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Gandhian Views on Health

Ms. Mittal Chauhan
Dept. of Sociology, MNW College

“It is Health that is real Wealth and not pieces of gold and silver”

Gandhi was an independent thinker. He looked at all ideas afresh. He believes that modern medicine is the bane of man when used to perpetuate bad habits. Unpleasant reactions to food, drink or bad habits are our body's way of telling us to form better habits but instead we resort to medicine to mask the symptoms and inculcates faith in our body's own self-healing mechanisms. Gandhi’s book on “Keys to Health” is one of the most popular than all of his writings which sheds light on importance of his ideas regarding health.

It is necessary to understand the meaning of the word health, which means body ease. A healthy man is a person whose body is free from disease and can carry on his normal activities without fatigue. Gandhi states that it is necessary to have knowledge about one’s body which most of them are ignorant about. He states that human body is composed of five elements which ancient philosophers have described as Earth, Water, Vacancy, Light and Air. He further states that good working of the human body depends upon the harmonious activity of the various component parts. The first element Air without which we can’t live is surrounded us on all sides. Gandhi says that those who do not know how to breathe should take breathing exercises, further he gives the importance of cleaning the nostrils and the importance of sleeping under open sky. The second element Water which is basic necessity of life should be pure and it’s the municipality’s responsibility to provide clean water and to maintain the sewage and drainage system. Hydrotherapy is also a well known therapy especially “Kuhne’s book on Nature Cure”. The third element Earth which can be used as nature’s way to treat ailments i.e., mud poultices to cue scorpion sting, constipation ordinary boils etc. The other element light which we get from sun has many uses such as sunbaths. The last vacancy which can be also termed as Akash (ETHER)  which helps to maintain and regain health.

Gandhi states that observing Brahmacharya lead to a healthy life. It is the mode of life which leads to realization of God. The realization is through practicing self-restraint of senses. He further says that if there is determination to control the thought and the action, victory is sure to follow. Slavery of one’s animality is perhaps the worst of all.

The next point to focus on is: what is the use of the human body? Gandhi replies to it that, “everything in the world can be used and abused and it applies to our body too. We abuse it when we use it for selfish purposes, in order to harm are body. It is put to right use if we exercise self-restraint and dedicate ourselves to the service of the whole world.

Further Gandhi divides food into three categories: vegetarian, flesh and mixed. According to him, vegetarian is best among all followed by mixed. Gandhi states the importance of milk, cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, fats and the proportion in which it should be used. In his opinion there are definite drawbacks in taking meat as in order to get meat we have to kill. Regarding condiments Gandhi says, that body requires certain salts which mostly occur naturally in various food stuffs and from his personal experiments of fifty years is that there is no need for such condiments to keep body healthy except is necessary for medicinal purposes. Regarding sweets he is of the opinion that jaggery is the best among all and fried food should ne avoided. Moving forward let us consider how often and how much to eat ? Here Gandhi replies, “Food should be taken as a matter of duty even as a medicine to sustain the body, never for the satisfaction of palate. There should be self-control as such habits of elders influence children to some extent.” Then Gandhi focuses on how often should one eat? So the general rule is to take three meals.

Further Gandhi states that, “Drugs and drink are the two arms of the devil with which he strikes his helpless slaves into stupefaction and intoxication.” Gandhi gave various reasons for drinking such as imitating the rich people, addiction formed during medicinal use, to get assistance form whites during British rule, environment and social disorganization, easy availability of it, etc. The effects are not only financial loss but also moral loss. Police Training School puts compulsion on its inmates to consume wine and into meat-eating. Reacting on it Gandhi says, that such a compulsion further aggravates the problem in leads to nuisance in society and discouraging vegetarians from taking up police service.  This addiction degrades them and they forget the distinction between wife, mother and sister and indulge in crimes which are very shameful. Gandhi exempts Europeans from the use of alcohol since upto some extent it’s a necessity in Frigid Zone. Gandhi offers solution to this problem by stating that prohibition should begins by preventing any shop being licensed to stop it from becoming public nuisance. Though Government earns huge revenue from it, for the betterment on people it should be banned except used for medicinal purposes. Offering other solution as picketing and prohibition of liquor use and sales is the responsibility of women. Gandhi chooses women for this work as he thinks that women are naturally assigned with superior power and strength. Further the distress in this case is felt by women in their homes. Both literate and illiterate women should participate in this agitation. Gandhi also stated rules and methods for picketing. It was observed that agitation by women was successful and successfully appealed to the addicts to give up the habit.

