Father of the Nation


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April 18th 2017
Published: April 24th 2017
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Little did his parents realise when naming their new born son in 1869 that little baby Mohandas Karacham Gandhi would become the most famous Indian the world has ever known. They may have named him Mohandas Karacham but he is better known by the honourific title 'Mahatma' (meaning high souled or venerable) bestowed on him by his followers. He was also affectionately called 'bapu' which is a term of endearment for a father and so he also became known unofficially as 'Father of the Nation'.

Before we arrive in Madurai we stop at the Gandhi Museum just outside the city, housed since its inception in 1955 in the Tamukkan Palace. It's a grand and imposing white building seemingly at odds with the ideals and practises of the great man himself who lived very simply in comparison. There is a mock up of the simpler home Gandhi lived in within the grounds of the palace as a reminder.

I pay 50 rupees to allow me to take photos inside the museum and I'm glad I do as much of the exhibition is in written format and I have a terrible memory.

Instead of running through the exact history of Gandhi's life as a non violent political activist and leader of the Indian Independence Party I'll include some quotes from the exhibition displays. They are a stark reminder of how one nation's arrogance can normalise in their psyche the injustices they commit. Salient messages for many of our current tranche of arrogant world leaders.

'Gandhi stopped at the threshold of the huts of the thousands of the dispossessed, dressed like one of their own. He spoke to them in their own language. Here was living truth at last, and not only quotations from books. For this reason the Mahatma, the name given to him by the people of India, is his real name. Who else has felt like him that all Indians are his own flesh and blood? In direct contact with truth, the crushed forces of the soul rise again. When love came to the door of India that door was opened wide. At Gandhi's call India blossomed forth to new greatness, just as once before in earlier times, when the Buddha proclaimed the truth of fellow - feeling and compassion among all living creatures.'

Wages of slavery

'The East India Company extorted forced labour from farmers in Bengal compelling them to cultivate indigo freely for the English on pain of torture to death.'

'The Company looted India's wealth. It did not pay for its purchases in India in gold or silver from India, but with the tax money collected from the people in India.'

' The plunder of India made England industrially rich. To sell her goods in India the East India Company destroyed Indian industries.'

' The slightest protest by Indians was put down ruthlessly by the Company's​ army. Indians could be jailed indefinitely without a trial or beaten to death.'

'Foreign rule sucked out the vitality of the Indian nation. Her agriculture was in ruins through swelling the profits of foreigners. The peasants groaned under the crushing burdon of the taxes and rentals. The artisans starved with none to buy their products. In the new sprung cities the English bureaucrats and businessmen lived in pomp in the company of a handful of princely aristocrats. Dispossessed peasants sweated their lives out as labourers in mills and factories.'

Rare insights from English contemporaries

' We have denied to the people of the country all that could raise them in society, all that could elevate them as men. We have insulted their caste, we have abrogated their laws of inheritance, we have seized the possessions of their native princes and confiscated the estates of their nobles. We have unsettled the country by our exactions and collected revenue by means of torture.'

'The Englishman flourishes and acts like a sponge, drawing up riches from the banks of the Ganges and squeezing them upon the banks of the Thames.'

Wise words from contemporary Indians

'Be not like the frog in the well. The frog in the well knows nothing bigger than its well. So are all bigots, they do not see anything better than their own creeds.'

'Come up, O lions and shake off the delusion that you are sheep. You are souls immortal, spirits free, blessed and eternal.'

'There could be no willing cooperation between a foreign Government and a subject people.'

'Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken up by narrow domestic walls, into that heaven of freedom let my country awake.'

' We will achieve freedom and the whole of it by entirely peaceful means.'

English atrocities

'Following the passing of an Act allowing any Indian to be jailed without trial for protesting, a public meeting was held in defiance of the ban in Jallianwala Bagh, Amristar, a peaceful assembly of 20,000 people. The British army's General Dyer ordered firing on the crowds and thousands fell dead and injured. The country was in shock. Gandhi: 'Is this the reward for cooperation during the war? Hereafter we do not cooperate with the rulers.' Gandhi announced a mass civil disobedience movement in selected areas and began a five day fast. He was arrested.'

Salt Law march

'Under the Salt Law only the British Government could make salt. Gandhi commanded the people to break this law and make salt themselves. On 12th March 1930 Gandhi started with 79 chosen volunteers on the famous 241 mile march from Sambarmathi Ashram to Dandi on foot saying "Either I shall return with what I want or else my body will float on the ocean." On the way thousands joined the marchers. When they reached Dandi at a prayer meeting before breaking the Salt Law Gandhi declared "I regard this British rule as a curse. We are not out to kill anybody, but it is our dharma that the curse of this government is blotted out.'" Gandhi was arrested.'

Gandhi's call to the people of India

'Everyone of you should from this moment onwards consider yourself to be a free man and woman and act as if you are free. We shall do or die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt.'

British rule ends

'The declaration of independence for India came in 1947. Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, taught us to fight evil without hating the evil doers. And when we and the British fought each other we fought with all our strength but without hatred and when we parted we did so as friends! At last India had won the right to rule herself. The British who had ruled it so long bowed out with grace.'


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