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

Gandhi At 150: Tracing The Ordinary In The Extraordinary

More from Ankur Ranjan

This is a talk I delivered at IIT–Madras on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti.

I feel honoured and privileged to address this gathering assembled here to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of one of the greatest souls of the 20th century.

Gandhi – the name evinces so many feelings that it is difficult for me to articulate myself in this short span of time allotted. Another difficulty to talk about Gandhi is the sheer vastness of how much has been historically written and spoken about him and continues to be.

I thought first of framing my talk around the memory that Gandhi evokes in my generation. To this, I must admit that my generation is largely acquainted with Gandhi through folklore of the freedom movement or through some malicious and outright obnoxious narratives that have been spread gradually over time, about him and his life. What a travesty!

It is most unfortunate for a man to be so misunderstood, who was such a relentless writer, to be precise – 48,000 pages in print running up to roughly 100 volumes of collected works. Therefore, I found it futile to talk on behalf of my unenlightened generation.

Alternatively, I thought about the relevance of his values and methods in present times. Talking on the relevance of Gandhi’s teachings seemed to be an oxymoron. Gandhi’s principles, so widely known and revered as truth and non-violence are eternal human values that will remain relevant as long as humanity exists as beings caught in a perpetual moral conundrum. As for his methods – they are still inspiring activists, dissenters and the oppressed throughout the globe – as a means of passive resistance, to persuade and stir the moral consciousness, if at all there exists any!

On one hand, it is astounding that we have not forgotten Gandhi; on the other, it is appalling that instead, we have reduced him to the level of, if I may say so, ephemeral symbolisms. We have obfuscated, if not totally erased Gandhi as a thought. A thought that bloomed, not in some solitary recess, but amidst the chaos of an active social and political life. ‘The’ Gandhi as a critique of modernity. ‘The’ Gandhi as a moral philosopher. ‘The’ Gandhi as an idea of India.

Gandhi, whose significance will never be lost to the world, especially becomes telling in these times. We are renegotiating and reframing the fundamental ideals on which this nation was built – the ideas that guided our freedom struggle. The ideals shared by so many stalwarts, who occupied the spiritual and intellectual space of that time. In relation to Gandhi, three of them, to my mind, who were also part of Gandhi’s own moral churning, become urgently crucial to be returned to and critically analyzed in the context of nation-building – Tagore, Ambedkar and Savarkar.

I will not mince my words here and make no mistake – the fact is that we are living in the age of Godse and to even attempt standing in the shoes of Gandhi and not only put flowers on his portrait, is to carry the risk of being labelled an anti-national.

Gandhi was a simple man but simplicity has its own complexities. Something that makes it difficult for anyone to understand the ‘man’ in the Mahatma, even though, he himself never made any claims to sainthood. Because of the immense love and respect that he arouses, people on any side of an ideological divide cannot ignore him. That does not mean that their heart is where Gandhi’s was! Therefore, it is convenient for anybody to idolise him as a difficult idealist and shrug him aside. This hypocrisy was never so blatant and explicit as it is today.

Gandhi at the spinning wheel. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Ever since my first reading of his autobiography, Gandhi has meant two things for me – a fearless man and someone absolutely grounded in truth (satyagrahi). This feeling has remained unchanged to this day despite indulging in so many of his critics, who also very often do not shy away from accepting it themselves. Needless to say, Godse too!
Gandhi’s idea of truth is founded on his religious beliefs. Gandhi’s truth is not a truth that corresponds to reality, neither is it one that assimilates into a coherent belief system, nor it is a simple matter of practical means to an end. Truth for Gandhi is an end in itself. One that is an experiential reality, known intuitively in leading a life of pilgrimage.

His truth is transcendental and therefore, he finds no hesitation in equating his truth with God. It might not appeal to many as a secular idea but as a student of philosophy, I can say that at the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.

The greater paradox is that there is hardly anyone in recent memory, who can be considered so unapologetically and fearlessly secular as Gandhi. Maybe because Gandhi’s religion was esoteric and he understood faith so deeply as to allow space for its plurality in thoughts and ways to exist around him, without a shred of contempt, bitterness, hatred or intolerance – something that made him lovable even to his enemies. To borrow Tennyson’s words – a worthy friend and a noble foe.

Gandhi will, however, always make people in power and those enamoured and obsessed with it, uncomfortable. The irony is that they also cannot let go of Gandhi, even if for mere pretense of it, and at the same time slowly kill him every day, bit by bit, again and again!

Gandhi as a thought must die because Gandhi is antithetical to fascism – fascism in us all. George Orwell, like many of his detractors, would, in his severe critique – Reflections on Gandhi – admits that Gandhi was incorruptible by power and ambition. Gandhi’s own treatise Hind Swaraj is interestingly revealing here, in which he conceptualizes his swaraj as the autonomy of an individual, who dares to create a moral spine of his own and religiously live by it. Gandhi stands unequivocally on the side of people untouched by attraction or adoration of power. Therefore, he will always remain a symbol of danger for fascists.

Gandhi is very often judged and evaluated for certain actions, decisions and preferences. I wish to detest from such wisdom of hindsight. Yet, if I were to put my honest disappointment in him, about which we hardly hear any clamour – it would be his simplistic, rather romanticised sense of India’s civilisational history. Inspired by Puranic understanding of time (yuga), he conjures up an ancient past, which he himself proudly calls ‘Kingdom of God.’

If only he would have even merely taken a commonsensical view that every epoch in history has its own corruptions, turmoil and strife, he would not have had held apologetic views on caste and social and moral adequacy of this civilisation. He would have perhaps not considered fasting unto death in Yeravada Jail in 1932. Gandhi exonerated a whole community, washed their moral conscience and denied any possibility to them of reflective self-critique by establishing, I fear forever – that all corruptions in Indian society are merely aberrations burst upon us because of ‘historical surprises’ from the outside.

Gandhi is, otherwise prophetic in laying down let’s say, seven dangers for the future that he calls deadly sins:

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Politics without principle
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice

However, to think whether solutions to them lie in looking back, that too in a misplaced past, would be making a grave mistake of which Tagore warns of believing that “our ancestors had superhuman vision of all eternity and supernatural power for making provision for future ages.”

Anybody disturbed by today’s socio-political climate needs to go back to Gandhi’s time and engage deeply in the intellectual debates taking shape around the man, not to find solutions but to gain an enlightened grasp on the problem. In this pursuit, Gandhi is bound to remain pivotal, for a very long time, as it seems today.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
You must be to comment.

More from Ankur Ranjan

Similar Posts

By Sushruta

By Numan Ahmad

By Abdul Momin

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