By Anshika Shahi
The views and beliefs postulated by M.K. Gandhi are of pertinence in the 21st century when the entire world is submerged under the sea of communalism, terrorism and exploitation. It’s high time that destruction, aggression, mutual fear, animosity, and conflict be supplanted with the virtues of creation, nonviolence, mutual trust, compassion, and harmony. This essay aims to throw light upon the instances leading to the establishment of the Gandhian principle of “Live and let others live” along with his revolts against the ingrained unfair practices prevalent in Hinduism as it is followed today. Gandhi taught the world how forgiveness and rectification are the virtues of the strongest; he taught us that one is justified in respecting his neighbours but at the same time neglecting one’s own family while doing the same, is injudicious. His shield of ahimsa and secularism till date reflect that spiritual light paving a way to world peace.
Keywords: Gandhi, Hinduism, Casteism , Harijan, Tolerance, Self Reliance.
WHO IS GANDHI? – GANDHI BEYOND TECHNICAL ELUCIDATION
The moment I think of the name, Gandhi, an image of a thin, fragile man emerges in my mind. The fragile man with the mightiest intentions, noblest aims and the most impregnable determination this nation has ever witnessed, leading myriads towards a new dawn at the behest of his stick. Gandhi, the magician who transformed a morally indoctrinated country living under the rock of conscientious subjugation into a land spreading the fragrance of liberation via his unique means of disarmed rebellion. Be it millions swarming like bees on his one call marching from Sabarmati to Dandi , thousands burning souvenirs of westernization on funeral pyres or officers renouncing the luxuries achieved by serving the English command , all of these instances converge into a single testimony exhibiting the charisma of a one man army. Gandhi was guided by an unending quest for seeking the ultimate truth, not in any metaphysical or divine form but the truth which binds the mankind together and makes the Earth a heaven for people to experience while still bound by the shackles of mortality.
GANDHI AND CASTEISM
While in the eyes of the world Gandhi stands firm as a true nationalist, patriot and leader of the masses, it is to be remembered that alongside possessing the former traits he also stands out as a symbol of scrupulous energy in the form of a mentor and confidant inspiring and guiding mankind surpassing the boundaries of race, region and religion. Gandhi, a staunch believer of Hinduism himself, spent a significant share of his lifetime, reinforcing the long lost ideals and spirit of the sanatana dharma on rest of the followers of the same. It is not unknown to the world how the evils of widespread discrimination, intolerance, communalism and intimidation to name a few, had spread their tentacles around the minds of society. Amidst all this, he emerged as a frontline warrior embarking on a journey to free the people from the shackles of the same. Gandhi openly advocated for repudiation of the unjustified as well as negative ideals of Hinduism, the most prominent instance being the institution of casteism deep rooted within the Hindu society. Initially he distinguished caste system from the chaturvarna or the four fold system which he thought of to be necessary in order to maintain one’s dutifulness hence social order.
However later, his views underwent a drastic change when he greatly troubled by the injustices hurled at innocent victims of the caste system, as well as under the influence of B.R. Ambedkar and Goparaju Ramchandra Rao actively begun to oppose the age old orthodox, irrational and injudicious propositions such as prohibition of inter-varna marriage and inflexibility in hereditary occupations. Gandhi’s empathy and campaigns for the upliftment of untouchables can never be obliterated. As per the rules contained in the scared Hindu texts this “bottom strata” of the society had been subjected to vile and horrific abuses by the upper castes since eons. Not allowing humans to share food, source of water, treating their presence or even shadows as inauspicious, prohibiting them from entering the temples and discarding their existence in society, to Gandhi, seemed synonymous to ripping off human dignity. For him, treating people as loathsome on the basis of mere birth was detrimental for morality as well as civilization. He thus coined the term ‘Harijans’ for these people which in the literal sense means children of God and founded All India Anti Untouchability League, later renamed as Harijan Sevak Sangh with the aim of eradicating untouchability from the society. He endorsed equality for all and went up to the extent of encouraging marriage between the Brahmins and Harijans which would gradually lead to the demolition of caste monopoly. Watching their idol or Bapu, as people fondly addressed him, dine, talk and work with the Harijans deeply impacted the minds and conscience of his followers and this is how his love for his Harijan brothers and sisters begun to manifest itself in the form of if not dignified yet somewhat sober actions and demeanours on their part towards the latter.
GANDHI ‘S STRIVE FOR RELIGIOUS HARMONY
Gandhi considered it both his right as well as his duty to throw light on the defects of his own religion although he restrained himself from disapproving the doctrines of other faiths. He was always open to the idea of imbibing ethical and virtuous ideals from various contemporary religions, especially Christianity which profoundly appealed to him. He believed in detaching dogma from religion, for to him religion was always supposed to be the guiding force behind the righteous ways of leading a practical life and not the source of discontentment and disharmony among individuals. In one of his statements he openly declared “I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality. Religion which takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them, is no religion”. For Gandhi just how one’s love for his wife does not make him turn a blind eye to her weaknesses, in the same way faithfulness to one’s religion ought not presuppose neglecting the follies of the very same. Hence no religious scripture, could manage to suppress his voice of reason.
