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Special Content

Special article vol.27

The Gandhian Ideas for Youth Empowerment


The Gandhi Jayanti of this year is being observed in the context of two historic land marks related to Gandhi. The first is that this year marks the 70th anniversary of Gandhi’s heroic strivings for peace and harmony in the strife-torn killing fields of Noakhali (now in Bangladesh) and the second is that the humanity is shortly launching the run-up preparations to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi. It would be, therefore, appropriate to examine briefly the role Gandhi wanted young men and women to play in the transformation of Indian society and the lessons from Gandhi’s life and work from which the youth of today could take inspiration. Envisaging great role for the youth in the establishment of a new social order, Gandhi trusted youth. Youth empowerment was an integral part of his work, both in South Africa and India. Gandhi said, “Students are the hope of the future. It is from these young men and women that the future leaders of the nation are to rise…” “Young minds without any lead from anybody in particular are,  regretfully  drifting…. I have presented to the youth and Indians in general in my humble way a better and more effective method and that is the method of soul force or love force…”

Relevance of Gandhi’s life and work to modern youth:

His simple life itself was the best source of inspiration to everyone who knew him. He prepared himself for a life of public service by giving up his wealth and his lucrative legal practice.  He wore only a loin cloth and a pair of homemade chappals.  He lived last 17 years of his life in a small village.  Violating the norms of his caste and class he insisted like Mao in China on the need for everyone      to perform manual labour. It was his conviction that eating without performing some manual labour amounted to stealing food. Gandhi tried to identify in every way with the poor and the oppressed whom he called, “the daridranarayan” and in whose service he realized god.

He wanted the young men to be conscious of the culture they inherit, “We are inheritors of a rural civilization. The vastness of our country, the vastness of the population, the situation and a climate of the country have in my opinion, destined it for a rural civilization……..we must perpetuate the present rural civilization and endeavour to rid it of its acknowledged defects”.

Impediments to the youth in understanding Gandhi

It is a fact that no person in India below the age group of 30 had the benefit of seeing Gandhi in flesh and blood. Their awareness of Gandhi is from four sources, i.e  (1) books by Gandhi and on Gandhi , (ii) various programs that are arranged from time to time on Gandhi in institutions (iii) various Gandhian organizations and Gandhian constructive workers who have wedded themselves to the promotion of Gandhian heritage and (iv) Documentaries and feature films on Gandhi, and those produced for the radio and television.

Hero-worshiping of Gandhi

It is ironic that Gandhi who was miles ahead of all his contemporaries is perhaps reduced to a pale shadow of what that great revolutionary actually was.  While books and other literature were found to be good enough as a source of inspiration, the philosophy or the ideals propagated by a man like Gandhi whose theories and other pronouncements grew out of what he did and earnestly believed in, were gradually reduced to a set of dogmas.  They did everything, including putting Gandhi in glass cases, naming roads, starting Universities and institutions, preparing massive volumes on Gandhi and conferring fellowships for research studies, hoping piously that these measures would be sufficient to propagate Gandhi’s message.

“There is no such things as Gandhism, and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the external truth to our daily life and problems. There is, therefore, no question of my leaving any code like the code of Manu. There can be no comparison between that great lawgiver and me. The opinions I have formed on the conclusions I have arrived at, are not final; I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could do. In doing so I have sometimes erred and learnt by my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me so many experiments in practice of truth and non-violence,”Gandhi said honestly.

Have we succeeded in understanding Gandhi properly? The answer is a definite ‘no’. One of the oft-repeated explanations to this question is our psychological inability to keep pace with a man who thought miles ahead of us.

The concept of unified India and Gandhi

Very few will deny the fact that Gandhi was one of the greatest revolutionaries of all times.  It is a fact of history that it was Gandhi who laid the foundation for modern India by uniting various sections of Indians and giving them even the concept of nationhood.  While to get India liberated from foreign rule was certainly one of the concerns of Gandhi, his major preoccupation was to prepare the Indian mind to face the challenges lying ahead once the British went out of India. 

Programmes related to the removal of untouchability, sanitation, new education, ensuring equality of men and women, stress on non-violence, religious tolerance and various constructive programmes, all were part of a grand strategy Gandhi adopted in order to make India a strong modern state. 

The Sarvodaya concept which emphasizes the welfare of all, particularly the upliftment of the daridranarayana, the abjectly poor, his infinite faith in the purity of means and ends in order to achieve the goal and the simplicity with which he lived, all indicate the kind of man he was as well as his goals for future India.

By ‘development”, Gandhi meant that it should be the development of all parts of the human body and he believed in the strengthening of democratic institutions right from the Panchayat level. 

In essence, this frail old man who propagated the message of love and compassion, has developed a holistic philosophy of life and entertained a healthy world vision.  He wanted a society which was free from all exploitation and where the destiny of man will be decided by man and not by machines.  He exhorted everybody to hear the wonderful music of human hands and not just those produced by machines.

“I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country , in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there will be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in harmony.  Women shall enjoy the same rights as men.  Since we shall be at peace with the rest of the world, neither exploiting nor being exploited, we should have the smallest army imaginable.  All interests not in conflict with the interest of the mute millions will be scrupulously respected, whether foreign or indigenous.  I hate the distinction between foreign and indigenous.  This is the India of my dreams”

Renewed interest of the youth in Gandhi

There is greater awareness of the Gandhian model of development and almost everywhere, political pundits, economic experts and  even religious leaders are analyzing the Gandhian model with considerable interest.  Ironically, an undeniable fact is that now there are more research foundations, group and centers devoted to the study and examination of Gandhian thought in countries abroad than in India.

