Tag Archives: gandhi

Tribute: Sasiperumal

1 Aug

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/77530#.VbxhtfOqqko

Translated by: Gokul

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While waiting for a bus today morning, I noticed a lungi-clad, middle-aged man enter a mango orchard with a helmet in his hand. Thinking it was a bucket that he held in his hand, I watched him closely. He placed the helmet on the ground and took out two bottles of rum. He squatted on the ground and poured the rum directly into this mouth. He didn’t even add water – and had nothing alongside it as well. Gulp, gulp. Five minutes. After retching once, he plucked a leaf nearby and chewed on it as he came and started his scooter that was parked near me.

A familiar scene. But it kept troubling me. When I visited Ambasamudram last year and went to the villages there, I saw men sitting idle in almost every house. The womenfolk were leaving for work. ‘His eyes wobble after the 10 o’ clock sun, sir, and he faints. That is why he doesn’t go to work’, they said. Liquor. Money for drinking? ‘He earns something. Beyond that, he snatches whatever I have’. The villages were full of these people afflicted by drink, sitting with swollen eyes and sunken cheeks, . The fertile land lay useless without any agriculture. The land which was immediately next to the road waited, transformed into ‘plots’.

The entire politics of this place is run on liquor funds. All free gifts (from the government) are funded by TASMAC. The corruption in TASMAC is the celebration of politics. TASMAC is completely destroying Tamil workers. Chemicals of the worst form are sold by the government as liquor here. The government itself orders and forces its employees and officers to increase the sale of liquor. The total revenues from liquor is published as some sort of achievement by the government. Early in the morning, one can see people sitting at the entrances of TASMAC shops waiting to start drinking. In this land of many more crores of workers, one cannot find a single person to work. One has to bring them from Bihar and Bengal.

Nobody speaks about this extrordinary repression and exploitation here. One group of apologists claim that liquor is part of ancient Tamil culture. Another group writes a few broken lines in the name of poetry and then drinks in celebration. Another group is content to wait for the grand revolution. Be it Tamil nationalism, Dravidianism – TASMAC is the venue for every sort of celebration. Drink has created a situation where women cannot go unaccompanied in any public space in Tamilnadu. In buses, in tourist places – drinkers make merry everywhere breaching all bounds of decency. Those who do not drink are their hostages.

Drink has always been here though. It was kept under check as it was designated a social evil through the influence of Jainism and Buddhism. It was during the British rule that they made it a commercial venture. The establishment of liquor shops enabled the systematic exploitaiton of workers. The British discovered that the auction of liquor shop licenses was an important source of income for the government. One can see the spectre of drink in the villages in the short stories of that era by writers like Pichamoorthy and Pudhumaipitthan. It exploited the deprived classes the most.

sasi

Seeing how drink wrecked havoc with the village economy and the lives of the deprived classes of India, Gandhi placed the struggle against drinking as one of the central activities of the freedom movement. Gandhi’s picketing of toddy shops was the only nation-wide movement against drink since the era of Jainism. It created significant awareness against drinking across India. In independent India, the governments that were formed subsequently found the British method of exploitation advantageous. They targeted the super normal profits from liquor. M. Karunanidhi officially introduced drinking in Tamilnadu, destroyed all social checks against drink and drove an entire generation into it. If he holds a place in Tamil social history, it is this.

Today, any voice against drinking is laughable for both the educated youth and the uneducated masses. But even today the voices from Gandhian age rise against drinking. It emanates as an expression of Gandhian obstinacy, deprived of support from either the people or the media. It is the voice of a conscience that refuses to die out in our society. It serves as proof that however it is quelled, Gandhism shall stay alive.

The news of Sasiperumal’s death reached today. He had collapsed and died during a demonstration against drink at Marthandam nearby here. A death that he would have desired. In a sense, this completes his life. But his voice never could converse with anyone’s conscience. The time was not ripe for that. In the intellectual discourse of this country, it is quite possible that Sasiperumal’s sacrifice will remain unnoticed by the media.

I got the chance to meet Sasiperumal and receive his blessings in an event organized by the Tiruppur Aram Foundation. A simple man who didn’t speak much. He had clearly set out goals for his life. He had realized Gandhi through action. It is infact the best way to realize Gandhi. And through that, to become Gandhi himself. My tributes to Sasiperumal, whom I saw as Gandhi himself.

J

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Hitler and Gandhi

27 Jul

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/2768#.VbYzE_mqqko

Translated by: Gokul

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Dear Jeyamohan,

Do you believe that the Gandhian approach can win over somebody like Hitler? If all the countries hadn’t united and killed Hitler, could we have defeated him? Also, it is acceptable that Gandhi organized the people. But was he the one who brought us freedom? The British government of that time gave up its colonial policy. Was it not the reason?

Regards,

Prabhu
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Dear Prabhu,

There is no doubt about the sort of politics you have read: the worthless history written by our immature Marxists. Please reconsider this. Otherwise, you will soon start considering yourself an elite intellectual. You will start establishing yourself in a grand position, above crores of other people, discarding their wishes, dreams, history and culture. You will consider yourself as an emancipator of ordinary people and someone entrusted with the responsibility of guiding other people. That is the ugliest spot for a thinker to ever reach.

Once you stand on that spot, you gain a fabulous authority. You are not one of the common masses anymore. You are an evolved life form which can be tired of the stupidity of common people – ‘Our people have no sense!’. You can abuse crores of people that they prostitute themselves for money, as nitwits concerned solely about food. Given a chance, you could take people along as you decide, at the point of a gun. For their own sake, you can involve them in any war. You can kill and destroy them for the sake of their own future. Like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Il-sung did.

