Gandhi was wrong.
See? As an ethnic Indian, I never learnt Indian history through the lens of India. This is a problem for a lot of Indians as we shall see in a later article, but for now? Trust me, Indian history classes are fraught with politics. People add their own spin on things.
Gandhi’s words have become gospel because of an unwillingness to look at him as a man who has his flaws, weaknesses and mistakes.
Want to know something? Me and Gandhi probably would not have got along. You see? Gandhi rejected a lot of things from the UK including vaccination. I am sure someone would come trying to insist otherwise so here you go…
A month or so before the Dandi march in 1930, a smallpox epidemic ‘broke out in the ashram. Gandhiji was opposed to vaccination, and parents in the ashram had not got their children vaccinated in deference to his opinion. When the epidemic broke out some children got severe attacks. Gandhiji ,took all possible preventive and curative measures which were approved of by competent doctors. Many of the patients were cured, but a few succumbed.
Gita was a girl of nine. Her soul flittered away while she was listening to her father who was reading the Gita at her bedside.
That night at 12 I suddenly got up. Gandhiji was sitting in his bed and was writing letters. The lantern was burning.
“Why are you writing at such an odd hour? Is it something very important? May I help you?” I asked him.
“No, no, you may sleep on. Let me go on writing,” he replied drily, without turning his head.
I had no alternative but to sleep again. That light passed on. A few days later it was little Vasant’s ‘turn. He passed away while his father, Pandit Narayan Khare, was conducting the evening prayer of the ashram.
That night I again happened to wake at about mid- night, and saw Gandhiji sitting on his bed and writing, as on the previous occasion.
And again when tiny Meghji followed suit, some days later, and as before I saw Gandhiji burning the midnight oil, I could not keep to my bed, but got up, and approaching him straightaway asked: “Oh, Mahatmaji, why do you get so much disturbed on the nights of these deaths? Every time a child passes away, you get up at dead of night and bury yourself in writing!”
“What else can I do?” he replied with a sigh. “I can’t sleep. These kiddies are fading away like little buds. I feel the weight of their deaths on my shoulders. I prevailed upon their parents not to get them vaccinated. Now the children are passing away. It may be, I am afraid, the result of my ignorance and obstinacy; and so I feel very unhappy.”
“Is it the Mahatma who is uttering these words?” I said with a taunt. “You have made the correct diagnosis. You have applied correct remedies. Doctors have approved of your method of dealing with the disease. Now no one can resist death. If, after all, children die, who can help? But why should you, of all persons-you who always teach us to look to death as a friend and act in a dispassionate manner-should give way to attachment? It does not become a Mahatma. Why should your heart be so weak as that?”
“True,” he replied,” I admit my weakness.” He mused for a few seconds, then looked up, and said: “However brave and dispassionate a man may be, can he not be tender-hearted as well?”
Next evening he poured out his heart before the ashramites and declared that, while he himself had no faith in vaccination, he did not wish to impose his opinion on others. If any parents wished to get their children vaccinated, he added, they were free to do so.
Gandhi was anti-vaccine. And his followers not only encouraged it but also made excuses for him when he screwed up. People died because of his belief and the need for his followers to follow in his footsteps.
I much prefer Nehru and Ambedkar, men who rather than eschewing the education they gained from the British, learnt their lessons and tried to rectify the mistakes of India. Nehru fought for a secular and cosmpolitan India and prided education. Ambedkar saw the danger of Hinduism and fought for a secular nation. Gandhi thought Hinduism was harmless (much to his loss of life to Hindu Extremists) and that the ideal society was that of the village.
It is this “naive idealism” that has doomed India’s women and indeed it’s men to the whims of strongmen and tinpot local dictators in villages far from the eyes of the law.
India is a vast nation, with a huge population and poorly paid policemen. The honest truth is that the cops would need to have their pay doubled if not tripled and their ranks swollen by a massive influx before they can cover India’s masses. So the law in many villages is the Panchayat. A local body. It fit India’s need to maintain these village headmen and minor mayors to help with the running of the nation. They function much like feudalism. As long as you pay Tax India, you get Pax India. A lot of things fly under the radar and India lacks the will and the power to change it.
The Khap Panchayat make draconian laws and blame idiotic things. They are the bastion of the patriarchy. Sure, not All Indian Men are like that and India makes changes yada yada… But the majority of Panchayat are all male and even if they do have female members they maintain the party line.
A MRA once gloated about visitting Saudi Arabia where he allegedly watched women in Burkhas chase away a feminist while their male handler laughed because Saudi Arabia is a progressive nation for women and women have it easy there. In order to be a good little girl many women have to denounce other women in times of need.
This is a story from Swang. And it is indicative of the problem of the Panchayat.
The centres of most traditional villages have a raised platform with a tree in the middle. An old trick, you created a meeting place with shade over it to keep cool from the Indian Summer. Traditionally in the idealistic Indian Village Fantasy this is a banyan tree.
Sort of like this one but a lot older. This one’s still a baby.
A week or so ago, the Panchayat met at Swang in Jharkhand at a place just like this. The headman passed judgement on a crime, the punishment was not born by the perpetrator of the crime but by the victim.
Suguna Devi was the headman’s daughter, in what the local police called “bad behaviour”, a young man crept into her hut after dark and groped her. She fought back causing him to flee before the village woke up.
