Gandhi’s Vision of the Ideal Society in India


Gandhi’s Vision of the Ideal Society in India!

The discussion focuses first on the elements that Gandhi thought contributed towards the making of an ideal society, second on his continually evolving concept of swaraj followed by his conceptualization of Ram Rajya, democracy, the republic, citizenship and education, and third on his views on the legal and medical professions and on industrialization.

Gandhi’s vision of the ideal society is that of a non-violent and democratic social order in which there is a just balance between individual freedom and social responsibility. He has a very high regard for the place of ideals in human life. Without ideals, he says, life can have no meaning because there would be no goals towards which human endeavour can be directed.

His supreme ideal, is self-realization, or knowing God and merging in him. But this, he admits, is not possible entirely as long as man exists in the flesh and remains subject to its desires. What is possible for him is to lead a life and help construct a society (for man is a social being) that will help him come closest to the supreme goal.

Apart from the influence of his upbringing and education, Gandhi’s conception of the ideal society is in a large measure the result of his distaste for the modern civilization of the west. His views on this subject are set forth in the booklet he wrote, Hind Swaraj. He clearly states in his introduction to the book that his negative ideas on modern civilization are not original, but acquired from the writings of several great writers and thinkers.

Another factor that moulded Gandhi’s vision of the ideal society was his love for the simple life. This arose in the first instance from his own roots in the small towns of Porbandar and Rajkot in Kathiawar. Later, his reading, though selective and generally restricted to theological and philosophical works, affected him deeply.

The Phoenix Trust Deed is a very signif­icant document for it contains a model of the type of society he wished to create for humanity. Among the objectives of the settlers on Phoenix Farm were: to order one’s life so as to earn a living through handicrafts and agriculture without the aid of machinery; to promote better understanding between peoples; to live a pure life and thereby set an example for others; to try and promote the ideals of Ruskin and Tolstoy; to introduce vernacular education; to propagate the philosophy of ‘nature treatment’ in the medical field; to train for social service; and finally to conduct a journal for the advancement of these ideas.

Gandhi was critical of industrial civilization not only because it led to severe and wasteful compe­tition for goods and markets leading to colonization of weaker nations and exploitation of the countryside, but also because it led to displacement of manual labour and growing unemployment.

In contrast was Indian civilization in which there was “no system of life corroding competition”. Each followed his own occupation or trade and charged a regulation wage. On balance, Gandhi finds that the tendency of Indian civilization “is to elevate the moral being”, while “that of western civilization is to propagate immorality”.

This rather harsh condemnation of the west may be viewed in the background of his deep faith in a supreme creator and the necessity of spiritu­ality in a civilization, both of which he found lacking in his experience of western life.

Another element in Gandhi’s thinking is very significant for his conceptualization of an ideal society. This is the doctrine of bread labour. It has already been discussed in relation to its emergence; here, we propose to examine his belief that it would, if implemented, create an ideal social order.

In broad terms, bread labour means that one should eat only after doing adequate labour to earn it. Gandhi is positive that bread labour meant manual labour alone and not intellectual labour. His logic is: “The needs of the body must be supplied by the body.”

He also feels that in any society, there are many individuals who can work physically or mentally to an extent that is more than is required to sustain themselves. The products of their surplus labour capacity should, according to Gandhi’s principle, be devoted to the common good.

If this principle were followed, he asserts, there would be “no rich and no poor, none high and none low, no touchable and no untouchable”. He believes that it is the wide gulf between manual and intellectual labour that is the cause of poverty and inequality in society.

If each of us, he writes, performed only enough physical labour for our bread, even that, though short of the ideal, would go a long way in producing a just society – our wants would be reduced and our lives would be simplified and each would “derive the greatest relish from the production of his labour”. In his ideal state, those doing intel­lectual labour, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers, should not expect payment because such work is done for its own satis­faction and not for the self, according to him.

Gandhi gave high honour to labour per se. He seems to have been extremely anxious that those engaged in physical labour should not be looked down upon and their place should be considered equal to those engaged in intellectual pursuits. His anxiety in this regard has led him into the rather absurd position of expecting professionals to do enough physical labour for their bread and then follow their intellectual pursuits in the manner of art for art’s sake.

It was not that Gandhi held intellectual labour in low esteem. He even says at one place that he would allow those with greater intellect to earn more. But he believed that all should perform manual labour, irrespective of their professions, so that the load of physical labour was not borne unfairly by some and a sense of identification was created with the hardships of others.

That is the crux of his argument – that those engaged in intel­lectual or higher pursuits should not consider themselves superior, that the law of the brute, or the struggle for existence, should be replaced by the law of man, or the struggle for mutual service.

However laudable this ideal, it was obviously not practical, which is why there are contradictions in Gandhi’s argument. He asserts that professionals should not expect payment for their work, but at the same time, he was willing to allow those with greater intellect to earn more. The pragmatic in Gandhi had been overwhelmed by the idealist in pursuit of an egalitarian, just society.

For Gandhi, his emphasis on village uplift and a return to the villages meant a definite voluntary recognition of the duty of bread labour and all it connoted. He launched a movement to rid village life of poverty and disease through a programme of economic and social revival.

The All India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) was, in his own words, “an experiment in willing bread labour”. It required the involvement of those used to an urban and sedentary life in the hard life of the villages. Groups of city dwellers would go periodically to live and work among people in rural areas.

Moreover, the city dwellers would be persuaded to use products manufactured in the villages to help improve the villagers’ economic status. Goods of daily use that could not be produced in villages would be manufactured in the cities and sold in the villages.

Gandhi’s ideas are strewn all over his collected works and have to be gleaned from there. The shifts and changes in some beliefs and the strengthening of others are most interesting in the context of his experiences and his growing understanding of social situations. There are, however, some basic principles that do not alter as, for instance, truth and non-violence or his exposition of the value of means in any struggle for ends.