After that, they remain people only as long as they obey your orders, live as examples of your principles and transform as mice for your experiments. Otherwise, they can be put to death. I am reminded of a poem I read several years ago –

The Solution – Bertolt Brecht(1)

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?


I wrote this to drive home the gigantic flaw in the history that you mentioned. What we call history is comprised of people. Crores and crores of them. Their wishes, desires, strengths and weaknesses put together make history move forward. One who organizes the people and takes them forward, takes history forward. ‘Gandhi organized people, but history happened on its own’ – how can you make this statement?

To understand the Indian freedom struggle, you should understand the Indian social structure atleast a bit. India didn’t have a legacy of common people directly participating in politics. This is because, what existed here was monarchy. In India, the only authority that controlled the kings was tradition. People had an indirect authority over the kings in the sense that they constituted tradition – that was all. The concept of democracy originated in Europe as a result of two hundred years of tumultuous thought.

In the 17th century, the British people came when India didn’t have strong governments and when it was left devastated by invasions. They provided a stable government, law and order and a better administration of justice. Hence, a majority of Indian people accepted British rule. A large segment of the population remained loyal to their kings. Those kings remained loyal to the British. The reason why the British ruled India was because this great nation accepted the British entirely.

In the beginning, only a few realized that the hidden exploitation of the British government was impoverishing the country. Most of the early rebellions against British rule were against their excessive taxation policies. Kattabomman, Pazhasiraja, Veluthambi Thalavaai, Alluri Seetharama Raju… were all subdued.

Later, an educated class came up in India which understood the British exploitation intellectually. The great Bengal Famine and others became obvious evidence of the same. Concepts of freedom and self-governance came up. But they all remained in the midst of a few middle class educated people.

The man who took those concepts to crores and crores of Indians was Gandhi. His movements were aimed at making the hidden exploitation of the British, blatant and obvious. Boycotting foreign cloth, preparing salt and other movements – these exposed the economic extortion underneath the skin-deep justice of the British government. He made crores of people participate in those movements. He made the movements simple for that very same reason. ‘Our ocean, our fire – why cannot I prepare salt?’ a simple question was the basis for the birth of a new society.

Once crores of people had obtained political consciousness, he made them involve in activities for social change. Restructuring the village economy, instilling a sense of hygiene, spreading rural education – there were many steps. It is because of Gandhian movements that our society which once lived in compartments of castes, came out into the public space. Through contradictions and conflicts, it reached an equilibrium there.

Gandhi cannot be understood through nineteenth century Marxism. Our party Marxists attempt exactly that. For that one should know atleast a little bit about Antonio Gramsci. One should be familiar with western Marxist principles. We cannot expect that from Marxist fanatics.

To use Gramsci’s Marxist term, Gandhi created a ‘modern civil society’ in India. That civil society started boycotting the British. The British didn’t possess the ability to withstand this boycott. This was because they had ruled India based on the permission by Indian society.

Any government remains in authority based on the ideological recognition provided by society. i.e. that government has an ideological hold over society. It is this domination which it activates as direct authority. This can be called in Marxist parlance as ‘hegemony’. The British government gradually lost this hegemony.

Similar to the creation of a civil society, Gandhian movement gradually formed a political society. Gandhi was always open to debate in his struggles. Again in Marxian parlance, we can call it ‘static war’. He completely occupied the positions won over through talks. If we look at history, we can see that the British have stepped down from their positions gradually. The reason behind this is that they were afraid of people’s power.

Through this, provincial governments were formed all over India at first. In those governments, the Congress contested and won. It formed governments and passed legislations. At the same time, it fought against central authority. Thus, we got accustomed to democracy. If India is a country where democracy has taken firm roots today (apart from countries outside Europe), it is because of that training in democracy. At a stage, the Gandhian movement shook away even that authority and moved forward for further rights.

The final result of this was our freedom. It was not handed to us in a platter by the British. In several African countries, British domination continued for another thirty years. Why, in South Africa, even till the 1990s. According to your logic, South African freedom too is not a result of Nelson Mandela’s struggle. It was a gift from the British.

It could be said that Mandela was merely holding talks, isn’t it? It can be claimed that he held talks with the British and convinced them to achieve freedom, isn’t it? We can claim that it was not even a struggle, it was a compromise achieved through talks, can we not? But his path was also Gandhian. On one hand, he was forming the South African tribal society into a modern civil society. On the other hand, he dismantled the ideological domination of the British. This made freedom possible.

Finally, the question whether Satyagraha will work with Hitler. This is the result of a stupid understanding of Gandhian struggle as a sort of weak supplication. There is no surprise that Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins didn’t understand this. Their very minds were mechanical in nature. Also, their sense of English superiority is clearly strong in their book. They establish Mountbatten as a historical figure equal to Gandhi. They attempt to state that the British ‘gave’ freedom to India.

Hitler’s strength did not lie in his weapons. It was in the fact that he had won his society’s approval.  That society stood firm with him. The Germans who supported Hitler were all not cruel animals filled with sin. They didn’t know the things he did or what he went on to do. When they came to know after the war, they hung their heads in shame. They had been led by extremist nationalism and racism.

