Sunday, September 05, 2010

Gandhi as A Teacher

This fascinates me: Gandhi came up with an unheard of concept, non-violent struggle, and trained millions of 'unschooled' Indians to follow him. In the process, he changed a number of things, including throwing open the political process to those who were hitherto excluded, and defined the nation. In fact, I shall argue that Gandhi and his struggle built India as a nation. This will indeed go against the colonial conception that the British built India as a nation (My argument: They built a single economic entity, but that was the nation, because that excluded most of the Indians, living outside the city centres, from the process). This will also fly in the face of revivalist nostalgia, dating back to Vedas, that India was an ancient nation, defined by its age-old scriptures and stories. This version has its own truth, which is again partial: The spiritual/ cultural identity of India is built around such tradition, indeed, but India lacked the singular political identity of, say, China. A nation is a political entity, which embraces most, if not all, of its people: Gandhi is the one who taught India to be a nation in that sense.

But, indeed, that's not all. Gandhi is not just a leader of a national liberation movement, but his teachings are equally valid outside its immediate context. His methods were valid in the face of any oppression, however idealistic this may sound. His principal assumption is that everyone has a 'soul', a human existence inherent in themselves. In fact, his methods against oppression was about transforming the oppressor by appealing to his humanity. Not very different from what Paolo Friere would commend, his methods were long term and almost distracted by the immediate political context of the freedom struggle. In fact, outside creating the nation, Gandhi is a failure in terms of the national liberation struggle: The country that got created bore little resemblance with the one he imagined. But, today's India exposes the limitations of that alternate model and begs for a revaluation of Gandhi, stripped of his institutionally embalmed self and a return to his message.

Also, Gandhi's techniques to spread his message deserve further attention from all 'influencers' of social change. His telling of the story, living that story in his own life, exposing his own frailties and appearing human - he dies as a normal person without any hope of a resurrection - but insisting on the message that everyone has a human bit which could be encouraged to come out.

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