When AISSF Confronted Gandhi
Dr Bhai Harbans Lal
This is about a delegation representing All India Sikh Students' Federation meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. Mind you, this meeting dates back in 1947. Thus I may not remember specifics of the meeting. However, I well remember the reason of our meeting and outcome of the same. Principal Gurbax Singh who was similarly involved was contacted to scratch our memory and compare notes on whatever we could recall. He was then an active member of the central leadership of the AISSF. He now lives in Chandigarh after retirement from the Khalsa College, Amritsar, where he served as its Principal. It is only recently that I called him to tally our notes from my memory with those of his. We often talk to each other on telephone about good old days.
Our hazy memory is that All India Sikh Students' leadership had decided to confront Gandhi about the comments he had made about Guru Gobind Singh. In preparation, we familiarized ourselves about his handling of people who go to see him. We were told that he usually came across as a leader who was uncompromising in his conversation. It meant that we needed to be tactful to make our point.
We gathered at the Camp College Delhi a day before the actual meeting in order to plan a strategy of confronting Gandhi with his statements. We realized that Gandhi has not had a good relation with many Sikhs, because of his relation to freedom-fighters like ShaheedUdham Singh, and Kartar Singh Sarabha. Sikhs have always been taught to use their sword although only as a last resort, but Gandhi was unable to appreciate that.
We prepared an outline to familiarize him with our history in as little time as given to us. Our meeting was arranged by a common friend who enjoyed a good position in the Agricultural Secretariat of the Government of India. I think we were about half a dozen to meet Gandhi. I do not recall exactly who those were or what were their names. Most of those who could be gathered at a short notice and who could be in Delhi must have been included.
We met Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi in the year of 1947. We do not recall the exact date but it was winter and there was a Gurpurab being celebrated in Delhi as there were crowds of people who had come to Delhi to celebrate the occasion. It could be the occasion of the Martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur but we are not sure.
Against our expectations, our meeting turned out to be cordial and we felt that our mission was accomplished. The purpose of our effort was to convey to Gandhi Ji the extent of hurt he had caused to the Sikhs by his remarks against our beloved Father of the Nation, Guru Gobind Singh. Earlier, Mahatma Gandhi had been reported to have called Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, a 'misguided patriot,' because he had worn arms himself and asked his followers to similarly wear arms in the service of the freedom movement. In this regard, he lumped together Guru Gobind Singh with the Maratha warrior Shivaji and American freedom fighter George Washington. He called them “misguided patriots” too for taking up arms in defense of their people.
We succeeded in stressing upon Gandhi ji that his remarks had offended a brave and patriotic people like Sikhs. We also stressed that Guru Gobind Singh never raised his Sword as a weapon of violence. He had given a name “kirpan” to his sword meaning the source of mercy. First of all he used it as a spiritual symbol to imply an entity that destroys darkness of ignorance by bringing light into the minds of those who adopted it as a religious symbol. Those who carried it as a weapon, were never to raise it in anger or for revenge; it was always to be used as a last resort to save innocent blood and to protect the disadvantaged, may it be an individual, an army or a community. It was used only against tyrants.
In our conversation, we narrated the history to illustrate as to how patriotic our Guru Gobind Singh was and how Sikhs always stood against injustice and slavery. Sikhs had made out of proportion sacrifices to serve the down trodden and their fight against injustice.
The delegation took this opportunity to also explain to Gandhi the Sikh case as they were worried that they might be ignored in the future political map of India. At the meeting these points were made forcefully but in a friendly and respectful tone.
As is well known, Gandhi was not a polite or a humble person. But to us he did respond with due courtesy and to say that he was regretful that he failed to understand our Guru Sahib in the right spirit. Still he did advise Sikhs to practice non-violence. We explained to him our views on what is perceived to be violence. We were very non-violent most of the time. The military actions took place only when necessary in self-defence or when necessary to come to the help of disfranchised people or against injustice. Muscle power was used only when absolutely necessary.
We told him that the Sikh Nation as a whole was very patriotic. It was ready to make sacrifices as well fight against slavery and injustice.
Mahatma Gandhi at the end admitted that he was not very familiar with the biography of Guru Gobind Singh as he learnt from us. He was apologetic and seemed to say that he would not characterize our Guru anymore as he did before. He said that he was an admirer of Sikhs and their sacrifices.
I should mention here that Mahatama Gandhi had also written about the unexplainable and unbearable sacrifices of Sikhs during the Morcha of 'Guru ka Bagh' with favour. He wrote, "courageous Sikhs have won the first battle for freedom of India; they have raised the dignity of the whole nation. Mahatama Gandhi sent a telegram to Baba Kharak Singh on 7 January 1922 in which he wrote about the historic tragedy of Sri Nankana Sahib. Gandhi continued to write that this was the peak example of intolerable brutality of British Government and the tragedy of Guru ka Bagh was even much bigger than that.
As I said in the beginning that I did not remember much of the AISSF meeting, it happened too long ago for my memory at age 80. I may be filling up blanks in my spotty memory.
In my life I had occasions to further talk to Gandhi's grandson and granddaughter at different occasions. I found them respectful to Sikh teachings and Sikh ideals. Ela Gandhi even sought a small write-up from me on the teachings of the Guru Granth to publish in her journal published in South Africa. At every occasion, they were further informed about the Sikh sacrifices and contributions to “India’s independence.” I found them not so knowledgeable of Sikhs or Sikhism but nevertheless good listeners and respectful. I have continuous email friendship with Ela Gandhi whom I met a few times at international gatherings and at the united Nation functions.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All