A great Satyagraha originating from those people could have spoken to their consciences. It could have spoken the truth to them. The conscience that awoke in them after the war could have been woken before the war. Those who could have made this happen were the leftists there. But they had belief in violent struggle. They had trusted Soviet Russia for the support required for this. An extremist nationalistic organisation like Nazism easily sidelined them using this alone as a reason.

Without winning over the minds of the people who supported Hitler, Europe waged war over the German government. Since they were being attacked, the people stood firmly by the side the government and supported it. This was the reason why World War II continued for that long and great destruction happened on both sides. Today, since Hitler lost, we speak that that was the correct path. Had Hitler won? Anyone who has studied World War closely will see that there was every chance of that possibility. Had he won, the world and Germany would have faced further destruction.

What will Satyagraha do, faced with Hitler or a similar dictator? It will alienate him from the civil society that provides him authority by changing its mind. Maybe, it will take some time to achieve this. But compared to the destruction caused by violence, its losses are fewer; success, almost a given.

We need not exaggerate a war tactic like Satyagraha with our imagination. It is the truth that it will converse with the conscience of those with a sense of morality. More importantly, it will speak with the sense of practicality of crores of people. Ordinary people wish to live. Not to wage war and die. They desire to win their material squalor and move towards a slightly better life.

For example, we know that even the Sinhalas, who are portrayed as war-crazy extremists today, made two leaders who contested elections on the promise that they will end the war and move towards peace – Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Vikramasinghe – win with significant majority. I do not think that they wanted to get rid of the Tamils. The hungry and ostracised people are the same everywhere. What they seek is just the hope that somehow life may be lived…

Gandhism, beyond its principles and policies is a struggle for rights which places ordinary people in the front. It is the path of a wise man who realizes that killing those people for his dreams is not just. The opposition of elitists, who seek to dissolve the people and choose the right set of people, is nothing but the frenzy of evil against good.

J

1. Brecht, Bertolt. (1953). The Solution. Wikipedia. Retrieved July 27, 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_L%C3%B6sung

The Struggle against ‘Alcoholism’

9 Mar

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from:

http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=34880

Translated by: Gokul

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J,

You might have read in the news about a Gandhian named Sasiperumal who fasted till death asking for complete prohibition. I expected you to write about it. Is it right to compel a government by fasting for such a demand? Is it Gandhian? Is it not interfering in the personal rights of another person?

Moreover, can we stop alcohol in today’s situation? Is it practical to have complete prohibition? Fasting like is without considering these aspects is a publicity stunt, isn’t it?

Ganesh Periyasamy.

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Dear Ganesh,

Whenever a social movement happens, I find many people who find a strange happiness by writing something or the other against the movement on the internet. Opinions in the likes of – ‘That movement was wrong’, ‘Had it not been like this and etc., we all would have come to the streets and we would have settled the matter once and for all!’ etc.

When Anna Hazare started his movement against corruption, a majority of people found petty faults in his movement and abused him. They chuckled that he had failed. But none of them even lifted a finger after that against corruption. They couldn’t even gather ten people on the street after that. The Left-or-Right political parties here cannot take even a small step against corruption. Those who sided with them and criticized the people’s movement started by Anna Hazare should be ashamed of themselves if they have a conscience.

Hence there is no point in these sort of hair splitting arguments. These can be news-cum-entertainment shows on television. It might help those who appear in such shows to show themselves as political fighters.

I have written a bit extensively on what is Gandhian struggle. I would repeat it like this: its first stage is to present a righteous demand to the people in strong terms. The next stage is to gather public support on the basis of that demand; to make as much people as possible stand up in support of the demand. Having organized a strong front, to engage in talks with the opposite parties and to accept practical and immediate compromises as a solution is the third stage. Having made sure the success is there to stay, to again organize one’s front and to start the next step of the struggle for more success is the fourth stage.

Hence the first stage is to campaign by placing one’s stance based on righteousness in front of the people. The objective of Anna Hazare and people like Sasiperumal is this campaign alone. It is not stubbornness. It is the way of a wise person expressing his stance strongly. ‘This is my strong conviction. I am even willing to stake my life for this’, he says. It is not merely an opinion. Hunger-strike-till-death is a way to show that he is staking his entire life for this opinion.

If it were to become a people’s movement when people start organizing themselves around this demand, if it were to open up meaningful dialogue with the existing government, this might reach a compromise. This point of compromise will be the midpoint between a group which maintains that drink is necessary and another which says that drink should be abolished completely. This compromise will essentially say that drink has to be controlled in our society. Anybody with even the slightest social awareness will accept that this is very important currently.

That drinking is permitted in India is a half-truth. The truth is that the government has liquor sales as its foremost task. Politicians are involved in the liquor trade undercover and are earning crores of rupees. Government works as a henchman for this. For the sales of liquor, the Government has banned the sales of natural liquor like toddy. It establishes liquor shops extensively across the country and grows them. The government itself campaigns for liquor, which ruins health, family health and the economy of the country.

Our governments’ have the taxes and profits from liquor sales as their foremost source of income. With that money, our politicians and bureaucrats are becoming wealthier by creating fake welfare schemes to indulge in major corruption scams. Our government encourages drinking for this. It sets targets for liquor sales and campaigns for its growth.

The Government sets the highest tax for liquor. It is said that this helps reduce the sale of liquor. Instead it leads to grabbing the majority of the income of the average family man. Today, more than half of the income of an average family is spent on drink alone. Our governments grab several times more money as liquor sales than they give us as welfare schemes.

