Lessons from GandhiJI’S Life
“I will continue to speak from my grave” said the Mahatma while speaking about the growing discord and intolerance among his countrymen.
Gandhi’s martyrdom on 30th January, 1948 though put an end to his earthly sojourn, the dead Gandhi emerged stronger and formidable and continues to influence humanity in varying degree and the prophetic statement of Nehru announcing the passing away of Gandhi seems to have come true. Nehru said,
“...The light has gone out, I said, yet I was wrong .For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.”
It is nearly seven decades now since Gandhi was assassinated and there are all kinds of discussions both in India and abroad on what Gandhi left for humanity and whether his teachings would survive the test of time.
The last days of Gandhi were marked by deep distress and pain in him on account of the unexpected turn of events which had led to the vivisection of his dear country for whose freedom from the foreign masters he led a nonviolent mass struggle of unprecedented scale and magnitude. When freedom came at last, to his utter dismay he saw his dream of a united India crumbling and the India of his dream enmeshed in internecine quarrel and bloodshed.
Undaunted by these unexpected developments Gandhi the lonely pilgrim marched ahead with tremendous amount of optimism. His last major initiative for peace and harmony in the blood-soaked regions of Noakhali was an eloquent expression of his profound belief that a divided society, fighting on trivial issues has no future. He also taught through this campaign that everyone can be a peace-maker and a peace-builder.
Gandhi’s campaigns in Noakhali for peace, harmony and unity, echoed Gurudev Tagore’s prophetic assertion ’Eklo Chalo’(Walk Alone)and Swami Vivekananda’s electrifying urging’ Arise, Awake and Stop not till the goal is reached’ infused new hopes and resolve in Indians to stand united for a new India. Gandhi’s belief that what the nation achieved on 15th August was political freedom from the British and the struggle must continue for economic freedom and social justice very well reflected his well-orchestrated resolve to remain a fortress of goodwill and bridge of harmony.
What even the passionate critic of Gandhi cannot miss while reading developments in the post Gandhi era is the string of activities inspired by Gandhi in different parts of the world. If not in very significant measure, there are now very few countries in the world where something or other in the name of Gandhi is not being organised. In short, there is a global nonviolent awakening after Gandhi.
The core of Gandhi legacy
It is widely accepted now that the core of the legacy Gandhi left for humanity is that he taught us that truth is greater than all worldly possessions, and that slavery, violence, injustice and disparities are inconsistent with truth.
What Gandhi left is not a set of theoretical formulations, on the contrary, a carefully evolved vision of an organically sound and mutually supportive and respecting independent world order.
Change with consent
The six decades of Gandhi’s public life in three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia), spearheading various movements for new social and political milieu where all men and women will be treated as brothers and sisters, demonstrated with convincing sincerity a revolutionary zeal for change – change with consent – hitherto un-experimented in national or international politics. Tolerance, consent, reconciliation and a profound faith in the unity of all sentient and non-sentient beings have been the core of the Gandhian vision of a world where harmony among the various segments of God’s creation would nurture the essential goodness in each one – both the visible and invisible threads – uniting the entire humanity into a single entity. Does this sound Utopian?
Yes, quite a large number of people believe that the new social order Gandhi envisioned is too idealistic and an unattainable utopia only fit enough for academic and semantic interpretations.
Gandhi’s critique of the emerging
Gandhi warned humanity of the growing injustice and deepening imbalance as early as 1909 when he pointed out in his seminal work ‘Hind Swaraj’, that unprincipled growth will land humanity on the brink of disaster. Even his own close disciples raised their eyebrows of disagreement when he said this.
The evil that we have to fight is within us and that we are ignorant of it, is the basic problem according to him. Motifs such as give and take, live and let live, love and to be loved have become clichés now in the new dictionary compiled by the champions of unlimited growth. This can be possible only if we adopt a holistic vision of life and ensure equality and justice which presupposes the simple truth that each individual is unique and we should respect his/her individuality and let him/her maintain each one’s uniqueness and what applies to an individual should apply to a nation or at a global level.
Gandhi further warned humanity against a series of social and political turmoil, ecological devastation and other human misery that might arise unless modern civilisation takes care of nature and man tries to live in harmony with nature and strives to reduce his wants. Unlimited-consumerist tendencies and callous indifferences to values will not help humanity to progress towards peace, he warned. Hatred of all forms, exploitation in whichever manner it exists, are negation of humanity’s basic right to exist.
The Gandhian legacy of simple living in conformity with the basic rhythm of life typifies the age-old wisdom of humanity.
Gandhi also tries to convince humanity that wars never solved any problem. On the contrary, reconciliation should help humanity sort out the various problems. Thus, in Gandhi, as has been pointed out by many thinkers in different parts of the world, we have a world leader who dreamt of a warless world and promoter of a social order where exploitation and injustice will not become the dominant tendencies.
