We have had a framed portrait of Mahatma Gandhi hanging on one of the prominent walls of our house for a long time now. He’s perpetually there, at his charkha, observing every one of our activities, even as we treat him as just another framed entity, just like the many other paintings and photographs we use as a token of our intellectual high-ground and immense family love, respectively.
But just the other day, I happened to glance at him, just by chance, and realized I hadn’t done so for more time than is appropriate for a man we call the Father of our Nation. There was a certain morosity in his demeanor, as if in disappointment with what our country is, now.
Gandhiji lived, and died, for his country. And even in death, he left behind, for generations to come, his ideals, that were to guide a country towards becoming among the biggest world players in less than a century from then. And India, very officially, adopted his ideals as the path to tread at all levels- regional, national and global.
Or so we think. Have we really been able to follow his principles, which seem perfect in essence? Have we common citizens tried to pay any heed to the man we have grown learning about, or do we have too much else to worry about? Gandhiji’s ideals revolved around a host of topics, many of which do not seem relevant today, but there are still others worthy of being followed to such perfection, that they could actually influence multiple aspects of our country positively.
For a country all parts of which claim to follow Gandhi’s ideal of non-violence, the frequency of violence seems more than staggering. It seems we are more than ready to show our inclination toward Gandhi internationally, but find it hard to make our own citizens do so. We refuse to join a coalition against the ISIS while the ghost of Saharanpur still haunts us, and it has remained this way for quite some time now. Communal violence figures prominently in such incidents as Saharanpur, with there occurring more than a hundred recorded incidents of widespread violence arising from communal tension in 2013, which, too, is a twenty five per-cent increase from the previous year. An increasing trend of violence is an absolute contradiction of the ideals our state and national governments claim to follow. Moreover, the fact that quite a few of these incidents seem to have been incited by political activists, at times legislators themselves, points towards the hypocrisy of our political parties, if not the vulnerability of the citizens of our less developed parts.
Such a trend can be attributed to some reasons. The present generation in such parts has been brought up in an atmosphere of increasing polarity on communal and religious lines, led by political parties. It is thus imminent that the vigour of such incidents can only increase. Ironically, it was such pockets that Gandhi received most support from, with him assuming a God-like image in most of such rural areas. The trend of violence only points toward the decreasing effect of Gandhi’s ideals, toward an era of communal tension, running the risk of it trickling into our cities and engulfing much of the country into itself.
The better-off part of our society makes it a point to tour abroad at least once in their lifetime, and never fails to criticize our country for the immense lack of hygiene and cleanliness. What is surprising is, that for a country whose conversation this lack of hygienic atmosphere has figured in for a very long time now, nothing has been done in this direction whatsoever. Our politicians make it a point to talk about, if not work towards, most issues, but hygiene is one such issue that we have not heard about from them, up to now. Is Janpath a bit too clean for them to consider any other part of the country as being unhygienic?
Cleanliness occurred prominently in Gandhiji’s principles; he considered it as being next to godliness. The sheer lack of any regard for any but our immediate surroundings potentially speaks tons about our constituents. In fact, this concept of littering has, more-or-less, become a part of our culture, and how we are seen globally. Children grow up seeing their parents litter roads and rivers with all sorts of waste without a second thought, and are certain to consider it fine to do so. This trend is only one deemed to grow, if nothing is done about it. Of course, part of the blame does lie with the government itself, for not being able to provide even as basic an amenity as a public dustbin, thus making the whole country one.
An interesting example of the importance of dustbins is the contrast between our metro and railway stations, or a similar contrast between our markets and malls. Why is it that people do not think twice before littering the railway station, while our metro system is clean and shiny as new? That is exactly where the answer lies.
For Gandhi, “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to women. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman… Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?” We have, each one of us, been taught a thing or two about our misogynist society, in the past two years. The only thing is, it is not as if too much has changed, apart from the general public having begun thinking a lot more about this discriminatory nature of our society.
We have toured the world rambling on about the respect for women in our culture, the concept of Devi in our mythology and a host of other precedents, but on being show the mirror, we have simply refused to look at it. Our culture does show that misogyny does not run through our blood, it is probably a more recent phenomenon. If mass revolutions too cannot change the perception of our women for man, God knows what can! Even the latest cases of violence against women show the male youth as being at fault, pointing towards the fact that laws might have changed, but mindset hasn’t.
Think of an India, where exists dignity of labour, where there is little-to-no communal polarisation, where the earth is clean and rivers crystal-clear, where discrimination is near non-existent! This might seem Utopian now, but everything does, before being accomplished. This is the effect Gandhian ideals can have on our country. Moreover, imagine the reputation India would then assume globally. This cycle leads to all-round development of the society, state and its constituents.
As citizens, and at all levels, what needs to be understood is that the world still knows and respects us as the land of Mahatma Gandhi. All of us need to understand the essence of Gandhian ideals; following them doesn’t change your religion, only your faith, it doesn’t make you distinct, only noble, it is in no way staunch nationalism, only patriotism. It is not as if all Gandhian ideals need to be followed- the effect of a particular idea depends on the situation it is used in, and the relevance it holds. One need not shun violence altogether and with absolute strictness, but is required to be non-violent in essence.
Gandhi Jayanti is not the only day to remember Gandhi. Gandhi was neither a saint, nor a messiah, but simply a patriotic citizen of his country who decided to work instead of thinking and pondering. Having framed prints of Gandhi in government offices has not reduced corruption any bit; there is no guilt involved in indulging in illegality right under the frame. Naming roads or missions after him does not make us any more inclined towards him, arousing the need to follow him does. He said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” and that is the very essence of his principles. It is only when we decide to follow them voluntarily that we might tread toward progress in aspects-be it spiritual, political or even economic.
My portrait, too, might show a faint smile, then.