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Paul Vadakumpadan, Shillong says,
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Shillong, May. 17. We are in the year 2015. Exactly a hundred years ago, there was an event that in great measure shaped the twentieth century history of India.

In 1915, Gandhi returned to India from South Africa. Twenty-two years earlier the  young London educated Indian lawyer had left his Gujarati home to look for work in South Africa. Work he found. More importantly he found a cause. And he found a people to whom he would dedicate all his life, till he was gunned down by a fanatic in 1948.

Gandhiji as he is affectionately called by Indians was no doubt the greatest Indian who ever lived. It is a matter of pride for us that he was also one of the greatest figures in world history. While persons like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot compete to be named the worst human being of the past century, Mahatma Gandhi is likely to be called the best. This great man was above all  deeply religious. His politics flowed from his religious convictions, all in correct measure and focused on the will of God and the good of all human beings.

It is unfortunate that a hundred years later, we seem to have regressed. Today terrorism, fanaticism, and fascism seem to flow from an extremist and fanatical understanding of religion. Such religion neither honours God nor serves man. It is not religion, but the aberration of religion.

The celebrated historian, Ramachandra Guha, in his book Gandhi before India,   gives some interesting snippets from the life of the Mahatma. Hindu Muslim animosity has marked the history of the subcontinent for the bigger part of the past hundred years. But it was Muslim merchants who invited Gandhi to South Africa offering him work, which he found difficult to find in his homeland. When he started his satyagraha movement, those who supported him most enthusiastically were the Tamils in South Africa. He hardly knew them earlier. He did not know their language. Nor did he have any contact with their place of origin in south India. Finally when Gandhiji was killed, the bullet was fired not by an outsider, but by one who shared in his own religion and culture. The words of Jesus were literally fulfilled here, `` A person`s enemies will be the members of his own household`` (Mt 10:36). While fanatics wanted a Hindu rashtra, Gandhi the deeply religious Hindu wanted a country that would be the home of all, Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.  Fanaticism made its adherents ready to kill. Genuine religion made Gandhi ready to die, never ever to kill. The bullet that felled him was in some sense, the logical conclusion to a life devoted to satyagraha. The power of this man came from within, from his soul. Truly he was the Mahatma.

Mahatma Gandhi believed in gradualism. He returned to India when anti-Indian laws were repealed by the South African government. But the ideals of racial equality and political freedom were realised in that country only in the 1990s. But nearly a hundred years earlier Gandhi had laid the foundation for the eventual removal of discrimination.

In the unlikely possibility of the Church ever canonising a non-Christian, Mahatma Gandhi would be the first on the list. His biographers agree that he truly practised in his cultural context, what Catholic terminology calls the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as faith, hope and charity. He communicated most powerfully, through word and deed, the values of tolerance, universal brotherhood, service, detachment from material goods and attachment to God. May God be praised  for such  un-canonised saints as well.  May He also protect us from religious fanatics and extremists wherever they are found.


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