Gandhi’s experiments in South Africa and its contemporary relevance
Two of the important factors that brought Gandhi closer to the millions are the genuine inspiration he was able to offer to the freedom-loving citizens and the generation of a feeling among a considerable section of the masses that he was motivated only by the spirit of service and not by any personal or ulterior desires.
His South African experiments in 21 years won him respect from even those who opposed him initially and those who never met him or knew him.
Tolstoy’s comments that the initiatives of Gandhi in South Africa was the most important thing in the world at that time, were a case in point.
Gandhi demonstrated that the life of a leader should also be open, capable enough to influence the masses so that they will also emulate the leader unreservedly.
Gandhi did both these with remarkable success, which in turn resulted in millions following him like charmed moths. The two settlements that Gandhi started in South Africa, the Phoenix Ashram and the Tolstoy Farm bear eloquent testimony to the leadership qualities and the visionary nature of Gandhi which in turn generated great understanding, sympathy and enthusiasm among almost all dumb Indians and others in South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century.
His life, both as an initiator of new experiments and as a private individual and lawyer of great promise, were all open. He was against anybody possessing anything more than what the other person had. The members of the settlement ate in the common kitchen, worked in the farm together, their children attended the general school and nobody entertained or desired to accumulate or acquire anything of his own.
Not that, it was roses, roses all the way to Gandhi. Gandhi did have to face several problems in this. It was initially difficult for him to convince even his own wife and Gandhi was harsh when he detected that his wife had a few things of her own. Gandhi’s children too were disappointed and even they nourished an ambition of attending better schools and pursuing their higher education outside South Africa. Gandhi resisted all these attempts and insisted on his children attending the same school where the children of other members of the settlement were studying.
He kept account of every pie that was spent. He stopped even charging for his own services as a lawyer. All this, not only endeared him to his followers but inspired them also to follow him as far as possible. This naturally resulted in the generation of a kind of joy and willing participation in the cause he was espousing.
The efficacy of Gandhian Satyagraha in the emerging scenario
Back in India, the first major movement Gandhi launched was in a place called Champaran, near Bodh Gaya, the hallowed place associated with Shakyamuni Buddha. Gandhi’s visit to this sleepy village, where he launched his first Satyagraha movement, also witnessed joyful participation of the people in large numbers. He proved that people will respond to any genuine call for action provided they are convinced that the issues identified are their own and one who leads the movement should also be a source of love, respect and dedication and in Gandhi his followers found these qualities in abundance.
The Ahmedabad Mill strike, the Salt Satyagraha, the Non-Cooperation Movement - all witnessed large number of people jumping into the massive Civil Disobedience Movement sacrificing their wealth and comfort and courting sufferings, injuries and sacrifice.
The songs sung by those who participated in this heroic struggle extolled virtues of unprecedented magnitude. Nothing would deter these people from marching forward. Jails were filled with satyagrahis and schools and factories were also converted into temporary jails having found no room to accommodate the surging and ever growing number of those who were defying the orders of the Government. There were instances of prisoners being sent out of the main land to the Andaman Islands. Facing bullets and even death did not matter. It was the conviction, and that too, unmistakable and a grim determination to march forward like inspired souls to achieve their goal, that characterised their mood and by no means could it be described impulsive.
That was the spirit of those days. In this heroic struggle, the central figures who not only inspired all those who participated, as also those who proved to be the sheet anchor of the resurging fighting for self-discovery and articulation of their suppressed voice, were Gandhi and those inspired by Gandhi.
This remarkable achievement was possible because Gandhi convincingly demonstrated through his simple life that his identification with the masses was complete.
Gandhi cannot be described to be a philosopher in the conventional sense of the term. His views, mostly based on his profound understanding of human nature and the insights he developed from the numerous experiments he conducted with scientific precision, have been found to be not a philosopher’s articulations but the records of the experience of a visionary who was searching for ways and means to lessen tension and promote harmony in the various spheres of human endeavour.
The breathtaking developments in the second half of the last century proved that Gandhi was correct as Martin Luther King (Jr.) said, “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. His life, thought and action are inspired by the vision of a humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk”.
The core of Gandhi’s scientific humanism
By equating Gandhi with any saint or philosopher who couched transcendental truth and spoke in riddles offering a plethora of aphorisms, we will be missing the essential Gandhi. He was a revolutionary in the sense that he aimed at changing certain social and political structures but the means he adopted were not the usual violent methods associated with revolutions.
