Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee
International Conference Souvenir
Vijayawada, February 3, 4, and 5, 1990
[OCR, HTML, editing, by Cliff Walker]
Gora As I Know
Smt. Kamala Desikan
Secretary, Kasturba Health Society, Sevagram
As man got enlightened and his knowledge widened his concepts of life also broadened. Any phenomenon which was beyond human understanding, was considered supernatural like fire, air, trees and mountains. These were regarded as deities and were worshipped. As new ideas came, they were also absorbed. Hinduism is a progressive order and any type of faith or belief finds a place in it -- even atheism. Any new faith or religion begins essentially for the benefit of the human society and welfare of mankind. However, as the religion grows and gets organized, the vested interest of the organization dominates and it overshadows the benevolent aspects of the faith. The organization misleads the society for its own selfish motives. In order to nurture this selfish authority, the society is kept in dark and prohibited to question. It is told that to question is a sin. The consequence is hell. Religious leaders succeeded in creating this myth of hell and heaven and kept the society under the spell of this myth. The temptation of heaven and fear of hell has sidetracked the society for centuries.
Apart from religion, political parties erupted to escape the tyranny of kings and dictators. Socialism, democracy, communism and other philosophies emerged. These political philosophies are also heading in the same direction as the religions. Under the garb of different political philosophies, the world has seen several tyrants like Hitler, Stalin and others.
If atheism becomes an organized philosophy, it also may meet the same fate as religions and political parties. Any organized philosophy or religion will not permit free thinking.
Gandhiji preached equality of religions. His view of religion was what man learnt from his childhood observing his surroundings and the society. Any thinking individual observes and absorbs the good in his environment and develops his religious views. A good Muslim, a good Christian, a good Boudh, a good Hindu, a good tribal, a good African or a good Indian are all alike and there are no fundamental differences. When a rigid organization takes hold of the society, it makes a right thinking man lose his sense of direction.
I have known Gora since 1947. While I think about my personal relationship with Gora and Saraswathi Gora, I realize that what attracted them to me is their personalities, social reforms and concern for truth. I have been hearing right from my childhood what is preached in Hinduism, -- namely the thought, utterance and deed should be the same and only the act in such a unison constitutes Truth. A believer of truth will maintain such a unison between thought, utterance and action. This is fully embodied in Gora's personality.
As a thinker, Gora considered various aspects of life such as socio-economic inequality, caste system, superstition, problems of women, etc. He preached about economic equality and himself embraced poverty. When I first went to his house in Patamata around 1950, I found his house built of palm leaves and a mat of the same leaves formed partitions. His family lived in it happily. I could see their satisfaction. There was an assembly of people who looked up for a change in social order. Discussions were regularly held on reformation of society. Even to-day the part of house which I like most is their dining hall where everyone freely assembles and openly discusses social problems.
Gora took up Harijan welfare work. No one else went as deep into the problem as he did. He went and stayed in Harijan localities. While living and freely mingling with them, he realised that sharing their life in matters of eating, mixing and inter-marrying with them is the best solution to their problem. The marriage of his eldest daughter was the result of such conviction. He took several such daring decisions, and as a consequence, he had to face several repercussions from the rest of society.
Gora made it a condition that he would accept an invitation to a dinner even from a relative only if the dinner was participated in commonly with the Harijans. He found even non-vegetarians do not inter-dine on religious basis since a Hindu would not touch beef and a Muslim would abhor pork. These religious beliefs in food habits again separate the people of different religions. To break this barrier, Gora arranged meetings to serve bits of pork and beef together in a plate. These acts of Gora shocked the society. The reactions of the society depended upon the social progress of a community.
Gora started his attack on superstitions. On account of superstitions, the society gets severely entangled like fish caught in a net. Sin and benediction, hell and heaven in the name of God have utterly limited the scope of thinking in man. In the fear of hell and craving for heaven, man failed to understand either of them. Under Gora's influence, the young generation began to understand that several superstitious beliefs are meaningless and are to be discarded.
The life of women in India has been like that of a bullock pulling an oil-press. The bullock pulling the oil-press is blind-folded and it keeps on going round and round without any sense of direction. Yes, the man who has tied the bullock to the oil-press certainly has a purpose and a sense of direction. Even to-day about 80% of women have such a fate. Gora took up the problem of un-wed mothers, and prostitutes. Gora raised his voice against this age-old problem. His thinking was radical. He questioned the society. "Is prostitution a sin? If it is a sin man has as much a share in it as the woman. The society also has a share of the sin." Such arguments led to intense opposition. People accused Gora of justifying and encouraging prostitution. Similarly, in the case of an un-wed mother, the man is as much to blame as the woman. While the man can go scot-free, let it be realized that woman has as much right to live in the society as the man who is responsible for the child. Gora defended several such women. He gave them courage to withstand the social stigma and to live a respectable life. He encouraged women to progress along with man in every sphere. He helped many women directly and indirectly.
Gora's contribution in the field of economic equality has been considerable. Most of the evils in society are due to economic inequality. Therefore, he strived hard against these inequalities.
Gora also gave his attention to the evils in political field. He believed in democracy and secularism. He strived for a partyless democracy.