The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2014

The Gandhi Foundation’s Multifaith Celebration took place on Thursday 30th January 2014 at the House of Lords, London

Dr Rex Andrews gave a lecture on Gandhi related aspects of his new book “God in a Nutshell“. Our President, Lord Parekh, hosted and Chaired the event with Q&A with a multifaith audience.

Thank you to all who attended

Mark Hoda addressing The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

Mark Hoda addressing The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

What Happened at The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration Review

at St Ethelburga’s on 30th January 2012

By Mark Hoda, Chair & Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Mark Hoda addressing The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration 2012

It was really heartening to see such a large audience gather at St Ethelberga’s on a cold January evening. They heard  though provoking reflections on the environment and sustainability from a range of faith perspectives as well as on Gandhi’s influence on the green movement today, which continues to draw inspiration from his philosophy and satyagraha strategies.

Anglican Priest Father Ivor opened proceedings with a quote often attributed to Gandhi that “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need buy not anyone’s greed”. He also quoted from Tagore and the Upanishads before offering the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, who he said had much in common with Gandhi.

Gandhi Foundation Trustee, Graham Davey, set out how the Quaker Testimonies of simplicity, truth, equality and peace relate to care for the environment by espousing the values of moderation, sustainability and non violence and concern for the depletion of non renewable resources. The Quaker Book of Discipline calls for us to rejoice in God’s world but to appreciate that we are not its owners but its custodians.

Gandhi Foundation and Environmental Law foundation founder, Martin Polden, offered observations on the teachings of Judaism. He quoted the Old Testament’s injunction to “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and everything that moves on the Earth”. He said this should be read in conjunction  with chapter 2 verses 7-8, where Adam first appears, and is expressed to be ‘planted’ in the Garden of Eden, with a duty to ‘cultivate and keep it’, i.e. serve it and conserve it. Throughout the Torah, there is the injunction to take account of cultivation and obey good husbandry, said Polden.

He explained how Gandhi was influenced by the Jewish community in South Africa and how the 12th century philosopher Maimonides influenced E.F. Schumacher’s ‘Guide for the Perplexed’. As a lawyer, Polden has worked with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists “on issues that concern the region and where each marks the other with respect and recognition of each as human beings, with the key of living together, as distinct from stereotypes”.

Martin Polden also said that our prayers with GF President Lord Attenborough, who is unwell. Trustee John Rowley also collected messages from the audience to send to him.

Reverend Nagase from the London Peace Pagoda, said that in Buddhism, there are two paths open to attain  Buddhahood; creating the  pure land, and to lead the people to the teachings of Buddhism. “When people become peaceful and affectionate, the land in which they live is also bound to become peaceful and affectionate in accordance…It may seem as if the path is separated into two: the land and the people, yet originally both are the realisations of a single truth”.

Reflecting on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last year, Rev Nagase said “If the minds of the people are impure, their land is also impure, but  if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure, in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of people’s minds. It is the same with a Buddha and a common  mortal. While deluded, one is called a ‘common mortal’, but once  enlightened, is called a ‘Buddha’. Even a tarnished mirror will shine like a jewel if it is polished”.

Madhava Turumella from the Hindu Forum explained how he stayed at Gandhi’s Sevagram ashram after graduating from university. He said he found serenity there and appreciated the many faiths that influenced Gandhi. This religious pluralism in Turumella’s branch of Hinduism which believes in the universality of humanity and harmony with other belief systems. He echoed previous speakers when he said that the earth does not belong to anyone. He said all life is interconnected and we must not covet or steal its resources. He said that this is precisely what is happening today, however, and it is causing great damage to our world.

Gandhi Foundation Trustee, Omar Hayat, speaking about Islam, also echoed much of what previous speakers and highlighted the great commonality between faiths. Muslims are guided by the Koran and the teachings and conduct of the Prophet and Hayat gave examples of both to explain the faith’s environmental perspective. The Koran states that man is not at the centre of the world, but just one part of the environment. Islam emphasises the unity of creation and equality of all creation and the role of man as a trustee of the earth and its resources and calls for humility. The current environmental crisis reflects mankind’s spiritual crisis.

The teachings of the Prophet, emphasise that the earth must not be exploited or abused and flora, fauna and animals have equal rights to man as God’s dependants. Hayat concluded with a quote from Prophet Mohammed “Act in your life as though you are living forever and act for the Hereafter as if you are dying tomorrow”.

Green London Assembly Member, Darren Johnson, explained the impact that Gandhi has had on modern environmentalists. Johnson said Gandhi was one of the first public figures to warn of environmental damage, warning of the consequences of pollution of air water and grain, and he described him as “A patron saint of the green movement”.

He said that Gandhi’s contemporary influence was based on his emphasis on sustainability, social justice, democratic participation and non-violence.  Johnson felt that Gandhi would approve of modern London’s multi-ethnic society but not the massive gap between rich and poor. Gandhi would understand the reason behind the current Occupy movement in the capital.

Gandhi’s non-violent methods have inspired civil rights movements across the world and are fundamental to the green movement today. Johnson said that we have a long way to go to realise Gandhi’s vision but his philosophy is as relevant as ever.

John Dal Din, representing the Catholic faith, like Father Ivor, offered a Franciscan prayer – the Canticle of Creation. He talked of the deep links between St Francis and Gandhi.

Ajit Singh explained the influence of the Sikh faith on Gandhi. He posed the question what is the world and our place within it. Quoting Guru Nanak and Sikh morning prayers, he said that God creates and sustains the earth but mankind is responsible for it and all its life forms. All life is interconnected and any damage done to the earth is damage to me, said Singh.

David Fazey from Village Action India talked about a month-long Ekta Parishad (an indian grassroots movement) Satyagraha march in October in India in which 100,000 people will participate. It is inspired by Gandhi and is being staged to highlight the plight of Indian rural communities who are being denied rights to their land, water and forests. This march builds on the Janadesh march in 2007.

Fazey said that if the March is to be successful, it must be witnessed and he called on all those present to raise awareness of the event. A leaflet on the march was circulated and further details are available at www.marchforjustice2012.org

There were further impromptu contributions at the end of the event; Margaret Waterward highlighted a march of 450 slum children dressed in Khadi in Kolkata the previous day, calling for education and a future free of poverty; a from a representative of the Jain faith, Sagar Sumaria, highlighting the environmental damage created by our demand for consumer electronics, such as mobile phones. A peace petition was also circulated on behalf of Newham Mosque.

Mark Hoda concluded the event by thanking Omar Hayat and GF Friend Jane Sill for all their help in organising this year’s Multifaith Celebration.

Speech given by Martin Polden at the Multifaith Celebration 2012

Speech given by Madhava Turumella at the Multifaith Celebration 2012

Speech given by Omar Hayat at the Multifaith Celebration 2012


Book Review – Gandhiji’s Visits to Orissa

Meeting the Mahatma: Gandhiji’s Visits to Orissa
Edited by Jatindra K Nayak
Rupantar 2006 pp123
ISBN 81-901759-7-1
Rs195

Gandhi visited the Indian state of Orissa seven times and this book brings together 25 short accounts of some of these visits written by mostly Oriyas but also by two European women. Most of the authors were young at the time and some were even children, and the memories were obviously of lasting significance to them.

Gandhi seems to have visited Orissa mainly as part of his campaign against untouchability and he often travelled on foot from village to village accompanied by his ‘mobile office’ on a cart along with his ‘staff’. The expectation of his appearance in their state drew people from far and wide.

For many it was simply the sight, or darshan, of the tenth incarnation of Vishnu (as many thought) that mattered, but for Gandhi it was the reform of Indian society that counted – perhaps even more than independence for his country.

He expected those who came to also donate to the campaign. One story is of a poor woman barber who came to shave him. Gandhi expressed his disapproval of her jewellery, which she had put on for the special occasion; yet after she had shaved two of his colleagues and been paid, she presented the money to Gandhiji.

We also read of Gandhi’s tolerance. Although an ardent vegetarian, when asked by one of the audience whether it was right for poor Oriyas to eat fish, which are abundant, he responded that it was. Another instance concerns a fundamentalist Hindu who defended the exclusion of low-caste Hindus from his temple yet Gandhi invited him to speak from his platform.

The longest piece is by a German Swiss woman, Frieda Hauswirth, who was an artist and writer married to an Indian. She hoped to sketch Gandhi, whom she describes as ugly but with a beautiful smile, and she manages to do so although he would not pose for her. (This portrait is now in the USA.) She also observed how a group of women who had to keep purdah slipped out of their houses and went onto a roof to get a glimpse of Gandhi.

Manmohan Choudhury relates how the priests of the Puri temple planned to beat up Gandhi because he wanted lower castes to be admitted and so local politicians arranged for his protection. Gandhi was not pleased with this decision and so decided to walk rather than travel by the motorcar provided “in order to give greater opportunity to anyone who wanted to beat him up”.

One small error in Choudhury’s piece is “Piere Sherrysol” which should be Pierre Ceresole, the Swiss founder of Service Civil International, who joined one of Gandhi’s marches for a few days after helping earthquake-affected people in Bihar.

These recollections vividly convey the extraordinary personal qualities of the man as well as his social concerns and the editor is to be warmly thanked for bringing these writings together.

George Paxton

Gandhi in the 21st Century – by Prof. Bhikhu Parekh

The Second Fred Blum Memorial Lecture

If  I were to sum up Gandhi in just one phrase (his phrase) I would say he committed his life, as he called it,

“to grow from truth to truth”.

