Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2022 > Gandhi, secularism, reason and faith | Anil Nauriya

Mainstream, VOL LX No 11, New Delhi, March 5, 2022

Gandhi, secularism, reason and faith | Anil Nauriya

Saturday 5 March 2022, by Anil Nauriya


Although Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) derived strength from a sense of faith, he supported the idea of a secular state. And while he did not a priori exclude or reject faith, he stood committed to apply the test of reason even to religious scriptures. [1] This article is concerned with how Gandhi understood and reconciled these various concepts. The secular nature of the state — that is, a religiously neutral state as postulated in India by the resolution adopted by the Indian National Congress held at Karachi in March 1931 — is an instance of the common ground not only between Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), but also between them and several leading figures in the freedom movement such as Maulana Azad (1888-1958), Sardar Patel (1875-1950) and others.

The historic resolution was based on a draft jointly agreed to between Gandhi and Nehru and constitutes a monumental demonstration of collaboration and consensus between them. [2] An early biographer of the Mahatma, DG Tendulkar, wrote: “The resolution on fundamental rights and economic policy had its origin in the early morning talks in Delhi between Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in February-March 1931. ‘I had referred to this matter, and he had welcomed the idea of having a resolution on the economic matters,’ wrote Jawaharlal later. ‘He had asked me to bring the matter up at Karachi, and to draft the resolution and to show it to him there. I did so at Karachi, and he made various changes and suggestions. He wanted both of us to agree on the wording before we asked the working committee to consider it. I had to make several drafts, and this delayed the matter for a few days. Ultimately, Gandhiji and I agreed on a draft, and this was placed before the working committee, and later before the subjects committee’.” [3]

This is the text that referred to a religiously neutral state. In elaborating on this, Gandhi would underscore the linkage between a religiously neutral state, a plural and non-discriminatory society, and a humane political worker and individual citizen, all complementing with one another. [4] With he himself moving the fundamental rights resolution at Karachi on 31 March 1931, Gandhi observed: “Religious neutrality is another important provision. Swaraj will favour Hinduism no more than Islam, nor Islam more than Hinduism. But in order that we may have a state based on religious neutrality, let us from now adopt the principle in our daily affairs.

Let not a Hindu merchant hesitate to have deserving Muslims as his employees and let every congressman make religious neutrality his creed in every walk of life.” [5]

Another contemporary report of Gandhi’s speech on the point of the religious neutrality of the state is as follows: “As regards religious neutrality, we are not going to make any difference because of a man’s religion. Religion will not be a barrier and the cause of any difference of treatment to individuals”. [6] Contrary to an oft-repeated notion, Gandhi’s understanding of the secular state is not distinct from Nehru’s. After the Karachi resolution was passed Gandhi adhered strictly to the 1931 understanding of a secular state as a religiously neutral state.

The notion of the secular state that was implemented after independence also emerged from the freedom struggle, and Nehru invariably emphasized the connection between the establishment of a secular state and the “whole growth of our national movement”. [7] It was intrinsic to the Gandhi-Nehru framework. It is a model of equality and equal citizenship.

A secular state was thus established, which went beyond the usual European notion of a denominational state whose secularism consisted merely in the separation from the very church to which that state was simultaneously committed. Post-independent India understood a secular state to be a non-denominational state and a state that was religiously neutral as specified in the Karachi Resolution of 1931. As we have seen, Gandhi subscribed to this resolution. And, as we shall see in Part II of this article, in speaking of a secular state Gandhi also defined it clearly in terms of separation of the state from denominational religion (6 May, 1933; 27 January, 1935; 20 January, 1942; September 1946; 16 August, 1947; 17 August, 1947; 22 August, 1947; 15 November, 1947; 28 November, 1947). [8]

Contrary to a widespread impression, when Gandhi speaks of a secular state he speaks in no other manner than this. Actively party to the Karachi understanding on the religiously neutral state, he meticulously stays with it; after the Karachi session of the Congress, a layering of Gandhi’s ideas in this context may be noticed, the applicable norms varying for the individual generally, for society, for those in politics and for the state. These varied norms were complementary, not contradictory.