Gandhi offers a package of alternatives to humanity
*Gandhi also offered a package of alternatives to humanity. They include Insistence of nonviolence to violence;
*Dialogue, persuasion and reconciliation to end hostilities;
*Adoption of trusteeship to ensure economic justice;
*Improvement of the lot of the depressed sections by abolishing factors that perpetrate social iniquities;
*Positive measures to end man’s tyranny on nature by respecting nature as the protector of human race;
*Warmed of the danger of unlimited consumption and the need to limit one’s wants;
*And the urgent need to cultivate pluralistic approaches to foster diversity of culture, religions, practices and life styles.
Gandhi sought to demonstrate through his ashram experiments the use of alternative source of energy, appropriate technology etc. In short, an ardent practitioner of truth that he was, Gandhi showed humanity that there are workable alternatives which will be creative and sustainable.
The major hurdle in realizing at least a few of this or all is that we have to muster courage to accept this as a challenge, for it demands self and collective discipline of various kinds. It is not the gratuitous and condescending offer of a bit of whatever we are willing to part with that is required, but a willing and spontaneous readiness to share with the less privileged fellowmen and women what one has in excess and to work for happily ushering a new order.
The Gandhian humanism was not restrictive but transcendental and scientific. To describe it as revivalist reflects the closed mindset of those who try to put all creative and revolutionary ideas and efforts in straight- jackets.
It is said in certain quarters that Gandhi was successful only to a limited extent that too his impact is felt only in certain cultural contexts.
There is no denying of the fact that Gandhi was deep-rooted in his cultural and religious traditions. The phenomenal success Gandhi registered in the far-away South Africa, fighting for human rights and civil liberties in the first two decades of the last century and later the adoption of the Gandhian techniques, if not fully, by Nelson Mandela and the subsequent revelations made by the former South African President Mr. de Klerk that he was also influenced by Gandhi in adopting the path of reconciliation and forgiveness, certainly show that Gandhi had not spent twenty-one years in South Africa in vain.
In the American continent, Martin Luther King( Jr)’s heroic fight for civil liberties and his own admission that it was from Gandhi that he learnt his operational tactics also is not an isolated instance of the relevance of the Gandhian tactics. The manner in which the Greens, particularly in Germany, adopted Gandhian techniques to arouse human consciousness and how they operationalised their strategy, and the bold assertions made by Petra Kelly about the way they were influenced by Gandhi, also indicate that it is not the cultural traditions of a country or continent that would make the efficacy of certain philosophy or attitude viable, but it is the willingness and readiness of people to react and respond that matters.
One can give quite a few instances from almost all parts of the world to show how in different measures the Gandhian vision and approach is found to be an effective weapon in the hands of freedom fighters and social reformers.
Gandhi at no stage claimed that he was trying to teach anything new. In fact, he himself said more than once that he was not involved in any such mission. Truth and nonviolence, he said, are as old as the hills and he was only trying to appreciate and understand the marvel and majesty of both. He said in this connection, “We have to make truth and nonviolence, not matters for mere individual practice, but for practice by groups and communities and national. That at any rate is my dream. I shall live and die in trying to realise it. My faith helps me to discover new truths every day. Ahimsa is the attribute to the soul, therefore life practised by everybody in all affairs of life”.
Dismantling of apartheid in South Africa - message for rest of the world to end social discrimination including practice of untouchability in India
There is a surprising similarity between UNESCO’s statement in its preamble that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed and Mahatma Gandhi’s assertion that the world either progresses with nonviolence or perishes with violence. Mahatma Gandhi’s heroic work in South Africa for full 21 years and over 32 years of work in India have given humanity a blue print of strategies for a peaceful transition of humanity where respect for all forms of life, human dignity, self-respect and tolerance would characterise humanity’s progress.
For South Africa and the rest of the humanity the year 1994 bore witness to the efficacy of Gandhi’s strategies and philosophy as could be seen from the manner in which Gandhi began a fight, over 100 years ago in South Africa i.e. in 1903 bearing fruits when the blacks and the whites in South Africa were able to work out a satisfactory solution to peaceful transfer of power which resulted in the holding of elections and Dr. Mandela taking over the reign of power.
Spiritualisation of Politics
Gandhi’s contribution to the political awakening and freedom movement in different parts of the world and adoption of nonviolent strategies, which help both the opposing groups respect each other’s sentiments and accommodating the views of others, has much in common with UNESCO’s decision to propagate the message of tolerance for human survival. Asia and the African continent particularly have seen peaceful transition of power and social change, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi’s initiative which included different methods.
One important thing that keeps apart Gandhi’s teachings and strategies unique is the utmost importance Gandhi attached to pure means to attain lasting ends.
Gandhi’s attempts to make politics value based, corruption-free and people oriented were part of a new world vision. He also emphasised in this context that politics bereft of spiritual and ethical consideration will not sustain humanity.
(The author is Managing Trustee Gandhi Peace Mission & Chairman Gandhi Media Foundation email : drnradhakrishnan[at]gmail[dot]com The views expressed are personal.)