To Students

Character cannot be built with mortar and stone. It cannot be built by hands other than your own. The Principal and the Professor cannot give you character from the pages of books. Character building comes from their very lives and really speaking, it must come from within yourselves.

Put all your knowledge, learning and scholarship in one scale and truth and purity in the other and the latter will by far outweigh the other. The miasma of moral impurity has today spread among our school going children and like a hidden epidemic is working havoc among them. All your scholarship, all your study of the scriptures will be in vain if you fail to translate their teachings into your daily life.....

If teachers impart all the knowledge in the world to their students but inculcate not truth and purity among them, they will have betrayed them and instead of raising them set them on the downward road to perdition. Knowledge without character is a power for evil only, as seen in the instances of so many talented thieves and 'gentlemen rascals' in the world.

As to use of the vacation by students, if will they approach the work with zeal, they can undoubtedly do many things. I enumerate a few of them:

1. Conduct night and day schools with just a short course, well conceived, to last for the period of the vacation.

2. Visit Harijan quarters and clean them, taking the assistance of Harijans if they would give it.

3. Taking Harijan children for excursions, showing them sights near the villages and teaching them how to study Nature, and generally interesting them in their surroundings, giving them by the way a working knowledge of geography and history.

4. Reading to them simple stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

5. Teaching them simple Bhajans (Devotional Songs).

6. Cleaning the Harijan boys of all the dirt that they would find about their persons and giving both, the grown-ups and the children simple lessons in hygiene.

7. Taking a detailed census in selected areas of the condition of the Harijans.

8. Taking medical aid to the ailing Harijans.

This is but a sample of what is possible to do among the Harijans. It is a list hurriedly made, but a thoughtful student will, I have no doubt, add many other items.

You are the hope of the future. You will be called upon, when you are discharged from your colleges and schools, to enter upon public life to lead the poor people of this country. I would, therefore, like you, students, to have a sense of your responsibility and show it in a much tangible manner. It is a remarkable fact, and a regrettable fact, that in the case of the vast majority of the students, whilst they entertain noble impulses during their student days, these disappear when they finish their studies. The vast majority of them look out for loaves and fishes. Surely there is something wrong in this. There is one reason which is obvious. Every educationalist, every one who has had anything to do with the students, has realized that our educational system is faulty. It does not correspond to the requirements of the country, certainly not to the requirements of pauper India. There is no correspondence between the education that is given and the home life and the village life.

These are not necessities of life. There are some who manage to take ten cups of coffee a day. Is it necessary for their healthy development and for keeping them awake for the performance of their duties? If it is necessary to take coffee or tea to keep them awake, let them not drink coffee or tea but go to sleep. We must not become slaves to these things. But the majority of the people who drink coffee or tea are slaves to them. Cigars and cigarettes, whether foreign or indigenous must be avoided.

Cigarette smoking is like an opiate and the cigars that you smoke have a touch of opium about them. They get to your nerves and you cannot leave them afterwards. How can a single student foul his mouth by converting it into a chimney? If you give up these habits of smoking cigars and cigarettes and drinking coffee and tea you will find out for yourselves how much you are able to save.

A drunkard in Tolstoy's story is hesitating to execute his design of murder so long as he has not smoked his cigar. But he puffs it, and then gets up smiling and saying, "What a coward am I !" takes the dagger and does the deed. Tolstoy spoke from experience. And he is much more against cigars and cigarettes than against drink. But do not make the mistake that between drink and tobacco, drink is a lesser evil. No. If cigarette is Beelzebub than drink is Satan.

The students should be, above all humble, and correct....The greatest to remain great has to be the lowliest by choice. If I can speak from my knowledge of Hindu belief, the life of the student is to correspond to the life of a Sanyasi up to the time his studies end. He is to be under the strictest discipline. He cannot marry, nor indulge in dissipation. He cannot indulge in drinks and the like. His behaviour is to be a pattern of exemplary self-resistant.

Source: "The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi", Vol. 6, The Voice of Truth