Yes, drink is not entertainment here. It is not celebration. It is not a habit. Nor is it individual’s right or freedom. All these perspectives are limited. Today, drink is the method through which the government here exploits the wealth of its people effectively. This is the central perspective.

Hence the struggle against drink is not against entertainment, celebration or against individual’s freedom. It is against the government which drinks the blood of its own people. Anybody who understands the current Tamilnadu society even a little bit will say that this is essential. They will consider this as a voice of protest that definitely needs to be raised.

Can we completely prohibit liquor? Even when prohibition was in vogue here, it was not banned completely. Drinking was allowed under the ‘permit’ system. Hence prohibition is in reality a way to control and watch over the drinking habit. Through prohibition, it will never come to pass that liquor is completely unavailable. Instead, it will become difficult to procure. There will be constraints. This will check the development of the drinking habit and its spread. During the sixties, M. Karunanidhi who revoked prohibition and opened liquor shops in every street laid the foundation for turning Tamil society into a crowd of alcoholics.

We can see that when any drug is easily available and when social sanctions against it are removed, it leads to its uninhibited growth. The campaign for the spread of any drug can only lead society to grave disaster. Tamilnadu and Kerala are being destroyed by liquor barons. People need to be saved from them. For this, liquor has to be controlled. These movements seek just that.

People who speak about individual freedom do not usually realize that nowhere in the world was any drug allowed without any check whatsoever. Even in America where drink is a commonly accepted cultural aspect, there is a ban on under-age drinking. That too, a real ban which is maintained scrupulously in practice. Here there is no ban. My teacher-friend spoke of seventh-standard boys coming to class after drinking in TASMAC. They argue that this is about individual freedom. In the matter of drink alone, I think we will end up teaching democracy back to Europe!

In our society where a majority of the people are poor, where the entire family depends upon the earnings of the man of the house, when the government is ditching all sorts of welfare schemes in every department including medicine and education, drink is only leading to social disaster.

Drink has to be controlled. What controls are to be placed can be found out step by step. As a first step, liquor shops can be closed during the day time by an order. Next, it can be laid out that people who drink have to get themselves registered and need to have a permit. The government can attempt to treat alcoholics who drink enough to spoil their health. There are several ways of going about this.

Today, south India is in danger of being destroyed by liquor. We need large scale people’s movements to stop this. We are not up against democratic governments. Today’s governments are conducted by politicians who are in the business of selling liquor. Hence only intense struggles can yield at least a little success.

In the midst of people who do nothing, the protests of people like Sasiperumal is worthy of praise. But it is more likely that in our current scenario where idiots who rant about everything are seated as intellectuals in important positions, his sacrifice too will be trampled upon and fade away as some contemporary comedy.

Gandhi and Rape

5 Jan

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=33454

Translated by: Gokul

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Reading Gandhi, I felt he was again and again speaking about freedom of movement for women . Almost everyone knows his famous quote ‘the day a woman can walk freely at midnight on the roads, that day we can say that India achieved independence.’

One can easily make Gandhi look foolish by asking the orthodox question – ‘Why should a woman want to walk around at midnight?’. It is even possible to argue that Gandhi merely spoke for law and order and considers this as a metric. But Gandhi proposes this again and again as a measure. He estimates all other countries using the same metric.

One can understand this if one can closely observe the entirety of Gandhi’s writings and the socio-political movement which were its background (which he created). It can even be said that there was no other leader among his contemporaries who stood for gender equality like Gandhi did. Even in world history, those who spoke empty nothings on stage with nobody to follow Gandhi – I don’t consider them. I speak only of those who actually did something. In Gandhi’s ‘Ramrajya’ there was no distinction between male and female subjects.

Hence Gandhi says women should stand equal to man in three platforms – one is education, another is trade and the third is public service.

Gandhian education is not something that speaks of primary education for women, it speaks of complete education for a woman. In India, even before Gandhi, efforts for the education of women had started at the highest levels. But it was his movement named ‘National Education’ which went to the grassroots and brought women to education.

Secondly, trade. It is surprising to see what Gandhi has spoken on this subject. In Gandhi’s view, a human life should have learnt a handicraft to survive without another’s help. If this is not the case, it is not complete. Hence he keeps insisting that women should learn handicrafts. He emphasises Khadar and village industries on that basis alone. Whenever he walks into any organization, he asks ‘Do all the women here learn any handicraft?’ without fail.

Gandhi, while insisting on handicrafts for women also insists that women should reduce their house work including cooking from the same point of view. The means he suggests to achieve these are possible only to him. Maybe it is not so feasible today to reduce the amount of cooked food in one’s diet and to try communal cooking. But we can only understand his statement that women should come out of the kitchens like this only.

Today, Gandhi’s village development program’s most important outcomes is that it was the first Indian movement that created financial independence for women. What we see in the words of Sarvodaya followers like Kovai Ayyamuthu is that 70% of the Khadar we see is manufactured by women. It lead to direct income accrued to the women who made them. The change it created in society then is beyond imagination.

Thirdly, Gandhi speaks of the particiation of women in public life. He was the first leader in Indian politics to speak of women’s public life. More than speaking about it, he brought it to reality and achieved great success in it. For him, politics was about service. He says so actually. But the nature of service is to eventually be rewarded with social authority. Hence he speaks about women sharing this authority through political participation.

