The way of victory
When reminded that I had promised to write a blog for OneBodyOneFaith, I panicked and then prayed. I know that’s the wrong order, but I am only a poor sinner, so bear with me.
Prayer is an odd means of communication. I find myself talking to God or my friend, Jesus, at varied times of the day but, mostly, I reserve prayer for giving thanks at the end of the day for the many blessings that I have and do enjoy: family; friends, those past and still with me, and the presence of God in my life.
However, there are times when I do ask for help. This was one of them and God answered in a strange manner, through a strange medium. A new friend who had performed one of those wonderful random acts of kindness by inviting us for tea at his home as we walked through the fort in his home town of Belgaum in North-West Karnataka, India, sent me a somewhat whimsical history of that town. I make no apologies for quoting part of that tale, this story being totally factual.
Mahatma Gandhi came to Belgaum thrice.
On his third visit to Belgaum in 1924, he restructured the freedom struggle, sharpening the agenda to a fine point, and the new agenda became a battle cry for millions across the land. Large cities, such as Mysore and Bangalore, refused to host a crucial meeting of the Congress in December 1924, for lack of resources or fear of upsetting the Imperial power, but Belgaum stepped forward and produced a venue.
The Congress, and the country, were being torn apart, by communal killings, followed by the reprisal killings in other cities. The more radical wing was gaining ascendancy over the moderate centre.
Gandhiji had been on a very long fast and when he arrived in Belgaum, 9 days before the Session was to begin, he was too weak to stand for long.
He gave two speeches while being seated on the stage.
“I have a formula in my head, that will take us within measurable distance of freedom – but I will not reveal it until you promise me “three unities” – unity of Muslims and Hindus, unity of upper caste and Harijans [Gandhi’s term for the Untouchables] and unity of Swarajists [the radicals] and Moderates”.
Till these three unities were promised by the Congress delegates, Gandhiji kept to his straw hut, constructed for him at a cost of Rs. 350. Gandhiji had protested this was too much, and, initially refused to stay in it. He kept to his spinning wheel for days until the Party leaders solemnly promised him all ‘three unities’.
Gandhiji then went around the tent city, saw for himself that Brahmins and Harijans were happily cleaning toilets together. Only when he received a solemn promise about the other two unities, did he finally agree to become the President of the Congress Party and reveal his ‘formula’.
The next day he entered the massive tent, ascended the dais, greeted the delegates with a blessing and sat spinning, while some children sang religious songs.
Gandhiji then delivered one of his most inspirational speeches – revealing his formula – non-violent, non-cooperation – or ‘Satyagraha’.
Although the dark shadow of violence hung over the Session, Gandhiji was in rather good humour, perhaps because of the pledge of unity that he had secured from all the delegates the previous day.
He walked down from the dais to the rostrum and hung his homespun one-piece garment on the rostrum. He sat cross-legged on the high chair, opened his watch and kept it on the rostrum facing him, rambled for a few minutes, then brought a little girl to the stage:
“This little girl, when she grows up, will remember one Gandhi, who would not share meat with her, not touch beef himself, but would let others eat it if they liked. … When, she grows up she will transmit my message … I may not be alive then … but it will be a message of love. She is all love.”
Gandhiji then went on to expound his plan for the struggle ahead. Adopting a path of violence and internal struggle would play into the hands of the British – who were immensely powerful militarily.
“We need a force to counter this – and that has to be truth.
Satyagraha will be the light that will reveal the truth. Satyagraha excludes all violence and hatred. … therefore, I cannot, and will not hate Englishmen. Nor will I bear their yoke … Satyagraha is an attitude of the spirit within … it is our birthright.”
Gandhiji went on to explain how, armed with this Truth, we are equal to the strongest … “Their sticks and weapons cannot hurt us … for we are one, and we have Truth on our Side … from now on, let us march forward as one, united by love and truth .. . let the Heavens fall, but the bond that binds us today, shall not snap”.
Upon thunderous applause, he said, “My work is finished”.
Belgaum 1924 was an inflection point in India’s freedom struggle. The freedom struggle veered away from the path of violence.
The message of Gandhiji from this little town reverberated around the country. The British could find no answer to the tens of thousands of non-violent protesters, armed with nothing more than a moral force.
A world power, victorious on the battlefields of Europe, Northern Africa and Southeast Asia, gave up an Empire that they had created and maintained with force for 200 years – non-violently.
Never before --- and never since --- has a conquering power departed without even a parting shot.
With thanks to Dr. Nikin G Khot, sometime LSE student and agitator of the 1960s, still battling for the return of artefacts removed from the temples of Belgaum.
What is our Truth? What is the truth that OneBodyOneFaith embodies?
Galatians 3: For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
That is our Truth and it is our birthright.
David Owen, OneBodyOneFaith Trustee and Treasurer