Wednesday, 14 November 2018

History of Struggle against the Renaming of Ahmedabad City




No sooner did the BJP leaders of Gujarat announce the intention of changing the name of Ahmedabad to Karnavati just before Diwali on 7th of November 2018, mood of many people changed from festivity to heated debate and furor across the State. For many of us, an online petition initiated by Bandish Soparkar on change.org protesting name change came to immediate rescue https://www.change.org/p/legislative-assembly-of-gujarat-do-not-change-the-name-of-the-city-ahmedabad



Many chose to ignore the family reunion over Diwali and shared the petition online fervently through the night. In less than twenty four hours, the signatories rose to seven thousand! In just three days the number of people registering their protest rose to over fifteen thousand, keeping the auspicious Diwali celebrations on the side! 


Jali at Sidi Saiyyad Mosque, Symbol of Ahmedabad. Photo: Wikipedia




There has been no looking back since as social workers, architects, students, historians, common people continue to register their opposition and demand that Ahmedabad remain Ahmedabad. Soon a group of over two hundred and fifty young people started a twitter protest with #IAmAhmedabad and a WhatsAPP group- Save Heritage Ahmedabad. By then, newspapers began to report the protests, some of the first being, The Wire, The Week, CounterView and among the regional, Sandesh, Ahmedabad Mirror, Divya Bhaskar, etc, etc.  Not only did the newspapers report the protests accurately but also published opinion of eminent people against name change. Some of the newspapers took lead and began reporting the growing sentiment of the common people against name change and the difficulties people would face if the name of the city were to be changed. Importantly, many regional newspapers gave space to academic history of the city of Ahmedabad against rhetoric and majoritarian falsehood. 





This lead to further awakening and soon individual protests and statements snowballed on social media. Those who found it easier registered their protest by posting individual voice and video recordings on Face Book and Twitter. Video of a small girl protesting against change of name became popular. Online voting exercise was started by different groups and some of the early trends showed overwhelming support to not changing the name of the city.  It was only when jokes on the proposition of name change began to make rounds that one knew that half the battle has been won.


Young Women protesting with I love Ahmedabad Tattoos, as reported in a news paper


The post says, if at all the name of Ahmedabad is changed, people will be kept busy changing their Adhaar, Election, Paan and so many other cards and documents. The intention of the Government is to not let people be free at all.


 Finally after six anxious days of tense campaign for many during otherwise fun Diwali days, when protests on social media turned humorous, many who had taken the lead on the first day after the announcement breathed a sigh of relief. Opposition to the changing of the name of Ahmedabad city is now catching up fast. The following news web portal - Moje Gujarat shows how and why the people of Gujarat are angry against name change of India's first UNESCO heritage city and how BJP seems to be on the back foot: 




However people are not taking things easy and the protests against changing the name of Ahmedabad may take the scale of #VikasGandoThayoChe (#DevelopmentHasGoneMad) that one witnessed just before the 2017 State elections. The protest at that time in 2017 critiquing the Gujarat Model of Development had become so popular that the entire top level BJP team and machinery including the PM Mr. Modi had to campaign for State elections for several weeks leaving all other work on the side. And yet, the BJP came to power with much lower seat count in the State in 2017.
 

On the other side, for the BJP and the right wing Hindutva politicians changing the name of the city of Ahmedabad has been a long desire. Unfortunately for them, each time, the people of Ahmedabad and Gujarat have stood up and protested and they have had to retreat. The following interview with one of the most important public figures of Gujarat, Late Shri Girishbhai Patel throws light on the earlier battle of the people of the State that thwarted the earlier attempt by BJP to change the name of Ahmedabad. To a Gujarati, Girishbhai needs no introduction. For others, Girishbhai was known as the PIL (Public Interest Litigation) man of Gujarat who had filed over two hundred PILs for greater common good and for the underprivileged communities of the State. The interview of Girishbhai taken by me in the years 2009 and 2017 is part of my forth coming book on peoples’ history of Gujarat. I reproduce some select excerpts from the interview here where Girishbhai talks about their struggle against naming Ahmedabad as Karnavati. The interview is in Gujarati, select excerpts are translated here in English:



Girishbhai: “… here in Gujarat, Nalin Bhatt from Baroda was the leader of BJP. He was the Health Minister. He issued a fatwa that on every Dashera, there should be a poojan in every single hospital. During Dashera the tradition actually is that pooja of weapons is performed. As there are no weapons in hospitals, pooja of medical equipment would have to be carried out! [Laughs] I said, “Sir, look at the approach, medical equipment in hospitals are now considered weapons!” [Laughs] We filed a petition against that order. The High Court judge hearing the matter here, who later became a judge in the Supreme Court was a staunch person and asked me, “What is your objection to this? What is wrong in performing poojan?” I said “Sir, suppose I am a Muslim, I would not participate, not because I am opposed to your worship but this is a public institution.” After forty five minutes of arguments in the court, the judge issued a notice. That notice proved to be a blessing because at that time a conflict had arisen between Chimanbhai Patel and Keshubhai Patel. Chimanbhai was the Chief Minister at that time and he did not want that something like this should happen. But Chimanbhai had no courage to speak out as he had no majority. It was a joint Government of the two. No sooner did the court issues a notice that the circular was withdrawn. Pooja was stopped. 



