Sunday, July 13, 2008



Gandhiji had a special fondness for Sindhis which he developed over the years.

He visited Sindh on seven occasions between 1916 and 1934.

There were a whole series of events that took place, albeit unconnected, to make Gandhiji recognize the Sindhis as a community that was warm and caring.

Early in his life when he was studying in London it was a Sindhi gentleman who saw that Gandhiji was living in an expensive hotel, one that he could barely afford, and he found him alternative economical lodgings so he could study law. It was the small kindnesses and the generosity of Sindhis that endeared them to Gandhiji. Naturally, then, he valued greatly a beautifully framed welcome address done in the artistic Sindhi style given to him on his visit to Sindh in 1916. It was also a Sindhi, Jairamdas, who encouraged Gandhiji to focus on writing his autobiography, which became the internationally acclaimed, “My Experiments with Truth”.

Gandhiji and Acharya Jivatram Bhagavandas Kripalani were, at first, at sixes and sevens with each other. Kripalani found him, ``queer and even quixotic”; however he also saw that they were both similar, “He was trying to know me and measure me. I too on my side was doing the same.''

Gandhiji observed in his autobiography: ``Acharya Kripalani, when I first met him in 1915, was already a seasoned warrior. He was then earning Rs 400 per month but was a brahmachari, taking only Rs. 40 for himself and sending the balance to Dr. Choithram who was conducting a Brahmacharya Ashram at Hyderabad (Sindh).''

They became friends and had many debates on ahimsa. After much introspection Kripalani more or less came around to his point of view and saw that indeed India and Indians were a non-violent country and ahimsa was indigenous to Indians.

Despite their many differences there was an underlying respect they shared for each other. In 1942 Gandhiji jocularly remarked, ``Kripalani was morose formerly because I thought he was not married. But even when he is married and has a very good partner in life, his mood haunts him''.

In 1946 when Gandhiji suggested Kripalani for Congress President, Nehru, Syed Mahmud and Yunus, opposed. Nehru observed that JB Kripalani had a temper.
Gandhiji was quick to counter,`But how about your temper?''
Kripalani became the Congress President. However, Kripalani soon resigned because both Nehru and Patel went ahead on numerous occasions on major issues without even consulting JB, the Congress President. After that, from 1947 to 1977, Kripalani became the conscience of the country.

K.R.Malkani, in his book, “The Sindh Story” has detailed the respect that Gandhiji had for Acharya Gidvani. “Gandhiji's relations with Acharya Gidvani were equally dear, except that the latter died too soon, in 1935. Gidvani resigned as principal of Ramjas College in Delhi, to head the Gujarat Vidyapeeth. Gandhiji said of him that he was ``not only a scholar but, on the touch-stone of character, gold.''

The Sikhs were agitating in 1923 against the deposition of the patriotic prince of Nabha. Nehru,Acharya Gidvani and K. Santhanam went to observe the scene and were arrested, sentenced, and then sent out. When the atrocities continued, Motilal wired Gidvani to go and see on the Nabha border what was happening. On one occasion not only was a satyagrahi shot dead, his child, who was being breast-fed, was also shot dead. Gidvani thereupon rushed to the scene of firing just inside the Nabha state border. He was immediately pounced upon and kept in jail for almost a year. Writes Nehru in his autobiography: ``I felt inclined to go to Nabha myself and allow the (British) Administrator to treat me as he had treated Gidvani. Loyalty to a colleague seemed to demand it. But many friends thought otherwise and dissuaded me. I took shelter behind the advice of friends and made of it a pretext to cover my own weakness.''

Gandhiji noted: ``He did not even wilfully cross the Nabha border. His humanity pushed him in.'' And when Gandhiji heard from Shrimati Gidvani after an interview that Gidvani was locked, his clothes were dirty, he looked much reduced as he had fasted for seven days,'' Gandjiji wrote: ``The whole of the civil resister rose in me and I felt like giving battle. But I realized my powerlessness and hung my head in shame. With an India cut up into warring parties and torn with Hindu-Muslim squabbles, civil resistance seems to be an impossibility. One's only comfort is that Acharya Gidvani is a brave man and well able to undergo all the suffering he may be subjected to. May God give him the strength to go through the fire!''

