In 1909, a 40-year-old M.K. Gandhi wrote a conversation between a ‘reader’ and an ‘editor’ in Gujarati, expressing his views on swaraj, or home rule, modernization and industrialization, and how English rule in India had corrupted its nature. More than a hundred years later, his views on religion and civilization cannot be more pertinent. In the following extract, the ‘reader’ questions the ‘editor’ on the supposed differences between religions, and the ‘editor’ (Gandhi addressing the reader) admonishes him for cultivating these differences:
Reader: I will gladly do so, but one question occurs to me even now. You have described to me the India of the pre-Mahomedan period, but now we have Mahomedans, Parsees and Christians. How can they be one nation? Hindus and Mahomedans are old enemies. Our very proverbs prove it. Mahomedans turn to the West for worship whilst Hindus turn to the East. The former look down on the Hindus as idolators. The Hindus worship the cow, the Mahomedans kill her. The Hindus believe in the doctrine of non-killing, the Mahomedans do not. We thus meet with differences at every step. How can India be one nation?
Editor: Your last question is a serious one; and yet, on careful consideration, it will be found to be easy of solution. … Our difficulties are of our own creation. God set a limit to a man’s locomotive ambition in the construction of his body. Man immediately proceeded to discover means of overriding the limit. God gifted man with intellect that he might know his Maker. Man abused it, so that he might forget his Maker. I am so constructed that I can only serve my immediate neighbours, but in my conceit, I pretend to have discovered that I must with my body serve every individual in the Universe. In thus attempting the impossible, man comes in contact with different natures, different religions and is utterly confounded. According to this reasoning, it must be apparent to you that railways are a most dangerous institution. Man has there through gone further away from his Maker.
Reader: But I am impatient to hear your answer to my question. Has the introduction of Mahomedanism not unmade the nation?
Editor: India cannot cease to be one nation because people belonging to different religions live in it. The introduction of foreigners does not necessarily destroy the nation, they merge in it. A country is one nation only when such a condition obtains in it. That country must have a faculty for assimilation. India has ever been such a country. In reality, there are as many religions as there are individuals, but those who are conscious of the spirit of nationality do not interfere with one another’s religion. If they do, they are not fit to be considered a nation. If the Hindus believe that India should be peopled only by Hindus, they are living in dreamland. The Hindus, the Mahomedans, the Parsees and the Christians who have made India their country are fellow-countrymen, and they will have to live in unity if only for their own interest. In no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms; nor has it ever been so in India.
Reader: But what about the inborn enmity between Hindus and Mahomedans?
Editor: That phrase has been invented by our mutual enemy [the English]. When the Hindus and Mahomedans fought against one another, they certainly spoke in that strain. They have long since ceased to fight. How, then, can there be any inborn enmity? Pray remember this too, that we did not cease to fight only after British occupation. The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognised that mutual fighting was suicidal, and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent the quarrels re-commenced.