Gandhi places the greatest importance on the means that are employed to attain a goal. He believes that only fair means can produce a fair end and, to prove his point, he offers the following analogy: “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree … we reap exactly as we sow.”

In Gandhi’s ideal society, satyagraha is particularly stressed as a means (which he describes as “love force” or “soul force”). This force, he writes, is indestructible and the force of arms is powerless when matched against the force of love or the soul. He admits that there was no historical evidence of any nation having risen through the use of this force, but this fact did not trouble him because he regarded history as merely a sensational chronicling of kings and emperors, and not of efforts directed toward promoting individual and corporate happiness.

He finds “the greatest and most unimpeachable evidence of the success of this force … in the fact that in spite of the wars of the world, it still lives on”. Hence his emphasis on satyagraha as a means of social change. Using the logic of satyagraha, Gandhi regards it as a superstition to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority.

He writes that many examples could be given in which majorities have been known to be in the wrong and minorities in the right. To quote him: “All reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities.”

Another advantage that Gandhi discerns in satyagraha is that it is not an esoteric weapon to be used by people specially endowed to use it; he believes firmly that it is an instrument that can be used by all, old and young, male and female, independent of physical strength. Those who use it would have no fear for they would have given up the fear of death.

Evidently, in Gandhi’s ideal society, only the weapon of satyagraha would be used to obtain rights or to undo wrongs. The only requirement for becoming a passive resister, he writes, is “control over the mind and, when that is attained, man is free like the king of the forest and his very glance withers the enemy”. Moreover, passive resistance, in his opinion, is a double edged sword, it can be used anyhow and it blessed him who used it and him against whom it was used.

The other significant component in the making of Gandhi’s ideal society is the existence of a band of dedicated volunteers, who are committed to satyagraha, or passive resistance, as the means to usher in social change. Gandhi lays down four necessary conditions for such a band.

They must observe “perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth and cultivate fearlessness”. He believes that a person who is unchaste loses stamina and becomes emasculated and cowardly. Chastity is one of the greatest disciplines without which the mind cannot attain the requisite firmness.

Poverty was necessary as only one who is used to it can suffer the consequences of passive resistance cheerfully. Truth was like the shield and sword of the satyagrahi, for, without the courage of his convictions, he would bow down before social pressures. The element of fearlessness was an indis­pensable factor because only one who was totally fearless could challenge social evils.

It seems that Gandhi was aware that in spite of his claim to the contrary that anyone could become a satyagrahi, the qualities required for passive resistance were not easy to cultivate, for he asked the readers of Hind Swaraj to not be put off by passive resis­tance on account of the injunctions he had laid down.

In the context of a discussion on satyagraha as the means for creating Gandhi’s ideal society, something must be said about his views on the pace of social change. The social revolution he planned could not be the result of sudden and violent measures, but of a planned and comprehensive scheme of evolution.

This aspect of satyagraha, which is now widely recognized, has been highlighted by Professor Ramashray Roy. Though Roy discusses satyagraha in the political context, the argument would hold good in the social sphere, too, where satyagraha is used as the ‘means’ for achieving the ‘end’ of social justice.

Roy is of the view that when satyagraha is used as a political weapon, it leads to the “disclosure of truth” or “conflict resolution”. In a dispute, the various contestants express their relative perceptions of the truth. There is a moral tussle that may go on for some time, but the absolute truth has to emerge soon.

The party with the greatest moral strength, exemplified by its capacity to sacrifice, will be victorious. To quote his words, “Since satyagraha is a dialectic process, which makes explicit the possibilities that lie in the womb of a particular situation, it follows that the possibilities, to be real, must ripen gradually to maturity. The pace of maturation cannot be forced.”

It is in this sense that Gandhi puts so much emphasis on gradual, peaceful, non-violent change. He believed that a new social order could not be forced; if change was brought through force, it would be a remedy worse than the disease. Gandhi did not wish to slacken the pace of change, but it had to be an organic growth, not a violent superimposition. The organic growth itself was to result in a thoroughgoing, radical social reordering.

Here it would be interesting to counterpose this view with the Marxist argument that states that man cannot be liberated from his predicament without a revolutionary change in the economic order, followed by a restructuring of the social and political system. Opposed to this is Gandhi’s view, which emphasizes moral and individual change as the precursor to social and economic change.

The concept of justice forms an important element in Gandhi’s view of the ideal society. His definition makes it clear: “Pure justice is that which is inspired by fellow feeling and compassion. We in India call it the eastern or ancient way of justice … where such an arrangement exists there is hardly any need for a third party or an arbitrator.”

He considers that action alone to be just which does not harm either party to a dispute. This view sprang from his supreme belief in the oneness of all life – that there is divinity in each individual and, hence, justice should not be such as to harm any individual.

This conviction is reflected in Gandhi’s concept of social equality. His idea was that while all are equal in society, while each has a right to equal opportunity, all do not have the same capacity. Some would inherently have the capacity to earn more and others less.

He would allow a man of intellect to earn more. Though this view of differential equality of men expresses a very plausible argument, Gandhi appears to miss one dimension of social life – that individual capacity is itself determined by the structural inequalities in society.

On the other hand, it can be said that Gandhi’s view is a concession to the modern state with its imperfect social arrangements and does not belong to his conception of the ideal society where, as a result of the operation of the principle of bread labour and trust­eeship, there would be equal distribution of wealth and not just equitable distribution. This is confirmed by his views on the subject of economic equality.

Gandhi quotes Marx on the concept of economic equality: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need …. If a single man demanded as much as a man with a wife and four children that would be a violation of economic equality.” Gandhi upholds this ideal, but does not recommend force to implement it because his creed is non-violence.

He formulated his doctrine of trusteeship to resolve this dilemma. The rich, he asserts, should behave as trustees for their surplus wealth and use it for the common good. This is their public duty and they ought to renounce their wealth voluntarily. Though absolute trusteeship, he was aware, was an abstraction like Euclid’s definition of a point, and equally unattainable, “if we strive for it”, he says, “We shall be able to go further in realizing a state of equality on earth than by any other method”.

This was the only way in which a just and non-violent society could be estab­lished. He believed that if wealthy people did not heed his advice, the consequences would be formidable. The poverty stricken masses would rise from their stupor and plunge the country into utter chaos.

Gandhi’s advice regarding the voluntary abdication of riches was treated with ridicule by many of his contemporaries. Despite this, he would not countenance confiscation of property because he believed that would prove counterproductive.

Moreover, the nation would be denied the talents of those who could create wealth for it. The remedy, he says, was the sovereign one – “non-violent non-cooperation and civil disobedience as the right and infallible means”. It is now time to discuss Gandhi’s concept of swaraj, which was important for the formulation of his views on the ideal society. At one stage, he identified swaraj with Ram Rajya, or the idyllic society in Hindu terms. He defined the concept in several ways, ranging from “self-rule” to “total independence” of the nation.

His thinking evolved substantially over a period of years during the struggle for independence. He writes in Hind Swaraj, “It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves. It is therefore in the palm of our hands.” Here it is obvious that he means that the moment we become conscious of our innate dignity, of a self higher than the external self, we become free, and to protect this freedom, he writes, we should willingly sacrifice even our lives. At the spiritual level, he finds swaraj synonymous with moksha, or salvation.

Gandhi and Umar Shobani coming down the Staircase of a Mosque on Grant Road in Mumbai in 1919

Headlines in Bombay Chronicle about Gandhi's Successful Drive to Collect Rs. 1 Crore for the Tilak Swaraj Fund in 1921 In the December 1920 issue of Young India, Gandhi conceives of swaraj as the attribute of an independent nation. In sum, he says, swaraj is the state when a nation is free to make a choice between good and evil. At the purely social level, Gandhi’s discussion of swaraj revolves mainly round the need for emanci­pating the nation from the dead weight of unworthy traditions and building up a new consciousness on the noble elements of its heritage, such as mutual tolerance and community life.

For this purpose, it is necessary, he observes, that Hindus discard the error of untouchability, Muslims and Hindus give up mutual enmity and accept “heart friendship” as an eternal factor of national life, all Indians adopt the charkha as the only universal means of attaining India’s economic salvation, and, finally, all accept that India’s freedom lies only through non-violence and no other method.

In the foregoing passage, we observe some of the chief characteristics of Gandhi’s ideal society. Harmony and cooper­ation marked its social organization, while simplicity and lack of competition prevailed in the economic sphere. He believed that only a definite, intelligent and free adoption of the entire programme he outlined could lead to the attainment of the substance of swaraj.

Gandhi’s thinking on swaraj evolved further under the pressure of the national struggle for independence. He had to frame the ideology keeping the nation and her people in mind. In 1936, he wrote a passage on this subject, which is relevant for our study. As was his habit, he used an analogy to explain his viewpoint and compared swaraj to a square.

At one end, he placed complete political independence and at the opposite end, full economic independence. At the third end was moral and social uplift, which he sums up as non-violent behaviour, and at the opposite end, dharma or truth. This truth, he says, was religion in the highest sense of the term.

It included Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, but was superior to all of them. Elabo­rating further, he says that the truth was the ultimate reality which pervaded everything and survived death and destruction. In this conception of swaraj, there is indeed a picture of an ideal society where the highest moral standards are maintained in every sphere.

Another picture of swaraj emerges when Gandhi compares swaraj with Ram Rajya. He draws an image of a pure, idyllic society in which both the government and the governed are led by the highest motives. To quote him: “We call a state Ram Rajya when both the ruler and his subjects are straightforward, when both are pure in heart, when both are inclined towards self-sacrifice, when both exercise restraint arid self-control while enjoying worldly pleasures, and when the relationship between the two is as good as that between a father and a son. It is because we have forgotten this that we talk of democracy or the government of the people.”

It may now be concluded that for Gandhi, the starting point of thinking on swaraj is moral purification at both the individual and national level. He writes that from the beginning, his endeavour was to increase the “soul force” of the people, by self-purification and tapasya, or self-denial. He believed that it was as a result of this that good quality persons were elected to the municipal boards, et cetera, after the commencement of the Non-Cooperation Movement.

But he knew well that the path was a difficult one and there were many pitfalls ahead, so he never tried to look too far ahead. He liked to say: “The distant scene I do not care to see, one step enough for me.”

Gandhi’s projection of the ideal society underwent consid­erable transformation over the decades he spanned. In the early years, it was a nebulous picture of an altruistic society. After­wards, as a result of his own experiences and experiments, there began to emerge the firm outlines of a society that he painstak­ingly planned and hoped to create.

Gandhi has given his attention to all its aspects – political, social and economic. In the 1920s, while visualizing the ideal society, he represents individuals as conscientious citizens, who are able to transcend religious, caste and class barriers. The government is shown as a self-righteous body, which performs its duties only with a view to the common good.

In the 1930s, Gandhi developed a more concrete programme and set it before the country as the goal toward which national endeavour had to be directed. The self-contained village is his ideal, built as it is on the firm foundation of the concept of non-violence. This is highlighted when he writes: “Rural economy, as I have conceived it, eschews exploitation altogether and exploitation is the essence of violence.

You have, therefore, to be rural minded before you can be non-violent, and to be rural minded, you have to have faith in the spinning wheel.” The spinning wheel, or charkha, signified for him simple technology, which he considered indispensable for a harmonious and contented society.

In emphasizing a return to village life, Gandhi makes it very clear that he does not at all mean the villages of the past, or of the present, which wallowed in ignorance and squalor. He clarified his view further in a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1945: “My ideal village will contain intelligent human beings. They will not live in dirt and darkness as animals.