In other words, as a human being he said he only had partial perceptions of ultimate reality, or what is truth about anything, and life consists in our constantly rising above our limitations, our prejudices, exposing ourselves to others, and – in the process – growing “from truth to truth”.  In fact, I think that sums up the Mahatma’s life, and in my view it also sums up the life of Fred Blum.

Now, what about Mahatma in the 21st century?  I think the best way to approach the topic would be to ask what are the important questions with which the 20th century began, and which will haunt us for the next hundred years, if not more?  And of the many issues I have thought about, I would say four are critically important:

  1. Clash of cultures and civilisations
  2. The role of religion in public life
  3. Is there an alternative to violence ?
  4. Is there a place for personal integrity ?

Clash of cultures and civilisations

Let’s take the first one: clash of civilisations. Thanks to globalisation, different cultures and civilisations come together.  As they do so they encounter incomprehension and misunderstanding.  What do we do about it ?  Although many say a clash is inevitable, Gandhi had a different kind of answer.  When “9/11” happened in 2001, a lot of people said this was due to a clash of civilisations, and what has happened since has gone on to confirm this.  And therefore – they say – all we can hope to do is to manage the world as well as we can, hold on to our values, keep enemies at bay, and try to make sure that the world remains reasonably stable but be prepared for the clashes to occur from time to time.  Gandhi’s arguments were: (a) no kind of clash is inevitable; (b) by believing they are, you are demonising your opponent, turning them into inhuman monsters.  Therefore you put them outside the pale of human community and, because you have dehumanised them, you feel you can do anything with them because they “are not human beings”.  Therefore you can hunt them down.  Many Middle Eastern countries acquire “plus points” for every individual they can lock up or kill, so long as they are described as “terrorist Al Qaida supporters”.  In other words, once you dehumanise people you begin to dehumanise yourself, because that is the only way you think you can deal with them.  Therefore the moral inhibitions and scruples, which normally govern your life, seem to disappear.

I think this kind of Gandhian analysis has come true because if you look at the way, for example, that President Bush talks about Al Qaida, and the way in which Osama bin Laden talks about the Americans, there’s a complete symmetry.  Osama will say “Your capitalist American society in the West is an axis of evil, you are a degenerate society”.  Bush says the same in reverse.  Osama will say: “None of you are innocent because you are all complicit in the guilt and the harm that you are inflicting on us.”  Bush says the same: “You are either for us or against us”.

Gandhi said again and again – in his fights against racism in South Africa, the under-privileged in India or against the British – that he discovered increasingly how you become the “mirror-image” of your enemy.  So that is a no-win situation.  In trying to defeat an enemy, you defeat something very vital within yourself.  So Gandhi’s answer was that what we need is dialogue between cultures, trying to understand each other and in the process recognise that other human beings are not “others” or strangers or enemies – they are “us” in a different form – and we share a common community.

But that’s easy to say, and I want to explore the specificity of the kind of dialogue that is taking place in this and other forums – where you simply talk in a mainly gentle, courteous kind of way: I listen to you, you listen to me – and we go home exactly the same as before !  Mahatma says that that is dishonest.  That is not a dialogue – it’s simply a series of monologues.  We think each other “a nice chap or girl” and we never critically engage with each other’s beliefs.  The Mahatma’s concern was what I talked about earlier – “going from truth to truth”.  Gandhi said true dialogue is important because (a) I want to understand “what makes you tick” – what is the world of thought from within you from which you look at the world ?  and (b) what can I learn from you ?  True dialogue grows out of the desire to grow, to expand one’s universe, to enrich oneself.  Which leads to a further question: Why do you want to enrich yourself ?  Where did that desire come from ?  And Gandhi says it comes from the fact that you recognise your own limitations.  In other words, self-criticism is the foundation of a dialogue.  I, reflecting upon myself, find certain limitations in my own culture, in myself.  I want therefore to open up myself to others and see what they have to tell me; to incorporate those things into my ways of thinking and, in the process, to grow.

Let me give an example of this kind of creative and critical engagement the Mahatma was talking about.  All his life he looked at his own civilisation and was enormously impressed with the fact that of all the civilisations, the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains had been the greatest votaries of nonviolence, ahimsa.  So from his own civilisation he took some of the ideas of nonviolence.  But, as he reflected, he realised that this idea is negative because it is passive.  Nonviolence for the Indian means not doing harm to anybody.  It doesn’t mean going out and helping and, therefore, is passive.  It does not have the active spirit of social service and love. So Gandhi turns to Christianity.  In the 21-odd years he was in South Africa that was one religion that was extremely close to him.  From Christianity he gathers the idea of caritas or love.  Active love.  So he takes over the Hindu idea of nonviolence, combines it with the Christian idea of caritas and arrives at the idea of “active service for the love of human beings”.  But then – as he reflects further – he is slightly unhappy with the Christian idea of love on the grounds that it is emotional, and he was looking for a kind of love which leads to no internal emotional disturbance.  So he turns again to the Hindu idea of “non-attachment” – and arrives at the idea of “detached but active engagement in the world, in the spirit of love for your fellow human beings”.  So what you see here is a man who plays with ideas drawn from different religions.   Added to this are his fasts, which can only be born out of a creative tension between the two traditions.  So this is the kind of thing Gandhi was talking about when he talks about a dialogue between civilisations.

“And this means,” says Gandhi, “that because other civilisations are my interlocutors they are the sources of my inspiration.  I wish them well.  I want them to flourish.”  So this dialogue results in universal sympathy for different points of view and a desire to see them grow and flourish.

The role of religion in public life

The second question – what is the role of religion in public life? Now, many of us are scared when religion is brought into public life ! We know what happens – it can either lead to Ayatollah Khomenei, or to the BJP in India, or to evangelicals in the USA when they tried to persuade Reagan to take on the so-called evil Soviet Union, etc. Religion is frightening. Therefore the liberal impulse is to say “please keep it out of politics”, every time they see a religious figure or hear a religious statement: “You are welcome to live by it but don’t bring it into the political circle Because you will raise atavistic passions, you will be making absolutist demands because religion talks in the language of absolute emotions, like the evangelicals. Which is not like politics. Because politics is about compromise, about what is negotiable, what can be talked through”. Now the difficulty here is that for religious people, religion simply cannot be privatised. It is not simply meant to ensure contemplation between you and the Almighty – religion is a matter of fundamentally held values. You want to live by those values – these values inform you, and therefore they inform the public life. Therefore religion simply cannot be excluded from public life. But at the same time, religion can cross a limit when it becomes a ‘state religion’: then the state begins to enforce certain religious values – as happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places. So the question for us – and the answer I look for from the Mahatma – is, how is it possible to recognise religion as a significant factor in the public and personal life of the religious person, but at the same time prevent it from taking over the state and becoming authoritarian and illiberal?

Here I think Gandhi had some important things to say. First, he says religion has a central place in public life, but should have nothing to do with the state. In other words, central to Gandhi’s religious thought is the distinction between the public realm and institutions of the state. So, religion has a legitimate place in public life, but the institutions of the state should have nothing to do with religion. They should be secular. Gandhi, for example, surprised many people by being opposed to the state funding religious schools or religious organisations, as it is not the state’s business. Any form of religious organisation that cannot be kept going by their own members, is dead. If you are really committed to religion, you raise the funds to keep it going. So his first important argument was that we need a secular state, with religion playing an important part in public life.

The second important thing he was saying is that one must recognise that no religion is perfect – in the same way that no country is perfect. Now, there are highly complex arguments, not to be gone into here, when religions claim to be ‘revelations’, direct from the Almighty – e.g. Allah dictating the Qur’an, Jesus being the Son of God. These religions would claim to be ‘perfect’, so they would have a big bone to pick with the Mahatma when he said that by definition, no religion can be perfect. His argument went something like this: God is infinite: the finite human mind cannot capture the infinite: therefore all our perceptions are inherently limited. Even if there is a direct revelation, that revelation is in a human language, with all its limitations to a human being, a particular human being, a prophet or whatever, who have their own limitations and therefore Gandhi says that every religion captures a particular vision of human life. That is its strength. But, in so far as it excludes other visions of human life, these are its limitations. Therefore every religion benefits from systematic and critical dialogue with God and with other religions. This is because your understanding of other religions, your understanding of the ultimate reality of God, deepens as you engage with other religions in trying to see how they perceive the infinite.

Gandhi would often cite the famous example from the Jain tradition where you have seven blind men trying to describe an elephant. One gets hold of the trunk and says God is this kind of thing, another takes hold of his foot and says an elephant is like a castle – and so on. Gandhi would say each of them captures something, but each of them is limited. Even if you are describing a scene that all of us have seen, we would each describe it differently from our own perspectives – how could it be otherwise in relation to the infinite and in relation to God?

Therefore the proper attitude of one religion to another is not to try and convert people, but rather to engage in a critical dialogue, so that each can benefit from the other. In this way you make a fraternity – a solidarity of different religious believers – rather than hostilities.

The alternative to violence

My third question – does the Mahatma have an alternative to violence? Of course he was totally opposed to violence in principle – although in practice he condoned acts of violence from time to time on the grounds that when human beings were desperate and pressed beyond a certain point, they might react, and that is understandable, although it might be unjustified. We must fight against injustice – of that there can be no compromise. So you can’t be a pacifist in the sense that you are not bothered about the state of the world. Injustices address you, and you must do something about them. But is violence the answer ? Gandhi says no, because violence itself is a form of injustice. It also involves hatred and it can create nothing lasting because its legacy is always going to be of ill-will. Therefore, while violence is not the answer, justice must be fought for.

