During the struggle for India’s independence while the majority of Hindus, Muslims and people of all religions followed the path of Mahatma Gandhi, secular democratic nationalism, there were few whose origins were in the ideology of the declining sections of ‘Landlord-clergy’ alliance. They not only opposed the freedom movement but also played a supporting role to British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’, which led to partition of the country. They believed nationalism based on religion’s identity. While one such stream Muslim nationalism’s dominant elements went to Pakistan, the Hindu nationalist stream gradually became more powerful in India and today it rules the roost. Not only its progeny BJP is the ruling dispensation, other organizations floated by it are effectively propagating its sectarian nationalism.

As the matters stand the ruling party, though it swears by the Constitution which is secular, plural and wants a federal structure, its politics is leading the country in a direction as outlined by the agenda of RSS. This dichotomy between a secular plural constitution and RSS agenda of Hindu nationalism does come to one’s notice times and over again. On 19th February this year (2021) a tweet from Ministry of culture paid respect to the major ideologue of RSS, M.S. Golwalkar, “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations. @prahladspatel @secycultureGOI @PMOIndia @PIBCulture @pspoffice,” The leaders of ruling party did not oppose it as most of them have been trained in the ideological contributions of Golwalkar.

He was at the helm of affairs of RSS from 1940 to 1973 and outlined its ideology in two books, ‘We or Our Nationhood defined’ (We) (1940) and ‘Bunch of thoughts’ (1966). His ideology is totally opposite to the values of freedom movement. Freedom movement and the parallel process of India in the making of India were based on diversity of religions. Muslims were equal contributors to the anti British struggle. In contrast Golwalkar puts forward the ideal of Nazi Germany and its treatment of Jews as something to be emulated. In ‘We’ he went on to write “… Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races, the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here…a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by."  (We…, 1938, p.37) and further  "… non-Hindu people in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of Hindu nation i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and its age long traditions, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, for less any preferential treatment, not even the citizen's rights." (Ibid p.52).

Same thing was worded in cleverer form in ‘Bunch…’ “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriot overnight after the creation of Pakistan. On the contrary, Muslim menace has increased a hundredfold by the creation of Pakistan, which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country." (Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore, 1996, p. 177-78)

While freedom movement was anti British, RSS totally kept aloof from freedom movement, its justification was that “"The theories of territorial nationalism and of common danger, which formed the basis of our concept of nation, had deprived us of the positive and inspiring content of our real Hindu Nationhood and made many of the 'freedom movements' virtually anti-British movements. Anti Britishism was equated with patriotism and nationalism. This reactionary view has had disastrous effects upon the entire course of freedom movement…" (Bunch of thoughts, 1996, p.138). In tune with this he dissuaded those who wanted to join the Quit India movement and instructed the organization to continue its regular work and not to do anything which will put British into discomfort.

Indian as a nation in the making was a process in which abolition of birth based hierarchy of caste and gender was integral to the process. Golwalkar was totally supporting the caste, Varna system stating that it has worked so well for our community. In Bunch of thoughts he says, ““Castes there were in those ancient times too, continuing for thousands of years of our glorious national life. There is nowhere any instance of its having hampered the progress or disrupted the unity of society. It, in fact, served as a great bond of social cohesion.” On similar lines he praised Lord Manu as the greatest ever Law giver of society, contrary to this it was Ambedkar who burnt Manu Smriti to posit his ideology of ‘Annihilation of caste’.

Another social transformation which came up during freedom movement was the participation of women in the anti-colonial movement, in taking up modern education as the baby steps towards gender equality. Golwalkar, as the ideologue trying to bring forth the social relationships of bygone era, the subjugation of women, upholds the same in ‘Bunch of thoughts’ in the context of affirmative action for women. States he “There is now a clamour for ‘equality for women’ and their ‘emancipation from man’s domination’! Reservation of seats in various positions of power is being claimed on the basis of their separate sex, thus adding one more ‘ism’— ‘sexism!’ — to the array of casteism, communalism, linguism, etc.”

