YES! WE KAN!
Three significant observances mark 9 August every year: the anniversary of the ‘Quit India Movement’, the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Though each of these observances have their own specificity, there is a deep inter-connectedness among all three, particularly in the values that they are intended to highlight on a day like this! Three underlying words emphasize this” Kranti (meaning ‘revolution’), Adivasi (the Indian word for ‘indigenous people) and Nagasaki (the bombed city)
A call to revolution! A call for change! A call for freedom. It was a clarion call given by Mahatma Gandhi, when on 8 August, 1942 at the Bombay session of All India Congress Committee, he introduced the resolution to start a ‘Quit India Movement’. The resolution was unanimously passed at that historic meeting. Later, Gandhi gave a fiery speech at Mumbai’s Gowalia Tank Maidan (today known as August Kranti Maidan) marking the beginning of the Quit India Movement. He said, “There is a mantra, a short one that I give you. You imprint it in your heart and let every breath of yours give an expression to it. The mantra is do or die. We shall either be free or die in the attempt.”.
The next day on 9 August, the ‘kranti’ had begun; they were out on the streets demanding that the British should leave India immediately! Most of the leaders, who belonged to every strata of society were arrested. On expected lines none of the ‘sanghis’ who belonged to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) (founded in 1925) were there demanding that the British leave. There is enough of the historical evidence to show how they ‘toed’ the line of their British masters. Sadly, they rule the country today and have destroyed India in every possible way. Gandhi’s mantra for a new Kranti is today loud and clear, as never before!
A people we need to acknowledge and celebrate today on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The theme this year (with an appropriate explanation from the UN) is ‘COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience’. Indigenous communities already face a host of challenges, and the unfortunate present reality is that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are worsening these challenges further still. Indigenous communities already experience poor access to health care, significantly higher rates of diseases, lack of access to essential services, sanitation, and other key preventive measures, such as clean water, soap, disinfectant, etc. Likewise, most nearby local medical facilities are often under-equipped and under-staffed.
Even when indigenous peoples can access health care services, they can face stigma and discrimination. A key factor is to ensure services and facilities are provided in indigenous languages, as appropriate to the specific situation of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples’ traditional lifestyles are a source of their resiliency and can also pose a threat at this time in preventing the spread of the virus. For example, most indigenous communities regularly organize large traditional gatherings to mark special events e.g. harvests, coming of age ceremonies, etc. Some indigenous communities also live in multi-generational housing, which puts Indigenous peoples and their families, especially the Elders, at risk.
Furthermore, indigenous peoples already face food insecurity as a result of the loss of their traditional lands and territories or even climate change effects. They also confront even graver challenges accessing food. With the loss of their traditional livelihoods, which are often land-based, many indigenous peoples, who work in traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the informal sector, will be adversely affected by the pandemic. The situation of indigenous women, who are often the main providers of food and nutrition to their families, is even graver. In India, the Government is making every effort to destroy the identity of the adivasis. The Draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 makes it easier for forests to be destroyed and natural resources to be looted by the Corporate Sector and the ilk of the ruling regime. Today the legitimate rights of the Adivasis (the original inhabitants of our land) are being denied to them; they cry out for Justice, Access, Inclusiveness: JAI ADIVASI!
Exactly 75 years ago and three days after Hiroshima was razed to the ground with the terrible nuclear bomb, the port city of Nagasaki met with a similar fate. It was not on the original list of cities that were meant to be bombed by the US and their allies. It was apparently a last-minute inclusion. Being a shipbuilding centre, it was the very industry intended for destruction. The bomb was dropped at 11:02 a.m., 1,650 feet above the city. The explosion unleashed the equivalent force of 22,000 tons of TNT. The hills that surrounded the city did a better job of containing the destructive force, but the number killed is estimated at anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 (exact figures are impossible, the blast having obliterated bodies and disintegrated records). The pain, the suffering, the destruction and the death will forever remain etched in human memory. The nuclear bomb had to be abhorred. Japan soon surrendered unconditionally. World War II ended some weeks later and the world said “Never Again!”
The day itself besides being replete with powerful historical significance and symbolism also holds a promise and hope for the future. There is something else which is very special about 9 August. On that day in 1942 ( the very day on which Gandhi and his companions were arrested in faraway Bombay), Edith Stein was killed by the Nazis in a gas chamber in Auschwitz concentration camp. Born in 1891, Edith was a brilliant German Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and later became a Discalced Carmelite nun( taking the religious name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). In 1998, she was canonized as a martyr and saint of the Catholic Church, and she is one of six co-patron saints of Europe. A person whose entire life reflected that faith works, hope sustains, charity strengthens and truth triumphs. The Church celebrates her feast on 9 August a fitting reminder of what holiness is all about!
Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States on 4 November 2008. That night in Chicago, he gave a memorable election victory speech which was heard and watched by millions all over the world! He also made constant reference to his popular campaign chant, “Yes We Can” He said , “and tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t; and the people who pressed on with that American creed: ‘Yes, we can’.” Our pledge today re-echoes a similar sentiment: the Kranti which we need to usher in, the rights of the Adivasis and of all people which we must defend and above all in the context of Nagasaki to say ‘NO” to every form of violence!
Yes, we KAN and we MUST!
The Author: Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer.