region with this message.’ Nehru and Vinoba came out with a similar statement that Gram Swaraj was a defence measure.

Exactly four years after we had started the Ashram, I left it to go from village to village. We would tell villagers to free themselves from three shops—liquor shop, courts, the shop of litigation, and cloth shop. They should give up liquor, settle their own disputes and spin their own cloth. But the government was encouraging liquor to earn revenue. A new liquor shop was proposed near our Ashram in Ghansali. I sought Vinoba’s permission to suspend my wandering in the region and offer satyagraha at the liquor shop. He immediately responded, ‘you have to organise people for picketing the liquor shop. The government should think how can they confront China freed from opium by making people drunkards’.

Men were not serious, but the ladies were determined to fight the liquor. They had to look after the family, the farm and the cattle. The main problem was of creating leadership from among them. We organised Ram Lila (the play of Ramayan) during the night. Ladies in hundreds thronged.

After day’s hard work and feeding the family, they would walk 7 to 8 Kms. with torchwoods in their hands. We encouraged them to come on the platform. They would also come with a handful of rice to help the movement. A retired judge — an old man, the most respected in the area — came forward to lead the movement. Seeing the dedication, determination and devotion of the people, the government changed the decision. This was the peoples’ first victory and their faith in non-violence was established.

We multiplied this experiment. For seven years, we fought against liquor. There were mass movements against the liquor, picketing by ladies everywhere. One after another the liquor shops were closed and finally the government declared five bill districts dry in 1970. But the High Court revoked the prohibition. Everywhere an atmosphere of terror was created. The women were told that if they picketed the liquor-shops after High Court orders, they will be sent to jail for many years. We were keeping vigil at the spot where the shop was to open, but the liquor-vendors eluded us by opening it at a new place. Immediately we rushed to the spot. Acharya Vinoba Bhave had made a rule to chant one thousand names of Lord Vishnu (Vishnu Shahastranam) at 10.30 a.m. all over the country. I sat in front of the liquor shop and started chanting Vishnu Shahastranam. As soon as I finished and opened my eyes I was shocked to see the ghastly scene. The head of the son of the liquor vendor was bleeding. He was beaten with an empty bottle by his own servant, who had taken the full bottle to rejoice over the reopening of the shop.

Liquor is the cause of violence and bloodshed. Is it going to happen all around? What to do? Because everybody around us said that it was impossible to close down the liquor shops now. I was reminded of a devotional song of blind saint Surdass. He sang long-long ago.

I bow to the feet of Almighty.
With whose kindness, the lame crosses the mountain.
The blind sees everything.,
The deaf hears and the dumb speaks.
The poor wanders as a crowned king.

At least a blind man had experienced that the impossible can become possible. When all our worldly efforts had failed, why not go on a prayerful fast?

Thus, I started my prayerful fast in front of the liquor shop on Nov. 5th, 1971. It was an open place on the road. People laughed at me. The drunkards created noise. They became more vocal and remarked what right I had to create hindrance in their way; but gradually some senior citizens came to persuade me to give up the fast. Later women started coming. I asked them were they still afraid of the prison. They said, ‘no’. ‘If so, go from village to village and bring thousands to protest against the liquor shop’. Their number went on increasing. They sang devotional songs near the place of fast. On 16th day, 20th November, more than twenty thousand people, mostly ladies, assembled in Tehri town. They had come fully prepared to court arrest. A public meeting was held, which passed a resolution asking me to give up the fast as they will picket the liquor shop. Thus, I concluded my fast.

The people, the most oppressed in the society, the women, had come forward to fight for the cause. This is what Gandhi wished. Scores of these women, and also my six year old son Pradeep along with his mother, were arrested and sent to far off prison. My wife’s old mother was also arrested. In this way the three generations had come together for a common cause.

While working for Gram Swaraj in the border villages, we had seen a bigger threat to the country in the shape of ever-increasing floods due to deforestation in higher Himalayas. We took up forest problem in 1972. We thought the unscrupulous contractors were responsible for overfelling the trees. So the demand was to replace the contractor system with forest labourers’ co-operative, supplying raw material to local forest-based industries. The idea to pressurize the government by hugging the trees marked for selling came from the villagers. This was the result of 12 year long efforts of peoples’ education in non-violence. Chipko means hug — feel the heartbeats of the trees.

Women, who were trained in non-violent method of protest came forward to save the trees, but their vision was different than that of mens’ economic demand. They said ‘forest is our mothers’ home — a place, which a lady remembers when in trouble.’ After five years our illusion was cleared, when we saw that there were landslides even if the trees were felled by the forest co-operatives. Womens’ participation and our long foot marches to educate the people, a fifteen days’ fast in 1974, gave birth to a new concept – a new slogan:

What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air.
Soil, water and pure air, are the basis of Life.

On 9th January 1979 was my 53rd birthday. We were camping in villages of Alaknanda valley. Thousands of green trees had been marked for felling. The axemen were at work. The villages were scattered. I sat under a tree marked for felling. The axeman was to come there to start his work. I felt I had become so insensitive that I was doing nothing when my sons are being slaughtered before my eyes. The holy Upanishad says, ‘A tree is equal to ten sons.’

I hugged the tree and the axeman went to the next. I chased him. For some time this continued. Finally I followed them to their huts, but nobody would give me shelter. They were told I was their enemy — an obstacle in their way to earn money. I sent my two colleagues to go to the village and declare my fast unto death till tree felling was stopped. I squeezed under a heap of hay. Next day people from the villages came. The news spread far and wide. On the fourth day to my surprise the hay was burning. I saved my life by running away with the sleeping bag, my only belonging. Thereafter we could find shelter under a hut.

Vimala, along with some ladies from my Ashram, had come. On the 13th day of my fast, they took me to jail. I continued my fast and gave a statement that force feeding and medicines would cause my death as I was naturalist. This baffled the authorities, who were pressing the doctors to do force-feeding. When I did not yield, they sent me to Dehra Dun jail. Groups of doctors came every day to examine me. They would feel my pulse, the heart, measure the blood pressure; but found everything alright. I observed silence and listened to devotional songs. This strengthened me. Doctors asked me the secret of this. I said there is a hidden power — the power of self — to measure which you have no instruments.

On the 24th day, the government decided to stop tree feeling and talk with me on the issue on management of hill forests. Thus ended my prayerful fast. I came
out stronger from this ordeal.

It was finally in April 1981, when felling of green trees for commercial purposes was banned. But it was only in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Himalaya extends from Kashmir to Kohima. How to spread this message? I finally decided to undertake padyatra (foot march). During this foot-march, the first to join me was 72 year old Gandhian activist, Sri Ratanchand Dehloo. Later many more people joined and we could complete this 4,870 km march in 300 days. Besides Indian Himalaya, we walked through Nepal and Bhutan, about 2000 kms. We carried our luggage on our backs and lived upon whatever the villagers offered. We could take the message to the hearts of the people, impress upon them the vital importance of forests for their survival.

The slogan given by Chipko attracted international attention. Richard St. Barbe Baker, celebrated Man of the Trees, the veteran forester came to India to greet the movement. He was a saint scientist. He declared that this was a scientific movement. Later, Indian Science Congress also passed a unanimous resolution supporting the movement. Thus the way for Sarvodaya — well being of all — was paved. Science had come in support of self knowledge (Atma-Gyan).

A 260.5 meter high dam, Tehri dam, the highest in Asia was planned over River
Bhagirathi in 1960s. When it was sanctioned by the Planning Commission in 1972,
people who were going to be displaced by this monstrous dam launched a movement against it. Work on it was started in 1978. The movement slowed down. People went to the court, but in spite of all scientific opinions against it and the apprehension of a big earthquake, work continued. Sri V.D. Saklani, the spirit behind the movement, asked me to devote full time to this issue as he had become old and weak. On November 24th, I left Silyara Ashram, the base of my 33 years work, with a decision not to return till Tehri dam was stopped. Now I was a homeless wanderer. I went from village to village listening to the people and to the nature around. Is this all going to vanish if the dam is built? Nobody was listening to the people.

On Christmas day, 25th December, 1989, I went on a week’s fast. This was a call to motion on my part. I was fasting outside the dam site. Nobody was allowed to go to the site. On the fourth day of my fast, I walked to the work site. Gigantic machines were at work. First I made gesture to stop these, but they continued. Finally, I jumped upon a bull-dozer which was in action. They had do stop it. It was evening and the frosty winter night was to fall. My sitting there made people brave. They came in the hundreds. We made fire around. Next morning a temporary shelter was made, but I made the wheel of the bulldozer my permanent seat. I would offer my prayers, speak for an hour and observe silence for the whole day. When nothing happened for seven days, I declared an indefinite fast. On the 11th day, message came from Delhi for talks.

