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Gandhian And The Idea Of Social Justice

Indeed, the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a life full of experiments with Truth. For the better part of his life after reaching South Africa and later in India he kept himself engaged in fighting for the Justice. Gandhi believed in the maxim simple living and high thinking. He was sure that the needs of everyone could be fulfilled but not the greed. Therefore, one should leave aside one's material desires and try to live within minimum resources. He preached what he practiced and practiced what he preached.

Truth, Love and Non-violence had always been very close to his heart which was often reflected in his ideas of Satyagraha, Sarvodaya, Ahimsa, etc. Contrary to the prevalent thought and literature of the West Gandhi believed that only that action was just which did not harm either party to the dispute (Gandhi, 1969, p.342). His Justice was meant not only for himself or an individual or a community or his fellow countrymen alone but for the whole humanity.

His concept of Justice was struggled against the apartheid in South Africa, the atrocities committed by the British government against non-whites, the exploitation and inhumanly treatment met out to so-called untouchables by higher caste Hindus, the divide between Hindus and Muslims, deplorable position of women in all societies, consumerism, etc.

According to him if the right of even a single individual is compromised in the process of seeking justice, the whole purpose is forfeited. Therefore, he believed in the principle of ´┐ŻUnto the Last? i.e. if the person standing at the end in the line, the weakest of all, could be satisfied, everyone was satisfied.

Gandhi always considered Satyagraha to be a weapon of the strong and not of a weak person. Therefore, he felt a great blow to his movement when somebody called it a passive resistance. Satya means Truth and Agraha means 'persistently holding on to it. Hence, Satyagraha means persistently holding on to truth and this is what Gandhi actually demonstrated throughout his life through his deeds. Further he had an unshakable faith in God and insisted on the primacy of the spirit. Once he wrote in the Harijan, (1938, May, 14)

I can tell you this that I am surer of His existence than of the fact that you and I are sitting in the room. Then I can also testify that I may live without air and water, but not without Him. You may pluck out my eye but that cannot kill me. You may chop off my nose, but that will not kill me. But blast my belief in God and I am dead.

Gandhi was of the opinion that violence, for that matter any form of injustice, inflicted on anyone, by anyone, was ultimately going to affect everyone, including the perpetrator himself or herself. As there is unity of life, actions of one are simply superficial in nature having an impact on the common spirit of life. Swaraj and Justice could be attained only when everyone was free to practice one's religion, have faith and worship according to one's own choice. For him an ideal state can be established only if the people understand and perform their duties. Respect towards one's duty in due course leads to truth and justice.

Hence, Sarvodaya society, a self regulated social unit, aiming to build up a social harmony amongst the people was an ideal society for people to live in. As God has created everyone equal therefore everyone without any discrimination should be treated equally for establishment of a truthful Just society. Ahimsa for him was a universally applicable principle which could be put into practice by anyone irrespective of that person being a child, young man or woman or a grown up person anywhere in the world.

For it to be exercised, no material or external object is required, except for the sincerity of the purpose and purity of the intention. As it was a principle which could be practiced by one in daily life it should be adopted by the communities, societies, nations and mankind as a whole.

The path of Ahimsa was a very tight rope and difficult one to be truly practiced in its spirit. Thus Gandhi said, The principle of Ahimsa is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody (Gandhi, 1932, p. 94).

Gandhi's idea of Social Justice is directly related to his doctrine of Satya and Ahimsa which moved hand in hand and were impossible to be separated from each other. If Ahimsa was a means, then the attainment of Truth in itself was the Justice. If people, follow pure means for their goals not only their goals would be achieved but those would surely be just in nature. Gandhi often used to quote Newman's lines One step is enough for me which means that only a single step in the right and honest direction could lead a person to the desired goals.

However, lucrative the easy and short cut path of evil may sound but it is always going to be the path of love, nonviolence and truth which ultimately shall lead a person to one's real desired ends of justice. Today, Gandhi is no longer there with us, but his ideas are and continue to guide the humanity with all-time relevant principles of Love, Truth and Non-violence. Gandhi's views on Social Justice like on any other subject matter kept on evolving throughout his life as those were not based upon any dominant traditional theory but practical experiences. Therefore, considering his immeasurable experience, any effort to sketch his ideas on the issue is always going to be partial.

However, one may come close to the understanding the spirit of Gandhi's idea of Social Justice through the simile of thieves given by him in his work Satyagraha (Gandhi, 1951, p. 41). Gandhi's Social Justice is something which has to be pursued rather than exploited; it is an End not a Means. An end with equally significant means based on the principle of regarding otherbeings as ourselves, only in another form.

That action alone is just, which does not harm either party to the dispute. Gandhi's idea of Justice as the critic's point out may not stand ground in the formal courts of law but one can always be sure that whenever his type of Justice is put to practice, if not a victory at-least a healing takes place. Gandhi believed that the praxis of social justice aims at a utopia-a religious utopia, very much in the context of Indian (Hindu) thinking and tradition. He terms it ramarajya (Reign of Rama, or Kingdom of Rama), where justice would prevail as it used to during the reign of the legendary King Rama.

In order to establish righteousness, Rama had to suffer the loss of his throne, exile in the forest, and countless other sufferings, through which he emerged victorious over all demonic powers, to establish a reign of justice for all. (However, today there are many who question Rama's version of justice, especially with respect to the treatment of women-his wife.) In Gandhi's advaitic religious view, Rama is not the legendary Rama of Ayodhya, rather the Absolute Truth, addressed in human terms, which alone can be the plenitude of justice.

This perspective is very similar to the Christian utopia presented by Jesus as the Kingdom of God, which, today, is rendered as reign of God, which according to St. Paul is justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Holy Bible, Letter of St. Paul to Romans, XIV). If this vision of social justice is expressed more in religious-idealistic terms, Gandhi does not deprive us of a secular version, even if he did not regard it as the ultimate goal of praxis of justice.

The rich Indian terminology he employs is sarvodaya, which means the progress of all or, in a proximate rendering, the well-being of all. However, this term is not to be confused with the concept of the greater common good (Roy, 1998, 1999), which has become a more exploitative term, especially in developing nations like India where people are easily driven away from their habitats, and denied access to natural resources, which they had traditionally used.

For example, it is estimated that in the name of the greater common good of the nation, almost 50 million people have been displaced without adequate compensation or rehabilitation, and most of them are already on the fringes of the socio-economic landscape. This fatality lurking in the rise of nation-states had not gone unnoticed by Gandhi; hence he asserted that the attainment of such a goal was dependent and conditional on achieving the preliminary goal of antyoday-the progress of the least, the last and the lost.

He drew inspiration for his social economics from the much criticized work of John Ruskin, Unto This Last (1860, paraphrased in Ghandi, 1908), which is based on the biblical story of the eleventh hour laborer being paid an equal wage. In broader terms, this perspective on social justice demanded an uplift or development of the least developed, to ensure that the well being of all is ensured. Gandhi's experiments at Phoenix settlement were an attempt to implement these ideas. However, he went beyond this goal in his later efforts-to ensure that all those who were oppressed or subjugated-particularly oppressed communities and women were lifted up.

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