The only answer is rational discussion. But Gandhi said there is one important lesson he learnt in life and that is that reason has its limits. Reason can take us up to a point, but as he kept saying, when the heart is hard and rigid, reason doesn’t work. What you need is the unity of head and heart. Reason can only appeal to the head – you must find ways of activating somebody’s heart, conscience, his moral universe, so that he is prepared to recognise you as a human being and then a rational discourse can begin to proceed. Reason has its limits and Gandhi says sometimes you can find a strong rationalist becoming a strong advocate for violence. For example: if I am unable to persuade someone then the rationalist would say: “these guys are morally obtuse, no use talking to them, they are not being reasonable, they are not human” – and therefore it is found rationally legitimate to engage in violence against them. And Gandhi’s argument was that the relation between reason and violence is much closer than we realise.

So – what are the alternatives ? You will know about satyagraha – the ‘surgery of the soul’, reason connected with the head and nonviolent resistance connected with the heart. In other words, in the moment, the perpetrator of injustice does not recognise the victim as a human being and the questions are “How can we activate his/her conscience? How can we get him/her to recognise that both are human beings and therefore both have certain rights?” Gandhi’s answer is for you to take upon yourself the burden of other people’s sins and nonviolent suffering. If you look at satyagraha, or the way of engaging in nonviolence, it consisted mainly of three methods or ways of acting, evolved over time:

  1. Non-cooperation. People would see an evil regime, realise their own complicity in keeping it in being, and refuse to cooperate with it.
  2. Boycott. For example, the boycott of British cloth in favour of Indian homespun.
  3. Civil disobedience, where you break the law because your conscience would not allow you to comply, and you would accept punishment but not give in.

It is amazing how this kind of civil disobedience and form of noncooperation is coming back into the 21st century in a big way. I have been involved – not directly, but by passive participation – in many discussions when people have been asking about the Iraq War: over a million people protested in Britain, scores of millions protested all over the world, religious people were against it … and yet the war went on. What could we have done to stop it? And if something like this were to occur again, what should we be doing to stop it? Increasingly people are beginning to say civil disobedience might be the answer: we will not pay our taxes; we will not co-operate with you. And if a million people, instead of marching, had done this, what would have happened?

The same thing is beginning to happen in the States. A fine Gandhian scholar and friend of mine, Professor Douglas Allen, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maine, a few months ago, together with academic colleagues and students, staged a peaceful demonstration outside the office of their Senator. They were arrested, tried and have been sentenced to community service. Douglas was telling me that many people in the US are beginning to feel increasingly that if something like Iraq were again to loom on the horizon, the level of practical action will have to be raised to the next gear – and that’s the sort of thing Gandhi was doing. I think the question for us to ask is are these methods which Gandhi employed the only ones or are there other ways in which we can try to activate the conscience of the opponent, or put pressure on the Government when it is trying to do something which is unjust? What other methods can be added to the Gandhian part of it?

When I was in Israel not long ago I asked several Arab hosts of mine about the possibility of their using nonviolence against Israelis, because they will always react against violence. But what if, I suggested, you were to engage in nonviolent resistance of the Gandhian type – civil disobedience, non-cooperation – telling the Israelis you will not harm them but want injustices remedied: If you want to shoot us, do so. Do you think the Israeli Government would have shot down a thousand people or more? If such a nonviolent movement had been mounted, with the world watching, I wonder what its success would have been? The Gandhian method can be tried in complex intractable situations, which is not to say it would always succeed. For instance, against Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany, nonviolence would probably not have worked because there were no witnesses capable of reporting to the world. But the point is, this is not the case in the 21st century. Given the fact of the internet with access to almost any part of the world, I think the Gandhian method has a considerable chance of working.

The place for personal integrity

Let’s look at my fourth main question, Is there a place for personal integrity ? We have seen that our values are constantly being revised in the light of what we come across. But once they are revised and you are reasonably satisfied, then you say in the language of the theologian Martin Luther,

“I can do nothing else. This is my life, the values on which my life is constructed, I want to live by it”.

And Gandhi’s point was – and this I think is an unusual way of looking at it – that these values define you. They constitute your truth: the truth of my life is the truth of the values I want to live by. And therefore integrity for him basically means: How can I live by my truth? By the truth as I see it, recognising that I will constantly be going ‘from truth to truth’. Gandhi would say, for example, that both capitalism and communism are evil but there is no use in just campaigning against it – if it is evil does it show in your own life or not? So, for example, he considered the evil of capitalism was the idea of possessiveness, buying property and so on. So he had no private property and when he died all he left behind were his sandals, spittoon and his three monkeys – no insurance policy, writings, royalty or copyright – nothing. Another example was untouchability in India. Gandhi complained about it, fought against it but then asked himself whether he was also living it? So he went and lived among the untouchables and adopted an untouchable daughter.

Being a deeply religious person, Gandhi believed he must ultimately be able to trust God. And therefore he refused to have security of any kind, and no bodyguards. And when there were several attacks on his life, and the Government of India insisted he had physical protection, Gandhi said,

“The day I seek physical protection, I would rather not live”.

At a prayer meeting, when a bomb was thrown and the crowd began to disperse, Gandhi sat unmovingly and said to the crowd,

“Frightened of a mere bomb?”

and carried on with his prayer. This was the integrity of the man. It was such a profound integrity that when India became independent this man was to be seen nowhere near New Delhi. When the Prime Minister of India said that Gandhi should be the President of India in a position of power, he thought it was a joke! He said:

“My place is among the victims of Muslim/Hindu violence”.

This, I think, is the lesson that can be learnt from his life: personal integrity and when he said,

“My life is my message”

I think his life ultimately was the message of absolute, uncompromising personal integrity:

“This is where I stand. This is how I shall live. And unless I am convinced that it is wrong (and I could be convinced that it is wrong), then this is how I shall live”.

I think the different ways I have tried to take you through these four questions, go to show that the Mahatma is not ready to disappear in the 21st century!

A translated version of this lecture is available in Bengali by clicking on the link below. Copyright for this translation is strictly the property of Prof. Anwarullah Bhuiyan, Associate Professor, Dept of Philosophy, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, 1342.

Bengali translation of  ‘Gandhi in the 21st century’

Treading the Gandhian Path – by Sunderlal Bahuguna

Born in a remote Himalayan village and that too in a princely state, I could know about Gandhi when I was a High School student at the age of 13. My inquisitiveness to know about a strangely dressed young man, who was dressed neither like the officers of the state nor like the poor subjects with loin cloth, but was putting on white Khadi cap, Kurta, Jacket, dhoti and chappal, inspired me to chase him.

He had a small box in one hand and a bag in another hand. I guessed he must he somebody like an archer, who had demonstrated his feats in archery and we were so much impressed that we left going to the school for some days and followed him. The idea came to my mind that his small box must contain something of our interest. I along with a few friends asked, what are you carrying in your small box?’. He very gently replied, ‘come I will show you’. He sat under a banyan tree, opened the box and demonstrated his feat. He was spinning yarn. Looking at this new wonder, we said, ‘It may take you a year to produce yearn sufficient for a shirt’, He promptly replied, whether I get enough yarn for my shirt or not, Gandhi with confidence says that we can end the British rule and become independent, if every Indian starts spinning. This is Gandhi’s Yarvada Charka (the spinning wheel he invented inside Yarvada prison).

‘What else does Gandhi say? How can a spinning wheel bring freedom’. The young man said, “if you want to know more, you can buy these small booklets”. I spent the whole amount of six annas, (about five pennies), which my mother had given me for a week’s breakfast on three small booklets. One was by Gandhi – How to achieve Swaraj? Other was of national songs and the A Word to Young Men by Prince Kroptkin.

The young man was Sri Dev Suman – a smart hillman of 25, who had become Gandhi follower at the age of 15. He asked me, ‘what are you going to do after finishing studies?’ I said, ‘service of the ruler’. And he again asked, ‘But who will serve these poor with loin cloth?’ I immediately replied ‘we will also serve them too’. ‘How can a person serve two masters?’ He silenced me by asking this. ‘Then what should I do?’ He said, ‘That you have to decide, but I ask you, will you sell yourself for a few silver coins?’ And I firmly said, ‘No, never. I also join the army of Gandhi’.

It occurred to me that the soldier of Gandhi’s army should wear Khadi (hand-spun, hand woven cloth), know spinning and above all know more about Gandhi’s life. Our small group could manage to get a spinning wheel, Gandhi’s autobiography and some other books. We were cautious not to be detected, so we practised spinning and study of Gandhi’s autobiography in the cemetery.

Sri Dev Suman after three years was arrested and charged with treason. He was tried inside the prison, where he undertook fast unto death for the protection of civil liberties. I myself was arrested for getting his statement published in the press and kept in the police lockup for five months. Gandhi’s writings and Suman’s penance strengthened me and as a boy of 17, I felt glorified in being imprisoned for being a humble soldier of Gandhi’s army.

Another opportunity to study Gandhi and practice his teachings came, when I went underground from Lahore, where I was studying in the University. I was in a remote village in Lyalipur district teaching children of a Sikh family. I felt I should take up Gandhi’s constructive work programme. I started spinning for self-sufficiency and scavenging the village streets. Though I was laughed at, I felt very much satisfied.

