Saturday, January 13, 2018

Mahatma Gandhi's Speech at his prayer meeting: New Delhi, December 22, 1947

NB: January 13, 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the start of Mahatma Gandhi's last fast; that he also called his yagna, or sacrifice. He announced his intention on January 12; and the fast continued till the 18th. On each day of his fast, he spoke to his fellow Indians in his prayer meetings, or prarthana pravachan. I shall post his speeches for the duration of the fast; as also extracts from his speeches till the last day of his life. But it is often forgotten that he was fasting for communal reconciliation. Here are the contents of the Delhi Declaration, which ended his fast, and which make clear his purposes. Some details of his assassination may be read here; the former post also contains material pertaining to the background of these events. 

The document below contains his statement on December 22, 1947, about the sad fate of the tomb of Khwaja Bakhtiar Chisti in Mehrauli, and the need for it to be restored to its proper dignity. This year marks the 70 anniversary of his murder. It is a matter of grave significance for Indians of all faiths, as well as all those who believe that a stable democracy requires a foundation of friendship and mutual respect, to remember Mahatma Gandhi's last days. For he no longer belongs to us Indians, many of whom in any case have forgotten him. He was a friend of humanity. DS

SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING; NEW DELHI, December 22, 1947
(Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi Heritage Portal, vol 90, p 282-4)
Some eight or ten miles from here, at Mehrauli, there is a shrine of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Chisti. Esteemed as second only to the shrine at Ajmer, it is visited every year not only by Muslims but by thousands of non-Muslims too. Last September this shrine was subjected to the wrath of Hindu mobs. The Muslims living in the vicinity of the shrine for the last 800 years had to leave their homes. I mention this sad episode to tell you that, though Muslims love the shrine, today no Muslim can be found anywhere near it. It is the duty of the Hindus, Sikhs, the officials and the Government to open the shrine again and wash off this stain on us. The same applies to other shrines and religious places of Muslims in and around Delhi. The time has come when both India and Pakistan must unequivocally declare to the majorities in each country that they will not tolerate desecration of religious places, be they small or big. They should also undertake to repair the places damaged during riots.

Muslims have asked me whether, in view of the decision of the Muslim League in Karachi, members of the Muslim League should take part in the Conference called by Maulana Azad in Lucknow and also whether Muslims might participate in the Conference of the Muslim League in Madras, and in any case what should be the course to be adopted by the members of the Muslim League in India. I have not the least doubt that if they receive a personal or public invitation they should attend the Conferences in Lucknow and Madras. They should fearlessly and openly declare their views at these meetings. If they have learnt anything from the 30 years of non-violent struggle they should not worry that they are in a minority in the Indian Union and that the majority in Pakistan can be of no help to them. It does not need belief in non-violence to see that a minority however small it may be has no reason to feel afraid for its honour and for the things it holds dear. If man could but know his Maker and realize that he himself is a reflection of that Maker, no power on earth can take away his self-respect. No one can take away my self-respect; I can only lose it.

During my struggle against the mighty Government of the Transvaal, a dear English friend of mine in Johannesburg used to tell me, "I always like to be with a minority, for a minority as a rule does not commit mistakes, and even if it does it can be rectified. But a majority is drunk with power and it is difficult to reform it." If by majority the friend also meant one-sided armed might he was right. We know from bitter experience how a handful of Englishmen had transformed themselves into a majority through force of arms and how they dominated the whole of India. India lacked arms and, even if the arms had been there, we did not know how to use them. It is a matter of regret that Hindus and Sikhs have not learnt a lesson from the British rule in our country. The Muslims of the Union suffered from false pride in their majority in the East and the West. Today they are rid of that burden. If they now see the virtues of being a minority they will show the beauties of Islam in their own way. They must remember that the best days of Islam were the days of the Prophet Mohammed's minority in Mecca. Christianity began to decline after the time of Constantine1. I do not want to prolong the argument here. My advice emanates from my faith and if Muslim friends do not have this faith they are free to reject it.

In my view they should all be prepared to join the Congress. But they must not apply for entry into that body till they are sure of a hearty welcome and equality of treatment. In principle there is no question of majority and minority so far as the Congress is concerned. The Congress follows no religion unless it be a religion of humanity. It treats men and women alike. It is a purely political body in which Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Par sees and Jews are all equal. The Congress has not always been able to practise what it preached. This sometimes created an impression among the Muslims that it was a caste Hindu organization.

In any case as long as this kind of tug of war goes on Muslims should keep away with dignity. When the Congress wants their services they should come into the Congress. Till then they can be servants of the Congress as I am a servant of the Congress. Although I am not a four-anna member of the Congress I have a voice in that organization, and that is because ever since 1915 when I returned from South Africa I have been loyally serving the Congress. If every Muslim similarly serves the Congress he will find that his services are similarly appreciated.

Today every Muslim is considered a supporter of the League and therefore an enemy of the Congress. This has been the unfortunate result of the teachings of the League. Today there is no cause left any more for enmity. Four months are a very short time for getting rid of the poison of communalism. It is the misfortune of India that Hindus and Sikhs took this poison to be nectar and made themselves the enemies of the Muslim League. In returning brickbat for brickbat they brought a stain to their name and put themselves in the same category as Muslims. I appeal to the Muslim minority to raise themselves above this poisonous atmosphere, to remove the suspicion that had been created concerning them and to show that they could live in India as her honourable citizens without any deceit and dissimulation.

One consequence of partition is that the League cannot continue as a political organization. The Hindu Mahasabha, the Sikh Sabha and the Par see Sabha similarly cannot continue as political bodies. They may well stay as religious bodies. Their task then will be internal reform of society, to search for things of religious value and to act on them. Then the atmosphere will become free of poison and these organizations will rival each other in doing good. They will have amity for each other and they will help the Government. Their political ambitions can be realized through the Congress alone whether they are in the Congress or not. If the Congress thinks only of those who are in the Congress it will become very narrow in its sphere of service. Even today there are very few people in the Congress. If no other  organization can rival the Congress it is because the Congress has been trying to represent the whole of India, because it has dedicated itself to the service of the poorest and the lowliest.

[From Hindi] Prarthana Pravachan- 11, pp. 229-32