While all this is happening around the world, it can’t be denied that the youth of India and surprisingly not the older generation, is showing considerable interest in Gandhi.

There are clear evidences that more than ever before, the youth of India are turning to Gandhi.  But then, in the environment of general decline of values and all its accompanying ills, there are few sources of inspiration.  Gandhi the revolutionary, the Gandhi who believed in the orderly development of society, the Gandhi who advocated the gospel of non-violence, the Gandhi who was against the tyranny of machines, the Gandhi who warned humanity against growing consumerism beckons the youth to action.  There is a growing awareness that the Gandhian way appears to be a creative way to a sustainable future.

What the great scientist Einstein said about Gandhi has become prophetic, “ A leader of his people unsupported by any outward authority, a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor mastery of technical devices but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force; a man of wisdom and humility armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot; a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus all times risen superior. Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

What Coretta Scott King  wrote after her historic visit to India with her illustrious husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1959 should inspire all  those who strive to empower women and ensure justice and equal opportunity to them:

“As I travelled through the land we were greatly impressed by the part women played in the political life of India in the struggle for independence and that many of them had gone to jail like the men. Gandhi also worked to liberate women from the bondage of Hindu and Muslim traditions”.

Despite several impressive gains India as a nation has since its independence, many other important aspects of our nation and India’s survival have been pushed to the background. The following areas need special attention:

Poverty alleviation and efforts to ensure justice to all, The growing inflation & black money, The spreading violence, Atrocities against women and weaker section, Land distribution to the landless and providing employment to the marginalized, Accelerating the pace of programs to ensure social justice to all, Combating  the all-pervading corruption cannot any longer be treated just a matter of making laws and creating institutions, but rather it is deeply rooted in the activities of the civil society itself, The threats of terror groups to India’s sovereignty which in turn hampers the developmental goals of the nation considerably appear to be the concern of the government alone and civil society often pays little attention to these.

If we read this in the light of Gandhi’s much-misunderstood views on modern civilization, one cannot help feeling that Gandhi was prophetic in his vision and assessment. When he described the emerging civilization as soulless, he was criticized. The warning he issued through ‘Hind Swaraj’ was dismissed even without proper discussions.

Gandhi’s spiritual successor Vinoba Bhave’s efforts to integrate social action nurtured in humanism and spirituality and centuries-old wisdom of the land that well-being and happiness lies in striving to achieve Jai Jagat (victory to the whole world) and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (global human family) were all viewed as crowded judgment and his great work as freak initiatives.

Had the revolutionary steps Vinobaji undertaken along with Jayaprakash Narayan to realize Gandhi’s dream of India been continued, the Sarvodaya Samaj dreamt by Gandhi would have been a reality. Social justice and equality to all were the corner-stones of the new social order Gandhi strove for.

The Sarvodaya Samaj would have also effectively prevented and eliminated the seeds of corruption, and general decay of moral, ethical and spiritual values, both in public and private life.

The time has come for us to unite for a challenging common cause once again. This requires bold initiatives to usher in ‘Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions’, as Gandhi exhorted us in the now-famous Talisman.In realizing this grand dream of Gandhi,the empowered, awakened and socially conscious youth has a big role to play.

Gandhi held the conviction that we can become anything we want to be. It all depends upon the strength of our determination.

Strength of Determination

One sees this determination in Gandhi’s fifty-four years of campaigns, begun in South Africa and later in India, for human rights, justice, and peace.

Most modern initiatives for non-violent alternatives address the physical aspect, but not the dehumanizing effects of passive violence. We must painfully acknowledge that more than one billion human beings are forced to live on an average income of less than two hundred US dollars a year. Malnutrition, illiteracy, lack of potable water, clothing, and shelter are their lifelong destiny.

The exploitation of nature has reached such alarming proportions that nobody knows the extent of the damage caused by the ever-growing greed of man. Precious nonrenewable energy resources are being squandered and resources essential for agriculture are diminishing at a frightening rate.

The world population reached six billion as we entered the twenty-first century and passed seven billion twelve years later, but there is no corresponding increase in efforts for the preservation of natural resources. A frightening scenario of too many mouths to feed with too little is becoming a distinct possibility. Disregarding these shocking prospects, the developed nations— notwithstanding their references to the “global human family,” and “global village”— are engaged in the manufacture and selling of weapons of mass destruction. It is estimated that more than 660 billion US dollars are spent annually on lethal weapons. Even a fraction of this huge amount could help eliminate poverty and disease from the earth.

Non-violent Human Transformation

The Gandhian perspective of non-violent human transformation has been slowly but steadily gaining attention in many parts of the world, even among those for whom acceptance of non-violence would hurt their national economies that are based on military hardware or who have promoted conflict to increase their sales of weapons. Humanity, thanks to this positive development, is re-­examining Bismarck’s theory that war is a necessary cleansing when civilization has become too soft.

It would be appropriate to close this discussion with a less known statement Dr. Martin Luther King (Jr) made  while addressing a group of Shanti Sainks in Gandhigram in Tamilnadu in South India: “ Gandhi trusted the youth and encouraged them too.Our understanding of the youth has to undergo a change. They can play a great role in solving the various problems which elude satisfactory answers. It is not enough we praise their abilities. We should trust them and assign them responsible roles…I receive overwhelming support from youth in my non-violent struggle for social justice and peace”.


(The author is  ManagingTrustee: Gandhi Peace Mission & Chairman: Gandhi Media Foundation e-mail: keralagandhismaraknidhi@gmail.com)