Philosophy and Ideas of Mahatma Gandhi:

Philosophy and Ideas of Mahatma Gandhi

(1)Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of Clothing for Indian People:

  • Mahatma Gandhi wanted Khadi to be the national cloth. He believed that if Khadi was used by every Indian, it would go a long way in bridging the gulf between the rich and the poor.
  • However his idea of scant clothes did not make much sense to most people who could afford better.Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of Khadi and Indian dresses also did not appeal to the Dalits and the Christian converts who found Western style dresses as giving them a sense of liberation from age old prejudices. Khadi was costly and even difficult to maintain. That was also one reason why the idea did not pick up. The Muslims too did not accept Khadi.
  • The elite women too did not find home spun Gandhi very attractive. Congress leaders who were relatively well off switched over to Khadi.

(2)Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on Western Civilization:

  • The evolution of Gandhi’s social and economic philosophy was also the result of his disillusionment with the western way of life. After his initial infatuation with English manners in England, he gave up the quest for external traits and gave in to his own predilections for a religious quest. He was helped in this by some of his acquaintances and he learnt the fundamentals of the major religions.
  • He saw through the “tinsel and glitter” of modern civilization and turned away from it. Consciously then, he started on the journey of spiritual discovery and self-realization. He began to search deep into Indian culture and tradition and found in them elements of great value. This helped him formulate the social and economic policies that he propagated all his life in India.
  • Gandhi compares the two civilizations, eastern and western, and writes that the latter was based on two fallacious maxims – “might is right” and “survival of the fittest”. This was not enough for the full development of the human personality, he says, as the strength derived from the ‘heart’ was much greater than that derived from following these two maxims.
  • He described the strength derived from the heart as “heart strength” or, in Ruskin’s words, “social affections”. To Gandhi, the difference between the two civilizations was that “western civilization is destructive, eastern civilization is constructive. Western civilization is centrifugal, eastern civilization is centripetal.”
  • “I believe also,” he said, “that western civilization is without a goal, eastern civilization has always had a goal before it …. I think western civilization also represents tremendous activity, eastern civilization represents contemplativeness.”
  • This assertion of the values of eastern civilization is perhaps a search for self-realization, for finding the roots to uphold the values that were being formulated in his mind. He was not blind to the shortcomings or the dangers of misuse of some eastern values. For instance, he realized that contemplation could be interpreted to mean idleness and to justify an unwillingness to surmount obstacles.
  • Gandhi was not dogmatic and saw benefits in western civilization. He thought a healthy intermingling of the two cultures would be best and, when that happened, the eastern civilization, he felt, would become quickened in its pace with the “western spirit”.
  • Eastern civilization would become predominant, he believed, because it had a goal – the goal of attaining oneness with the Supreme Being. He concluded that the two forces were undoubtedly opposing forces, but perhaps both had a place in nature’s plan.
  • Gandhi’s views on the nature of western civilization are expressed in a little booklet he wrote in 1909, called Hind Swaraj. He was influenced by Edward Carpenter’s Civilization: Its Cause and Cure. Gandhi found no morality or religion in western civili­zation and both these were essential elements in the structure of any society Gandhi supported. He had little use for materialistic achievements or materialistic goals, his creed centred on the human and the spiritual.
  • It was for these reasons that Gandhi believed that western civilization was based on a foundation of sand and would not endure like eastern civilization. He writes, “This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.” But, he says, it was not like an “incurable disease”. If there were people with foresight and enterprise, they could stop its march in a materialistic direction and give it a more human and spiritual content, which would also stabilize it.
  • It was due to his concern for a spiritual content in civilization that Gandhi consistently put forward his ideas on swadeshi, untouchability, bread labour and. trusteeship, all of which had at their base the concept of oneness of all life.

(3) Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on: Principle of Trusteeship:

  • This principle evolved in Gandhi’s mind as a result of his spiritual development, which he owed partly to his deep involvement with and the study of theosophical literature and the Bhagvad Gita.
  • His familiarity with the maxims of equity in western legal tradition also made him aware of the implications of the principle of trusteeship. On an individual plane, he realized that those who sought to attain God through social service, even if they controlled vast possessions, should not regard any of it as their own. They should rather hold their possessions in trust for the benefit of those less privileged than themselves.
  • On the social plane, this principle implied that the wealthy could not justly claim their possessions to be theirs entirely. The reason was that they could not accumulate their wealth without the labour and cooperation of workers and the poorer sections of society.
  • Hence, they were logically and morally bound to share their wealth in a fair measure with their workers and the poor. But instead of ensuring this through legislation, Gandhi wanted wealthy people to voluntarily surrender part of their wealth and hold it in trust for those working for them.
  • Adoption of this doctrine on an individual and national scale was, he believed, the only way to form an egalitarian and non-violent society. He defines trusteeship in simple terms: “The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for society.”
  • Gandhi did not believe in inherited wealth for he was of the view that a trustee has no heir but the public. He did not favour compulsion in the surrender of riches because he believed that forcible dispossession of the wealthy would deny to society the talents of people who could create national wealth.
  • His method was to persuade the wealthy to act as trustees, failing which satyagraha could be adopted. But by the 1940s, he had come to believe that state legislation would be necessary to ensure compliance with the principle of trust­eeship.
  • In short, one may say that the sources of Gandhi’s social ideas could be traced to the culture in which he was born and bred. They were certainly stimulated and clarified by his contact with the west and his experiences in South Africa. In fact, he often said that he never stopped learning. Introspection and experiment played a major part in the evolution of his social ideas.
  • Even though, till the end, Gandhi maintained that the ideas expressed by him in Hind Swaraj as far back as 1909 still held good, in actual fact, he made many compromises over the years mainly because he was a pragmatist and believed in making compromises without sacri­ficing fundamental principles.
  • Thus, a study of the sources and evolution of Gandhi’s social ideas is a survey of the complexities that go to mould a man’s ideas. In it are the cultural influences imbibed unconsciously, the impact of other minds, the experimen­tation with ideas and ideals, the adjustments and compromises and, above all, the lessons learnt from experience.

(4)Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on Truth:

  • Of all the moral principles, Gandhi placed truth as the first and foremost. He called it “the sovereign principle”, which included numerous other principles. It did not merely imply truthfulness in speech, but in thought also “and not only the relative truth of our conception, but the absolute truth, the eternal principle, that is God”. He equated God with truth, as he says, “I worship God as truth only. I have not yet found him, but I am seeking after him. I am prepared to sacrifice the things dearest to me in pursuit of this quest…. Often in my progress, I have had faint glimpses of the absolute truth, God, and daily the conviction is growing upon me that the above is real and all else is unreal.”
  • Gandhi’s conception of truth has obviously not the common meaning attributed to it for there were divine and philosophical dimensions to it. It can perhaps be said that the predominant factor in moulding his vision of truth was his deep attachment to the epic, Ramcharitmanas, written by Tulsidas and his faith in the Ramanama. A.L. Basham has offered some very cogent arguments in this regard.
  • “One of the commonest ejaculations of popular north Indian Vaishnavism,” he says, “is Rama naam sach hai (the name of Rama is true, or is truth, since modern Indian sach, like the Sanskrit satya, may be either an adjective or a noun). Here we have already the possible source of the Gandhian emphasis on truth, and of the special and unwestern usage of the word in Gandhi’s speeches and writings.
  • The implication of the phrase for the believer is not simply that God exists; it must also connote that the essence (naam, literally name) of divinity is ultimate reality and that God carries out his promises without swerving and expects his followers to do likewise. The use of the word such with this extended connotation can also be found in the Hindu Ramayana of Tulsidas.
  • For instance, Dashrath carried out his promise of granting a boon to his wife, Kaikeyi, at the cost of his life and his family’s happiness. The ideal of sticking to the truth, the word, shines bright and it is not at all improbable that it was imprinted on young Gandhi’s mind as an exemplary ideal.
  • During a brief period in his youth, for about three years, Gandhi led a kind of double life in which he staged a mild revolt against parental authority in secret. His native honesty and sincerity prevented a final fall.
  • As Gandhi’s interests widened and he became more concerned with the question of truth, gradually, he was able to transcend these early aberrations. His meditations and search led him to one important conclusion. “One thing took deep root in me,” he says, “the conviction that morality is the basis of all things, and that truth is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective. It began to grow in magnitude every day, and my definition of it has been ever widening.”
  • Another moral precept, that of repaying the smallest service with the utmost generosity, which became his guiding principle, was, he says, derived from a Gujarati didactic stanza by Shamal Bhatt. It “gripped” his heart and mind.
  • That such ideas left a deep impression on Gandhi is evident from his lifelong conduct towards the underprivileged and outcastes of India, who performed hard labour and menial tasks for the comfort of the rest of society even when they did not receive any sympathy or civility in return.
  • As we have said, Gandhi equated truth with God, with the ultimate reality that pervaded the entire universe. He thus had a unifying view of life and could look at life in totality. He found all the parts interdependent and realized that good reciprocity was necessary for their smooth functioning. In a letter to Horace Alexander, he wrote, “We needlessly divide life into watertight compartments, religious and other.
  • Whereas if a man has true religion in him, it must show in every detail of life …. The slightest irregularity in sanitary, social and political life is a sign of spiritual poverty. It is a sign of inattention, neglect of duty. Anyway, the ashram life is based upon this conception of funda­mental unity.” This unifying view of life was one of the ideas which evolved with Gandhi’s deeper and deeper pursuit of the concept of truth. A detailed discussion of this follows later.
  • An appropriate way to conclude this section on the evolution of Gandhi’s concept of truth would be to quote his own estimate in this regard. In reply to a correspondent, he wrote, “… I represent no new truths. I endeavor to follow and represent truth, as I know it. I do claim to throw a new light on many an old truth.”
  • The reflection of Gandhi’s concept of truth in his social action is found in his persistent emphasis on the purity of means to attain desired ends. His propagation of the methods of non-violence, civil resistance and honourable cooperation exemplify this. His message for revolutionizing the social order with these means was relevant not only to India, but the whole world. Gandhi’s conception of truth as God and the universal reality stands as a refreshing challenge and alternative before the world.