When Gidvani died prematurely, Gandhiji wrote: ``Such servants of humanity never die. They live through their service.'' He collected a Gidvani Memorial Fund and built Harijan Hostel in his honour at Kheda in Gujerat.

Nor did he forget the Gidvani family. He greeted Ganga Behn as ``the brave wife of a brave husband'' and gave her a letter of introduction that helped her set up an insurance business and bring up her young children.
Years earlier, Gidvani had told Gandhiji not to worry about petty personal things. But Gandhiji had told him: `The personal things you call petty are of as much interest to me as Bardoli, for I have to know all about co-workers.'' And he had added- ``Tell Ganga Behn not to forget her Gujerati!''

Gandhiji admired Sindh for giving so many excellent professors to the country. Referring to the Sindhi professors at the Gujerat Vidyapeeth as ``the treaty made between Gujerat and Sindh'', he asked the Gujerat students to go as flood relief workers to Sindh and repay ``the debt to Sindh''.

However, perhaps his sweetest relations were with Jairamdas. At the Amritsar session of the Congress, 1919, acute differences had arisen on the reforms resolution between Gandhiji on the one hand and Tilak, C.R. Das and Mohammed Ali on the other.

Recalled Gandhiji years later: ``Jairamdas that cool- headed Sindhi, came to the rescue. He passed me a slip containing a suggestion and pleading for a compromise. I hardly knew him. Something in his eyes and face captivated me. l read the suggestion. It was good. I passed it on to Deshbandhu.
'Yes, if my party will accept it' was his response.
Lokmanya said, `I don't want to see it. If Das has approved, it is good enough for me.' Malaviyaji (who was presiding anxiously) overheard it, snatched the paper from my hands and, amid deafening cheers, announced that a compromise had been arrived at.''

When Gandhiji was launching the ``Salt Satyagraha'' in 1930, he wrote to Jairamdas, who was then member of the Bombay Legislative Council: ``I have taken charge of the Committee for Boycott of Foreign Cloth. I must have a whole-time secretary, if that thing is to work. And I can think of nobody so suitable like you.'' Jairamdas immediately resigned his seat, took up the new charge, and made a tremendous success of the boycott of foreign cloth.

When some Muslims alleged that Jairamdas was communal, Gandhiji told them: ``I swear by Jairamdas. Truer men I have not had the honour of meeting. He is not anti-Muslim. I decline to think of him --- or of Dr. Choithram --- as anything but promoters of Hindu-Muslim unity.''

In 1941, when Dr. Choithram, President Sindh PCC, consulted Gandhiji on a particular issue, the latter told him: ``Do as Jairamdas advises. My faith in his wisdom is a constant factor.''

And he wrote any number of letters to and about Anand Hingorani and his wife Vidya, concerning their health, work, welfare. When Vidya died and Anand started worshipping her, Gandhiji wrote to him: ``Vidya was good but cannot take the place of God. I am an iconoclast. If you can forget her easily, do so. Then Vidya will rise and also you.''

Gandhiji's humour infected even the Congress dames. He jokingly asked Ganga Behn Gidvani, who was doing insurance business, in 1936, to ``insure'' his life. "
She joked back: ``No, I will not insure an old man like you.''

After a meal with Malkani. he asked Shrimati Malkani for dakshina. And the tatter returned: ``I have given Malkani to you. What more dakshina do you want?''

All this interest in individuals was not only intensely human; it was calculated to promote the causes dearest to him. And these apart from Swaraj, were Khadi and Hindi. He was delighted when Acharya Gidvani draped Guru Granth Sahib, not in the customary silk or satin, but in Khadi. This, he said, was a great example to those who draped even the Puri idols in foreign cloth.