Prior to the Karachi session in 1931, Gandhi appears to have had no occasion specifically to expound on the secular state. Gandhi had said more than once that his politics was a religious activity for him. He had explained early enough — in 1924 — what he meant by this: “For me there is no politics without religion, not the religion of the superstitious and the blind, religion that hates and fights, but the universal religion of toleration.” [Young India, 27 November, 1924; The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), Vol. 25, p. 357]

From the 1930s, the secular state now not infrequently enters into Gandhi’s expositions. The references he makes to the secular state and secular law are reflective of the Karachi consensus and are such as would in current political discourse be described as Nehruvian. [9] The notion in some circles that Gandhi and Nehru had different concepts of the secular state does not appear to be sustainable; it seems to arise from not appreciating the layering of Gandhi’s ideas mentioned above. [10]

As I have also suggested elsewhere, it is in the social domain and at the level of the individual that the ideas of Gandhi and Nehru may not be congruent, or may even diverge on the extent of religious expression they would envisage or countenance; but even here they tend to be complementary in their emphasis on pluralism and non-discrimination rather than contradictory. [11]

Before the mid-19th century, the term secular was sometimes used with contempt. For the clergy, in particular, it was almost a synonym for the uninitiated or “ignorant”. The term was sought to be popularised in its political use by English secularists Charles Bradlaugh and George Jacob Holyoake in the mid-19th century. It took time to be adopted. Even Abraham Lincoln uses the word only once and that, too, in a non-political context. Its usage lagged behind the formation of nation-states. When more democratic forms of government came to be established the political usage correspondingly increased.

The Motilal Nehru committee was appointed by the All Parties Conference in Bombay in May 1928 “to consider and determine the principles of the Constitution for India”. Its report, submitted in August 1928, recommended that there should be no state religion for India or any of its provinces and “nor shall the state, either directly or indirectly, endow any religion or give any preference or impose any disability on account of religious belief or religious status”. [12]

Although the report makes no reference to the word itself, the spirit of the report is entirely secular. Gandhi wrote in Young India on 9 January, 1930: “In the Congress we must cease to be exclusive Hindus or Mussalmans or Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Jews.

Whilst we may staunchly adhere to our respective faiths, we must be in the Congress Indians first and Indians last.” (CWMG, Vol. 42, p. 379). As we have seen, the Karachi Resolution of March 1931, to which Gandhi, Nehru and Azad were party, stipulates the religious neutrality of the state. Secularism is writ large on the resolution, though again the word is absent. Expatiating on this resolution three months later, Gandhi said:

“Religious neutrality means that the state will have no state religion, nor a system of favouritism” (Young India, 11 June, 1931, CWMG, Vol. 46, p. 363). This, he said, was “bound to be a part of any future constitution as there is no difference of opinion on it”. (idem)

Repeated usage of the term “secular” occurs early in Gandhi’s writings and speeches in 1933. Two bills were then before the central legislature. One of these related to untouchability. Gandhi supported the bill, arguing that it properly sought to withdraw the sanction of “secular law” from a “custom that is repugnant to the moral sense of mankind”. Such a practice, he wrote in May 1933, “cannot and ought not to have the sanction of the law of a secular state” (Harijan, 6 May, 1933, CWMG, Vol. 55, p.119). In November 1933, he defended the bills against the charge that they were an undue interference in religion, saying that there were many situations in which it was necessary for the state to interfere, even with religion. Only “undue” interference ought to be avoided. The bill relating to untouchability sought, he said, merely “to remove the secular recognition of untouchability” (Harijan, 17 November, 1933, CWMG, Vol. 56, p. 199).

Later, on 27 January 1935, Gandhi addressed some members of the Central legislature. He told them that: “(e)ven if the whole body of Hindu opinion were to be against the removal of untouchability, still he would advise a secular legislature like the Assembly not to tolerate that attitude...” (CWMG, Vol. 60, p. 117). Two months later, Gandhi wrote in Harijan:

“Religion is essentially a personal matter. It is one between oneself and one’s God. It should never be made a matter of bargain.” (Harijan, 29 March, 1935, CWMG, Vol. 60, p. 355). By 1937, Congress governments had been formed in several provinces under the Government of India Act, 1935, and were formulating policies, inter alia, on education. Gandhi popularised, especially from this time, the idea of Nayee Taleem, sometimes translated as basic education. [13] In 1938, he defended the omission of religious instruction from the Wardha scheme of basic education. One of his reasons was that this would be difficult as there was to be no state religion; also, because “it is very difficult, if not impossible, to provide religious instruction as it would mean providing for every denomination”. (Harijan, 16 July, 1938, CWMG, Vol. 67, p. 175).

Writing on inter-communal unity in January 1942, Gandhi remarked while discussing the Pakistan scheme that had been propounded by a section of Muslims: “What conflict of interest can there be between Hindus and Muslims in the matter of revenue, sanitation, police, justice, or the use of public conveniences? The difference can only be in religious usage and observance with which a secular state has no concern”. (Harijan, 25 January, 1942, CWMG, Vol. 75, p. 237). In the Harijan issue published on the day the Quit India movement was launched, Gandhi rejected the sectarian Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) slogan “Hindustan belongs to the Hindus and nobody else”. Gandhi declared that “free India will be no Hindu Raj, it will be an Indian Raj based not on the majority of any religious sect or community but on the representatives of the whole people without distinction of religion.” (Harijan, 9 August, 1942, CWMG, Vol. 76, p. 402).

