Thursday, January 02, 2020

Gandhi and students protests

The recent wave of protests by students, and several others, and especially young people opposed to the CAA and the NRC/NPR rolled out by the government reminded me of what M.K. Gandhi had said to students during the freedom struggle.

Writing in ‘Young India’, in 1928, Gandhi refused to humour a principal who had wanted him to stop students from getting more involved with politics. At a convocation address at Kashi Vidyapeeth, which is also printed in ‘Young India’ in 1929, Gandhi had said: “The aim of government institutions is pre-eminently to turn out clerks and others who would assist the alien government to carry out its rule.”

He also gave students courage, asking them not to worry about their few-ness. He cited the example of the prophet Mohammad and Abu Bakr when they were facing their enemies. Abu Bakr is supposed to have said, “What shall we two do against these heavy odds?”  The Prophet rebuked his faithful companion by saying, “No, Abu Bakr, we are three. For God is with us.”

Again, in 1931, writing in ‘Young India’, Gandhi was urging students’ parents not to sign letters guaranteeing that their children will not participate in politics.

A lot of what Gandhi said and wrote changed. Reading his various letters and addresses to students, one might be struck by the changeability of his stance on the question of protest. There are times he asks them to be wary of 'political' protest in the sense of getting involved with a particular political organisation. But there is no doubt that he urges them to stand up in the cause of the right and in the interests of justice. He urges discipline too, but never silence in the face of injustice. 

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