Men and women will be free and able to hold their own against anyone in the world. There will be neither plague nor cholera, nor smallpox; no one will be idle, no one will wallow in luxury. Everyone will have to contribute his quota of manual labour …. It is possible to envisage railways, post and telegraph … and the like …

From the manner in which Gandhi uses the term, ‘village’, to refer to his ideal society, it is obvious that it is in reality a euphemism for a whole philosophy of life, his very own creation.

Let us now look at the plan he envisaged for the ideal village or community or society. Gandhi’s purpose is to make each individual’s life more wholesome and rewarding. “An ideal village,” he says, “will be so constructed as to lend itself to perfect sanitation. It will have cottages with sufficient light and ventilation, built of a material obtainable within a radius of five miles of it.

The cottages will have courtyards enabling householders to plant vegetables for domestic use and to house their cattle. The village lanes and streets will be free of all avoidable dust. It will have wells according to its needs and accessible to all.

It will have houses of worship for all; also a common meeting place, a village common for grazing its cattle, a cooperative dairy, primary and secondary schools in which industrial education will be the central fact, and will have panchayats for settling disputes. It will produce its own grains, vegetables and fruit, and its own khadi. This is roughly my idea of a model village.”

It is obvious from this passage that self-sufficiency is the motto of Gandhi’s ideal society, at least for basic necessities such as food and clothing. Moreover, its people cooperate willingly in several activities to make their community life clean and wholesome. Extravagance is avoided in every field. The systems of justice and education are made rational and socially productive. So, in his ideal village, people labour for self-sufficiency, cooperate with one another and respect each other’s religious beliefs and live a life that is altogether healthy. There is no violent competition or conflict and each individual is given a sense of participation and belonging.

Gandhi did not think that such a village was impossible to realize. All that was necessary, he writes, was a band of committed village workers, who were willing to give “intelligent guidance” to the village people. They did not have to be highly educated people, but responsible and sympathetic citizens of the country.

They would teach the ignorant villagers the value of mutual cooperation and voluntary labour for the common good. With such help, he is convinced, the village income, as distin­guished from the individual income, would double. Though assistance from the government would be invaluable in the sphere of village reconstruction, much could be achieved even without it, he believed, with self-help and self-reliance.

Gandhi was actually very apprehensive about arming the government with too much power even in what purported to be a welfare state. He believed that the citizens in such a state pay for their dependence with a proportionate loss of their liberty. It is because of this that he greatly admires Henry David Thoreau, a champion of civil rights in the United States of America.

Gandhi echoes him when he writes, “I look upon an increase of the power of the state with the greatest fear because, although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress.”

If we take the argument to the social sphere, we find that Gandhi stresses cooperation and equality. He appears to be apprehensive about the use of power anywhere, which might prove dangerous for egalitarian growth and individual initiative.

Gandhi’s political ideas, too, with regard to the ideal society, advance much further over the years from the position he assumes in Hind Swaraj, wherein he cherishes an enlightened anarchy. He is a firm believer in the value of public opinion for good government. But its evaluation should be done differently, he asserts.

“In my Ram Rajya, however, public opinion cannot be measured by counting of heads or raising of hands. I would not regard this as a measure of public opinion, the verdict of the panch should be regarded as the voice of God. Those who raise hands are not the panch.

The rishis and the munis, after doing penance, came to the conclusion that public opinion is the opinion of people who practise penance and who have the good of the people at heart. That is the true meaning of democracy.” Therefore, in Gandhi’s opinion, the best means of attaining the ends of social justice and harmony was by ascertaining the views of people who had, through hard work and sacrifice, proved their capabilities, rather than have each and every person voting on public issues, irrespective of their capacity for social judgement.

The concept of an ideal ruler was also envisaged by Gandhi. He was greatly concerned about the place of social conduct in the ideal society. The ruler’s first duty, Gandhi felt, would be to ensure that his personal purity was never suspect and he must be willing to sacrifice everything for his reputation.

In this context, Gandhi was deeply influenced by the example of Rama, the legendary hero of Hindu mythology. Rama honoured public opinion at great cost to himself. The conduct of the ruler had to be exemplary, reflecting the ideals of social justice and moral principles. “Even a dog”, Gandhi writes, could not be harmed in that state because Rama felt that all living beings were part of himself. There would be no licentious conduct, no hypocrisy, no falsehood in such a state.

Gandhi firmly believed that the private and public life of an individual must correspond closely and this was all the more important in the case of a ruler. The ruler had to set an example for his subjects. The ideal ruler or king was, in Gandhi’s opinion, “a protector, a guardian and a trustee, the best servant, the servant of servants”. He should, moreover, subsist on the leavings of his subjects,-sleep after making his subjects sleep, and live after enabling them to live.

In expressing these ideal­istic notions, Gandhi was no doubt influenced by his study of ancient Hindu literature, particularly the Manusmriti, in which, among other things, the essential virtues of kings are defined. It has been observed about Gandhi that “his belief that private morality had public consequences reflects the emphasis in traditional Hindu thought on ethical as against institutional restraints.

Traditional Hindu political thought, the Dharmasastra and the epics stress the importance of inner over external restraints on rulers, relying not upon countervailing institu­tions, but upon ethical commands to guarantee the public spirit of traditional kings. In practice, of course, countervailing insti­tutions did act as irregular restraints.”

We shall now consider Gandhi’s understanding of democracy. He has written so much that there are bound to be contradictions and variations in his writings. In one context, he could define democracy as the opinion of a few tested and proven men and women who had practised penance, while, in another context, he takes a less idealistic and more practical stance.

He outlines the features of democracy thus: A dynamic democracy can grow only out of the meaningful relationships and sponta­neous organization that spring up among people when they come together at the local level to solve their basic problems by cooper­ation among themselves.

