GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

 

Earthquake and Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

News received by the latest mail from India gives full details of the havoc wrought by the earthquake. The Divine wrath that has descended on the people of Northern India is such that it will not be forgotten for years. Many an old historical monument, numerous villages, palatial buildings in large cities, the simple huts of the poor and tented camps of the army has all been devastated. Several families have been totally wiped out. The greatest damage has been done to Dharmashala, the Kangra valley, Palampur and Mussoorie. The account of the condition of the victims of the calamity is very pitiable indeed. Men were rendered quire helpless and died for want of food and water, as no news whatever of the people’s condition could be had from certain parts due to a breakdown of telegraphic communications. The Government evinced great sympathy and ran special trains to render all possible help to the distressed. Subscription lists have been opened in India as well as in Great Britain, and large sums have already been contributed. Our readers must already be aware that we too have started a fund in aid of those unfortunate fellow-Indians who have been suddenly reduced to a state of penury. We hope everyone will do his duty and contribute to the fund to the best of his capacity. 1

A severe earthquake rocked Calabria in Italy a few days ago rendering thousands of people homeless and pitiably crying for aid. The King of Italy has donated £4,000 for relief. The numbers of those either dead or seriously injured are 300 at Parghelly, 200 at Geplo, and 2,000 at Martereno. The big quake was followed by another mild one after two or three days. The people are panic-stricken and are running about from place to place, and some are even leaving the country. It is estimated that the injured and the dead total 5,000. The earthquake of 1857 which involved a larger area took a toll of about ten thousand lives. Calabria has frequently had such calamities. During the 75 years preceding 1857, the total loss of life was 1, 11,000, giving an annual average of 1,500 lives. There have been several earthquakes in Calabria during the last fifty years, but none of them caused so much damage as the present one. Many villages have been wiped out, and about a hundred thousand people have been rendered homeless. The government of the country is trying its utmost to give them all possible help. 2

Owing to the earthquake, this city has been laid waste for the most part. The princes of yesterday have become paupers today. Many wealthy people have been left without shelter or clothes to wear. On this occasion of Nature’s wrath, the millionaires and the penniless have been reduced to the same level. Even the distinction between white and black has disappeared. There is great scarcity of food in the city. Even bread is hard to get. A violinist who was living in a palatial building is roaming the streets, violin in hand, almost naked. Notwithstanding this catastrophe, as the latest cablegrams show, the people in the city have started reconstructing it and making it as splendid as ever. Consequently, steel is in very great demand. 3

It is certainly not for the first time that the reader is reminded of the proverb, “God can do what He wills within the instant.” History furnishes many examples of a pauper becoming wealthy and a wealthy man turning pauper in a moment. But this rule is not confined to individuals. The rule, “from the palace to the hovel”, and vice versa can apply equally to a whole city or country. The recent San Francisco earthquake is a case in point. Three hundred thousand persons—why, even more— were in a moment rendered homeless! Thousands, who were used to living in comfort and the luxury of big palaces and did not have to tell day from night, were left without even a rickety hut. Spacious and well-furnished mansions and beautiful streets, razed to the ground in a movement and reduced to a heap of dust, have paid their obeisance to Time. A barren desert has spread over the site once covered by gardens and villas. Countless men have been deprived of shelter and food in the twinkling of an eye. Who, having seen this, would not wonder at the mysterious ways of God? By far the more astonishing fact is, however, quite a different one. True bravery consists in standing erect and boldly in the face of the cruel blow dealt by such a fearful catastrophe.

This colossal task has been undertaken by the people of San Francisco. Well known for its perseverance and industry, the American nation is out to prove its mettle. The task of reconstructing a new and more splendid San Francisco without the aid of the outside world and in the face of divine wrath has begun. Plans are being drawn up to add to the world’s beauty by recreating a more beautiful San Francisco. Huge structures are being erected for bringing a new celestial city into being. Thousands of workmen have been invited from distant lands. The quantity of steel ordered for the purpose is so large that it might lead to a boom in the country’s iron market. Plans are being drawn up to construct a new dock of the latest style, the like of which will be found only in a few parts of the world. The streets are so planned that they will further add to the charm of the new city. The people there are thus fully prepared to meet this natural calamity in a variety of ways. With the help of electric power generated from waterfalls, human intelligence has been able to run railway trains and factories thousands of miles away. It has been able to produce ships and balloons voyaging across the high seas and reaching the highest regions of the sky. It is also conducting experiments to communicate with men on other planets of the Universe. But the selfsame intelligence cannot feel the tremors within the bowels of the earth and is unable to prevent the occurrence of earthquakes. This, indeed, is a matter for sorrow, but it should certainly gladden our hearts to see how man faces such shocks with courage. 4

