By Jamuna Rangachari
Now that Gandhigiri has been proven to be a viable concept, here’s a deeper look at Gandhian principles and how we can apply them to our lives
Gandhi’s recommended 11 vows for the individual are surely the first step on this journey.
Ahimsa (non violence)
Do not shout back at the next person who abuses you. If faced with an unjust action, state your case calmly without resorting to jibes or personalized statements.
Our words and actions are potent tools that can cause immense agony or create and spread love. When we refuse to allow violence to reside in us, even in thought, our soul shall indeed bloom, unfettered by negativity.
Try telling the truth next time you refuse an invitation, are too busy to call somebody, or need to remain absent from office. The results may surprise you and eventually, life will get simpler and uncomplicated.
Next time you are tempted to slip into the train without a ticket, stop yourself.
Remember that traveling without a valid ticket, not paying taxes, making claims on false bills, are as morally incorrect as picking someone’s pocket.
Switch off the television while eating dinner or when you need to sleep. Do not indulge in splurging or binging.
He who revels in Brahman is the Sanskrit etymology of this term and naturally such a person is in full control of his senses. The choice of whether we make our senses our masters or slaves entirely depends on us.
Today, the market is constantly offering new products and gizmos. Do we, however, need any of this? Truly, multiplication of wants is one of the malaises of the times we live in and this principle is more relevant than ever to retain our sanity, if nothing else.
Shareera Shrama (physical labor)
The contribution of physical labor in keeping the ego under check and fostering humility has been emphasized by many masters, over the years. Even if the nature of your job is not oriented in this direction, you could take up an activity that involves physical exertion and is productive; for instance, cultivating a kitchen garden, volunteering at a local charity, cooking up a community meal.
Aswada (control of the palate)
Eat to nourish your body, not to please your tongue. This will pay off rich dividends in making you calmer, fitter, healthier and happier.
Sarvatra Bhaya Varjana (fearlessness)
Be truthful and fearless in expressing your opinion, without worrying if the next pink slip could be yours, or that you will miss the bus if you don’t toe the line. Similarly, even in your personal relationships, do not allow fear and insecurity to restrict you from taking the correct action. This will do wonders for your self-esteem and the ultimate victory will be yours.
Sarva Dharma Samanatva (respect for all faiths)
Take a stand on religious conflict without looking the other way, whether or not it is your faith that is being attacked. For this, one needs to also make an attempt to understand other traditions and cultures. Visit all places of worship and experience the positive energy from everywhere. Try reading religious literature from all traditions. This will open up your mind and make you a more devoted practitioner of your own faith and a more evolved, balanced soul.
Swadeshi (use locally made goods)
Buy the handcrafted bag even if it is a few rupees more than the mass-produced one from another country. Buy goods from the local grocer and vegetable shop rather than the mall. Use handmade paper. Buy child-friendly wooden toys rather than toys imported from abroad. In most cases, this would be a better option too.
Sparsha Bhavana (shun untouchability)
Shun biases of any kind – whether it is against another caste, creed, nationality, region, economic background, religion, race or against people with certain preferences (gays, lesbians), ailments (AIDS, leprosy) or professions (bar dancers, sex workers).
This principle really means breaking of all barriers between one living being and another; and with this, we will in effect be taking an important step towards the perception of an interconnected, interdependent world.
Similarly, all his other epithets are equally applicable on the personal level too.
“Hate the sin, love the sinner,” said Gandhi, and this forms the core of satyagraha. If we learn not to personalize personal and professional difference of opinion and conflicts but resolve them with this approach, our relationships and approach to life will blossom to a great degree.
Simple things like including everybody’s requirement while planning a meal or family function, in deciding the layout of the home or office, and in decision-making is sarvodaya in action.
Stephen Covey in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, points out that principles that govern human effectiveness, happiness and well-being are just as unchanging as the laws of gravity in the physical dimension.
The principles that Gandhi espoused, are surely one of the most comprehensive ones in their scope and significance. What is then stopping us from incorporating them in our lives?
A few years back, when I was a reader of Life Positive, many comments were passed on the Gandhi special issue of Life Positive Plus that was on my office desk. The most common ones were: “Gandhian ideas are too impractical in today’s world”, “a Gandhi special! Is this a government publication?”, “don’t tell me you actually believe Gandhi’s ideas are still relevant?” As is often the way of the world, most people did not actually pick it up to go through the contents before passing such judgments, but were pretty certain they were right.
Though not indicative of the entire country, many people, particularly Indian citizens, considered Gandhian thought to be at best, irrelevant, and at worst, damaging. Gandhian principles were relegated to coffee-table discussions and, at a more serious level, academic seminars and organized debate.
It is in this context that we need to celebrate the film, Lage Raho Munnabhai. In one fell stroke, it rescued the Mahatma from the stuffy pages of history books into which he had been interred, gave him a fresh and irreverent persona, and, above all, applied his principles to contemporary situations. Munnabhai, as Gandhi’s apostle, caused a hard-headed builder to relent, brought a father and son together and saved a young girl’s marriage. Yes, the methods were not exactly kosher (can you imagine Gandhiji sending flowers? He hated to have them plucked), but importantly, the spirit prevailed. The spirit of non-violence, of amity, of unity. The overwhelming response to the film and the unashamed tears we shed in watching it, is one of the most heartening testimonies that in Gandhi’s land, the great man’s values are still capable of melting hearts and firing souls.
