By Abhishek Thakore:
Almost a year ago, an article appeared on YKA — “Gandhi used his position to sexually exploit young women — and how WE react to it matters.”
It was a powerful and well researched article, and it stayed with me. While I can’t tell how true or false it is, going by how much Rita has researched this topic, and the 50 Million Missing Campaign that she initiated, I am inclined to believe that it is likely to be true.
A typical response to such an article is a polarizing one (as seen in the 495 comments) — either vehement disagreement, or strong support. And the article said it very clearly too — how we react to it matters.
And so, here is my ‘reaction’ (response) to the Gandhi conversation.
For one, I see Gandhi bashing becoming increasingly fashionable. All around, people who have hardly read or understood the man, are standing up to be ‘anti-Gandhi’ (this excludes Rita because she has taken a stand post her research, grounded in her truth).
From my own experiences, I can share why Gandhi is so cool – to me.
A Gandhian response for me, would typically be anchored in love, not in reaction. And it would be anchored in truth — so here it is, from my truth: 5 reasons why Gandhi is still very cool
#1 – He is owned by the world (then why don’t we?)
It was the UN Alliance of Civilizations Summer School in Portugal. I was facilitating a session on Leadership: The Gandhi Way. As I was sharing all about him, a participant interjected and said, “You mention Gandhi as an Indian leader — but the way I see it, he is a leader of the world. He belongs to all of us”.
When someone is seen as beyond nationality, and owned with pride around the world, that brings great joy to my heart (even if only a few see it that way)
#2 — He is a “Peace” hero (it is tougher than taking up violence)
Currency notes of most countries have war heroes — people who fought wars, generals and army. It was in Buenos Aires, that the walking tour guide, Marcelo pointed out — each note in Argentina has a war hero.
What about you guys, he asked me.
I said, we have a peace hero — a man who refused to take to arms.
#3 — He responded with love (and we can too)
Gandhi’s responses were anchored in non-violence. It is so easy to react to even a simple comment or tweet — it brings out the standard fight-flight-freeze reaction in us. A much greater challenge is to respond with love — to hate the sin, and not the sinner.
It is far tougher in real life — and am sure even tougher when there is a violent oppressor at the other end. To me it is a response that comes from the highest vision of what human beings are capable of.
#4 — He continues to inspire many, even today (including me)
As I type this, a friend (Yogesh Mathuria) is going to begin a walking pilgrimage today i.e. 2nd October (from Gandhi Ashram) to Pakistan. He is going without any money, and with total trust in the people he will meet. His journey ends on 31st January at Rajghat, Gandhi’s Samadhi in Delhi.
This is just one example of the ripples created by Gandhi’s work — and its grounded in principles of individual action driven by soul force.
# 5 — He never claimed ‘hero-dom’ (and we need to stop putting heroes on the pedestals, as we do)
If anything, Gandhi claimed he was human. His life was experiments in truth — and like any scientist investigating it and using its power, he was very error prone. The titles and glory bestowed on him came from all those who felt connected to his work and who chose to put him up there.
To me, his greatness lies in his human-ness. And in how he chose to respond to humiliation; not with anger or contempt but with patient, non-violent resistance.
It is not the Gandhi at 60 who is the hero, but the Gandhi at 21 who made choices that led him to the greatness.
There are many stories from my experiences in sharing Gandhi’s ideas — a girl travelled 2 hours from distant suburbs in Rio de Janeiro to attend a workshop, even when she knew very little English! In another global event, there was a Gandhi quote being mentioned every 15 minutes somewhere or the other.
This man is for real — and he walked this very land we live on. It gives me goosebumps to see the Dandi March scene in the movie Gandhi, even today. To imagine such great legacy that we come from — and we, instead of owning it for what it is, are happy to bash it (that, in an era where Salman Khan is a role model)
There are many ideas that Gandhi shared — which we have lost. Cleanliness (its stunning how less soap is used all over India), self-reliance (doing our own work), Swaraj (decentralized governance) and more! What we say about Gandhi says much more about us than about Gandhi, doesn’t it?
And to close, I would surely express my gratitude to Rita — because, in sharing a lesser known aspect of Gandhi, she has helped us acknowledge that heroes are not heroes because of their perfections, but because they deal with their imperfections in powerful ways!
About the Author: Abhishek is the founder of The Blue Ribbon Movement, a social organization that builds leadership for a better world.