There is growing intolerance here in India and around the world. Religious fundamentalists have created an explosive atmosphere all over the world. Whether radical Hindu nationalists in India or Buddhists in Srilanka or Muslim fundamentalists in the Middle East or South Asia, or Christian evangelical extremists in Americas, they all have exploited their religions and followers to debase and misinterpret other religions and people. Religious extremists have been quite successful in manipulating their views of religion for political and economic gain. They wrongly fan the passion of intolerance and fear and even sometimes outright violence in the name of God, by demonizing other religions and people.
The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi was a victim of intolerance. He spent most of his life trying to defend the rights of persecuted religious sects or ethnic groups who were being ignored, discriminated against or slaughtered. Time and time again, the dominant forces believed in their moral superiority because of their apparent strength in numbers, that led to majoritarian ideology.
In June 25, 1934 three shots were fired at around 5.10 p.m. to silence the life of a 79 year old frail but resolute Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. For it was on that day, while on a visit to Pune, that Gandhiji witnessed the first of six attempts on his life. The sixth shot by Nathuram Godse resulted in his death on Friday of January 30, 1948. Hearing the sacrifice of Gandhi for a higher value in life, the mystic and poet, Rabindranath Tagore called him “Mahatma” and Subash Chadra Bose called him “Father of the Nation”. It is the first act of terror committed in independent India and it is the result of an organized conspiracy on the part of a section of people to spread terror among Indian public.
The murder is “a declaration of war and a statement of intent”; declaration of war by a section of society which remained largely on the fringes during the independence struggle. This was a section that bore visceral dislike toward the ideal of composite culture and inclusive nationhood advocated by the Mahatma. Now the successors of the fringe elements have gained political power in India. Hence they have let loose the tangles of communal violence against all those advocate respect for human dignity and equal opportunity for all. They want to establish a monoculture based on Manusmriti which is contrary to Indian Constitution.
According to Gandhi, “Democracy necessarily means a conflict of will and ideas, involving sometimes a war … between different ideas”. He also pointed out that claims of religious supremacy are dangerous if left unchallenged by fair-minded intelligent souls.
Gandhi learnt the power of non-violence from the teachings of Jesus and the philosophy of Gautama Buddha. First Gandhiji invites us to practice non-violence. One’s sympathies should be expressed toward the oppressor as well as the victim, to the point where the oppressor undergoes a change of heart. Secondly he invites us to start with oneself in seeking transformation one wants to see realized in the other, in the community and the world. He says, “Listen to your inner voice and become the change you wish to see”. Everyone has the tendency to wait for the other person, the opponent, to make the first move to change before one is willing to change. It is a known fact that the path of hate, “an eye for an eye” will make the whole world blind. Thirdly, he invites us to believe that “Truth will triumph” finally. The soundness and fairness of our ideas will ultimately prevail regardless of the size or power of opposing forces if we show the required audacity, inner strength and flexibility required for the longer struggle for justice. Gandhiji’s life itself is the message. His life demonstrated the power of love, forgiveness, patience, conviction, non-violent activism, polite discourse and a search for common ground and better understanding.
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur