The following are collection of three recent articles - P.N.BENJAMIN
'If they answer not your call, walk alone, walk alone' By P N BENJAMIN DECCAN HERALD Oct. 2, 2008
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an unlikely revolutionary, the gentle prophet of the world' most extraordinary revolution.
Staff in hand, clad in loincloth, bespectacled, a cleft in the row of front teeth when he laughed or smiled (which he always did), he led Indians to freedom from behind, for he said, "I follow the people, because I am their leader". He showed that empires were made of salt. With a spinning wheel he worked magic.
To a century fraught with violence, Gandhi had offered an alternative, his doctrine ahimsa — 'nonviolence'. He had used it to mobilise the masses of India to drive England from the subcontinent with a moral crusade instead of an armed rebellion, prayers instead of machine-gun fire, disdainful silence instead of the fracas of terrorists' bombs.
While western Europe had echoed to the harangues of ranting demagogues and shrieking dictators, Gandhi had stirred the multitudes of the world's most populous area without raising his voice. It was not with the promise of power or fortune that he had summoned his followers to his banner, but with the warning: "Those who are in my company must be ready to sleep upon the bare floor, wear coarse clothes, get up at unearthly hours, subsist on uninviting, simple food, even clean their own toilets".
Instead of gaudy uniforms and jangling medals, he had dressed his followers in clothes of coarse, homespun cotton. That costume, however, had been instantly identifiable, as psychologically effective in welding together those who wore it, as the brown or black shirts of Europe's dictators had been.
Gandhi experimented with truth. Human life was his laboratory, love his instrument and appeal of the heart his language. He employed none of the techniques for conditioning masses to the dictates of a demagogue or a clique of ideologues. Yet, his message had penetrated a nation bereft of modern communications, because Gandhi had a genius for the simple gestures that spoke to India's soul. As he perfected the technique of satyagraha, the prison gained the glory of a palace; the scars of suffering became a badge of honour. He had humbled Great Britain by sipping water and bicarbonate of soda.
He knew well the distinction between a devout religionist, who spread the fragrance of love and amity and a religious fanatic, who fuelled enmity. The hunger of his fasts stirred the conscience of the nation and extinguished the fires of hatred. He preached and practiced nonviolence of the brave, not of the coward.
Today the country is overtaken by a wave of terrorist and communal violence. But, we forget the Gandhi, who had courageously toured the villages of Noakhali in Bengal in the days immediately preceding Independence to put an end to the violence there.
"It was the cry of outraged womanhood", Gandhi told his prayer meeting once, "that has peremptorily called me to Noakhali. I am not going to leave Bengal until the last embers of the trouble are stamped out. I may stay here for a whole year or more. If necessary, I will die here. But I will not acquiesce in failure. If the only effect of my presence in flesh is to make people look up to me in hope and expectation, which I can do nothing to vindicate, it would be far better that my eyes were closed in death." Many of those who heard him wiped tears from their eyes.
"'Do or die' has to be put to test here. 'Do' here means Hindus and Muslims should learn to live together in peace and amity. Otherwise, I should die in the attempt", Gandhi wrote.
Thirty-six days before the date for India's Independence, Gandhi set out from the Sodepur Ashram for Calcutta where armed with knives and pistols, Hindus and Muslims faced each other in fear and mistrust. While India waited to celebrate the dawn of freedom the wretched of Calcutta's slums stood poised to compound their miseries in a frenzy of communal slaughter and destruction.
Just as he left the local Muslims in the safety of the Hindus of Noakhali so did Gandhi persuade the Hindus of Calcutta to be protectors of the city's Muslims and transformed the savage metropolis into an oasis of peace. The city dwellers heard the message of the frail messenger of love. Gandhi could "rekindle the lamp of neighbourliness" in Naokhali and Calcutta, cursed by blood and bitterness. I still hear Gandhi singing in his high-pitched, uneven voice, as he left Naokhali, one of Rabindranath Tagore's great poems set to music. "If they answer not your call, walk alone, walk alone."
End aggressive faith-marketing By P N Benjamin (Deccan Herald, 23 Sept. 2008)
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressive evangelising.
A senior RSS leader once told me: "The incidents of violence against Christians are a reaction to the aggressive propaganda and mindless evangelism, abusing Hindu Gods and indulging in similar activities. The incidents are blown out of proportion. We have decided not to tolerate intolerance of other faiths. Let the Church declare that there can be salvation outside the Church also. The whole atmosphere will undergo a radical change…"
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressive evangelising. Other than this, there have been few attacks on Christians. Finally, the sensitive and sensible Christians must realise that acts of certain groups of Christian evangelists are the root-cause of tension between Christians and Hindus. Christian leaders should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance.
