This evening I met the late Professor Ramchandra Gandhi’s brother, Rajmohan at the India International Center here in Delhi. Professor Gandhi is the single most influential person in my life so it was very meaningful for me to meet his brother. When I mentioned that his brother would speak to me in Tamil he also spoke a few words of Tamil to me and I could see Ramu Mama’s vivid continuation in his warm smile and polished demeanor. The event was chaired by the former Indian Ambassador to the United States, Lalit Mansingh. Professor Gandhi is a Research Professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he also served as a member of the Indian Parliament.

Rajmohan Gandhi spoke about his latest book, A Tale of Two Revolts, where he compares the 1857 revolt in India and the US Civil War. The Civil War began in 1861 just a few years after the 1857 revolt. Rajmohan Gandhi wrote this book for his own curiosity and didn’t set out to prove anything or establish any theories. He just wanted to journey to that period of time. Both Karl Marx and Leo Tolstoy had strong views about both historical events. The India-America story is fairly fresh and many cite Bill Clinton’s historical visit as the beginning of a relationship between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest. Rajmohan-ji was interested in seeing if there were any links that could be drawn between these two nations in the mid-1800s. As a social studies teacher with a keen interest in both India and America I found his talk fascinating.

His talk detailed aspects of his book including the rivalry between the US and Britain back then and similarities between the American notion of “Manifest Destiny” and Dalhousie’s very own  ideas of Westward Expansion in India. Expansion in India could make up for the loss of America in the eyes of Dalhousie. He also discussed that his book focused heavily on the writings of journalist, Wililam Howard Russell, a correspondent for the London Times during the mid-1800s. In a way, his book looked at the US and India through the eyes of this journalist.

One of the final points he made was a comparison between Abraham Lincoln and the leaders of the 1857 revolt. He argues that Lincoln was able to speak to the whole of American and tried to reconcile divisions and break polarization. However, in India the nation was deeply divided, polarization tremendous and no one spoke to “all” of India–this could be the reason why the revolt ultimately failed.

He concluded with how a lesson can be drawn from this comparison to the times of today and he spoke about the Naxalites and the suppression of them by the Indian government. Lincoln was able to in many ways at least speak to all sides which is something we still fail to do in India. I asked him how teachers can use this comparison he has made between India and America in the mid-1800s to support his brother’s vision of a socially engaged Advaita Vedanta. He urged me to re-examine the Gettysburg address and read Lincoln’s second inaugural address because both of these documents are masterpieces of literature and statesmanship that speak to “the other side” in an inclusive way.

What follows is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Fellow-Countrymen: AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the causeof the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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