I wrote the following letter last year for Dhai Akhar – National Level Annual Letter Writing Competition 2019 conducted by India Post. The topic was “Dear Bapu, You are Immortal…” to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Whenever I think of you, the first thought that comes to my mind is the Talisman that is printed in one the first few pages of every NCERT text book. The Talisman is a true embodiment of your philosophy which has inspired and influenced so many individual across the world that words cannot do justice to it. And yet, I have tried to express the relevance of Gandhi’s ideology in today’s contemporary world in this letter of mine.
You will be happy to know that your doctrine of ahimsa i.e. truth and non-violence, which served as the beacon for the Indian national movement has been dissected and interpreted so many times and in so many ways that there are PhD theses on the same! I am no scholar in the said field so I will elucidate upon your insights on some other domains like democracy, human rights, education, governance, ecology and religion.
To start with democracy, you considered that democracy bereft of morality was no democracy at all. You said that it was morality that lends a sense of responsibility to mankind, which in turn empowered them to respect and protect the rights of each other. You espoused Jawaharlal Nehru’s draft resolution on Fundamental Rights, which you yourself moved at the Karachi session of the Congress on 31 March 1931.
While speaking of human rights, I cannot ignore the role played by you in uplifting the status of women in India. You were instrumental in bringing women out of their homes to take part in the struggle for freedom which also included bringing women out of the purdah – a system that was prevalent among Hindus as well as Muslims of that time. You also vehemently opposed various social ills affecting women like child marriage, the dowry system and female infanticide, and the treatment of widows.
These were such radical thoughts for those times but they was needed to trigger a bigger revolution which would bring women at par with the men and be considered as equal allies, contributing to the growth and prosperity of the Indian society as well as economy.
As the most populous democratic country in the world, it must be our utmost priority to imbibe your reflections on democracy and human rights and make our public offices and institutions more accountable, more dependable and more conscientious so that common man’s faith in the democracy endures the test of time.
Talking about your thoughts on education, you were inspired by the great Greek philosopher Plato who said that the direction in which education starts a man would determine his future in life. You interpreted it in a more hostility manner when you said, “Literacy in itself is no education”. Education, according to you, must serve as means, not just to achieve material gains, but to also attain the wisdom required for enlightenment. You conceived education to be an integrated approach to the full development of the personality which should include physical training as well as moral guidance along with intellectual and cognitive development.
Coming to governance, your version of ideal governance doesn’t feature capitalism, communism, exploitation and religious violence. You strongly advocated the concept of decentralisation and asserted the revival of ancient village communities in which agriculture prospered, industry was decentralised and business was through small scale cooperative organisations. If I have to delve into the Indian National Movement, I can recall that your experience of the Non Cooperation Movement led you to formulate the ‘Constructive Programme’ in 1924 which concentrated on work in the villages, involving Khadi.
Bapu, I am quite amazed to know that you contemplated on almost everything that affects or is affected by the actions of the mankind. When it comes to environment, you are considered to be a thinker with a profound ecological sensitivity. It can be said that you prophesied the advent of Anthropocene in your rigorous critique of the prevailing Industrial Revolution. You aptly recognised that meddling in the natural course of the Nature led to the environmental crises and extreme weather events.
You practiced whatever you preached and there is no greater proof of the same than your own lifestyle. You practiced vegetarianism, worked to conserve soil, air and water and accorded animals the dignity of human beings. Your habit of taking small meals of fruits and nuts, periodic observance of silence, taking morning walks, fasting – all these point to an extraordinarily simple yet disciplined life which was highly sustainable and well balanced with nature. An excellent example that I can think of is your historic decision to attire yourself in only a dhoti and a shawl which you took on 22nd September 1921, in Madurai.
With respect to religion, you deemed servicing of the poor equivalent to worshipping God. All religions, according to you, advocate truth, love and non-violence, which, when practiced in the truest sense, will bind the society into one giant family, devoid of the evils like communalism untouchability, inequality etc.
You were a champion of Hindu-Muslim unity and you stood rock-like against communal violence that shook the country to its core during the independence. You undertook a fast in the effort to put a stop to the gruesome massacre taking place on both side of the mewl formed borders, which was a real assertion of internationalism and humanity.
Bapu, I hope you will be contented to know that your core principles, as I have elaborate above, have truly acquired a universal recognition and there cannot be a bigger proof than the fact that one can now do a PhD in Gandhian Philosophy as I mentioned before!
Happy 150th birthday, Bapu! May your timeless legacy always keep on guiding me and others on the path of truth, love and non-violence.