The British had left India, but slavery in the native states continued and thus the freedom struggle in the states was intensified. I was prevented by the Army from entering into Tehri town. I went on a fast. They dragged me some distance and I remained sitting. My fast continued for a week and finally they had to yield. I had seen Gandhi during his last days in his prayer meetings in Birla House. We met him a day before his martyrdom. He expressed his happiness over the success of non-violent struggle of Tehri-Garhwal state’s freedom.

Gandhi in his last will had called upon the freedom fighters to settle down in villages, liquidate the Congress and take up constructive work among the villagers. I could not do so. I was working as a general secretary of the Congress party in my district but this work did not give me satisfaction. Untouchability was still there. Scavengers were regarded as untouchable. They, in order to forget their miserable life, used to take liquor and fight among themselves. The police would not intervene. On Gandhi’s birthday, October 2nd, 1949, I started a night school in their colony. We used to sing the devotional songs and Ramayan. Now they were under a new type of intoxication – the intoxication of Ram-nam — so dear to Gandhi.

I met Thakkar Bapa in Delhi. He had devoted his life for the upliftment of tribals and untouchables. He asked me, ‘Have you seen the cells in which those where you teach live?’ I admitted, I never saw these. Shewing his stick he told me that he had measured thousands of dark and dirty cells where these servants of the society lived. This was a practical lesson to me. We launched a programme of making better houses for them. Untouchability was in practice in the school hostel. There was a scheduled caste boy, who was served food outside. Two young caste students raised voice against this, but their protest was not paid heed. So we started a hostel where students of all castes could live together. It was later named as Thakkar Bapa Hostel.

We started the construction of its building when the number of students increased. I used to work as a and some construction labourer, helper to the masons. The students also worked after their school and study hours. Within five years, we could construct a building. This become the centre of anti-untouchability movement. We had a group of young students, who led the temple
entry in the holy shrines of Gangotri and Yamunotri. Spinning and other manual labour along with their studies became a part of their routine and these students could be ion of civil recognised separate from others.

But it was Mira Behn, the English disciple of Gandhi, daughter of Admiral Slade, who persuaded me to work in the villages. She established her Pashulok (Animal’s World) Ashram in the Himalayan foothills at Rishikesh. In 1949 Ganga was in spate and damaged the Ashram. Mira Behn rode on horse back towards the source of Ganga in the hills to find out the causes of the flood. She could see it was deforestation and, more than that, conversion of natural broad leaved oak forests into commercial Chir-pine forests. She wound up her foothill Ashram and set up a new Ashram-Gopal Ashram (Ashram for the service of cow) in the remote hill village of Geonli. To reach there one had to walk 40 Kms. Mira Behn looked after the cows, worked in the kitchen garden and simultaneously could find time to listen to scriptures, read books and write articles. In her life I could see a balance between head, heart and the hands.

Tehri-Garhwal was the poorest district of India. There were forests, but of no use
to the people. The contractors made fortune out of these forests. Mira Behn had a plan to change the land use in which tree species giving fodder, fuel and fertilizers were to be encouraged, but bureaucracy came in the way, in spite of Pandit Nehru’s full support. Finally she left the area and settled in Kashmir. But she created in me a village worker, passionate for Ashram life.

Finally my dreams were fulfilled, when I and Vimala—an assistant of Gandhi’s other British disciple, Sarala Behn, who had established an Ashram to train women workers in Kumaon hills—were married. I left party and power politics forever on June 1956.

We constructed huts, with the help of Thakkar Bapa Hostel students, on a degraded piece of land covered with thorny bushes. Two huts were made—one for
We used to living and other for kitchen. Vimala found work for herself. She gathered cowherd children and taught them during the night. I tended cow, worked with the villagers in the fields, sat with the villagers for evening prayers.

Gandhi’s prayer of the Sevak (people’s servant) sustained me. One of the sentences of the prayer was, ‘Oh God give me strength and eagerness to be one with the common masses of India’. Common people earned their livelihood by doing manual labour. We formed a labour co-operative and worked through it in constructing the canal and the roads. The villagers were addicted to liquor and used to distill liquor. The ladies were the worst victims. They could not speak anything against their drunk husbands, but in our evening prayer meetings the issue was raised. Women become vocal and the men took pledge to give voice against up this bad habit. When complaint of their breaking the pledge came, I went on fast in lonely place and they repented.

In 1960, in the wake of Chinese aggression, Acharya Vinoba Bhave—the spiritual heir of Gandhi—called me to Agra, where he was halting during his padyatra (foot march). He said in a challenging tone, ‘look here, I am an old man walking all over the country but you being a young man are sitting in your Ashram. The threat from China is psychological more than physical. China is not a tiger to be threatened by the guns. China has a philosophy of alleviating poverty. We have the superior philosophy of Gandhi’s Gram Swaraj (village rule). You should go from village to village in Uttarak hand (Central Himalayan) region with this message.’ Nehru and Vinoba came out with a similar statement that Gram Swaraj was a defence measure.

Exactly four years after we had started the Ashram, I left it to go from village to village. We would tell villagers to free themselves from three shops—liquor shop, courts, the shop of litigation, and cloth shop. They should give up liquor, settle their own disputes and spin their own cloth. But the government was encouraging liquor to earn revenue. A new liquor shop was proposed near our Ashram in Ghansali. I sought Vinoba’s permission to suspend my wandering in the region and offer satyagraha at the liquor shop. He immediately responded, ‘you have to organise people for picketing the liquor shop. The government should think how can they confront China freed from opium by making people drunkards’.

Men were not serious, but the ladies were determined to fight the liquor. They had to look after the family, the farm and the cattle. The main problem was of creating leadership from among them. We organised Ram Lila (the play of Ramayan) during the night. Ladies in hundreds thronged.

After day’s hard work and feeding the family, they would walk 7 to 8 Kms. with torchwoods in their hands. We encouraged them to come on the platform. They would also come with a handful of rice to help the movement. A retired judge — an old man, the most respected in the area — came forward to lead the movement. Seeing the dedication, determination and devotion of the people, the government changed the decision. This was the peoples’ first victory and their faith in non-violence was established.

We multiplied this experiment. For seven years, we fought against liquor. There were mass movements against the liquor, picketing by ladies everywhere. One after another the liquor shops were closed and finally the government declared five bill districts dry in 1970. But the High Court revoked the prohibition. Everywhere an atmosphere of terror was created. The women were told that if they picketed the liquor-shops after High Court orders, they will be sent to jail for many years. We were keeping vigil at the spot where the shop was to open, but the liquor-vendors eluded us by opening it at a new place. Immediately we rushed to the spot. Acharya Vinoba Bhave had made a rule to chant one thousand names of Lord Vishnu (Vishnu Shahastranam) at 10.30 a.m. all over the country. I sat in front of the liquor shop and started chanting Vishnu Shahastranam. As soon as I finished and opened my eyes I was shocked to see the ghastly scene. The head of the son of the liquor vendor was bleeding. He was beaten with an empty bottle by his own servant, who had taken the full bottle to rejoice over the reopening of the shop.

Liquor is the cause of violence and bloodshed. Is it going to happen all around? What to do? Because everybody around us said that it was impossible to close down the liquor shops now. I was reminded of a devotional song of blind saint Surdass. He sang long-long ago.

I bow to the feet of Almighty.
With whose kindness, the lame crosses the mountain.
The blind sees everything.,
The deaf hears and the dumb speaks.
The poor wanders as a crowned king.

At least a blind man had experienced that the impossible can become possible. When all our worldly efforts had failed, why not go on a prayerful fast?

Thus, I started my prayerful fast in front of the liquor shop on Nov. 5th, 1971. It was an open place on the road. People laughed at me. The drunkards created noise. They became more vocal and remarked what right I had to create hindrance in their way; but gradually some senior citizens came to persuade me to give up the fast. Later women started coming. I asked them were they still afraid of the prison. They said, ‘no’. ‘If so, go from village to village and bring thousands to protest against the liquor shop’. Their number went on increasing. They sang devotional songs near the place of fast. On 16th day, 20th November, more than twenty thousand people, mostly ladies, assembled in Tehri town. They had come fully prepared to court arrest. A public meeting was held, which passed a resolution asking me to give up the fast as they will picket the liquor shop. Thus, I concluded my fast.

The people, the most oppressed in the society, the women, had come forward to fight for the cause. This is what Gandhi wished. Scores of these women, and also my six year old son Pradeep along with his mother, were arrested and sent to far off prison. My wife’s old mother was also arrested. In this way the three generations had come together for a common cause.

While working for Gram Swaraj in the border villages, we had seen a bigger threat to the country in the shape of ever-increasing floods due to deforestation in higher Himalayas. We took up forest problem in 1972. We thought the unscrupulous contractors were responsible for overfelling the trees. So the demand was to replace the contractor system with forest labourers’ co-operative, supplying raw material to local forest-based industries. The idea to pressurize the government by hugging the trees marked for selling came from the villagers. This was the result of 12 year long efforts of peoples’ education in non-violence. Chipko means hug — feel the heartbeats of the trees.

Women, who were trained in non-violent method of protest came forward to save the trees, but their vision was different than that of mens’ economic demand. They said ‘forest is our mothers’ home — a place, which a lady remembers when in trouble.’ After five years our illusion was cleared, when we saw that there were landslides even if the trees were felled by the forest co-operatives. Womens’ participation and our long foot marches to educate the people, a fifteen days’ fast in 1974, gave birth to a new concept – a new slogan:

What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air.
Soil, water and pure air, are the basis of Life.

