Not a woman you could cross

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Mridula Sarabhai did more than any party for communal harmony and for human rights years before the latter phrase gained currency.

Mridula Sarabhai

It is Women's Day and memories of certain amazing women swim into one's thoughts.

To certain people a calling comes most naturally. Mridula Sarabhai, daughter of Mahatma Gandhi's early collaborators Ambalal Sarabhai and sister of the nuclear scientist Vikram Sarabhai, was meant for the rough life. Born in 1911, she died at age 63 in 1974. She looked the rough role all right. One of the proudest women ever made by God, the most sneeringly contemptuous of cowardice and of 'safe playing', Mridula had more of a brave man in her than a woman. Ever in her Pathan salwar-kameez outfit with a man's collar, she looked like she could pound an adversary on his nose without a moment's thought. Or shower imprecations on him. And of adversaries she had no dearth.

Gandhi-influenced but not Gandhian in the choice of her words, her plans of action or her opinions, she was if anyone was her own person.

Mridula took her own decisions. She joined Gandhi in his Noakhali tour in 1946, when she saw Hindus being butchered by Muslims and later in Bihar, where Hindus reciprocated with double the brutality.

She became danger's daughter, daring sister. In the pre-Partition weeks and months Mridula was where men blinded by lust and bigotry were making women their special targets. She could have been brutalised a hundred times herself and murdered. Leaders in India and Pakistan alike praised her courage, her commitment.

She had no time for theory, for ideology. The phrase 'no-nonsense' fitted her like her Peshawari sandals.

The cartography of brutality saw her pulled into Kashmir. And that was to become a lifetime's affiliation.

For all her mannishness, her masculine attire, her 'boy-cut' hair, there was an extraordinary allure, a very feminine allure to Mridula. There is no doubt that both Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah were drawn to her by instincts other than those of politics.

The closer she got to the Sheikh, the further she moved from the Pandit. Mridula became Sheikh Abdullah's strongest, most stubborn and most articulate supporter outside the Valley. The Kashmir Conspiracy Case and Mridula were inseparable. She was arrested but Nehru never clamped her in for conspiracy. Something of an incipient tenderness remained in their relations, even if the story that a single rose used to be sent every morning to Mridula's home in Delhi from Teen Murti House is mythical.

I was in my early teens when my grandfather C Rajagopalachari (CR) visited Delhi on Swatantra Party work and stayed with us. The Sheikh was still in prison and Mridula was at her intense best, asking for his release, the scrapping of the conspiracy charges and the restoration of civil liberties to the Sheikh and his associates. There were many visitors coming to see CR, and I took some of the phone calls asking for appointments. 'Kon, tuun Gopu?' (Is that you, Gopu?) 'Ha, Gopuj boluun chhuun' (Right, this is Gopu speaking). 'Huun Mridula' (This is Mridula), the voice said. I knew what I was handling. The conspiracy case, the jailings, surveillance, phone-tappings.

The caller must have sensed a quail at the other end of the line.

'Shuun thayuun taney? Mridula ni aavaaj saambhli gabhrayi gayo ke?' (What has happened to you? Have you got flustered hearing Mridula at the other end?) 'Naa, naa...evii vaat nathii' (No, no, it is not quite like that.) 'To pachhi shun? Havey jo...maney Rajaji-e malvuun chhe...Kyaare aavii shakaae maney puchhi ne janaav... Huun line upar chuun...' (Then what is your problem? Now listen, I need to meet Rajaji...Find out when I may come and tell me...I am on the line...)

There was no 'if ', only 'when' and no 'Will you call me back?...' business.

I asked CR, adding, like an idiot, that Mridula was under surveillance, as to whether he would like to give her time.

'Of course' he said 'ask her to come straightaway...And as for surveillance...Such things should not worry us... Tell her in as many words that Rajaji is looking forward to discussing Kashmir matters with her....'

The message was relayed by a now more strong-sounding Gopu.

'Bhaley' (Very well) was the only response and in under an hour, Mridula arrived.

'Tuun ek gabhrayi biladi jevo chhe...Em chale?...' (You are too much of a scared-cat...That won't do, would it?...) she said to me, walking in.

How Nehru re-visited his actions on Sheikh Abdullah, how he had him released and sent him as an emissary to President Ayub Khan are all matters now of history.

Mridula should have been made a deputy home minister under Sardar Patel, with special responsibilities towards the welfare of vulnerable women. The two had a wonderful working equation (no Eros, there!) and Mridula would have put the fear of God into all goondas. She was the perfect counter-goonda. The discredited Bakshi regime shivered at the mention of that amazing woman's name.

Mridula was not old by any yardstick and had at least one good decade of activity ahead of her. Had she lived beyond 1974, there is no doubt she would have given Indira Gandhi's Emergency the toughest time and could well have become one of Jayaprakash Narayan's principal colleagues. To jail, of course, she would have gone with her typical unsmiling seriousness and determination.