While the news of how a beautiful city like San Francisco was suddenly reduced to dust and thousands of men were buried alive in a trice is still green in our memory, a similar earthquake has occurred in Chile and lakhs of people in Valparaiso and other places have been rendered homeless and obliged to wander about without food. Hardly is that woeful tale over when there comes a cry from Asia that its children are no less unfortunate than those of America. Last week there appeared the news of a cyclone in the sea near Hong Kong to the south of China. Several ships and steamers were driven ashore and some completely wrecked. Small craft and fishing-boats sank and thousands of precious lives were lost. As the sea-rushed into the harbour, rivers began to flow through the city streets and the people in distress struggled hard to save themselves by means of boats. It is said that about fifty steamers and ships were engulfed in the storm. Traces have been found of only a few of the 600 fishing-boats that were out on a cruise. At least 10,000 men lost their lives. All this happened within a couple of hours. Thoughtful persons will be grieved to know this. Stories told in text books of God making or unmaking a universe in a moment, we now see enacted before our very eyes. Inscrutable are the ways of God. Man has always some lesson to learn from His dispensations. While such an event is fresh in the mind, the virtuous have promptings from their inner selves, “Good man, and take to the true path. We know not when Death will overtake us. Do good deeds then and make provision for your journey hence.” The same event warns the erring: “You fool, cast off your pride and walk in fear of God. For Death might swallow you in no time. 5 

To lay down directions for the making of money without regard to moral considerations is therefore a pursuit that bespeaks of man’s insolence. There is nothing more disgraceful to man than the principle “buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest”. Buy in the cheapest market? Yes, but what made your market cheap? Charcoal may be cheap among roof timbers after a fire and the bricks of buildings brought down by an earthquake may be cheap. But no one therefore will make bold to assert that fire and earthquake redound to the nation’s benefit. Again, sell in the dearest market? Yes, but what made your market dear? You made good profit today from the sale of your bread. But was it by extorting the last cowries from a dying man? Or, did you sell it to a rich man who will tomorrow appropriate all that you have? Or did you give it to a bandit on his way to pillaging your bank? Probably you will not be able to answer any of these questions, for you do not know. But there is one question you can answer, namely, whether you sold it justly and at a reasonable price. And justice is all that matters. It is your duty to act so that no one suffers through your actions. 6

It seems the Bihar earthquake has completely destroyed Motihari. Rajendrababu seems to have plunged into relief work as soon as he was released. There was a heart-rending wire from him. I have sent him a wire of sympathy. Satisbabu has rushed to Bihar. He informs me that 15,000 people have been hurt. Many people were killed, but their number is not known. A large number of even big houses have been rendered uninhabitable. 7 Now I must begin speaking straightaway about Bihar. I have just now received a letter written by Babu Rajendra Prasad who was discharged from the jail hospital. The hospital where he was laid up, which is as big as the General Hospital at Madras, shook in the earthquake. You can imagine what the tremor must have been like when a big hospital would have to be emptied. And today that hospital is a howling wilderness. Heaven knows where all the sick men of that hospital are located. That is only about one hospital. In Jubbulpore, in Bihar, in Muzaffarpore and Motihari these are practically razed to the ground. Twenty-five thousand people at least are supposed to have died. That means, buried alive. Many more thousands are lying in an injured condition. Still many more are homeless and foodless, and still under fear of the recurrence of the earthquake. 8

For me, personally, this earthquake has a much deeper lesson than that it has brought physical ruin to thousands of homes. It is my firm conviction that such calamities descend upon mankind from time to time as a fit punishment for its sins. I love to think that it is a punishment awarded to us for the great sin of untouchability. If you cherish that belief with me, you will take care to remove the least taint of untouchability from your midst. May God help you and me to realize this dream that India should be free once more from all kinds of impurities? 9 You know how nearly 25,000 died in the twinkling of an eye through that terrible earthquake. Tens of thousands of people are living homeless and cloth less. Rich people suddenly find themselves reduced to pauperism. Palaces have been desolated, and thousands of homes are nothing but a mass of debris. I would like you therefore to tender your tangible sympathy to those afflicted people in Bihar. Whilst I shall be selling these addresses, I shall request the volunteers to spread themselves out in your midst, and receive from you what you think you can spare for your afflicted brethren in Bihar. I hope that you will give not the least you can, but the best you wish to. 10