On 9th January 1979 was my 53rd birthday. We were camping in villages of Alaknanda valley. Thousands of green trees had been marked for felling. The axemen were at work. The villages were scattered. I sat under a tree marked for felling. The axeman was to come there to start his work. I felt I had become so insensitive that I was doing nothing when my sons are being slaughtered before my eyes. The holy Upanishad says, ‘A tree is equal to ten sons.’

I hugged the tree and the axeman went to the next. I chased him. For some time this continued. Finally I followed them to their huts, but nobody would give me shelter. They were told I was their enemy — an obstacle in their way to earn money. I sent my two colleagues to go to the village and declare my fast unto death till tree felling was stopped. I squeezed under a heap of hay. Next day people from the villages came. The news spread far and wide. On the fourth day to my surprise the hay was burning. I saved my life by running away with the sleeping bag, my only belonging. Thereafter we could find shelter under a hut.

Vimala, along with some ladies from my Ashram, had come. On the 13th day of my fast, they took me to jail. I continued my fast and gave a statement that force feeding and medicines would cause my death as I was naturalist. This baffled the authorities, who were pressing the doctors to do force-feeding. When I did not yield, they sent me to Dehra Dun jail. Groups of doctors came every day to examine me. They would feel my pulse, the heart, measure the blood pressure; but found everything alright. I observed silence and listened to devotional songs. This strengthened me. Doctors asked me the secret of this. I said there is a hidden power — the power of self — to measure which you have no instruments.

On the 24th day, the government decided to stop tree feeling and talk with me on the issue on management of hill forests. Thus ended my prayerful fast. I came
out stronger from this ordeal.

It was finally in April 1981, when felling of green trees for commercial purposes was banned. But it was only in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Himalaya extends from Kashmir to Kohima. How to spread this message? I finally decided to undertake padyatra (foot march). During this foot-march, the first to join me was 72 year old Gandhian activist, Sri Ratanchand Dehloo. Later many more people joined and we could complete this 4,870 km march in 300 days. Besides Indian Himalaya, we walked through Nepal and Bhutan, about 2000 kms. We carried our luggage on our backs and lived upon whatever the villagers offered. We could take the message to the hearts of the people, impress upon them the vital importance of forests for their survival.

The slogan given by Chipko attracted international attention. Richard St. Barbe Baker, celebrated Man of the Trees, the veteran forester came to India to greet the movement. He was a saint scientist. He declared that this was a scientific movement. Later, Indian Science Congress also passed a unanimous resolution supporting the movement. Thus the way for Sarvodaya — well being of all — was paved. Science had come in support of self knowledge (Atma-Gyan).

A 260.5 meter high dam, Tehri dam, the highest in Asia was planned over River
Bhagirathi in 1960s. When it was sanctioned by the Planning Commission in 1972,
people who were going to be displaced by this monstrous dam launched a movement against it. Work on it was started in 1978. The movement slowed down. People went to the court, but in spite of all scientific opinions against it and the apprehension of a big earthquake, work continued. Sri V.D. Saklani, the spirit behind the movement, asked me to devote full time to this issue as he had become old and weak. On November 24th, I left Silyara Ashram, the base of my 33 years work, with a decision not to return till Tehri dam was stopped. Now I was a homeless wanderer. I went from village to village listening to the people and to the nature around. Is this all going to vanish if the dam is built? Nobody was listening to the people.

On Christmas day, 25th December, 1989, I went on a week’s fast. This was a call to motion on my part. I was fasting outside the dam site. Nobody was allowed to go to the site. On the fourth day of my fast, I walked to the work site. Gigantic machines were at work. First I made gesture to stop these, but they continued. Finally, I jumped upon a bull-dozer which was in action. They had do stop it. It was evening and the frosty winter night was to fall. My sitting there made people brave. They came in the hundreds. We made fire around. Next morning a temporary shelter was made, but I made the wheel of the bulldozer my permanent seat. I would offer my prayers, speak for an hour and observe silence for the whole day. When nothing happened for seven days, I declared an indefinite fast. On the 11th day, message came from Delhi for talks.

The talks were not decisive. Our protest continued. I repaired to my ancestral deserted house, which is in the submergence area of the dam. Later, through foot marches from the source of Ganga to Hardwar, where it descends down from the hills to the plains, we walked spreading the message from village to village. River Ganga is worshipped by millions as the holy mother. It is the symbol of India’s Aryan Culture, which sees life in all creation and advocates a worshipful attitude towards all forms of life. Moreover, behind the story of the origin of Ganga is the story of penance of a king, who left everything for the welfare of humankind. The river is suffering from the dual onslaughts of exploitation and pollution.

To make people conscious about it, we set out on a cycle rally on September 11,
1991, from Ganga Sagar, Bay of Bengal, where Ganga joins the sea, to Gaumukh in
Himalayas. Again, teaching and preaching through our action. We covered 2300
kilometers in 46 days, when a big earthquake rocked the hill region on October 21st, 1991.

This put a big question mark on the construction of Tehri dam on a highly seismic zone. On October 29th, we decided to sit in protest near the dam site and finally, on December 14th, 1991, along with more than two thousand people, we stalled the work at dam site.

The monstrous machines were again stopped. We pitched our tents at the work site keeping 24 hours vigil. They tried to dislodge us, brought a bull-dozer to demolish our camp. We again climbed upon the bull-dozer. The work remained stalled for 75 days when in the dark of night the police came and invaded our camp, arrested forty of us and took us to the jail. Among those arrested were Vimala, my wife, two young girls of our Ashram and three ladies. This was an attack on civil liberties. I started indefinite fast in the prison. Vimala and Diksha Bisht, a lady worker, joined me.

We were shifted to Roorkee jail the fourth day and later to Megrut Medical College, finally released an brought back to Tehri. I continued my fast and insisted to be taken to the spot, where our camp was demolished. But everywhere armed police were posted to prevent our entry. We pitched our camp on the road side. All methods of torture were adopted. The fast generated countrywide interest in the problem of Tehri dam. It was discussed in the parliament and finally George Fernandes, a socialist leader and member of the Parliament, visited me with an appeal from the President of Lok Sabha to break the fast. We wanted an assurance from the Prime Minister that blasting of explosives at the dam site will be stopped and a review of the project undertaken. It took another two week On the forty-fifth day when this came, I broke my fast and shifted to the bank of the river near the dam site.

Here I live in a shanty since April 1992. People from different parts of the country and world visit this spot. Near our shanty is a red flag — the flag is not the flag of the socialists, but railwayman’s danger signal, to caution people about the dangers from high dam in Himalaya, in particular, and from destructive development. People often ask what is the alternative. Gandhi had foreseen the doomsday as early as 1908, when he wrote Hind Swaraj. The objective of development is economic growth or prosperity, but to achieve this temporary economic prosperity we have lost peace and happiness.

We have created a world, which is confronted with the problems of threat of war and internal security, pollution and depletion of resources, and poverty and hunger. The concept of development had made man the butcher of nature. Gandhi’s vision of a ideal society was based upon the Indian culture. Development is a state in the life of individual and society in which they enjoy permanent peace, happiness and fulfillment. This can be achieved if science and technology is applied to sublimate nature. Thus the ultimate goal of humankind, to march from nature to culture, will be achieved. The seed was sown by Gandhi. He nurtured it and left tender plant to our generation to rear and help the tree to grow. I have been devoting myself to this during these 55 years.

This essay first appeared in ‘Gandhi and the Contemporary World’, edited by Antony Copley and George Paxton, published by the Indo-British Historical Society in 1997.

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future – by Martha C. Nussbaum

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future
Martha C. Nussbaum
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
pp403
29.95 euros

Martha C. Nussbaum is Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. She worked for eight years (1985-93) with the Research Project of the UN World Institute for Development in Helsinki, focusing on the economic and cultural problems of India. She chose India when she wanted to write on human rights norms for women’s development worldwide. She was a consultant with the UN Development Programme’s New Delhi Office and in 2004 was a visiting Professor at the Centre for Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. She lectured in various parts of India and wrote extensively on India’s legal and constitutional traditions. She travelled so many times to India that it now feels like her second home.

Her relationship with India is intensely political, focussed on issues of social justice, and she has had close contacts with Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1988. Three personalities in particular feature, namely, Nehru, Tagore and Gandhi. In her Preface she states: “This is a book about India for an American and European audience”. But it is not only about India but also about the present clash between Islam and the West.

She writes: “… that the real clash is not a civilisational one between ‘Islam and the West’, but instead a clash within virtually all modern nations – between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity, achieved through the domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition”.

At a deeper level the thesis of this book is the Gandhian claim that the real struggle that democracy must wage is a struggle within the individual between the urge to dominate and defile the other, and to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

Nussbaum deals extensively with the ethnic/religious pogrom in Gujarat in February-March 2002 when approximately 2,000 Muslims were killed by Hindus. She analyses the Hindu nationalistic personality and finds sufficient hatred within to explain the Gujarat events. Her conclusion – based to a great extent on Gandhi’s thinking – is worth quoting:

“The ability to accept differences – differences of religion, of ethnicity, of race, of sexuality – requires first, the ability to accept something about oneself: that one is not lord of the world, that one is both adult and child, that no all-embracing collectivity will keep one safe from the vicissitudes of life, that others outside oneself have reality. This ability requires, in turn, the cultivation of a moral imagination that sees reality in other human beings, that does not see other human beings as mere instruments of one’s own power or threats to that power.”