(5)Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on Ahimsa:

  • For Gandhi, non-violence was a principle second in importance only to truth. Indeed, it sometimes seemed to precede it. Gandhi affirmed that non-violence was the first article of his faith and also the last article of his creed. Undoubtedly, he owed this attitude, in the first instance, to the cultural influences of his childhood. Mention has been made before of the influence of Vaishnavism and Jainism in Gujarat.
  • Gandhi has himself written that the opposition to and abhorrence of meat eating that existed in Gujarat among the Jains and Vaishnavas were to be seen nowhere else in India or outside in such strength. These were the traditions in which he was born and bred. They were, perhaps, partly responsible for his compassion for the weak and helpless and for his love of non-violence as a social and political instrument.
  • The compositions of Gujarati poets such as Narasinha Mehta and Shamal Bhatt, who belonged to the Bhakti tradition, had a great influence on Gandhi. Mention has been made before of a poem by Bhatt. Proponents of the Bhakti tradition were lay preachers, mostly non-Brahmins, whose style of communication was through devotional hymns in the indigenous languages.
  • They were itinerant preachers and brought the message of brotherly love and good conduct and they deprecated ritualism. Renunciation and non-violence were also popular themes. They preached intense devotion to a personal God, who would generally be an avatar of Vishnu, like Krishna and Rama. Bhakti preachers were very popular and had a positive influence on the day to day life of the Hindus.
  • One event early in life made Gandhi realize powerfully the value of an act of pure non-violence. When he was about 15, he once stole a bit of gold to repay a debt incurred by his brother. After this, his conscience gave him no peace and he resolved to make a clean breast of things to his father.
  • As he could not muster the courage to speak to his father, he wrote out a confession and, in the note, he asked for adequate punishment for himself, requesting his father not to punish himself for his son’s offence. He also pledged never to steal in the future.
  • He writes that he was trembling as he handed the note to his father. His father was bedridden those days, but he sat up to read the note, and as he read it, tears rolled down his cheeks. He then tore up the note and lay down. Gandhi writes, “I also cried. I could see my father’s agony.
  • If I were a painter, I could draw a picture of the whole scene today. It is still so vivid in my mind. Those pearl drops of love cleansed my heart, and washed my sin away. Only he who has experienced such love can know what it is.”
  • Gandhi has described this incident as an object lesson in ahimsa and he believed that when such ahimsa becomes all embracing, it transforms everything it touches. There is then no limit to its power. Like his concept of truth, Gandhi’s concept of ahimsa also had a wide meaning – it included the “largest love” and “largest charity”.
  • About the immediate impact of the episode, he writes that day he learnt the value of a clean confession and the sublime forgiveness it could evoke in a person not given to a particularly peaceful disposition. The social dimension of the feeling this incident evoked in him was his precept of hating the sin and not the sinner; realization of the need for patience and perseverance in implementing social reform programmes; and finally, willingness to forgive and overlook the misdeeds of those who offended him.
  • Gandhi’s faith in ahimsa was strengthened greatly on account of his religious contacts in England, where he went in 1888 to train as a barrister. With two theosophist friends, who were also brothers, he read the Bhagvad Gita for the first time in Sir Edwin Arnold’s English translation (The Song Celestial).
  • Gandhi probably learnt the lessons of self-restraint from, such study. In the company of his theosophist friends, he also read The Light of Asia, a long poem on the life of the Buddha by Sir Edwin Arnold. He writes that he read this with even greater interest than he did the Bhagvad Gita and he found it hard to “leave off”. Madame Blavatsky’s Key to Theosophy stimulated him to read books on Hinduism and disabused him of the notion fostered by the missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition.
  • About the same time, a Christian acquaintance introduced him to the Bible. He was not impressed by the Old Testament. But the New Testament “produced a different impression”, he writes, “especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart”.
  • Gandhi was receiving the influences of different religious texts and must have tried to fuse them into one basic tenet. Renunciation, dharma or the duty of one’s calling; compassion and non-violence are elements that are clearly manifest in his actions and writings later.
  • In the spiritual field, there was another person who deeply influenced Gandhi – Rajchandra Mehta. A businessman by profession, Mehta was widely known for his great learning and knowledge of the scriptures. He was a poet, too. From him, Gandhi learnt the lesson of religious tolerance for Mehta had made it a practice to study and understand the excellence of each faith and explain it to the followers of that faith.
  • Apart from religious sources, one major influence on Gandhi’s moral and intellectual evolution was the writings of Leo Tolstoy. Much before he made his acquaintance through correspondence, Gandhi read Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is within you in South Africa, which, to use his own words, “overwhelmed” him. He writes that he was greatly impressed by the thought, morality and truthfulness of the book.
  • As Tolstoy’s beliefs very nearly approached his own, Gandhi later summarized them in his weekly journal, Indian Opinion, which he published in South Africa. Briefly, Tolstoy denounces the accumulation of wealth by men and the wielding of political power because it led to many evils and participation in fighting or war. More positively, he writes that evil must never be returned with evil, but with goodness.
  • Man is born to do his duty to his creator and should, therefore, pay more attention to his duties than to his rights. Lastly, he says agriculture is the true occupation of man, so it is contrary to divine law to establish large cities and factories which enslave the poor and the helpless. Tolstoy’s ideas did two things for Gandhi: On the one hand, they reaffirmed and echoed ideas that were forming in his own mind, and on the other, they guided his thoughts to their logical conclusion.
  • During this time, the 1890s in South Africa, Gandhi’s religious quest continued. He sought to increase his knowledge of his own religion and read Rajchandra’s Dharma Vichar, transla­tions of the Upanishads brought out by the Theosophical Society, and Max Mueller’s book, India – What Can It Teach Us. All this, he stated, enhanced his regard for Hinduism and its “beauties” began to grow on him.
  • He also read standard works on Islam and its founder and on Judaism. He made an intensive study of Tolstoy’s books, too. As a result of the catholicity of his reading, he writes, “I began to realize more and more the infinite possibil­ities of universal love; the study stimulated self-introspection and fostered in me the habit of putting into practice whatever appealed to me in my studies.”
  • Gandhi’s belief in ahimsa was linked to his belief in the fundamental unity of the universe. All living beings, he writes, were tarred with the same brush and were children of one and the same creator and, as such, the divine powers within them were infinite. Therefore, “to slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being, but with him the whole world.”
  • Gandhi’s concept of ahimsa evolved through confrontations with situations giving rise to moral dilemmas. For instance, Gandhi had to explain his concept in the context of war and to explain his own participation in the First World War. “When two nations are fighting,” he wrote, “the duty of a votary of ahimsa is to stop the war.
  • He who is not equal to that duty, he who has no power of resisting war, he who is not qualified to resist war, may take part in war, and yet wholeheartedly try to free himself, his nation and the world from war.” He knew that some destruction of non-human life was inevitable.
  • Much as he abhorred violence, on one occasion, he permitted the killing of an ailing calf, which was in terrible agony, and on another, the destruction of several dogs, which were a menace to the factory premises in Ahmedabad. This raised a great controversy in the country, but Gandhi remained calm and defended his action: “My defence of the destruction of the dogs is no doubt partly utilitarian and a concession to and an admission of our weakness. But destruction of suffering animals is defended on the highest ground of religion.”
  • From all this, it is not difficult to conclude that for Gandhi, ahimsa or the concept of non-violence was multidimensional. It involved not only the act of abstaining as far as possible from doing physical injury to living beings, but also actively caring for and loving them irrespective of their behaviour towards oneself and others.
  • Gandhi’s struggle to create a harmonious and egalitarian society is based on this concept. His use of the concept of ahimsa as a weapon in the struggle for independence has the elements of suffering, self-sacrifice and universal goodwill inherent in it.