And, by Jove, what would she not have done had she been alive and in Gujarat in 2002! She would have hurled a much stronger-than 'gabhrayi biladi' invective at the state government. Today, when a fake and hollow machoism from Gujarat is being sought to be paraded before a gullible India, we should remember this woman who did more than any party, any government for communal harmony and for human rights years before the latter phrase gained currency and for the women of the subcontinent.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times, dt. 8th March 2014

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. 

courtesy : http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/mridula-sarabhai.html

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

On 28th Feb (2014) Ramvilas Paswan of Loktantantrik Jan Party joined the NDA alliance. Same Paswan had left the NDA twelve years ago with the beginning of Gujarat carnage, saying that with the violence in Gujarat he cannot be part of NDA. This time his son formulated the face saver when he said that Modi has received clean chit in the Gujarat carnage. Few days ago another dalit leader Udit Raj directly joined BJP, with the assurance of being given a ticket for forthcoming elections. In Maharashtra, Ramdas Athwaley of Republican Party of India had become part of NDA, and succeeded in being nominated for Rajya Sabha, Upper house of Parliament. There are many others dalits in the fold of BJP directly or in alliance with BJP to be in NDA, for pre poll alliance.  Most of these leaders claim to be working on the path shown by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Ambedkar was committed to annihilation of caste and was totally opposed to the concept of Hindu nationalism, as propounded by RSS-BJP.

During freedom struggle when three types of nationalisms were in vogue, Indian Nationalism, Muslim Nationalism and Hindu nationalism, majority of the people of India supported and followed the path of Indian nationalism. Majority Hindus were for Indian nationalism, majority of Muslims were also for Indian nationalism. It was the elite, the landlord, Kings who began communal streams and were later joined in by a section of affluent upper castes of those religions. The British manipulation kept fuelling the fire of religious nationalism. Muslim nationalism turned in separatist direction and their demand for Pakistan came to the forefront. Hindu nationalists accepted the religion based nationalism but denied the demand of Pakistan on the ground that this had been a Hindu nation from times immemorial. This whole formulation of Hindu nation from ancient times is an invalid concept, as the very concept of nation, Nation state is a modern concepts. So in the revised edition of his book, ‘Partition of India’, Dr. Ambedkar opposed the formation of Pakistan on the following ground that formation of Pakistan may pave the way for Hindu Raj and “If Hindu Raj becomes a reality then it would be greatest menace to this country. Whatever may Hindus say, actually it does not make a difference that Hinduism is a danger to Independence, Equality and Brotherhood. Thus it is an enemy of democracy. We should make all out efforts to stop Hindu Raj from becoming a reality.” (Pakistan or Partition of India, Page 358). Here what Ambedkar is referring to Hinduism is Brahmanical Hinduism, the ideological ground of Hindutva, the agenda of RSS combine.

Ambedkar did lay the foundations of dalit movement, and went on to form Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) in due course; before conceptualizing the Republican Party of India. This SCF in 1951, on the eve of First General elections in 1952; which was to begin the process of adult suffrage, forged an alliance with Praja Socialist Party (PSP) led by Jaya Prakash Narayan. The manifesto of SCF ruled out “alliance with any reactionary party such as Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh (Previous avatar of BJP) (quoted from Gopal Guru EPW Feb 16, 1991, citing Ambedkar Letters to Gaikwad, page 280-296). He was the one who could see the long term agenda of Jan Sangh-Hindu Mahasabha of Hindu Rashtra, the concept totally opposed to secular democratic India. His basic motto was ‘educate, organize and struggle’, for caste annihilation and for the values of substantive Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He was aware that this process; educate and organize to struggle; is possible only in a democratic set up, so alliance with Hindutva political outfits was ruled out of hand.

Today what is happening? From last several years a new dalit leadership has emerged, which on one hand represents a faction of this group and on the other has also personal-family electoral ambitions. So in short term they, for their personal benefits have been sitting in the laps of communal parties. Namdeo Dhasal, the great poet went with Shiv Sena, which had created hell with the publication of Amdekar’s ‘Riddles of Hinduism’. Ramdas Athwaley is again with the communal forces who have given him the Rajya Sabha seat. Udit Raj has also embraced the party of Hindu raj and Ramvilas Paswan, guided more by personal political ambitions, rather than the long term benefit of the downtrodden, has shamelessly allied with BJP. In the short term these dalit politicians may benefit but at the same time they will strengthen the politics of Hindutva-Hindu raj, the system of inherent hierarchy of caste and gender.

A single example will tell us about the approach of BJP towards the dalit question. Recently a book penned by BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has been withdrawn, Karma Yoga. Modi in his book wrote “I do not believe that they (Valmiki’s) have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation…At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.” (http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/ml.asp?Ref=VE9JQS8yMDA3LzExLzI0I0FyMDA3MDA%3D&)

On the same issue of scavenging, Dr. Ambedkar makes scathing critique of the social order where a section of people have to do such demeaning and humiliating jobs. While claims are made about the development and ‘concern for all communities’ the conditions of dalits in Gujarat are abysmal, temple entry is opposed at places, there is low rate of conviction for anti dalit atrocities, there is prevalence of manual scavenging still prevalent and this receives glorification from Modi. There is denial of access for water to the main sump at places. Cases of intimidation of dalits wanting to convert to Buddhism have been reported from Gujarat. These are few of the phenomenon prevalent in the Laboratory of Hindu rashtra, Gujarat. What should one say of leadership of dalits who compromise the values of Dr. Ambedkar, the values of long term goals of social justice and annihilation of caste for their short term greed for electoral power for their own self? There is a need for introspection by these leaders and their followers about the opportunism and lack of principles of such people in the positions of leadership of the communities.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED