Relevance of Gandhism for Society & Students

By Dr. Ravindra Kumar*

Although during his entire lifetime Mahatma Gandhi neither wrote any particular book on society nor he contributed constantly with a series of articles to express his views systematically on it, even then he had vast knowledge of ground reality of society and its functioning through its different parts; and through that knowledge he went to the root of those social problems, particularly concerning to the Indian Society, which were the most serious in his time, and some of them are still problem-oriented, and then he also accorded suggestions to make the society on the basis on equality, fraternity, mutual trust and understanding.

For example, firstly, we can mention his views and understanding of class war in India betwixt capitalists and labour and suggestions he accorded in the state of conflict betwixt them, or in the manner, betwixt landlord or Zamindars and farmers. In this context he says: “Class war is foreign to the essential genius of India which is capable of evolving Communism broad-based on fundamental rights of all on equal justice.”

If we honestly analyze this short statement of Gandhi in the Indian context, we find it to be true to a large extent. In the entire Indian history in spite of division of its society into thousands of Castes and Sub-Castes there is not a single instance of class war of the imagination and interpretation of the Communists. The Indian Society made of composite culture and having synthesis as its characteristic never allowed the seed of class war to be germinated even for some time, especially during the last century; efforts were made in this regard. Also it should be believed that there is not any such possibility in near future.

But it never means that Mahatma Gandhi advices the exploited to surrender before exploiters or he wants them to bend before injustice. To quote Gandhi himself: “I never said there should be cooperation between the exploiter and the exploited so long as exploitation and the will to exploit persist.”

Then what to do? The Mahatma goes to the root of the problem first. In this regard he says that to believe that capitalists or the Zamindars are all exploiters by inherent necessity, or there is a basic or irreconcilable antagonism between their interests and those of the masses is incorrect. And as it is so then to regard the capitalists or the Zamindars to be their permanent enemies is also not correct. In fact, according to Mahatma Gandhi, those who are exploited they are their own enemies; exploitation is based on cooperation, willing or forced, of the exploited. So, there would be no exploitation if exploited refuses to obey the exploiter. But this must be done by transformation of present relationship into something healthier and purer and not with an intention to destroy capitalists and Zamindars which is the non-violent way of Gandhi or in other words Gandhism.

Not only in this particular matter related to capitalists and labour or Zamindars and farmers, but in all other issues related to society Mahatma Gandhi has the same approach, i.e. to go to the root of problem first then introspect. When two things are done, without bowing before injustice or surrendering to exploitation, it is expected that exploited will refuse to cooperate with the exploiter in humanly manner without having ill-will.

Gandhi on Society and Social Issues

In spite of not writing any particular book or a special series of articles on social issues or problems related to society, Mahatma Gandhi was not only fully aware of them but he was concerned to them. That is why; he time-to-time, expressed his views on them publicly as well as through the columns of his own weeklies like Young India, Navajivan, Harijan, Harijan-Sewak and other periodicals of India, or prior to it especially during his stay in South Africa through the Indian Opinion.. And, no doubt, the basis of all of them was his experiences of life on the one hand, and his thinking or realization, definitely they to be the subject to change even during his own lifetime, on the other.

For Mahatma Gandhi a society is that structure in which most of the relations are carried out on the basis of mutual cooperation. In other words, mutual cooperation is the basis of conduction of day-to-day behaviours of society. The essence which can be drawn from this opinion of the Mahatma is that in society all are equal; consent and cooperation to carryout its activities is inevitable; and in principle, ‘none amongst members of society is low, none high, even in the individual body, the head is not high because it is the top of the body, nor are the soles of the feet low because they touch the earth.’ Clearly in his own words: “Even as members of the individual body are equal, so are the members of society.”

For the Mahatma society is also the chief ground of transforming the concept of ‘all life is one’, into reality. It is the same concept in which he believes in the unity of human life that is a synthetic whole and can neither be divided in spheres like social, religious, political, moral or ethical nor it can be distinguished in different levels. And here in society by getting rid of problems and becoming free from conflicts masses can march forward to the pathway of Sarvodaya [greatest good of all and not of the greatest good of the greatest number] where, in addition to equality and freedom, there are all possibilities to lead a happy life, and the guarantee of social justice to each and everyone in the absence of which evoke different kinds of problems and conflicts.

