Remembering Gandhi

January 30, 2011

63 years ago, on January 30, 1948, Indian’s political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu extremist.

Gandhi had pledged to always speak the truth and he advocated that others do the same. He lived modestly in a self sufficient community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven from yarn that he had spun by hand himself. He ate vegetarian food and undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and social protest.

What would Gandhi have done about the miserable situation of India’s small farmers and the unprecedented wave of suicides among them?

In 2009 about 17,400 Indian farmers killed themselves, bringing the total since 1997 to 200,000.

Indebtedness through the use of genetically modified cotton is a major cause for farmers suicides. The farmers are promised vastly increased harvests and income if they switch from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds. They often are coerced into growing expensive GM crops by corrupt officials.

GM salesmen and government officials promise to farmers that these are “magic seeds” — with better crops that are free from parasites and insects. In a bid to promote the uptake of GM seeds, traditional varieties are banned from many government seed banks. The GM seeds cost ten times more than traditional seeds and the farmers have to borrow money from unscrupulous lenders and inevitably fall into debt.

Monsanto has admitted that soaring debt is a “factor in this tragedy”. But pointing out that cotton production had doubled in the past seven years, a spokesman added that there are other reasons for the recent crisis, such as “untimely rain” or drought, and pointed out that suicides have always been part of rural Indian life.

The misuse of agricultural chemicals in the absence of any guidance, the loss of government subsidies, international competition, and erratic climate patterns are also being blamed for the increasing number of Indian farmers who commit suicide.

Further reading:


Ghaffar Khan, a Sunni Muslim and Pashtun leader from the subcontinent’s Northwest Frontier Province was a longtime close friend of Gandhi. Ghaffar Khan succeeded several times against British power in his region with non-violent methods. Since a nonviolent strategy did not invite unbearable retaliation, it soon won enthusiastic support from a population spared the brutal reprisals that violent attacks provoked.

Remembering the violent upheavals, that destroyed thousand of lives in the Northwest Frontier during his childhood in the late 1890s, Ghaffar Khan spoke with pride in his autobiography about the contrasting results of the movements that he led in the early 1930s: “The British crushed the violent movement in no time, but the nonviolent movement, in spite of intense repression, flourished”.

What would Gandhi have done about Kashmir?

Kashmir was partitioned as a result of the Indian Independence Act of 1947. About 64 percent of the territory is administered by India, 36 percent by Pakistan. Kashmir is the predominately Muslim state within India, which is mainly Hindu.

Kashmirs leader Maharaja Hari Singh had wanted the territory to remain independent, but merged with India in exchange for military support and the promise of a referendum on independence, which has never been held. As a result of the unresolved dispute, India and Pakistan went to war in 1947. A second war was fought in 1965, leading to a peace agreement and a ceasefire line, known as the Line of Control (LOC). In 1999, insurgents and Pakistani soldiers infiltrated Kashmir and occupied vacant mountain peaks of the Kargil Range. India mobilized the full capacity of her forces and the Pakistan Army, faced with mounting losses of soldiers and outposts, withdrew the remaining troops from the area.

For a few years now, especially since the growing grassroots protests for Independence in Kashmir, the conversation about the dispute in India is shifting and India’s intelligentsia is rethinking the Kashmiri stance. Many intellectuals are airing concern over Kashmir, and some have thrown their full support behind the beleaguered Kashmiris.

Arundhati Roy visited Kashmir in a show of solidarity with the family of two young women in whose rape and murder the Indian forces have been implicated and she endorsed Kashmir’s struggle for independence by saying: “India needs azadi (freedom) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.”

There were appeals for charges of sedition against her after she brought into question the Indian hold on Kashmir and the District Court in Chandigarhhas issued summons against her and also against Rahul Gandhi for making inflammatory speeches.

Dissent is not taken lightly by the Indian authorities.

In December the renowned Indian physician and human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen was sentenced to life in prison on charges of sedition and conspiracy.

Described as India’s most famous political prisoner, Dr. Sen is known as the “physician of the poor.” He spent many years working as a doctor in the rural-tribal areas of Chhattisgarh in central India and reported on unlawful killings of indigenous people by the police and private militias. The region is the site of an intensifying conflict between India’s central government and the Maoist Naxalites.

Arundhati Roy commented the verdict with this statement: “In some way the verdict was a declaration. It was not a judgment, it was a warning to others.”

The Guardian published an extensive article about Roy:

Arundhati Roy’s latest message:

“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

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