Clearly, Gandhi did not attach any meaning to the term “secular” that would have been unacceptable to, or unintelligible to, Jawaharlal Nehru. The point is repeated as freedom dawns and constitution-making begins. In September 1946, Gandhi told a Christian missionary: “If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it.

The state would look after your secular welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern!” (Harijan, 22 September, 1946, CWMG, Vol. 85, p.328). [That religion was a personal matter he had said earlier as well (Harijan, 29 March, 1935, CWMG, Vol. 60, p. 355 and Harijan, 9 August, 1942, CWMG, Vol. 76, p. 402).]

On 21 February, 1947 Gandhi reiterated that he did not believe in a state religion, even if the entire community were of one religion. Religion, he said again, “was a purely personal matter”. He added that he was “opposed to state aid, partly or wholly, to religious bodies” (Harijan, 16 March, 1947, CWMG, Vol. 87, p. 5). This position was reminiscent of that taken by James Madison, himself a religious man, in his famous Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1784-85), in opposition to the idea of a state religion (and Patrick Henry’s bill moved in the Virginia legislature in support of the church). Gandhi’s talk with the Reverend John Kellas of the Scottish Church College, Calcutta on 16 August, 1947, the day after independence, was reported in Harijan thus: “Gandhiji expressed the opinion that the state should undoubtedly be secular. It could never promote denominational education out of public funds. Everyone living in it should be entitled to profess his religion without let or hindrance, so long as the citizen obeyedthe common law of the land. There should be no interference with missionary effort, but no mission could enjoy the patronage of the state as it did during the foreign regime” (Harijan, 24 August, 1947, CWMG, Vol. 89, p. 51). Subsequently, this understanding came to be reflected in Articles 25, 26 and 27 of the Constitution of India.

On the next day, 17 August 1947, Gandhi elaborated publicly on the same point in his speech at Narkeldanga: “In the India for whose fashioning he had worked all his life every man enjoyed equality of status, whatever his religion was. The state was bound to be wholly secular. He went so far as to say that no denominational institution in it should enjoy state patronage. All subjects would thus be equal in the eye of the law” (Harijan, 31 August, 1947, CWMG, Vol. 89, p. 56).

Five days later, Gandhi observed in a speech at Deshbandhu Park in Calcutta on 22 August, 1947: “Religion was a personal matter and if we succeeded in confining it to the personal plane, all would be well in our political life... If officers of the government, as well as members of the public, undertook the responsibility and worked wholeheartedly for the creation of a secular state, we could build a new India that would be the glory of the world” (Harijan, 31 August, 1947, CWMG, Vol. 89, p. 79).

On 15 November, 1947, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) adopted various resolutions on the rights of minorities, the repatriation of refugees and other issues. The aim of the Congress was defined as a “democratic secular state where all citizens enjoy full rights”. Gandhi warmly welcomed these resolutions, saying at a prayer meeting that they were so important that he wanted to explain the various resolutions “one by one” (CWMG, Vol. 90, p. 63).

Speaking on Guru Nanak’s birthday on 28 November, 1947, Gandhi opposed any possibility of state funds being spent for the renovation of the Somnath temple. His reasoning was: “After all, we have formed the government for all. It is a ‘secular’ government, that is, it is not a theocratic government, rather, it does not belong to any particular religion. Hence it cannot spend money on the basis of communities” (CWMG, Vol. 90, p.127).

In supporting a secular state, Gandhi understood that such a state would have to be backed by society. Instinctively, he saw the historical and social relationship between a secular state and elements of humanism in society. This relationship was later neglected, especially after 1969, and this left the field free for Hindutva forces to grow in society.

Six days before Gandhi was shot dead in January 1948 he had cautiously appreciated a note by the economic thinker JC Kumarappa, in which the latter suggested: “A well-organised body of constructive workers will be needed ... Their service to the people will be their sanction and the merit of their work will be their charter. The ministers will draw their inspiration from such a body, which will advise and guide the secular government” (Harijan, 1 February, 1948, CWMG, Vol. 90, p.487). Gandhi found the idea “attractive” but was not sure there would be “the requisite number of selfless workers capable of giving a good account of themselves” (idem). We may usefully digress here to dwell on the significance and domain of the concept of “equal respect for all religions”, a concept prominent in the Indian discourse on secularism-related issues, and the manner in which this intersects with the religious neutrality of the state.

