Gandhi’s Life – Part 14
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Biographies|
Biography of M.K. Gandhi
“The Light Has Gone Out”
The battle between Hindus and Moslems moved swiftly from the conference rooms to the streets. Gandhi, who cared more for peace than for politics, decided to make a pilgrimage to the most remote and primitive areas of east Bengal, where the religious war had spread to the villages. “I am not going to leave Bengal until the last embers of the trouble are stamped out,” he said. “If necessary, I will die here.”
He was seventy-seven years old, yet he undertook a laborious trek through forty-nine villages, walking barefoot as a penitent for miles each day over roads strewn by his enemies with filth or glass. He stayed in each village long enough to restore calm, and then moved on. But this was one small area and all of India was afire.
In February, 1947, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that England would leave India no later than June of 1948, and that he was appointing Lord Louis Mountbatten as the last British Viceroy, to prepare for the departure. Mountbatten conferr:ed with Gandhi, Jinnah, and the Congress leaders. Jinnah insisted on partition and threatened civil war if it were denied. The Congress leaders, anxious to avoid a war and hungry for independence, bowed to Jinnah’s demands. Only Gandhi was adamant. He would rather postpone independence than divide India. Though he was overruled, fate was to prove him right. Jinnah, Pakistan’s angry champion, died the following year. If the Congress and the British had waited a little longer, Jinnah’s death would have eliminated the vivisection of India and the bloodshed that followed.
On June 3, 1947, Mountbatten announced a partition plan that had been approved by the Congress and the Moslem League. Jinnah and violence had won. It was Gandhi’s supreme humiliation. He had fought for independence for thirty-two years and had, essentially, won it in 1930 with his satyagraha campaign against the salt laws. But when independence finally materialized, truth-force had crumbled before brute force. Gandhi’s friends had no more accepted the principle of nonviolence than had his enemies.
India’s official independence day was August 15, 1947, but Gandhi refused to participate in the celebrations. Instead, he was in Calcutta, where there had been brutal rioting, fasting and praying in a Moslem household. When the frenzy went so far that he could no longer cool it and he was attacked in his bedroom by a mob, he decided to fast until “sanity returns to Calcutta.” The fighting ceased immediately, and before three days had passed civic leaders pledged it would not be resumed. They kept their word, even while terror raged through the rest of India.
The partition of the country into India and Pakistan initiated one of the most calamitous religious wars in history. No matter how the lines were drawn, some Moslems remained in Hindu territory and some Hindus were trapped in Pakistan. In both places the majority turned on the minority. It is estimated that as many as seven or eight million persons were butchered. Another fifteen million were displaced as they fled their homes to seek shelter in the opposite country, and their numbers were reduced only by murder, famine, and disease.
“Both sides appear to have gone crazy,” said a heartbroken Gandhi. He was then in Delhi, the nation’s capital, and even there the Hindus were shamelessly slaughtering Moslems in the streets.
On October 2, 1947, Gandhi was seventy-eight years old. He had once spoken of living to be 125, for he had so much to do, but he no longer wished to. “There is nothing but anguish in my heart,” he said. “Time was, whatever I said the masses followed. Today, mine is a lone voice …”
Every evening Gandhi held a prayer meeting at Birla House, where he stayed, surrounded by his family and his disciples. Because he always read verses from the Koran as well as from the Hindu scriptures, some Hindus accused him of being pro-Moslem. At the same time, Moslems demanded his reasons for opposing Pakistan.
Unable to halt the violence in the capital, Gandhi resorted to his ultimate weapon. On January 13, 1948, he began a fast for peace in Delhi. When the leaders of the Hindu community pledged they would cease persecuting the Moslems, his heart lifted and he broke his fast. “Come what may,” he said, “there will be complete friendship between the Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, Christians, and Jews …”
While he was still recovering from the fast he announced at a prayer meeting one evening that he hoped to go to Pakistan to work for peace. As he spoke there was an explosion. Someone had tried to kill him with a crude bomb. No one was hurt and the assassin was caught. He was one of a group of fanatic Hindus who wanted total war with Pakistan in order to obliterate all Moslems. Because they felt Gandhi stood in their way, these Hindus had decided to kill him.
On January 30, as was his custom, Gandhi held his outdoor prayer meeting. In the front row of spectators sat another member of the fanatic group, a thirty-five-year-old newspaper editor named Nathuram Vinayak Godse. In his pocket was a small pistol.
As Gandhi walked through the crowd toward the platform where he would sit, he raised his hands to his forehead in the traditional Hindu blessing. It was about 5:10 P.M. Suddenly Godse rose in front of him and rapidly fired three times.
“As for me,” Gandhi had once said, “nothing better can happen to a satyagrahi than meeting death all unsought in the very act of satyagraha, that is, pursuing truth.”
At the first shot Gandhi faltered. At the second shot his hands dropped to his sides. With the third shot he crumbled and died. His last words were Hey Rama, which mean, “0 God.”
That night Prime Minister Nehru told the Indian people and the world, “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere … The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light … A thousand years later that light will still be seen … for that light represented … the living truth.”
This biography was written by Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht and is reprinted here with the permission of the copyright holder.
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