What makes India special is a question I have often wondered about, for every country has its own cuisine, dress and culture. Then what is that made Samuel Evans Stokes, an American missionary who came to India at the turn of the century, convert to Hinduism and then become Satyanand Stokes?
In the early hours of December 3, 1921, the police entered a first-class compartment of the Punjab Mail and arrested him. Stokes was offered bail by the judge but refused. In fact, this American dressed in home-spun khadi had passionately embraced India and joined the freedom movement. It was a call of the conscience. Gandhi wrote in Young India, “… he has made India his home in a manner which no other American or Englishman has”.
Actually Gandhi was not quite correct here, for there was another Englishman, C F Andrews, who was a teacher at Santiniketan in West Bengal, and later at the behest of Gokhale went to South Africa along with W.W Pearson “to take part in the Passive Resistance struggle which was being carried on against the evils of the indentured system of Indian labour “. Andrews was of great assistance to Gandhi in South Africa and was by his side during the freedom struggle of India.
However, Andrews reveals that poet Rabindranath Tagore went through immense mental pain, almost equivalent to a death agony, in May 1914. As a friend of Tagore, he gives an intimate account of the development of his personality and his bouts of mental agony. Tagore’s suffering is poured out in ‘Letters to a Friend,’ which reveals that his agony overtook him like a thunderstorm. Andrews shares that the poet’s sensitive nature sensed the tragic events of the World War. While he felt with intense sensitivity the brutality of the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre and renounced his knighthood to the British, he had earlier in Japan, when asked to celebrate a bloody feud, had written:
They hated and killed, and men praised them,
But God in shame hastened to hide its memory under the green grass.
Visva-Bharati was an institution founded by Tagore that developed on the idea, ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ -- the world is one family. Many came and embraced India and India kept evolving.
In this context, the poll speeches of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah and his saying that if they come to power they will “introduce NRC (National Register of Citizens) in West Bengal and throw out infiltrators” has to be seen with deep moral anguish and concern. It is reported that he went on to say that “we will ensure Hindu refugees are not touched. They are very much a part of this country.” He had earlier tweeted, “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, with the exception of Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs”.
Shah is implying that minorities will be thrown out. But surely in a country where an American and an Englishman were accepted and honoured, we can remember the legacy of Habib-ur-Rahman who accompanied Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the submarine to Madgascar, transferred by the Japanese to Sumatra, which changed the course of the freedom struggle as Bose assumed the leadership of the Indian National Army. Rahman was a member of the cabinet of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind Fauj announced in Singapore.
Can we discard the proud legacy of Shah Nawaz Khan, who valiantly fought the British in Burma and along with General Dhillon – a Sikh - and Prem Sahgal who courageously faced the famous trials in Red Fort? This trial galvanised the people of India –there were massive protests all over India followed by the ‘mutiny’ of the Royal Indian Navy -- and the British had to concede they were freedom fighters and it was time to quit India.
The cultural mosaic of India did not evolve at one time or even in a unified thought; it is the most diverse and full-bodied evidence of millions of people co-existing with a spirit of friendship and tolerance with very little material means. To destroy this, would mean destroying the very soul of India.
In Tagore’s lecture ‘The Religion of the Forest’ he said:
“Our forefathers spread a pure white carpet, whereon all the world was cordially invited to take its seat in amity and good fellowship. No quarrel could have arisen there; for He in whose name the invitation went forth, for all time to come, was Santum, Sivam, Advaitam – the Peaceful… And in his name was this eternal truth declared in Ancient India: - He alone sees truly who sees all beings as himself.”
The recent election campaign and the vitriolic hate speeches -- regardless of the outcome of the elections -- will scar the psyche and social mosaic of India beyond redemption. It is imperative that the Election Commission acts now without so much delay and stops the hate speeches because,
“When the one great scorer comes to mark against your name,
He will not ask whether you won or lost,
But how you played the game.”
The game so far has indeed been a murky one: Uttar Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Yogi Adityanath has stated that his political opponents have faith in ‘Ali’ and that the Congress offered terrorists biryani (a Muslim dish of rice and meat) while Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Army’ gave the terrorists bullets. Do the armed forces belong to any political leader and are they not a secular institution of the country? While Adityanath has been censured by the Election Commission, there are so many other hate speeches that must censured without delay as we enter the fifth phase of India’s most vitriolic elections.
These elections will be over shortly, but all of us ordinary citizens will have to deal with an India whose mental landscape has changed, because the scars will remain. As for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto stating that it will build the Ram temple, let me quote Tagore:
“The temple made of stone cannot make truce with death by accepting it. Proud of its bricks and mortar, it constantly opposes death, till it is defeated in the end.”
The writer is an award-winning author and film-director. The views are personal.