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Gandhi, BHU, And The Art Of Communication

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The recent upheaval at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) is a subtle reflection of the hue and cry resulting from Gandhi’s memorable speech at the inauguration of BHU 100 year ago.

On his 148th birth anniversary, let us remember the very first famous speech which led to the onset of Mahatma Gandhi’s political career in India. The year was 1916, and the grand event was the inauguration of BHU attended by around 6,000 people including the then Viceroy Lord Hardinge as the chief guest, the Maharajas of the Princely States, scientists, other dignitaries and students.

The establishment of BHU was only possible by the generous donations of the grandiose Kings of the Princely States and the mindfulness of Annie Besant and Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya. Making a fancy exhibition of the jewellery, the proud Maharajas were eager to hear what Gandhi had to say on this extraordinary occasion.

Gandhi unexpectedly suffocated everyone by bashing the pompous jazz of the Maharajas and comparing it with the nakedness of the poor populating the country. He expressed his deep disappointment at the inability to feel the presence of the Almighty amidst the dirt and hustle-bustle surrounding the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Gandhi infuriated the audience to the extent that the Maharaja of Alwar stood up and left the function, but the students encouraged him to carry on his speech. He then pointed out the acute absence of ethics in the idea of armed struggle carried out by some extremists against the British rule. He said that they may be patriotic but are misdirected.

At this point, Annie Besant (who played a significant role in establishing BHU) herself asked Gandhi to stop, and most of the Maharajas left. The speech ended abruptly. The entire country saw this fearless attitude of Gandhi for the very first time. Even though there were very few newspapers at that time, Gandhi’s views in the speech spread in the entire nation from ear to ear in no time.

Today when I see thousands of BHU girls taking the string of justice in their own hands and fearlessly yelling the urgency of freedom from sexual harassment in the face of police violence, I’m bound to reflect upon the famous political dictum – “History repeats itself.”

Perhaps the girls are reminding the country of the forgotten gutsiness which BHU witnessed about a century ago, and hence in a way, re-inaugurating BHU.

Gandhi had a brilliant knack of strategically stealing media’s attention. In modern-day India, we see politicians hiring the best of PR agencies to plan out and enhance their political and social campaigning. We see management institutes mushrooming in every nook and cranny to teach students the skill of marketing. But in the pre-independent India, Gandhi was smart enough to market his ideas, to organise and kick-start a campaign all by his inventive styles. A few instances are a testimony to this claim.

One of the greatest mass movements in the world has been the civil disobedience movement led by Gandhi during India’s struggle for freedom. Who would think of bringing a revolution by making something as ordinary and as basic as salt?

Gandhi formed a bevvy of 78 volunteers marching towards Dandi from the Sabarmati Ashram to make salt from seawater and defy the salt law of the British Government.  The 78 people grew to thousands in the wink of an eye, to this unique movement’s credit. Every other person was making and selling salt which was illegal under the British law.

The pinch of salt picked up by Gandhi himself from the seashore was the most expensive. It was worth ₹1600 which was equal to around $75 at that time.

Around 60,000 people were arrested on account of the salt law defiance along with Gandhi. Such was Gandhi’s power of mobilisation which induced a commendable amount of fearlessness in the ordinary men and made the British Raj anxious.

Many of us must have read that Gandhi used to drink goat’s milk. He had his pet goat. When he was leaving for England for the second roundtable conference, he could’ve left the goat behind. The kind of a saintly man he was, he could’ve happily survived without the goat’s milk throughout the visit.

In fact, he was well served in England with the milk of British goats and had also tasted the Egyptian goats’ milk on his way to England. But in spite of all this, he did carry his pet goat along with him. The world media buzzed around a man so interesting – bald, wearing a dhoti as the only piece of clothing on his body, a serene toothless smile on his face and above all, debarking the ship with a goat by his side as though it was his most principled confidante who whispers wise advice to him.

The representatives of the princely states with all their razzmatazz who usually attracted the British media’s attention lost all their charm in front of Gandhi’s mojo during the second round-table conference.

When Gandhi was returning from England after the second round-table conference, he sojourned in Lausanne and met Romain Rolland, a French philosopher who had written a biography on Gandhi even before meeting him or visiting India. During the meeting, Gandhi requested Rolland to play him some music of Beethoven. Gandhi neither knew Beethoven nor had any specific interest in music. All he knew was Rolland’s fascination for Beethoven. The news of Gandhi making Romain Rolland play the fifth symphony of Beethoven hit the world newspapers and left everyone awestruck.

There are a plethora of such instances where we can mark Gandhi’s unique communicative ventures both big and small exciting the entire world. If I sit to search, collect and write them all, it will take me more than half a year to do so. The politicians of today must read a lot about Gandhi to learn the approach with which they could market their party’s agenda most truly and uniquely. Let’s not talk about the present Indian government reading Gandhi if you catch my drift

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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