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Business News/ News / India/  Rediscovering Gandhi: A life spent translating ideas into action
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Rediscovering Gandhi: A life spent translating ideas into action

Gandhi wrested a pledge that India would be a society for all, led by a state that would protect all

Mahatma Gandhi. (Getty Images)Premium
Mahatma Gandhi. (Getty Images)

Violence, hatred and anger are revealed in horrific ways every day. In this context, how are the teachings of Gandhiji relevant? Studying his life and work, I realized he engaged in direct political campaigns only a few times. Most of his time was devoted to looking into a constructive programme of development.

His advocacy for decentralization of work in order to empower the rural poor before looking at the urban masses indicates a clear message of building a rural economy. While not discounting the interdependence of humankind, he advocated ways of living that would lead to self-sufficiency.

Gandhiji encouraged simple, disciplined lifestyles in a bid to build courage and commitment to the struggle. This is seen in his ashrams both in South Africa and India. This discipline centres on conservation of resources and minimum wastage. Such a life may sound puritanical, but having lived it, I can vouch that it was enjoyable and greatly rewarding.

An example of the power of conscientizing was seen in South Africa with the rise of the black consciousness ideology in the 1970s. Mass demonstrations in 1976 raised the morale of the people after political organizations were banned, leaders imprisoned and ordinary people harassed by the police.

This is what Gandhiji attempted to do back in the early 20th century, albeit in a different way and within the small Indian population in South Africa. As a person of Indian origin, he did not see himself as being able to impose his leadership on other racial groups.

His willingness to share ideas and to help other communities can be seen. He addressed the Chinese community at their invitation on the pass issue, which affected both Indians and Chinese (the law forced them to carry passes to access public places such as streets and markets). They followed his example and offered satyagraha against the law. He also had discussions with leaders of the African community.

One of Gandhiji’s key attributes was translating ideas into action. So, in 1904, he began to apply his mind to changing his lifestyle and working towards a system of community life where people would be able to maintain themselves and live in dignity. At this stage, he was beginning to formulate his world view and he began to make the changes in his own life before he could ask anyone else to make changes. Gandhiji’s contention was that non-violence was not about a strategy, but rather, a way of life. He developed these ideas within a community. It was within this context that Gandhiji’s life transformed.

One of the pillars of his way of life was to declare your own independence by becoming self-sufficient and independent of the “system". He believed people could be empowered to improve their lives. His emphasis was on simple living and equity. His vows were about building a society that was self-sufficient, enriching and interdependent. This was real empowerment of people.

Under this system, in India, people learned to plant cotton, prepare it and spin thread. The thread was measured and made into bundles of a particular size. These bundles served as currency and people could take them to khadi shops and exchange them for food, household needs and clothing. The khadi shop, in turn, wove the thread into cloth. There was no wastage and it was an economy within which no person would have cause to starve. It, however, depended on people’s support. That was the idea of swadeshi—buying local no matter how expensive. The money brought into the system would circulate within the local region for local development. This is a unique legacy that needs to be pursued if we are to deal with issues of poverty in the 21st century. We need to move away from the current paradigm of mass production and overconsumption.

Gandhiji encouraged non-violence, truth, non-possession and living a life moderated by self-control. Non-violence was an important part of his philosophy. Contrary to popular belief, non-violence requires more courage than violence. Non-violent action was based on transforming the opponent through persuasion and self-suffering, and was based on the principle of agape, or the all-embracing love that has the effect of changing people.

Gandhiji practised this in his lifetime and revealed its efficacy in his actions, starting with the work he did in South Africa. These principles were adopted by many world leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

At this important historic point, we can choose to dwell on the weaknesses in Gandhiji’s life and discard his important teachings. Or, we can, as he taught us, take the best and discard the rest. I believe his ideals and his tremendous social consciousness are values that are sorely needed in our self-centred, self-serving world. Finally, this is a legacy developed in South Africa, at the Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm. We celebrate it and share it as a proudly South African product on the 150th birth anniversary of Ba and Bapuji.

Ela Gandhi, the granddaughter of Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi, is the founder of the Gandhi Development Trust that promotes non-violence. She was a member of Parliament in South Africa from 1994 to 2003.


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Published: 02 Oct 2019, 09:03 AM IST
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