Gandhi, Society and Social Justice

To accord social justice to all in society without any discrimination was the sole desire of Mahatma Gandhi. In this regard he worked throughout his public life. He was fully aware of the consequences if social justice was denied anytime to anyone. That is why; he said that he had always held that social justice, even to the least and the lowliest, was essential. And it was for this reason he called upon the people not to cooperate with those who were the enemies on the way of social justice.

But, as we know, like his entire theories and practices his way of non-cooperation was too within the domain of non-violence. He never thought of any concrete result if a means outside the scope of non-violence was applied to establish justice. In his own words: “I have always held that social justice, even to the least and the lowliest is impossible of attainment by force. I have further believed that it is possible by further training of the lowliest by non-violent means to secure redress of the wring suffered by them. That means is non-violent non-cooperation.”

Declaring justice and freedom to be the most important in life and their establishment to be the duty of individual, failing of which meant readiness to accept slavery, he further said: “No one is bound to cooperate in one’s own undoing or slavery. [Similarly] freedom received through the effort of others, however benevolent, cannot be retained when such effort is withdraw.”

To sum up the above short analysis pertaining to Gandhi’s views about society and social issues we can say that he was fully aware of problems which existed there; he was for freedom and equality of all to root out those problems, and above all he was for social justice which played a vital role not only to accord freedom and equality in real sense to each and everyone but to lead the life of individual as well as of society towards prosperity. He was not ready to compromise at the cost of individual freedom, equality and social justice; for he called upon the masses to non-cooperation but through the means of non-violence, which for him, as we know, was not a mere philosophical principle but it was the rule and energy of his life; simultaneously, it was the means of his concept of unity of human life.

Mahatma Gandhi and Students

Considering the role and contribution of educated youths [or students] for society and the nation to be vital, Mahatma Gandhi had said: “My hope lies in you [youth/students of the country].”


“[Being] the father of tomorrow, [you] should be the salt of the nation. If the salt loses its flavour wherewith shall it be salted?”

And that is why; he emphasized upon constant development of those virtues which could make them healthy and strong-mentally, physically, morally and ethically. Side-by-side, he called upon the young students to maintain strong discipline, to have purity in life, and to become adherent to Truth while gaining knowledge or learning as purity and Truth were more important in life than to gain knowledge or learning.

To quote the Mahatma himself:

“Put all your knowledge, learning and scholarship in one scale and Truth and purity in the other and the latter will be far outweighing the other.”

The Mahatma was concerned over moral impurity, indiscipline and untrue acts of students, which he himself witnessed in thirties; he also witnessed educated youths, who, instead of accomplishing their duties towards society and nation, were engaged in selfish motives, which, in his opinion, was an act to expose to danger. And for this state of affairs he, by fixing responsibilities of all concerned, and especially the teaching community, emphasized upon such kind of education, which apart from assuring self-dependency to a student, could prepare a good ground for his all-round development.

Mahatma Gandhi was of the firm opinion that if a nation had to go on the path of true development, if it had to accord equal opportunities and freedom to all its citizens, if it had to make certain that each and every citizen on its land did participate in its making then it must take such steps that everyone, without any discrimination, passed over through the process of education with right direction. Because it was the education and in the right direction that could make an individual disciplined, responsible, self-dependent and value-career on the one hand, and by solving problems at different level could pave way to progress on the other.

Education with Right Direction

What I understand the education with right direction, of course of the imagination of Mahatma Gandhi too, and on which I have emphasized time-to-time in India and abroad, is a process containing four kinds of learning. It may be called complete education also, and through it, as I believe the real objective of education can be fulfilled. In it, apart from general education that is imparted according to the syllabus fixed to the purpose at different level, there is a provision of physical, moral and technical learning.

Most of the schools generally impart two types of education in these days: general [according to the prescribed syllabus] and physical education. General education, as we know, ends with the earning of a degree; physical education on the other hand consists of games, sports and different kinds of body-exercises, which is, definitely, important for both-the physical and mental development.

