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Forgive us Father, your nation has gone to Godse’s children

Jarnail Singh
Surrey artist Jarnail Singh created this image of Narendra Modi offering a garland to Mohandas K. Gandhi while still showing his devotion to Gandhi's arch rival, V.D. Savarkar.

B.C. writer Gurpreet Singh wrote this Father’s Day letter to Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1948 by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse.

Dear Bapu,

Happy Father’s Day to you.

Today, I miss you even more than the years when I first came to know about you, growing up as kid in India.

I don’t mind calling you Bapu even though many of my friends might be outraged for ideological reasons. So be it. After all, I was taught in the school that you are the father of the nation and had brought freedom to the country without shedding blood. In our culture, that’s how we treat elders.

I do not agree with everything you said and did, but that also applies to my late biological father, whom I loved in spite of many differences.

I still remember how we used to stand up in the classrooms for a moment of silence in your memory every January 30th, the day of your murder at the hands of a Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, at the sound of a distant siren to mark your martyrdom.

Since then, I became curious to understand why someone would kill a saintly figure like you who had led a passive-resistance movement against British occupation of our country. This partly generated in me an interest for reading. I even found a copy of Godse’s confession and read it.

I was convinced that you were a voice of reason and were crucified for merely standing up for Hindu-Muslim unity, keeping India united, and opposing religious partition of the nation that led to the formation of a separate Muslim Pakistan. That Godse was a bigot became clear to me.

I continued to read more about your assassination to delve into the depth of the issue, which I found wasn’t discussed much into school or in public spaces. I mostly came across two kinds of people: those who loved you for being a messiah of peace or those who hated you. The fact that you laid down your life for the sake of secularism and diversity was hardly discussed passionately except in a very limited circle of friends who care.

What pained me more was that you were killed by a self-proclaimed defender of Hinduism. Godse who believed in Hindu supremacy, could not digest your brand of tolerant Hinduism. It was unacceptable that a practising Hindu like yourself fell to the bullets of Godse.

I gradually learned from several books I read over the years that you were a target of constant hate from the Hindu Right. It was bothered by your opposition against anything promoted by ultra-Hindu nationalists, including untouchability, which barred Dalits from entering temples.

There had been several attempts on your life much before 1948, the year of your murder. So it’s all a lie that they punished you at the spur of the moment for asking for peace with Pakistan following Partition.

The very first attack in 1934, in which you survived, was followed by a few more before the fatal one in 1948.

This shows that they were always after your life. It’s rather sad that this story has largely remained untold and only a superficial version of the saga of your murder has been popularized, especially by supporters of right-wing Hindu groups. So much so, Godse’s followers continue to glorify him and celebrate your death until today.

Their argument given by them in defence has blinded many Hindus, who actually think that you were soft on Muslims and pro-Pakistan—and that was the reason behind your death. They conveniently overlook the fact that you also fasted for peace in Muslim-dominated areas where the Hindu minority became the target of violence during Partition.

I have come to the conclusion that Godse alone wasn’t responsible for your demise. He represented an ideology that still lives and is thriving particularly, under the current BJP government in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been trying to fool the world by paying tributes to you, also reveres V.D. Savarkar, the man who was alleged to have been involved in your murder. Though he was acquitted by the mortal courts, he remains guilty in the eyes of those who have been following Indian history. If this were not enough, some of Modi’s party colleagues have shamelessly praised Godse.

Among them is Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who was charged in connection with bombings targeting Muslims. Due to Modi’s blessing, she sits in parliament, while others like her remain off the hook in spite of being involved in violent activities, just as Godse and his gang were.

In 2002, the Modi government had failed to intervene in anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat. It brought your home state into disrepute—a place previously known for your legacy of love and brotherhood.

Attacks on religious minorities have grown across India since Modi became prime minister in 2014. The India that you had envisioned is lost and we are dealing with an oppressive Hindu nation in the making. Those who question this can face imprisonment and sedition laws, which are what you had to endure during British rule.

But let’s face it, Bapu: the party that was closer to you must also take blame for Modi’s ascendance to power.

Congress, which claims to be secular, also indulged in divisive politics in the past, emboldening Modi and the BJP. While there was no orchestrated violence against Maharashtrian Brahmins—the community that Godse belonged to—following your murder, the Sikh minority became victim of a state-sponsored massacre by Congress led goons in the aftermath of the assassination of then-prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

This encouraged Modi’s party to repeat this history in Gujarat against Muslims in 2002 to polarize Hindu majority.

You could not be naïve, Bapu. Congress was never sincere to the cause that was so close to your heart. They abandoned you when you were opposing Partition. That a police lapse led to your murder despite previous attempts only reveals the truth of anti-Muslim prejudices within the law enforcement under Congress’ss administration. Similar prejudices against Sikhs and the Muslims within the police ranks showed themselves up in 1984 and 2002, respectively. Not only did police incite the mobs, but looked away when they came after unarmed members of these communities.

I accuse Hindu majoritarianism of taking your life. And its continued growth shows that this country has gone to Godse’s children. Proof can be found in films rationalizing Godse’s crime, which are being produced and distributed brazenly in the current environment. It’s not just the fringe Hindu groups who consider him a hero.

The last time I visited the Birla House, where you were shot to death, I was shocked to see very few people coming in to pay homage. In contrast, Indira Gandhi’s official residence, which has been turned into a museum, attracted bus loads of tourists from all over India.

Perhaps that explains why global leaders who often praise your commitment to non-violence remain indifferent to the relationship between your dastardly murder and the present government. If the Indian state itself were honest in acknowledging and addressing majoritarian terrorism, that wouldn’t have been the case globally.

With due respect Bapu, you could have also prevented this from happening had you avoided mixing religion and politics. By advocating for cow protection and Hindu spiritualism, not questioning the caste system, and only challenging untouchability, you gave people like Modi an excuse to use religion in a more extreme manner. While your intentions were good, the consequences are before us.

Rest in Peace

Gurpreet Singh

Concerned Canadian of Indian origin

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Gurpreet Singh

Gurpreet Singh is a B.C. author and cofounder of Radical Desi.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.