Wherever he goes, Gandhi speaks of women entering politics. To each of his volunteers, he asks ‘Why didn’t you bring your wife along?’. He orders all the women who come to meet him to enter politics. More than anything, he brings his wife and his daughters-in-law to agitational politics and makes this an example. The Dharasana Salt Agitation was one agitation in Indian Independence movement which face the most direct form of violence. In it, he made his elderly wife Kasturiba lead an almost suicidal force of volunteers. These instances went a long way in creating role models.

Gandhian movement was the one which brought most women to politics. If we compare the other political movements which happened around the world at that time, we can see that none of them had any significant participation by women. Be it the famous Russian Revolution, the political uprising by Sun-Yat Sen in China or the European political movements, none of these featured women.

None of the movements in India after Gandhi had any significant contribution by women. Leftist movements, Dravidian movements, Hindutva movements – all of these were primarily by men. Congress too was comprised of men. However, there was a person who was omni-potent in it whom women trusted and became Congress workers – Gandhi. Many women who accepted Gandhi as their leader have mentioned that they felt him as their mother – not as a father.

We can see this among the Gandhian-era political leaders who survive today. They all would have participated in agitations along with their wives; and gone to jail. In their entire village, in their caste – his wife would have been the first woman to have come out of the house. Even today, this is completely mind-boggling. I had thought that the enormous image of Gandhi and the identity it had of an ascetic was the reason behind this change. However, a Tyagi (freedom fighter, a renouncer) said to me once – his wife was called a ‘prostitute’ by everyone in his caste for the sole reason that she went to jail for the freedom movement. 

I think that Gandhi would have reached the need for freedom of movement for women simply as a practical necessity for women for whom he envisaged the basics of Education-Trade-and-Public service. It was only after 1923 that women started entering politics in India in large numbers. Women had to go from village to village doing public service just like any other Congress worker. They had to take part in processions, agitations and satyagrahas. More than anything else, they had to go to jail. For all of these to happen, it was necessary that women had the freedom to move freely.

Any obstacle to the freedom of movement of women would simply be an obstacle for women in education, trade and in public participation. Those who wish to subjugate women in these fields first attack a woman’s right to move freely. A woman who doesn’t have full freedom for education, for trade and for public participation would be a slave in her family too. Her personality cannot flower fully without freedom. Hence she cannot be complete in her spiritual life too.

It is on this basis that we should approach the underlying basis of the outbursts in the wake of news of rapes in India. A rape which happens in the open is more significant that a rape which happens at home. When it happens in an unavoidable bus journey at 9.30 at night, it becomes even more significant. When it happens in the seat of political power in Delhi, in the midst of barricades set by the police, it is a very significant symbol.

In reality, it is not a rape. It is an announcement ‘Don’t come out of the house!’. We should understand it as the voice of the insensitive political power which says this to the Indian woman who was brought out of the house by Gandhi. This protest movement is against that statement. It is a basic question whether this government and this society guarantees the freedom of movement.

Instead of this, those who provide statements like ‘Women should be cautious’, ‘When a leaf falls on a thorn, it is the leaf which will get damaged’, ‘Why should a woman go out at night?’, ‘They are fighting for their freedom to go to clubs’ – these people live in a time before Gandhi.

Among the concepts that Gandhi propounded for women’s rights, an important one is about the sexual identity of women. When one observes his writings keenly, one wonders ‘What is this? Does this old man want women to leave their sexual identities and desires completely?’

But we can see that Gandhi suggested sacrificing sexuality for men too. According to Gandhi, youth is a rare stage when one moves towards great ideals. Sexuality is an obstacle towards that goal. Winning it over is the foremost way to move towards one’s ideals. Hence Gandhi emphasizes this. [For those who shake their head when Gandhi says this – it is pertinent to note that most revolutionaries in the world have also said the same thing]

More importantly, Gandhi believes that the sexual identity is a burden for a woman. He also feels that for a woman who comes out of her home to participate in politics and other fields, it will be an opposing force. Hence he says that women should dress modestly and should not decorate themselves. They should be identified only through their intelligence and their service, he says.

Gandhi didn’t accept widow remarriage at first. When lakhs of women in India were unmarried, he felt that widow remarriage was unnecessary. When Dr. Sivaram Karanth speaks of widows’ remarriage to Gandhi, he rejects it.

But Gandhi didn’t say that widows should live without marriage and stay with their families. He says that they should come forward for political and social work. Actually, he says that they should work for the nation by walking the streets. To him, it signifies that they have broken free from the shackles of family. In his later days, Gandhi supports the remarriage of widows – if the couple were to engage in social work afterward.

An important occasion when Gandhi legitimizes violence in his own words is when he speaks of sexual violence. He says that the woman who is being raped should kill that man with her teeth and nails. He argues that whatever the woman does is just under the circumstances.

But Gandhi doesn’t consider it as ‘loss of virginity’. Because he says that a woman subject to such sexual violence has in reality lost nothing. He says that such women should be accepted by society as normal. Accepting Gandhi’s stance, people like Mridula Sarabhai worked hard for the remarriages of women subjected to sexual violence during the Indian Partition.

If so, then why did Gandhi consider sexual violence as something which deserved the death sentence? Because it sends the woman from her public place back to the darkness of a kitchen. Because it snatches everything that she has regained in the twentieth century.

Sexual violence is not just rape. Starting rumors about women, insulting them with sexual abuses, teasing them in public – all of these are sexual violence. The basis of all of the above is the hatred and fear of women being in public places. A male mind will invent a thousand reasons to do so. It will justify it in several thousand ways. All of them mean the same: உள்ள போடி’[‘Get inside, woman’] – this is what his innermost mind says.