(6)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Women:

  • Gandhi visualized a fundamental role for women as instruments of social change because they constituted the primary influence on the future citizens of the country and half the nation’s strength in terms of population. Gandhi’s unconscious guide in shaping his attitude to women was his mother, Putlibai, whom he deeply revered for her “saintliness”. His intellectual guide was the image of the ideal wife of Hindu literature, whom he describes as ardhangana, the better half, and sadadharmini, the helpmate.
  • His perception of women as instruments of social change was influ­enced by two ‘sexist’ assumptions, which nevertheless did not have a negative impact on his thinking. These were the conser­vative and non-violent temperaments he assumed women to possess. Women were slow to give up their traditions and customs because they were conservative, but for the same reason, they could discriminate better between the good and the bad in their heritage and cherish the good.
  • Gandhi was of the opinion that women were superior to men in their moral and spiritual strength. They had greater powers of self-sacrifice and suffering. On this account, women were capable of infinite strength, which they only needed to realize and channel.
  • Women had a key role to play in the family, in Gandhi’s opinion. The family was the crucible of society where future citizens, leaders and lawgivers were nurtured. Hence, it was here that the mother could mould the values and traits of her children in a direction that could lead to social progress. The ultimate aim was to teach children to be self-reliant and not keep them dependent on the family’s resources.
  • Gandhi had strong views on another key subject relating to women. This was the value of equality between the sexes. He was definitely against gender bias in the training of children. He asserted that girls ought not to be taught to adorn themselves as that identified them as objects of desire without any other distinct human qualities.
  • The latter had to be highlighted if they wished to be accepted as equal partners of men. He was also of the opinion that housework must be divided equally between boys and girls as the home belonged to both. Also, both boys and girls ought to have vocational training in some occupation so as to assure them a future livelihood when the need arose.
  • Gandhi envisaged an important political role for women vis-a-vis the power structure in society and the foundations of an equitable and non-violent social order. He wanted women to view their families in the larger perspective of the entire human family and to transfer some of their concern and devotion to the latter. They must realize, he said, that as a class, women had been suppressed for centuries and it was now time for them to rise in rebellion and prove their worth.
  • With the backing of education and the discriminating use of their political rights, they could affect the process of decision making in the nation and initiate appropriate changes at all levels to promote the values of social and economic equality. Though laws by themselves had not much meaning, they were very important for setting norms, so politically and socially conscious women should agitate for the framing of legislation, which accorded them equal status in society. Simultaneously, strong and continuous agitation through the press and other platforms was necessary to rouse public opinion, which was the best sanction of law.
  • From the very beginning of his public career in India, Gandhi made strongly worded appeals to women to join the national struggle in large numbers. The response was overwhelming. In the non-cooperation campaign of 1920-22, women’s contribution to the satyagraha fund in terms of personal jewellery was phenomenal; they also played a notable part in the propagation of khadi in defiance of government orders, and in picketing liquor shops as part of the temperance campaign. In his plan for promoting communal harmony, eradicating untouchability and popularizing his revolutionary scheme of Basic Education, Gandhi held that women could play a central role as they had creative powers and a tremendous capacity for self-sacrifice.
  • To deal with issues specifically affecting women, such as child marriage, dowry, sati, purdah and prostitution, there was a need to change certain deep rooted values in society. Gandhi felt that dedicated women would have to approach men and launch a widespread campaign to rouse public opinion against these social evils. Victims of prostitution should be sought out and given opportunities for rehabilitation. This was work of massive dimensions, but had to be undertaken if women were to take their rightful place in society.
  • Gandhi not only exhorted women to undertake the tasks of their own ‘uplift’, but also squarely attacked the scriptures and the social customs and conventions that had devalued women’s status and upheld women’s social, political and legal equality. In short, as far as his perception of women as instruments of social change was concerned, Gandhi felt that they could play a most dynamic role in society – in fact, that they could provide the mainsprings of revolutionary thought and action.

(7)Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on Equality of the Sexes:

  • Another lesson taught by life on Tolstoy Farm and the satyagraha movement was that of equality of the sexes. This equality was later reflected in the ashram life organized in India, where no distinction was made in the work done by men and women and in die struggle for independence and women’s participation in it.
  • The participation of women in significant numbers was a very important feature of the satyagraha movement in South Africa. The immediate provocation was the judgement pronounced by Justice Searle of the Cape Supreme Court on 13 March 1913. According to it, marriages performed according to Indian, rites were not to be recognized and all marriages had to be registered in South African courts.
  • At one stroke, Gandhi writes, the wives of all Indians married in India were declared “prostitutes” or “concubines”. The Indian community was outraged and immediately decided that “an invading army composed mainly of women and some men should cross from Natal into Transvaal and vice versa with the purpose of defying the immigration law”.
  • It was also thought prudent that to ensure arrest, the identities of the people crossing thus should not be disclosed as some were well-known names. The Phoenix party included Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba. On 23 September 1913, they were arrested, tried and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour. The Transvaal ‘sisters’ were also arrested for the same term. “These events stirred the heart of the Indians not only in South Africa, but also in the motherland to its very depth,” wrote Gandhi.
  • Gandhi writes very highly of the bravery of the Indian women who participated in the satyagraha struggle in South Africa. They were harassed in prison. Valiamma, a young girl of 18, died soon after her release from prison, where she had fallen sick. Her death made her a heroine among the Indians in South Africa.
  • Other women too rendered exemplary sacrifice and service. Gandhi was deeply impressed by the courage displayed by the women, particularly because almost all of them were illit­erate and ignorant of legal technicalities. They had acted, he believed, out of sheer patriotism and faith in his leadership. “They knew,” he writes, “that a mortal blow was being aimed at the Indians’ honour, and their going to jail was a cry of agony and prayer offered from the bottom of their heart … Such ‘heart prayer’ is always acceptable to God.”
  • Gandhi found that the immediate and spontaneous conse­quence of the arrest of the women satyagrahis was that thousands of Indian miners working in the mines in Natal struck work simultaneously. Although they had been unhappy with some inequitable laws imposed on them, the role played by the women served as a catalyst for their action.
  • As a result of the strike, the Indian labourers were thrown out of their houses by their white employers. They then applied to Gandhi for help. Gandhi could not refuse and he went to meet them. The manner in which Gandhi handled this crisis and its outcome was to leave a deep impact on his social and political philosophy. He camped with the Indians in the open and, contrary to his fears, was ably helped by the trader class with provisions. Many volunteers came forward to help in looking after the needs of the miners.
  • Gandhi realized that this state of affairs could not continue indefinitely as the crowd continued to swell to about 5,000. The only solution that appeared to him was to take this “army” into Transvaal and secure them in prison. The mode of transport had to be on foot and rations would necessarily be very meagre so as to last the journey. All the conditions were accepted by the men and the march began on 28 October 1913. Although most of the men were uneducated, Gandhi found that he was able to enforce rules of discipline regarding sanitation and other things by setting an example himself.
  • He concluded, “Where the leader himself becomes a servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership.” These two ideas that social and political consciousness can exist without literacy and formal education and that leadership can be effectively exercised in a given situation through personal example – proved to be invaluable guides for Gandhi for future action.
  • The traders, including a big European firm, again rendered valuable help to the marchers till they reached Charlestown safely. This was the border station for crossing into the Transvaal. At the end of the heroic struggle, the chief demands of the Indian satyagrahis were met, among which were the validation of Indian marriages, abolition of the £3 tax on ex-indentured labourers and the domicile certificates of the Indians in Natal being considered valid for entry into the Union of South Africa.
  • About his 21 years in South Africa, Gandhi writes in retro­spect that it was where he realized his “vocation in life”, which may be summarized as raising the consciousness of the people about self-respect and constructive collective action. The social idea that he reaped was that of equality, whether between the sexes, between races, or between the lowly and the elevated.
  • Gandhi, though previously shy, diffident and conscious of his recent failure as a lawyer in India, was able to shake the poor immigrant Indians out of their stupor and, through persistent effort, make them a socially and politically active community. He was convinced that had the Indians not offered satyagraha, they would have been hounded out of South Africa; their victory “more or less served as a shield for Indian emigrants in other parts of the British Empire”.
  • We may conclude this analysis of satyagraha in Gandhi’s own words: “I will consider myself amply repaid if I have in these pages demonstrated with some success that satyagraha is a priceless and matchless weapon, and that those who wield it are strangers to disappointment or defeat.”
  • It was through the exercise of his method of satyagraha, involving self-sacrifice and self-suffering, and standing steadfast in the face of adversity, that Gandhi was able to modify the social outlook of the Indians in South Africa. In place of a common feeling of helplessness, he evoked a consciousness of organized strength in them. They began to regard themselves as self-respecting individuals, rather than as social outcastes

(8)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Capital and Labour:

  • According to Gandhi, the general erosion of human values in Indian society was also reflected in the relations between capital and labour. He believed that capital and labour were mutually complementary forces. But he noted that a work ethic had not evolved and wrote, “The masters care only for the service they get. What becomes of the labourers does not concern them.
  • All their endeavours are generally confined to obtaining maximum service with minimum payment. The labourer, on the other hand, tries to hit upon all the tricks whereby he can get maximum pay with minimum work. The result is that although the labourers get an increment, there is no improvement in the work turned out. The relations between the two parties are not purified and the labourers do not make proper use of the increment they get.”
  • The living conditions of the labourers, he felt, were a great shame to the industrialists. He knew of labourers in Mumbai who lived in boxes, literally, though they were called houses. There was terrible overcrowding and no ventilation. They worked long hours in miserable conditions.
  • Their food was almost inedible and they had no friends to give them advice. Rootless, rudderless, they drank to forget their miseries, but only ended up creating worse problems for themselves. His sympathy for the workers enabled him to see their problems in their proper perspective.
  • As early as 1921, he wrote in the context of the outbreaks of violence during the Non-Cooperation Movement: “We must not tamper with the masses. It is dangerous to make political use of factory labourers or the peasantry, not that we are not entitled to do so, but we are not ready for it.
  • We have neglected their political (as distinguished from literary) education all these long years. We have not got enough honest, intelligent, reliable and brave workers to enable us to act upon these countrymen of ours.”
  • He blamed the educated classes for not caring to find out the wants and aspirations of the labouring classes. They had not taken the trouble to spread political consciousness among them. They kept aloof and yet expected them to help in a national cause about which they knew nothing.
  • The labour component of society had to struggle for a harmonious relationship with its employers and also for common grounds of interest among themselves. From his own experience, Gandhi knew that there was no social contact and no mutual ties between the different labour forces in the country.
  • Moreover, they were often under the influence of leaders who were provincial or communal in their outlook and sometimes even unscrupulous. But in situations where there was no conflict of interest between the class of employers and the employed and the advisers to both sides had a genuine desire that both sides cooperate for mutual benefit, it was seen that the adversarial relationship between the employer and the worker could be replaced by harmonious interaction.
  • This fact was illus­trated, says Gandhi, by the successful working of the labour union of Ahmedabad Textile Mills, which was reorganized under him. Gandhi was apparently looking for not only harmony, but also efficiency and a work ethic.
  • He noted the existence of bonded labour in various parts of the country. He saw in the system an example of the general prevalence of oppression and injustice in society and another instance of the shameful inequity and exploitation

(9)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Decentralization of the Economy:

  • Fundamental to Gandhi’s economic approach was the idea that each individual should have the wherewithal to feed and clothe himself adequately. For the universal realization of this ideal, it was necessary, he wrote, that “the means of production of elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses …. Their monopolization by any country, nation or groups of persons would be unjust.” Neglect of this principle was the cause of the destitution that was a worldwide phenomenon.
  • So, it can be said that decentralization of the production of essential commodities was the pillar of Gandhi’s economic philosophy. His own khadi movement, he said, was an example of this approach. In it, poor peasants were given advances to buy cotton and spinning wheels from AISA units and the cotton they spun was bought at fixed prices by AISA and passed on to the weavers.
  • The weavers were also given help where required and the cloth they produced was retailed at fixed prices in shops set up specifically for the purpose. Gandhi formulated rules that khadi should not be sold outside the locality or province where it was produced. In this manner, the whole enterprise was super­vised and coordinated by AISA with the aim of assuring a living to those who needed it the most.
  • Gandhi was in favour of granting total protection to indig­enous industries by banning import of articles that could be produced in the country itself, even if the cost of production was greater and the quality inferior in the initial stages. He would permit import facilities for only those articles that were an absolute necessity and could in no circumstances be produced in the country.
  • A major advance in Gandhi’s economic thinking was marked by the Resolution on Fundamental Rights and Economic Changes, which he drafted for the Karachi Congress in March 1931. It was his picture of swaraj in which the exploitation of the masses would end only when their political freedom included real economic freedom. The economic clauses in the resolution included special protection for women workers, prohibition against employment of children in factories, and the right of workers to form unions to protect their interests.
  • In the agricultural sector, the resolution provided for a substantial reduction in the rents paid by the peasantry and, in the case of uneconomic holdings, exemption from rent for such period as might be necessary. Relief would be given to small zamindars wherever necessary by reason of such reduction. A progressive income tax was to be imposed on agricultural incomes above a fixed minimum.
  • Other measures to rationalize and improve the state economy included a graduated inheritance tax; reduction in military expenditure by at least one half of the prevailing scale; and considerable reduction in expenditure and salaries in civil departments. A truly radical clause was that no servant of the state, other than specially employed experts and the like, was to be paid above a certain fixed figure, which should not ordinarily exceed Rs 500 per month.
  • The clauses relating to the industrial sector sought to provide protection to indigenous cloth by exclusion of foreign cloth and foreign yarn from the country; control over the exchange and currency policy to help Indian industries and bring relief to the masses; and control of key industries and ownership of mineral resources by the state.
  • Thus, Gandhi envisaged a major economic role for the state. Provisions in the resolution that had a moral undertone, but also an economic impact, were the total prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs; abolition of duty on salt manufactured in India; and control of direct or indirect usury.
  • Describing the intention of the resolution in unambiguous terms, Gandhi said: “By passing this resolution, we make it clear to the world and to our own people what we propose to do as soon as we come into power …. They (the clauses) are also meant to forewarn all concerned. Let them prepare themselves for the coming legis­lation by modelling their lives in the light of coming changes.”
  • In the next few years, Gandhi’s thinking turned more and more towards economic equality, but he knew that it was an ideal that could only be approximated. Therefore, he wrote largely about equitable distribution of wealth. He would not, as far as possible, recommend compulsion to achieve this object because he believed in non-violence. His faith in the essential goodness of man made him adhere to his theory of trusteeship.
  • The rich, he held, could not accumulate wealth without the cooperation and labour of the poor in society; therefore, they should hold their superfluous wealth in trust for them and not squander it on luxuries. If they refused to do so, the poor should collectively refuse to cooperate with the proprietors of wealth and offer non-violent resistance, or satyagraha. This was, he was convinced, the only enduring remedy for the crushing inequal­ities in society.
  • In 1942, Gandhi was ready to consider trusteeship as a legalized institution and not merely the whim of a lone philan­thropist. “A trustee has no heir but the public,” he wrote in Harijan in reply to a pointed question from a correspondent. “In a state built on the basis of non-violence, the commission of trustees will be regulated. Princes and zamindars will be on par with the other men of wealth.” Though Gandhi himself accepted and practised the ideal of non-possession and voluntary poverty, he did not, unlike the Marxists, forsake the notion of private property altogether. However, he favoured many limitations on it to secure the ends of social justice and community welfare.
  • In retrospect, one may say that all Gandhi’s plans and policies were aimed at a comprehensive social and economic transformation of Indian society in which the emphasis was on the villages as they contained more than 80 per cent of the country’s population.
  • He desired the cities to function so that, instead of exploiting the villages, they would provide them sustenance through their leadership and expertise. This, he hoped, would usher in a mutually reinforcing, rather than antag­onistic, relationship between urban and rural areas. Only in this way would their development be founded on social and economic justice.
  • The application of the technique of satyagraha for the resolution of social and political conflicts; the production of swadeshi goods for mass consumption and export; the all round uplift of villages; an integrated pattern of adult and primary education; uprooting of the social stigma of untouchability; fostering of communal harmony; mobilization of women as prime movers in society; an all India organization for popular mobilization; and a socialistic pattern of economic development were among the foremost instruments of social change as perceived by Gandhi.

(10)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Faulty Education System:

  • In Gandhi’s opinion, the education system instituted by the British in India functioned as a major instrument for consoli­dating their hold over the country. A direct consequence of this was the strengthening and widening of the fissures in Indian society. He believed that the ancient system of education, though not very efficient, worked to provide the rudiments of learning to most people.
  • But with the coming of the British, administrative concern shifted to cities and rural areas were left to fend for themselves. The result of this was a gross imbalance in the education structure and village institutions were either closed down or lagged miserably behind their city counterparts. Education became almost non-existent in the villages, while the educated class of the cities drifted away with no perception of the problems of villagers. Education, thus, merely widened the rural-urban gulf and offered no values for the cohesion and advancement of society.
  • In Gandhi’s view, a significant social dimension of the British system of education was that it tended to subdue the mental faculties of those receiving it. They lost their imaginative and creative abilities in an attempt to master the intricacies of a foreign language and foreign culture.
  • Gandhi uses the word, “denationalized”, for them and says that they were deluded into thinking that everything indigenous was bad and all things British were superior to their own. To quote him, “The result has been that we function like blotting paper before western civili­zation, instead of imbibing the best from it, we have become its superficial imitators.”
  • Of much greater concern and disadvantage for the cohesiveness and harmony of Indian society was the gulf which had been created between “us and the masses”. As Gandhi put it, “We cannot explain to them in a language which they will under­stand even the elements of hygiene and public health, let alone politics. We have become the modern counterparts of the Brahmins of old days, in fact, we are worse, for the Brahmins didn’t mean ill. They were the trustees of the nation’s culture. We are not even that.”
  • Yet another social consequence of the system was the creation of a class of frustrated youth who were in the position of having fallen between two stools. Their education equipped them for posts in the administrative system, but there were not enough of these.
  • On the other hand, says Gandhi, they were alienated from the traditional mainstream. The social structure had not been able to absorb this element and place them in the natural position of providing enlightened leadership. A potent element of change was seen to have resulted in alienation and frustration.
  • Another adverse outcome of the education system was the creation of a further imbalance in society – this was between spouses and between the two sexes of the upper and middle classes. While the girls and wives of this class were left unedu­cated, the men often received western education, which made them feel closer to the ruling classes.
  • Such a situation could only aggravate the pressures in a male dominated society. Gandhi received many letters from young men who felt they were incompatible with their uneducated spouses and he began to feel that “the gulf between husband and wife as far as social attain­ments were concerned was almost unbridgeable”.
  • Some young men, he was aware, solved the problem by cruelly turning their wives out of their houses, while others used them as sexual objects without sharing their intellectual life with them. However, the prospect was not altogether bleak and there was a growing section with a quickened conscience; yet, the problem of marital relationships was serious, he wrote. Education, as it was being imparted to and imbibed by Indians, had created fissures and tensions in the social structure without offering a new value system that was principled and forward looking.