"The other important victory was concerning the changing of the name of the Ahmedabad city. Back then, they (BJP) tried to change the name of Ahmedabad to Karnavati twice. The Ahmedabad Corporation mostly had members belonging to the BJP in those days. It was the V.P Singh Government at the center I think. These people decided to change the name of Ahmedabad to Karnavati as they did not want the history of Ahmed Shah to be reflected in the name of the city. The intention was to remove the name of a Muslim. Many of our friends came together. All our friends collectively worked hard and discovered/researched the history of the City. We found that there was a village of an Adivasi chieftain somewhere here. I have forgotten the name of the Adivasi ruler but there is also a temple to his name somewhere nearby. Therefore we insisted that if you wish to change the name of Ahmedabad, you will have to change it to the original Adivasi name[1]. We filed a petition in the High Court stating the procedure and the various steps that would have to be undertaken in order to change the name of the city. If the name is to be changed, there is so much to be done and so many procedures to be followed that it is not easy. Besides, the name would have to be changed at so many places including in the railway, post, etc, etc...


The Ahmedabad High Court issued a notice and the matter was admitted. In those days, George Fernandes was in our favor. Discussions were held with George Fernandes about this matter and ultimately, the Central Government did not give permission for the name change. That attempt was frustrated. Once again, the second time when the BJP Government was in power that a renewed attempt to change the name of Ahmedabad was made. Once again we fought and once again Fernandes came to our help. This second attempt was also frustrated. This was the third important event where we thwarted these people’s saffronisation process. Even today these (BJP) people regret not being able to change the name of Ahmedabad to Karnnavati. They use the name Karnavati unofficially but officially they could not change it into Karnavati….”







As reported in the newspaper Sandesh above, dated 14-October-1998, a petition was filed by the President of Council of Social Justice, Shri Valjibhai Patel, Professor Nisar Ansari, Govindbhai Solanki, Anishaben Mirza and others challanging the resolution passed by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation on 11-May-1998 to change the name of the Ahmedabad. Advocate Girish Patel, Harubhai Mehta and Ketan Dave represented the petitioners in the Gujarat High Court. Representing the Government, Additional Advocate General, Shri S.N. Shelat placed before the court a letter by the Home Ministry, Government of India stating that there was no plan to change the name of the City. The Court taking on record the letter, dismissed the matter. Interestingly, the Prime Minister at that time was late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Home Minister was Lal Krishna Advani and George Fernandes was the Defense Minister. 

Thus, in the past also the people of Gujarat have fought tooth and nail to retain the heritage and culture of Ahmedabad and its name against great odds- fighting money and muscle power with sheer grit and determination. Today, once again people of the State fight with all their might against the unprecedented muscle, money and State power, not allowing the struggle of the previous generation go waste. While BJP may forget its NDA partners like George Fernandes and their legacy, the younger generation of Gujarat will fight to preserve the secular legacy of the State inherited from stalwarts like Girishbhai Patel and countless others. 


Nandini Oza

14-November-18






[1] Those who wish to know the academic history of the naming of Ahmedabad city and not merely majoritarian falsehood and rhetoric, see: https://ahmedabadmirror.indiatimes.com/ahmedabad/cover-story/historical-or-fictional-city-choice-is-yours/articleshow/66611534.cms
Or read the book titled, Shahernama, by Saroopben Dhruv

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Giving Kasturaba her due on Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary




Even the most deserving of women do not find a place that equals their worth in history. Kasturba is one such woman whose contribution to India’s struggle for freedom has been exemplary and yet, it has not received the recognition it deserves. Kastur Makhanji Kapadia was born in the year 1869, the same year and in the same town of Porbandar in Gujarat as Gandhiji. In fact she was older than Gandhiji by a few months. This is Kasturba’s 150th birth anniversary year too. Popularly known as simply Ba (mother, in Gujarati), passed away while incarcerated in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune by the British. 