Gandhi who asked them to come out has also described the ways to do so. According to him, freedom is a necessary condition in one’s path towards Truth and completeness. Hence all life has a right to freedom. Hence, to attain it, it also has a responsibility to face losses, patiently strive without compromise and to move forward.

The World’s Longest Fence

30 Sep

This is a translation of a blog post from Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=21029

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The Great Wall of China stands till today as a historical achievement. There was another in India in the 18th century which was comparable to that. A grand hedge – starting from Maharashtra’s Barhanpur passing via Madhyapradesh, via Uttarpradesh via Punjab, via the Sindh province of Pakistan and ending almost in the Kashmir border.

It was a living fence. Grown from shrubs and tied together so that nobody can cross it. It was almost 12 feet in height. It was the largest fence in the history of the world. It almost split northern India in half. It ran across 4000 kms of vacant land, agriculture land, villages, cities and deserts. At its height, in 1872, it had 14000 full time British officers guarding and maintaining it. It lasted as a symbol of British-Indian Government’s authority for almost three-fourths of a century.

None of India’s historians have mentioned this great structure. It has not been mentioned in any book on India. There is no record of it in the official records of independent India. Even in India, no sociologist or economist had even heard about it – till 1995.

A travel writer and record-keeper of the London Library, Mr. Roy Moxham bought Major General W.H. Sleeman’s ‘Memoirs of a British Soldier’ from an old book shop in London. It was published in 1893. Sleeman had travelled across India as a British Army officer in the 1850s. In his travel notes, there were records and descriptions of kings, chieftains, robbers, holy cities, temples and the taxation system of the then British Indian Government. In this, Sleeman speaks about the great living fence.

Roy Moxham is surprised. He wonders if this were an imagination. He examines British records. Most of them were from the post-1870’s. There was no information about the great fence. He patiently searches in the well-maintained British Library in London. The fact that he is a librarian for historical documents by profession helps him. Finally, he gets information on the survey details of  the fence and about its establishment and maintenance.

Initially thinking of it as insanity on the part of the British, Roy Moxham slowly identifies the horrible exploitation behind it. After extensive research, he describes it in his book ‘The Great Hedge of India’.Great Hedge Of India

The Great Hedge of India

It had the objective of controlling salt trade within the nation. It was even called the Customs Hedge. The customs duty on salt was the major source of income of the then British Government. Since the time they gained ground in India, 1803, the British started building this to bring salt distribution under their control to levy taxes. In stages, it was completed in 40 years. In 1843, this hedge was completed and brought under the control of the Inland Customs department.

To understand this, we need to understand Indian geography and the place of salt in it. India’s northern regions are widely distributed. It has enormous plains which are distant from the sea. Northeastern states, the Himalayan regions, well-populated Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh were all dependent on southern coastal regions for salt.

It was in Gujarat’s Kutch peninsula that salt was produced the most. In this region, there are no major rivers meeting the sea. Hence salt is in abundance. For most part of the year, there is abundant sun. In summer, salt lakes like the Sambar dry up naturally into salt beds. Hence traditionally, salt went from Gujarat to the northern states. There were long salt trade routes for this purpose. Maharashtra and Orissa coasts too produced salt. These too went to the northern states and the Himalayan regions through the land route.

Okay, if so, then why a hedge till Kashmir? In today’s Pakistan, the Himalayan regions contain the world’s largest salt mountains. Its pristine pure and cheap as well. For the Himalayan regions including Tibet, it was this salt that was being transported. To block it, this hedge was built there.

Is salt such an important commercial good? Yes, says Roy Moxham. Most of the villages in the India of those times were self-sufficient. The needs of the people like grains, vegetables, ghee and other consumer needs like clothes, weapons were all produced from within the village communities. Salt was the only commodity which had to come from outside. Hence at that time, it was the most
important traded commodity.

Was salt so indispensable? Salt is not considered an essential need today. This is because nowadays it is contained in several food products which are processed, stored and consumed. Meat contains salt. But in those days, a farmer’s usual food was made of grains and vegetables alone. He had to include salt in his food. Also, the Indian farmer lost a lot of salt labouring in the sun – this loss he had to remedy with salt intake. Also, in the northern states, salt was in shortage.
Animals cannot consume salt from the earth – they too have to be fed with salt.

We can estimate the requirement of salt by considering the population of the northern states. For a trade of that much quantity of salt – what a market it was! We can guess the price it would have acquired as multiples of the cost by the time the salt came from Gujarat and Orissa over thousands of kilometers through bullock-carts and donkeys.

Roy Moxham estimates the cost of salt per annum for an Bihari farmer to be around his monthly income. The people from the hills spent roughly the same amount on salt that they spent on food grains!

Salt has been a scarce good. In some places, it has been even used as currency. Since it had to be saved through the rainy season, lending salt was considered a great aid. Promising over salt was considered a very serious thing.

Was salt thus essential? Everyday around 1500 to 2500 milligrams of sodium is required for every human. He mentions on the basis of research studies that in a tropical region like India where salt leaves the body during the day, a minimum of two ounces of salt is required. Failing which they fall prey to a disease called Hyponatremia. Children are affected the most. The biggest problem with salt deficiency diseases are that the patient or the physician do not easily realise that this is caused by deficiency of salt.

