Saturday, February 20, 2016

In conversation at the Just Governance Dialogue 2016:

An Evening with Niketu Iralu, Ganesh Devy and Rajmohan Gandhi

Ganesh Devy was asked about two of his life’s works – a 50-volume survey of all the languages of India, and the creation of Adivasi Academy at Tejgadh, Gujarat, a centre to give voice to the indigenous peoples. He spoke of memorable interactions in tribal villages, such as the visit to a poor family where the mother offered him the only food available – one small roti (bread). Initially inquiring what he should it eat with, the woman responded ‘You eat it with the hunger in your belly’. ‘It shattered me like nothing else – they have hunger every day and yet they have even greater humanity. Yet in our arrogance, we think that we can teach them,’ said Devy, obviously still moved. He continued: ‘The real wisdom is with these people – people who are often so tragically neglected.’

He observed how egalitarian these communities are, and often their only assets are the silver bangles they wear and guard to be able to monetize them in an economic crisis. He discovered many paying interest rates as high as 120% on loans, and was able to start successful micro-finance institutions to deal with this unjust situation.

Rajmohan Gandhi acknowledged his friend and colleague Niketu Iralu from Nagaland, in Northeast India, as ‘the greatest servant leader he has come across’, and asked him to comment on how he could be away from his beloved Nagaland for decades serving in many parts of India and the world. He then requested Iralu to describe ‘the amazing reconciliation work’ he and his wife are now doing in Nagaland.

Iralu explained: ‘What has helped me in this delicate work is to acknowledge where we have individually gone wrong and act on that. Even if the search for Nagaland peace seems interminable, we need to remember Mahatma Gandhi’s approach “Keep the process clean – and then the outcome will be all right.” At times we are too eager to harvest the fruit from the tree, when it is more urgent to ensure the health of the small sapling.’

Devy then asked Gandhi to comment on sacrifice. Is it in itself a virtue? Gandhi replied: ‘I pray that if the moment comes that some great aim requires ultimate bodily sacrifice, I would be willing to offer it. But what I think that the world requires of me, what the Almighty requires of me, is to sacrifice my ego, pride, selfishness, my self-centeredness.  It means the daily saying “no” to one’s desires which conflict with one’s great calling. I also believe that in doing what it is right to do - even if it can be unpleasant at the time - it is fantastically the right thing to do.’

Devy then asked: ‘Can obedience to the inner voice lead you to saying “no” to what is being asked of you? When does it become necessary, even a sacred duty, to disobey?’

Gandhi replied: ‘First, one has to check one’s inner motives as completely as possible – do I want publicity, some fame, or to work off some kind of anger? All these things disqualify a certain path. But if after all checks, all questioning, you are clear that what is being asked of you is wrong, then obedience to the inner voice will mean disobedience.’

Devy was asked what role anger might play in pursuing just causes. He recalled being baffled as a young boy by the story of a Hindu goddess – a tigress struggling with a demon. ‘It was explained to me like this: If you are a coward, you get angry when something happens to you. If you are brave, you get angry when something wrong happens to others. I was a coward as a child, and tried not to be one. So ever since, when something bad happens to someone else, I try to turn it into constructive action for a good cause.’

Gandhi, asked if he concurred with this, added:

‘It is very easy for anger to turn into hatred.  Anger against injustice can turn into anger against individuals, and I do not give hatred of individuals any positive value.’

Gandhi left the audience with a thought which had recently kept coming to him: ‘Every person I run into is a very important person.  As I believe in listening to my inner voice, I need to be reminded in my daily morning time – as overnight my human nature takes over – of the pricelessness of every human being.’

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