Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The relevance of Gandhism

After my first post on the Mahatma and his way of life, I think it will be quite relevant to discuss and elaborate WHY on earth shall we try to listen to the words of Gandhi? Why is the message of the frail, fragile and bald-headed peace-loving man remembered even today by those who praise him? Why, after all, considering that Gandhi lived in the first half of the previous century?

The basic principles on which Gandhism stands are non-violence, satyagraha and universal love. Nothing new with that, right? Even the historians have blindly repeated Gandhi's words so often. So what new and relevant message does those words convey? But if you picture yourself in the Europe, or for that matter even India, of the early 1900's, you'll get some picture of the situation. Picture the world around-- the race for arms, the misguiding political calls for 'patriotism', 'development', 'world political power', rivers of blood flowing, corpses littered around, often unsympathetic government, state-sponsored violence, unemployment coupled with total economic decay (sudden bouts of inflation and depression in the market), ethnic-cleansing, bereaved lovers and relatives of dead, or worse still, brutally injured and amputated soldiers-- and then it dawns upon you that the world Gandhi lived was uglier than the most insane of human minds can imagine. All this nauseating ugliness and more, the biggest threat being chemical, biological and nuclear warfare. What the world required at that point of time was a messiah of peace. One who rightly noted that 'an eye for an eye shall make the world blind'. One who said that 'the difference between what we do, and what we can do, can solve most problems on earth'. One who recognised the horrors of blind industrialisation and political powerplay. And that was Gandhi. Surprising though it may seem, when Gandhi visited London for the second Round Table Conference, the mill-workers of Lancashire (whose bread Gandhi had indirectly denied, by promoting his khadi and boycott movements) gave him the warmest of receptions. A certain reputed newspaper noted that 'Gandhi maybe a politician among saints, but he is no lesser a saint among politicians'. Though Gandhi left London a hugely disappointed man, for the Conference had failed to reach a definite conclusion, Gandhi had met a great number of talented thinkers from George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin, Gandhi's own erstwhile jailer General Smuts, Albert Einstein etc. And all of them agreed with one thing-- the world needed the healing power of love more than the destructive power of the atomic bomb. But alas, the West failed to truly understand Gandhi's message of universal love. Gandhi failed to stop World War II.

But, we were talking about Gandhi's relevance, weren't we? His message's relevance in current times. The only change in today's scene is that in place of a Germany, we have an USA today. And in place of a Hitler, we have Bush! Things haven't changed much from that perspective. Practically, the world is still ruled by a half-literate power-thirsty despot, who wages wars against countries at his own will. Who thinks it's perfectly fine to take the side which seems most favourable for his own political good, and change that if situations change. A person, to whom the only 'good thing done' which may be attributed is that he doesn't run concentration camps to cleanse the Earth of 'social scum'. And seeing even our own India's and Pakistans's eagerness to make atom bombs and deadly missiles, how much has changed since those dreadful 1930's and 1940's? So decide for yourself how much relevant Gandhi's message of non-violence, satyagraha and universal love is. When technology is given more importance than human welfare, what more can be said? In today's world, where a cellphone is more important to a youngster than the amount of social work he does, or even think of doing, what else can be said about Gandhi's insistence than technology shouldn't be allowed to prosper if it threats to extuingish the lamp of humanity? When the state forces poor farmers to give up their farmlands to make way for companies making small-budget cars, at the cost of grain, how much do you think is one being rational and humane?

Gandhi was one who lived by the cliche: "Simple Living, High Thinking." He was one of the first people who stressed than sanitation in rural India would stop most of the diseases from spreading; the one who stressed that spitting, defecating and peeing by the roadside isn't only ill-mannered but unhygienic too, considering that a huge number of Indians walk barefoot. Gandhi moved from village to village, addressing its people, informing them about the benefits of sanitation, hygiene, meditation and communal unity. He dug out toilets, showed the villagefolk how to make water filters from simple gravel, sand and pitchers. And above all, he was the one who advocated how necessary and good it is to believe in oneself, and ultimately God. His regular prayer meetings were attended by people of all religions, caste, creed and colour. Gandhi's simple dictum that all ministers of free India should live simple, walk around without bodyguards, converse regularly and closely with the people of the country was not an old man's sudden whim. Even before half a century had passed since the day Gandhi uttered those words, India was, and is still, ruled by corrupt politicians and ministers. One question keeps popping up, was Gandhi wrong in suggesting all he did? It certainly doesn't seem so.