It would be nice to think that we in India are finally ready for Gandhian thought. For there is no question that Gandhi is eternally relevant, in just the same way as truth or love are relevant – it is we who swerved away from their relevance by the enticement of the consumerist and sense-based culture.
But of course, there is more to Gandhian values and principles than the film could quite contain. His prescription for living and for resolving issues have never seemed more saner than in our present conflict-ridden times. So let us move on then and see Gandhi at work through the actions and ideologies of his votaries.
Winning Over Hearts
“Satyagraha’s goal is winning over people’s hearts, and this can be achieved only with tremendous patience,” says Mr Arvind Kejriwal, recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award for Emergent Leadership, 2006.
He should know.
A mechanical engineer from IIT and officer with the Indian Revenue Service, he now works with his team members in Parivartan, an organization that began in 2000 with a mission to eradicate corruption and enable transparency in governance. The first activity they undertook was to provide relief to taxpayers from extortionist corruption in the Income Tax Department. Similarly, grievances with the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) were resolved with Parivartan workers sitting at the entrance of three DVB offices everyday during public dealing hours and telling every consumer going in not to pay bribes and assuring them of help in sorting out the issues faced. Though these were effective, Parivartan recognized that this approach could not be taken to every issue faced by the citizens.
Hence, when the Delhi Right to Information act became effective in 2001, Parivartan shifted its focus to implementing and educating the public on this Act to achieve true empowerment to the people and less dependency on any organization, including Parivartan itself. This too was done primarily through satyagraha. For instance, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi that had not implemented it for months, finally did so after a peaceful, determined satyagraha put up by the volunteers of Parivartan. Notably, this step was taken after many attempts at approaching and convincing the officers in charge. As Mr Rajiv Kumar Sharma, one of the co-founders, says, “One of the core tenets of satyagraha is trying all justified means before protesting, for otherwise, it would become a mockery of the whole concept.”
With their experiences, both Mr Kejriwal and Mr Sharma are absolutely certain that any challenge can be surmounted with this potent tool.
Not all protests, however, are satyagrahas. Indeed, though many great leaders and crusaders all over the world, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung Lung Syu, Anna Hazare, Medha Patkar, to name a few, have applied and continue to apply its principles, paradoxically, it is also the area which is most often misunderstood and therefore, applied incorrectly.
Quite often, a union strike, a student dharna and even pure noncompliance by a mob, are casually touted as ‘satyagraha’, without realizing that true satyagraha is a tough call.
Wanton disregard for the law is definitely against the principles of satyagraha. Gandhi himself had deep respect for the law. In fact, he was often misunderstood for this stance as in the case of his differences with Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose and yet, never compromised on this principle.
Unfair laws, were of course, challenged but this was always through lawful means and with the courage to face the consequences that followed.
The recent Delhi traders strike against the government edict banning commercial activity in residential zones, is often quoted as an example of Gandhigiri or satyagraha, but it is not so. Firstly, the traders were in the wrong side of the law. If they felt the law was unreasonable, they could have registered their protests peacefully, presenting the full facts and making a distinction between various kinds of trading activities. The protest did, of course, also degenerate into violence, further eroding its moral stand. As Mr Kejriwal says, “An approach that would have been correct in principle and also far more effective would have been for the traders to involve the residents in the protest, to convince the government that small shops were providing an essential service to the community and in this manner, a distinction could have been made between nuisance and service.”
Satyagraha, then, is really not a short cut or easy option. Before one embarks on a satyagraha, at a personal level, cultivation of patience and control of anger is essential so that peace is never compromised, either in speech or action. Further, clarity in thinking is absolutely essential as the demand should be very specific and not just a release of frustration or angst. Last, but not the least, one must explore all amicable methods of resolving the issue before resorting to peaceful non-cooperation to register the protest.
A two-digit growth figure is not really a cause for celebration if it is not combined with social equity and justice. One cannot have a country with multinationals, malls and ostentatious consumption at one level, and farmers’ suicides and extreme poverty at another.
The Naxalite movement, for instance, is really due to the destitution, deprivation and alienation faced by the weaker sections of society. The only way this can be stemmed is with conscious, determined efforts made at the societal level to reduce disparities between different sections of the society. Equitable distribution of land, provision of education, basic heath care and employment opportunities to all are absolutely essential if we truly wish to grow as a civilized nation.
Gandhi’s talisman of seeing whether an action/policy benefits the poorest of the poor still needs to percolate at all levels so that we achieve true freedom for all or purna swaraj. This, to Gandhi, was not an idle dream. He suggested methods that could make such a thing possible – sarvodaya (projects that benefit all), gram swaraj (village self-governance) and swadeshi (local production), being some of them. Though India is now independent, the challenges in these areas remain glaringly unresolved.
Whether we get into a cycle of violence and retributions or work actively towards purna swaraj, entirely depends on us.
With crowded cities gasping for breath and droves of villages not having any means of sustenance, we are seeing a skewed developmental model that needs to be tackled urgently.
The Panchayat Act and Panchayati Raj were definitely important steps in this direction but it is only good leadership at that level that can ultimately drive developmental efforts to the village. Rangasamy Elango in Kuthambakkam, Tamil Nadu, is one such leader. Elango, a Dalit, did face discrimination in his village but was clear that retribution as a way of ensuring justice only led to agony and anguish and returned to his village, giving up a secure job in the city that he had obtained after acquiring higher education. Now the Panchayat chief, he has ensured that community-integrated housing, indigenous industry and other ideals of local government are all in place there.
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