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volume-43, 26 January - 1 February, 2019

Bapu’s Last Speech at Prayer Meeting

(Mahatma Gandhi's last speech at the prayer meeting in New Delhi on January 29, 1948)


Of the many things I wish to tell you, I have chosen six for today, for I must finish in 15 minutes. I notice that we are beginning a little late, which is wrong. Sushila has gone to Bahawalpur, to see the refugees still stranded there. She has no other mission. Mr. Leslie Cross of the Friends' Service has gone with her. My idea was that someone from the Friends' Unit should go and observe the conditions of refugees there and report to me. There was no proposal for Sushila to go. But when she heard about the plan she suggested that she be permitted to accompany Mr. Cross. She has known him ever since she went to Noakhali. She is an efficient doctor and she belongs to the Gujrat district in the Punjab. She too has suffered a good deal. She had a large property which she has lost. But her heart has not become poisoned. She said it would help if she went because she could speak Punjabi, Hindustani, Urdu and English and could be of use to Mr. Cross. I was delighted. There are of course hazards but she said she was not afraid. Had she been afraid she would not have gone to work in Noakhali. Many people who live in the Punjab have been completely ruined in every way. At least she can still find food and other provisions. I consulted Mr. Cross and he welcomed the idea. He said she could act as an interpreter. He is from the Red Cross. The function of the Red Cross is to provide medical relief to war victims. Whether Dr. Sushila went with Mr. Cross or Mr. Cross went with Sushila is a complicated question but they are friends and like each other. They have gone to render service and not to make money. They will observe and give me a report of what they see. The Nawab keeps writing to me. After I have the report from Mr. Cross and Sushila Nayyar I shall tell you more about the matter.

Some people, perhaps forty of them, from Bannu had come to me. They have suffered hardships no doubt but they are able to walk. Some had injured fingers, some had other wounds on other parts of the body. I saw them just now and told them to explain everything to Brijkrishna. They were all respectable men. They must have been full of anger but they accepted my advice. One of them-I did not ask whether he was a refugee-said I had done enough harm already and that I should stop and disappear from the scene. He did not care whether I was a mahatma. I asked him where he wanted me to go. He said that I might go to the Himalayas. I had to rebuke him. He is not as old as I am and is stronger. But I could not afford to become nervous. I asked why I should go to the Himalayas merely because he wished it, when there were many who wanted me to stay. There are many who praise me and there are others who abuse me. What am I to do? I can only do as God bids. You may say that you do not believe in God. But then you must allow me to go my way. God is the help of the afflicted. But an afflicted person is not God. When I claim that every woman is my own sister or daughter, then her suffering becomes my suffering. Why do you presume that I do not understand the sufferings of the refugees? Why do you presume that because I am a friend of Muslims I am an enemy of Hindus and Sikhs? I cannot run away because anyone wants me to run away. I have not taken to service at anyone's bidding. I have become what I have become at the bidding of God. God will do what He wills. He may take me away. I shall not find peace by going to the Himalayas. I want to find peace in the midst of turmoil or I want to die in the turmoil. My Himalayas are here.

I keep receiving complaints about the refugees. They are given food and drink and clothing and they are helped in every possible way. But they do not want to work. I have said that  if the refugees want to end their sufferings, if they want to convert suffering into happiness and serve India and serve themselves, they must not shirk work. A refugee has no right to live comfortably without working. The Gita says: "Eat only after you have performed yajna." Eat what remains after the yajna. This has not been said only for me but also for you and all others. It applies also to the refugees. Even if a millionaire eats and does not work, he is a burden on the earth. Of course one can understand if you are a cripple, or if you are blind or too old. But a robust man has no excuse for not working. Let those who are strong of body clean lavatories in the camp; let them spin, let them do any other work that comes to hand. Let them teach their boys.

Someone came to see me today. I forget his name. He mentioned peasants. I said if I had my way our Governor-General would be a peasant; our Prime Minister would be a peasant. In my childhood I learnt a poem which says "0 farmer, you are the king, the master of the whole world." What would we eat if the peasant did not produce food? But today we have made him a slave. What can a peasant do? Must he acquire academic degrees such as B.A. and M.A.? If he does that he will be ruined. He will be no more good for wielding the pickaxe. If the man who produced foodgrain out of the earth becomes our Chief, our Prime Minister, the face of India will change. There is a scarcity of food in Madras. A representative of the Madras Government had come here to plead with Shri Jairamdas that he should make foodgrain available for Madras. This attitude of the people of Madras saddens me. I want to point out to them that they can find enough things to eat in their own province such as groundnut, coconut and various other things. They also have plenty of fish which most of them take. What need is there for them to go out and beg? It is not right for them to insist on rice and that too polished rice which has all its food value removed or to insist on wheat in place of rice. They can mix groundnut flour or coconut flour with rice flour and thus keep the wolf from the door. What they need is self-confidence and dedication. I know the people of Madras quite well. I had with me in South Africa people drawn from all the linguistic areas of the Province. During the satyagraha march they were given a pound and a half of bread and an ounce of sugar each day. But they surprised me when on our striking camp they would pick out some edible greens or some other thing and cook it singing away in great delight. How can such resourceful people ever feel so helpless? True we were all coolies. But then in honest work lies our freedom and the satisfaction of all our basic needs.

[From Hindi]

(Courtesy: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 90: November 11, 1947 - January 30, 1948 published by Publications Division, Ministry of Information & Broad-casting, Government Of India, New Delhi.)