(11)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Education: as an Instrument of Social Change:

  • Apart from satyagraha, which aimed at the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the foremost among the other instruments of change, in Gandhi’s view, was education. It will be relevant to examine some of the concrete schemes of education that Gandhi conceptu­alized and implemented with the help of his associates and also those schemes that he visualized for the future.
  • To exemplify his concept of “real education”, Gandhi set up a school through voluntary effort and he hoped that its success would help in obtaining public support, including that of the government. His first experimental school, the National Gujarati School, was established in Ahmedabad in 1917. The basic principle, in his own words, was that the education would be “physical, intellectual and religious”.
  • By physical education, he meant that there would be training in agriculture, hand weaving, carpentry, smithy, drill and civil defence. It would also include some basic instruction on how to maintain bodily health. Intel­lectual training would include a study of Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit as compulsory subjects and Urdu, Tamil and Bengali as optional. English would not be taught in the first three years.
  • Mathematics would be taught and would include instruction in book keeping and weights and measures. History, geography and the elements of astronomy and chemistry would also be taught. Regarding instruction in religion, he wrote that the pupils would be made familiar with general ethical principles, especially truth and non-violence and learn from the conduct of the teachers.
  • Gandhi’s earliest scheme of education had much to commend itself as it had special value for the state of the country, but it was too idealistic to be implemented fully. Teachers were hard to get, enough funds were not available and there were not sufficient numbers inspired to organize such schools. So, progress was slow.
  • In 1921, at the height of the Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhi established the first national university in Ahmedabad, the Gujarat Vidyapith. He said the principal objective of the Gujarat Vidyapith was to prepare educated workers of character and conscientiousness, who would help in the conduct of the swaraj and connected movements.
  • As the institution was set up to further the objective of non-cooperation with the government, including its educational system, Gandhi decided that the Gujarat Vidyapith would not seek any aid from the government and, in keeping with the creed of the Non-Cooperation Movement it would always uphold the principles of truth and non-violence. From this, it naturally followed that the Gujarat Vidyapith would not recognize the custom of untouchability in any form.
  • The students would spin regularly, even if for a short while, and wear khadi habitually so that, on the one hand, they would boost the production of swadeshi cloth and thereby promote the country’s self-reliance and, on the other, they would identify with die lives of the overwhelming majority in the villages of India. To pre-empt an artificial division between the classes and the masses, the medium of instruction would be the language of the province.
  • To promote national integration, the learning of the national language – Hindi-Hindustani in both Devanagari and Persian scripts – would be a compulsory part of the curriculum. Manual training was to receive equal importance with intellectual training and only such occupations would be taught as were necessary for the good life of the nation. The change in attitude and perspectives that Gandhi hoped to achieve was the identification of the interests of the classes and the masses, compatibility in home and school, and a new perception of educational aims, including value for dignity of labour and lack of ambition for making money.
  • Gandhi said religious instruction should be a part of the curriculum so long as it was in consonance with truth and non-violence. There should be complete tolerance of all estab­lished religions. Physical exercise and training should be a compulsory part of the curriculum for the physical well-being of the nation. Gandhi’s wish was to make this kind of national education a living force, so as to cover every village in Gujarat, and finally to produce social workers who would serve the country in all its villages. It is obvious that national service was an indispensable part of education as far as Gandhi was concerned.
  • The Gujarat Vidyapith received a good response from the people initially, but then, the enrolment numbers began declining. To remedy this, in February 1928, Gandhi reorganized it by shifting the management from the senate to a board of trustees. This had a positive effect on its functioning.
  • Other national institutions such as the Kashi Vidyapith and the Jamia Millia Islamia (initially in Aligarh, but later shifted to Delhi) were set up along the lines of the Gujarat Vidyapith in many provinces in the 1920s and they maintained a viable existence even without government help. After independence, they received support from the government.
  • Gandhi wanted to make education self-supporting because he saw that the problem of obtaining adequate funds was never going to go away. His scheme of self-supporting education gained greater importance when the Congress, under his influence, accepted prohibition as one of its goals – this cut off a major financial source for education as the excise on liquor had customarily financed state education.
  • The concept of self-supporting education was translated into action after 1937, when the Congress came into power in seven provinces.
  • Gandhi’s scheme is described as Basic Education or the Wardha Scheme of Education. Explaining its underlying principle, Gandhi said: “Taken as a whole, a vocation or vocations are the best medium for the all-round development of a boy or a girl and, therefore, the syllabus should be woven round vocational training, primary education thus conceived as a whole is bound to be self-supporting, even though for the first or even the second year’s course, it may not be wholly so.”
  • He explained that every handicraft had to be taught not merely mechanically, but scientifically so that the child would know the why and wherefore of every process. By this means, subjects such as history, geography and arithmetic would be partially or wholly covered, he believed. Language and grammar would also be associated with the crafts.
  • He described the course as primary education and it would extend over a period of seven years. The vocations would include all the processes of hand manufacture of cotton, wool and silk products, embroidery, tailoring, papermaking, cutting, book binding, cabinet making, toy making and gur making. These, he felt, could be learnt easily without much capital outlay. Dignity of labour also received emphasis during this process of learning.
  • The products manufactured in the schools were to be bought by the state at prices fixed by it. In this way, education would be self-financing. The boys and girls trained at these schools would be guaranteed employment by the state in the vocations they had learnt. When he was asked whether Basic Education would be different in rural and urban areas, Gandhi replied that he did not visualize any fundamental difference.
  • In fact, he said, it was time cities made good their debt to the villages from which they had drawn sustenance thus far. To establish what he called a “healthy moral relationship” between cities and villages, the vocations through which the city children would receive their education ought to be directly related to the requirements of villages, just as village production had always been geared to the requirements of cities.
  • An obvious criticism that one could make of the Basic Education scheme was the high degree of state control visualized in it. But Gandhi foresaw far reaching social consequences if the scheme was implemented in the right spirit. It would, he said, check the progressive decay of our villages and lay the foundation of a more just social order in which there was no unnatural division between the haves and the have-nots and everybody would be assured of a living wage and the right to freedom.
  • All this, he believed, would be accomplished without a bloody class war or colossal capital expenditure on extensive mechanization. Gandhi was of the opinion that women could play an important role as teachers in this scheme. The women he had in mind were not needy women looking for jobs, but patriotic women with the leisure and zeal to serve the people and their country.
  • The first school under the Basic Education scheme was set up in April 1938 at Wardha under the aegis of the Hindustani Talimi Sangh. It was called the Vidyamandir Training School. On 21 April, the students took a solemn pledge that bound them to serve without a break for 25 years on a monthly salary of Rs 15. Out of the 5,000 applications received, 166 were granted admission. During 1938 and 1939, several Basic Education schools were set up and Gandhi writes that the economic results of the spread went far beyond their expectations.
  • In October 1939, the first Conference of Basic National Education was held at Pune to review the progress of the scheme in its first year of working., The secretary of the Hindustani Talimi Sangh, E.W. Aryanayakam, said that the conference and the exhibition (on Basic Education) had finally lifted the scheme above the realm of controversy and proved to the educational world that the claims of the new education system about the fundamental principles, content and methods were justified by a year’s experience of work with the teachers and children.
  • After independence, however, the economic development of India took a turn different from that visualized by Gandhi, so the necessary political will and faith required for Basic Education was no longer available. As a result, the scheme languished after the first five or six years and the few schools that continued under the rubric of Basic schools remained so in name alone. Public opinion could not be mobilized adequately nor did the state structure remain supportive.
  • On the subject of higher education, Gandhi’s considered opinion in later years was that it should be left to private enter­prise and that it should meet national requirements, whether in the various industries, technical arts or fine arts. The state univer­sities should, he said, be purely examining bodies, self-supported through the fees charged for examinations.
  • In conclusion, it may be said that Gandhi considered education not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It was seen as an instrument to serve the purpose of the all round devel­opment of individual personalities and the needs of the nation.

