Indians are a nation who seems to be lusting, esurient, desperate and yearning for Gods and demi gods. We make Gods out of stone, marble, drift wood and even mortals- lucky are the ones amongst us upon whom we thrust that status often to their glee. These idiosyncrasies are a lesser matter when compared to the outrage we express over iconoclasm and even honest analysis and discussion about the human Gods we made. Their infractions are seldom examined or condemned.
Recent times have seen a liberal dose of critical analysis of Gandhi -bashing as some call it - Mahatma ‘bashing’ (sic) criticism. We thrust upon him a status akin to God’s, the most revered, the infallible mortal, the holy man, Mahatma, the spartan saint, who lived in our midst. The eulogy in the words of Albert Einstein, and which strikes reverberantly, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”. Correspondingly there has been fierce defence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi- vociferous indignation of any criticism of Gandhi, his utterances, philosophy,or his life.
Why Gandhi alone, we have other mortal Gods to whom we prostrate, let us be hugged and kissed, watch them agape and resent bitterly and sometimes hysterically when they are criticised. We automatically are tuned to become agitated, flustered and resent when our beliefs, faith and fantasies are questioned, are seemed to be threatened by scholarly dissection and argument. We fret and accuse of betrayal, irreverence and rudeness when the comparative cocoon that we built is exposed or threatened.
We made a living God of Sachin Tendulkar the cricketer. When an international Tennis player innocently admitted that she is not aware who this Tendulkar is, cudgels where raised in India and virtual stones were pelted at the tennis player for her audacious admission. Remember cricket is played by a miniscule number of countries when compared to the vast appeal of Tennis. We let Tendulkar hijack a whole nation and cricket insisting and wrenching what he wanted- a farewell series a swan song. And like Nehru’s famous “tryst with destiny” speech, we broadcast live Tendulkar’s 45 minutes grandiloquence from the stadium. We even recast the stands at the stadium to accommodate his mother so she could watch him play from a comfortable vantage point. We awarded him the responsibility as the Member of Parliament and he rubbished it with callousness. We seem to believe that other countries and people are not blessed with legends.
We cast away old and disenabled parents in the streets of farway strange towns and in the insensitive cruelty of temple towns and run after fat over fed cow like women and men whom we elevated to pedestals and anointed them as living Gods. We run to them hallucinated and gets intoxicated when they hug us supposedly washing away our sins and agonies. We resist any probity in their lives and in the conduct of the vast empire they deftly built and sustain out of our imbecility and blindness.
Arundhati Roy’s recent comments on Gandhi in a lecture led to hoarsely resentment and accusations of blasphemy. Poet and respected social & environmental activist Sugatha Kumari, a Gandhi fan herself shot off a center page article in a daily rebutting Arundhati’s irreverence of the Mahatma and demanding, even pleading kindness, respect and an iota of reverence are shown to Gandhi; his life be seen as a beacon of unflinching struggle in the path of truth and nobility.
Why do we make Gandhi a saint and God? Why is it blasphemous if we dissect his life, analyzing it, page by page, word by word, deed by deed? Why do not we accept and understand that he was a mortal like any and was infallible? Why do not we understand that he may have erred, had weird beliefs and even seedy behavior, which he claimed was his way of understanding his limitations and cleansing his sinful thoughts etc.
Arundathi based the lecture on the lengthy forward she wrote for the book of unpublished historical speech of Baba Saheb Ambaedkar. The quotes, anecdotes and incidences where borrowed from archives and facts.
Gandhi’s reluctance and stubborn fire-walling of the abolition of caste in Hinduism, his opposition to the agitation of the untouchables of Mumbai- the Mahad satyagraha when untouchables resisted the ban that was slapped on them from sharing waters of the public well; Gandhi’s parsimonious attitude to the Vaikon sataygraha when untouchables objected to the cleansed area around the Vaikom temple where they were banned; Gandhi’s opposition to the labour strike against the Mill owners in Mumbai when he ranked their satygraha as “duragraha’ – greed- devilish force,(possibly because the Mill owners were Gandhi’s staunch financiers). Gandhi’s attitude towards the blacks in Africa is bailed out by Sugatha Kumari as an aberration She uses his comparative young age as an excuse for his mindset towards ethnic blacks and the socially marginalized.She often in the article states that Gandhi's life as the title of his autobiography was "An Experiment with Truth".
Like what most of us have been fed about Gandhi, he was not evicted off the train at Pietermaritzburg when he asserted the non-whites right to travel I class. Gandhi was not endorsing the right of the blacks, but for equal status of passenger Indians – the elite and middle class Indians like he. Gandhi’s attitude towards caste is perplexing. While he maintained that caste and discrimination was unjust and untouchability was evil he steadfastly endorsed the division of labor based on caste. He refused to admit that caste was the evil cloak of Hinduism.Imagine division of labour in today's world based on caste in which one is born- something not of individual volition!
Gandhi was a wile politician. He was perhaps the first Indian politician to ostentatiously play the communal card with his egregious “Khilafat Movement”. Goodness, Mother of God what had Indian Muslims got to do with the abolition of the Caliphate and the end of the Ottoman Empire in faraway Turkey?
His blatant blackmail with the weapon of satayagraha proclaiming fast unto death until the award of separate electorates for untouchables was withdrawn was perhaps the most cruel and unkind slap on the very same people he ceremoniously elevated as “Harijans”, ironically meaning “children of God”! He used satygraha s a potent black mail to even foster his autocratic views.
Why was SugathaKumari mute in her article about Gandhi’s infamous experiments with celibacy when he slept naked with his two young nieces? Because he was Gandhi and had the halo Indians gave around his being, he escaped criminal censure and was not accused of being willy. Yes that may have been a great experiment on self-control for him and his faithful. But do we care to ask what the poor, helpless young girls had to go through- their state of mind?
Is it not time we chastened and saw icons and great men as mortals and as people who would err, stumble and yet walk through like many? Are we not trivialising their lives when we give them a doughnut – halo and elevate them as Gods? What is blasphemous if we critically dissect their life- be it Gandhi, Christ or Mohamed?