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Justice, truth, peace: Recalling March 12 to 'emulate' non-violent ways of Gandhi, Grande

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
Today the Twelfth of March has two significant anniversaries!
Ninety-one years ago, in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi began his famous protest, the Dandi March, not far from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to protest the tax salt imposed by the British! It was a Civil Disobedience movement – a real ‘satyagraha’ in every sense of the word. In this long arduous march of 390 km. to the shores of Dandi, Gandhi was accompanied by people from all walks of life and from all corners of the country. It took twenty-four days for the group to arrive there on 5 April.
On arrival at Dandi, Gandhi in an interview said:
“I cannot withhold my compliments from the government for the policy of complete non-interference adopted by them throughout the march... I wish I could believe this non-interference was due to any real change of heart or policy. 
"The wanton disregard shown by them to popular feeling in the Legislative Assembly and their high-handed action leave no room for doubt that the policy of heartless exploitation of India is to be persisted in at any cost, and so the only interpretation I can put upon this non-interference is that the British Government, powerful though it is, is sensitive to world opinion which will not tolerate repression of extreme political agitation which civil disobedience undoubtedly is, so long as disobedience remains civil and therefore necessarily non-violent... 
"It remains to be seen whether the Government will tolerate as they have tolerated the march, the actual breach of the salt laws by countless people from tomorrow.”
Gandhi was also prophetic and speaking of the India of today! When a group of farmers from Gujarat, supported by several organisations and several concerned citizens of Gujarat, wanted to take out a ‘kisan tractor rally’ today, in their tractors from the same place (as Gandhi did in 1930) and towards Dandi, all the concerned protestors were placed under house arrest and the rally was not allowed to take place. 
Shabnam Hashmi, an activist, through a live video recording (which is going viral) has detailed the way this rally was stopped. People from all over the country have condemned this anti-democratic move. Strangely enough when the government is hypocritically trying to score ‘brownie points’ on the Dandi March! Even the British colonialists did not stop Gandhi’s Dandi March in 1930!
Forty-seven years later, in 1997, on this day, in faraway El Salvador, Jesuit Fr Rutilio Grande was gunned down by the military junta of his country. Grande had identified himself totally with the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador and was a visible and vocal critic of the fascist policies of the government.
Both Gandhi and Grande worked for the freedom of their people. They did not hesitate to voice dissent
A month before he was assassinated, on February 13, 1977, Grande preached a sermon that came to be known as ‘the Apopa sermon’, denouncing the government's expulsion from the country, of a Colombian priest Fr Mario Londono, who served the poor. In strong words, an action that some later believed led to his murder, Grande said:
“I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers since all the pages are subversive – against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. 
"They would accuse him, the man-God... of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and, that is, against the minorities. Ideas against God, because this is a clan of Cain's. Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again. And they have said so”.
Grande had a long-standing friendship with a diocesan priest Oscar Romero; the latter was known for his conservative ways. The poor and exploited of the country were Grande’s major concern and he left no stone unturned to highlight their plight and to make their struggles his own. Unlike Romero, Grande did not hesitate in taking up cudgels against the powerful and other vested interests. Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador just three weeks before the brutal death of Grande. The murder of his friend was a terrible shock to Romero. At his funeral mass, Romero in his homily said:
“The government should not consider a priest who takes a stand for social justice as a politician or a subversive element when he is fulfilling his mission in the politics of the common good.” He also said openly and emphatically, “anyone who attacks one of my priests, attacks me. if they killed Rutilio for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path”.
True to his words, he walked that path! From that day onwards, Romero immersed himself totally in defending the rights of the poor and oppressed of his country. he never looked back- till his own assassination on 24 March 1980! Romero is today a Saint of the Catholic Church and Grande is on the fast track to becoming one.
Both Gandhi and Grande have much to teach us today. They worked for the freedom of their people. They took a visible and vocal stand to defend the rights of the poor and the marginalised. They did not hesitate in taking a strong stand against the fascist and anti-people policies of the Government of their day and to voice their dissent. Because of their prophetic courage, they had to pay the price: both laid down lives for a cause, a greater good.
In the wake of what is happening in our country today we are called to emulate Gandhi and Grande! We need to come out and engage in civil disobedience, take a non-violent stand for justice, truth and peace and ensure that we cry halt to the rot that has taken over our beloved motherland! We need to join in the protests of the farmers and others like the Adivasis and Dalits who want to live a more dignified life! Above all, like Gandhi and Grande we need to believe that with truth we will overcome and only the truth will set us free!
Twelfth March is a significant day – let not its importance be lost on any of us!
---
*Human rights and peace activist/writer

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