Workshop on Gandhian thought and Constructive Activityin Contemporary Gujarat

Satyakam Joshi

Centre for Social Studies, Surat 17-18 July 2004

When Gandhi returned from South Africa in the early part of the 20th century and took over the leadership of the anti-colonial struggle, his ideals of freedom were unique and original. He saw the social life of the country mired in deep evils. Hence, he gave priority to social reform along with the fight for freedom. So he created organisations of constructive workers to fight for social change. Since Gujarat was his native place he started such activities from here. This explains why there are more than 500 organisations wedded to Gandhian constructive activities with the aim of introducing fundamental social changes for long-term benefits. There are Ashramshalas, Utter-buniadi Shalas, Vishwa Vidyapeeths (Universities), several NGOs in the field of education and agriculture, with a very catholic ideology and comprehensive outlook. All these bear the imprint of Gandhi.

Gandhi never handled any issue in isolation – he believed that every phenomenon is determined by several social and economic forces, and struggle for change could not afford to ignore these. While working on education, one could not ignore poverty, untouchability and the issue of communal amity. Given the multiplicity of cultures, caste and communal divisions in Indian society, Gandhi laid special emphasis on these issues. In the Indian context, secularism meant Equal respect for all religions. This meaning was the result of the long-term vision of Gandhi and Nehru. ‘Respect for all religions’ or Sarv Dharm Sambav was an important component in his programmes – as reflected in his book ‘Constructive Programmes- Its Secret and Its Place’ published in 1941.

Gandhi was clear in setting goals; he knew that cultural multiplicity and deep religious traditions made peaceful co-existence an essential precondition for liberation. Impressed as he was by the ideal of ‘unto the last’ his main focus was on the weakest of weak. This, he thought, could be made possible with internal harmony and inner faith of individuals. So the slogan of attaining complete Independence through Truth and Non-violence is the core of his philosophy. For this he believed that peace has to be deep-rooted and not superficial. Non-violence therefore, was not a physical concept but was combined with social justice and economic equality. So Gandhian thought aimed at a social system based on equality.

The diabolical events of Gujarat 2002 shook all sensitive and thinking citizens. In the face of these monstrous and horrible events, they feel dumbstruck and helpless. This is a natural reaction. Along with the communal fumes and fires in Gujarat, if you look at the horrifying events in the whole country you find that there are large-scale incidents of social discrimination, economic exploitation and insecurity. Amidst the din of praise on NEP and globalization, the condition of deprived sections has become intolerable. Universal social and human values are being eroded. Quick economic return and consumerism are the order of the day. Universal social values have been replaced by profit and market oriented material gains. The state remains a mute spectator and collaborator in this sorry state of affairs.

The concerned citizens are much perturbed at the turn of events. Voluntary organizations enjoy a special status in civil society. Gandhian orgnizations wedded to constructive programmes and those that aim at human values hold great significance. In the context of what happened in 2002 in Gujarat, Gandhian ideals and constructive programmes can play a significant role in restoring communal peace and harmony. We have seen the communal violence in the context of the overall social strife and instability. Several Gandhians have stepped up efforts in this direction. In the present situation of social instability and economic insecurity, these Gandhian institutions could be torchbearers. To address this scenario, we propose to hold a workshop of Gandhian constructive workers, thinkers and concerned citizens in a meaningful dialogue.

We propose to hold the workshop on the 17-18 July 2004, at the Centre for Social Studies, Surat. We hope to interact with frankness and full freedom. Our focus will be – the role of Gandhian activities and organizations in bringing about a free and just civil society.