However, Gandhiji noted in 1924 that the Sindhis did not take Khadi seriously. He found Sindh yarn ``a sorry affair'', with ``little trace of practised spinning''. Even years later he noted that ``with a few honourable exceptions, they are not interested in Khadi…

Gandhiji added: ``The Amils of Sindh are probably the most advanced community in that province. But in spite of all their advance, there are some serious abuses of which they seem to have monopoly. Of these the custom of Deti-Leti is not the least serious.... The parents should so educate their daughters that they would refuse to marry a young man who wanted a price for marrying and would rather remain spinsters than be party to the degrading custom.''

When Malkani informed him that he had spent only 2000 rupees on the wedding of his daughter Mithi, Gandhiji wrote back on 4 October, 1928:

``If it was not tragic, I should have a hearty laugh over your considering the expenses of Rs. 2,000 a little thing. Ramdas' marriage cost me probably one rupee, that is one or two coconuts and two taklis for the bride and the bridegroom, two copies of the Gita and two copies of the Bhajanavali. Rs. 2,000 in Gujerat will be considered a fairly large sum even outside the Ashram limits…But I know that if I measured Sindh by Gujerat foot rule, it would be a hopelessly false measurement. I suppose for you it is progress from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 2,000. You will perhaps have to renounce your mother-in-law and to have a divorce from your wife. Considered from that point of view, Rs. 2,000 is perhaps not a bad bargain.''

When the Hindus complained of continued systematic violence against them in 1939, Gandhiji told them to ``learn the art of defending themselves''. And ``if they do not feel safe, and are too weak to defend themselves, they should leave the place which has proved too inhospitable to live in.''

He returned to the subject in January 1940 and wrote: ``I have suggested hijrat. I repeat the suggestion. It is not unpractical. People do not know its value. High and mighty have been known to have resorted to it before now. The Second Book of the Old Testament is known as Exodus. It is an account of the planned flight of the Israelites. In exile they prepared for a military career. There is, therefore, nothing wrong, dishonourable or cowardly in self- imposed exile. India is a vast country. Though poor, it is well able to admit of inter-migration, especially of those who are capable, hard-working and honest.''

And when in 1947 the Sindhi Hindus did begin to leave, Gandhiji wrote: ``If even a single Sindhi leaves Sindh, it will be a matter of shame to Mr. Jinnah as Governor-General.''
He added: ``The Sindh Hindus are first-class businessmen. Why are they running away to Bombay, Madras and other places? It will not be they who will be the losers, but Sindh. For they will make money for themselves, wherever they go. One finds Sindhis in South America. There is hardly any place in the world where Sindhis are not found. In South Africa they were making big money and gave of it liberally to the poor.''

.. Although the Sindhi leaders had the sweetest of relations with Gandhiji, be it said to their credit that they did not hesitate to speak up when they thought him wrong. Jethmal Parasram described the Khilafat as
``aafat'' (catastrophe). And when Gandhiji asked Choithram in 1930 what Jethmal thought of the proposed ``Salt Satyagraha'', he told him: ``Jethmal says that in 1920 you wanted freedom with balls of yarn; now you want it out of ladoos of salt.'' Choithram reported that Gandhiji visibly slumped at the remark.

When Partition came in spite of Gandhiji, he persuaded the Government of India to do everything for the refugees. He spoke to the Maharao of Kutch and got Kandla land for the Sindhu Resettlement Corporation. He told a Sindhi delegation, led by Dr. Choithram, on 30 January, 1948: ``If there can be war for Kashmir, there can also be war for the rights of Sindhi Hindus in Pakistan.''

Professor Malkani met him only an hour before Gandhiji was shot. Malkani had been just appointed Additional Deputy High Commissioner to organise the migration from Sindh. Gandhiji gave him a resounding blessing-pat on the back with the words: ``Take out everybody. See that you are the last to come out. And tell Khuhro I want to visit Sindh to re-establish peace. Let him consult Jinnah and inform me telegraphically.'' When Malkani told him how the Hindus in Sindh had to wear ``Jinnah Cap'' and carry about an Urdu paper or Dawn to pass off as Muslims, for security reasons, he said he would mention it in his prayer meeting that evening.

Alas, he died before he could visit Sindh --- or expose the excesses there!

This is an excerpt from Malkani's book, "The Sindh Story".

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