The best and perhaps the only way Christians can bear witness to their faith, is by extending their unconditional love to their neighbours and expecting nothing in return. As such, most of the Christians are against aggressive faith marketing by any religious group because such efforts discredit India's tradition of respecting all religious thought and also runs counter to the true spirit in which the Constitution grants people the right to profess, practice and propagate their faith.
Many of the Indian Christians were born into Christianity and some others freely chose to embrace it. They also believe that the Great Commission in the Gospel, according to Matthew, unequivocally calls us to witness Christ in a pluralistic setting without violating the right of others to preach, practice and profess his/her faith. Witnessing Jesus cannot in any case be done by questionable means, whether by exploiting people's socio-psychological vulnerabilities or by running down other religions.
The Christian injunction to make disciples of all nations in today's context is best honoured by the bearers of the Good News living exemplary Christian lives and showing respect for the nation's commitment to pluralism, for the larger public good in a civil society. Conversion of faith, given its life-changing nature, stems from a considered personal experience and is less likely in this day and age to be the stuff of dramatic immediacy.
India will continue to remain hospitable to all religions only if the Muslim fanatics and the Christian fundamentalists accept the pluralistic tradition of Hindus which is to consider all religions as equal. Pluralistic Christians and liberated Muslims of India have done that. The overwhelming majority of Hindus practice it.
Fundamentalist Christians assert that they alone are the holders of valid visas to heaven and paradise! Many preachers of the Gospel lay enticing traps for people whom they think must be 'saved' at all costs. It is worse still that their attitudes, though they (Christians) are a tiny minority in India, often create counter-reaction from among militant Hindus who sometimes incite violence against Christians. The Hindu fundamentalism is a reaction to the provocation of Christian proselytisers. The fanatics among the Christian faith will soon realise that theirs is a losing battle even if they derive their financial and other means of support from the wealthy nations overseas.
Will the Christians listen to the words of sanity of Dr Ken Gnanakan, well-known Christian scholar who told this writer the other day: "Preach Christ, but do not condemn others." Even Jesus said in John 3.17: "God did not send his Son to condemn the world..."
Where's pride of being an Indian? By P N Benjamin (Deccan Herald, 9 Aug. 2008) Today's young Indians have no patience or interest to remember moments of national glory or national sorrow.
The Ninth of August is an occasion for introspection and re-dedication. On this day, 66 years ago, (August 9, 1942), the Indian people launched their final struggle for Independence. 'Quit India' was not merely their call to the British to leave the country to its fate and get out; it also was a pledge to themselves to build a brave new India in line with the dreams of the great freedom fighters.
"Here is a mantra I give you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. Do or Die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery." (Mahatma Gandhi at the AICC session at Bombay on August 8, 1942.)
The August Movement of 1942, spontaneous and nation wide, marked the last phase of our freedom struggle. It was the culmination of the long years of struggle that started from the close of the 19th century. The petitioners started it all without knowing how fast the national movement would grow into a mighty torrent. The galling yoke of foreign rule was not allowed to thwart the personality of a true Indian. Tilak brought in militancy and awakened the collective conscience of the masses. Finally, Mahatma Gandhi introduced new techniques of the struggle against imperialism. His message reached out to the remotest corners of India at a time when communication facilities were close to zero.
And the people who responded to the Mahatma's dramatic call across the country were the youth. Thousands of known and unknown heroes perished or survived as physical wrecks in the Andaman Islands and in jails all over the country.
But, it is not a season for nostalgia. This August 9 will roll by quietly as others before it. Ritualistic shows to mark the 66th anniversary of the Quit India Movement may be organised by the Congress party and others, but they will not evoke the romantic memories of the battle for freedom because these programmes will leave everybody cold — especially the young.
Today's young Indians have no patience or interest to remember moments of national glory or national sorrow. The mood is to get on with life, get ahead in the struggle for survival and success. Leave it to the older generation to wax eloquent on the heroic and memorable past. But, our youth are not callous or for that matter indifferent to the nation's political heritage. But the politics around them is so vile and banal that it is difficult for them to imagine that there was a time when the country's air was charged with commitment, heroism and sacrifice.
Why blame the youth alone? The intelligentsia is particularly cynical. Mention of freedom fighters only makes educated Indians laugh. They lack a sense of national pride. Regardless, the Quit India Movement will remain a heroic moment in the nation's history. That was the time that the young and the old acted passionately for the sake of freedom. They gave up comfort and careers and even lives. But, beyond a certain point it is futile to go on talking of the sacrifices of the unknown heroes of our independence struggle. These memories are too precious to be squandered on unheeding ears.
Millions of Indians like this writer with a sense of irrepressible pride of being Indian "live today in the hope that a saviour is coming, that he will be born in our midst in this poverty-shamed hovel which is India. I shall look forward to a turning in history after the cataclysm is over and the sky is again unburdened and passionless." (Rabindranath Tagore in Crisis in Civilisation).
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