January 29, 2018

India: Violent enemies killed Gandhi, the ‘great soul’ of peace | MAREA DONNELLY

Violent enemies killed Gandhi, the ‘great soul’ of peace
TO westerners he was a smiling, bespectacled saint, preaching nonviolent civil disobedience to free India from the shackles of the British Empire.
As he charmed workers at British cotton mills in the 1930s, at home in India Mohandas Gandhi was deemed the enemy of millions of untouchables, forever designated as sanitation collectors for higher caste Hindus.
But in the turbulence of India’s independence struggles, it was another political foe who fired the three bullets that killed Gandhi on January 30, 1948, as he walked to a raised lawn at Birla House in New Delhi, to conduct his daily multi-faith prayer meeting.
Since June 1934, there had been five attempts to kill Gandhi, including a grenade attack on January 20, 1948 by Hindu Madanlal Pahwa: 20 members of his family had been massacred as they fled West Pakistan.
Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi.
Ads by Kiosked
Lord Louis and Edwina Mountbatten with Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi during independence in 1947.
Gandhi’s accused assassin was Nathuram Godse, from the marginal Hindu Mahasabha party, formed in 1914 to protect Hindu rights against the All India Muslim League, and oppose the British India government’s creation of a separate Muslim electorate. Although an occasional Muslim League ally, the Mahasabha party considered Muslims in India a greater enemy to Hindus than the British, and opposed Gandhi’s policy of civil disobedience to win independence.
Godse, a journalist who had been jailed for political crimes, was arrested with publisher Narayan Apte and six accused collaborators. At his murder trial at Delhi’s Red Fort in May 1948, Godse blamed Gandhi “for the sufferings of Partition” after Indian independence in August 1947 and accused him of “complacency towards Muslims”. Godse, implicated in three earlier attempts on Gandhi’s life, said Gandhi had appeased Muslims to the degree “that my blood boiled and I could tolerate him no longer … my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought destruction, rack and ruin to millions of Hindus”.
Godse and his collaborators had plotted the assassination since January 13, 1948, when Gandhi announced his “fast-unto-death” to pressure the Indian government to release payments to Pakistan, withheld because Pakistan was at war with India in Kashmir. Gandhi opposed freezing the payment. When the Indian government yielded to pressure from Gandhi, Godse and his collaborators decided Gandhi was controlling power in India.
Gandhi sitting cross-legged on a floor cushion while reading a newspaper at home in Birla House, Delhi, in 1946. Picture: Margaret Bourke-White/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Gandhi had moved to New Delhi in 1946, staying with untouchables, identified also as scheduled caste, scavengers and dalits, at Balmiki Temple in northern New Delhi until it was requisitioned for Hindu refugees from Pakistan in September 1947. Then trying to stem violent riots as millions of Hindus and Muslims crossed new borders, he moved to a mansion owned by Ghanshyam Das Birla, a wealthy manufacturer, in central Delhi.
Gandhi, who weighed in at 49.6kg on the morning of his death, was late for his 5pm prayer meeting as he crossed the lawn at Birla House with distant cousin Manu Gandhi, called Manuben, and Abha Chatterjee, a girl adopted by the Gandhis who would later marry Gandhi’s great nephew, Kanu Gandhi.
Manuben wrote that “A stout young man in Khaki dress (Godse), pushed his way through the crowd, bent over and with his hands folded”. She thought he wanted to touch Gandhi’s feet, and pushed him away saying, “Bapu is already 10 minutes late, why do you embarrass him”. She said Godse pushed her aside so forcibly that she lost her balance and dropped a rosary and notebook. As she bent to pick them up, she heard three shots and saw smoke everywhere. Gandhi’s hands were folded, and Abhaben had also fallen down, and Gandhi was across her lap. It took about 10 minutes to carry Gandhi, who was bleeding profusely, back to the house, where he died at about 5.30pm.
Gandhi dictates a message, just before breaking his fast at Birla House, Delhi, in January 1948. Picture: Magnum Photos
Newspapers reported that Godse was seized by Herbert Reiner Jr, then 32 and a new vice-consul at the US embassy in Delhi. He had joined a small crowd at Birla House at 4.45pm and reportedly felt security measures were inadequate. Other reports said Godse had surrendered, and others that he had tried to flee into the crowd.
At least two million people joined the 8km long funeral procession that took five hours to move from Birla House to Raj Ghat, where Gandhi was cremated in a funeral pyre. But in 1955, political opponent Bhimrao Ambedkar said Gandhi did not truly “deserve” the title of Mahatma, or great soul.
The 14th child of a low class Dalit, Ambedkar described Gandhi, born into a ruling caste, as both a great man, and “the greatest enemy the untouchables have ever had in India”.
In 1932 Gandhi blocked Ambedkar’s attempt to create a dalit parliament to improve the lot of more than 60 million Indians born to scheduled castes. Ambedkar wanted an immediate ban on scavenging; Gandhi said upper caste Hindus should stop discrimination against lower castes, who should accept the work of their caste, arguing “a scavenger’s profession is in no way inferior to a clergyman’s”.