This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Priyamvada Asthana. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Think Gandhi’s Politics Is Outdated? You Couldn’t Be More Wrong

More from Priyamvada Asthana

By Priyamvada Asthana:

The year 2015 marks hundred years of Gandhi’s return to India and his invaluable participation in and conduction of India’s ongoing freedom struggle. Sixty-eight years have passed since India achieved Independence. During these seven decades, several other countries have attained Independence, but there have been many changes in means and manner of conducting political movements and in the thought process of political leaders. However, Gandhian thoughts, his philosophy, his strategy and his work ethic still remain relevant. Against this backdrop, it becomes important to ask why and what makes Gandhi special and relevant to Indian history and politics and why his methods have proved effective and fail-proof.

Gandhi satyagraha
Salt March, 1930. Image source: Wikipedia

Gandhi’s policies were not formulated in isolation. At the time of his return to India, he was not fully familiar with the social pattern prevalent in India, and his own lifestyle was different from the majority of Indians. At this juncture, a friendly advice from G.K. Gokhale, whom Gandhi later acknowledged as his mentor and political guru, to undertake a journey across India to understand the people and politics, changed Gandhi’s outlook towards the Indian freedom struggle and transformed his personality, lifestyle and thought process. It brought to the forefront of Gandhi’s mind, the realities of India’s caste system and the divisions created by it in society. He realised that a large portion of India’s population had been excluded from the freedom struggle on parochial issues and on the basis of their socio-economic background.

Gandhi’s movement was one in a long line of movements in Colonial India. The Sepoy Mutiny/First War of Indian Independence, the Mopla Revolution, the Munda Uprising, the Ghadar Movement, the Moderates and Extremists had all failed before Gandhi took centre stage. All these movements had been restricted to certain sections of society. The elite fought at their own level, the peasants at their own and frequently, the two were at odds with one another. 1857 had largely been restricted to the upper castes and landlords, both, Hindu and Muslim. The peasant uprisings had been targeted against the zamindars of rural India, largely unconcerned with the colonial state. Within the Congress, the Moderates and Extremists faced off against each other. Gandhi found a social fabric weakened by a history of caste and religious discord and further damaged by colonial policies. Attempts made by social reformers had succeeded, to an extent, but again, they did not unite the various classes and castes of India. A sizable population lacked the sheer physical resilience to take part in armed rebellion and movements. Gandhi’s Satyagraha, derived from the ancient philosophy of truth and ahimsa, had universal appeal and even the not so able bodied and unarmed could actively participate. Its impact was felt across boundaries of religion, caste and creed, emphasising, as it did, truth and non-violence, basic to any religion.

Gandhi’s strength lies in that he was able to envisage a movement that would unite the various factions of Indian society against a common enemy and also be powerful against a hegemonic state. He united the demands of the Extremists with the methods of the Moderates and yet, did not identify with either. His analytical mind realised that violence was futile against the power of the State, which would only respond with greater violence and crush any threat to its power, as exemplified in 1857. Satyagraha was a novel form. It was non-violent, yet, it threatened the State. By taking up the causes of the peasantry, Gandhi irrevocably linked them to the movement and made them stakeholders in its success.

The British Empire acted on the policy of divide and rule, through their actions and symbols. In 1911, the seat of the British Empire in India was shifted to Delhi, long recognised as the seat of power. This sent a very powerful message across the nation. Gandhi chose to fight this symbolism inherent in the Colonial State by using symbols as a weapon in his rhetoric against the State. Gandhi’s dhoti and lathi was chosen after much introspection, which identified him with the poorest of the poor and village elders, who used it as a means of support. Khadi became a symbol of Swadeshi, easily accessible to anyone with a charkha. To the young, he said, ahimsa required courage. He identified himself with the untouchables by cleaning toilets. Thus, in one stroke, Gandhi brought a large population, excluded for a millennia, on par with the rest of the populace. The coinage of the term, ‘Harijan’, described the untouchables as people of God. His favourite hymn, ‘Vaishnava jan to tene kahiye je, peer paraai jaane re’ proclaimed those as true worshippers of Vishnu, who felt the agony of the other. The other, in this case, was quite glaringly the downtrodden peasantry of rural India. He touched the untouched issue of the untouchable. The Harijan, untouchable and the Vaishnava jan, the upper caste, were projected as synonymous, Hari being another name for Vishnu. This sent ripples across the upper-castes and staunch Brahmin, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya cleaned the utensils of an untouchable student in BHU, when the cleaning staff refused to do so.

His pet goat was another clear symbol reaching out to the Muslim community, especially in the countryside. The combining of the Khilafat Movement with the Non-Cooperation Movement and beginning the Dandi March with seventy-two followers, reminiscent of the battle of Karbala was also an attempt to unite the Hindus and the Muslims. His means of communication were both, verbal and non-verbal. He bridged the gaping divide between the rural and the urban and between religious communities that had existed before his arrival.

Gandhi_spinning
Image source: Wikipedia

Gandhi’s symbolism was not for mere rhetorics sake. It was a well thought out strategy. All movements before Gandhi clearly fell into two categories. One, of the educated, urban elite, which was not in conversation with the rural masses and the other, of the peasant’s struggle against his zamindar, where the Colonial State did not enter the picture. Gandhi united both these movements. He recognised that both movements worked against each other, detrimental to both. The elite was a minuscule section of society and did not possess the numbers to make a change. The peasant, in his opinion, was focusing on entirely the wrong enemy. By bringing both movements together, Gandhi created a new movement. One, in which, the peasant was exhorted to work with his zamindar to help overthrow the colonial ruler. Rhetoric was generated at every level. At the level of the All India Congress Committee lay the recognition that Gandhi was providing the force that would carry the flag to its final destination. At the provincial level, Gandhi was deified and miracles were attributed to him. Rumour played a significant role in boosting his popularity and gave him a Godly aura. Gandhi Baba, the Fakir, Gandhiji, the Mahatma, these were characters easy for the ordinary peasant to identify with in a society where godmen were more powerful than political leaders. He managed in uniting the zamindar and the ryot, even if it wasn’t always to the ryot’s benefit. His name was invoked even when he was unconnected to the movement. He became a national symbol.

Gandhi picked up symbols that resonated with the common man and woman. Salt, an item of everyday consumption became his symbol of British oppression. Clothing became the identifier of a nationalist. Small, everyday things that were easy for the man or woman on the streets to do, no grand gestures. Yet, the small everyday things transformed and gained massive proportions. He did not talk of Independence, but of Freedom for every individual, Swaraj and Suraaj. The choice of words made a tremendous difference to the way the movement was perceived. Freedom could mean freedom from oppression, from hunger, from bondage, from anything one wished to be free from. Swadheen was the term. Reliant only on the self.

Gandhi’s importance and relevance lies in that he created a common agenda for India and played an important role in the freedom struggle. He brought together various factions and provided a united front. His use of non-violent means gave him the moral authority to challenge the violence of a hegemonic state. And therein lies his relevance for the modern world.

You must be to comment.

More from Priyamvada Asthana

Similar Posts

By Krishna Singh

By Aulina Pandey

By ABID KHAN GUDDU

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below