“Mankind is at its crossroads. It has to make the choice between the law of the jungle or the law of humanity”
One of the more long-lasting values of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was ahimsa, which literally means ”non-injury, non-violence”, a principle deep rooted in Indian tradition. Buddhism had imprinted it in the Indian religious soil many centuries earlier, as a negation of the material world. Gandhi ascribed it a sense of compassion, which ultimately led the Indian ethics to approach reality directly and to entangle in a unique way the action in the world and its negation.
Ahimsa was crucial to Gandhi’s peace building efforts, whose moral force propelled several mass mouvements, since he also conceived it in a dynamic and positive perspective, intrinsically connected to satyagraha (“the path of true”), a strategy built on a larger societal level as a process of nonviolent resistance. As an essential part of the nationalist movement to which the Mahatma (the “great soul”, as he would be universally known) dedicated his live, satyagraha was instrumental for Indian independence from the British raj, achieved in 1947.
Never had any other Indian, before Gandhi, revealed such a comprehensive concern for social factors, nor any other Indian before him showed such a modern approach to economic questions. Far from being unworldly, he learned the fiundraising and the accountability skills necessary to sustaining mass politics and mass leading – something he did better than any other Indian leader. He advocated a program of social reconstruction directed towards economic self-sufficiency, swadeshi, through the revitalization of the traditional Indian textile crafts, aimed at eradicating the stigma of manual work. In reaction to the flood of British and of other western goods in the Indian market, Gandhi claimed the expansion of the local production, through the widespread manufacture of khadi, hand-spun and hand-woven cloth, made by small spinning wheels that could last forever. For Gandhi, to spin was karma yoga, an action without seeking reward, in faithfulness to sanata dharma, the Hindu “eternal law”, and in the search of true, satya.
Sarvodaya (“the welfare of all”) was Gandhi’s lifelong overarching goal and it is crucial to understand his struggle to overcome caste and religious divisions, and especially his battle for the protection of the more discriminated castes of India, the “Untouchables” ( coined by Gandhi as Harijan, “children of God”) and for the emancipation of women, whose spiritual strength he considered superior to men´s and whom he called to the forefront of the nationalist movement.
At a time when violence is severely threatening men and nature, Gandhi Jayanti should be celebrated world-wide, as a genuine commitment to peace.
Today is Gandhi day, known as Gandhi Jayanti and The International Day of Non-Violence.
ROSA PEREZ is an Anthropologist, a Professor at ISCTE and Visiting and Institute Chair Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, India. She lives in Lisbon, Portugal.