Then & Now: Angry earth

Click to follow
The Independent Online
15 January 1934: north India was rocked by a huge earthquake. Gandhi, touring in a campaign against untouchability, stated that the earthquake was 'a divine chastisement for . . . untouchability'. The poet Rabindranath Tagore responded:

'It has caused me a painful surprise to find Mahatma Gandhi accusing those who blindly follow their own social custom of untouchability of having brought down God's vengeance upon certain parts of Bihar, evidently specially selected for His desolating displeasure . . . If we associate ethical principles with the cosmic phenomena, we shall have to admit that human nature is morally much superior to Providence that preaches its lessons in good behaviour in orgies of the worst behaviour possible. For we can never imagine any civilised ruler of men making indiscriminate examples of casual victims, including children and members of the untouchable community, in order to impress others dwelling at a safe distance, who possibly deserve more severe condemnation . . . What is truly tragic (is) that the kind of argument that Mahatmaji used . . . better suits the psychology of his opponents than his own, and it would not have surprised me if they had taken this opportunity of holding him and his followers responsible for the divine anger . . .'