Published on 4th February, 2014, on www.dailyo.in
Mahatma Gandhi would surely have forgiven Nathuram Godse. Gandhians already have, probably. What about the Indians keen to prove their secular credentials? Probably not. And Right-wing Hindutva politicians: maybe they never saw him guilty in the first place, their public pronouncements notwithstanding. These are all speculations, of course. But columns are all about speculating on possibilities and probabilities. Like mythology.
India’s Freedom Struggle was a long and complex one. And like our diversity, there were diverse approaches to the struggle. The dominant, and most popular, and most successful one was the non-violent approach of Gandhi that was politically represented by the Indian National Congress, though Gandhi himself stayed out of a political role. But there were many others. Some avowedly violent, be it Subhash Chandra Bose, or Bhagat Singh. Tragedy struck when violent freedom fighters turned against non-violent freedom fighters. With that moral issues came to the fore.
Nathuram Godse was a freedom fighter. He also assassinated Gandhi. Does that make him a good freedom fighter or a bad freedom fighter? Does that make him a freedom fighter at all? Can we still call him a patriot? Are we allowed to? Does calling him a freedom fighter, or patriot, automatically justify his crime? Are only non-violent people allowed to be patriotic? Does any conversation on violence and murder mean justification of violence and murder?
We are increasingly becoming a linear society. By that I mean a society that has a clear fault line between what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. This is expected in people with strong Left leanings as most economic and political theories are rooted in the Abrahamic myth of Promised Land: one day, through revolution, we can get rid of all injustices in the world and create a world where everyone is equal. Ironically, such linearity is even endorsed by Hindutva, the new rather dominant political form of Hinduism that is uncomfortable with Hinduism’s essentially cyclical nature.
In a cyclical worldview, no action is good or bad, not even assassination. There are events. Every event can be seen as an action that has consequences, or the consequence of previous actions. The human mind, depending on the level of awareness and wisdom, judges this event as good or bad, right or wrong. He who sees everything – bhagavan – simply smiles affectionately, as human struggle with the human condition.
We have convinced ourselves that the linear worldview is real: Gandhi is saint and Godse is sinner, Gandhi will go to the heaven and Godse may not. We are terrified of saying bad things about Gandhi (even though he wrote about them in his books) and good things about Godse (as is apparent in his writings). We ban books and plays that show Godse in a positive light, perhaps ideologically or perhaps to prevent the rise of political opposition. We would rather trace psychoanalytical explanations for Godse’s violent behaviour, tracing it to the fact that as a child he was dressed as a girl and was made to wear a nose-ring or nath (hence the name, Nathuram) by his parents. It was a common rural practice for protecting the male child from malevolent spirits if earlier male children died in infancy, three in Godse’s case. Such explanations irritate those who admire Godse, give fodder for those who revile Godse, and often reveals the analysts own discomfort with sexuality as he/she links ambiguous sexuality with criminality.
Of course, there are the contrarians amongst us: those who passionately write long essays projecting Gandhi as the bad, and Ambedkar as the good. Or Godse as right, and Gandhi as wrong. In Pakistan, Jinnah is always right. Not in India. No one, especially no ‘savarna’ dares write how Ambedkar may have been wrong. That would be political suicide. We all know that conflict sells; and so academicians and fiction writers busy frame their thesis and novels in terms of confrontation. Such is the power of the linear worldview.
But as we – the beneficiaries of the freedom struggle – are busy judging our freedom fighters, valourising some and demonising others, to indulge our own fantasies and prejudices, we forget they were all patriotic, in their own way, passionately working towards liberating India and making life better for all Indians.
In the Mahabharata, Yudhishtira was the only one who was allowed to enter paradise with his mortal body. He refused to enter until the gods allowed the dog that accompanied him to enter too. For he believed in equality. But inside he saw the Kauravas, enjoying swarga as their sins had been washed away. This angered Yudhishtira. He forgot all about equality, especially since his brothers were still suffering in hell for their negative qualities. He complained until bhagavan spoke: ‘You killed the Kauravas in Kuru-kshetra, ruled their kingdom for 36 years, and still have not forgiven them. When is punishment enough, Yudhishtira? When will your heart open up for those who you hate? Until then, heaven surely cannot be yours!’