“Dear Gandhiji, I (would) like to apologise to you…we have failed you. Violence is all I see when I open my eyes… My soul cries for my brothers and sisters of Kashmir who have suffered ever since the formation of free India… ” reads a letter written to Mahatma Gandhi by a student of the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, as part of a contest hosted by the MSU to mark Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Titled “Dear Gandhi” and held at the faculty of arts on September 4, the contest saw 100-odd students pour their hearts out to Bapu in inland letters written by hand.
What would Gandhi have done in 21st century India? How would his idea of “simple living and high thinking” reflect in this time and age? How would he have coped with and used technology? These are some of the questions the students, aged between 17 and 24 years, asked the Father of the Nation in their letters. One of the students wrote, “Like no other time, we need you now.” The student wondered if Gandhi could return and make the country “great again”. Another student wrote that 70 years after his death, India was far from living up to his ideals. “…Your idea of education, which revolves around complete or all-round development of the human body, mind and spirit through practical learning, (your) use of a spinning wheel to promote self-reliance and understand scientific process through it, have never seen the light of day,” the student wrote. Another student lamented that while currency notes kept Gandhi’s memory fresh, in digital India, his presence in our lives has diminished. “As long as we could see you on the notes, you were present even in your absence,” the student wrote, asking Gandhi whether he would start a digital satyagraha (e-satyagraha) against the injustice in the society, if he were alive today.
One letter, addressed to Rajghat, asked: “Bapu, would you come back to India for India’s independence if you were not thrown out from the train (in South Africa)?” Evoking the caste system and the “extremist ideologies” being taught in school, a student wrote, “Seems you made a grave mistake by fighting for independence.” One student complained about the imposition of Hindi. He wrote, “As Hindi is being imposed, other languages are being marginalised. We are losing diversity. ..Hinduism.. was a plural religion, but is now being threatened as the tyranny of Vedic Hinduism (is taking) over the local practices,” he wrote. A letter read that Gandhi “had the chance to save the country from Partition, help minorities and decrease the gap between the Hindu and Muslim,” but he did “exactly the opposite”. The letter read: “India is free but still has lots of major issues, all gifts from you.”
Letters were an important part of chronicling the Independence movement and Gandhi is known to have frequently communicated through them. At the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, the museum displays prints of covers of several letters written to Gandhi. One of them, written when he was in Yerawada Central Jail, addresses him as “The King of India Mahatma Gandhi”. Another says, “To His Excellency Mahatma Ghandi Esqu.” , “Mahatma Gandhiji, The dictator of the Government of India, Wardhagunj, India” and one simply saying “Gandhiji, New Delhi”. In the contest, students were also asked to imagine Gandhi’s address. A student imagined it as “a place beyond heaven and hell”, another saw it as “Champaran.” Some students imagined Gandhi’s current residence to be “in a place far away full of love and peace,” “heaven” and a “random statue on a random road.”
Prof. Lajwanti Chatani, convenor of the “Gandhi: Today and Beyond” event, under which the letter writing contest was curated, says, “Letter writing is an important genre, culturally, socially and even politically. A significant feature of engaging with Gandhi is through the medium of letters. Letters played an important role during the freedom struggle as an important mode of communication.”
Most of the letters to Gandhi were written by the students from faculties of arts, law and psychology. “Writing a letter to Gandhi was like reflecting upon his ideologies in this time and age. When I was in school, I was really interested in Gandhian ideologies. I have read a lot of books about him and writing to him felt like connecting to him through the letters,” says Yogesh Baria (22), a final year Master’s of Arts student.
(Some students have not been identified as the jury is expected to be out with the results on October 1)