What we tell our children

At fast anniversary, kids speak out on Gandhi

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 19.01.18
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Sohail Hashmi talking about the Noakhali riots

New Delhi: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's final fast was to plead for Hindu-Muslim amity and it ended on January 18, 1948.

Seventy years to the date on Thursday, Saurabh, an eighth-grader who visited the Mahatma's fasting venue at what was once Birla House in the capital, told The Telegraph: "Gandhi was unfair towards Hindus. If he had let Sardar Patel become PM, India would be different today. Gandhi favoured Jinnah and let him break India.... My parents and other elders have told me."

Vaibhav, a classmate, joined in: "He broke the salt law in Dandi. If only he had killed two or three Britishers, people would have been encouraged to revolt. Netaji raised an army greater and larger than Gandhi's supporters, sitting in Japan."

The two teenagers were part of around 600 schoolchildren from 15 schools who visited Birla House, now called Gandhi Smriti, on Tees January Marg, named so to mark the date on which the Father of the Nation was assassinated.

The surnames of the students who spoke to this newspaper and the names of the schools are not being published because they are children.

A teacher of one school admitted that it was an "uphill battle teaching history".

He explained: "Kids aren't just reading history textbooks. They are watching TV, hearing things elders say. India, for many, is Hindu. If we take them to a slum to distribute blankets, they see a poor Muslim as a bad person, a potential terrorist. Any point of view questioning these ideas is anti-national. Gandhi is the past and Modi is the leader they now look up to as the Father of the Nation."

At an event organised by the Gandhi Peace Foundation, academics Apoorvanand and Sohail Hashmi spoke of Gandhi's role in dousing the flames of riots in Bengal and Delhi during Partition.

"All those who abuse Gandhi didn't go to Noakhali to stop the killings of Hindus.... Don't listen to those who had nothing to do with Gandhi and had no contribution to freedom. Their understanding of India and Gandhi's is totally different. You have to decide, when you grow up to run the country, as to what country this should be," historian Hashmi told the children.

Lavanya, another student, told this newspaper: "Before this event, I thought Gandhi and Jinnah broke up the country. I now understand that many others were responsible. But why don't they take us to the memorials of Netaji and Bhagat Singh too?"

Arush smelt a larger conspiracy.

"People keep saying violence is bad because Gandhi's Congress, which came to power, taught us that. Gandhi did not save Bhagat Singh because he wanted to sign the pact with Lord Irwin."

Gandhi had signed an agreement to end the civil disobedience in exchange for lifting the ban on the Congress and releasing political prisoners on March 5, 1931.

Bhagat Singh was hanged on March 23 that year for killing a police officer.

Gandhi is criticised for not pushing effectively to get Bhagat Singh's sentence commuted. The reference point for most students is Rajkumar Santoshi's Ajay Devgn-starrer - The Legend of Bhagat Singh - released in 2002.

Not everyone echoed such views. Kunal said: "Lakhs of people got courage from Gandhi. It is the media that divides us as Hindu and Muslim. Gandhi did not divide us, the politicians who hated either Hindus or Muslims did. If Gandhi took up arms, then many innocent people would have been killed."

Himanshu, Kunal's most vocal supporter in class, added: "I used to think Gandhi was a baba-type person. I have started reading his autobiography. I now understand he was human like all of us and his readings on religion were aimed at understanding Hindus and Muslims better and bringing them together, which he tried so hard to do.

"In Hisar, where I am from," said another student, Kiran, "we celebrate the birthdays of Bhagat Singh and Netaji as there are many Azad Hind Fauj veterans there. Both the revolutionaries and the satyagrahis got us freedom. But Gandhi is now commercialised and everything is named after him. Not many know who Bhagat Singh was."

Apoorvanand, who has planned a series of such talks here for students until Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary next year, underscored why it was important to keep talking to the young generation.

"After years of half-truths and propaganda against Gandhi, it is impossible for us to succeed 100 per cent in changing their beliefs. But it is our duty to keep talking to them," Apoorvanand said.