In such a community, achievement of self-sufficiency and security by neighbourly cooperation engenders a strong sense of local strength and solidarity, and the individual’s sense of responsibility to the community and concern for its welfare are at its highest.

This definition is indeed very different from the common meaning of democracy, which is characterized by universal adult suffrage and a parliamentary form of government. Gandhi’s democracy underscores strong emotional bonds between the individuals of a locality who are guided by a public spirit and decide to cooperate in order to solve their common problems.

Gandhi’s ideal of democracy is to be attained not through the conventional system of adult suffrage, but representative voting of the local communities. When these are organized as vibrant harmonious units, a vote for each person would be meaningless, he says. He explained this idea to Louis Fischer in 1942.

He said that there were 700,000 villages in India and each would be organized according to the will of its citizens, all of them voting. Then there would be 700,000 votes and not 400 million. Each village, in other words, would have one vote. The villages would elect their district representatives and the district administrations would elect the provincial administration, and these, in turn, would elect a president who would be the national chief executive.

Gandhi, it seems, recommended this system of indirect elections because he believed in the superior judgement of the panch or a “few good men” with proven ability in social affairs, rather than the indiscriminate use of the vote by each individual. Democracy, he thought, could not be forced upon people – the desire for it had to come from within.

Gandhi did not think his system of voting undemocratic because he was of the view that it would give the people representatives who were tried and tested in the life of groups and would substitute the active participation of individuals for the present day passive expression of views.

Villages, in his plan, are the “building blocks” of the democratic structure. This scheme is further elaborated when he writes about the political organization of his “village republic”, where he outlines what he believes would be a “perfect democracy”: “The government of the village will be conducted by the panchayat of five persons annually elected by the adult villagers, male and female, possessing minimum prescribed qualifications. These will have all the authority and jurisdiction required since there will be no system of punishments in the accepted sense.

This panchayat will be the legislature, judiciary and executive combined to operate for its year of office …. Here there is perfect democracy based upon individual freedom. The individual is the architect of his government. The law of non-violence rules him and his government. He and his village are able to defy the might of a world.”

Though Gandhi visualized the government of the ideal society as a non-coercive body, yet it was entrusted with compre­hensive powers and it was to use its moral authority and persuasion to enforce its decisions. The only check on its authority was the force of public opinion or individual opinion expressed through the means of satyagraha.

Gandhi’s view of citizenship is related to his conception of the ideal society. Though he had not made a systematic study of the subject, by inference, one can obtain it from his ideas on the theory of rights of individuals. Each right, according to him, had a corresponding duty, and all rights, whether in relation to the family, society or state, followed from the performance of the corresponding duties.

The foremost duty, in his opinion, was to try to achieve the goal of self-realization – to seek identi­fication of self with all life. The path was through social service with truth and non-violence as the means. By trying to claim rights without fulfilling the duties that preceded them, the rights would always escape our grasp and no real advance could be made with such rights.

Against this background of his theory of rights, a true citizen, in Gandhi’s opinion, was one who thought primarily of his duties towards society, rather than his rights in society. Such a citizen was confident that rights would automatically follow from the due performance of his duties. He would also know the remedy for any attack on his rights. The remedy was non-violent non-cooperation.

We shall now turn to an examination of some specifically social issues that Gandhi has considered in his formulation of an ideal society. The views expressed by him are not disowned later, but the emphasis changes according to his perception of the nation’s needs.

Gandhi took a holistic view of education. He believed that one should be able to acquire self-restraint through education. He made a distinction between acquiring information and true education – acquiring information could help one earn one’s living, but, because it could not build character, it could not fulfill the main purpose of human life, while true education enlightened one and pointed out one’s path of duty.

He said: “Education, character and religion should be regarded as convertible terms. There is no true education which does not tend to produce character, and there is no true religion which does not determine character. Education should contemplate the whole life. Here, memorising and book learning is not education. I have no faith in the so-called system of education, which produces men of learning without the backbone of character.”

Gandhi being Weighed during the 21 days' Fast for Hindu-Muslim Unity in Delhi in September 1924

Gandhi with Textile Workers at Darwen, Lancashire in September 1931Gandhi is severely critical of modern education as estab­lished by the British in India. This, he believed, has mentally “enslaved us”. The Indians forgot their own great languages and wrote to each other in “faulty English”. Their best thoughts were expressed in English and, therefore, never reached the masses.

In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi expresses deep admiration for what he believed was the ancient education system of India. He stated that character building had first place in it and that was primary education, in his opinion. A building erected on such a foundation would last. The ancient system of education had relevance to the life of the ordinary villager and provided stability in his life.

Though Gandhi seemed to idolize the past, he stressed the necessity to continually make changes in our institu­tions and systems. He admired the Europeans for their ability to do this. His desire was that Indians should create a system of education that would lead to national resurgence in the social and cultural fields and make them aware of their great heritage.

In a tentative scheme of education articulated by him in the early years, Gandhi laid great stress on language, which he saw as a medium of learning, as a medium of communication, and as a means to build mutual respect and goodwill. To quote his words: “We have to improve all our languages ….

Those English books which are valuable, we should translate into the various Indian languages. We should abandon the pretension of learning many sciences. Religious, that is, ethical education, will occupy first place. Every cultured Indian will know in addition to his own provincial language, if a Hindu, Sanskrit; if a Mahomedan, Arabic; if a Parsee, Persian; and all, Hindi.

Some Hindus should know Arabic and Persian; some Mahomedan and Parsis, Sanskrit, several northerners and westerners should learn Tamil. A universal language for India should be Hindi, with the option of writing it in Persian or Nagri characters.

In order that the Hindus and Mahomedans may have closer relations, it is necessary to know both the characters. And, if we can do this, we can drive the English language out of the field in a short time. All this is necessary for us, slaves. Through our slavery, the nation has been enslaved and it will be free with our freedom.

