Gandhi’s final fast (January 13-18, 1948): On the 70th anniversary to mark this historic protest, The Wire recalls the politics and ideals Gandhi represented and sacrificed his life for.
Below is the full text Mahatma Gandhi’s discourse at the prayer meeting on January 15, 1948, the second day of his final fast. It has been taken from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.
Brothers and sisters,
Yesterday I said I might not be able to come to the meeting today. But I have managed it. However, from tomorrow or the day after I may not be in a condition to move about. Doctors have advised me rest from today. I have placed myself not in the hands of the doctors but in the hands of God. I have no such attachment for life that I must live under any circumstances. Whether I die or live is wholly in the hands of God. I can only pray that my faith may remain firm and no one may interfere in my acting on that faith.
Today man has become weak. He asks: where is God? I want everyone to become strong. Only then can we escape misery. The few things I wanted to say to you I had in fact dictated in English, because I was not sure what my physical condition would be. I thought if I could not speak to you, a translation of the message could be read out. It was intended not only for you but for the millions in the country who would hear it on the radio and those who want to hear in my own voice what I have to say. I am a prisoner of their love and I thought that they had better hear my own voice today. I feel that a 36 hours’ fast is very useful physically. It cleanses the body and can cause no harm. True, I have to conserve my energy for the future but God will see to that.
I have been receiving many telegrams from all quarters – a lot of them from Muslims. I have also had cablegrams from outside India. I have told Pyarelal to pick out the most relevant of them. Not all need be published; only the few that can teach something to the people should be published. There are others which say that I should give up the fast and all will be well. But how can I give up the fast? God inspired the fast and He alone may terminate it. I have a telephonic message from Mridulabehn. She is in Lahore. She has a large number of friends among Muslims. She is a Hindu girl. The fast has distressed her. I carried her in my arms when she was a little girl. Now she has grown up. She goes about everywhere all by herself. She says Muslims, even officers in the Pakistan government, are asking her what they can do for me, now that I am doing what I am doing for their sake. This pleased me. I do not know whether my message has reached them. By tomorrow it will certainly reach them. My answer is that there is no need for them to ask. Although this yajna is being performed in Delhi it is for the whole country.
The fast is for self-purification. You must have God enthroned where today Satan sits enthroned. There must be some indication of it. Everybody cannot undertake a fast. It has become my proud privilege to do so. If everyone had this privilege they would have lived in amity. Hindus say, ‘Kill the Muslims.’ Muslims say, ‘Kill the Hindus.’ Sikhs say, ‘Kill the Muslims.’ If Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs fight in this way it helps no one. If you want to participate in the yajna, you must become brothers and should have love instead of hate in your hearts. Let all Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs pledge that they will not touch liquor, they will not touch opium. They will have nothing to do with adulterous men and adulterous women. Everyone will look upon other women as mothers or sisters or daughters. Everyone must exercise self-restraint and become clean. If they do all these things and if even then I regard Pakistan as full of sin, I will have to repent and say that Pakistan is not a land of sin but a land of purity. But what is needed is action, not mere words. If the Muslims of Pakistan become thus transformed, it is bound to have an effect in India. I have never tried to hide my view that Pakistan has committed crimes against Hindus.
What has happened in Karachi? Innocent Sikhs were murdered and their properties looted. Now I understand the same thing has happened in Gujarat. There was a caravan coming from Bannu or somewhere. They were all refugees running away to save their lives. They were waylaid and cut down. I do not want to relate this grim tale. I ask the Muslims if in their name this kind of thing continues in Pakistan, how long will the people in India tolerate it. Even if a hundred men like me fasted they would not be able to stop the tragedy that may follow. You should all become good. Whether you are Muslims or tribals, you must all say that you will have the Hindus and Sikhs back. The poet says, “If there is paradise it is here, it is here.” He had said it about a garden. I read it ages ago when I was a child. But paradise is not so easily secured. If Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs became decent, became brothers, then that verse could be inscribed on every door. But that will be only when Pakistan has become pure. But if you say one thing and do another, the place will become another hell. Cleanse your hearts and install God there. If that happens in Pakistan, we in India shall not be behind them. It does not matter that the country is geographically divided, so long as our hearts are one. There are so many different governments in the world. What does it matter if there are 50 or 500? There are seven hundred thousand villages in India. If each one of them had a government of their own it would be a good thing.
They tell me that I am mad and have a habit of going on fast on the slightest pretext. But I am made that way. When I was young I never even read the newspapers. I could read English with difficulty and my Gujarati was not satisfactory. I have had the dream ever since then that if the Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Muslims could live in amity not only in Rajkot but in the whole of India, they would all have a very happy life. If that dream could be realised even now when I am an old man on the verge of death, my heart would dance. Children would then frolic in joy to see that there is no strife any more. I urge all of you to help me in this task. If we all persevere in our respective religions and become good there can be harmony between all religions. We must not fear whether a man is a Sikh or a Pathan. We must fear God. This is what I want to see.
You can all try and become such men. What after all is society? Society is made up of individuals. It is we that make society. We are asleep and then say that we are helpless because society is such. The same goes for the government. It is we who are the government. If one man takes the initiative others will follow and one can become many; if there is not even one there is nothing. I am not sure that I shall be able to come here tomorrow. But the prayers will be held and the girls will sing the bhajans.