I certainly don't say that non-violence is the universal answer. Gandhi himself maintained that it isn't. At times, violence has to be used. Non-violence doesn't work with heartless and totally unsympathetic people. It doesn't work when someone is trying to rape your mother or sister, or kill you. Then you certainly have to resort to violence. But I believe that violence should always be the last resort. At least, violence is a lot better than cowardice. Gandhi once remarked-- "I'd happily have a country full of violent people, than a country full of cowards." But keeping in mind, that most people are cowards-- those who rag juniors at college when in groups, but flee when they are alone against a group of violent hoodlums-- am I not saying too much? And neither is non-cooperation always effective, or even justified. Tagore often reminded Gandhi that though he didn't fear Gandhi misusing non-cooperation, most others would reduce such a powerful and meaningful political weapon to the level of sillyness. Tagore couldn't have been more right. Being an admirer of both Gandhi and Tagore, I understand that Gandhi's methods, though effective when used by Gandhi, at times were unsuitable for lesser individuals to truly understand and implement.

And above all, Gandhi showed that love is the ultimate power a man can possess. Love is the panacea for the world's ugliness. It was Gandhi's belief in love that made the 'Miracle of Calcutta' possible: a Calcutta, reputed as the most violent city on earth at the time and which had recently seen the Ganga turning red with Hindu and Muslim blood on August 16, 1946. In less than a week, Gandhi arrived in Calcutta, a city seething with rage at the news of Bengal's partition, and catalysed it's metamorphosis to a haven of communal peace. That is an achievement in itself-- because it was here that Gandhi was treated with stones by the people upon his arrival for the first time in his whole political career. An achievement, considering that a taskforce of 55,ooo soldiers failed to restore peace in Punjab.

I'll be happy to entertain intelligent questions from eager readers and thinkers. But I stress that all posts should be in full, correct and polite English. That's not too much I hope! And please mr. anonymous (I hope you get me!), if my posts pose you so much inconvenience, please don't read them!


nobody said...

I don't want to sound arrogant by proclaiming that I know more than you do, you do seem to know more about Gandhi and his work, than I do. But it seems that the reason why the Gandhian movement was successful was because of its non-violence. You see when people are oppressed, for example like that in Burma, they want to protest, but then they don't want to loose everything, and place themselves their families, relatives to such a high risk. It is specifically this reason that people tend to take up non-violent measures more easily than violent measures, people tend to find comfort in the numbers, that is, since there is a large number of people participating the risk towards their lives is minimal. However I doubt whether this is indeed the most efficient measure for protesting, perhaps even 1/20 th of the strength of the Gandhian movement would have been successful in driving the British out of India.

Sudipto pondering said...

First of all, how can 'nobody' be someone's identity? So please, reveal your name the next time you post here. It's a request: and anyway, you haven't written malicious stuff (and hence there's no need to actually hide from me!)...

I don't know if I'll be able to convince you, but yes, I still unshakably believe in what I said. I don't know if Gandhism is the most efficient method of protest: but it certainly is the most righteous one, if you ask me. Not that I don't support armed rebellion: it's just that I place it next to non-violence/satyagraha/non-cooperation.
It is, I guess, ultimately a choice of belief!

Sayantani said...

To Sudipto and to whosoever the good of the world is dreamt even in the least,

When you don’t reply my mails, I get a bit disappointed. Because I like writing to you. I like reading your articles, mails and whatever you write. Previously, I used to write diaries to pour out my thoughts, but now this beautiful friend of mine is there! He has a voice! My diaries never wrote me back anything, but my good friend does write me back, and he has written a lot of good things as to that! Well, I’m not here to say how much good my friend (Sudipto) is doing to me. I’m here to say about something which scorches me through and through. We live in a beautiful world, and now I gravely notice that I’ve rather fantasised a lot. This is a starkly real, beast-like, violent, ferocious world that I dwell in.

My optimism comes to a dead-stop when I see the old fragile woman, homeless, foodless, clothless – hungrily picking up a few grains of puffed rice off the road dropped by some better-off member of the society. Why, neither do I find any beauty associated to the newspaper photo-still where the old lady discovers her thatched house burned down, turned into ashes. ‘Beauty’ doesn’t seem to lurk anywhere near that shot man, whose peasant clothes are drenched wet in hot blood… Blood! That was human blood! A human – so-called ‘emotional social being’ – spilling the blood of another human being. That’s a life – a life that may have loved someone; may have had family, parents; may have dreamt about his future that was never really to come. He lived as much as I do – as much as the killer does… Oh! Why has there to be a Nandigram? WHY???

Why is there so much revolt, unrest, anguish, wrath working in us? Why does the teacher beat the boys reading in my class like we were never civilized, never humans – barbaric like the very primitive men?? Why is Bush ordering about to fire bombs in a much-backward, poverty-stricken country than the one he rules? RULES??? Who is ruling whom? Why has there always have to be a ruler?? Why has there been a war always in this power-hungry (or hungry-for-what actually??) world?

