Gandhi viewed truth as the ultimate surrounding of our society, with morality as the essential substance of truth and non-violence being the tool to reach a state of “Satya”, the absolute truth. He, unlike others, never viewed non-violence as a weapon of the weak, but rather of the ethically strong and brave. He believed in truth to exist in all areas and walks of life, especially journalism, wherein he believed that “…just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops; even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy……”.
Gandhi made a balance between religion and science, deeming both as unfit to raise humans to a position of dignity, happiness and moral responsibility individually. He discarded neither, but put conditions on both. He understood religion to be the provider of ordinary legacy of ethical values. He accepted science for the rational and flexible attitude it provided. One cannot view “Tolerance” as an all-encompassing idea to Gandhi’s approach towards religions, but rather a concept of sharing the best ideals from all religions. He rejected the idea that a concept of “Gandhism” exists. He believed in sincerity, sympathy and charity. His entirety of practices was based on a relentless practice of truth as he said “the press is called the fourth estate. It is a power but to misuse that power is criminal. I am a journalist myself and would appeal to fellow journalists to realize their responsibility and to carry work with no idea other than that of upholding the truth” .
He emphasized nonviolence in his approach to all problems, which would follow from truth, the basic principle. But, instead of any hierarchy, he clubbed the two into one singular concept, with truth being the abstract entity and non-violence being the practical or applied part. “Ahimsa is the means and Truth is the end. If we take care of the means, we are bound to reach the end sooner or later. We should not lose faith but should forever repeat the mantra- Truth exists, it alone exists. It is the only God; there is but one way of reaching it and that is ahimsa”.
During his lifetime, people honoured his will-power and his viewpoints. But, the fact that they called him a Mahatma back then for having such ideologies must mean that such ideologies were not common at all. He brought into mainstream something unnatural and perhaps something that was associated with sages and not politicians. With his oratory skills spearheading through the hearts of Indians, he became the face of the nationalist struggle.
But, after 70 years of independence, whether Gandhi’s principle sound sane and rational, let alone popular, is a question worth trying to answer.
Perhaps the biggest point of study and more of logical analysis is the ideal of movements of Gandhian principles and today’s movements. While Gandhi has been a motivation for numerous mass movements for social justice and environmental protection today, his ideals fail to find as much mention as his name. His theoretical concepts found their way into his movements, including Satyagraha in South Africa and India. His movements were never based on hatred, but on understanding and empathy. For non-violence to be present, he pushed the psyche of the opposing parties to change their actions, as he believed that the mental forces of the mind are way more powerful than the physical power of violence. But, non-violence for him was not lack of courageous. Quite popularly, he would rather promote violence than lack of courage.
Now, movements, even for social equality take place with violence, rape and practically taking hostage of food resources, water resources or entire states as such. The non-violent part of movements can be compromised within the blink of an eye.
The concept of objectivity comes together with the quest for absolute truth. Gandhi believed that “Newspapers are meant primarily to educate people, and apprise them of current trends in the history of the world. This is responsible work. Yet we see that readers cannot always depend on the information supplied by newspapers. Often, facts are found to be quite the opposite of what has been reported. If newspapers editors and staff realized that it was their duty to educate the people, they would wait to check the veracity of news they print. It is true that, often, they have to work under difficult condition; they should examine the mass information they receive and then infer hurriedly, within the limited time at their disposal, the true facts in each case. And, yet, I feel that it is better not to publish a particular piece of news until its truth has been definitely established”.
His fears of lack of objectivity hold true more than ever now. When published news have a bias towards them, for the money they receive from certain political parties, they alter truth to suit what they feel is true. That is very prevalent and thus goes the universality of the Gandhian principle.
Many believe in the concept of relative truth, wherein there are different versions of truths, with the one being the most relatively true becomes the truth itself. Gandhi, though, had always distinguished between the two concepts. Regarding absolute values of truth and non-violence, Gandhi avoided both ‘unlimited relativism of values’ and ‘narrow intolerant absolutism. “If we had attained the full vision of truth, we could no longer be mere seekers, but would become one with God, for Truth is God.”