According to Gandhi, practising humanity was the only way to feel connected to God, a belief in one Father-God would simultaneously lead to the genesis of the notion of universal brotherhood. As stated by Rabindranath Tagore in his poem ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’ where he dreams of a nation “Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls”, Gandhi too aspired for an integrated nation shimmering with shades of diversity. But Gandhi however had a wider outlook in this regard since his target was confined not just to India but the entire globe. It is man himself who has created these boundaries around himself it is man himself who can withdraw the same. For him the entire world was a huge family irrespective of the variations found in caste, creed, religion or possession of wealth. Gandhi’s dream of a big family can be associated with the Sanskrit phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” which literally translates to ‘the world is one family’ found in the ancient Hindu texts such as the Maha Upanishads. Gandhi, a firm adherer of, was a fervent believer in the equality of all religions, and that god can be attained by any route of fidelity and social duty, regardless of the emblem under which it is carried out.
In order to maintain parity between his preaching and practice, Gandhi opened the gates of Sabarmati ashram for individuals belonging to varied sects where principles of peaceful co-existence bloomed under the canopy of mutual love, compassion and respect. Hence, mutual tolerance was certainly one of the main branches stemming from the tree of Gandhian beliefs. For him, seeds of tolerance and brotherhood need to be sowed into minds of humans since the very onset of their thought process. Probably, this is also the reason why schools in modern India have a common set of school uniform prescribed for the students in order to avoid the genesis of any feelings of discrimination and exclusion based on one’s economic, social or religious affiliation.
Amidst all the turmoil prior to partition, Gandhi as a one man army continued his valiant efforts to bring an end to the communal tension which had engulfed the entire nation. After playing an instrumental role in cooling down the situation in the village of Noakhali he travelled to the villages of Bihar and then again to the riot stricken slums of Calcutta and Delhi. When Muslims in East Bengal retorted to attacking the Hindus in October 1946, Gandhi tried convincing the local Muslims to pledge the safety of the Hindus. In other cities, like Delhi, he attempted to foster a similar sense of mutual trust between both the communities. Gandhi considered Hinduism to be the most tolerant out of all religions and never consented to Jinnah’s two nation theory. Hence, when he reached to address a meeting at a Gurdwara on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, on being unable to spot any Muslim on the streets of Chandni Chowk, Gandhi remarked, “ What could be more shameful for us than the fact that not a single Muslim could be found in Chandni Chowk?”. He remained in Delhi, opposing the mentality of those who wanted to expel all Muslims from the city perceiving them as Pakistani. Such was the effect of his enchanting words that they managed to swiftly transcend beyond and enervate the walls of communalism and once he commenced a fast to bring about a change of heart, he was joined by a surprising number of Hindu and Sikh migrants in his campaign. The fast had an “electrifying” effect, Maulana Azad wrote. Even after partition, Gandhi hoped for India and Pakistan to remain united at heart , continue respecting one another and be one for the outside world. Gandhi did not celebrate India’s independence for to him, this victory, at the cost of sacrificing brotherhood carried no value. It is due to this reason that he was labelled as ‘an appeaser of Muslims” by his assassin Nathuram Godse whom the world labels a Hindu extremist and which obtrudes as an evidence that his beliefs did not have a positive impact on all Hindus whatsoever. The fact that 30th January, the day on which Gandhi was shot dead, is celebrated as “Shaurya Diwas” by Gandhi’s detractors screams how his ideals stood negated in the minds and souls of a specific section of Hindus.
GANDHI AND RELIGIOUS PROTECTIONISM
Although an ardent backer of tolerance, Gandhi however was a strict adversary of conversions. This is because of his belief in the idea “sarva dharm sambhava” which in the literal term translates to equal respect for all faiths. He was of a sturdy opinion that when one sincerely believes that all routes lead to the very same God and therefore all routes lead to redemption, there must be no room for conversion. Gandhi believed it was unethical and unjust for missionaries to use the Dalits’ poverty, illiteracy, and vulnerability by bribing them with food, education, and medical assistance in order to convert them. He argued that such conversions estrange a person from his or her family, community, traditions, and thus culture. Gandhi contended that charity activity done for the sake of conversion is insulting to the recipient’s honor and integrity and he hence kept pushing and encouraging individuals, especially Hindus to combat the evil vices and distil their own religion while remaining a part of it .
GANDHI AND SELF RELIANCE
Atmanirbharta has always remained a part of Hindu lifestyle. Under the mechanism followed within the ancient Gurukul systems, children were preached all the lessons of self reliance starting from wielding weapons as self defence to gathering twigs for household chores. Gandhi too did not fail to substantiate the importance of the same. Through his unrelenting efforts the charkha and its khadi threads became an emblem of the nation’s economic self sufficiency. It very truly turned into a souvenir reminding the mankind about the power of cooperation and self dependence. However as per a number of scholars like Sebastain C.H. Kim and Sumit Sarkar , boycott was never confined to foreign goods and positions, it within its ambits covered all that was foreign. As an undercover motive, Gandhi used the concept of Swadeshi to oppose conversion in a strategic manner. During his address, in front of Madras Christian College in February of 1916, Gandhi gave a spiritual as well as a material analysis of Swadeshi. Swadeshi, Gandhi said, meant for the preservation of traditional institutions and “Hinduism” from Christian propaganda in conjunction to the boycott of foreign imports hoping that a Hindu will not change his religion inspired by the Swadeshi ideology.
