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Special Content

Issue no 27, 01-07 October 2022

Gandhiji and Empowerment


Gandhiji altered the course of history, not only in India but the whole world. He manifested and utilized his own inner potentials, and empowered hundreds and thousands of fellow human beings to do the same. How was Gandhiji himself empowered? And what do we mean by empowerment? Below is an excerpt from the book titled 'Looking for Gandhi in Our Times’ authored by Varsha Das and published by Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, which delves into the question of Gandhiji and empowerment.

A community organizer, writer and political activist Saul David Alinsky (1909-72) defined empowerment "as the art of transforming discontent into conscious political action. Many people don't think about or act on social issues because they feel powerless. Why worry about a problem I can't fix? The best way to overcome feelings of helplessness, said Alinsky, is to assist people in winning "a steady stream of modest, concrete achievements," (David Cortright). That is exactly what Gandhiji did when he was empowered. How he practised it in his life can be seen from the incident in South Africa when he was jostled and kicked by a policeman without any warning to get off a footpath. The footpath of the President Street was meant only for the whites. Mr. Michael Coates, Gandhiji's Quaker friend happened to be passing by on his horseback. He saw how Gandhiji was humiliated. He immediately called out, "Gandhi, I have seen everything. I shall gladly be your witness in court if you proceed against the man." But Gandhiji replied, "What does the poor man know? All coloured people are the same to him... I have made it a rule not to go to court in respect of any personal grievance. So I do not intend to proceed against him." All such incidents led to the declaration of Satyagraha in 1906, the purpose was to get justice for all through the empowerment of all. I believe that empowerment in a dormant form exists in all human beings. The moment they get an opportunity, or the right kind of environment, or a suitable trigger, it manifests. To prove the validity of any belief or principle we need three kinds of proofs, namely, documentary, theoretical and actual proof. Documentary proofs are abundant in Gandhiji's writings and speeches, and there are innumerable books and papers written by hundreds of writers and scholars the world over. Theories were formulated after Gandhiji succeeded in his experiments. Actual proof is the most important. It can be found in the lives and actions of many who followed his values and vision. I would like to quote here a couple of examples of empowerment from Gujarati literature. The first one is a book entitled Parasamanina Sparshe. It is a compilation of 15 interviews taken by late Smt. Labhuben Mehta, published in January 1979 by Abhinav Bharati Prakashan in Mumbai. Labhuben herself was a freedom fighter and was imprisoned in her teens. In the book, Parasamanina Sparshe, she had tried to find out how each one was empowered when his or her life was touched by Gandhiji. Bapu for them was Parasamani, a Philosopher's stone, which could turn iron into gold by a mere touch! I am narrating here a couple of incidents from the lives of two persons. The very first interview in the book is that of late Shri Uchharangarai Dhebar. And the very first sentence is: 'In 1936 Bapu, as if, pulled out Dhebarbhai from the hollow of the earth, after which his name was heard all over Saurashtra.' Like many other Satyagrahis he had also left his legal practice and wanted to know how to eradicate poverty from the lives of the poor. He met Bapu for the first time in 1936 in Rajkot and was advised to meet Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and was asked to stay in Saurashtra till all the problems were resolved. Dhebarbhai stayed in Saurashtra for 20 years, understood the problems of farmers' poverty, succeeded in making labourers the owners of their land, guided people to fight against the tyranny of the kings of Princely States, and so on. He also became the first Chief Minister of Saurashtra from 1948-1954. Later he played important roles at the national level as well. An unknown person's life was touched by Gandhiji and he dedicated his life to serve the people of this nation. The next is Goshiben Captain. She belonged to a rich Parsi family, wore smooth soft silk clothes, studied abroad. She met Bapu for the first time in London. Jamshedji Tata, a great industrialist and visionary used to organize a party every year on the day of Pateti, the Parsi New Year for the Parsis residing in London. Gandhiji was also invited once. Goshiben saw him in his western clothes and found him quite smart. When Gandhiji asked her to participate in the Satyagraha in South Africa she replied that he should work in India and if he did, she would join him. Goshiben met Gandhiji in India at the Petits in Mumbai. Goshiben along with her sisters Perin and Nargis joined Bapu in his various activities. One incident narrated by Goshiben was remarkable. A Pathan was torturing a dog. One policeman on duty at that spot tried to stop him. The Pathan paid no heed to him. They both began to quarrel. Some Muslims jumped into the fray, and it turned into a wrestling ground of police and Muslims. The news reached the office of these sisters. Goshiben and her sister Perinben immediately reached the spot. On their arrival, they found that the local police had gone into hiding and the whole area was occupied by the soldiers of the army. Muslims had also organized themselves in small groups. Both the sisters very bravely went up to them and explained, 'British are ready to kill us. If you quarrel among yourselves in this manner they will finish us all. All of you are our brothers. Please try to understand.' Gradually they all got convinced. This was the result of powerful action taken by empowered women. The gist of other Gujarati books that I am going to talk about were written by Mohanlal Mehta - Sopan who was an active freedom fighter, and was imprisoned several times. Most of his novels and short- stories were based on his and his comrades' first hand experiences. His first imprisonment was during the Salt Satyagraha when he was 20. On the Jallianwala day, April 13 of 1947 Sopan's novel '9 August' was published. The main character Sopan was a freedom fighter who maintained a daily diary in which he had noted the history, some facts and data of the August Kranti of 1942. He also expressed his amazement at the way non-violent struggle took place throughout the country because all the participants believed in humanism. This book was confiscated by the British. The author after some time brought out its reprint. The main character's name was changed to Rajen. That was also the title of the book, and the author assumed the name 'Sopan' as his pen name. The author became more famous by his pen name! Sopan's three short-story collections, namely, Sanjeevani, Antarani Vato and Antarani Vyatha, according to Gandhiji's close associates Narahari Parikh and Jhaverchand Meghani are timeless documents of Satyagrahis written with utmost sensitivity and creativity. Sopan and many such young writers emerged in practically all the languages of India. Their fearless actions because of their empowerment immortalized Gandhiji's contribution in Indian literature, and also provided historical documents of those times and places. This era in Indian literature is aptly designated as Gandhian Era, or Gandhi Yug, a great upsurge of empowerment all over the country.

(The book can be purchased online on Amazon.in and publicationsdivision.nic.in @Rs 300).