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By Malika Mistry

The Gandhi Smarak Nidhi of the Gandhi Bhavan, Kothrud, Pune, celebrated the ‘Gandhi Week’ by organizing a number of programmes in the historic city in the first week of October coinciding with Gandhi Jayanti on October 2.
The organizers said it was imperative to disseminate the Gandhian thoughts and philosophy in the younger generation as communal forces have become stronger and spreading hate. They were referring to recent onslaughts against innocent Muslims in and around Pune without any provocation. It may be noted that the Hindu-Rashtra Sena, a criminal outfit suddenly attacked the innocent Muslims in Hadapsar, Bhosari and Pune City. Their shops were looted, Masjids and Madarasas were attacked, bakeries were burnt. An innocent Muslim youth, an IT engineer from Solapur, the only bread-earner of his family, was murdered by this gang.
Gandhi Smarak Nidhi has decided that Pune city and its surroundings must be free from communal disturbances. With this objective, it organized a Shanti Yatra or Peace March on 2nd October in the heart of the city. It started from Senapati Bapat (a freedom-fighter’s statue) at Alka Talkies and ended at the Shaniwarwada, the official symbol of Pune Municipal Corporation and the historical and official residence of the Peshwas, the rulers of Maharashtra, in the past. (It is useful to be reminded that Shaniwarwada was built on the land owned by the Bade Shaikh Salla dargah which is located at the very entrance of the Wada. Even today, Pune Municipal Corporation pays some annual rent to this dargah by way of token).
A number of NGOs participated in the Shanti Yatra. Some volunteers from Germany and the United States also joined. Dr. Kumar Saptarshi, President, Maharashtra Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, purposely organized this march on this route. Gandhi’s imprint on Poona (City’s former name) is very strong. His guru Tilak lived in Pune. He was kept under house arrest at the Agakhan Palace.
Before Independence, Mahatma Gandhi was condemned for his fight against untouchability. This was not acceptable to the Hindu Mahasabha which believed that untouchability was at the core of the Hindu religion. Therefore an abortive attempt was made on Gandhiji at the Vishrambaugwada, but the Mahatma remained unharmed.
Dr. Saptarshi felt aggrieved that a film Nathuram Godseis being made and on Gandhi Jayanti in Mumbai a playMee Hote Nathruam Godse (I am Nathuram Godse) was staged. “Gandhians are not opposed to making films or staging plays. They are opposed to the philosophy of violence”, he remarked.
Anwar Rajan, Secretary, Maharashtra Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, averred that all undesirable divisions in the society must be fought against. In Kharda, a place near Pune, a Dalit youth was hanged from a tree recently. “All across the country, violence and hatred are being spread. To save us, Gandhi is the only solution. Each one of us have to take a vow and proactively work for peace in our own homes and streets. To build the nation, ‘no hate’ message has to be spread”, he pleaded.
Father Anil Chakranarayana quoted an example from the Bible. A follower asked Jesus, “How many times can I forgive my brother if he makes mistakes?” Christ replied, “70 times.” (It is similar to the Hadees “forgive your servant 70 times” quoted in Islamic Voice, October 2014). He commented that violence has to be fought through non-violence only. This Shanti Yatra must be continued throughout the country so that those who opt for violent means realize that they cannot achieve their goal.
The representative from the Government Department of Kushtrog Nirmulan (Leprosy Eradication) urged the audience to help in the cause of removal of leprosy from India, something very dear to Gandhiji.
Dr. Saptarshi remarked that India is a unique country which has twelve religions. He said those cities in the US where the whites and black fought against each other, were depleted of the residents. Thus conflict kills the cities. He cautioned that citizens need to be careful and intervene when communal forces stoke the communal embers. He narrated the example of Gandhiji in resolving conflicts. The British with their huge army could not solve the problem of riots in Noakhali (now in Bangladesh). Gandhi walked alone in the strife-torn streets of that town and it had a salutary effect. The riots stopped. Lord Mountbatten, the then Governor-General of India, remarked that the one-man army of Gandhi was better than the British army comprising six lakh personnel. People should not believe in rumours.
Dr. Saptarshi said, Modi pretends that he is not part of spreading the hate campaign. In fact, he is very much part of it. When Gandhiji was murdered by Godse, he was without security. He was shot from the front. What Shaurya (chivalry) is there in killing an old, frail and defenceless person from the front? One can believe Modi when he confesses, “Yes, I killed 2000 Muslims. Sorry!”. He should also say “Sorry! Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi.” “Then only we can believe that Modi is genuine and sincere. There are some misguided youth who want to follow the way of Modi. We want to show them the light. This is our goal.”