Are Gandhi’s Principles Relevant Today?

Mahatma Gandhi was born in a middle-class Gujarati family, 140 years ago. He carved his own path and theories to lead our nation and free the people’s mind of slavery. The secret behind this was his faith in the power of truth, which he imbibed from the study of different religions, civilisations, and the concept of humanity. It is clearly described in his favourite devotional song ‘Vaishnava Jan’ (the true man of God is the one who can sympathise with the pain of others). Of course, obstacles of class, colour, and religion were in vain – when someone respected the concept of humanity like him.

वैष्णव जन तो तेने कहिये, जे पीड परायी जाणे रे।

पर दुःखे उपकार करे तो ये, मन अभिमान न आणे रे॥

According to Gandhi, a man can win a war only when he can control his mind. As a practitioner of ‘Truth’, he shared his experiences with learned people like Nehru, Patel, Maulana Azad, Gaffar Khan etc. and helped them learn his unique discovery of strengthening oneself to come out as a winner in every situation in life. He rose to the level of a ‘saint’ or ‘Mahatma’ through his simple lifestyle. Once Churchill mocked him by calling him a “naked fakir” only because he couldn’t recognise the simplicity of ‘Mahatma’. At last, Gandhi died because of the communal tension he fought against till his last breath.

Is Gandhi Ji Still Significant?

The partition between India and Pakistan was followed by a lot of bloodshed, which was the opposite of Gandhi’s principle of non-violence or ahimsa. The worst part is that a person, a lifetime; was not enough to teach the importance of  ‘non-violence’ to any religion. Did the man fail then? Did he fail because of his beliefs? Or was it a mistake on the part of those people who believe in the idea of ‘eye for an eye’ and were unable to think beyond that? One of Gandhi’s works on the concept of non-violence is an attempt to break conservative beliefs and make way for peaceful communication among people. Each modern thinker has a particular audience; the question is whether the viewer is satisfied with the ideology presented to him or should it been challenged.

Mahatma Gandhi’s moral and political principles do not constitute a real gearbox, which runs our thoughts and actions in one direction, and is operated by a spiritual engine in which only one monolithic ideology is the fuel source. Gandhi dared to stand up and speak on the authority of the tradition, to be consistent with his beliefs; but at the same time, being free enough to change his mind, and discover new things and possibilities.

I think Gandhi’s sayings are the worst form of distortions by political philosophers. Similarly, Gandhi is not related to any of the three ideological choices that are available to us today. One option is to return to “religious dogmatism”, the second is “relativity”, which has been given as an example by the modernist movement, which believes that the Hermetic Truth should replace the objective truth, and the third is “rational fundamentalism” – which believes in the power of reasoning and desacralizes and disenchants, everything that is real.

I think Gandhi was not impressed by any of these ideologies. He was not a religious fanatic or a cultural revivalist, and he was not committed to the idea of absolute reason. What I find interesting in Gandhi is that he kept a place for doubt and suspicious irony (and even self-paranoid) in his mind. From the general to the saint, Gandhi’s elevation came in different stages. After qualifying as a barrister and settling in South Africa, with his fight for the equality of the race, his first trend was legal. He knew his mind and his beliefs were his main strength. He had the ability to humiliate and oppress his rivals with his concept of spirituality, and he suffered many times to change his opponent’s mentality from anger to embarrassment.

The tactics changed with apathy from the aggressive campaigns of rulers, because they worked hard to pedal. ‘Civil Disobedience’, ‘Swadeshi’ came in as movements to reduce the rulers’ revenue, ‘Dandi March’ against an illegal ‘salt tax’, and finally, in 1942, when England was drowning because of the war, he bounced for a ‘knock-out’ by declaring ‘Quit India Movement’. The British had no option other than to call national leaders to negotiate the promise of independence, but there was a demand for cooperation in the ongoing war until they won. Did Gandhi leave out considering serious penalties in this phase? Because later, ‘freedom’ gave space to fights for leadership and incited communal tension.

Weakening England and its allies were to go against his philosophy of universal human equality and to give Nazism a chance. By then there was another well-defined vision that he had developed. It was the wish that if the British left, we should take part in the war as their ‘friends’. Violence, destruction, suffering cannot be prevented. War can be for greed, shelter, or revenge. If it’s not preventable, the knowledge of the last message applies. Even then the bloodshed during partition was painful.

In the first decade of the 20th century, he landed on the Indian soil. His strategy was already successful in South Africa, and he knew that non- violence was the tested path to unite India once again. He educated himself about the social stigmas in the society, rural economy, and the common man’s thinking. He studied the high instability of microeconomics at the village level. Economics and self-reliance were essential to lead a winning campaign. It made them the greatest marketers of all time. Trademark ‘Khadi’ is still the dress code of Indian politician, sans propaganda – what would this say regarding the big vision? He was quite clear about strengthening the economy and encouraging self-reliance for fighting national aggression.

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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.

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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.

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