Salt helps maintain the equilibrium of liquids in the body. When it is deficient, blood loses its weight. Hence the body loses liquids and hence blood pressure reduces. Patients experience nausea, faintness and loss of equilibrium. Faintness of breath and giddiness ensues. Death happens if these continue. In India which suffered from hunger, salt deficiency diseases were considered as loss of strength due to hunger. Hence it easily consumed lives.

This enormous trade was under control of the Mughals as well. But their taxes were perfunctory and minimal. They didn’t attempt to control the distribution of salt. The British accomplished it through the customs hedge.

Roy Moxham tells the history of how it was created. In the beginning, the British annexed Bengal. In Bengal, it is difficult to produce salt. Because of the inflow of the Ganges, salt is scarce there. Hence people extracted salt by making it evaporate and then by boiling it using firewood. This was done by people who lived at the lowest strata of society. It costed too much as well.

Since it was boiled, Bengali Brahins wouldn’t consume it. It was equivalent to cooked food. Hence sun-dried salt from Orissa was procured. Clive won over the Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Plassey and established a comprehensive taxation system all over Bengal. He multipled the taxes on salt factories. It became an important source of income.

This made the price of salt higher than the salt coming from Orissa. Hence it became necessary to heavily tax the salt coming in from Orissa. This is how the British came to establish customs check-posts along the banks of the Mahanadhi in the Orissa-Bengal border. The first check-post came up in Orissa’s Sonapur. From it till Chandrapur, a customs fence was created.

Slowly, British authority spread to Bihar and Uttarpradesh. Hence they extended the customs check-posts till Burhanpur. The British identified the gains through customs duty on salt. They were willing to invest lots of money for it. It was difficult to keep the vast expanse of Madhya Pradesh’s plains under customs purview. Hence came the idea of a massive fence. This is how the customs hedge appeared till Burhanpur.

At the same time, in 1823, the customs commissioner of Agra, George Saunders established a hedge from Mirzapur till Allahabad via the banks of the Ganges and the Yamuna. From Allahabad till Nepal and from there till the Sindh, G. H. Smith established a hedge in 1834. They went on setting up customs checkpoints along the roads and connecting the checkpoints with this hedge. This is how the customs hedge was established.

In the beginning, this hedge was made up of dried wood and bamboo. Deep trenches were dug up on either side of the hedge. But it was difficult to protect this hedge. Every year, it was destroyed by catching fire or by rotting. It was expensive to maintain. It was then that Hume came to power as Commissioner of Customs. Staying on in power for three years, he analysed the cost of maintaining this hedge. He discovered that though converting it into a living fence was expensive to setup, it will become unnecessary to maintain it within a few years. He created this living hedge by identifying thorny bushes which will grow easily to a height and then by planting them.

Alan Octavian Hume is an important personage in curtailing the first Indian Independence revolt, namely the Sepoy Revolt. It is surprising that he was instrumental in setting up the greatest exploitation machinery of the British over India. Because, in later years, he became involved in Indian philosophy and spirituality. He insisted on greater right of self-determination for Indians.
He argued for higher representation for Indians in administration and attempted to create an organisation towards that end. The Congress, which went on to win India independence under Gandhi was created in 1885 like this.

The details provided by Roy Moxham are enough to depress us. Firstly, Roy Moxham describes how rampant corruption was the natural course of administration from the days when the British government took shape in India. Clive won over India through corruption. Coming to India as an ordinary British clerk, he became one of the top ten richest in Britain through corrupt monies. At that time most British officials became rich through extensive corruption within very short times.

Also, the Company made low rung employees work for very low wages or for no wages. It encouraged them to earn through corruption. This is how thousands of Indians eagerly came to work for the British East India company. This is how the British created the bureaucratic setup they needed within a few years itself. In other words, our bureaucracy that exists till today is a setup that was created by corruption for corruption.

Whenever officials indulged in corruption like this, the most affected were the poorest of people. These taxes were levied such that they affected only the Indian poor who lived without any protection of aggregate strength while carefully not causing losses to the landlords who supported the British. Thats why the importance to the customs duty on salt. The British government was not the savior of the depressed and dalit classes like a few write today – it was one that pushed them towards destruction by exploiting them.

Of the great famines that came in India due to the British rule, in the Second Great Famine during 1876-78, around six and a half crore people starved to death. This was around one fourth of the then Indian population. Of that around 30 lakh people died in the then united Bengal. This was the greated famine in world history. This book describes accurately that this was not merely a famine,
but a massacre caused by economic exploitation. It can only be considered as surprising that this portion of history which our foreign-worshipping historians gloss over, has been depicted thus decisively by an English researcher and a grandson of a British Indian officer.

What are the factors which caused the Famine?
The author states that British records state that the years before the famine started, 1874 and 1875 saw great harvests all across northern India. Usually a good harvest in India has the capacity to withstand famine for up to five years. Because the consumption of the average Indian was less as it is today. If so, how did the famine happen?

This was because of the railways laid in India. All these railways were laid to connect the midlands to the ports. Through them, the harvests of India were collected and exported through ships out of India. These went to feed the endless food requirements of the British Empire which was involved in imperial expansionist wars all over the world. Before that, the harvest would be stored in that place itself, for use during famines. Through the railways a situation arose where there was no surplus.

Secondly, the great hedge of the British. In these years, Punjab had record harvests. Andhra and Maharashtra too had decent harvests. This hedge disconnected these regions from the Bengal completely. When lakhs of people were dying in Bengal, shiploads of grains were being exported from
Bombay and Madras.