Implicit in the idea of the religious neutrality of the state is also, of course, the notion of equal respect for all religions. But, as Hinduism also lays philosophical claim to the idea of equal respect for all religions, for both Gandhi and Nehru the secular state was defined in the Karachi sense discussed above in terms of the religious neutrality of the state. The notion of equal respect for all religions gains more salience at the level of civil society and the individual. Equal respect for all religions is a concept that is sometimes attributed to Gandhi, especially as this is in accord with his praxis and the social practices he promoted. [14]

It was part of the 11 vows, the observance of which was required of inmates of Gandhi’s ashram in India. [15] In fact, Gandhi looked upon equal respect for all religions as an advance on the notion of tolerance: “I have, of course, always believed in the principle of religious tolerance. But I have gone further. I have advanced from tolerance to equal respect for all religion” (24 November, 1946, CWMG, Vol. 86, p.155).

In certain circles in India, this is sometimes put forward in a reductionist manner so as to reduce Gandhi’s understanding of the secular state exclusively to the concept of “equal respect for all religions” and to deny the commitment Gandhi shared with Nehru to the religious neutrality of the state. Indeed, the religious neutrality of the state and equal respect for all religions are often, in the contemporary Indian discourse, pitted against one another. Some writings from the secular side of the discourse in the past three or four decades have set up a conflict between the two ideas, not appreciating their intersections and not seeing them as operating complementarily at the various levels of state, society and the individual. These writings were dismissive of the concept of equal respect. They were rubbished variously as the “Ram-Rahim approach” and as “Hindu ecumenicalism”.

The reference to the “Ram-Rahim approach” was used to suggest that those adopting it in the pre-independence context had taken no interest in providing constitutional safeguards to minorities, or that their approach did not provide for a religiously neutral or secular state. Both these propositions are contrary to the record. [16] Similarly, the dismissal of the equal respect concept as “Hindu ecumenicalism” was fallacious. It seemed to imply, albeit unintentionally, that religions apart from Hinduism did not have the intellectual and emotional resources to support a multi-religious society based on mutual respect.

How then do we relate to the equal respect concept? First, it is useful, as noticed above, to specify whether what is being discussed is the individual, society or the state. The norms to be expected at the three levels are a set of complementary ideas, which cumulatively support one another. But these do not need to be identical ideas. So, if the state is religiously neutral it is not necessary for its sustenance that all individuals should be, say, atheists. They could be religious. Individually, they may, and many probably would, give priority to their own faith. What is required of them here is no more than a sense of humanism or respect for difference.

Similarly, at the level of society at large, it is unnecessary, even if it may in one view be desirable, that the religious element be eliminated. It is enough that groups and individuals, or the vast majority of them, are prepared in their social intercourse to meet on par without claiming in civic space priority over one another on account of their religion. Equal respect for all religions is primarily a concept of the social domain, though the state may seek to internalise it consistent with other applicable obligations.

At the level of the state, additional norms apply. Yet, the religious neutrality of the state and equal respect for all religions are not inconsistent ideas but complementary ones. It is only by its religious neutrality that the state expresses its equal respect for all communities. The state must make this claim good in its attitude to governance, with the protection of the lives and property of, and provision of opportunities for growth and development to, all sections. Obviously, protection would in the first instance be for the ones threatened. In focusing on them, the state only enforces the equality principle; it does not amount to bestowing a special favour.

Yet another aspect of the equal respect concept is sometimes overlooked. When the concept was promoted in the pre-independence period it did not mean that all practices and ideas propounded in the name of the various religions were entitled to respect. For example, in the early 20th century some people continued to seek to justify the practice of untouchability, even in the name of religion. When Gandhi undertook his anti-untouchability tour of the Indian subcontinent in 1933-34, a significant section of Hindus opposed him wherever he went. [17]

It was claimed that untouchability was part of the Hindu religion and that Gandhi had no right, or business, to interfere with this belief. His car was attacked and stoned in the province of Bihar and the windscreen broken. In the holy city of Banaras (Varanasi) he was greeted with black flags; in Poona (now Pune) in western India, the heartland of Hindutva, an attempt was made on his life and a lethal bomb hurled, injuring several people. Obviously, the so-called religious beliefs of, for example, those opposing the campaign against untouchability could not be entitled to respect on any norm of decency. Equal respect for all religions is not a concept that offers any shelter to beliefs or activities that violate the civil rights of others. The concept implies equal respect only for the humanistic tendency in each religion. It is not a passive, static or hold-all concept, but an active, dynamic and discerning one. [18] It strives continually to seek out the humanist underpinnings of society.

The equal respect concept has political implications. Had the outlook underlying Hindutva, as also the Huntingtonian clash-of-civilisations thesis, which originated in the United States, been allowed to define Indian nationalism, it would have taken very little to give an anti-Christian twist to the Indian freedom struggle. That this did not happen, despite the repeated colonial jibe that the Congress was Hindu-oriented, is a tribute not only to the contribution Indian Christians such as Joseph Baptista, Madhusudan Das, SK Rudra, JC Kumarappa, SK Datta and many others made to aspects of the struggle, it was also a momentous triumph of the concept of equal respect for all religions. The Gandhi-led struggle in India against British colonialism, conducted for nearly three decades at the mass level in the first half of the 20th century, did not take on an anti-Christian character. On the contrary, the manner in which Indian nationalists popularised the message of the Sermon on the Mount has never happened in any country that is not predominantly Christian.

