Essential Message of Mahatma Gandhi Has More Significance in An Increasingly Troubled World

Mahatma Gandhi

Nearly 73 years after he left us, victim of an assassin’s bullets, many people grappling with the  most serious problems and issues in our troubled world are increasingly realizing the great value of several essential messages Mahatma  Gandhi left behind after a very eventful and even more thoughtful life.

One of these relates to understanding and appreciating the great importance of non-violence in everyday life. In a world so deeply distressed by alarming incidence of gender violence, domestic violence, violence in educational institutions  and workplace, street violence etc. better appreciation of the importance of  non-violence implies a reduction not just in actual acts of violence   but also conscious efforts to reduce anger, jealousy, greed, aggressive competitiveness and other tendencies which are associated with violence in daily life.

While this itself leads to reduction of distress in daily life, this also serves as a training ground for the wider task of resisting injustice in non-violent ways. Non-violence devoid of its links of resisting injustice is a very limited concept. The wider significance of  non-violence comes from its important link of resisting injustice of various kinds. In fact injustice has very close linkages with violence, violent thinking, dominance and urge for dominance. Hence to think of violence as a means  of resisting injustice is not very natural and rational, as violent thinking is itself a part of the web of injustice. On the other hand, it is  much more natural for non-violence to be a means of resisting injustice. By leaving the path of violence and opting for the non-violence in resisting injustice, we may be able to find more durable and sustainable ways of creating a justice based society which has a wider acceptability.

If in two neighboring countries there are many more people practicing non-violence in daily life and also using non-violence to resist injustice  in numerous small ways at local levels, the chances become very high that these countries will never fight a war,  will not engage in an arms race and will find peaceful, justice-based ways of resolving differences. This is how strong local base is created for peace and  how this can be  linked to global issues. If there is strong commitment at world level,  within a decade very strong support for a future without wars and without the most terrible weapons can be created.

As a part of his overall efforts for peace, Gandhi made a very strong plea for inter-faith harmony and for all to pursue their religious beliefs in such way that there is no hostility and strife based on religion, while at the same time , away from any aggressive inclinations, religion is restored to its essential role of providing strength for spiritual progress, and this in turn provides conducive conditions for the most important tasks of peace, justice and protecting environment.

Most destructive weapons on the one hand and ecological  ruin on the other hand are the two most serious problems of world . These are usually treated separately but one basic cause is common to both. This is  the greed for more and more, and acceptance of this as a predominant social value.

Mahatma Gandhi rejected this and instead pleaded for voluntary acceptance of frugality and simplicity—a life of limited needs—as the desirable norm of life. The essence of this message is that if we all learn to be happy in a simple life, then the web of never-ending  greed, unlimited acquisition and consumerism,  ambition and dominance—all these being related to each other—which traps humanity can be broken, leading to contentment in daily life, ability to meet needs of all  without causing ecological crisis , providing enough space for meeting needs of other life-forms and creating a strong foundation for durable world peace.

With his strong emphasis on frugality Gandhi continued experimenting in various ways in important areas of food, health, education etc. and came out broadly with a strong support for voluntary vegetarianism which is rich in vegetables, low in dairy and spice content. His experiments lead towards maintaining good health in natural , simple ways, with emphasis on hygiene, without relying too much on expensive medication. There is a complete rejection of alcohol and all intoxicants. Education should never lead to alienation but instead should involve  getting closer to community needs, combining creativity in intellectual as well as manual work of crafts, farming etc. Ethical issues are most important , whether in education, livelihoods or overall economy. All these aspects retain their relevance.

Another important lesson from Gandhiji is for more self-reliant, confidant  and resilient communities which are capable of meeting many of their needs at local level in very creative, decentralized ways, combining very satisfactory  livelihoods close to home with access to high quality, healthy  food, and many other basic goods and services. For meeting other requirements and securing additional opportunities integration with  national and global economy of course continues to exist. This is community life based on close relationships and protection of livelihoods and basic needs regardless of fluctuations of global economy. Such community life, based on equality and justice, provides a good base for creating a world based on peace, justice and environment protection.

As many activists and people try to engage with some of these most essential and creative tasks, the work and ideas of Gandhiji continue to be an increasingly important source of help and inspiration for them.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times ) and Planet in Peril.



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