Lastly, Roy Moxham mentions the salt tax. Even during these great famines, the British did not revoke the salt tax. Even in united Bengal and the north east, salt was expensive. Hence people who couldn’t even buy grains, avoided salt completely. Children and animals died due to salt deficiency. From the medical reports of those who died during the famine, medical experts later on found out
that lakhs of them died due to salt deficiency.

Thus the great hedge handcuffed India. It served as a very real basis for British authority over India. It was sucking the life of India like a cancer.

After establishing ports and railways,when the British gained complete economic control over India, they were able to levy taxes on all goods. Hence the salt tax lost its importance. Moroever, the direct tax on Southern salt factories yielded more income than the customs levies on salt through the great hedge. Hence Viceroy Lord Litton revoked the customs duty on salt in 1879. The restrictions on salt distribution were relaxed. The great hedge created for salt was given up and was destroyed.

I have been reading about Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha since my childhood days. It has been written about from several perspectives. Why did Gandhi take the decision to oppose the Salt Law when there were several burning issues, several oppressive laws in India?

Till today, this has been the explanation given. That when the British imported clothes to India, they filled up the lower part of their ships with salt for weight. It was expensive. To sell it, they had to levy tax on local salt and make it equally expensive. Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha since the salt tax was affecting all the deprived classes of people.

It is only partly true. That is to say – only in Bengal. Salt in Bengal was already expensive. Brahmins wanted to buy salt that was not cooked over a fire. The British sold sea salt in its place. To maintain parity, they levied high taxes on locally produced salt. But it is not true on a pan-India basis.

The details provided in this book reveal instantly the entire sociological background of the Salt Satyagraha movement. These have never been discussed in the Indian environment till now. The Salt Satyagraha has been described as one of Gandhi’s quirks of insanity here. Marxist socialist historians have ridiculed the Salt Satyagraha from Gandhian times till today in their writings.

This information background shows us how Gandhi stood at an unreachable height in his knowledge of history and broad social understanding above his contemporary politicians and our contemporary historians. None of them – then and today had idea of what salt meant in Indian history. They hadn’t  realised the place of salt in culture and social psychology.

This is because none of them knew the lowest classes of society. Even when fighting for them, these people considered themselves as their leaders and guides and never as one among them. For instance, the ridiculing essays written by Marxist luminary M. N. Roy on the Salt Satyagraha. M. N. Roy was not conversant with the Indian poor by travelling across India. Gandhi was forever one among them.  Hence the true history that was hidden to M. N. Roy was evident to Gandhi.

Roy Moxham points out something subtle. India has always had this duality of land tax x salt tax. Land tax affected the owners of the land. Salt tax affected the lowest classes of society. The British government was always forced to increase the salt tax by the upper classes in India.

When the Salt Satyagraha was launched on 12 March 1930, even in the memories of the next generation villagers, the former oppression of the salt tax disappeared. Comparatively, the tax on salt was lower. It was not even a problem in the southern states.

But salt had deep moorings in language and culture. Even the word salt evoked strong emotions. This Gandhi had known travelling and living with these people in third class railway compartments. Gokhale, Tilak, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose or Ambedkar didn’t know this. Hence they could only understand the Salt Satyagraha as the quirk of an unavoidable old man. When it gave inexplicable
results, nor were they able to provide explanations.

Roy Moxham mentions how Congress leaders around Gandhi suggested to him to protest against the Land tax or against customs when Gandhi announced his Salt Satyagraha. Gandhi rejected these suggestions. The reason he gave them was that his inner soul commanded him to start the Salt Satyagraha. Land was
a problem for the upper classes and castes. Salt was a problem for the lower classes and dalits. His inner soul knew more history than any intellectual today who ridicules his inner soul.

This book exposes the lack of basis of the research of our sociologists who have written several thousand books in the last sixty years of academic activity in India. In 1996, almost after half a century of Indian Independence, after three fourths of a century after the Salt Satyagraha – Roy Moxham visits India to meet Indian historians, sociologists and political commentators to enquire about this hedge. He is surprised that nobody has any knowledge of it.

How will they have? Here, the facility to travel and to examine records is available only to those who research according to our education. They have a firm belief that modern research lies only in quoting western researchers. Those who research with a little bit of method are those who have received degrees from abroad. They come here after almost religiously believing the principle that the backward Indian plains were built into a modern nation only through the British.

Roy Moxham’s book is interesting and eminently readable. Truly it is a travelogue. Roy who comes to India searching for the Great Hedge travels within India. He sleeps in a village on the banks of the Yamuna on coir cots with buffaloes breathing on his nape. Travels in unreserved compartments with
the bulging crowds. He prays to Lord Shiva in Omakareswar and in Kashi to show him the hedge. Feeling that it is a bit too much, he also asks for his family’s wellbeing.

Several things make one smile. Roy Moxham thinks of those who travel in the first class coupe in India as uncivilised and arrogant. They constantly scream into mobile phones. It is impossible to watch the scenery outside. In the second class compartments, there is a sociable atmosphere. My experience has been so too. The slight humor in his notes about his travel make this book an interesting read.

Finally Roy Moxham identifies the remnants of the hedge in Sambal. From the help of a former brigand-cum-current-priest-of-a-Hanuman-temple. In most other places, modernisation has destroyed this hedge. The reason is simple. Most highways came up along this hedge. The roads expanded and swallowed the hedge.

This is an important book that provokes us to examine ourselves. The customs hedge is the mark of a whiplash on our backs.  Even if it disappears, it will remain in our language and our dreams.