This is no time for talking. I have come to see and help you, and not to talk. But there are just two things I want to say to you. The first is this. The relief committees have the money, and either beggars or workers will take it. And I want no beggars. It would be deplorable if this earthquake turned us into mendicants. Only those without eyes, or hands, or feet, or otherwise unfit for work, may ask for alms. For the able bodied to beg is, in the language of the Gita, to become thieves. The second thing is this, that God had Himself sent us this gift. We must accept it as a gift from Him, and then we shall understand its meaning. What is the meaning? It is this, that untouchability must go, that is to say, nobody must consider himself higher than another. If we can understand these two things, this earthquake will be turned into a blessing. At present we count it as a sorrow, and no wonder when we see these fair fields and lands devastated. But I pray to God that He may give us strength to make a blessing out of this destruction. 11 

This is my second visit to Dana pore. In your address you have remarked that on account of the havoc caused by the recent earthquake the Harijan uplift movement has been thrown into the background. This is all right. Whatever I told you during the course of my speech at Patna, I will again say that almost everybody in this world has suffered and even then the public will soon forget this great disaster caused by it. As we have completely forgotten the previous earthquakes in the history of this old world and consider them as historical incidents, we will hold the same view about this earthquake also after due course of time. But so long as untouchability exists, we are reminded of our miseries. Some people consider untouchability as their religion and if it disappears it would be some sort of calamity to them. But if you look at it dispassionately it cannot be defended. Those also who call themselves sanatanists understand that untouchability is indefensible, and I think it is the staunchest class among sanatanists who hold this view. After this earthquake we ought to be more humble, as death is inevitable. Therefore those who feel sorry for this disaster may become humbler. God has warned us in this manner and if we do not pay heed to this warning some greater disaster is in store for us. Shastras lay down that complete destruction will overtake the whole creation some time. In the light of all these divine lessons we ought to become more humble and do away with this sin of untouchability.

Those affected by the earthquake are more than a crore but there are others in this province who have escaped this disaster, and who have lost nothing. Therefore they should subscribe as generously as people from outside the province have done. In fact it is your duty as neighbours to subscribe to the relief funds. Yesterday we were discussing the budget of the Relief Committee. The whole sum amounted to forty lakhs and yet certain things were left out. The total collection up to date is just about 20 lakhs. The distressed must get help from the people and you must give your proper share by subscribing generously. Another thing I would draw your attention to is that workers are to be brought from outside. In my opinion that is not the proper course. Biharis must supply enough number of workers.

Only if it is impossible shall we call outside workers to assist us. Making an earnest appeal to the Bihar students, Mahatmaji said: I have to say few words to the students also. They have not come forward as they ought to do. This has really grieved me. If you can show because why students are unable to come forward I shall understand it. But in fact there is little cause why they should not come. In my Harijan tour I had many opportunities to come into contact with students. They have expressed their intention to give their spare time to whatever humanitarian work may be shown to them. The student community is everywhere alike. Therefore, I hope that they will even now come forward and give their names to Rajendrababu. There are students from Calcutta who have come here after leaving their own work simply to help us in this disaster. Now as regards the relief problem. It is our determination to help those who have been struck hard but you may remember that we are not out to make beggars of them. Those who will work will get help in return. This is all that I have to say. The purse which has been given to me I think does not contain subscription from all those who are present here. Therefore I would appeal to them to pay their share also. I may make it clear that half of the entire money collected on the spot and given to me in the shape of a purse will go to the Harijan movement and half of it for Bihar Relief. 12

 

References:

 

  1. Indian Opinion, 13-05-1905
  2. Indian Opinion, 16-9-1905
  3. Indian Opinion, 28-4-1906
  4. Indian Opinion, 2-5-1906
  5. Indian Opinion, 6-10-1906
  6. Indian Opinion, 20-6-1908 
  7. Letter to Vallabhbhai Patel, January 22, 1934
  8. The Hindu, 27-1-1934
  9. The Hindu, 4-2-1934  
  10. The Hindu, 7-2-1934 
  11. Mahatma, Vol. III. pp. 254-5 
  12. The Indian Nation, 28-3-1934 

 

 

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