Gandhianism: A Melioristic Idea Of A ‘Universal Gadfly’

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

By Salika Rashid

THE above lines were articulated by one of the towering figures of the world whose instrument of transforming the society was based on the notion of love, courage, self-analysis, patience, tolerance, humility, ahimsā and Satyagraha.

This eminent figure practised the already present principles and philosophies of non-violence and truth by experimenting with them in every facet of life. The man whose moral dictums became the symbol of “resolute will and determination” and the courage of conquering “evil with good” against apartheid in South Africa made people to confer upon him the cognomen, Mahatma. American historian, Will Durant, best known for writing The Story of Civilization, rightly remarked that “Not since Buddha has India so revered any man. Not since St. Francis of Assissi has any life known to history been so marked by gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity of soul and forgiveness of enemies. We have the astonishing phenomenon of a revolution led by a Saint”.

Mohan das Karamchand Gandhi, a lawyer by profession, eliminated the darkness of colonialism by becoming the torchbearer of freedom moment and ultimately making people drink the pearl of liberation. Although he was influenced by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, English art critic John Ruskin and American writer Henry David Thoreau but his philosophy had the “freshness and originality”. He was deeply inspired by the sacred religious texts which include the Quran, the Bible, Gita and Upanishads. Buddhism and Jainism also left profound impressions on his mind. Tolstoy enunciating on social service, power and Thoreau’s selfexperiments and civil disobedience gave Gandhi the technique of utilising non-violence for solving major and minor social and political issues. Thus these influencers implanted in him the seed of “simple and service-oriented personality” and he polished them in a remarkable way. Gandhi not only propounded or emphasised the notion of Non- violence and Truth but he walked through these principles; he engrained and absorbed these tenets to the depth of its core.

Non- violence and Truth: The kernel of Gandhi’s philosophy

According to Gandhi, Non- violence and Truth are inextricably bound together and it’s hard to untangle them; he allots a superior position to the latter one because he contends, it is the end which can be achieved by the means of ahimsā. He highlighted ‘means’ and ‘end’ in order to assert the significance of journey and destiny; both are unalienable to each other. Furthermore, underlining the notion of ahimsā, Gandhi defined negative and positive element of it where the latter aids in discerning the essence of the former. The word ahimsa is inferred as a non- injury to any living being but Gandhi goes beyond this by defining ahimsā, a method of avoiding violence in any form whether thought, action or deeds. Gandhi took the notion of non-violence from Jainism but he didn’t heed to its rigid perspective rather he opined non-violence in certain circumstances is inevitable. He states “injury to any life can be an act of violence under certain conditions which include anger, pride, hatred and bad intention”. Thus, the negative connotation of ahimsā is non-injury. Gandhi posits,

“In non-violence, one restrains all impulses. There is non-violence in violence as in the case of using violent methods to restrict the activities of a drunkard. As long as we live a mundane life, we cannot escape violence, but it is possible for us to restrict ourselves. Ahimsa is thus the highest type of renunciation”.

Gandhi explained non-violence as the soul-force, a weapon of the strong while violence as the sign of weakness. He elucidates that the one who is violent conceals his/her anger under the cloak of violence accordingly exhibiting his inward fear through outward anger/violence. One can contend that Gandhi finds non-violence like a “radium, which works silently and ceaselessly, and transforms the whole mass of the diseased tissue into a healthy one”; similarly an infinitesimal quantity of true ahimsā can bring out an egalitarian society. Drawing inspiration from the Gandhi film director and producer Lord Richard Attenborough said, “When asked what attribute he most admired in human nature, Mahatma Gandhi replied, simply and immediately, ‘Courage’. ‘Nonviolence’, he said, ‘is not to be used ever as the shield of the coward. It is the weapon of the brave.” Thus, one can speculate that Gandhian Ahimsā is based on the foundation of courage, love, self-restraint, and faith in God.