There have been the battles of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The wars of conquests and what have we done to the killers? Called them ‘conquerors’ – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar the Great… The civil wars, the world wars and now? The wars for existence (or rather for nothing) in so-called independent (presidential or parliamentary govt. or whatever-in-that-matter ruling) nations.

There seems to be so many death-eaters ruling this world. But there seems to be no Dumbledore, Mad-Eye Moody, Lupin, Tonks, James Potter, Lily Potter or Fred Weasley ready to sacrifice their lives for the cause of the good. There seems to be no Harry Potter existing after all… Here the evil triumphs!

I don’t have the courage to stand up and protest when our English teacher is saying the wrong things or beating up my fellow-student for the sake of beating (not to mention the other teachers). I’m a coward like all my other mates. I’m worried about my impression – my marks and grades could be hampered because this English teacher of mine is our class-teacher and my fate lies in his hands! I cannot be a Hermione who stormed out of Trelawney’s class because she didn’t believe in the fake Divination stuff or who gave up a brilliant career ahead of her for the sake of fighting against the evil. WHY can’t I do this? Why do I need my friends supporting me, who will never support? There seems to be no Neville, Seamus, Dean, Ginny, Lee Jordan or Luna cheering Harry in his quests and just supporting him, without really acting a hero? It seems to be a world where Voldemort reigns fully or powerfully without anyone opposing him.

Readers may take this as if I were fantasizing the practical world too much. But, I’m telling about Harry Potter because it so closely relates our real school life. We all know the great examples of Mahashweta Devi (who wrote Hajar Churashir Maa sitting right in the inflaming Naxalite period) or of Tagore (who left school in protest of the severe caning practices) and of course, above all, Gandhiji who advocated the rights of the so-called ‘Blacks’ sitting right in Africa when he didn’t even become a Mahatma, he was a mere Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, as common as any simple layman.

The Voldemort practically is the Great Evil Force working in the universe. He is real as much as the Almighty is real. Not through violence against violence, we have to save life on Earth, not kill them. Harry, Spiderman, Gandhi, Tagore, Nanak, Christ, Buddha – none of them supported ‘killing’, even if that life turned to dark paths. “Love is the only potion that can heal the world”. We can’t be as great as the path leaders I’ve mentioned above, but we can atleast follow them. Let’s raise our voice when something wrong is happening right in front of us. Couldn’t we do something to fight the expanding evil within our own world? Please, friends, let’s do something!


Sudipto pondering said...

Hey Sayantani,
I do reply to your mails and rather frequently. So, why that complaint in the first place? :)

Anyway, getting into the core of the matter. The world is bad, ugly, cruel and vicious-- but only because we make it so! And when I say 'we', I actually mean the citizens of the globe-- naturally including ourselves. We are, in a most direct way, the architects of anarchy and unrest. I know people will protest against what I am saying if they get to read this, but I consider myself a part of a group of sinners.

Everywhere around us in West Bengal, you see our misdeeds. Nandigram, the Rizwanur issue and the less-cited but equally bad scenario in Amlasol-- all these are direct consequences of our foolery, avarice, materialism and blind greed.

They call industrialisation the saviour of any economy, and its supporting pillar. I've read what Amartya Sen has written on this agro vs. indutrialisation debate, and I respect his verdict. But to an extent, my conscience orders me to disagree with him. Don't get me wrong-- I believe he is absolutely right to say that industrialisation is the long-term answer to economic development. But industrialisation at the cost of lives of thousands of poor farmers who are directly and adversely affected by land-seizure? No, I can't agree on that. I may grudgingly say 'yes' to the State's plans to promote industries on fertile agro-land; but only when the farmers are satisfied with the compensation and the treatment they get. And quite certainly, I don't support the State's crude and violent ways to appoint party-cadres to force people out of their lands and homes. That is bloody violation of the minimums of both law and human decency! And if a certain Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee decides to keep mum and let the party high-command order the death and torture of poor helpless farmers, I question whether he is human after all. Does he have anything called a heart, a sense of the bare minimums of justice and a little bravery in him? Do we have to honour cowards as 'Respectable Chief Minister' henceforth? Let me clearly state here that I am a totally apolitical person, and since I have no political affiliations, I have no fear to state what I feel.

I see no reason behind the Bandhs either. Yes, it gives me more time to prepare for examinations-- but that isn't reason enough to let the State's economy suffer for more than a day, and that too so often! Like a reader in TT wrote to the paper, the CPI(M) cadres wrong the poor farmers. But are the Opposition supporters too different? Burning buses, harming dutiful and brave citizens, and imposing bandhs now and then doesn't make any sense-- that puts you on an equal level with the CPI(M) cadres. Yes, it's certainly admirable if you are helping the farmers in Singur and Nandigram-- I appreciate that. But kindly don't be immature enough to axe the very branch you are sitting on-- by which I mean paralysing the economy.