Humanism is the key element in the making of a secular state. The religious neutrality stipulated in the 1931 Karachi Resolution did not mean that the state would stand by while people did what they liked in the name of each religion. The state cannot be neutral between humanistic and anti-humanistic religious impulses. It would respect religion; but it would also offer a humanistic critique of it. [19] Constitutional safeguards for minorities are important, but these, too, rest upon the existence in society of feelings of equal respect for all religions.

The notion of equal respect must therefore be carefully absorbed and understood. It may be further refined. It may be supplemented. It must never be dismissed. In some respects, it goes beyond many European secularisms, which rest primarily on a reduced visibility of the religious element even as the idea of a privileged official religion is retained in the state and the laws, as was the case with the blasphemy law in England. This offence was abolished in England only as late as in 2008.

In Europe, in the days of Galileo, there was a conflict between reason and organised religion, between scientific inquiry and established religious doctrine. Translated to the 20th century, which side would Gandhi be on? Gandhi himself believed that an ounce of practice was worth considerably more than several times the entire weight of written work. So highly did he prize praxis over prose that at one point he said that his life was his message; and that so far as his writings were concerned people could burn them for all he cared. [20]

Gandhi appears to have begun to think about the place of reason early enough. He wrote in Young India on 21 July, 1920: “I should clear the ground by stating that I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality. I tolerate unreasonable religious sentiment when it is not immoral” [ (CWMG), Vol. 18, p. 73].

Incidentally, this is a somewhat original and creative position. It is helpful in finding the balance, which every secular and plural society has to strike between permitting religious freedom and insisting on equality. In 1921 Gandhi wrote: “But scriptures cannot transcend reason and truth.

They are intended to purify reason and illuminate truth. I am not going to burn a spotless horse because the Vedas are reported to have advised, tolerated, or sanctioned the sacrifice. For me, the Vedas are divine and unwritten. ‘The letter killeth’. It is the spirit that giveth the light” (Young India, 19 January, 1921, CWMG, Vol. 19 p. 243).

Four years later, he was even more emphatic: “Every formula of every religion has, in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for universal assent. Error can claim no exemption, even if it can be supported by the scriptures of the world” (Young India, 26 February, 1925, CWMG, Vol. 26, p. 202).

There are many more statements by Gandhi to similar effect, but I’ll mention only a few more. He writes of man: “... that it is man’s special privilege and pride to be gifted with the faculties of head and heart both; that he is a thinking, no less than a feeling, animal, as the very derivation of the word manushya shows, and to renounce the sovereignty of reason over the blind instincts is therefore to renounce a man’s estate” (Harijan, 21 November, 1936, CWMG, Vol. 64, pp 61-62). Again, he says: “I exercise my judgement about every scripture, including the Gita. I cannot let a scriptural text supersede my reason” (24 November, 1936, reproduced in Harijan, 5 December, 1936, CWMG, Vol. 64, p. 75).

Gandhi does not hesitate to criticise the Smritis, including some texts from Manu. Referring specifically to many of these texts, he says: “It is sad to think that the Smritis contain texts which can command no respect from men who cherish the liberty of woman as their own and who regard her as the mother of the race...” (Harijan, 28 November, 1936, CWMG, Vol. 64, p.85).

Gandhi, therefore, affirms reason. He is not opposed to free inquiry. On the contrary, few non-atheist or non-agnostic thinkers in the 20th century have gone this far in support of reason. Indeed, I cannot immediately think of any other. In contrasting India to Catholic Europe, Gandhi makes an important point that has some historical relevance. He remarked in Lausanne on 8 December, 1931: “... in Catholic Europe the iron discipline allows very little free play to the intellect. These... difficulties we have not to face in India which you have to face” (CWMG, Vol. 48, p. 401).

Whether or not this remark was true for the time in which Gandhi made it, it is certainly true that, historically, the struggles which Galileo, for instance, had to conduct with the organised church in the realm of science have not — at least not so far — had a counterpart in India.

The specificity of Gandhi’s position lies not in a denial of reason or of free inquiry but in the fact that he does not exclude faith and refuses to make an a priori rejection of intuition. And he sounds some cautions regarding reason. The frequent and widespread phenomenon of intellectual corruption suggests that there may be something salutary to these cautions.