She argues, in this highly passionate study, that ultimately the greatest threat comes not from a clash between civilisations, but from a clash within each of us.

Piet Dijkstra

Sustainable Development or Sustainable Lifestyle? – by M.R. Rajgopalan

It is now six decades since India became independent. When we start reflecting on our achievements, the scenario is somewhat odd: We have nuclear bombs and missiles and rockets and satellites side by side with bullock carts and hand pulled rickshaws. We have five star hotels with luxuries and comforts matching the best in the world. Right outside the hotels within a walkable distance one can see the poor living on foot-paths. Five to ten percent of our population is leading a luxurious life indulging in hyper consumerism. At the bottom, thirty to forty percent of the population barely manages to get a square meal per day – they often do not have proper shelter or clothing and sleep on empty stomachs. The remaining thirty to forty percent lead lives with various inadequacies and discomforts.

What has gone wrong? We have passed through ten five year plans for industrialising the nation, creating infrastructure facilities and village development. In villages, some roads, some hospitals some school buildings did appear. There was an improvement in farming techniques. Yet only the well-todo section of the villages got the benefits. The landless poor did not benefit from these schemes.

DEVELOPMENT PARADIGM:

Development of any kind – be it urban or rural including sustainable development is problematic. The process of development means setting up of industries and creating job opportunities. There are the problems of environmental pollution, soil degradation, exhaustion of earth’s resources etc. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution development has been proportional to exploitation of the earth’s resources such as cutting down whole forests for charcoal, construction materials, firewood, furniture etc. The smoke emitted by the factories created atmospheric pollution. The use of petroleum fuels – Petrol, Diesel and Kerosene – as energy sources started in the first half of the 20th century and has reached maximum levels now. All of us know that petroleum is nonrenewable and the cars, power stations and factories, even as they play a vital role in development, are the main cause for earth’s pollution to dangerous levels. To quote Ranjit Chaudhuri:

“There is a fear that global famine of resources is impending. It is true that the industrial progress has brought many comforts and made some nations affluent. But it has made the world as a whole poor. Industrialisation has made the earth poor in respect of natural resources, fossil fuel, mineral resources, greenery, maritime resources, sanitation, health and ecology.”

Factories have rendered forests and greenery into deserts. The gulf between the rich and the poor has widened. Peace in the society and health of the people are deteriorating, violence and diseases are flourishing. Viewed in this background even ‘sustainable development’ would be a difficult proposition. That is the reason for the title of this paper. Sustainable lifestyle should be viewed in the perspective of the culture of the nation.

In ancient India, millennia ago, sages and saints lived in forests. The Upanishads containing the essence of Indian Philosophy were created in the forests. The ashrams, which were the places of learning, were located in the forests. Our sages lived in harmony with the plants and animals of the forests. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The whole earth is a family) concept was born in our jungles. Our forefathers perceived gods in the forces of nature. Air was Vayu Bhagawan, thunder and lightning – Indira, water was Varuna, earth was Prithvi, sun was Sungod, Fire was Agni and so on. In our contemporary world, these gods denote the earth and atmosphere and space. Life on earth is possible because of these forces. Mother earth sustains all life on the earth.

“From the centre of this world, the Sun radiates energy to the whole world – let us worship it” says Rig Veda.

The message from Yajur Veda is “Let there be Peace in space, Peace on this earth, Peace in the atmosphere and may the waterways and all things living prosper”.

Singing these lines if we pray to God will bring peace and happiness in the minds of those who sing and listen. Apart from the Vedas and Upanishads our Puranas and Itihasas like Ramayana and Mahabharata also contain such noble ideas. All these great works were created in verdant forests by great sages who lived in harmony with their surroundings. It is doubtful whether such noble ideas could evolve in multistoried buildings under ceiling fans and air conditioners. In truth, such a phenomenon has not occurred in this world. Gandhiji travelled through the whole of India in bullock carts and in third class compartments of trains. He lived in hutments of the Harijan busties. But for such a way of life he would not have become Mahatma.

Kumarappa, the Gandhian economist, guides us towards a sustainable life style. In his famous work Economy of Permanence he describes five types of economies in nature:

  1. Parasitic economy: Some plants which take nourishment from other plants are called parasites. The host plant which provides the nourishment often dies. While the sheep and cattle live on grass nonviolently, the tiger which eats them is violent and is a parasite. A parasitic economy is both destructive and violent.
  2. Predatory economy: The monkey which feasts on mangoes gets the benefit of its food without contributing to the growth of the trees. That way monkey is a predator. This economy is less violent but destructive.
  3. Economy of enterprise: The honey bee visiting a flower gets pollen and nectar as food. The honey-bee in turn facilitates pollination among flowers leading to the formation of seeds and propagation of plants. This is economy of enterprise – constructive and mutually beneficial.
  4. Economy of aggregation: Continuing with the honey bees, Kumarappa describes how the bees live in colonies and each bee contributes to the welfare of the colony. They have overcome self-interest and act for group interest.
  5. Economy of service: Kumarappa rates this type of economy as the best. He describes how the mother bird makes all efforts to feed young ones and risks its life when faced with enemies.

Sustainable life style could be achieved by adopting the following steps:

  1. Sustainable agriculture: We should give up chemical fertilizers and pesticides and substitute them with bio-manures and bio-pesticides. Vermi culture and vermi compost is a must for restoring the health of the soil.
  2. Khadi & Village Industries are eco friendly. They create employment and help in poverty alleviation. We have to encourage and promote Khadi and products of Village Industries.
  3. Appropriate technologies: We should adopt technologies which are simple and which our villagers are able to comprehend and operate themselves. Use of electricity should be avoided or kept to the minimum extent.
  4. Use of renewable energy sources: Coal and petroleum are nonrenewable energy sources and are getting exhausted very fast. Solar energy is limitless and inexhaustible. We can harness solar energy for heating and lighting. Water and wind energies can also be harnessed for producing electricity.
  5. Sylviculture – or growing trees: Cutting down of trees for fuel and construction of houses is inevitable. Our policy should be to plant two trees for every tree we cut. Trees as a source of energy is non-renewable if we only cut them and do not grow them.

Lewis Thomas has something to say about our attitude towards the earth:

“Except for us, the life of the planet conducts itself as though it were an immense, coherent body of connected life, an intricate system, an organism. Our deepest folly is the notion that we are in charge of the place, that we own it and can somehow run it. We are living part of Earth’s life, owned and operated by the Earth probably specialised for functions on its behalf that we have not yet glimpsed”.

At this juncture I cannot help referring to Gandhiji’s famous saying:

“The earth has enough resources for our needs – not for our greed”.

If we follow Kumarappa’s advice – especially the economy of cooperation of the honey bees and that of service of the birds, keeping Gandhiji’s ideals in mind we can surely achieve a sustainable lifestyle.

Rajagopalan is Secretary of the Gandhigram Trust, Tamil Nadu

Inter-Religious Approach to Communal Harmony – by M.R. Rajagopalan

While there are many causes of violence, religious differences have been historically one of them, in spite of their teachings of love, compassion and service to humanity.

As empires arose in different parts of the world, the kings claimed divinity and the priest class facilitated the process. Thus the link between religion and polities has continued all through history and religion has been in part an integrating or stabilising factor.

In India from the days of Ramayana (probably around ioth century BCE) kings claimed divine origin — either Surya (sun) or Chandra (moon) Vamsa — both sun and moon are gods in Hindu mythology. As the Pallava and Chola empires arose in south India around 7th century CE, the Bhakti cult also emerged and huge temples were constructed. The emperors often assumed the name of the presiding deity of the greatest temples. For the masses the king was indistinguishable from God.

At least in India the kings and society at large showed tolerance towards different faiths. Perhaps this was inherent in the ‘tenets’ of Hinduism itself. Though one of the oldest religions in the world, it does not have a single god head or a gospel or a single institution. Atheism was also born in India – the Charvaks who were atheists posed a challenge to the priestly class. They were tolerated. The word ‘Hinduism’ was born around 8-9th century and was used by the Arabs and Persians for those living beyond the river Indus. Prior to this, expressions like Sanatana Dharma, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shakti cult and so on were used.

Buddhism was just 2-3 centuries old during the reign of Asoka. After his victory in the Kalinga war in the 3rd century BCE he gave up violence and embraced Buddhism. His edicts enjoin that other sects deserve reverence. It is important to note that although Asoka became a Buddhist he did not announce Buddhism as the state religion. Hinduism and Jainism, which also arose around the time of Buddhism, flourished in Asoka’s empire.

In the south both under Pallavas and Cholas, Buddhist viharas and Jam temples were part of the town’s landscape along with the Hindu temples. There was freedom to choose one’s religion. The Bhakti cult that arose with the Nayanmars and Aiwars around the 7th century CE became over whelmingly popular in Tamilnadu, and Buddhism and Jainism started to decline. Perhaps these religions could not match the sagacity and popularity of the wandering minstrels singing the praises of the Hindu gods!

