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Gandhi believed in transparency in all our personal as well as public affairs. He said, if we can’t win anything through love, we can’t win...
“Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honor those whom they have slain” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
These words of Dostoyevsky, a Russian novelist, apply to M.K. Gandhi more than anyone else. As 20th century witnessed many events which changed the future course of the world, namely, two world wars, revolutions and freedom movements in many countries, the phenomenal scientific inventions, large scale industrialization and globalization, the spread of socialism and democracy, et al, parallelly, a unique phenomenon blossomed in India in the name of M.K. Gandhi, who responded to these global events through his unique philosophy of life.
In this context, there is a need to read Gandhi today, through the lens of what was happening in his times and how his philosophy of life shaped up in response to them. Moreover, 21 century is witnessing a magnification of the problems inherited in the 20th century, Gandhian philosophy is the right remedy if one explores it closely.
Firstly, what are the major challenges of our times? To name a few; man’s insatiable hunger to hoard things for unseen future usage, like never before; irreversible destruction of the environment in the name of development; the threat of nuclear or biological warfare; rapid extinction and suffering of non-human beings, disillusioned and disoriented youth of today, increasing violence against women, et al. How did Gandhi respond to them?
It has remained a mystery since the times, man has evolved to be civilized, why is he preoccupied hoarding things for a future which no one is guaranteed of, that too, at the cost of the unprivileged of his times? This voracious greed has led to the overuse of natural resources and has threatened the future of this planet. Thus, Gandhi rightly said, the world has enough to satisfy a man’s needs, not his greed. Also, he emphasized that we have the responsibility to hand over this planet safely to future generations.
More than his words, his life demonstrated how one can live with bare minimum needs, quite happily and meaningfully. Significantly, with all his global stature and popularity, when Gandhi died, his belongings were as follows; his watch, spectacles, sandals, eating bowl, Bhagavad Gita, a statue of three monkeys, and a spitting bowl.
In response to mass industrial production, consumerism, and related environmental issues, Gandhi emphasized the need to revive small-scale production and the self-reliance of villages. He sensed that massive industrialization leads to economic inequality among the people and it benefits only a few big business empires.
Likewise, Gandhi had the pressure from reactionary leaders, to make the nation’s freedom struggle aggressive through violent means and also speed it up, he remained steadfast with his principles of love, peace, and non-violence. Even the violent resistance movements of his times at the global level didn’t change his conviction in nonviolence.
As we witness an arms race among the countries in the name of safeguarding national boundaries in our times, but at the cost of the basic facilities for their citizens, it is high time to explore the origins of this fear factor. The superpowers manufacture these war materials at a large scale and force the poor countries to buy them by infusing an atmosphere of fear and suspicion between neighbors, with an eye on their market interests. In contrast, Gandhi believed in transparency in all our personal as well as public affairs. So, he said, if we can’t win anything through love, we can’t win by any other means as well.
Gandhi practiced tremendous love and compassion for all life forms. So, he said, if vulnerable beings don’t feel protected in a country, then it can’t be declared, a truly independent country. Similarly, he internalized a minimalistic approach in his daily life, by simplifying his necessities and focusing mostly on higher explorations of the world. So, he could detachedly shift from a rich lifestyle to the most simplistic form of existence.
The man who led his countrymen unitedly to the threshold of freedom from the British was devastated to see his people behaving like hooligans in the name of religion at the time of partition. Surprisingly, these were the same people who fought together for freedom under Gandhi’s leadership but were now filled with venom of communal hatred.
Perhaps, it dented the pride and arrogance of the White men to see Gandhi, their opponent, successfully resisting their colonial rule, through the never heard before the concept of non-violence. So, they left their colony of 200 years, with no other choice left, but by turning its citizens into violent individuals. Thus, pinching Gandhi, where it hurts the most.
Completely devastated Gandhi took it as his defeat, tried to appease both communities, traveled across the country, ordained fasting to death, but without much success. For a man who was a symbol of love and peace until then, he appeared like an enemy to the people whom he loved the most. Muslims called him a Hindu leader and the Hindus considered him a traitor. So, he had to die a martyr, in the flame of communal hatred ignited by the British to defeat his principle of non-violence. Interestingly, Gandhi’s continuous appeal to calm down fell to deaf ears of violent mobs, but his martyrdom shellshocked them into silence and ending violence.
Among the many experiments that Gandhi imposed on himself to test their significance and also to give a message to the human world, the most controversial one, but hardly discussed in public, is testing his celibacy in public view. Perhaps, we need to explore more on, why he did what he did, risking his public stature? What was his intended message?
Gandhi, strongly felt that, unless one conquers his excessive sexual urges, he can’t explore higher possibilities of human life. So, he insisted both men and women practice celibacy. As a man, he believed in self-restraint, which is badly needed among most men in the contemporary world, where sexual violence against women is an everyday common phenomenon.
Thus, Gandhi remains ever contemporary, beyond his time and space. Revisiting his philosophy of life helps us to understand our times better with new insights. Moreover, we need him to make a sense of this rapidly changing world and how to lead a fulfilling life amidst too much noise and glamour around.
Published here first.
Image Source: Mitesh_Kothari from Getty Images via Canva Pro
Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor of English, Tumkur University. Has been a teacher of English and also soft skills trainer, with special interest in writing poems, articles, short stories and translation both in Kannada and English. read more...
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