His ideology led him to the opposition to federal structure of the country, which took in to consideration the deepening of democratic process and also respecting the local diversities.  In contrast to the federal structure outlined in our Constitution he advocated single state of a unitary type. What we are witnessing currently, the concentration of power in the hands of center and emergences of a supreme leader indicates to the actualization of what he advocated.

There is an attempt to disown his book ‘We…” as its formulations are very blunt and go against the electoral interests of ruling party. One can just say that one of the earlier Sarsanghchalak of RSS, Rajendra Singh, in an affidavit indicted that it is this book which outlines the ideology of RSS, “"With a view to give a scientific base to propagate the idea-India being historically from time immemorial a Hindu nation-the late Shri M.S. Golwalkar had written a book entitled 'We or Our Nationhood defined', which was published in 1938." (Quoted in Islam, Undoing India: The RSS way)

What a sorry plight for our secular democracy that the prophet of sectarian nationalism; one supporting caste system; upholding secondary position of women; regarding Muslims and Christians as foreigners is being upheld by the ruling dispensation. The best reply to this tweet was again from a tweet by the previous Secretary of same ministry. Former culture Secretary Jawhar Sircar responded: “As former culture secretary, I hang my head in shame to see RSS chief Golwalkar being falsely praised by @MinOfCultureGoI. Golwalkar & RSS opposed Gandhi’s Freedom Struggle. In his Bunch of Thoughts, Golwalkar opposed India’s tricolour too. Sardar Patel jailed him, banned the RSS.”

We need to strive to uphold the values of Indian Constitution if we want progress in the direction envisaged by those who strove and contributed to the process of “India as the Nation in the making”.


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

A day of faith

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Lessons from the death of two remarkable women

The grave of Valliamma R. Munuswamy Mudaliar, Johannesburg. [courtesy : Sharada Ramanathan]

‘Birthday’ is a standard word. But not ‘deathday’. Too inauspicious, perhaps. Too grim. But that is surely ahistorical. Some deathdays are to be celebrated for the persons who have died and the circumstances in which they have died bear out Donne’s famous lines: “Death be not proud… for those whom thou think’st thou doth overthrow die not.”

The 22nd of February — tomorrow — is the deathday of a woman who did her life proud by her death. Valliamma R. Munuswamy Mudaliar belonged to a Tamil family from the village of Thillaiyadi, now in the state’s Nagapattinam district. Her ancestors had been indentured, like several others from the Indian peninsula and even from ‘up North’, to work on plantations and in mines in South Africa.

In the early 1910s, these Indian labourers, poorly paid, uncivilly treated, without political or even civic rights, were riled by a racial poll tax — Three Pounds per head — that hurt their pride more than it hurt their purses. This, together with other disabilities like restrictions on movement between province and province and a requirement for getting registered on the basis of finger prints, was resisted by the affronted Indians who faced the consequences — stiff fines or jail. But when, on March 14, 1913, Justice Malcolm Searle, of the Cape Supreme Court, decreed every Indian marriage is invalid that is not registered before a Marriage Officer or celebrated according to Christian rites, more than pride was hurt. By a parallel order, Natal children of resident Indians or their parents were required to produce, if they needed admission in another province, certificates of birth. M.K. Gandhi memorialized the Minister for the Interior, General Smuts, to the effect that marriages celebrated according to Hindu, Muslim or Parsi rites were fully recognized by Indian law and that “it is a well-recognised fact that very few births are registered in India and it is practically impossible to produce certificates of birth except in rare cases.”

The collective selfhood of Indian-South Africans stood insulted, the honour of motherhood stood besmirched. Kasturba Gandhi asked her husband, “Then I am not your wife according to the laws of this country?” He said she was right, adding, “Our children are not our heirs.”

The community rose in a spontaneous protest. Indians, women leading, struck work and marched to break inter-province barriers to say, ‘We will not be humiliated thus.’ And they went on a great march, criss-crossing the border between the provinces of the Transvaal and Natal.