Love which is the strongest force in the world becomes the substratum for Gandhian philosophy of Ahimsā. Gandhi believes it is the love which cleans the inner self and elicits the feelings like “compassion, tolerance, generosity and sympathy for others”. The absence of ill – will that Gandhi defends is not only confined for near ones/relatives but also for the opponents; according to Gandhi “Ahimsā is the largest love and the greatest charity”.

Gandhi associates the concept of God with Ahimsā. He contends that true faith in God will assist an individual in achieving the tenet of ahimsā. It is prerequisite to generate the inner strength for attaining the faith, which eventually will act as a catalyst for developing the love for humanity. Gandhi says,

“Non-violence succeeds only when we have a living faith in God. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, they were all warriors of peace in their own style. We have to enrich the heritage left by these world teachers. God has His own wonderful way of executing His plans and choosing His instruments. The prophet and Abu Bakr trapped in a cave were saved from their persecutors by a spider which had woven its web across the mouth of that cave. All the world teachers, you should know, began with a zero”.

It is essential to comprehend the paradigm of ahimsā that Gandhi has put forth. The ending of desires and the elimination of evil from the hearts, acquired the highest seat in the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence. The simplicity and profundity of his message of love pellucidly make one realize that being selfless in love without any motive of gaining in return, elevates an individual to the highest state of ahimsā. As Gandhi rightly asserted, “Love never claims, it ever gives. Love ever suffers, never resents never revenges itself.”

Gandhi was a strong votary of truth, he placed truth before non-violence. He claimed, “As a Jain muni once rightly said, I was not so much a votary of ahimsa as I was of truth, and I put the latter in the first place and the former in the second. For, as he put it, I was capable of sacrificing non-violence for the sake of Truth. In fact, it was in the course of my pursuit of Truth that I discovered non-violence”.

He calls truth as the “moral virtue” which can be acquired through “fearlessness and nonpossession” because of these two one can stand against the injustice. And this will aid in realizing the truth in “metaphysical sense in which it is identical with God”. He states the truth is “a cornerstone of the edifice” that leads to the path of God. He asserted “Ahimsa is my God, and Truth is my God. When I look for Ahimsa, Truth says ‘Find it through me’. When I look for Truth, Ahimsa says, ‘Find it out through me’. But he made a distinction between the relative and absolute truth; according to him the glimpses of the former one can be achieved but the absolute truth is hard to achieve.

On this Gandhi opines, “The relative truth must, meanwhile, be my beacon, my shield and buckler. Even the Himalayan blunders have seemed trifling to me because I have kept strictly to this path. I have gone forward according to my light. Often in my progress, I have had my faint glimpse of the Absolute Truth, God and daily the conviction is growing on me that he alone is real and all else is unreal…he who would go in for novel experiments must begin with himself. That leads to a quicker discovery of Truth, and God always protects the honest experimenter”.

What is theoretical can be brought to practice when the true emphasis is laid upon values that Gandhi put forth. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the technique of ahimsa in order to achieve the moral virtue of life. He expressed that the truth should be of the speech, action, thought and it could be achieved through constant effort and discipline. It is in the truth, all knowledge is encapsulated and what is outside it is not the truth and hence is not knowledge. He calls Satyagraha as the truth- force against “violence, evil and injustice”. It is this force which can create an equilibrium, that is, evil can’t be demolished with evil rather what Gandhi propounded, eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind stands true in this context.

In Satyagraha, the method of “conversion” is used instead of “coercion”. Gandhi believed that there is no enemy or opponent but just wrongdoers who would come to the right path only by the force of love and “change of the heart” should be the objective for achieving an end. Gandhi while differing to relate passive resistance with Satyagraha, propounded Satyagraha does not involve any element of force not is there any element of injury. Moreover, it has the highest respect for the law- Law of Truth and God. It is based on the notion of appeal rather than force.

In a nutshell, it postulates the annihilation of the disease, not the one who is affected by it. The base of Satyagraha is love, suffering, divine love – God. And the Satyagrahi has to be disciplined, honest, open-minded, determined and fearless. It is worth to mention what Former US Vice-President and environmentalist Al Gore stated, “Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha can be translated to mean truth force. It is this truth-force which can help us to fight this battle honestly and with people’s participation.”