GANDHI AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
According to Gandhi, since ages Women had been oppressed, by customary practices and legislation, both of which were created by men and over which she had no influence. Joint co-operation and consultation are required to define social rules but women had been pressurised to think of themselves as male’s slaves. Hence, it was crucial for them to rebel against their existing status and compel the men to allow them to participate on an equal footing. He openly condemned the filthy and nasty language used to describe women in texts such as Manusmriti since it was violative of human dignity. Several of his speeches reflect his outlook on women where he stated that women and men are endowed with equivalent intellectual capabilities, and as a result, they are entitled to the same rights as males. Foolish and useless men, however have enjoyed dominance over women thanks to the power of tradition. All his life he denounced unequal oppressive practices such as dowry system, child marriage and prohibition on widow remarriage which conspired to place males and females on distinct pedestals, especially Purdah system stressing that neither Hindu nor Muslim Purdah but self control and sanctity can protect one’s modesty. Gandhi always wanted women to take part in the freedom struggle, often encouraging his wife Kasturba to take charge of organising meetings for women. Moreover, it is not undisclosed from the world how Gandhi’s Swadeshi became a platform for women to step out of the thresholds of their houses and become a significant voice of the socio-politico freedom struggle.
Gandhi without any doubt stands out as one of the most truthful and influential figures in the contemporary time. Considering the fact, that he wrote around 70 to 80 years back, some of his controversial ideas can be discarded and excused. However, his ideologies of non violence, satyagraha, mutual tolerance and his godly ideas about women had a dramatic magnitude under his guidance and conquered the minds and souls of individuals all over the globe. They were, are and shall always remain footprints on the sand of time to guide the one’s led far astray.
- Sujoy Biswas,Gandhi’s Approach to Caste and Untouchability, 46 Social Scientist 71-90 (2018)
- Mᴀʜᴀᴛᴍᴀ Gᴀɴᴅʜɪ, Tʜᴇ Sᴇʟᴇᴄᴛᴇᴅ Wᴏʀᴋs Oғ Mᴀʜᴀᴛᴍᴀ Gᴀɴᴅʜɪ, Tʜᴇ Vᴏɪᴄᴇ Oғ Tʀᴜᴛʜ, Vol.V 215 (1968)
- RABINDRANATH TAGORE, GEETANJALI ENGLISH EDITION (1912)
- NCERT,Understanding Partition in Tʜᴇᴍᴇs Iɴ Iɴᴅɪᴀɴ Hɪsᴛᴏʀʏ Pᴀʀᴛ III 393 (12th ed., 2019)
- Dʀ. Mᴀʟᴛɪ Mᴀʟɪᴋ, Hɪsᴛᴏʀʏ Oғ Iɴᴅɪᴀ Mᴀɪɴ Asᴘᴇᴄᴛs Aɴᴅ Tʜᴇᴍᴇs 463 ( 2016 edition)
- Dr. B. Venkat Rao, A Comparative Study of Gandhi and Ambedkar’s Approach on the Question of Dalit Religion and Conversion Phenomenon, 4 Scholar Critic 30 (2017)
- Anima Bose, Women in Gandhi’s India, 2 India International Centre Quarterly280-291 (1975)
 Sujoy Biswas, Gandhi’s Approach to Caste and Untouchability, 46 Social Scientist 71-90 (2018)
 Mᴀʜᴀᴛᴍᴀ Gᴀɴᴅʜɪ, Tʜᴇ Sᴇʟᴇᴄᴛᴇᴅ Wᴏʀᴋs Oғ Mᴀʜᴀᴛᴍᴀ Gᴀɴᴅʜɪ, Tʜᴇ Vᴏɪᴄᴇ Oғ Tʀᴜᴛʜ, Vol.V 215 (1968)
 RABINDRANATH TAGORE, GEETANJALI ENGLISH EDITION (1912)
 NCERT, Understanding Partition in Tʜᴇᴍᴇs Iɴ Iɴᴅɪᴀɴ Hɪsᴛᴏʀʏ Pᴀʀᴛ III 393 (12th ed., 2019)
 Dʀ. Mᴀʟᴛɪ Mᴀʟɪᴋ, Hɪsᴛᴏʀʏ Oғ Iɴᴅɪᴀ Mᴀɪɴ Asᴘᴇᴄᴛs Aɴᴅ Tʜᴇᴍᴇs 463 ( 2016 edition)
 Dr. B. Venkat Rao, A Comparative Study of Gandhi and Ambedkar’s Approach on the Question of Dalit Religion and Conversion Phenomenon, 4 Scholar Critic 30 (2017)
 Anima Bose, Women in Gandhi’s India, 2 India International Centre Quarterly 280-291 (1975)