Akbar’s Divine Faith

An attempt was made by the great i6th century mogul emperor Akbar to integrate the different religions. Though he was not a man of letters – in fact he was illiterate — he established a library in his capital Agra and arranged for works like Ramayana and Maha Bharatha to be translated from Sanskrit into Persian. He acquired a deep and thorough knowledge of the religions of his time — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism by arranging recurring dialogues with scholars of these faiths. Akbar liked to reason about particular components of each multi-faceted religion. He was sceptical of the rituals of Jainism but he liked and opted for vegetarianism from that religion. Taking the essential elements from different faiths, Akbar founded a new religion — Din-e-ilahi, meaning ‘Divine Faith’ or ‘Religion of God’. He did not manage to popularise it among the masses; it remained academic. Yet its importance should not be underestimated. That the greatest emperor of his times devoted his time and energy to the study of religion and came up with the idea of a common religion is a landmark in human history. No king either before or after Akbar showed this constructive attitude towards religions.

Tolerance by other Muslim rulers

There is a popular belief that under Muslim rule conversions to Islam took place at the point of the sword. Since Hindus continued to be the majority population in the mogul capital Delhi and all over the empire even after five centuries of Muslim rule this cannot be true. In truth millions of Hindus especially Dalits and some classes of artisans who were denied entry to Hindu temples, embraced Islam since it offered brotherhood and inside the mosque all are equal before Allah.

Spain came under Muslim rule in the 1oth century and ruled the country for five centuries without forcible conversion. Today Muslims number less than five percent of the population of Spain.

The same religious tolerance was prevalent under the Ottoman empire which flourished from the 13th till early 20th century. Especially between 1500 and 1920 the Turks ruled over not only Arabia, central Asia and Greece but also the Slavic nations, and in Turkey, Syria, Egypt and so on a Christian population lived in peace.

Gandhiji’s views on Religion

In January 1935 Dr S Radhakrishnan asked Gandhiji three questions:

  1. What is your religion?
  2. How are you led to it?
  3. What is its bearing on social life?

Gandhiji’s reply was:

“My religion is Hinduism which, for me, is religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me. I take it that the present tense in the second question has been purposely used instead of the past. I am being led to my religion through Truth and Nonviolence, ie love in the broadest sense. I often describe my religion as religion of Truth, Of late, instead of saying God is Truth, I have being saying Truth is God, in order more fully to define my religion. I used at one time to know by heart the thousand names of God which a booklet in Hinduism gives in verse form and which perhaps tens of thousands recite every morning. But nowadays nothing so completely describes my God as Truth. Denial of God we have known. Denial of Truth we have not known. The most ignorant among mankind have some truth in them.

The bearing of this religion on social life is, or has to be, seen in one’s daily social contact. To be true to such religion one has to lose oneself in continuous and continuing service of all life. Realisation of Truth is impossible without a complete merging of oneself in and identification with this limitless ocean of life. Hence, for me, there is no escape from social service; there is no happiness on earth beyond or apart from it. Social service here must be taken to include every department of life. In this scheme there is nothing low, nothing high. For, all is one, though we seem to be many.”

In his famous constructive programme, communal unity occupies the first place. In Gandhiji’s words: “Unity does not mean political unity which may be imposed. It means an unbreakable heart unity. The first thing essential for achieving such a unity is for every person, whatever his religion may be, to represent in his own person Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jew, etc In order to realise this, every person will cultivate personal friendship with persons representing faiths other than his own. He should have the same regard for the other faiths as he has for his own.”

The situation in the 21st century

Gandhiji would have derived great comfort and happiness about one significant aspect of the Indian situation today. With more than 8o% of the population being Hindu, India has a Prime Minister (Man Mohan Singh) from the Sikh religion, a President (Abdul Kalam) who is a Muslim, and the ruling party, Congress, being presided over by a woman from a Christian background (Sofia Gandhi). I wonder whether such a situation has ever existed in any other country with a democratic form of government?

A real danger in the world today is the tendency to segregate and identify people on the basis of religion. Almost every country in the world has become multi-ethnic and is home to people from different faiths. To segregate them as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists etc could create complications. We have to understand the reality that we have multiple identities based on language, religion, nation, gender, profession etc. The use of religious identity alone as a rubber stamp is improper and dangerous.

Nevertheless, we have to face the reality that after 11th September 2001 Muslims have to some extent become suspect. How do we overcome this situation? The word Jihad in the literal sense means effort, or a striving. Islamic scholars say that the Quran and Hadith ascribe two meanings to the term: ‘al-Jihad al Akhbar’ and ‘al-Jihad al Asghar’.

The former means the ‘greater warfare’, which is against one’s inner demon, while the latter means the ‘lesser warfare’ against infidels. The perception of jihad in the former sense is subjective and has moral implications. It involves a way of life in which fleeting temptations have no place. Individuals become discerning subjects who comprehend that worldly temptations are ephemeral and have to be fought. It is also the ability to suffer virtuously the afflictions caused by the foe by following the commandment of Allah and to preach, through education, art and literature, the precepts of Islam.

The second meaning of jihad is the religious war against ‘oppressive occupiers’ of the homeland of Islam, Dar-al-Islam. The jihad is a defensive act: it is a war of last resort dictated by circumstances and compulsions confronting Muslims. Yet unfortunately some Maulvis and Maulanas are obsessed with the politics of communal power and preach false interpretations of jihad as the fight against non-believers.

An agenda for peace and harmony

How do we ensure communal harmony and peace in this strife-torn world? The ball is in the court of the Gandhians and all social groups which stand for peace and harmony and above all — responsible leaders of different religions. Religious leaders have a tremendous responsibility. There is no religion in the world that does not speak about love, compassion and service to society. We have to go back to the days of Akbar and draw inspiration from his wisdom of bringing out the Religion of God. We cannot create a new religion and unify the population. But we can learn to tolerate and respect other religions. We have to sit together and draw up an agenda for peace and communal harmony. This agenda should take its cue from Gandhiji’s doctrines of Truth and Nonviolence.

M R Rajagopalan is Secretary of the Gandhigram Trust in Tamil Nadu.

2005 Annual Lecture: Mark Tully

Sir Mark Tully had a very distinguished career as BBC Correspondent for South Asia for 25 years. He has a vast knowledge of and respect for Indian culture and has written a number of books on the subject. This is a summary of the Lecture delivered on 1 September 2005 in City Hall, London.

Was the Mahatma too Great a Soul? Pulling Gandhi off his Pedestal

It has been said that it is dangerous to be too good. To illustrate this by two stories: I once heard a sermon on the Bible story about selling everything and giving it to the poor, and this was being interpreted literally ­ I was left with the feeling that this teaching was impossible and so irrelevant; the other is a cartoon of two Indian Congressmen leaving a cinema after seeing the film ‘Gandhi’ and one asks: “Did such a man ever exist?” In other words there is a danger when great people get put on pedestals that their lives and teaching seem so far from the reality of us ordinary people and our lives that we dismiss them as impractical.

If Gandhi is so impressive, for example in his austerity, one may say to oneself: “This is wonderful but I can’t be like that”. One effect of this is that Gandhi is not greatly followed in India today. Tagore thought that the West would support Gandhian ideas before the East because the East had not gone through a materialist phase and become disillusioned, but in the West also Gandhi is put on a pedestal. And the danger is that
he will lack influence because he is seen as too removed from the real world. In fact he always insisted that he was not a saint and he was sometimes justifiably criticised in his lifetime and has been since.

Even now he is questioned by some about his rejection of all sexual relationships, and also his sometimes harsh treatment of his family. Moreover, nonviolence and trusteeship of wealth are both often seen as unrealistic. If we put Gandhi on a pedestal it makes it difficult for us to question him when we should. Gandhi once said

“I do not believe industrialisation is needed in any country”,

but it could be argued that India was under-industrialised at independence. While aspects of industrialisation are to be criticised, complete rejection is unwise. Also the growth of cities is attacked by Gandhi, but not everything about cities is bad; nor in contrast are villages ideal: for example in India today the panchayat system being promoted is breeding corruption at the village level showing that villages are not ideal republics. Taking some of Gandhi’s sayings literally would mean rejecting sex, taking a luddite economic position, and being absolutely nonviolent.

But we should remember the humanity ­ and humour ­ of Gandhi and see him as belonging to the Indian tradition of dialogue, argument, discussion, as a means to the search for truth, which involves the courage to compromise. He saw himself as a pilgrim, journeying on the path of truth. He said:

“Insistence on truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise”.

Politics and the media need to learn from this today.

If we understand Gandhi’s meaning but do not take the message too literally we will find he is still highly relevant today. I would like to look at three fields in which that is true. They are nonviolence, the economy and religion.

War is no answer to anything as we can see from its use by the mightiest power of our time in Vietnam, and the first and second Iraq wars. The military might of the USA was unable to resolve the issues in these places to its satisfaction. Declaring a war on terrorism does not eliminate terrorism. It requires some understanding of the terrorists’ position, listening to them, without however supporting their violence. Essential also
is to look at ourselves to find where we have gone wrong and contributed to the creation of terrorists. One example of misunderstanding is with regard to women, where seen from a devout Muslim position, Western societies have an obscene culture. In contrast Western societies see conservative Muslim societies as oppressive to women. It is not easy to resolve these differences but attempts must be made.

Western culture can be felt as a threat to traditional cultures such as Indian and Muslim. While violence may be used in a good cause it must be the absolute minimum possible. A politician should always work to dampen the flames of conflict. From a Gandhian perspective our economy is violent. The basis of it is consumerism which in turn is based on greed and envy. Without greed the consumers won’t consume enough. Greed and envy, bad in themselves, may provoke violence. Is it moral to encourage debts? What about some of the signs of a healthy expanding economy which we hear about so much on radio and television ­ are they really healthy in themselves? Should we want higher house prices? Who does it benefit? Not young couples trying to get a mortgage, not lower income people in rural areas. Is a healthy society one which keeps the tills ringing on the High Street? There is some virtue in free-trade but taken too far it exploits poorer workers in developing countries, and it does violence to nature through degradation of the environment. Gandhi’s belief in the local economy is very relevant ­ we should support enterprises such as farmers’ markets and transport fewer goods around the globe. India’s development has been top-down, the opposite of what Gandhi advocated.

Religion can be a divisive factor in society but an aggressive secularism creates disrespect for religion which impoverishes society. Banning the wearing of headscarves by schoolgirls in France or directives not to celebrate Christmas in some hospitals in the UK, contrast with the tolerant approach of India where symbols of all are accepted and found side-by-side. Rowan Williams has called the former “the agenda of nervous secularists”. Importantly this increasing secularisation can produce fear in adherents of religion which may encourage development into a more fundamental form of their religion. Indeed Karen Armstrong has said that extreme secularisation is in symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism. This change in the West is also leading to a loss of the awareness of the transcendent.

If we are to respect Gandhi we should do so in the context of Indian thought. Gandhi was a Hindu and steeped in Indian culture. That is a culture which does not believe in absolutes and Gandhi certainly didn’t see himself as absolutely good or absolutely right. We shouldn’t see him in absolute terms either. Then maybe today’s India and the West will realise his relevance and the relevance of the Indian culture he stood for, a culture which would not take secularism, globalism, or any of the other isms of today too far but try to find a middle way between their advantages and their disadvantages.

Sadly even in India they are forgetting the great principle of the middle way. When I speak of Hinduism, secularists don’t see that I am advocating a middle way between religious and secular intolerance; to them the mention of Hinduism automatically implies fundamentalism. I came to India as a Christian, and I still am a Christian, but I came to believe with Gandhi that there is more than one way to God. It is possible to
live side-by-side with those of other faiths and not just tolerate them but appreciate them. This includes non-believers ­ after all Hinduism has an atheistic school of thought too.

The poet Kathleen Raine was a great admirer of Indian culture and suggested that the West should learn from it. Living in India and seeing the spread of Western consumerism and materialism I begin to wonder whether we are not doing the opposite and undermining Indian culture. To respect Gandhi and make him relevant in the cultural crisis of today we should not go too far in our appreciation of him and place him on a pedestal but discuss his ideas among ourselves ­ and sometimes argue with Gandhi himself. That I think is what he would want because, as I said, he did not regard himself as a saint.

We are delighted that Sir Mark Tully has kindly agreed to be a Patron of the Gandhi Foundation.

Gandhi: Politics and Spirituality – by Antony Copley

Just where does Gandhi’s central concept of nonviolence fit into the overall Gandhi world view?

Our understanding of Gandhi has normatively been shaped by the role he played as an antagonist of racial prejudice in South Africa and of colonialism in India. We see him as an exceptional politician in some of the great power struggles of the 2othC. It is just because he prevailed in such power conflicts by nonviolence that he is held in such high regard.

It is worth emphasising that Gandhi was up against very different kinds of oppression in these struggles. If Gandhi felt race prejudice was his enemy in South Africa, in fact he considerably underestimated the force he was up against, for this was something far deeper, an emergent apartheid, with every intent of enforcing a radical restructuring of society into separate racial groups. It proved to be an utterly unrelenting force, though Gandhi was able to touch on some fellow humanism in General Smuts.

In India the oppression was of a milder character though no one would doubt its capacity to exercise lethal power when it chose to do so. The whole complex of attitudes revealed by reactions to the Amritsar massacre illustrates this description of the Raj. But the Raj was open to a degree of dialogue, to some flexible liberal programme, to concepts of fair play. It was in many ways an oppressive force tailor-made for Gandhi’s special kind of nonviolent protest.

Given the nature of this political contextualisation various kinds of interpretation of Gandhi’s distinctive blend of religion and politics become possible. We can distrust his rhetoric and see him as a wily politician, exploiting the religious card to gain support. Certainly many in the Raj saw him this way — think of Churchill’s phrase, “posing as a naked fakir” — and some historians still do so today.

And there can be no doubt that a still religiously minded peasantry in the subcontinent were moved by the sight of Gandhi in his role as an itinerant sanyasin. People attended Gandhi’s meetings to attain darshan, search for an essentially religious experience. But Gandhi’s extraordinary sacrifices in these political struggles suffice to rebut to such charges of opportunism.

But even if we accept the absolutely genuine nature of Gandhi’s commitment to a kind of moral crusade we still find ourselves at some difficulty in grasping quite what politics meant to Gandhi. He cannot help but be seen as someone caught up in power politics. His essential aims are seen to be to get the governments of South Africa to lift their various oppressive measures against the Indian minority. His fight to remove the incubus of imperial rule in India establishes Gandhi as the great anti-colonial freedom fighter. I am not suggesting that any of this is wrong; it just fails I believe to get at the true motivation of Gandhi.

The tradition of religious reformers

We need to adopt a different kind of paradigm to explain Gandhi. I believe we will be more likely to grasp his true character if we shift from seeing him as primarily caught up in historical power struggles and see him instead as one of a number of great religious reformers in the modern period who were trying to tackle the consequences of the exposure of Hinduism to the combined challenges from outside of westernisation and Christianity.

Prior to Gandhi’s coming of age there was Dayanand Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, a firebrand exponent of Hinduism, but also a radical social reformer. He came from the same part of India as Gandhi himself, Kathiawad. However, I’d stress their differences rather than their similarities. Gandhi was never in any way a Hindu exclusivist, always a believer in religious tolerance and universalism.

Much closer would be the second great figure after Ramakrishna himself in the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Vivekananda. Here was a powerful protagonist of social change together with a transcendent religious quest whose early death in 1902 robbed India of one of its great religious leaders.

And then there is Aurobindo Ghose. His is a hugely paradoxical career, starting out as a revolutionary nationalist, ready to entertain a strategy of terror, and very lucky to escape a prolonged period of imprisonment — his brother was not so fortunate — but then experiencing a kind of conversion and in consequence making a lifetime commitment to a search for transcendence, becoming one of the most impressive of all spiritual gurus. He is often seen as the greatest prime-minister India never had. But his achievement lay in his spiritual work in the ashram at Pondicherry.

Here I want to introduce some of the basic ideals of Hinduism. The ultimate ideal is moksha or release, escaping the world of samsara, the bondage of karma. But preceding this ultimate goal of human life are dharma or righteousness, artha or gaining wealth, kama or sensual enjoyment. This is a very inadequate summary description, I know — I take it from a recent attractive book of pictures, In the Realm of Gods and Kings: Arts of India. But it permits me a quick way into introducing the new paradigm that I believe takes us much closer to grasping Gandhi.

All the religious reformers I’ve just mentioned placed greatest emphasis on moksha. Maybe Dayanand and Vivekananda eschewed politics just because they recognised the still awesome power of the Raj. Aurobindo recanted on his political outlook. Only Gandhi saw artha, which also embraces politics, as the primary terrain for a spiritual trial, for his own version of sadhana or salvation.

Here I am but quoting from a remarkable new account of Gandhi in an as yet unpublished manuscript by Anthony Parel, Gandhi: The Search for Harmony. His is a thesis that Gandhi sought to harmonise all four Hindu ideals. He may struggle to convince us that Gandhi’s was a rich engagement with kama, though it is true that Gandhi enjoyed some art and music. But there is no doubting his engagement with dharma — Gandhi had a very strong sense of morality. But Parel is wholly persuasive in his claim that Gandhi saw poiitics as the means for salvation. Suddenly his self-sacrifice in political causes takes on a quite new significance.

Parel also makes Gandhi seem somehow more rooted in political realities, more of a political pragmatist, a defender of human rights, far more caught up in the discussion of democratic constitutions and the political process. Maybe Parel for this audience will be seen at his most controversial in his arguing Gandhi’s own recognition in man’s nature a fatal tendency to violence and his readiness to work with this reality and to make some allowance for a degree of violence in such causes as national self-defence. Gandhi still sought moksha but artha or politics was the means to do so. In the context of he religious movement of his day this was an aberrant but original and remarkable change of direction.

I have found some confirmation of this interpretation in a recent biography of Gandhi’s second son, Manilal (Gandhi’s Prisoner? The Ljfe of Gandhi’s Son, Manilal, Cape Town 2004). The author, Gandhi’s great grand-daughter, Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, provides a somewhat chilling account of the kind of character training — for it was this rather than an education — that Gandhi imposed on his two elder sons, Harilal and Manilal. But its very severity was as means of strengthening them for the trials of satyagraha. The living conditions of the South African farms or ashrams, Phoenix and Tolstoy, were quite deliberately as harsh as those in prison. Kasturba, his wife, saw Gandhi as tying to turn his two elder sons into sadhus and Gandhi, in this emphasis on the moral, did indeed see himself as training brahmacharis, with the sacrifices of political experience the means to moksha.

In a way all this is but to re-emphasise that Gandhi was supremely the karma yogin, the spiritual man of action. But it provides, I feel, a critical new insight into what politics meant to Gandhi and a new way into understanding his choice of nonviolence.

The above was a talk given at a seminar Nonviolence: A Choice at Goldsmith’s College on 10 July 2005 which was organised by The International Sufi School Khidmatul Khadim. Antony Copley is a historian and Academic Adviser to the Gandhi Foundation. He is the author of a number of books on aspects of Indian
culture including
Gandhi: Against the Tide.

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