Before mentioning these, it is necessary to recall that Gandhi’s primary contribution to the 20th century was the concept and repeated demonstration of mass non-violent struggle. How does Gandhi see such struggles? He sees them as a dual appeal to reason and to the sympathetic chord of the opponent. Gandhi criticises the use of violent methods precisely because they abandon the method of reasoning. In March 1931, he told those who propagated violent methods: “But if you want to carry the country with you, you ought to be able to react on it by reasoning with it. You cannot do so by coercion. You may deal destruction to bring the country round to your view. But how many will you destroy? Not tens of millions. You may kill a few thousands if you had millions with you. But today you are no more than a handful. I ask you to convert the Congress if you can and to take charge of it” (speech at a labour meeting, 16 March, 1931, Young India, 26 March, 1931, CWMG, Vol. 45, p. 299).

Gandhi’s critique of the persistence of an attitude that would lead to apartheid is similar. In a message given to a delegation from South Africa on 18 May, 1947, Gandhi remarked: “The future is surely not with the so-called white races if they keep themselves in purdah. The attitude of unreason will mean a third war, which sane people should avoid. Political co-operation among all the exploited races in South Africa can only result in mutual goodwill, if it is wisely directed and based on truth and nonviolence” (Harijan, 25 May, 1947, CWMG, Vol. 87, p. 492).

While asserting the place of reason he does not wish to exclude an appeal to the heart. Indeed, he makes that a vital component of his strategy. He wrote to the British writer Reginald Reynolds on 23 February, 1931:

“Remember too that satyagraha is a method of carrying conviction and of converting by an appeal to reason and to the sympathetic chord in human beings. It relies upon the ultimate good in every human being, no matter how debased he may be for the time being” (CWMG, Vol. 45, pp 221-222). Thus, an appeal to reason is a critical element of the main weapon of political struggle for which Gandhi is celebrated.

Now some cautions. Gandhi’s position is carefully moulded. He described himself as a “practical idealist”, a “doer” (Young India, 11 August, 1920, CWMG, Vol. 18, p. 133; Letter to Pierre Martin, 16 May, 1947, CWMG, Vol. 95, p. 137). This means, firstly, that for him there is a scale of priorities. He knows he cannot take on everything. So, he tells us:

“My unconventionality I carry to the point of rejecting the divinity of the oldest Shastras if they cannot convince my reason. But I have found by experience that if I wish to live in society and still retain my independence, I must limit the points of utter independence to matters of first-rate importance” (Young India, 14 July, 1920, CWMG, Vol. 18, p.44).

Secondly, related to the first, Gandhi is prepared to tolerate, as distinct from approving, even things that do not pass the test of reason if they are otherwise harmless. Thirdly, while reason is accepted, and is even made a litmus test for scripture itself, Gandhi is aware of possibilities of the abuse of reason. He warns: “Just as matter misplaced becomes dirt, reason misused becomes lunacy” (Young India, 14 October, 1926, CWMG, Vol. 31, p. 496).

Finally, at the individual level, Gandhi believes that reason provides only weak defences in the face of temptations; here faith to him is necessary. He writes: “Reason is a poor thing in the midst of temptation. Faith alone can save us... The fact is that reason is blurred on such occasions. It follows the instinct” (Harijan, 18 December, 1939, CWMG, Vol. 71, p. 46).

Gandhi, therefore, affirms reason, but does not concede that reason is an exclusive determinant of the entire sphere of the rational or good human life. According to him: “Attribution of omnipotence to reason is as bad a piece of idolatry as is worship of stock and stone believing it to be God” (ibid., pp 496-497). Reason is, therefore, necessary but may be insufficient. To Gandhi, reason is a good and useful guide, but he is suspicious of sophistry and wants the conclusions reached through reason to be ratified also by the “heart”. Here, he introduces also a concept of self-suffering in support of a cause he considers justified by reason.

He opened his own heart to the Quakers, whom he addressed in Birmingham on 18 October, 1931. He told them: “Nobody has probably drawn up more petitions or espoused more forlorn causes than I, and I have come to this fundamental conclusion that, if you want something really important to be done, you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also. The appeal of reason is more to the head, but the penetration of the heart comes from suffering. It opens up the inner understanding in man. Suffering is the badge of the human race, not the sword” (Young India, 5 November, 1931, CWMG, Vol. 48, p. 189).

He explained to them the change in his own attitude towards English rule and the manner in which his passive resistance or satyagraha sought through self-suffering to supplement the appeal to reason: “The disillusionment came in 1919 after the passage of the Black Rowlatt Act and the refusal of the government to give the simple elementary redress of proved wrongs that we had asked for. And so, in 1920, I became a rebel.

Since then, the conviction has been growing upon me that things of fundamental importance to the people are not secured by reason alone but have to be purchased with their suffering” (ibid., pp. 188-189).

