Monday, September 25, 2006

Gandhian ideals and relevance...

I do not really watch news channel but I happened to see CNN-IBN's special (?) debate on whether Gandhian ideals are relevant in today's world. First of all, I wondered what they were really talking about. Was there anything specific about Gandhi's life and teachings that they were talking about? Because when I think about Gandhiji, a lot of things come to my mind. His most famous teaching were his emphasis on truth and non-violence. There was also his insistence on wearing handmade, Indian clothes and minimalist lifestyle. And numerous other things, some forgotten, some deliberately hidden and some some ignored.
But of course, a news program, particularly a modern news program, is not going to delve on all the nuances of reasonings and facts, would it? Quite obviously, all this debate on Gandhiji has been triggered by Lage raho... So, I assume they are really referring to what the movie's central message was, that of truth, satyagraha and non-violence. The news program seemingly purports to find out whether Gandhiji's teachings are still alive even today and whether there are people, especially the youth, who believe in it and are ready to live according to those ideals.
But it goes about this task in the worst possible by asking the wrong question! Relevance of ideals, any ideals, could never be in question. Do you start questioning the relevance of Socrates' ideals, Archimedian critical thinking, Confucious' ideas of complex inactivity? Plus, if you really take a deep look at the history of non-violence, you might realise that these ideas have been around for a very looooooonnnnnng time. Think buddha! If Buddha's teaching were relevant to our struggle of independence after two millenia after Buddha, then can we really ask whether they are relevant after nearly 60 years of the death of the man who helped revive it and remind us of those lost ideas. So, if you think about it, it is just an incredibly stupid question.

Are Gandhian ideals still alive today? To answer that question, I would have to describe one of the most painful videos I have ever seen.

Manipur is a land of violence, that we all know. Most people seem to be under the impression that the army is fighting militants there whose aim is separation from the Union of India. What is never heard of or is ever presented to us is the manner in which the people of Manipur have been subjected to immense amounts of violence and pressure the Assam Rifles (a paramilitary force and hence, not part of the regular Indian Army) exert on them. In fact the amount of frustration and helplessness was so much that a few women stripped all their clothes and paraded naked carrying banners that screamed "Indian Army! Rape us!" and that was when the mainstream Indian media took notice of this. It did not notice the rape and murder of Manorama but it took an exceptional courageous and non-violent protest by twelve women.

Manipur is a troubled state where the army and protesting students "clash" at regular intervals. In the video, I saw one such protest. There were a bunch of students wearing bandanas with messages and carrying posters being mercilessly beaten up by men with lathis and being forcibly carried away from the entrance to the Assam Rifles HQ. What was really amazing was that students were not retaliating. They were just lying there taking blow after blow, each one made me wince at the sheer amount of vicious force put behind them. And they were not just beating them up but were pulling them out of the way. And then another amazing thing happened. As soon as one of the students was pulled away, another took his place. The beating continued and at that moment of time, I was reminded of Gandhiji's message. He said that violence is the weapon of the coward and that it takes immense courage to turn the other cheek in the face of violence. At that moment, I knew that he was dead right in that observation.

Gandhiji's message is very much alive. Wherever there have been oppressed people who have had nothing to fight with, they have always used non-violence as their means of struggle.

So, yes, his ideals are not forgotten and will never be.

My personal views about him and his methods mirror Tagore's. There is no denying his greatness and the effectiveness of his methods.

Most of the times, we see only one side of him and we either embrace him completely or denounce him totally. In the past, I have defended him vehemently, even though I have always had my reservations with his ideas and his doings.

Looking at him from just one angle is just totally wrong and even though, it is nice to see teenagers think that he is a "roackstar", I would rather have them learn more about him and appreciate why he is truly great...

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Here is one article:
There are a few in OUTLOOK in recent times:
See in particular Gandhigiri and 'Gandhi, A Second Coming". I think that Pankaj Mishra wrote a book about Budha's relevance. It was reviewd in 'New York Review of Books'. I think that Gandhi was very complex and his ideas and personality evolved all his life. I understand that he made quite racist comments in South Africa and supported some sort of caste system. But in the end he said that "Caste has to go". This sort of changes make evaluations difficult but probably all these are recorded in his complete works ( I have not seen them). Once in Salt Lake City, I visited a second hand book shop and found a section on Gandhi with about 50 books. I bought 5 of them. I read his "Expriments with Truth" off and on but do not have any of these books now. But, once in a while I would try to imagine how Gandhi would think or react to an issue and find that he was probably much more radical than most; for example about cleaning toilets.

Madhat said...

absolutely, Gandhi was a pretty complex character who changed over a period of time, though his core values remained the same.
He called himself a politician and not a mahatma.
To caricature him as a mahatma or an idiot would simply be wrong!
Thanks for the links, professor.

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