Focusing on tadi, Parsis are of the opinion that though it’s an intoxicant it helps in digestion of food. Gandhi examined this point in detail and came to conclusion that, tadi use can lead to nuisance in society and so it can have no lace in man’s food. The advantages of tadi are available in other food-stuffs. Tadi is made from fresh khajuri juice which is not intoxicant and its known as nira which is useful for constipation. Tadi is the fermented form of khajuri juice which is intoxicant. Moving forward Gandhi sates that khajuri is variety of palm tree and palm tree is useful for jaggery making. But since its been used to make tadi there is shortage of sugar which affects the poor people the most.

Another vice was opium abuse which started during British as they commercialized it in India. He also states the evils of smoking cigarettes which is both among young and old. Earlier smoking was limited and was done in privacy but under the influence of Englishmen it became widespread in use. Gandhi gave various ill-effects of smoking like impaired eye-sight, problem in digestion, etc. The most humiliating thing related to smoking was during Gandhian period certain company sold cigarettes bearing the name of “Mahatma Gandhi” cigarettes because tobacco use was opposed by Gandhi. Gandhi further implied that, ‘if every smoker stopped the dirty habit of making his mouth a chimney to foul breath by making a present of his savings to some national cause, he would benefit both himself and the nation.

Moving forward to the addiction of tea and coffee which most of Indians have, Gandhi implies that this is not necessity of life. In India the custom of taking tea is of recent origin and it was originated in China. People use it to stay awake but it has its side effects if used excessively and that one should not become slave to such things. So the best is to get rid of this habit, but if the habit cannot be given up, the best way of making tea is to pour the boiling water over tea leaves, and immediately pour it into a cup. The colour of the brew should be hay and not red. Giving up this habit one will find out for them how much they are able to save.

The most important reason for illness in India is the defective and harmful method of answering calls of nature. The unhygienic toilets and defecating in open leads to major diseases. Hence sanitation is a major problem. For improving the conditions Gandhi had made a committee in Africa and also in Ahmadabad where volunteers would visit every nook and corner and also homes to check and educate regarding sanitation. But it was later observed that old habits die hard. People are clean as individuals but not as members of society. In villages people bathe, wash clothes and drink water from same stream which is very unhygienic. Gandhi was quiet disturbed by the untidy sight of pilgrimage places in India. It is the work of municipalities and also common man to keep the surrounding clean. Also every religion stresses on the importance of cleanliness and Gandhi stated that Indians should imitate the western countries regarding cleanliness. Further Gandhi focused on sanitation in camps. Though it is difficult to maintain but Gandhi has offered various solutions in his book “Social Service, Work and Reform Vol-1” ways to maintain hygiene and one of the best solution offered by him was every person should become bhangi i.e. sweeper to maintain cleanliness and this was practiced by Gandhi himself.

Gandhi during his visit to England had joined Vegetarian Society in England. There he began with his own experiments in dietetics wherein he faced hardships. He also started a Vegetarian Club in Bayswater locality in England. He suggests that all over the country everyone should concentrate his efforts upon the plague spots which they visit. One should not get baffled by this vast problem but attend to the work that comes to one’s way and the donors should donate generously for improvement of society. Gandhi further mentioned that, ‘one must not live in order to eat and drink and be merry, but eat and drink in order to make bodies temples of God and to use them for the service of man.’ Gandhi also advised the Government to convert the liquor dens into restaurants for the supply of clean and wholesome refreshments. There should be recreation booths where tired workers and rest and get healthy and cheap refreshments so they don’t engage into vices. Hundreds of people from New York and some from overseas gathered  in the Macus Garvey Park, Harlem, Manhattan for a public health initiative — the Mahatma Gandhi Health and Peace Walk on 2nd October 2010. The group uses Mahatma Gandhi’s words and example of walking regularly to maintain one’s health and confront the obesity epidemic worldwide, as well as diabetes and heart problems. 


Bibliography :

1. Gandhi M. K., “An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments With Truth”, Navajivan Publisihng House, Ahmedabad, India, 1927.

2. Gandhi M. K., “Keys to Health”, Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, India, 1948.

3. Gandhi M. K., “Social Service, Work and Reform” (Vol-1), Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, India, 1976.

4. Gandhi M. K., “Diet and Diet Reform”, Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, India, 1949.