Gandhi is remembered for his role that he played in India’s freedom struggle. He also pioneered the non-violence resistance against the oppressors, which was unique on its own. Some regard him as a great environmentalist and educationist. All the mentioned dimension of Gandhi’s life are essential when one describes his personality and rightly so. But I am going to attribute something to Gandhi that most people will not answer in the affirmative. I want to argue that Gandhi lived the life of a scientist. He held scientific principles throughout his life.
As we all know, Gandhi was not a man of science. And on various occasions, Gandhi gave the impression that he was superstitious. One famous incident after the Bihar earthquake when he made a statement, “I want you to be superstitious enough to believe with me that the earthquake is a divine chastisement for the great sin we have committed against those whom we describe as Harijans.”
This statement was opposed by the great Indian poet, noble Laurent, and great friend of Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore. He said, “I find it difficult to believe it. But if this is your real view on the matter, I do not think it should go unchallenged.”
Tagore accused him of being non-scientific: “It has caused me painful surprise to find Mahatma Gandhi accusing those who blindly follow their social custom of untouchability of having brought down God’s vengeance upon certain parts of Bihar, evidently specially selected for his desolating displeasure. It is all the more unfortunate because this kind of unscientific view of things is too readily accepted by a large section of our countrymen.”
This shows that Gandhi was criticised for having a non-scientific belief. Gandhi also criticised the western manner of industrialisation. He warned Indians about its disastrous effects. Gandhi was seen as an opponent of industrialisation and technology, so science, as people inferred. Now let us come to the claim that I made that Gandhi lived a scientist’s life and held some of the core principles of science.
Science is an ever-changing body of knowledge. It constantly accrues knowledge and improves itself. New and advanced ones replace old theories. It is always open to questioning. Gandhi had these virtues in his personality. Like science, Gandhi also believed in constructive dialogues. He changed his view on various issues by learning new things. This attitude of Gandhi is alien with science.
One can illustrate this by quoting Gandhi: “I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after truth, I have discarded many ideas and learned many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of truth, my God, from moment to moment and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the latter of the two on the same subject.”
This shows that Gandhi was not dogmatic with his beliefs. Conducting new experiments to find out a new thing or new way of doing things is core to science. Scientists keep experimenting to check their theory’s validity. Gandhi’s life was an experiment. He experiments with truth and non-violence. He experimented with health and education. So, he had the courage and ability to conducted experiments.
There is one more parallel that can be drawn between science. Even though both science and Gandhi are open to questions, they are also governed by principle. Gandhi derives most of the activities and practices from non-violence and truth. So, science makes sense of itself by applying principles.
I want to conclude by saying that Gandhi should be an anti-science man because he is in complete harmony with scientific principles.