independence day 2021 History & Culture

With the Mahatma into the millennium

Mahatma Gandhi on an evening walk at Juhu Beach, Mumbai, in May 1944   | Photo Credit: Alamy Photo

Forty-one-year old Avyakta left New Delhi 10 years ago and began travelling across India to interact with students, discussing Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on life and society.

Currently living in a small village in Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh, he is somewhat critical of how Gandhi’s ideas have been delivered to the last four generations. “Even the new generations are being subjected to the same misunderstandings about Gandhiji’s ideas both by supporters and opponents alike,” he says.

Avyakta, a young practising Gandhian who travels across India, discussing Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on life and society.

Avyakta, a young practising Gandhian who travels across India, discussing Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on life and society.  

“The true successor of Gandhiji was Vinoba Bhave. He proved that the Gandhian way of life will lead to the real freedom of India and the world. But as Gandhiji was politically misappropriated by many and even vilified by some, in the same way Vinoba was consciously ignored. Do you hear many people talking about Gandhiji’s 11 vrata or vows for living a harmonious life?” rues Avyakta.

Read More | Opinion: The Mahatma and the empowerment of the other

However, after his interactions with thousands of children and young adults across the country, he sees a silver lining. “I find young ones more discerning, intrepid and open to lead a Gandhian way of life. They will choose non-violence only if they survive the assault by overpowering consumerism,” he says.

A curiosity about Gandhi

Sudarshan Iyengar, 67, who is talking to youth across the country on his latest project, ‘Gram Swaraj’ about strengthening participatory democracy, is hopeful.

“I notice that those in their teens and twenties are curious about Gandhi,” he says over phone from his home in Dharampur, in Valsad district of Gujarat, adding that in the last three decades “as we moved from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy and now to a tech world, Gandhi has been relegated to the moral science class. He is not for intellectual curiosity but for earnest practice.”

As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, there are just a handful of these practising Gandhians left, a majority being seniors: Ghanshyam Shukla, for instance, who sweeps the premises of the Prabha Prakash Degree College in Panjwar village of Siwan district in Bihar every day.

Read More | Gandhian in Coimbatore offers to pay up his share of State debt

The 78-year-old Shukla, a retired teacher of Tari High School, founded the institution by urging people to donate land and build a college for girls. The practising Gandhian’s only possessions are two sets of clothes, a cot, cycle and an umbrella.

“According to socialist-political leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, there are three types of Gandhians — the mathi (mind) Gandhi, or persons who are in complete agreement with his thoughts, the sathi (fellow traveller), who joined Gandhi in his social movements and the third is the kujathi (of same commune) or those who are taking his work forward,” explains Nirala Bidesia, a social scientist and researcher. Shukla is part of this tribe who practise non-violence and non-cooperation as a tool of protest, honesty, self-sufficiency, humility and truth.

“It is not totally appropriate to call me a practising Gandhian,” says Sudarshan who has devoted a large part of his life training Adivasi girls in agriculture, animal tending, and basic computer skills.

Drawn to Gandhian ways as a youngster, he went on to serve the State in several capacities. The former Vice Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth is now active in running two schools under the Sarvodaya Parivar Trust. “A total of 90 girls are trained at the schools. Their attendance was down to 60 during the pandemic,” says Sudarshan.

Sudarshan is supported by his wife Lakshmi, an Ayurvedic practitioner. Influenced by the JP Movement, (Sampoorna Kranti or Total Revolution) in 1973, he adopted the slogan humla chahe jaisa hoga, haath hamara nahi uthega (however violent the attack, we will not raise our hand).

Global Gandhians
  • Prof. M P Mathai shares his association with two international experiments on Gandhi. Of Lanza Del Vasto, a French disciple of Gandhi founded the Community of The Ark in South of France in 1948. The community, which follows the tenets of Gandhism, flourished and grew but by 2000 it has petered to a few groups scattered around France, parts of Europe and Canada.
  • A bigger experiment is on in Mexico. Fascinated by Gandhian way of life, a scion of an industrial family Fernando Ferrara Rivero began a new experiment in the centenary year of Sabarmati ashram. He established in, 2007, on 15 acres on his ranch, The Truth, where a community of six to seven families reside and live by the principles of Gandhi. He started the satyagraha Institute and dedicated it in the memory of the Sabarmati Ashram experiment.

Championing a cause

In October 2020, 94-year-old Professor Ramjee Singh of Munger, Bihar, a former parliamentarian, was awarded the Padmashri for social work. In 1942, as a student of Army School Jamalpur he led a student’s demonstration against British rule for which he was expelled. He continues to propagate Gandhian philosophy.

Read More | Replug: The evolution of Gandhi’s thought

“He led a padayatra in England on the 125th celebrations of Gandhi’s birth anniversary,” says his son Sarvodaya Sharma. Ramjee is responsible for the induction of Gandhian Studies as a post-graduate subject in universities, a cause he championed in Parliament.

Former Professor of Gandhian Studies at MG University and member, Gandhi Peace Foundation, MP Mathai, says, “There is a problem in defining a practising Gandhian. You will not find another Gandhi, none practising the 11 vows to live by. These were for the inmates of the ashram. Gandhi’s ashram was neither isolated or insulated but existed in the heart of a thriving society.”

Mathai has seen several communities practising a non-violent way of life. “They resort to prayer, meditation, manual labour... Others take to organic farming, wearing khadi and handspun, some practise naturopathy, consumption of electricity from alternative energy sources... There are umpteen number of ways that Gandhi’s principles and ideas are being practised,” says Mathai, pointing out it is time to look at Gandhi in a new context.


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Printable version | Dec 6, 2021 3:09:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/india-75-years-independence-interview-avyakta-practising-gandhian/article35870734.ece

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