Is Gandhian philosophy Utopian?

It is important to question the pertinence of Gandhi in the contemporary time period. Many claim that Gandhian philosophy at present is limited to the classroom and books; they are sceptical if at all it can ameliorate the social, economic and political havoc generated not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in the world. What is palpable is the chasm that the world is encountering with the rise in nationalistic fervour, intolerance, moral hypocrisy, violence and political populism across the globe. If this is the current status quo then it is important to not only give prominence to Gandhi’s theories and philosophies but to utilize them in order to dust off the menaces prevailing all across the globe.

Gandhi came as a herald to bring the political transformation in a country which was scuffling with so many other challenges. Gandhi believed that attainment of political emancipation from the colonist won’t suffice the cause until the social disparity and antagonism are not eradicated from its core. It is the essence of diverse India one finds mélange of culture, religion and ethnicity in camaraderie with each other. But when it is in threat then it is indispensable for us to assimilate Gandhian teaching into practice.

The social disparities in the form of atrocities against the women, minorities- Dalits and Muslims are proliferating day by day. The mushrooming of lynching cases has become the new normal for India. Hyderabad gang rape, Asifa or the recent Hathras gang rape – all such horrendous atrocities – call for Gandhian doctrines. Gandhi rightly said, “The day a woman can walk freely on the roads at night, that day we can say that India has achieved independence.” Gandhi emphasised on education – the only way of eradicating perils from society.

Furthermore, one concedes that resentment breeds vengeance and when this takes the shape of political colour then tolerance, sympathy and love which is the sine qua non for unity becomes elusive. In one of the article of Moulana Wahiduddin Khan, Fulfilling Gandhiji’s unfulfilled mission states, “In this world, unity is achievable only by learning to unite in spite of differences, rather than insisting on unity without differences. For their total eradication is an impossibility. The secret of attaining peace in life is the tolerance of the disturbance of the peace”.

Therefore, Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence is the elixir which can stabilize the society plunged into a disastrous dungeon. Gandhi the progenitor of non-violence enunciated on every issue that threatened India’s stability. From being secular to the promotion of peace or importance of ethics Gandhi voiced on every subject. His idealism or utopianism was “completed by realism”.

Can Gandhian philosophy rejuvenate Kashmir?

The question that besieges the mind of the people is how would have Gandhi and his philosophy tackled the question of Kashmir. Do we need to give primacy to Gandhian doctrines in order to placate the suffering and pains of the natives? Gandhi- exalted as the “prophet of peace” gave prominence to the will of the Kashmiri people. Ramchander Guha, a historian, states in his article titled as “ Gandhi in Kashmir, Gandhians on Kashmir” that Gandhi’s visit to Kashmir in 1947, had two aims: to get Sheikh Abdullah released from the prison and to comprehend what Kashmiri people were thinking.

It is crucial for us to understand how Gandhi prioritised on people’s opinion, something lacking in the current political context. He never favoured the State’s coercive measures or Maharaja’s oppression because he was an ardent disciple of non-violence and peace. Gandhi would have surprised and at the same time outraged with the unilateral decision of the central government on Kashmir which excluded the consent of the people altogether. The decision ‘for them’ didn’t include ‘them’ thus eventually generating the political vacuum in the valley, sabotaging the other sectors with its domino effect. Gandhi accentuated debate, discourse and negotiations as the ways of figuring out the problems. The strife-torn region can’t survive until proper deliberations and talks are not held with the consensus of the people of the valley. While emphasising on the peaceful measure and upholding the rights Gandhi remarked, “I shall dance with joy even if everybody in Kashmir has to die in defending his land.”

It is the need of an hour in these dark times to get back to the teachings of Gandhi, a pacifist whose ideals and principles gave prominence to the truth in action, speech, and deed.

  • The author is a student of Delhi University

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