I must confess that I have always been proud of being an Indian, partly because that heritage is linked to the values of the freedom struggle fought on the foundation of ahimsa and satyagraha.
On March 10, 1930, when over 2,000 people attended the prayers at Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi explained the subtlety of satyagraha. He said, “How is that you have come here quite fearlessly. I do not think any of you would be here if you had to face rifle shots or bombs. Supposing I had announced that I was going to launch a violent campaign, not necessarily with men armed with rifles but with sticks and stones, do you think the government would have left me free until now? And you have come here because you have been familiarised by now with the idea of seeking voluntary imprisonment. Supposing ten men in each of the 700,000 villages of India come forward to manufacture and disobey the Salt Act, what can this government do?”
One of the greatest privileges of my life has been to meet those who actually worked with Mahatma Gandhi. Veerbalaben Nagarwadia told me she was present at Sabarmati Ashram when the Dandi March was launched by Gandhi. I was riveted, for she had witnessed a pivotal moment in history.
“What did you see?” I asked her with bated breath.
“There were prayers and singing all night. Gandhiji said unless swaraj is reached, I will not return. We all cried knowing we would not see him again”.
It is true that Gandhi never returned to Sabarmati Ashram.
Recently, I witnessed another historic moment. At the Press Club of India in New Delhi, a small group of modern-day activists, although I prefer to call them today’s satyagrahis, launched a toll free 24-hour hotline against mob lynchings and crimes of hate. As hate crimes mount and 78 lynchings have occurred across different states a group of people have got together with courage and fortitude. This is something the State should have done long ago. On July 16, 2019, the common people of India banded together on the ‘idea of India’ which is for people of all religions to live together with a sense of fraternity in the face of the sickening silence from the State.
The lynchings may be recounted: from a young 17-year-old boy called Junaid on a train, to Pehlu Khan in Alwar (who is being called an accused after his death and the family is having various charges foisted against them), to Rakbar Khan where the police actually stopped to drink tea instead of rushing him to hospital where he was brought dead -- all of this speaks of a sickening dehumanisation of our society, a dereliction of duty by agents of the state and a steady dosage of an intraveneous drip called, hate.
In Nazi Germany, a 15-year-old girl formed a group called ‘White Rose’ to secretly help the Jews escape deportation to the concentration camps. She was caught and was asked at her summary trial:
“Why did you do it?”
“Someone has to do it!” she replied defiantly.
Yes, someone has to do it and when at least 10 people from the village or any metropolitan city will call the powers that be about the hate crime, it will no longer go silenced, obfuscated or unchecked. A team of lawyers will also frame the FIR that is the basis of any trial and take it further.
However, what will bring back the civilisational values of ahimsa and satyagrahais is love and brotherhood. That is why I salute social activist Harsh Mander who, along with his group of friends, has been taking a ‘caravan of love’ to all the sites where hate lynchings have occurred, expressing sympathy, remorse and regret on behalf of us all – the silent majority - that is watching the mental landscape of India change with horror. They go to each family that has lost someone and express deep, deep pain, anguish and sorrow with folded hands. This they say, is ‘not in my name’.
Somebody has to do it!
The toll-free number is 1800-313-60000. Just call it next time you see a hate crime and call the police, Home Ministry and the Human Rights Commission to express your outrage.
Let me tell you, it was far easier to fight the British Empire than to deal with something so insidious and hidden within us. As various ludicruous charges such as ‘cow smuggling’ and ‘beef eating’ and ‘lack of seat sharing’ are levelled against the dead, advocate Santosh Hedge quoted from George Bernard Shaw’s play, Arms And The Man - “I would give the devil the benefit of the law for my own safety sake.” Yes, something as simple as the rule of law, call the police for heaven’s sake if you feel a man is a ‘cow smuggler’ but do not take the law in your own hands!
In the meeting, Gorakhpur’s Dr Kafeel Khan, while criticising the cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who are sowing the seeds of hatred, also talked of how the launch of his book, Childcare and Pediatricians, was cancelled at the prestigious AIIMS hall because of his political views. The Resident Doctors Association helped him to launch the book anyway. You can’t lock up everyone can you?
Ravi Nair of the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre and a stalwart campaigner for human rights for three decades, cautioned everyone present that there was a distinction between the State and the government. The State had to do its duty, while the government changed every five years. He talked about the state abdicating its primary duty -- protecting the citizen.
Delhi University’s Professor Apoorvanand spoke about the reality of India where violence against Christians, dalits and Muslims were becoming an everyday reality and the need for everyone to speak up.
Just then I saw former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid in the audience. The last time I met him was in the Constitution Club, where he had come for a meeting on secularism. He was then visibly shaken, he said “mujh par goli chali hein’ (someone has tried to shoot me). I watched as if my country had become a Kafkaesque nightmare as he recounted how someone had pushed him and tried to shoot at him outside the Constitution Club a few minutes away from Parliament. It was terribly shocking that such a thing should happen a few minutes away from Parliament as he came to attend a peaceful meeting. There was a pandemonium, the police was called and Khalid was taken away to record his statement. Prof Apoorvanand had then appealed for calm and told the guard not to lock everyone inside the hall as the shooting had taken place outside.
Today, I asked Khalid what happened to the case? I knew that attempt to murder charges had been framed against the accused.
This is my country founded on the ideals of secularism and I don’t want it to become a gun-toting republic of hate.
Call 1800-313-60000, for we are one with United Against Hate, a collective of concerned citizens, but I also want somewhere where both you and I can call, United For Love. There were just a few people that sat in the room with Mahatma Gandhi singing bhajans that night and a handful of satyagrahis who walked with him to Dandi. They changed the course of the freedom struggle.
Just a few people can change the course of history, with love. Gentle reader, so can you.
The writer is an award-winning author and film-director. The views are personal.