During my current trip (03 Oct. - 10 Nov. 2017), Bhagalpur was on our itinerary and I had a determination to meet with Professor Ramji Singh. A founder of Gandhian studies at Bhagalpur University and a former member of the Lok Sabha in the 70’s, Prof. Ramji Singh was at the forefront of the JP’s movement for Total Revolution, an inspiration to our generation of students.
In the month of October fall the birthdays of both Gandhi and JP.
On the day of Deepawali, professor Ramji Singh and I had a pleasant conversation for an hour. I introduced him to our Canadian city of Hamilton in Ontario where we celebrate Gandhi Peace Festival every year. I also made him aware that our city was working toward being designated as one of the peace cities of the world.
Then I came straight to the questions vexing me all the time, I asked: "Does the Gandhian method permit or at least admit of a mild to severe punishment for any offence done by a person?"
Frankly, I had the lawlessness of Bihar on my mind. Despite the best efforts of the law-enforcing agencies in Bihar, law and order are violated at the drop of a hat "by the people." Whether it’s a matter of usurpation of public or private land or property, or whether there are issues concerning public revenue, health, transportation, safety or environment, "the people" -- the sovereign recipients of the government-provided goods and services -- are, by and large, sure to run counter to the law. Everyone appears to be resorting to the short-cuts disregarding all genuine concerns. As a result, there appears to be utter chaos and a sense of insecurity among a vast number of people in Bihar. With the increasing use of mobile phones and motorized two-wheelers or cars, however, the standard of living or affluence seem to have gone up.
Professor Ramji Singh’s response was that in the Gandhian scheme there was no room for "physical punishment." Three things -- a triangle of sort -- have to happen for a peaceful transition in a society: transformation of spirit/soul, mind and the circumstances (the reality) on the ground. Violence will breed more violence; policing will require more policing; armaments will generate more armaments. Poverty and inequality were also a type of violence that could be dealt with only by non-violence and peaceful resistance or Satyagraha (seeking after the truth).
I have been curious to know if the Gandhian philosophy or methodology showed the roadmap to solving the intricate international problems of the day and I wanted to have professor Ramji Singh’s take on those questions. Will the Gandhian path of nonviolence or peaceful resistance stop the violence in Syria, sectarian fratricide in Iraq or in many hot spots of the Middle East?
I had once asked the same question to Mrs. Ela Bhatt, a noted Gandhian from Gujarat.
Professor Ramji Singh echoed what I had heard before from Ela Behn and other Gandhians in the past. They seemed to repeat the famous first lines of a Gandhi prayer song, "Vaishnav janato tene kahiye je peer paraayee jaane re..." Once a human being comes to appreciate the pain and sufferings of others, how can he or she inflict injury or hurt to the other fellow human beings? An adherent to a religion would know that the service to "the lowliest to the low" was the essence of all religion and, therefore, would not clash with a follower of another religion.
"With the atmosphere of violence and terror all around the world, we need more of Gandhi today." Prof Singh wanted us to pay attention to how later intellectual-activists like JP and others propounded and operationalized the Gandhian method: "Such kehna agar bagaawat hai to samjho hum bhi baagi hain." [If telling the truth is rebellion, we are all rebels today]. Insisting on the unwavering path of nonviolence, JP also incorporated the slogan signifying the determination in his movement: "Hamla chaahe jaisa hoga, haath hamaara nahin uthega... [Whatever be the ferocity of attack on us, we wouldn’t raise our hand.]
I came away from the meeting with the message that the world had to work long and hard to adopt the ideology of Gandhi and JP without which the global peace and harmony wouldn’t be possible.
For Bihar too the virtues like truth, non-violence, non-possession, sacrifice, self-restraint, charity, kindness, fairness etc. are necessary for socio-economic transformation. It’s now a challenge for all of us to integrate them and let our character reflect all such virtues.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.