The talks were not decisive. Our protest continued. I repaired to my ancestral deserted house, which is in the submergence area of the dam. Later, through foot marches from the source of Ganga to Hardwar, where it descends down from the hills to the plains, we walked spreading the message from village to village. River Ganga is worshipped by millions as the holy mother. It is the symbol of India’s Aryan Culture, which sees life in all creation and advocates a worshipful attitude towards all forms of life. Moreover, behind the story of the origin of Ganga is the story of penance of a king, who left everything for the welfare of humankind. The river is suffering from the dual onslaughts of exploitation and pollution.

To make people conscious about it, we set out on a cycle rally on September 11,
1991, from Ganga Sagar, Bay of Bengal, where Ganga joins the sea, to Gaumukh in
Himalayas. Again, teaching and preaching through our action. We covered 2300
kilometers in 46 days, when a big earthquake rocked the hill region on October 21st, 1991.

This put a big question mark on the construction of Tehri dam on a highly seismic zone. On October 29th, we decided to sit in protest near the dam site and finally, on December 14th, 1991, along with more than two thousand people, we stalled the work at dam site.

The monstrous machines were again stopped. We pitched our tents at the work site keeping 24 hours vigil. They tried to dislodge us, brought a bull-dozer to demolish our camp. We again climbed upon the bull-dozer. The work remained stalled for 75 days when in the dark of night the police came and invaded our camp, arrested forty of us and took us to the jail. Among those arrested were Vimala, my wife, two young girls of our Ashram and three ladies. This was an attack on civil liberties. I started indefinite fast in the prison. Vimala and Diksha Bisht, a lady worker, joined me.

We were shifted to Roorkee jail the fourth day and later to Megrut Medical College, finally released an brought back to Tehri. I continued my fast and insisted to be taken to the spot, where our camp was demolished. But everywhere armed police were posted to prevent our entry. We pitched our camp on the road side. All methods of torture were adopted. The fast generated countrywide interest in the problem of Tehri dam. It was discussed in the parliament and finally George Fernandes, a socialist leader and member of the Parliament, visited me with an appeal from the President of Lok Sabha to break the fast. We wanted an assurance from the Prime Minister that blasting of explosives at the dam site will be stopped and a review of the project undertaken. It took another two week On the forty-fifth day when this came, I broke my fast and shifted to the bank of the river near the dam site.

Here I live in a shanty since April 1992. People from different parts of the country and world visit this spot. Near our shanty is a red flag — the flag is not the flag of the socialists, but railwayman’s danger signal, to caution people about the dangers from high dam in Himalaya, in particular, and from destructive development. People often ask what is the alternative. Gandhi had foreseen the doomsday as early as 1908, when he wrote Hind Swaraj. The objective of development is economic growth or prosperity, but to achieve this temporary economic prosperity we have lost peace and happiness.

We have created a world, which is confronted with the problems of threat of war and internal security, pollution and depletion of resources, and poverty and hunger. The concept of development had made man the butcher of nature. Gandhi’s vision of a ideal society was based upon the Indian culture. Development is a state in the life of individual and society in which they enjoy permanent peace, happiness and fulfillment. This can be achieved if science and technology is applied to sublimate nature. Thus the ultimate goal of humankind, to march from nature to culture, will be achieved. The seed was sown by Gandhi. He nurtured it and left tender plant to our generation to rear and help the tree to grow. I have been devoting myself to this during these 55 years.

This essay first appeared in ‘Gandhi and the Contemporary World’, edited by Antony Copley and George Paxton, published by the Indo-British Historical Society in 1997.

Martin Luther King Jnr: The Civil Rights Movement and Gandhian Philosophy – by Michael Lewin

Gandhi’s long-standing commitment to, and promotion of passive resistance eventually paved the way for full Indian independence in 1948. The long and arduous struggle that he had engaged with, for over fifty years, finally culminated in the end of British imperialistic rule that had gripped Indian life for centuries. At this historical point Gandhi’s political and spiritual standing in the international community reached an all time high; totally unprecedented in the era of modern politics. His life, his struggle, his achievements were powerfully unique – inspiring and enriching so many others, not only in his own country but throughout the wider world. His legacy – based on deeply nourishing, spiritual values – came to inspire and influence a young, black student who was studying at a theological college in America and helped to support and guide a black population in their quest for greater equality.

