30th January 1948, the day when Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, was one of India’s saddest days. Although his soul departed from his body that day, the ideals that he left us with forever remain etched in gold in the annals of history. Each passing year, it becomes clearer that his values and ideals will stand the test of time, and help us find our moral bearings as a nation and a people.
Every year on Gandhi’s death anniversary, a two-minute silence is observed in remembrance of the man and his non-violent, peaceful ways that led India on a path to freedom. This year, it is more important than ever to reflect on Gandhi’s core values. In this latest Voices of Peace video, we report on the Sabarmati Ashram Redevelopment Project, recently taken up by the government.
The Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat is one of the most important places from which Gandhi mobilized India’s freedom struggle, which was as much a spiritual movement as it was a political one. It is a simple, quiet and austere collection of huts.
The massive Rs.1200 crore Sabarmati Ashram Redevelopment Project is mired in controversy. Per the plan, the Sabarmati Ashram will be turned into a world-class monument and tourist destination. Many Gandhians are resisting this project, calling it “the second assassination” of Gandhiji as it is an insult to the simplicity and humility that are at the heart of Gandhi’s entire thinking, and his Ashram.
The major tourism fillip being given to this historic site runs counter not just to Bapu’s aesthetic of simplicity but his ways of humble living. The project reeks of modern-day crass ostentatiousness with a whopping sum of Rs. 1200 crore being spent to turn Gandhiji’s tranquil abode to a theme park of sorts, a Gandhi Disneyland.
A particularly egregious aspect of this project is that while Gandhi prioritized the needs and concerns of the poor, the 250 poor families who live in the vicinity of the Ashram precinct are being displaced because of the project. These families have been living here for generations and now suddenly their livelihoods and housing have all become uncertain. Even though they are being given minimal compensation and rehabilitation, they are being forced to move against their wishes. The way these families are being treated goes against everything that Gandhi stood for.
We invite you to hear these people’s own testimonies, as well as those of Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Gandhian peace activist Faisal Khan. The question we each need to ask ourselves on the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination is: how do we preserve the best of Gandhi’s teachings as time marches on, and what do we risk losing when we prioritize corporate gain over compassion towards the poor?
[The content has been provided by the Voices of Peace team in India. The views expressed are their own.]