Gandhi’s emphasis is on release from the stranglehold of the English language and related cultural phenomena and substi­tuting in their place, Indian languages and cultural harmony. It is obvious that Gandhi is thinking both like a patriot and an educa­tionist. In later years, his motivations are different and his schemes of education reflect his deep concern for the idle and downtrodden masses of the nation. The most significant of them was named by him as Basic Education – basic because it stood for the art of living.

Education of the young would be an important duty of the state; it would be free and compulsory during the primary stage from the age of seven to fourteen. Gandhi drew up a plan of self-supporting primary education, which would benefit both the child and society. This plan sprang out of his faith in non-violent values and the desire to evolve a truly democratic social order.

The central feature of the new plan was education of the child through a useful, productive craft – the application of the ideal of bread labour to education. The medium of instruction was to be the mother tongue and the education of all other subjects would be integrally related to the productive craft.

Gandhi believed that training in a useful handicraft, when it was made the centre of education, would establish a purposive relationship between doing, learning and living and brings about the harmonious development of body, mind and soul.

Gandhi’s critique of modern society also covered an appraisal of the legal and medical professions. It would be relevant for our purpose to consider his views on the subject. Gandhi, who was a trained lawyer himself, believed in the value of reconciliation and arbitration for the settlement of disputes, but was well aware that these values were generally ignored and corruption had crept into the practice of the legal profession.

In his ideal society, Gandhi would have lawyers give up their profession and take up a socially productive occupation like spinning or weaving. Lawyers should use their legal acumen to enlighten their countrymen on social and public issues. They should also resolve not to meddle in disputes, but persuade disputing parties to give up their quarrels and reach an amicable settlement, which would rest on the wisdom of the elders or the panches.

Gandhi also demolishes the tall claims made by men of medicine about the value of their work. Instead of trying to attain the goal of serving humanity, he felt they served themselves by exploiting the weaknesses and credulity of people. He points out that most ailments were primarily the result of negligence or indulgence by individuals.

In his scheme of an ideal society, Gandhi would have doctors, like lawyers, give up their profession and teach people the way to develop healthy minds, which would automatically lead to their having healthy bodies. He would completely forbid vivisection, even if it meant checking the progress of medical science.

As in the case of lawyers, he would persuade doctors to take up a socially productive occupation. If patients were to come to them for treatment, they ought to use their medical knowledge to explain to them the cause of their disease and advise them to remove the cause, rather than pamper them by giving them useless drugs.

There is much in Gandhi’s thought that awakens our admiration, but there are elements that are completely baffling. Surely Gandhi could not have believed that doctors would be able to keep their medical knowledge alive and up to date while busying themselves in some “socially productive” occupation.

The early Jain influences were apparently very strong and are manifest in his argument that even at the risk of checking medical progress, he would oppose vivisection. But one has to take these arguments in the light of a dream of an ideal society which Gandhi cherished and knew to be difficult to achieve.

Gandhi was an outspoken critic of the machine age that had begun to flower in the west and was beginning to find its roots in India as well. Mill owners, he was convinced, could never have the interests of the people at heart; they would always support governments that bolstered their interests.

The nexus between the two was very close and quite alien to the spirit of mutual goodwill and cooperation envisaged by Gandhi in his vision of a harmonious social structure and self-sufficient village.

In the ideal society, Gandhi would not order the destruction of mills already established, but he would implore the mill owners not to add to them. He would persuade them to “gradually contract their business”. They can instead, he says, “establish in thousands of households the ancient and sacred handlooms and they can buy out the cloth that may thus be woven”.

On the other hand, a movement like the Swadeshi Movement could be launched, he felt, and people would volun­tarily cease to use machine made goods when their social consciousness was aroused.

In later years, Gandhi opposed mechanization on the more practical grounds of its unsuitability in a vast agricultural country like India. In a public speech in 1928, he says that the result of industrializing India would be like establishing the age of Ravana, instead of the age of Rama.

“Where there were thirty crores of living machines,” he says, “and cows and calves of great number, worshipping machines would be suicidal. In depopulated countries like the UK and USA, there may be a need for machines, but then they also resorted to robbery and plunder of other countries with the help of these machines.”

India, he asserts, could regain her riches and prosperity if she followed a natural course of development with the help of her vast lands, good climate and unlimited natural resources. It is for this reason that he propagated khadi. In Hind Swaraj, he says he regards all machinery, including electricity generators and printing presses, as evil.

Though this remained his ideal till the end, Gandhi made many concessions to the propagators of the machine age in later years and became, in fact, an avid supporter of the sewing machine. He even favoured the installation of electricity in villages and realized that some industries producing capital goods had come to stay. Only he would have them owned by the state.

Thus, it can be said that Gandhi’s conception of the ideal society was primarily in moral terms, rather than in social or political terms. Self-restraint and self-reliance were the keys to the founding of his ideal society. Through the practice of these virtues, the individual could ultimately gain mastery of himself and learn to identify himself with all life.

In this situation, he would not exploit his environment for his selfish aggran­dizement, but establish a reciprocal relationship in which he would use the products of his environment without impover­ishing it.

From this point of view, Gandhi’s concept and practice of swadeshi assume great significance. It had at its basis harmo­nious social, political and economic interaction with the immediate neighbourhood as opposed to reliance on distant and remote cultures and places. By following the principle of swadeshi, the all round development of the human personality and society was possible. The manifestation of this belief was his ideal of the self-sufficient rural community.

Such a society could be created, Gandhi believed, provided one was convinced about the power of non-violence, the value of manual labour and the principle of trusteeship. Public spirited citizens holding these values would cooperate voluntarily and, with the help of simple technology, organize community life on harmonious lines.


