Rahul Easwar calls himself a Gandhian. The news anchors who let him go on with this on their debates do not want to know what is Gandhian about preventing someone from entering a temple. It, however, raises concerns over understanding of what it means to be Gandhian.
Gandhi, in his times, formulated a certain form of protest – Sathyagraha; he endorsed the English word for this – Truth Force. This was distinct from passive resistance that was in vogue with the Irish freedom fighters. The word, Sathyagraha, an adaptation of the Sadagrah (a Gujarati word suggested by his nephew), was coined by him to describe the agitations he launched in South Africa. While non-violence was Gandhi’s creed and it was inherent to Sathyagraha, Gandhi was categorical that it was not just the form of the agitation – non-violence -- that defined Sathyagraha; the content of the agitation, or let us say the aim or the objective was as much central to the scheme as was non-violence.
The point here is the campaign or the agitation that Rahul Easwar represents over the Sabarimala issue is neither Gandhian in form nor is it anywhere close to Gandhi and his scheme in its content (that is the demand or the objective).
Let me explain why the agitation is not Gandhian. What we saw in the couple of days in mid-October and again in early November was a set of people, organised in collectives, blocking the path to the shrine; and declare that they shall block women from entering the temple, whom they suspect were between ages of 10 and 50 years. In all the agitations that Gandhi led, and the many more that his comrades organised in India and across the world, do we find any one where the protest involved preventing another from walking on a path or doing whatever she/he wanted?
There was, perhaps, one exception to this; in response to Gandhi’s call against alcohol, there were organised picketing of shops and liquor vends, particularly in parts of the Madras presidency. This, however, did not witness the kind of vigilante that one saw on the roads leading to Sabarimala where buses were stopped to screen passengers and cars were vandalised.
It is the content or the objective behind this agitation that makes it all that is contrary to Gandhi and Gandhian. The Sathyagraha movement, to Gandhi, was inherently reformist in direction and radical in its core. And the most prominent among those were the long years, particularly after the Poona pact he signed with Ambedkar, in the early 1930s that Gandhi devoted to the temple entry campaign and as part of the movement he conceived to end untouchability.
The campaign had two elements: One was that Gandhi, a proclaimed believer, refused to enter temples that prevented entry of men and women from the Scheduled Castes (whom he called
Harijan); the second dimension was to handhold members of the community to enter temples and this he left to his comrades. Kasturbha did that in many instances; and one of those temples is in Kalmadom in Palakkad in Kerala and the deity happens to be Bala Ayyappa. The land belonged to the local royal family and Kasturbha walked into it. This is adjacent to Kalpathy, an agrahara village and home to the Tamil Brahman community in Kerala; T.V.Krishnaswamy Iyer, a Gandhian who laid his life fighting the colonial rulers was Gandhi’s host and even set up an ashram outside Kalpathy agrahara where destitute children are provided a home and pursue their studies in schools around there.
Gandhi and Gandhian struggles then would mean assertion of the rights of people who are denied of that by odious customs and practices and in this case that of women who are denied the right to worship Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala; and those who prevent this are anything but Gandhian.
In other words, Rahul Easwar and his ilk ought to be told by those hosting shows on TV to desist from claiming anything to do with Gandhi and they represent forces against Gandhi and his ideas.
V Krishna Ananth is Professor of History, SLABS, SRM University AP, Amaravati.