My Father, Do Not Rest
The time is here and now when we stand up and say, 'We take up the challenge' to those who defied Mahatma Gandhi. We are his soldiers. Our banner is truth. Our shield is non-violence."
On 1 February 1948, two days after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Hindutva fanatics, Sarojini Naidu gave an impassioned speech on All India Radio, calling on the nation to remember the Mahatma’s death as a pledge to right action. Here is an edited version of her address.
While we all mourn—those who loved him, knew him personally, those to whom his name was but a miracle and a legend—though we are all full of tears and though we are full of sorrow, I feel that sorrow is out of place and tears are a blasphemy. How can he die, who through his life and conduct and sacrifice taught the world that the spirit matters, not the flesh, that the spirit has the power greater than the powers of the combined armies of the earth, combined armies of the ages? He was small, frail, without money, without even the full complement of garment to cover his body … how was he so much stronger than the forces of violence, the might of empires and the grandeur of embattled forces in the world?
It was because he did not care for applause. He only cared for the path of righteousness. He cared only for the ideals that he preached and practised. And in the midst of the most terrible disasters caused by violence and greed of men, his faith never swerved in his ideal of non-violence. He believed that though the whole world slaughter itself and the whole world’s blood be shed, still his non-violence would be the authentic foundation of the new civilization of the world and he believed that he who seeks his life shall lose it and he who loses his life shall find it.
His first fast in 1924 was for the cause of Hindu–Muslim unity. It had the sympathy of the entire nation. His last fast was also for the cause of Hindu–Muslim unity, but the whole nation was not with him. It had grown so divided, it had grown so full of hate and suspicion, it had grown so untrue towards the tenets of the various creeds in this country that it was only a section of those who understood the Mahatma, who realized the meaning of that fast. It was very evident that it was not any community but his that disapproved so violently and showed its anger and resentment in such a dastardly fashion. Alas for the Hindu community, that the greatest Hindu of them all, the only Hindu of our age who was so absolutely and unswervingly true to the doctrine of Hinduism should have been slain by the hand of a Hindu! That, indeed, is almost the epitaph of the Hindu faith that the hand of a Hindu in the name of Hindu rights and a Hindu world should sacrifice the noblest of them all.
But it would be the act of faithless deserters if we were to yield to despair. If we were indeed to believe that he is dead, if we were to believe that all is lost because he has gone, of what avail would be our love and our faith? Of what avail would be our loyalty to him if we dare to believe that all is lost because his body is gone from our midst? Are we not there—his heirs, his spiritual descendants, the legatees of his great ideals, successors of his great work? Are we not there to implement that work and enhance it and enrich and make greater achievements by joint efforts than he could have made singly?
Therefore, I say the time is over for private sorrow. The time is here and now when we stand up and say, “We take up the challenge” to those who defied Mahatma Gandhi. We are his soldiers. Our banner is truth. Our shield is non-violence. Let the peoples of India rise up and wipe their tears, still their sobs and be full of hope and cheer. Let us borrow from him (why borrow? He has handed it to us) the glory of his own courage, the magnificent epic of his character. Shall we not give to the world the completed message of Mahatma Gandhi? Though his voice will not speak again, have we not a million, million voices to bear his message to the world, not only to this world, to our contemporaries, but to the world generation after generation?
What is death? My own father, just before his death, with the premonition of death on him, said: “There is no birth. There is no death. There is only the soul seeking higher and higher stages of truth.” Mahatma Gandhi, who lived for truth in this world, has been translated though by the hand of an assassin, to a higher stage of the truth, which he sought. Shall we not take up his place? Shall not our united strength be strong enough to preach and practise his great message for the world? Shall we not all take up his message and fulfill it? I used to wonder very often during his many fasts in which I was privileged to serve him—supposing he died in some far-off place, how should we reach him?
It is therefore right and appropriate that he died in the city of kings, in the ancient site of the old Hindu empires, in the site on which was built the glory of the Moghuls, in this place that he made India’s capital, wresting it from foreign hands. It is right that he died in Delhi; it is right that his cremation took place in the midst of the dead kings who are buried in Delhi, for he was the kingliest of all kings. And it is right also that he who was the apostle of peace should have been taken to the cremation ground with all the honours of a great warrior; far greater than all warriors who led armies to battle was this little man, the bravest, the most triumphant of all. May the soul of my master rest not in peace, but let the powder of hisbones be so charged with life and inspiration that the whole of India will, after his death, be revitalized into the reality of freedom.
My father, do not rest. Do not allow us to rest. Keep us to our pledge. Give us strength to fulfil our promise, your heirs, the guardians of your dreams, the fulfillers of India’s destiny. You, whose life was so powerful, make it so powerful in your death; far from mortality, you have passed mortality by a supreme martyrdom in the cause most dear to you.