The next day the village headman dispensed justice, by ordering the rape of the assailant’s sister by the husband of Suguna Devi. AKA, he ordered his Son-in-Law to rape a 13 year old girl in punishment for a crime committed by her older brother.
Ms. Pasi (the daughter of Munna Pasi) cried for help. She said “Save me, Save me.” No one listened. People kept quiet lest they were next. The entire village stayed quiet. Not one man or woman stood up to voice an opinion that was different except for Mr. and Mrs. Pasi who pleaded and wept for their daughter.
Delhi Bahuth Door Hai. Delhi is very far away. The statement is often said with a shrug. What can we do? The real law of India cannot apply here because there is no law man. The Khap Panchayat is king in the village. Delhi is far away and it’s law won’t make it in time to save you from the local thugs and the headman who are right here.
But Delhi has responded. Ghosal Pasi (the Headman), Nakabandi Pasi (the Rapist – Alleged) and the minor’s brother – Harendra Pasi have all been taken into custody.
The system has endured for millenia, why would it break now because Delhi clicks its fingers. To the villagers? The interference is beyond understanding. The headman’s daughter speaks through tear filled eyes that they didn’t know that rape was a crime EVEN in this situation. And that if her father was released he would know to call the police rather than mete out punishments.
The thing is? Rape isn’t even seen as a crime against the person being committed. Let us not beat about the bush. This was a honour crime, the Headman “shamed” by the attack on his daughter, finds justice by through the rape of the assailant’s family member. This is a honour crime, a crime committed to satiate some nebulous concept of honour and dishonour. These crimes are seen over and over again in India. In January a woman was raped because she had an affair. Throughout India there are punishment rapes ordered, most often as tit for tat reasons. Women are raped in punishment for a relative being a rapist. But there is a problem here. The man may GENUINELY have not known the law.
And what the young lady says is true too. Her father may have been truly ignorant of his actions and was merely behaving in the way of his ancestors without realising how much India has changed. Swang Gulgulia Dhora in Jharkhand is rural. As rural as the tribal areas where I do some work in. When the first aid workers, they realised that the people didn’t know about national holidays. Many had no clue who Nehru was. Gandhi was the man on money but people didn’t know why he was on it. In the last few years the village has gotten it’s first TVs…
The problem may be that Delhi is genuinely so far away that these people are living in a sort of “The Village” situation where they still adhere to ideas considered normal 100 to 500 years ago because progress hasn’t yet reached them.
They are part of India’s forgotten people. Among the Millions of the Cities, these people are rarely seen and live in small villages off dusty tracks and often a day’s travel from the nearest town.
However? With this in mind… here is the story.
On Sunday last week, her brother Harendra got drunk on Rice Wine and tried to rape Suguna Devi. When discovered, the man’s father turned him in saying that his son was wrong and should be punished. He thought at best he would have to pay compensation. When Mr. Pasi (Sr.) was away at work the verdict was passed.
Ghosal (the Headman) told his son in law to do the same thing to his daughter as what his son did to his wife. Nakabandi and Suguna both approached the victim’s house with Suguna going inside (Why? Purdah System. Yeah Rape’s Okay but heaven forbid the man see another woman) and grabbing the child (and it is a child) by her hair and dragging her outside to her husband.
While this was happening, the story was the same. “We didn’t know he was going to rape her”. 45 minutes later the girl limped back home. Her family then did something sensible. They called the police. It is an hour long walk from the village to the nearest police station.
The village tried to cover up the rape. People denied he ordered the assault, some claim the order was never made, some claim that the order was misunderstood. The amusing thing was that the excuse of ignorance would no longer hold if people were trying to lie about it. In addition pressure was mounted on the victim to withdraw charges but due to the media and indeed the more savvy politicians lending support, the victim had a bigger shark than Mr. Pasi’s family. I have no doubts that had this case continued pre- Delhi Rape there would have been more rapes or assaults to dissuade the victim’s family from seeking justice.
And it is the whole village on trial. If people are found guilty, the village become accessories except for the victim of the rape as they tried to turn the original assailant in for justice. As Mr. Pasi says
“When this was done to my family and my daughter, nobody came forward to help us, Why should I be lenient to anybody?”
This is a legacy of Gandhi. The idealisation and fetishisation of the village idyll as something to seek rather than the hustle and bustle of the city has lead to India being unwilling to crush the power of the Panchayats and Head men utilising the century old system to keep administration going in villages.
The Indian Headman and Panchayat in their current format must die. India needs a unified code of conduct with regards to village law and it cannot be at the hands of unelected people who don’t know the law. The law must be enshrined across India, not just the cities.
Village Justice and Revenge Rapes will still occur, but India needs to stop fetishising the idyll of villages and see the true reality of poverty, ignorance and the abuse of power within this system. Gandhi’s legacy means that we still hold such an idyll to a high standard and we live in the fairy tale that this sort of life will cure all our ills. The fact is far from the truth.
My suggestion? The move from these impromptu traditional governments towards a centralised system of mobile judiciary to solve local problems according to the laws of India and to push cases towards higher courts in cases of issues like this. But it is clear that these unelected systems of government based on historical methods must cease to exist.