Kasturba. Photo Source: Gettyimages


Kasturba’s life journey was extraordinary, particularly in the context of the era she was born in. It was way back in the year 1913, when not many Indian women ventured out of home that Kasturba was sentenced to three months of hard labor in South Africa for having lead a team of satyagrahies. Gandhiji was not a part of the team she led. Kasturba was already a mother when she passed the harsh three months in Martizburg jail.  



About this episode, Manmohan Kaur in the book titled, ‘Women in India’s Freedom Struggle’, writes: 



“The women in the Phoenix Farm could not stay back. They joined the struggle. Mahatma Gandhi did not tell his wife Kasturba Gandhi about this programme, but she overheard the conversation and came to Gandhiji and said: ‘I am sorry that you are not telling me about this. What defect is there in me which disqualifies me for the jail?...Gandhiji replied thus: ‘I would be only too glad if you went to jail but it should not appear at all as if you went at my instance.’ She assured her husband: ‘You may have nothing to do with me if being unable to stand jail I secure my release by an apology. If you can endure hardships and so can my boys, why can’t I? I am bound to join the struggle...”



Kasturba was jailed several times thereafter and played an important role in the social and political history our country. Yet, popular books on history of the time either have no reference to her contribution or have cursory references to her role. Even where her contribution is referred to in some detail, it is often her role as a subordinate to Gandhiji that is highlighted. It is only when one digs further that her role as an independent thinking woman and a freedom fighter in her own right comes to light more clearly. 

 
Kasturba second from right in a meeting with American women in 1931 in Mumbai. Photo Source: 2il.org




The other issue is, and is rightly put by Ved Mehta in his book titled, ‘Mahatma Gandhi and his Apostles’, while referring to two standard bibliographies of Gandhian literature, “...One gets the impression that practically everyone who ever spoke to Gandhi and could put pen to paper has written something about him, and by now his every thought and action has been worked over and preserved by his editors, biographers and bibliographers”. In comparison, about Kasturba he writes, “...Gandhi’s wife was neglected in life and seems to have been all but overlooked after death.”

 
Kasturba with Gandhiji and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Photo Source: Navbharat


 It would be important for historians to focus and examine the available records and primary sources to place Kasturba’s contribution to the country first and foremost as an independent woman and a freedom fighter in her own right, and then her role in the context of her extraordinarily challenging life as the wife, in the shadow of her husband, the Mahatma himself.  



It has happened that along with Gandhiji’s political growth, Kasturba’s growth happened too and Gandhiji did help her step out of home to struggle for freedom and against injustice. But soon, she came into her own and became independent in many different ways. The times also demanded that she become self reliant as Gandhiji, when not in jail, was touring extensively, often leaving Kasturba to fend at home, and the ashrams and even the political struggles. 

 
Kasturba 2nd from left. Photo Source https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/from-the-land-of-gandhi/article6793989.ece


Kasturba with Gandhiji and Rabindranath Tagore. Photo Source: Wikipedia

This conclusion is not difficult to draw from some of the records I quote as examples here.While Mahadevbhai Desai’s diaries in Gujarati in twenty three volumes focus primarily on events around Gandhiji, one gets glimpses of the firebrand freedom fighter that Kasturba was. I highlight some nothings from the diary here (Volume 1, year 1932): 



 “Yesterday there was news that Ba had gone on a tour of the Bardoli Taluka (in Gujarat). Therefore I [Mahadevbhai ] said, ‘This time Ba will get six months (in jail).’

“Bapu (Gandhi) said, ‘It will not be a surprise if she gets class ‘C’ (jail) and is sentenced to hard labour.’

 “Just then the same news appeared. On getting the news, Bapu’s joy knew no bounds. He laughed aloud. He then spoke only this much: ‘Were they not ashamed to sentence a sixty year old woman to hard labour!’”



At another place, Mahadevbhai notes (Volume 17, year 1923):



“Kasturba had promised that, ‘if the soldiers are ready then I will most definitely join you.’ This is because she finds living outside while Gandhiji is in jail worse than death. I have faith that keeping Kasturba in the lead, the army of people going to jail will get Gandhiji released.”



Kasturba’s contribution in addressing meetings especially of women, fund raising, running the ashrams where she and Gandhiji resided, spinning, propagating khadi and swadeshi, engaging in political discussions etc during the struggle for freedom has been phenomenal. This comes to light when one reads some of the primary and secondary sources available to us. In the book, ‘Women in India’s Freedom Struggle,’ Manmohan Kaur writes: 



“Kasturba...presided over meetings and also toured the various States propagating for the success of the movement. Presiding over the Gujarat Provincial Conference she condemned untouchability and preached Swadeshi...when it was reported to her that her son Devdas Gandhi has been arrested, she took the news saying: ‘Only two of my sons have gone to jail, but twenty thousand sons of mother Hind are in jail; how can I bemoan my lot!’”



    In the book, “The Untold Story of Kasturba, Wife of Mahatma         Gandhi" Arun and Sunanda Gandhi with Carol Lynn Yellin write: 



In 1938, spontaneous uprisings against arbitrary rule by local princes began erupting across India...But not until protests broke out in Rajkot did the crises reach its climax... on February 3, 1939, she [Kasturba] was summarily arrested and...was taken to Tramba to be confined... [Later] Ba was not only released from solitary confinement, but her companions Maniben Patel and Mridula Sarabhai, detained separately in Rajkot jails, were brought to Tramba to share her captivity in the royal bungalow...”



Further: 



“For my grandparents, the year 1933 became a cycle of arrests, jails, fasts, releases and re-arrests...soon Kasturba was arrested again – the sixth time in just two years- and given another six-month sentence  to be served in Sabarmati Jail. Apparently the British now regarded Mrs. Gandhi, due to her own unique ability to involve women in the independence movement, as an even more threat to law and order than Gandhi himself...”



The influence that Kasturba wielded on women during the freedom struggle is corroborated in Mahadevbhai’s diaries when he writes in reference to the Nagpur Satyagraha (Volume 18, year 1923-24):  



“...The end of Nagpur order will be on August 17. It is to be seen what the Government does. If the new order is not passed, defeat will have to be accepted. If there is a new order, the struggle will continue. And now the new struggle will begin with Kasturba in the lead. By sending women, will the youth remain behind?”



Reading Sushila Nayar’s book titled, ‘Kasturba - A Personal Reminiscence’, one can understand the diverse roles that Kasturba performed and the qualities that she had. I quote:



“I again went to the Ashram during the summer vacations. My brother (Gandhi’s secretary Pyarelal) and Bapu at the time were in jail as a result of Salt Satyagraha. Ba was touring from village to village seeing workers, visiting the victims of police excesses in hospitals, and in their homes and talking to the people to infuse courage and enthusiasm into them.”



“In 1935, I went to Wardha...I saw Ba labouring from morning till night at all sorts of domestic chores, visiting the sick, talking to workers...I happened to go to Wardha again in November the same year. At that time Ba’s youngest son Devdas Gandhi was ill. He was suffering from a nervous breakdown. The patience and deep understanding with which she looked after him was extraordinary... she took him to Shimla...my brother (Pyarelal) has told me that her motherly love and commonsense did more for Devdas than all the doctors combined. Her son recovered and she came back to Gandhiji.”



It is not just about looking after their four sons, but when it came to Laxmi, their adopted daughter who also is often absent from books on Gandhiji, Kasturba played an important role after her initial reluctance in accepting her. Recounting her experience in jail in 1932, Laxmi has said in her interview:



“...we were taken to Sabarmati jail where Kasturba was also locked up and since she was an A class prisoner she often passed on to us some bread and butter. The food was horrible so we made do with the supply and we spent 17 days in this jail after which we were transferred to the Yervada jail in Poona. Kasturba protested saying that we were still young and should not be transferred from one jail to another. But no one listened to us and we landed in Yervada where we met Sarojini Naidoo who was serving her sentence there. She was in the next cell and so she took care of us like Kasturba did...”



It was also because Kasturba was a threat to the British and because of the influence she wielded on the masses, particularly women that she too was arrested and jailed along with other leaders during the Quit India movement in August 1942. She was past seventy years of age and yet she was picked up along with Sushila Nayar to be brought first to the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai. About this arrest Sushila Nayar writes: 



“The news of Gandhi’s arrest spread like lightening speed. People started pouring to the Birla House and Ba was kept busy talking to someone or the other the whole day...Bapu was to address a public meeting at Shivaji Park that evening. Ba announced that she would address the meeting instead of him and people were thrilled to hear it...the car that was to take us to the meeting was commandeered by the police and was used as a prison van to take us- Ba and myself and my brother to the Arthur Road Prison... 'They won’t let us out alive this time,' she [Kasturba] spoke at last...”



The conditions in Arthur Road Jail were appalling and Kasturba, who was already unwell, had no proper medical care. Later they were shifted to the Aga Khan Palace where Gandhiji had been jailed along with Mahadevbhai Desai. It was here that Kasturba witnessed the passing away of Mahadevbhai, their close aide. She also endured Gandhiji’s twenty days’ fast in captivity.  All of this finally took a toll on Kasturba’s already failing health and she breathed her last in British custody on 22nd February 1944, never to see her country free for which she had struggled powerfully. 



It is essential that we commemorate the life of Kasturba too, along with Gandhiji on their 150th birth anniversary.  


Nandini Oza
1 October 2018