In no way am I disrespecting politicians or saying that they are all scroundrels. My only statement is that a politician without a heart is as bad as a terrorist. For God's sake: please do good to the country. Be guided by something more than the thirst for power. Of course, power is an important part of politics: but it's not the highest ideal which governs political good.

How are we to blame then? We are to blame because we, like cowards, sit in our homes and don't protest. We vote for the same guys who care two hoots about the paupers: and therefore we are equal, if not more, sinned that those in power.

Sayantani, you have actually questionned by own sense of right and wrong. Like you, I sit through the class-teacher's beating sessions (which are not 'inhuman', but nonetheless unjustified quite often). I protest-- but never openly. Maybe, even I AM a coward. The thin line between cowardice and bravery is just beside me: I need a sudden inspiration to cross that. I can't sadly offer any excuses: only a consolation that a donkey becomes an old donkey when he ages (and so Ajoy Chakraborty, our class teacher, holds no respect in my eyes inspite of his affiliation as an 'experienced teacher'. No good teacher needs to use violent methods to make people obey him-- that's the way of the dictator)! I am, quite probably, a failed Gandhian to this day.

Sayantani said...

Dear Sudipto,

I agree with you. Absolutely right. I don’t support any political parties either. It would hardly make any difference whether Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee rules or Mamata Bannerjee rules. Coming back to the words of the same man – Gandhiji. He had declined the offer of administering India as the Prime Minister after the independence saying, “Power corrupts”. I’m not against industrialization, but at the same time, I think implementation of every new scheme or legislative provision (right or wrong) takes time to be called a success or a failure. That’s why, I believe, the govt. term has been kept for five years.

What I’m against is: WHY KILLING? WHY VIOLENCE? I had just been watching a news channel where an eight year old boy was burning the corpse of his dead mother, who suffered a bullet attack at the Nndigram tragedy. Neither the little boy nor the woman had committed any grievous sin so as to meet this fate. Exactly, who should I blame for this? Would resignation of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee change the murderer into more human or would it make the police ‘behave’ better?? No. The problem lies somewhere else. It lies right in the commonest of common man. Why is there so much hatred in him?? When did it start? It starts when Ajoy Sir (I see that you have named him… I was debating on that, but then in some of your posts in the blog, I saw you prefer not naming the accused. I thought better to go with the norms of the blog-owner.) beats his students so mercilessly. I refer him only and not the other teachers because he is our English teacher. He is supposed to be inculcating good emotions and sensitivity in us. Instead, he does the wrong things and says the wrong things (I appreciate sometimes things that he says, but I realize that those words had ‘slipped’ out of his mouth just the next moment when he contradicts himself). Isn’t caning and beating at this tender age grows the bud of protest, adamancy and rage in human beings? It does. Ajoy Sir beats us because he was once beaten by his father (as you’ll remember he himself has said). It’s sort of his revenge. I remember Sen Sir had beaten you once for absolutely lame reasons and once Ajoy Sir too. I sometimes think that your being such a good boy irritates them. And this is to be stopped. I once again say - and I take no pride in it - that I’ve been a coward not to raise my voice yet. But, I hope I’ll become braver for the good.

And my dear good friend, forgive me, I didn’t mean to complain against you. I was just venting out my frustration, I believe, at having to have you out of station for five days :-).

Sudipto pondering said...

Dear Sayantani,

Both Gandhiji and Dumbledore agreed on one thing: that only those who don't want or desire power deserve it the most. It is precisely why both of these great men, one real and the other fictional, refused posts of high honour: the office of the PM of India, and the chair of the Ministry of magic respectively.

As for my naming the teachers of our school, I may assume that they will most probably never have either the time or patience to sit through such long posts in the improbable case that they discover my blog. And even if they do, I doubt the number of chaps who'll understand what I've written: our teachers are miserable in the bare basics of English (do you visualise Mr. Sen understanding what I've written!). Or in the quite unlikely event that they read what I've written and also understand it, they can't do me any more harm than deducting a few insignificant marks, or at best giving me a thrashing. Not too much punishment (or even the remostest chance of it) for speaking the truth, I guess! When I avoided using names, it was more of a personal reason that fear of someone reading it.

And anyway, no one thrashed me because I am a 'good boy'. Mr. Sen did so because I hadn't done his classwork, and Ajoy Chakraborty did so because I hadn't done his homework (I never felt the need to do those tasks because the aforementioned teachers hardly ever check what I've written). In both cases, I was to blame. But yes, these guys have often beat students for no good reason.

Sudipto pondering said...

A correction: In the last line of my previous post, I wrote "...have often beat..."

It should read as "...have often beaten..."