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by Lala Lajpat Rai

PART 1 — [The Hindu-Muslim problem is the problem of India]
[A] THE HINDU-MUSLIM PROBLEM is the problem of India. We have heard and read much of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is always a matter of controversy between the Anglo-Indian [=British person in India] and the Nationalist. The former asserts, and the latter denies, the impossibility of Hindus and Muslims uniting together to form one nation. The amount of unity or disunity existing at a particular moment is also always an issue. Yet it is a fact that from 1919 to the end of 1921 Hindus and Muslims of India were fairly united. It was during this period that for the first time in the history of India a Kafir preached from the pulpit of the biggest and historically the most important and the most magnificent mosque of Northern India./1/ It was during the same period that the Malechhas fraternised with the Hindus on the occasion of their religious festivals.

It is also a fact that the amount of unity achieved in this short period, has since then melted down, and for the last three years Hindus and Mussalmans have been at daggers drawn with each other to an extent never before known under British rule. All attempts to stem the tide have so far proved ineffectual. All efforts for finding a solution have been fruitless. It cannot be denied that at the moment of writing, the relations between the two communities are strained almost to the breaking point. Communal riots and scuffles are of more frequent occurrence than ever before. Mutual distrust and suspicion has reached the Nth point. Even in Congress circles, in spite of much hugging and cooing, the relations between the leaders of the two communities are [[171]] not free from distrust and suspicion. Hindu-Muslim unity is always put in the fore-front of the Congress programme, but so far the leaders have failed to successfully grapple with the situation and find out a suitable solution. The explanation is obvious. Either they have lost influence with the masses, or they are not sincere. I cannot accept the latter alternative, and thus it is only the former that is left to us to adopt.

[B] Before Mahatma Gandhi was released,/2/ the whole country looked to the Yeravda jail for the cure of the disease that had overtaken the body politic during his incarceration. All hopes were concentrated on one person, and that person being in jail, it was expected that his freedom would mean the freedom of the country from Hindu­Muslim quarrels. Both parties had faith in him. His leadership was acknowledged by all. There was not the least possible suspicion of his motives. He was the very personification of love, forbearance, trust, and goodness. So it was believed that the “key to the Yeravda jail” was the key to Hindu-Muslim unity. Providence in its own wisdom supplied that key, and the Mahatma was released. It is now more than six months that he has been released. His health was very delicate when he was released, so delicate that he could not leave the hospital for about six weeks or so after his release. Yet with characteristic selflessness he immediately set himself to study the situation, to probe into the causes of this unhappy change. He left nothing unexplored. He met and heard the stories of both sides, and also of those who professed to belong to no side. He made independent enquiries, and thought and meditated.

Eventually he issued a statement/3/ which, sweet, reasonable, and highly conciliatory though it was, failed to satisfy anyone. When I say anyone, I exclude that class (a fairly large and influential body) for whom his word is law and who will.not question anything he says. If any distinction were to be made between the amount of satisfaction the statement gave to the Hindus and the Muslims, it will not be wrong to say that it gave less satisfaction to the former than to the latter. There is, indeed, a general impression among the Hindus that in apportioning blame and responsibility he was not impartial. There are classes of Hindus (most influential, energetic, and active) whom his statement mortally offended, and who have not hesitated to retaliate with words and resolutions of protest and anger. Whatever one may think of its justifiability or otherwise, this represents a frame of mind which no [[172]] one who is anxious to bring about lasting peace between: the two communities can ignore.

The solution which the Mahatma suggested, and the cure he prescribed, have, I am afraid, appealed to none. Even his diagnosis is not so masterly as one had a right to expect from him. He has laid great stress on mere symptoms and has not gone deep into the underlying and predisposing causes. He had something to say about Mian Fazl-i-Husain and Swami Shraddhanand,/4/ but he did not go into the forces that went to make the one and the other. No one doubts his honesty of purpose, his deep love for all, his desire for peace, and his anxiety to bring about such a complete unity among Hindus and Muslims as to make their united demand for Swarajya irresistible and to make Swarajya itself, when attained, durable and progressive. But with all this the document is rather disappointing, and the solution suggested is on the face of it superficial, though noble and magnanimous in appearance. The events of the last six months are enough evidence of its utter failure both as a palliative or [=and] as a curative remedy.

[C] Yet amidst all these disappointments and disconcerting events and circumstances, and in the midst of [the] resulting chaos, there is one fact which emerges boldly and which gives hope to all well-wishers of India. However divided Hindus and Muslims may be, however bitter their relations with each other, they are still united in their demand for Swarajya, in their opposition to the Government, and in their hatred of the subjugation imposed upon them from without. It will stand to the eternal credit of Mahatma Gandhi that he has brought politics home to the masses of India, that he has created a wonderful and never to be effaced awakening in them, and that he has produced a consciousness which marks the beginning of a real nationhood. With this solid and permanent achievement to the Mahatma’s credit, there is no reason to despair of the future. His statement may not be as satisfying as one would have wished it to be, but he is still at the wheel and is hopeful as ever of being able to lead us through to the desired goal. But the one essential condition of success is that there must be no ignoring of facts, and no clinging to shibboleths blown away by the wind of experience. If he will apply his mind to the removal of the real causes of Hindu-Muslim disunity, and keep himself open as to methods and means, he may yet succeed. Even if he does not, others may, given the right attitude, the right mind, and the readiness to [[173]] apply the right remedy.

