Manuben was ushering Bapu to his prayer meet – he was already late by 10 minutes – when she saw a stout young man dressed in Khaki force his way through the crowd, reach the Mahatma and bend over with folded hands. She assumed this man desired to touch Bapu’s feet, but he forced Manuben aside. Manuben lost her balance and dropped the notebook, rosary, and spittoon she was carrying.
As she bent to pick them up, she heard 4 shots being fired, and it was smoke all around. The assassinated Gandhi, says Manuben, was breathing his last in Ashaben’s lap. The man who had fired the shots, some say, had surrendered voluntarily, while others claim he was beaten up by the crowd and handed over to police. This man was 38-years-old Nathuram Vinayak Godse.
“The conflict between Gandhi and Godse was not one between secularism and communalism. If we scrutinize their lives, Gandhi and Godse appear quite unlike how they are popularly projected. Godse seems more secular than the Mahatma himself,” opines Belgian Indologist, Koenraad Elst, who is famous for his writings on comparative religion. Elst looks at the assassin as a meagre pawn in a greater and intricately designed politico-ideological battle.
But did this assassin know, on the evening on 30th January 1948, when he aimed his gun and fired those bullets that killed the Mahatma, that what he had set into motion was one of the ghastliest riots of the newly independent Bharat, a Bharat that had not quite recuperated the loss of the countless lives during the partition? It would, in fact, be misleading to term the events that followed Gandhi’s death as riots because a riot needs at least two violent forces colliding with each other.
Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of a lone man, Godse, was conveniently blamed on the collective identity of Maharashtrian Brahmins; the New York Times went on to put out an outrageous heading – Gandhi is killed by a Hindu – thereby leaving the identity of a billion people, soiled. Not that the harm was done to the identity alone, the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination chronicles brutal and unjustified killings of Brahmins engineered to gain some political advantage from the situation.
Even those who had no particular reverence for the Mahatma, looked at this situation as a perfect opportunity to express their hate for Maharashtrian Brahmins, and joined those who already had a plan in place to conduct a genocide that, in no shape or form, was inferior to the Sikh Genocide of 1984. The unrestrained onslaught against Brahmins continued till mid of February 1948, if not later, and culminated in torching of thousands of homes, offices, and shops owned by Brahmins in Maharashtra.
Factories owned by Chitpavan Brahmins were razed to the ground. Properties of Veer Sarvarkar were also vandalized and set on fire by Congress mobs and his brother, Narayana Rao Sarvarkar, was hit by a stone causing his death. Though an exhaustive investigation revealed nothing to link Veer Savarkar to Gandhi’s assassination, he was taken into custody under Preventive Detention Act.
Though Godse had quit RSS in 1946 and openly spoken out against the organisation for ‘softening’ its stance over partition, RSS was immediately put under a cloud of suspicion by the Nehru-led Congress Government and banned. However, a year later the ban had to be lifted when not a shred of evidence could be uncovered linking the organisation to the assassination plot.
Barbaric rapes were unleashed upon women belonging to the targeted community. The intensified violence showed no signs of abating and resulted in the mass exodus of Brahmins throughout Maharashtra, who then sought refuge in safer places.
‘City Countryside and Society in Maharashtra’ authored by D.W. Attwood speaks of the barbarity that spanned across Aundh state, across all the 13 talukas, burning down 300 villages that were believed to be inhabited majorly by Brahmins. The attack on Brahmins that started in Pune had spread to ‘Desh’ belt of Solapur and Satara. The destruction suffered by people in Sangli and Kolhapur was even more cataclysmic than any other part of the state.
These burning incidents of horror and bloodshed were never granted the space or seriousness they deserved in any national or international media platforms. Marathi Brahmins too took little to no interest in demanding justice. In the absence of an official report on the death toll, it is estimated that roughly 8000 Brahmins were slaughtered to avenge the death of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who preached non-violence for the larger part of his life.
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