New Delhi, Sandip Roy : In his book ‘India After Gandhi’, Ramchandra Guha recounts a conversation between Mahatma Gandhi and his friend in Calcutta in September, 1947. After brutal violence in the city, when Gandhi decided to go on a fast, his friend, trying to convince him to break his fast, told Gandhi, “If you die the conflagration will be worse.”
“At least I won’t be there to witness it,” said Gandhi. “I shall have done my bit.”
Such was the resolve of the man who once went to a village called Mewat, a Muslim-dominated village near Delhi in Haryana, which had witnessed genocide against the Muslims.
“Large numbers had been killed. The record is of 30,000 but that’s the official record. The unofficial record is of many, many more,” says Shail Mayaram, Professor at the Centre of Study for Developing Societies in New Delhi.
“This is one of the largest communities of Muslims in India,” says Mayaram. “It was considered by many people that such a large presence (of Muslims) so close to the new capital in the new country was actually dangerous.”
The Muslims of Mewat, known as Meos, then decided, like so many others at that time, to leave their homes for good and go to Pakistan. Many were even willing to walk on foot across the desert to reach Pakistan.
It was at this time that Gandhi came to the village and asked them to stay. Khalid, a caretaker at the Gandhi school in Mewat, said that the Mahatma even vowed to lay down on the street so that the Meos would have to step over him and go. Gandhi also promised the Meos all the respect they wanted and deserved in India.
Around 70,000 Muslims stayed back. “Without Gandhiji, Mewat would’ve emptied out,” said Khalid.
Since that time, the village was renamed Gandhi Gram. The village, despite its history of violence and bloodshed, also has a history of plurality as the people have their own version of the Hindu epic Mahabharata composed by a Muslim.
Gandhi’s promises ,however, were not kept as the village is a backward region with low education and employment. Even then, Khalid says, “Today, we are proud of the fact that we decided to stay back in India.”
Perhaps it is the pride behind the fact that the Mahatma himself came to Mewat to convince the Muslims to stay back that Khalid talks about.