Valliamma, born in 1898 in Johannesburg, at 16 years of age, was among “the marching great” from the Transvaal side, Kasturba from the Natal side. Nearly 40,000 of them courted arrest, with nearly 10,000 being actually imprisoned, Valliamma among them. She went cheerfully and defiantly into the march and entered jail as a sense of duty to her motherland’s — India’s — greatness. Imprisoned in Maritzburg jail, she endured its rigours along with other women satyagrahis who included Kasturba. The sentence for ‘hard labour’ included the task of washing fellow prisoners’ clothes. Many fell ill, seriously ill. Valliamma, very seriously. Released when on the verge of death “with a fatal fever”, she just about managed to get back home where Gandhi came to see her. 

“She was confined to bed when I saw her,” he writes in his classic, Satyagraha in South Africa. “[H]er emaciated body was a terrible thing to behold.”

“‘Valliamma, you do not regret having gone to jail?’, I asked.

“‘Regret? I am even now ready to go to jail again if I am arrested,’ said Valliamma.

“‘But what if it results in your death?’ I pursued.

“‘I do not mind it. Who would not love to die for one’s motherland?’”

Thillaiyadi Valliamma died on February 22, 1914. Her remains are interred in Braamfontein Cemetery, Johannesburg. Gandhi writes: “Valliamma will live in the history of South African Satyagrahis as long as India lives.” Her deathday is a day of celebration, for India lives! A film on the life of this icon by Sharada Ramanathan is expected to be released shortly.

Thirty years later, her jail-mate was in prison again, this time in India. Kasturba had been permitted to join her husband, imprisoned in the Aga Khan’s Palace Prison in Poona, for having heralded the Quit India resolution, asking Britain to exit from India. And she was gravely ill.

A wedding anniversary occurred at this time — that of a fellow prisoner. Kasturba asked Gandhi, “How many years have we been married?” Gandhi looked at her and said, “Why, do you also want to celebrate your anniversary?” Everyone around them laughed, Kasturba too. She was 74 that year as was her husband. They had been married for sixty one years.

On January 6, 1944, Gandhi wrote to the prison authorities: “... the patient has got into very low spirits. She despairs of life... Her state is pitiful.” And he asked for permission to be given to near and dear ones to visit her. As also for an ayurvedic physician for she had faith in that system of medicine. Her health continued to deteriorate and on February 22, 1944, her husband’s hands clasping her, Kasturba died.

She was cremated in the grounds of the prison. A tulasi plant grows on the spot in Poona.

The House of Commons was told on March 2, 1944: “... She was receiving all possible medical care and attention...” Gratefully acknowledging the fact that the regular attendants did all they could, Gandhi responded by saying the help that was asked for, when at all given, was given after a long wait, and the ayurvedic physician was permitted to attend only after he had to tell the prison authorities that if he could not procure the help that she wanted he should be separated from her as he ought not to be made a helpless witness of the agonies she was passing through.

On the Valliamma-Kasturba Deathday, the following thoughts deserve reflection:

First, a prisoner is a prisoner but a woman prisoner is a whole family in prison by proxy because of those, especially minor children, who depend on her. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s report for 2019, of the 4.5 lakh prisoners in India today, about 3.3 lakh are ‘under-trial prisoners’. The overwhelming number of these are going to be found to be innocent. State governments which are in charge of this ‘state subject’ must, especially in our Covid-19 times, see to the urgent release of the women among the undertrials under the salutary Section 436-A of the Criminal Procedure Code introduced in the CrPC in 2005 as, essentially, a human right measure.

Second, recalling what Gandhi said in South Africa about the lack of the practice of paper documentation in Indian families, we must ask: what papers can families required to produce them to establish their citizenship in the Republic of India possibly produce? Is it right, is it fair, for some fellow-citizens to be asked to produce such paper proof?

Third, Indian women in 1913-1914 South Africa responded to the unravelling of the man-woman bond in terms of religion, a cause to which Valliamma martyred herself. Is the classification of marriages by religion, in the Republic of India, as is being sought in certain sections of our body politic, legally sound, morally right and, above all, civilizationally justifiable?

No politicians, no lawyers, no agitation-addicts but two Indian women, one from India’s western seaboard, another from its southeastern, gifted with a rare commitment and great clarity, ask for February 22, their shared deathday, to be, for Indian women in prison or in fear, to be their Faithday.

courtesy : “The Telegraph”; 21 February 2021

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features