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 �Unto 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
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
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.
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.
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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