(12)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Rural Regeneration:

  • For Gandhi, the state of the villages in India was the true index of the state of the country – if the state of the country was to be satisfactory, the state of its villages had to improve. Gandhi’s solution was the regeneration of villages through a compre­hensive programme of rural uplift covering all areas such as health, education and employment. Village based industries had to be revived and a taste for their goods had to be created in urban areas.
  • In his programme of rural uplift, volunteers like himself had a key role to play. They should go to a selected village and live among the peasants there in the simplest way possible without any fuss and teach them through precept and practice to live a healthy life. Gandhi propagated his views through his journals, Navajivan, Young India and Harijan. These were copied or trans­lated into other languages in various parts of India and became common knowledge.
  • Gandhi was of the opinion that the village worker should expect no more than a living wage from the All India Spinners Association or the new national provincial scheme that was being organized because India was a poor country and its service excluded a living beyond its means. Gandhi also expressed his opinion about the “village-worker ratio” that would make his scheme of rural regeneration effective. Villages, he wrote, should be grouped into blocks, each with a radius of ten miles and covering around ten villages. In such a scheme, there would be one worker for every block and 70,000 men and women volun­teers would be required to cover the more than seven lakh villages in the country.
  • He outlined in meticulous detail the schedule of work for the village worker. Firstly, he should undertake a census of all the cattle to find out the average yield of milk; a census of the untouchables and a report of their conditions; a detailed survey of the village, including its area, crops, land revenue, crafts, industries, wells, fruits, and types of trees. All this information needed to be recorded carefully because it would be of invaluable help not only to the worker, but also for chalking out uplift programmes. The local volunteers would prove most valuable in this task.
  • In response to Gandhi’s call, dedicated volunteers opened centres for village service in different parts of the country and, fortunately, some records of their progress are available. In Tamil Nadu, a Gandhi ashram was set up by C. Rajagopalachari near Trinchengodu. In Comilla, in Bengal, the Abhoy Ashramwas run by Drs S.C. Banerji and P.C. Ghosh. In Meerut, the Gandhi Ashram managed by Acharya Kripalani was a big organization with branches in several places. Among the activ­ities at these ashrams were spinning, medical relief, national education, dairy, agriculture, rural sanitation, removal of untouchability and fighting liquor addiction.
  • An important development in the programme for improving the state of villages was, the setting up of the All India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) in October 1934. AIVIA was constituted under the advice and guidance of Gandhi by J.C. Kumarrappa as an autonomous body, independent of the political activities of the Congress, but nevertheless a part of it.
  • Gandhi outlined the work of AIVIA as follows:
  1. To encourage and improve the known industries, that are likely to perish for want of support;
  2. To take charge and sell the products of these industries;
  3. To carry on the survey of such village industries as need to be revived and supported; and
  4. To attend to village sanitation and hygiene.
  • He perceived the role of AIVIA thus: Village services as conceived by AIVIA had a unique mission. Town parties would go out to villages to clean, instruct and purchase. Parties of villagers would be organized to go to towns to sell articles made in their villages and demonstrate their usefulness. This village movement was to be one of decentralization and restoration of health and comfort and the skill of the artisan to villagers.
  • Genuine service in the villages by those living in the towns epitomized for Gandhi his concept of bread labour, which denoted that each person should do adequate manual labour either for a living or to undo the unfair division of labour in society. By following it in society, Gandhi believed, there would be enough food and leisure for all and the common problems of overpopulation, disease and poverty could be alleviated.
  • To create popular awareness about the village uplift programme, Gandhi conceived of the scheme of holding khadi exhibitions to synchronize with the annual sessions of the Congress. It was decided that AIVIA and AISA would jointly organize these exhibitions. The first such exhibition was held in March 1936 and it, as Gandhi says, “is not a spectacular show like its predecessors …. You will find here craftsmen and crafts- women from Kashmir and South India, from Sindh and Assam, and learn how they earn their scanty living. You will find that it is within your power to add a little to their income and to enable them to have a square meal, if only you will make up your mind to pay for their wares enough to ensure them a living wage.”
  • Gandhi was aware that the work of rural reconstruction on the scale that was needed in India was impossible without the active support of the government, which was the only body that could command the vast resources and manpower that was needed. Hence, when Congress governments were formed in seven provinces in 1937, he gave them guidelines on how they could further the work of AIVIA. He gave suggestions for the rapid promotion of select village based industries and for finding markets for their products outside the villages of production.
  • Though, in the ultimate analysis, Gandhi’s efforts for the revitalization of the villages of India did not achieve very much in concrete terms, they undoubtedly did bring into sharp focus the basic issues of social and economic change in India.

(13)Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on Marriage and Varna:

  • On the subject of interreligious and inter-caste marriage, Gandhi’s views underwent radical evolution from one polar extreme to the other. Till the early 1920s, he regarded such marriages as contrary to dharma and he found several practical objections to such unions, but by April 1928, he had a very different opinion.
  • He writes that caste should not be a consideration in marriage; what was important for both partners was a sense of belonging to the same nation. In 1931, he went further and saw “no moral objection” to even interreli­gious marriage as long as each party was free to observe his or her own religion.
  • He says the progeny of such unions should be brought up in the faith of their father because of “sound religious and philosophic reasons”. Gandhi does not specify these reasons, but it is easy to find in his view reflections of the patrilineal and patriarchical tradition to which he belonged. As a bulwark against provincialism and caste exclusiveness, he began advocating in 1933 interprovincial and inter-communal marriages among educated people.
  • As a result of his intellectual development, his ideas on varnadharma changed profoundly in later years. He came around to believe that all Hindus should now be classified in the fourth varna, as Shudra. This would at one stroke level down all distinc­tions of high and low.
  • This should not, of course, prevent anybody from attaining divine or any other knowledge, he writes, but it did mean that all must live by their labour and all become entitled, therefore, to nothing more than simple mainte­nance. This view was a corollary of his belief in the doctrine of ‘bread labour’, which he acquired from reading the Bhagvad Gita and the Bible.
  • The excesses of the caste system in India made him a severe opponent of it and he began to feel that it should be destroyed. The best way of doing this, he thought, was for reformers to begin the practice with themselves and, where necessary, take the consequences of the ensuing social boycott.
  • To those who defended the cruel custom of untouchability on the basis of the Hindu law of karma, Gandhi responded in his own style and gave his interpretation of this law in the following words: “My karma does not compel me to throw stones at a sinner. Religion is made to uplift and not to keep a man crushed under the weight of his karma.
  • It is a prostitution of the grand doctrine of karma to consign a man of lowly birth to perdition. Ram felt himself privileged to be honoured by a fisherman. The Hindu religion is replete with illustrations of great men lifting their unfortunate brethren from their miseries.
  • Will not the modern Hindus copy their own great men and once and for all rub out the blot of untouchability that so defiles Hinduism?” The issue of untouchability, which is related to the construction of an egalitarian society, became a major, if not the most important, social issue in his thought.

(13)Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on Public Service:

  • A very important aspect of Gandhi’s thought, which had signif­icant social consequences, was the norms he set for a ‘public worker’. These were formulated according to his high moral standards without which, he felt; there could be no wholesome public life. He set the example in 1899 in the following manner.
  • In recognition of his public service in South Africa, the Indian community there bestowed on him many costly gifts, including diamonds, silver and a heavy gold chain for his wife. This weighed him down with a sense of guilt as he had declared previously that such work was done without remuneration.
  • Moreover, he was preparing himself and his family for a life of selfless service and he had publicly exhorted people to conquer their infatuation for jewellery. Keeping all this in mind, he decided not to keep these gifts as personal possessions, despite the protestations of his wife. He created a trust of the gifts to benefit the community and appointed some leading Indians as its trustees. He was definitely of the opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.
  • Gandhi lays down another important guideline for public service. This is that a public worker should not take upon himself too many burdens, but should devote himself to a few chosen fields. This would lead to the best results, he feels. In a letter to a friend, he expresses this view, “Surely God has not laid on us the burden of ending all that suffering (of the world).
  • If he has, then he has also taught us the secret of carrying it, and it is that from cut of the heap of suffering, we should pick up one clod of earth. If we resolve to do all we can to end that suffering and firmly refuse to take up any other task, we shall have carried the load of the entire hill.”

(14)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Communal Tension:

  • Through his experiences in South Africa and India and on account of his commitment to nation building activities, Gandhi became keenly aware of the numerous points of infrastructural friction in Indian society. Wrangles over caste coexisted with wrangles over political and denominational affiliations.
  • Gandhi was deeply troubled and wrote:

“Today our democracy is choked by our internecine strife. We are torn by dissensions – dissensions between Hindus and Muslims, Brahmins and non-Brahmins, Congressmen and non-Congressmen. It is no easy task to evolve democracy out of this mobocracy. Let us not make confusion worse confounded by further introducing into it the virus of sectionalism and party spirit.”