Reason is a test he applies to himself, to his followers, to the imperial government and, as seen above, to the violent revolutionaries. Gandhi could say: “Valuing my freedom and independence, I equally cherish them for others. I have no desire to carry a single soul with me if I cannot appeal to his or her reason” (Young India, 14 July, 1920, CWMG, Vol. 18, p. 44). He could tell his co-workers: “Until your reason is convinced of what I say, you should follow your own path. I know that you are dedicated to truth and, therefore, I am sure that you will realise the truth ultimately” (letter dated 14 December, 1930, CWMG, Vol. 44, p. 381). And again: “I would like all co-workers to test with their reason all I say. When faith becomes blind it dies” (Harijan, 6 April 1940, CWMG, Vol. 71 p. 378).

When the British Indian government resorted to arbitrary ordinances, Gandhi, invoking an old Indian axiom, wrote: “The government is acting like one who is doomed to destruction and whose reason, therefore, is perverted, for it has been issuing all sorts of arbitrary ordinances” (15 February 1931, CWMG, Vol. 45, p. 177).

Prayer and moral faith have a place in his scheme of things, without necessarily displacing reason. Only on the question of the existence of God he seems to believe that this may be a matter beyond reason (Harijan, 5 Dec. 1936, CWMG, Vol. 64, p. 75).

“My life,” Gandhi declared, “is largely governed by reason and, when it fails, it is governed by a superior force, that is, faith” (4 December, 1932, CWMG, Vol. 52, p. 114). But there is a complex dynamic at work here.

While reason needs to be ratified by faith, the latter, even though freely and independently operating in its own sphere (which he would even concede may be a superior sphere), can only be “enforced” by reason. Gandhi writes: “My reason follows my heart. Without the latter it would go astray.

Faith is the function of the heart. It must be enforced by reason. The two are not antagonistic as some think” (Harijan, 6 April, 1940, CWMG, Vol. 71, p. 377). Thus, circumscribing the manner of “enforcement” of faith, he reintroduces the control of reason upon it. This limitation is especially relevant in the current context, particularly in India, where certain groups have been seeking to place matters of their faith beyond the reach of the law. [21]

“Intuition is lame if it is not supported by reason,” Gandhi wrote on 25 June, 1946 in a diary of thoughts he had begun to maintain at the instance of Anand Hingorani. [22] Thus, for Gandhi the real issue is the practice on the ground.

“You unnecessarily fear that service for the good of humanity might, in my opinion, be less than prayer. Laborare est orare (to work is to pray), (if) that labour is in the service of humanity,” he writes on 23 November, 1947 to Dr Arnold Heim (CWMG, Vol. 95, p. 170). [23] The traditional Benedictine motto is Ora et Labora (or ’pray and work’). Gandhi’s relationship with atheists may also be noted. This was, in many ways, remarkable. He was drawn to the British atheist Charles Bradlaugh. On 3 February, 1891 Gandhi attended Bradlaugh’s funeral at Woking, near London. [24] He continued to refer to Bradlaugh, who himself had been sympathetic to Indian political aspirations, warmly throughout his life.

Gandhi must have come under Bradlaugh’s influence, or at least for a while become a sceptic, for in a speech on 27 June, 1914 prior to leaving South Africa, Gandhi referred “to the period 21 years ago” when he first came “to this country, an agnostic” (CWMG, Vol. 12, p. 436). He read widely, but ultimately it was the reading of Tolstoy that may have restored, and certainly settled, Gandhi’s faith. It set up, for him, possible points of reconciliation between Hinduism and Christianity and also made him a seeker, after Tolstoy, of the essence of religion. Among other influences, the scepticism of Bradlaugh and the positive but critical faith of Tolstoy both certainly went into the making of the religion of Gandhi.

In practical life, experimentation was a central theme of many of Gandhi’s activities. Goparaju Ramachandra Rao or “Gora”, the famous Indian atheist, wrote extensively on Gandhi. He wrote that Gandhi “was pre-eminently a practical man. As a practical man, he took any situation as it obtained with all its paradoxes. He never sat down to scan and to sift its contradictions intellectually; but he moved the whole situation towards the ideal of happiness for all mankind. He condemned nothing beforehand lest a good cause should be lost by bad judgement. He only let things drop when they could not bear the strain of progress. Practice was his test of fitness.