With popularity having taken over truth by leaps and bounds, the sanctity of truth is not relevant anymore. A very good example would by the Jasleen Kaur case, wherein a girl reported that a boy sexually assaulted her and was being sexually inappropriate and put the guy in a legal twit of a battle. The social media fired up against the boy and made his public image as despicable as it can be, without verifying any facts. But, as the actual truth came out, Kaur was lying and thus, the truth was not held as important as popularity.
With popular media houses siding themselves with political parties, truth is harder than ever to find.
Gandhi’s philosophy was that true economics stands for social justice, siding himself to what people now call socialism. He promoted the good of all equality, including the weakest, and is indispensable for decent life.
Gandhi attacked modern industrialism and civilization and his complaints against these practices hold true to date. He wrote books against this perspective of the market and complained against the market as it propelled continuous and unsalable ‘hunger for wealth and greedy pursuit of worldly pleasures’. He believed that capitalism and the “laissez faire” system inevitably would lead to violence and inequality, since limited resources and unlimited human wants would lead some deprived and impoverished. He wanted a system where minds would gear together and the state would take over the welfare of the citizens. He thus, advocated production by masses, having large scale industries and services run on no-profit basis by the state and by philanthropic minded private enterprises.
In our current economic system, his practice and ethics of the market find their place and suitability easily. His ethics do not deny the role of basic economic instinct of self-interests. He said, “no person in the world has found it possible to maintain something which is a source of constant economic loss” . j7 But, his ethics do question mainstream economics of capitalism that fail to ensure the bottom and the poorest-of-the-poor a decent lifestyle.
Gandhi wanted minimum needs to be built into the very process of economic activity and that its objective became that itself. He said, “I am not against machinery as such but I am firmly opposed to it when it masters us” .
India is a mixed economy now, which certain key industries locked and sealed in the control of the public sector and the government, while others left for the private enterprises to take over. Co-owned enterprises like Maruti Suzuki also exist in our times.
Gandhi was aware of the social dimension of technology and of the fact that technological advancement does not take place in a social vacuum. He created a developed concept of ethics in technology, technological advancement and industrialization. He wanted all these to be constantly subjected to ethical evaluation, monitoring, and correction. He accepted technology when it was emancipator, relieving drudgery, improving skills and productivity, and raising human dignity, freedom, and creativity. He was sensitive to the fact that technology can lead to increase in inequity, when it favoured only a few at the cost of others. He used to often cite Singer’s sewing machine as an example of desirable machinery, as it increased human comfort and productivity without depriving others of employment and livelihood.
He similarly welcomed improvements in the technology of surgery and medical relief, as also in sanitation. Technological advancement, for him, was not to be an end and self-driven. It had to be driven by considerations of dignity and freedom for humanity at large, without harming any.
Technological ethics nowadays do not resist the temptation to remove human hands. Replacing human minds and human arms and basically human effort for lesser price is a temptation irresistible.
Gandhi’s idea of trusteeship was an innovative way of reconciling the psychological need for incentive or reward for skills and entrepreneurship on the one hand and the social need to take care of the deprived on the other. Gandhi in the beginning echoed such conservatism in his concept of trusteeship which was defence of property that applied equally to the industrial capitalist.
The higher skilled were expected to receive certain incentive for their work in the form of higher income and wealth, providing a sense of achievement and pride, but not keeping all their earnings. He believed that they should consider themselves as trustees for the income and wealth which is a surplus beyond basic needs, minimum comforts to maintain skills and spend the remaining on the less fortunate of the society.
Although philanthropists like this do exist in the 21st Century, but with their work aiding their social image than the society as such and their number itself being very low and uncommon, the ideal as a principle fails to exist in the general society as such.
Thus, even though Gandhian principles are now washed up by the test of time, we cannot conclusively state its absolute extinction. In fact, many of the currently existing ethics find their basis in the Gandhian principles.
It is very difficult to label a set of rules, norms, functions or ethics as ‘Gandhian’, but on basic understanding, certain aspects of movements in the Indian struggle against the East India Company or the British Rule, as such, and of movements against Apartheid in South Africa have elements of principles propagated principally by Gandhi himself.
We can view our society working on ethical understanding that is not like the Gandhian ethics but somehow aspires to reach that position of ethical understanding for the general society.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Get all our posts, blogs and video content via e-mail.