  • A major constituent of the social fabric that exercised Gandhi’s mind was the issue of Hindu-Muslim relations. He considered this the pivot of national harmony and progress. The fact that these relations were becoming strained disheartened him deeply. He wrote a great deal and tried to analyse the problem in depth.
  • He believed that prior to the establishment of British rule, there was no special conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims, but there existed only particular localized misunderstandings with no systemic or institutional overtones. These latter were superimposed under British policies and minor differences were blown out of proportion. They then assumed mammoth dimensions.
  • The two nation theory was fostered with the help of ambitious elements in both communities. At the level of the masses, there was perfect coexistence, Gandhi believed, for had that not been the case, the Hindus would not have flourished under Muslim sovereigns and Muslims under Hindu. “Each party recognized 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,” he wrote.
  • It was a historical fact that most Muslims were Hindu converts and, therefore, their ancestors were the same and they shared a common culture. Like most historians, Gandhi believed that India had the capacity for assimilation – it had absorbed many foreign races. A fusion of Hindu and Islamic culture had been taking place over several centuries.
  • He argued, “In no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms; nor has it ever been so in India.” He goes on to say that a difference that had taken place was that whereas previously, Hindu-Muslim differences were resolved through mutual compromise they were now referred to the British rulers for settlement.
  • Gandhi identified some points of conflict that had arisen to pull the social fabric of India to breaking point, as, for instance, the activities of the so-called cow protection societies. Though Gandhi was Hindu in his orientation and worshipped the cow, he had no hesitation in condemning these societies as they threatened to disrupt the harmony and cohesiveness of Indian society.
  • In Hind Swaraj, he writes, “When the Hindus became insistent, the killing of cows increased. In my opinion, cow protection societies may be considered cow killing societies. It is a disgrace to us that we should need such societies.
  • When we forgot how to protect cows, I suppose we needed such societies.” The only way to protect cows, he said, was to try and persuade Muslims to desist from slaughtering them. They could not deny the economic importance of cows in the Indian subcontinent.
  • If they refused to listen, he advised the Hindus to stop trying to convince them and accept the situation. If the Hindus found the situation beyond their endurance, they should perform the ultimate sacrifice and lay down their own lives, rather than take Muslim lives. This, he was certain, would have a salutary effect.
  • Gandhi also saw that the Hindus were as much to blame for the destruction of cows as the Muslims. The Hindu owners of cows treated them cruelly and, in many instances, calves were deprived of their mothers’ milk. He was shocked by the inhuman practice of phooka, used to extract the last drop of milk from a cow.
  • As the cow became barren soon, they were sold off to butchers. As far as the principle of non-killing was concerned, all Hindus could not be said to be its adherents as many ate meat. “It is therefore preposterous,” Gandhi writes, “to suggest that the two cannot live together amicably because the Hindus believe in ahimsa and the Mahomedans do not.
  • These thoughts are put into our minds by selfish and false religious teachers.” Gandhi understood that it was not compassion for animals that drove the Hindus to take up the issue of cow protection, but communal tension.
  • British historians, he felt, also had a role to play in the mutual animosity between the different religious groups. Very often, they presented a distorted picture of the culture of different peoples who also happened to be subject peoples and, due to their subtle presentation; readers were hypnotized into believing them.
  • The grant of separate electorates to the Muslims in 1909 had exacerbated social and political tensions. The British rulers intended to use the Muslims to counterbalance the strength of the majority community. Gandhi saw through this game and tried to bring the two communities together through the national movement he launched in 1919.
  • After a temporary truce, relations soured again in 1924, but Gandhi was not disheartened. He wrote in Young India: “In spite of the present strained relations between the two communities, both have gained. The awakening among the masses was a necessary part of the training. It is itself a tremendous gain.
  • I would do nothing to put the people to sleep again. Our wisdom consists now in directing the awakening in the proper channel …. The storm is but the forerunner of the coming calm that comes from a consciousness of strength, not from the stupor of exhaustion and disappointment.”
  • A major factor in heightening the communal tension and disturbing the harmony was, Gandhi believed, the fiery campaigns launched by the Arya Samajists to reconvert people to Hinduism by a method called shuddhi (literally, purification).
  • The shuddhi movement, in his opinion, had no rational basis for there was no such thing as conversion in Hinduism, as there was in Christianity and Islam. The concept of shuddhi aimed at reforming Hinduism along spiritual lines, but the current manifestation, he wrote, was simply an appeal to the individual’s selfish instinct as he was sought to be bribed into conversion.In the context of the growing communal passions, Gandhi felt that the role of the press was highly questionable. The embers of inter-communal tension in society were fanned by mischievous propaganda in the press, particularly in the Punjab, where the two communities vied with each other in using abusive language and making scurrilous charges and counter­charges.
  • Mutual suspicion and prejudice, Gandhi believed, also had a part in embittering relations between Hindus and Muslims. The latter were sometimes deluded into thinking that they belonged to a race of conquerors, that the Hindus were their subjects, and that India was not their home. They suspected the Hindus of being cowards.
  • This feeling was aggravated by the despicable behaviour of the Hindus towards the Harijans or untoucnables. On the other hand, the Hindus, Gandhi believed, had certain misconceptions about Islam and its teachings and regarded its followers as mleccha or untouchables.
  • Gandhi had personally experienced intolerance on the part of some influential Muslim scholars. They objected strongly to his citing the Koran in the context of non-violence on the grounds that he was not a Muslim. But Gandhi was not disheartened, he merely pointed out that truth was no man’s monopoly and mutual respect and tolerance were the impera­tives of civilized dialogue.
  • However, in the midst of all the tension and strife, he found glimmerings of harmony. Gandhi witnessed a touching example in Mysore in July 1927. He received the address of the Gorakshana Mandali (Cow Protection Society), in which it was claimed that the majority of Muslims were with the Hindus on the question of prevention of cow slaughter. Mutual consider­ation, Gandhi felt, would prepare the ground for appropriate legislation to set at rest apprehensions and anxiety.

(15)Mahatma Gandhi Views on Cordial Hindu-Muslim Relations:

  • In Gandhi’s view, in addition to swadeshi and the removal of untouchability, the necessity of cordial relations between Hindus and Muslims was a leading factor in the social progress of the country. He made this issue, too, an essential component of the constructive programme launched in 1920. Though he did not sponsor a specific movement for the purpose, he repeatedly suggested, in word and action, ways and means of promoting communal harmony. On several occasions, Gandhi was able, through individual action and sheer force of personality, to bring communal riots to an immediate halt. Social and political change could not be planned without taking this factor into consider­ation, according to him.
  • Gandhi’s long and lively association with both Muslims and Hindus in South Africa had made him conscious of the fact that both had much in common and their traditional harmony, which had been somewhat fractured in the preceding decades, could be re-established in India. He perceived the Khilafat demand as presenting an excellent opportunity for bringing the Muslim masses into the national struggle for freedom and for restoring amicable relations between Hindus and Muslims.
  • Gandhi asked the leaders to submit a calm, dispassionate and reasoned statement of the Mahommedan claim to the British authorities. Till then, though pro-Khilafat sentiments had been running high among the Muslims, there had been no organized plan of action on the issue. Through discussions, Gandhi persuaded the Khilafat leaders to chalk out a national programme of non-violent action.
  • He obviously estimated that if non-Muslims joined the Muslims on the Khilafat issue, it would be a big step towards the emotional integration of the country.
  • Gandhi was aware of Muslim reservations about the issue of non-violence as a technique of agitation, but after several consul­tations with Maulana Abdul Bari, who commanded wide influence, he managed to persuade him and others of its necessity. He published letters in leading newspapers and his own journals on the justice of the Khilafat issue. Important leaders such as Moti Lal Nehru, C.R. Das, Swami Shraddhanand and Bamanji of Saharanpur gave him full support.
  • In November 1919, the Khilafat demand was made an issue of the all India satyagraha campaign that had been launched that April. This was the first major step taken by Gandhi to bring about Hindu-Muslim harmony and identify common issues between the two communities. Gandhi’s impact on the Muslims can be judged from the conduct of Maulana Abdul Bari, who began preaching about the need to stop cow slaughter out of regard for Hindu sensibilities. On 6 September 1919, when Bakri Eid was being celebrated, he wired Gandhi: “In celebration of Hindu-Muslim unity, no cow sacrifices in Firangi Mahal this Bakrid – Abdul Bari.”
  • Unfortunately, the phase of communal harmony that began in 1919 proved to be short-lived. Turkey itself made the Khilafat question redundant by abolishing the sultanate in 1924. Thus, the focal point of Hindu-Muslim political cooperation disintegrated. Communal riots broke out soon after the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement in February 1922 and continued sporadically till 1924, when Gandhi morally compelled the communities to sign a truce in his own unique way – through a fast.
  • Gandhi felt himself responsible for the unprecedented scale of communal violence because it followed a period of communal cooperation initiated by him. He began his 21 day penitential fast on 17 September 1924 in the house of his close friend, Mohammad Ali, as a visible demonstration of his love for the Muslims. Gandhi perceived his own role in the following manner: “I am striving to become the best cement between the two communities. My longing is to be able to cement the two with my blood, if necessary.”
  • The upshot of his fast was that Hindus and Muslims got together and held a unity conference in Delhi on 26 and 27 September 1924 and passed a resolution drafted by Gandhi. This resolution was remarkable for its contents because it showed a genuine effort by both parties to re-establish a friendly atmosphere. It deplored the cruelties perpetrated during the riots and stated that it was “unlawful and irreligious for any person to take the law into his own hands”.
  • The conference was of the opinion that all differences should be referred to arbitration or a court of law. A board of arbitrators was appointed. On the controversial issues of cow slaughter and the playing of music before mosques, it was agreed that neither Hindus nor Muslims should use force, but rely on each other’s good sense and the growth of better relations between them. Newspapers and pamphlets that inflamed communal passions came in for sharp criticism and the board of arbitrators was asked to scrutinize such writings from time to time and publish correct versions.
  • Another important achievement of this conference was that it authorized the board of arbitrators to frame a scheme for the protection of the rights of minorities and, for this purpose, invited representatives from all parties and all sections of society. The scheme, it was proposed, would be published and be binding on all parties for a period of five years ending in 1929, when it would be revised by a joint conference representing all interests.
  • On the subject of religious conversions, the resolution stated that tabligh or shuddhi of minors or adults without education and clear understanding was contrary to moral sense and should be abandoned. Every conversion must be done openly and after notice to the relatives of the people concerned.”
  • As in other spheres, Gandhi had great expectations of women being able to play a positive role in the betterment of inter-communal relations. He had been deeply impressed by their powers of suffering and sacrifice during the civil disobe­dience movement. He asked them to use the weapon of satyagraha now to secure Hindu-Muslim unity.
  • They should, he advised, not cooperate with the men at home and starve themselves and their men till they gave up communal squabbles. “Assure me of your cooperation,” he said, “and you will add tremendously to my strength and to my power of pleading.”
  • Another approach Gandhi tried was to draw the influential classes among the Muslims into the sphere of national and social development. In a speech at the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Conference in Karachi on 1 April 1931, he asked the delegate ulema to use their influence with the masses to propagate non-violent methods in resolving disputes, just as he was doing among the general public.
  • He also appealed to the ulema to set an example by adopting the nationwide programme of swadeshi and give up their love of imported cloth. Muslim zamindars could also do their bit, Gandhi believed, in improving relations with their Hindu neighbours. His message was especially for those in the province of Sindh, where they were feared and distrusted by the Hindus. A successful experiment in Sindh would be easily, emulated in the other provinces, he thought.
  • In searching for a more enduring solution to the problem of communal riots, Gandhi mooted the idea of forming Peace Brigades. But their members had to have certain qualifications, according to him. Among these were a living faith in non-violence and equal regard for all the principal religions of the world. They were required to be local men and women who would cultivate, through personal service, contacts with people in their locality so that they were trusted by them.
  • They would thus be in a position to anticipate trouble and deal with it accordingly. They would also need to be in such occupations as to leave them leisure for this sort of voluntary service. He suggested that they should wear a distinctive dress so that they would be easily recognized. It hardly needs to be said that such peace brigades could render valuable service in any part of the world.
  • Though Gandhi’s efforts to establish Hindu-Muslim unity did not succeed in the long run due to many extraneous factors, it cannot be denied that his lack of bias, his zeal for establishing harmonious relations between different sections of India’s population, and his personal integrity won him the love and trust of important segments of the Muslim community.

