The essence of ‘Gandhi-ism’ is peace and nonviolence, extending but not limiting itself to goodness, creative thinking, and efficient admin. Certain quarters may subscribe to the idea that ‘Gandhism’ is not practicable in today’s world. In reality, the virtues preached and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi espouse the very eternal whose relevance transcend the barriers of time and geography.
This omnipresence in both temporal and spatial dimensions can be substantiated by the fact that it can serve as an ideal for movements in lands where human right were and are routinely abused. He rules in the inner consciousness of all conscientious people though most of us are either oblivious of this existence or simply choose to ignore. Gandhi as a personality is immense but far more gigantic is the philosophy that bears his name.
So, what is this ‘Gandhism’?
We define it as the ideas and practices which the Mahatma believed in, taught, as well as lived. He believed, for example, that “it is easy to be friendly to your friends but to befriend one who considers you to be his enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
How relevant this is for our current world. Our world fragmented into hate zones where we refuse to see eye to eye on most matters. A small difference grows into tall walls impeding exchange of feelings. We turn our backs to the other schools of thought, thereby shutting their vast expanses of lived experiences and existences from our senses.
Nations-hate nation, regionalism, religions, colour, caste, creed, language — all become building blocks of barriers which impede the flow of humanism. Religion, for example, is an individual endeavour, marketing which makes it lose its devoutness.
In such a clime, ‘Gandhism’ opens a window of fresh wisdom which has the power to resolve this crisis, the ability to dissolve differences, capability to make you face yours adversary and perhaps even galvanise you to take a stride forward to embrace the other — to understand despite the differences that may exist, and perhaps slowly but surely getting an equally heartening embrace in return.
Peace and Gandhi are spoken in the same breath, though unfortunately on many occasions, without the appropriate thought. For the Mahatma, peace was not a destination but the path itself. One’s thoughts, feelings, deeds and achievements are evidences of treading the trail. It is that provincial ‘Porosh-Pathor’, or the ‘Philosophers Stone’, which can turn the basal instincts in minds of all into noble, shining, and pure thought which exudes nothing but positivity.
We all know that coherence, co-operation and collaboration bring better outcomes for the larger populace and yet choose to confine ourselves to narrow mental ghetto-ism. Gandhi believed that changes we want to see can be ensured by being the change itself. The society cannot and will not change according to your liking, but we can change ourselves a little to what we want the society to be and perhaps that will cascade into a change that we wish to see.
Gandhi never got tired of saying that ‘the body should be controlled by the mind and the mind by the soul. But this control is not to be achieved by despising or neglecting either the body or the mind or in the mystic exaltation of the soul by itself.’
He advocated and practiced the importance of physical health and well-being in the same manner as he valued thinking and responsibility. He was one of the most powerful writers and yet shied away from any idle and purposeless playing with words and ideas. He was convinced that all thoughts and ideas must have a real connect with all actions and deeds. It has been claimed that the greatest achievement of Gandhi was the spiritualisation of politics. He conceived it as a kind of illumination or fragrance which should accompany every thought and action. It is difficult to define it, except, perhaps, through the verses of the Bhagwat Gita which constituted his daily prayer. Yet, he was equally knowledgeable and respectful of all other scriptures which were routinely used by him as a source of inspiration.
Mahatma’s philosophy of non-violence was the avoidance to practice consciously and unconsciously violence in any form or activity in our day to day existence. Violence which includes rape, war or murder, are those that most of us do not indulge in and hence we often don’t see ourselves as violent. But most violence is not apparent, nor does it have a physical form. To Bapu, violence can be both physical and passive. Passive violence includes anger, hate, bigotry, name calling, insults, rude teasing and all forms of oppression, discrimination and suppression, as well as not recognising these around us. Given this framework, none of us can truly disassociate ourselves from violence.
Gandhi taught that all life is unified whole. Violence committed against another person is at the same time violence committed towards one’s own self. We more readily justify violence against others when we perceive them as separate and different from us. However, because we are unaware of our connection to others, we are also unaware that we are hurting ourselves at the same time. We must break down the barriers of ignorance that keep us from knowing others. We must get out of our class, gender, racial, caste, religious and cultural privileged comfort zones. This is the work of becoming who we need to be — as individuals and as a community.
First, we must identify within ourselves our own acts of passive violence as part of the problem as opposed to seeing the problem as outside ourselves or in “those people”, or “that country”, or “those beliefs”. We must take action to eradicate our negative tendencies even if no one else around us is doing so. Gandhi said, “nonviolence has to be pursued in the face of violence raging around you. Nonviolence with a nonviolent man is of no merit.”
For example, how do you react when your boss, spouse or co-worker treats you unfairly and does not want to dialogue with you? As you express your reaction, you are either manifesting the change you wish to see in the world or not. Peace is not a passive state where there is no conflict. It is the dynamic manifestation of each person’s struggle between their negativity and their capacity and willingness to respond to evil behaviour without engaging in passive or physical violence. In waging this intense, internal and external battle, we become the change we need to be and want to see around us. Peace is in equality and achieved through allyship. Peace is in advocacy and heard through amplifying voices that have been conventionally hushed. Peace is in breaking down the status quo and in learning, it is accessed through education – both of the world around, but more importantly the universe within.
The democratic process which is the cornerstone of any successful nation has its bedrock in equal and total participation of all the people. But this equality can only be true if there is improvement of the quality of citizenship.
Gandhi rejected colonial education and put forward an alternative to it. His ideas on education were the introduction of education closer to life, with which one can relate to, not an abstraction in the school curriculum. The philosophy behind his thought was to not burden the child with artificially crafted situations and, at the same time, also contribute to restructuring of the schools as a social system.
His social philosophy of ‘basic education’ thus helped to percolate a system of acceptance and inclusion. Gandhism galvanised many and helped to break the shackles of imperialism in the early half of the last century. It is needed again today to shatter the shackles which impress us in our shallow chambers of animosity, hostility, hatred and individualism and lead us to the chambers of fraternity and brotherhood. And in these regards the life and times and thoughts and deeds of Gandhi are relevant even today.
Our hope is that the readers today will be blessed through feeling the true Gandhism through his writings and will be able to discover the Mahatma which resides within them. The readings and discovery will assist them in understanding love, realize god and goodliness, and become brave towards the injustice and insult to humanity that exist around us.
After all, as Mahatma had espoused, “…. the only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within”
Sreyoshi Bhaduri is Manager, Global People Research & Analytics, McGraw Hill, New York. Dr Indrani Bhaduri is Professor of Education at NCERT, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.