Yesterday a friend sent me a Facebook page for Mahatma Gandhi and I couldn’t wait to hit the “accept” button. Who, after all, would not want to be friends– well, at least Facebook friends — with the greatest soul to walk the earth, even if he’s been dead for more than 60 years now?
The wall was filled with messages from people around the world. “We miss you,” wrote one person. “Bapu is the best,” wrote another. My friend, Seema, who sent me the invite, wrote: “Would give anything to meet you, Bapu… just once!”
But why do we miss Bapu, or Gandhi, so much today, when we have moved away so far from him?
Take Gandhi’s land of birth, Gujarat, in western India. The state that sired the apostle of peace — who fasted until he almost died to stop the terrible riots that followed the partition of India and Pakistan– is now led by an incendiary Hindu radical who faces charges for leading his state into one of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots ever witnessed on Indian soil (some consider it a genocide). The United States a few years back denied Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, entry into the country citing violations of religious freedom. But Modi remains extremely popular in his state and continues to win elections, which is by itself a terrifying fact.
In Gandhi’s India, for which he gave his life, the religious divide between groups of Indians has never been deeper. A dangerous sense of bigotry seems to be sweeping over a nation that was once so proud of its tradition of tolerance and secularism. The web is filled with propaganda from Hindu extremists who seem to be modeling themselves after religious radicals around the world, and I sometimes see even friends who I once thought intelligent reflecting the hatred fed to them by these extreme points of view.
Equally bad, as the middle class in India thrives, it is leaving behind the poor, the very people Gandhi cared for. The farmers who live in India’s villages have been consumed by an epidemic of suicide as multinationals take away the seeds that were once their livelihood and stamp them with patents. The strong tradition of vegetarianism and kindness toward animals in India, of which Gandhi was such a champion, is receding under an onslaught of meat-selling restaurant chains that make eating defenseless animals appear “hip.” Worse, factory farming, where animals are mass-bred, abused and tortured like no living being should be– before being milked or killed for food– is fast replacing traditional methods of raising animals for food.
As for the rest of the world? Never before, perhaps, has there been so much violence, so much suffering, or at least the awareness of it. Terrorism, war, poverty, greed…violence in every form imaginable is rampant in our times. Even our home, Earth, has not been spared as we rob and pillage her, destroying the environment regardless of the future of our children.
So when I saw all those messages for Bapu, cynic that I am, I wondered what on earth would we do with Gandhi, if we were to get him all over again?
It’s not like we’ve heeded any of what he said. Maybe we didn’t deserve him the first time round.
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