In this process, moral education occupies third place. No doubt, it helps the student grow into a full-fledged, responsible and duty bound adult. And if he lacks this education, do you know what will be the consequences? On the basis of general education he will earn a degree; through physical education he will grow strong and will become mentally sound. But he will not become a good human being, no matter if he possesses some extraordinary virtues in him; definitely, in the absence of proper moral education he will even lack those qualities that are expected from an ordinary human being. To quote some of those qualities we can mention tolerance, good conduct in general, tendency to cooperate, love for justice and obedience.

A number of examples are before us in which we find so many physically strong, mentally developed, handsome and charming persons who occupied highest positions in political fields of their respective countries. But due to lack of moral education they crossed all limits even of general ethics and they pushed the whole world to the brink of destruction. I do not want to name a particular person as all of them must be known to us. The series of events of the two World Wars, and especially of the Second one, are before us where we find such people who, due to lack of moral education, have been responsible for destruction of property and mass killing of innocent people. Even today, it will come to be true if there is lack of moral education.

On the contrary, there are also so many instances which amply prove that morally upright people, time-to-time, set the world on the path of prosperity, succour and peace. They saved humanity even if they were not strong enough physically or they did not look charming. Also some of them did not hold high degrees of education. That is why; the importance and significance of moral learning or education cannot be minimized or under estimated. All those concerned with the process of education around the world must understand that if they fall short of imparting moral education properly right from the beginning of formal study of a child, it will lead to weakening of that aspect of his future life which otherwise is going to make him a true human being.

The fourth kind in this very process of education is the technical learning. It is very similar to the Gandhian term ‘Buniyadi’. Although it does not mean that a student who does not come within the domain of this particular learning will fail to appreciate social etiquette, but even its importance lies in the fact that it is through this learning that the student tends to become self-dependent, which, according to the Mahatma is the prime object of education.

Now let me have my point to clarify in simple manner about technical education. We are well aware that almost all countries of the world-developed, developing or under-development and poor-are, more or less, facing the problem of unemployment. A large number of handsome, healthy and qualified youths are jobless. They do not have any work to do and the education they have acquired is of no use to them; therefore, it is imperative for the schools to impart technical knowledge from the very beginning of study in order to get rid of unemployment and to make education meaningful, and to assure all-round development of personality.

But while starting the process of imparting this type of education, there is a need of home work by those who intend to do so as there is no place for unnecessary haste in it; also it is not a short cut method. In it there is a need to identify that predominant virtue from amongst those virtues which every child possesses and all that, which may be termed as God-gifted, familial, ancestral, inherited or natural. After this identification the development of child in technical knowledge must predominantly be based on that very virtue while imparting the other three types of education to him, which will gradually lead him to proficiency in the particular trade of technical learning.

On the basis of this learning he will be able to select his future goal while acquiring the middle or secondary level of education. And, thus, with the earning of a degree or equivalent to it he will not face difficulty in becoming self-dependent because of this technical learning or knowledge.  He will have the ability to start his own work independently on the basis of his technical know-how in case he fails to get a job. Therefore, it will also be proper to call it practical training which helps a student to become self-dependent.

Today, it is the bounden duty of schools to prepare the student to obtain his degree, to works for his physical and mental development, to see that he through moral learning becomes ideal human being and also to assure his self-dependence by guiding him in the field of technical knowledge pre-dominantly on the basis of that principal virtue which he possesses as has been mentioned already.

Mahatma Gandhi was a practical man. He went to the roots of problems, and through his experiences he drew solutions for them. For society and students too he had extraordinary views. He was for self-dependency and all-round development of students. And no one can deny the fact that self-dependent and prosperous students can lead the society and nation in right direction. So, it is high time that the way shown by Mahatma Gandhi be taken seriously; and with necessary modification, as per the demand of time and space, it should be followed.

*Universally renowned Gandhian scholar, Indologist and writer Dr. Ravindra Kumar is the  Former Vice-Chancellor of CCS University of Meerut, India; he is the author of the book entitled, Theory and Practice of Gandhian Non-Violence.

Source: Anasakti Darshan; Vol. 2 No. 1; January–June 2006