How our history is being corrupted
Feb 02 2014
I am not an expert in ancient history, yet I am fascinated by it and get enraged by its corruption. I will talk about the subject I have made myself an expert of — the history of Bapu’s murder. Here, I express my lament about how evidence associated with the events of January 1948 have been obliterated and today, how ill-informed, self-proclaimed historians are confusing the reality. Recently, a fictitious account of what was claimed to be the last two days of Bapu’s life, was published in a leading news weekly.
A few weeks ago, I was at Gandhi Smriti, the erstwhile Birla House and home of Seth Ghanshyamdas Birla in New Delhi, where Bapu stayed his last 150 odd days, from September 1947 till his murder on the evening of January 30, 1948. Although such a historical event had happened here, it became a national monument only in the mid-60s. In the initial days of an infant nation, many important happenings had also taken place here.
Today, visitors to Gandhi Smriti return without understanding the history of the place. What they take away with them is the knowledge that Bapu was murdered here, but no narrative of the place. After Birla House was bought by the government and turned into Gandhi Smriti, it has been ‘managed’ by the ministry of culture as an autonomous institution by a board headed by the prime minister who is its chairperson, a deputy chairperson and a director. Right until the 1990s, Gandhi Smriti remained fairly untouched and turned unkempt, but there was a serenity about the place as its historic sanctity was maintained. After Bapu’s murder, while it remained the Birla family’s home, the Birlas changed a few things; the pavilion behind where Bapu sat for his prayer meeting was altered and history was trifled with.
The Birlas got a beautiful mural about Bapu’s life and philosophy installed there. This, however, blocked the visual signs of the failed attempt to end Bapu’s life on January 20, 1948. The ventilator grill behind which Bapu sat for prayers, and from where Digambar Badge was supposed to shoot Bapu and throw a hand grenade at him after Madanlal Pahwa exploded a bomb to create panic in the prayer meeting on the evening of January 20, was walled over and obliterated. The damage caused by the bomb that Pahwa exploded just about 75 feet from where Bapu sat, was repaired and thus, lost as a visual evidence of the attack.
The Birlas lived here and could not keep the damaged wall and structure in the same condition. But after it was acquired, why was no attempt to have a visual representation or a textual narration of the event installed? When I was researching for my book Let’s Kill Gandhi! I could not locate where Pahwa had exploded the bomb. Visitors to Gandhi Smriti today don’t even know that 10 days before Bapu was murdered, the same bunch of murderers, with a few more accomplices, had made an unsuccessful attempt on Bapu’s life and had escaped too.
Even visual signs of the event of the January 30 have been obliterated. A structure has evolved from a plain stone tablet, commemorating the site where Bapu fell, into a shrine and maybe in another 50 years, will become a temple. History will then turn into folklore and people will have no evidence to challenge myths because there will be no evidence left of the real events that happened there.
On a previous visit to Gandhi Smriti, I had noticed that the servant’s quarters had been demolished and some new structures — toilets and some cabins or maybe offices — were constructed in their place. The servant’s quarters were a vital part of the chronicle of the failed attempt on January 20 — also the last visual indication of the event — which have now been obliterated. I was annoyed by this latest assault on the history of the place. What angers me even more is that no one responsible to preserve the monument and its history even cares.
In the 1990s and the first decade of 2000, ambitious directors had rampantly added structures in the campus with absolute disregard for the historicity of that place. They seem to have been able to carry out constructions without any checks to ensure that demolitions and additions do not obliterate or corrupt the authenticity of the place.
Recently, the prime minister instituted a body called the Gandhi Heritage Commission. What it is empowered to do is not known, but what I definitely know is that they are not aware of the alterations happening at Gandhi Smriti today.
We, as a people, love to boast about our glorious past, but are not at all concerned about its sanctity. Like everything else, we callously allow our history and heritage to be corrupted.
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)