“His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.” – Martin Luther King in his formative student years

Only a few weeks after Gandhi was assassinated at a prayer meeting in the grounds of Birla House, New Delhi, Martin Luther King Jnr was being ordained at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. King had graduated from Morehouse College the year before, and was set on furthering his studies and pursuing the life of a minister like his father and grandfather before him. Whilst at Crozer Theological Seminary, King was exposed to the teachings of Gandhi. They made an immediate and marked impact on him influencing deeply, his work in the Civil Rights Movement.

On a Montgomery bus, in 1955, a black woman by the name of Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. The driver of the bus, which operated under segregated laws, brought the vehicle to a stop. The police were called and Rosa Parks was arrested. This one, simple act of protest, carried out by one, single woman later grew into a campaign – the Montgomery Bus Boycott which prepared the ground for Martin Luther King Jnr to become a civil rights leader. All over the southern states at this time, segregation was a way of life that effectively created social, political and economic disadvantage for black people, and although there had been an history of protests before, this was the start of something qualitatively and quantitatively different. The campaign received widespread attention and eventually the Supreme Court declared that segregation on Montgomery buses was unconstitutional and therefore had to end. A decisive victory had been secured by King and his followers but this was not just a legal victory but a moral victory as well that involved an entire black community in enforcing the boycott.

The nonviolent approach of King’s activism, which was proving to be highly successful and sincerely regarded, was directly based on his study and understanding of Gandhi’s experience in South Africa and India. King was bringing a deep awareness of Gandhi’s spiritually pragmatic doctrine to the Southern States of America and beyond. Because of King’s interest in, and promotion of Gandhian ideals he was invited by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to visit India in 1959. The trip went well, with King later stating that it made a profound and lasting effect upon him. On his return to America he recommenced his efforts in the civil rights struggle with renewed determination and vigour.

King worked tirelessly for the cause of justice over the years but increasingly became disenchanted with the criticism levelled at him, especially from predominantly white religious leaders who thought his actions were too radical and unsettling. Arrested for his participation in the Birmingham campaign (1963) King wrote his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’. This was an attempt to rebuke all the conservative clergymen who criticised his stand. He wrote:

“When you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in a airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society… when you are humiliated day in day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘coloured’, when your first name becomes ‘nigger’, your middle name becomes ‘boy’ (however old you are) and your last name becomes ‘John’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs’ . . . then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

The campaign for civil rights, under King’s leadership, did continue, had to continue. In 1963 King led the March on Washington and delivered his rousing speech: “I have a dream . . .” A year later he visited Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest ever recipient of the award. In the Selma Protest of 1965, along with over seven hundred other marchers, King was arrested. Being a Nobel Prize winner this news made headlines around the world and brought to the attention of a mass audience what was really happening in America. Segregation was now fully under the spotlight as never before and despite the bombing of his home, the physical attacks on his life, the jail sentences and the death threats, King, with committed persistence and tenacity, carried on his work to pursue greater equality for the black community.

In Memphis, on 3 April 1968, on the eve of a planned march, King made one of his most stirring speeches:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The very next day King was shot dead.

The Forging of the Civil Rights Movement: The Gandhian Influence

“I firmly believe that the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problems in the United States.” – Martin Luther King

Through his engagement with the civil rights movement King remained faithful to Gandhian ideals. He believed, from a Christian perspective, that justice would eventually prevail for the black community if people were prepared to stand up and unite in the noble cause of nonviolent resistance. His fundamental belief in this moral stance was unshakeable and informed all his work, but there were others, even among blacks, who questioned this approach.

Malcolm X, the Black Power leader, vehemently opposed King for adopting a conciliatory position with the white leadership of America. He believed that black people should stand up and fight for their rights in whatever way it was felt to be necessary – and this included meeting violence with violence. King’s spiritual values dictated the opposite – that you can only meet violence with nonviolence. King had realised, along with Gandhi, the spiritual truth expressed in many of the world’s religions that hate can only ever really be overcome and eliminated by the practice of love, and by no other means. But despite their differences, King did have a deep respect and regard for Malcolm X. He realised that the Black Power Movement, similar to the Civil Rights Movement, was only trying to challenge a system that for too long, had effectively created and recreated inequality and injustice for black people. Both Movements, at their core, wanted to advance the well being of black people and leave behind the repressive, growth denying forces of an unfair society. King clearly recognised this, his only criticism was on the methodological approach for dealing with this inequality and injustice. In his student days King thought differently:

“Prior to reading Gandhi,” he said, “I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The ‘turn the other cheek’ philosophy and the ‘love your enemies’ philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.”

This was a decisive growth point for King, one which was to remain with him for the rest of his days. At the heart of Gandhi’s teachings, which King fully adopted, lay the sacrosanct notion that all life is sacred, a gift of God, and therefore had to be respected and protected at all costs – even that of the opposing ‘enemy’. King realised that it was only through adopting Gandhi’s policy of Satyagraha (truth force) that lasting, positive change could be implemented and so this was his journey, one of showing respect and dignity for ALL and it cost him dearly – the loss of his own life.


Even in today’s world there are still gross inequalities with unacceptable levels of poverty that plague our sense of decency and fair play. It’s a position that has been allowed to continue for too long. The challenge for us all, individually and collectively is to reach out and give of our best so that others may be allowed to flourish in a world that was created for all – every last one of us. This invitation to bring out the very best in others, and ourselves – to grow beyond the restrictive and limiting mindset that perpetuates a ‘them and us’ mentality – is an invitation to participate fully in the spiritual gift of life and who amongst us wants to withdraw from that gift, wants to ignore the sacrifice of lives given for others?

Nonviolence and Peace – by Manas Roy

This article was first published in issue 97 of The Gandhi Way

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did not claim to be a prophet or even a philosopher.

“There is no such thing as Gandhism,” he warned “and I do not want to leave any sect after me.” There was only one Gandhian, he said, an imperfect one at that: himself.

The real significance of the Indian freedom movement in Gandhi’s eyes was that it was waged nonviolently.  He would have had no interest in it if the Indian National Congress had not adopted satyagraha and subscribed to nonviolence.  He objected to violence not only because an unarmed people had little chance of success in an armed rebellion, but because he considered violence a clumsy weapon which created more problems than it solved, and left a trail of hatred and bitterness in which genuine reconciliation was almost impossible.

This emphasis on nonviolence jarred alike on Gandhi’s British and Indian critics, though for different reasons.  To the former, nonviolence was a camouflage; to the latter, it was sheer sentimentalism.  To the British who tended to see the Indian struggle through the prism of European history, the professions of nonviolence rather than on the remarkably peaceful nature of Gandhi’s campaigns.  To the radical Indian politicians, who had browsed on the history of the French and Russian revolutions or the Italian and Irish nationalist struggles, it was patent that force would only yield to force, and that it was foolish to miss opportunities and sacrifice tactical gains for reasons more relevant to ethics than to politics. Gandhi’s total allegiance to nonviolence created a gulf between him and the educated elite in India which was temporarily bridged only during periods of intense political excitement. Even among his closest colleagues there were few who were prepared to follow his doctrine of nonviolence to its logical conclusion: the adoption of unilateral disarmament in a world armed to the teeth, the scrapping of the police and the armed forces, and the decentralisation of administration to the point where the state would “wither away”.

Nehru, Patel and others on whom fell the task of organising the administration of independent India did not question the superiority of the principle of nonviolence as enunciated by their leader, but they did not consider it practical politics.  The Indian Constituent Assembly included a majority of members owing allegiance to Gandhi or at least holding him in high esteem, but the constitution which emerged from their labours in 1949 was based more on the Western parliamentary system than on the Gandhian model.  The development of the Indian economy during the last four decades cannot be said to have conformed to Gandhi’s conception of “self-reliant village republics”.  On the other hand, it bears the marks of a conscious effort to launch an Indian industrial revolution.  The manner in which Gandhi’s techniques have sometimes been invoked even in the land of his birth in recent years would appear to be a travesty of his principles.  And the world has been in the grip of a series of crises in Korea, the Congo, Vietnam, the Middle East, and South Africa with a never-ending trail of blood and bitterness.  The shadow of a nuclear war with its incalculable hazards continues to hang over humankind.