(16)Mahatma Gandhi Views on ‘Civilization’:

  • Though a Hindu, Gandhi was deeply attached to eclectic values and revered all faiths as representing perceptions of the supreme truth. He was proud of India’s ancient heritage and, as such, he was acutely conscious of the glaring contrast presented by contemporary society.
  • He was convinced that India’s present decline was the result of her people’s love for aping the west and concentration on increasing bodily comforts as opposed to spiritual uplift. His perception, in other words, was that Indian society had acquired a faulty value system and forsaken its own pure roots.
  • Gandhi bemoaned the fact that India, which was once renowned for its divine knowledge and was the cradle of religions, was “becoming irreligious”. He was not pointing at any particular religion, but at the fundamental morality that underlay all religions. Religious superstition had taken the place of this fundamental morality and led to a lot of cruelty and rivalry among different sections of the people.
  • The so-called intelligentsia of the country was not fully committed to national development, according to Gandhi. He regretted the fact that practising lawyers, who had some influence on public opinion in India, restricted their political activity to the few leisure hours they got from their tennis and billiards.
  • “I do not expect … lawyers will bring us substantially near swaraj,” he wrote, and further, “I want at least the public workers among them to be whole-timers and when that happy day comes, I promise a different outlook before the country.” In other words, one could say that Gandhi did not find the elements of modern civilization and social groups as lending cohesion or strength to the Indian social milieu.
  • Gandhi noted the “general degeneration” in the value system of Indian society with anxiety and concern. He wrote extensively about the fraud, hypocrisy and inequities he noted everywhere. The yawning gulf between the rich and poor came out even at social functions, where he saw the extravagant waste indulged in by the rich at the cost of the poor. “We make too much ostentation,” he wrote, “rather than really enjoy ourselves, we make a show of enjoyment, instead of sincerely mourning we make a show of mourning.”
  • Another effect of such lavish spending by the rich was that the poorer sections tried to emulate them to gain social recog­nition and ended up incurring ruinous debts. Gandhi noted that the poor contributed whatever they could spare for the national cause, whereas the rich “expect to gain everything by speeches and resolutions. They are keeping back a nation ready for sacrifice.” The elite in society are generally acknowledged to be the leaders of social conduct, which is emulated by the rest. But Gandhi saw the elite as poor initiators of social or political reform.
  • The religious leaders, he found, were no different from the social elites. They were sunk in ignorance and superstition. Of them, he wrote, “Our religious heads are always one sided in their thinking. There is no harmony between their words and deeds. Our non-violence is an unworthy thing.
  • We see its utmost limit in refraining somehow from destroying bugs, mosquitoes and fleas, or from killing birds and animals. We do not care if these creatures suffer, nor even if we partly contribute to their suffering.”
  • The south of India, once famed for its culture and tradition, had not escaped the prevailing process of social degeneration. In Madras (now Chennai), he noted, in many places, the outward form of religion remained and the inner spirit had vanished. The Harijans in that region suffered more indignities than they did in almost any part of the country.
  • He noted too that the Brahmins there were more sharply separated from the non-Brahmins than anywhere else. “And yet,” he writes sarcas­tically, “no other region makes such abundant use of sacred ash, sandalwood paste and vermillion powder. No other part of the country has quite so many temples and is so generous in providing for their maintenance.”
  • As a result of this, on the one hand, the educated people were getting increasingly estranged from religion and becoming more cynical in consequence, and, on the other, total darkness and ignorance prevailed among the orthodox.
  • A renowned place of pilgrimage appeared to Gandhi as a microcosm of the social degradation that had befallen India. This was the Kumbh Mela in Hardwar in 1915. All that he noticed about the pilgrims was their “absent mindedness, hypocrisy and slovenliness than their piety.
  • The swarm of sadhus, who had descended, seemed to have been born but to enjoy the good things of life.” Hypocrisy and opportunism went to such horri­fying lengths that a fifth foot, cut off from a live calf, was grafted upon the shoulder of a cow for the express purpose of fleecing the ignorant of their money. “There was no Hindu,” he writes, “but would be attracted by a five footed cow, and no Hindu but would lavish his charity on such a miraculous cow.”
  • Gandhi’s anguish and despair at the Kumbh Mela are quite plain. He was disgusted with the sanctimonious hypocrisy that, on the one hand, revered a holy place like Hardwar and particu­larly the Ganga there, yet had no hesitation in dirtying the roads, the river banks and the river itself. Concluding his narrative, he writes, “The Hardwar experiences proved for me to be of inesti­mable value. They helped me in no small way to decide where I was to live and what I was to do.”
  • The gap between social precept and practice was again noticed by Gandhi on a visit to some other Hindu centres of pilgrimage. In November 1929, while touring the United Provinces, he went to Mathura, Govardhan and Vrindavan. This region is the home of the legendary Hindu God, Krishna, the cowherd, and as Gandhi was a devout Vaishnava, he had perhaps expected something from the visit. But he was sorely disappointed. Instead of boasting the finest cattle (Krishna’s playmates) in the land and an ample supply of pure unadul­terated milk, all he saw was “cattle with their bones protruding, cows who give so little milk as to be an economic burden”.
  • The Hindus sold them for slaughter to the butchers. Things were worse in Govardhan for the Brahmins there were no longer “custodians of true religion”, but lived as “beggars”. In Vrindavan, he noticed a very large number of widows, princi­pally from Bengal. He was grieved to hear that the poor among them were paid a small pittance daily for repeating the divine name of ‘Radhey-Shyam’ in the congregation.
  • On the occasion of the Buddha’s birth anniversary celebra­tions in Kolkata in May 1925, Gandhi bemoaned the state of all Indian religions. “Buddhism, like every religion at the present moment,” he said, “is really decadent. I am optimistic enough to feel that a day is dawning when all these great religions will be purged of all frauds, hypocrisy, humbug, untruthfulness, incre­dulity and all that may be described under the term, ‘degradation’.” Only truth and love would be recognized as the true badge of religion, he hoped.
  • Gandhi also noted that immorality and dishonesty charac­terized the conduct of many of the so-called leaders of society. He had in mind the custom of very young girls being forced to marry old or middle aged widowers, who thus pretended to do social service, but in reality satisfied their “baser instincts”.
  • He also published letters from trusted workers about “violence, untruth and corruption in the Congress”. The most serious charge was that bogus membership existed on a very large scale, which resulted in large scale embezzlement of funds. That the foremost political party of the nation indulged in such practices told its own tale about the state of the country.

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