[D] After the above was written on board the ship during my voyage to India, I have had further corroboration of statements made in what I have seen, read, and observed since my landing at Bombay on the 18th of October, 1924. The two shocking [pieces of] news which I heard immediately on landing were about the Kohat tragedy and Mahatma Gandhi’s fast./5/ The most disconcerting feature of the former was the total emigration of the Hindus from Kohat, out of fear of further Muslim attacks. I am not at present prepared to assert what the respective liabilities of the communities were in regard to this tragedy, but I have no doubt in my mind that the Government has throughout shown such utter inefficiency and incompetency as stands unique in the history of British rule in India. I am not very much enamoured of British rule, or for the matter of that [=for that matter] of any foreign rule, and in spite of my great admiration for British character, I have been a life-long critic of the British administration. Yet I always believed that the one justification for British rule in India was its ability to protect the minorities, and to guarantee peace and security to them under any circumstances.

The spectacle of a whole community of about 3,500 men, women, and children marching away from their homes to distant places under Government transport arrangements and with Government help, for fear of being annihilated by an infuriated majority, is, however, a conclusive proof of the falsity of this belief, because it can only mean one of the two things–either the insincerity or the inefficiency of British officials, at least in the North-West Frontier Province. I will assume here for the purposes of this argument that the Hindus of Kohat were in the first instance to blame, and that they had provoked the Muhammadans for a fatal attack on them; still, it was the duty of the British Government to keep the Hindus in Kohat, to protect them from further molestation by the Muhammadans, at any cost, to restore order and peace, and then to proceed to try and punish the guilty persons. Practically what happened at Kohat was that the authorities considered themselves overpowered and incapable of granting the necessary security to the Hindus. We have often heard of lynch law. What is lynch law? It is nothing else but the prevention of the ordinary course of justice and the preventing of the authorities from proceeding according to law. Was not the happening at Kohat an illustration of the same tendency?

The law demands that every accused person [[174]] should be fully protected from molestation by the accusers, until a court had found him guilty and sentenced him legally. Assuming that the Hindus of Kohat were in the position of accused persons, it was the duty of the government to arrest them, and keep them in safe custody until they could be placed before a court of justice and regularly tried. The British Government admittedly failed to do this at Kohat. Even assuming that the Hindus wanted to go away for fear of their lives, it was the duty of the Government to dissuade them, and provide sufficient military security to enable them to stay in their homes. No one wants to leave his home and property in the way the Kohat Hindus did, unless he felt that his life was no longer safe. This particular incident has disclosed a new phase of the communal strife, which should be particularly noted by those who want to patch up and create an appearance of unity without going to the root of the problem.

[E] As regards Mahatma Gandhi’s fast, it is an open secret that the desecration of Hindu temples, one after another, at Amethi, Gulbarga, Kohat, and, other places, and the tragedy of Kohat, gave him such a shock that he considered it his duty to undergo a penance for his misunderstanding and mishandling the Hindu-Muslim situation during the last three years. For the first time he felt miserable at the thought that he, who had striven his best to obtain Hindu cooperation for the saving of the Muhrnmadan “temple” Khilafat, had to see desecration of Hindu temples by tens, in most cases without any provocation, at the hands of Muhammadans. The sense of helplessness and disappointment generated by this shock impelled him to impose a purificatory penance of twenty-one days’ fast on him[self], in the hope that whilst he purified himself of any sin that he might have committed unconsciously, he would be able to create an atmosphere which might give opportunities of improving Hindu-Muslim relations.

My first feeling was one of disapproval. On reaching Delhi, however, I felt that the impulse which forced him to take the vow could not perhap be satisfied otherwise. Similar was my feeling about the Unity Conference./6/ I don’t think the Unity Conference has solved the problem or could possibly solve it, but on the whole it has been useful in paving the way for the right understanding of the problem with its various complications and implications. Mahatma Gandhi is now resolved to devote the best part of his energies, time, and attention to the solution of this problem. From the bottom of my [[175]] heart I wish him success, but he will not succeed unless he devotes himself wholeheartedly to the understanding of the real causes that underlie the present situation, and scrupulously avoids proceeding on assumptions and presumptions engendered by affectionate relations with friends, and well-meaning but ineffectual professions of devotion on their part. He must adopt a scientific attitude towards this question, and proceed by scientific methods to find out the root causes of trouble and its possible solutions.

I have resigned my position of leadership in the Congress in order to be free to express myself. I am going to speak the truth plainly, and untrammelled by any delicate feeling about the responsibilities of leadership, and unaffected by what anyone might think of me. Anybody may criticise me, but I will not enter into controversies. I have considered it necessary to say all this before I start giving expression to my views on the subject.

/1/ Swami Shraddhananda preached from the pulpit of the Jama Masjid at Delhi during the Rowlatt Bills agitation.
/2/ Mahatma Gandhi was released unconditionally on 5 February 1924 on medical advice, and the unexpired portion of his sentence was remitted by the Government.
/3/ Mahatma Gandhi’s statement was issued on 29 May 1924. It contained a detailed analysis of the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India.
/4/ Mian Fazl-i-Husain, a prominent Muslim leader of the Punjab, was a Minister in the Punjab Government from 1921 to 1925, and made an effort to give larger share to Muslims in the Punjab Government services. This was resented by Hindus. Swami Shraddhanand (Mahatma Munshi Ram), the leader of the Gurukula section of the Arya Samaj, was leading in 1924 the movement for Shuddhi (conversion to Hinduism) and Hindu Sanghathan, which was the cause of considerable Hindu-Muslim tension.
/5/ Serious communal riots took place at Kohat on 9-10 September 1924. Hindus suffered heavily in these riots and virtually all Hindu inhabitants of the town were removed to Rawalpindi for safety. Mahatma Gandhi undertook a twenty-one days fast as a penance for the communal riots, from 17 September 1924, at Delhi. The fast ended on 8 October.
/6/ The Unity Conference met at Delhi on 26 September 1924 under the presidentship of Pandit Motilal Nehru. The Conference passed several resolutions on Hindu-Muslim relations. By one of the resolutions the Conference set up a Central National Panchayat with powers to organize local Panchayats.

on to Part 2 — *Lala Lajpat Rai index* — *Glossary* — *FWP’s main page* —

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