40. The Nations Health, Hygiene and Diet

It is established beyond doubt that ignorance and neglect of the laws of health and hygiene are responsible for the majority of disease to which mankind is heir. The very high death rate among us is no doubt due largely to our gnawing poverty, but it could be mitigated if the people were properly educated about their health and hygiene.

Mens sana in corpore sano is perhaps the first law for humanity. A healthy mind in a healthy body is a self-evident truth. There is an inevitable connection between mind and body. If we were in possession of healthy minds, we would shed all violence and, naturally obeying the laws of health, we would have healthy bodies without an effort.

The fundamental laws of health and hygiene are simple and easily learnt. The difficulty is about their observance. Here are some:

Think the purest thoughts and banish all idle and impure thoughts.

Breathe the freshest air day and night.

Establish a balance between bodily labour and mental work.

Stand erect, sit erect, and be neat and clean in every one of your acts, and let these be an expression of your inner condition.

Eat to live for service of fellow-men. Do not live for indulging yourselves. Hence your food must be just enough to keep your mind and body in good order. Man becomes what he eats.

Your water, food and air must be clean, and you will not be satisfied with mere personal cleanliness, but you will infect your surroundings with the same three-fold cleanliness that you will desire for yourselves.

Constructive Programme, pp.18-9

Minimum Diet

Use one grain at a time. Chapati, rice and pulses, milk, ghee, gur and oil are used in ordinary households besides vegetable and fruit. I regard this, an unhealthy combination. Those who get animal protein in the shape of milk, cheese, eggs or meat need not use pulses at all, the poor people get only vegetable protein. If the well-to-do give up pulses and oils, they set free these two essentials for the poor who get neither animal protein nor animal fat. Then the grain eaten should not be sloppy. Half the quantity suffices when it is eaten dry and not dripped in gravy. It is well to eat with raw salads such as onion, carrot, radish, salad leaves, tomatoes. An ounce or two of salads serve the purpose of eight ounces of cooked vegetables. Chapatis or bread should not be eaten with milk. To begin with, one meal may be raw vegetables and chapati or bread, and the other cooked vegetables with milk or curds.

Sweet dishes should be eliminated altogether. Instead gur or sugar in small quantities may be taken with milk or bread or by itself.

Fresh fruit is good to eat, but only a little is necessary to give tone to the system. It is an expensive article, and an over-indulgence by the well-to-do has deprived the poor and the ailing of an article which they need much more than the well-to-do.

Any medical man who has studied the science of dietetics will certify that what I have suggested can do no harm to the body; on the contrary it must conduce to better health.

Harijan, 25-1-'42

The unlimited capacity of the plant world be sustain man at his highest is a region yet unexplored by modern medical science which through force of habit pins its faith on the shambles or at least milk and it's by products. It is duty which awaits discharge by Indian medical men whose tradition is vegetarian. The fast developing researches about vitamins and the possibility of getting the most important of them directly from the sun bids fair to revolutionize many of the accepted theories and beliefs propounded by medical science about food.

Young India, 18-7'29

It almost seems to me that it is reserved for lay enthusiasts to cut their way through a mountain of difficulties even at the risk of their lives to find the truth. I should be satisfied if scientists would lend their assistance to such humble seekers.

Young India, 15-8-'29

I believe that man has little need to drug himself. 999 cases out of a thousand can be brought round by means of a well-regulated diet, water and earth treatment and similar household remedies.

Autobiography, p.270

Instead of using the body as a temple of God we use it as a vehicle for indulgences, and are not ashamed to run to medical men for help in our effort to increase them and abuse the earthly tabernacle.

Young India, 8-8-'29

There is a great deal of truth in the saying that man becomes what he eats. The grosser the food the grosser the body.

Harijan, 5-8-'33

I do feel the spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants. The beautiful lines of Goldsmith occur to me as I tell you of my vegetarian fad:

No flocks that range the valley free
To slaughter I condemn,
Taught by the Power that pities me
I learn to pity them.

India's Case for Swaraj, p.402

I do not regard flesh-food as necessary for us at any stage and under any clime in which it is possible for human beings ordinarily to live. I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it. Experience teaches that animal food in the formation of character or in subjugating the flesh. Diet is a powerful factor not to be neglected. But to sum up all religion in terms of diet, as is often done in India, is as wrong as it is to disregard all restraint in regard to diet and to give full reins to one's appetite. Vegetarianism is one of the priceless gifts of Hinduism. It may not be lightly given up. It is necessary, therefore, to correct the error the vegetarianism has made us weak in mind or body or passive or inert in action. The greatest Hindu reformers have been the activist in their generation and they have invariably been vegetarians. Who could show greater activity than say Shankara or Dayananda in their times?

Young India, 7-10-'26

When to Fast

Out of the fullness of my own experience and that of fellow cranks, I say without hesitation, fast (1) if you are constipated, (2) If you are anaemic, (3) if you are feverish,(4) If you are rheumatic,(5) if you have a headache, (6) if you are rheumatic, (7) if you are gouty, (8) if you are fretting and fuming, (9) if you are depressed, (10) if you are overjoyed, and you will avoid medical prescription and patent medicines.

Young India, 17-12-'25

National Food

I believe that we should be able to accommodate ourselves to the food eaten in the provinces other than our won. I know that this is not so simple a question as it appears, I know southerners who have made a herculean effort to take to Gujarati food and failed. Gujaratis will not take to the southern mode of cooking. Bengal produces dainties which the other provinces will not easily relish. If we would be national instead of provincial, we would have to have an interchange of habits as to food, simplify our tastes and produce healthy dishes all can take with impunity. This means a careful study of the food, taken by different provinces, but there are different styles n the same province, among the different communities. It is necessary, therefore, for national workers to study the foods and the methods of preparing them in the various provinces and discover common, simple and cheap dishes which all can take without upsetting the digestive apparatus. In any case, it must be a shame for workers not to know the manners and customs of different provinces and communities... What can and should be aimed at are common dishes for common people. This I know is easily if we should be aimed at are easily possible, volunteers will have to learn the art of cooking and for this purpose they will have also to study the values of different foods and evolve common dishes easily and cheaply prepared.

Harijan, 5-1-'34


Leper is a word of bad odour. India is perhaps a home of lepers next only to Central Africa. Yet they are as much a part of society as the tallest among us. But the tall absorb our attention though they are least in need of it. The Lot of the lepers who are much in need of attention is studied neglect. I am tempted to call it heartless, which it certainly is, in terms on non-violence. It is largely the missionary who, be it said to his credit, bestows care on him. The only institution run by a bestows care on him. The only institution run by an Indian, as a pure labour of love, is by Shri Manohar Diwan near Wardha. It is working under the inspiration and guidance of Shri Vinoba Bhave. If India is pulsating with new life, there would not be a leper or beggar in India uncared for. What The leper is in India, that we are, if we will but look about us, for the modern civilized world. Examine the condition of our brethren across the ocean and the truth of my remark will be borne home to us.

Delhi Diary, p.108

There are many other contagious diseases like scabies, cholera, plague, even common cold. Leprosy is far less infectious perhaps than these. Why should there be a stigma about leprosy any more than about other infectious diseases? Real leprosy is attached to an unclean mind. To look down upon fellow human beings, to condemn any community or class of men, is a sign of a diseased mind, far worse than physical leprosy. Such men are real lepers of society. He himself did not attach much importance to names. A rose would not lose its fragrance if it was called by any other name.

Delhi Diary, p.111