Religion was central to Gandhi’s life, thought and work .His religious ideas were complex and varied according to the occasion. Writing in 1927 in Young India he said, “It (Hinduism) was the most tolerant of all religions. Its freedom from dogma gave the votary the largest scope for self-expression. Not being an exclusive religion it enabled the followers not merely to respect all the other religions but to admire and assimilate whatever may be good in the other faith. Non- violence is common to all religions but it has found the highest expression and application in Hinduism. Hinduism believes in the oneness not only of merely all-human life but in the oneness of all other lives.” Gandhi was proud of his religion but it did not prevent him from rejecting and criticizing several institutions, ideas and beliefs that Hindus would ordinarily regard as part of their religion.
He rejected untouchability and fought against it all his life and the constitutional banning of untouchability and the subsequent legislation making its practice an offence owed a great deal to the public opinion he built over the decades against it. Gandhiji was opposed to blood sacrifices to deities and any form of cruelty to animals. He criticized the practice of ‘phuka’ by which peasants used to drive a nail fixed to a stick into the rectum of bullocks to make them move faster. His modernity in religious matters was deep and radical. He had no time for elaborate rituals and puja. While his sense of dependence on God was total it did not come in the way of his exerting himself to the utmost in promoting the causes he believed in. He condemned the widespread practice of child marriage, dowry and inhuman treatment of widows. He declared, “woman is the companion with equal mental capacities and she has the same right of freedom and liberty.” The Gita had a great impact on him in particular the ideas of aparigraha (non –possession) and samabhava (equability). Gandhi renounced his other possessions and prevailed upon Kasturba to give her possessions as well.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Views on Swaraj and Sarvodaya
Mahatma Gandhi social theory envisages well-being for all, well being that is oriented to self realization of one and all. In this new society economic relations are not controlled by market forces but by social affections. Political economy gives way to affective economy.
Gandhi argued that affective resources could enter into all economic equations and produce the maximum. If the spirit of the worker is brought to its greatest strength by the motivating forces of affection it can produce more. Labor with stable wages and constancy of numbers in employment, functions in terms of service not in terms of profit the wages being a necessary adjunct not the object of life. But political economy is interested in production, preservation and distribution at the proper place and time of things that are useful and pleasurable and the merchandising economy is interested in the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few with legal claims and power over the labor of others.
Mahatma Gandhi and Civil Society
Swaraj is a primordial vision of civil society. Such a social vision is realized through relentless search after truth through continuous action. Resisting untruth while holding on to truth becomes imperative in the very formation of civil society. In this engagement Gandhi’s reading of Gita says that no one has attained his goal without action. If we cease working the world would perish. People need to engage in action. All actions do not lead to freedom.
Selfless and fearless action requires and results in suffering. The single mindedness of purpose in liberation and selfless action form the basis of civil society. Pain and suffering are not negative categories in the Gandhi’s vision but agents in the formation of civil society.
Mahatma Gandhi’s views on Village Panchayat
In Gandhi’s view village panchayat plays a crucial role in managing the affairs. Sarvodaya centers on the small republic where the mass of people manages their affairs without depending upon the state. People have an informal arrangement for the management of their affairs. Village republics are part of India’s traditions. Many indigenous institutions of Indian society must be used for strengthening democracy. Western democracy can suit India only by adopting to the Indian conditions. He says, “ in the domain of politics, I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects.” Gandhi was conscious of the historical fact that British colonialism had destroyed the basic institutions of a village society. Revival of these institutions in a true spirit may strengthen democracy. Moreover political institutions at the grass root level may be able to restrict the power of state. Gandhi’s concept of state is that of a limited state which does not interfere in the day-to- day activities of the people. As Indian society consists of large number of villages the village republic can be a nucleus of a democratic institution.
Otherwise state as a coercive organization can destroy the vitality of village society. Once village panchayat is formed it is easy to create a Sarvodaya economy. Political institutions can be a means for the management of local resources. Rich people can hand over their surplus land to the village panchayat that can distribute it to the needy. Community can contribute labor to the village fund. The individual remains at the center of political organization. Village panchayat must look after the economy of the village that will help the prosperity of village people. The main idea of Gandhian political programme is the social reconstruction of the society. The village panchayat can take care of education, health; sanitation .It can help in abolition of untouchability and weaving khadi for their needs.
Thus the village economy can turn self –sufficient. Their needs are taken care of by their collective effort without dependence on the urban economy. Individual initiative will create a community bond. According to him, practice of untouchability is an institutional arrangement for creating violence in a society. Gandhi understood the real dynamics of a caste society .By removing the basis on which the ideology of caste system stands; the reconstruction of a society is possible.