From this predicament, Gandhi’s ideas and techniques may suggest a way out.  He advocated nonviolence not because it offered an easy way out, but because he considered violence a crude and in the long run, an ineffective weapon.  His rejection of violence stemmed from choice, not from necessity.  Horace Alexander, who knew Gandhi and saw him in action, graphically describes the attitude of the nonviolent resister to his opponent:

“On your side you have all the mighty forces of the modern State, arms, money, a controlled press, and all the rest. On my side, I have nothing but my conviction of right and truth, the unquenchable spirit of man, who is prepared to die for his convictions than submit to your brute force.  I have my comrades in armlessness.  Here we stand; and here if need be, we fall.”

Far from being a craven retreat from difficulty and danger, nonviolent resistance demands courage of a high order, the courage to resist injustice without rancour, to unite the utmost firmness with the utmost gentleness, to invite suffering but not to inflict it, to die but not to kill.  Gandhi did not make the facile division of mankind into “good” and “bad”.   He was convinced that every human being — even the “enemy” – had a kernel of decency: there were only evil acts, no wholly evil men.  His technique of satyagraha was designed not to coerce the opponent, but to set into motion forces which could lead to his conversion.  Relying as it did on persuasion and compromise, Gandhi’s method was not always quick in producing results, but the results were likely to be the more durable for having been brought about peacefully.

“It is my firm conviction”, Gandhi affirmed, “that nothing enduring can be built upon violence”.

The rate of social change through the nonviolent technique was not in fact likely to be much slower than that achieved by violent methods; it was definitely faster than that expected from the normal functioning of institutions which tended to fossilise and preserve the status quo.  Gandhi did not think it possible to bring about radical changes in the structure of society overnight.  Nor did he succumb to the illusion that the road to a new order could be paved merely with pious wishes and fine words.  It was not enough to blame the opponent or bewail the times in which one’s lot was cast. However heavy the odds, it was the satyagrahi’s duty never to feel helpless. The least he could do was to make a beginning with himself.  If he was crusading for a new deal for peasantry, he could go to a village and live there; if he wanted to bring peace to a disturbed district, he could walk through it, entering into the minds and hearts of those who were going through the ordeal.  If an age-old evil like untouchability was to be fought, what could be a more effective symbol of defiance for a reformer than to adopt an untouchable child ?  If the object was to challenge foreign rule, why not act on the assumption that the country was already free, ignore the alien government and build alternative institutions to harness the spontaneous, constructive and cooperative effort of the people ?  If the goal was world peace, why not begin today by acting peacefully towards the immediate neighbour, going more than half way to understand and win him over ?

Though he may have appeared a starry-eyed idealist to so many, Gandhi’s attitude to social and political problems was severely practical.  There was a deep mystical streak in him, but even his mysticism seemed to have little of the ethereal about it.  He did not dream heavenly dreams nor see things unutterable in trance; when “the still small voice” spoke to him, it was often to tell how he could fight a social evil or heal a rift between two warring communities. Far from distracting him from his role in public affairs, Gandhi’s religious quest gave him the stamina to play it more effectively.  To him true religion was not merely the reading of scriptures, the dissection of ancient texts, or even the practice of cloistered virtue: it had to be lived in the challenging context of political and social life.

Gandhi used his nonviolent technique on behalf of his fellow-countrymen in South Africa and India, but he did not conceive it only as a weapon in the armoury of Indian nationalism.  Nonviolence, as Gandhi expounded it, has ceased to be a pious exhortation, and become a necessity. The advice he gave to the unfortunate Abyssinians and Czechs during the twilight years before the Second Word War, may have seemed utopian thirty years ago.  Today, it sounds common sense.  Gandhi would have been the first to deny that his method offered an instant or universal panacea for world peace. His method is capable of almost infinite evolution to suit new situations in a changing world.  It is possible that “applied nonviolence” is at present having the same value to maintain “global peace” for ever. 

The author is a non-teaching employee of Assam University, Silchar, India.  He holds an MA (Philosophy and Religion), NET (Buddhist, Jaina, Gandhian and Peace Studies) and presently doing PhD work on Phenomenology.  He is a guest Faculty of Philosophy in Sri Aurobindo Evening Degree College, Silchar, Assam.

Email: manas_roy72@yahoo.co.in


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 872 other followers