He subordinated intellectual and sentimental considerations to practical purposes. He tested a system of medicine by the cure it effected; he tested the advocate of the cause by the work he turned out; he allowed me to dissect a frog when it served a practical purpose.” [25]

Gora observed that the emphasis on practice was the meeting point between Gandhi and himself [26] and he mentions some incidents. Gora records that when he was with Gandhi at the Sevagram ashram he was asked to teach science to the nurses at the dawakhana, the hospital attached to the ashram. [27] In the course of this work, Gora wanted to dissect a frog “to demonstrate the phenomenon of heart beat to the nurses’ class, which I was teaching. The nurses objected to the dissection on the grounds that it went against the principle of non-violence (ahimsa)”. [28] The issue was placed before Gandhi and Gora writes that Gandhi replied: “Dissect the frog, if that is the only way to explain the heart-beat.” [29] He adds: “And I dissected a frog.” [30]

Gora writes: “The other instance related to my daughter, Manorama’s, marriage with Arjunarao. She wanted to marry an ‘untouchable’ on principle to establish castelessness. Gandhi agreed to get the marriage performed in Sevagram ashram, as it conformed to his vow of blessing marriages between untouchables and non-untouchables only. He also accepted to replace mention of god with truth, in deference to the needs of my atheism. Further, my wife, children and atheist associates did not attend the regular prayers of Sevagram ashram. Gandhi did not mind our absence. Evidently, doing work was more important to him than repeating the name of god.” [31]

Gora asks: “Why then did Gandhi conduct prayers so regularly and mention god so frequently?” [32] According to Gora: “The reason is clear. He was conventionally a believer in god by early training, even as I was. He continued the habit in so far as it did not stand in the way of his work. He was more concerned with real practice of programmes than with intellectual perfecting of principles. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to revise an old habit whenever a present situation needed the change. He started with the common Raghupati Raghav type of god. As he pushed forward, he held that god was truth. But in 1931 he said, ‘I went a step further and said truth is god. You will see the fine distinction between the two statements, namely that god is truth and truth is god. In fact, it is more correct to say that truth is god than to say that god is truth.’ He made the change to meet the objection of rationalist workers. In 1925 itself, when a conscientious objector protested against the mention of god in the Congress pledge, Gandhi answered, ‘So far as the conscientious objection is concerned, the mention of god may be removed, if required, from the Congress pledge of which I am proud to think I am the author. Had such an objection been raised at the time, I would have yielded at once’. In the case of my daughter’s marriage, he dropped the mention of god altogether from the pledge.” [33]

In conclusion, Gora has this to say: “Therefore, Gandhi was not that superstitious as he appeared to be by the conduct of prayers. Leading millions of illiterate, downtrodden and tradition-bound common people of India towards the goal of swaraj or freedom, he was ‘hastening slowly’ in changing old ways which were of no immediate concern.” [34]

Gora writes of Gandhi: “In essence, he was not a Hindu. He was basically a human. In the sea of humanity, a human is a rarity. Cut up by labels of race and nationality, class and culture, caste and religion, humanity has become highly sectarian. There is hardly a place for a human to live. So, Gandhi was eliminated.” [35] He adds: “Emphasis on practice as the test of truthfulness, openness of mind for progressive change, and humanness transcending were the characteristics of Gandhi that took me to him.” [36]

Gandhi faced the wrath of orthodox Hindus for, on one occasion, putting a calf to sleep and thereby, as they saw it, offending against their faith in the holiness of the cow. Gandhi described this incident to an African-American, Professor Benjamin Mays, as follows: “A calf was lame and had developed terrible sores; he could not eat and breathed with difficulty. After three days’ argument with myself and my co-workers, I put an end to its life.

Now that action was non-violent because it was wholly unselfish, inasmuch as the sole purpose was to achieve the calf’s relief from pain. Some people have called this an act of violence. I have called it a surgical operation. I should do exactly the same thing with my child, if he were in the same predicament” (Harijan, 20 March, 1937, CWMG, Vol. 64, p.224). The incident itself was dealt with at length by Gandhi some nine years earlier in Young India, 4 October, 1928: “The suffering of the animal was so great that it could not even turn its side without excruciating pain” (CWMG, Vol. 37, p. 310).

Significantly, Gandhi placed Gopalrao Valunjkar, who belonged to the Brahmin “upper caste”, in charge of leather work, which was traditionally considered polluting and therefore customarily done only by the Dalits, or Harijans, or scheduled castes as they are also called (CWMG, Vol.61, Letter to Narahari D. Parikh, 26 September 1935, pp.449-450).

Contrary to an impression that is sometimes created, Gandhi was not innocent of the scientific temperament or a recognition of the need for technological change. He promoted village industries and improvements in local technologies. Gandhi was a close observer of technical change, especially those related to his fields of activity. Of the handspun and handwoven cloth (khadi) that he had sought to popularise, Gandhi wrote in 1928: “Many people believe through ignorance that nothing whatever can be learnt from the industrial techniques used by mills, while others have assumed that khadi of any quality would pass muster” (Navajivan, 16 December, 1928, CWMG, Vol. 38, p. 230).

The famous American journalist William Shirer reported for the Chicago Tribune from India and also from England. In his memoir, Shirer records a comment that Gandhi made to him after visiting textile mills in England in 1931. Gandhi said the English were using antiquated technology.37 [37] He would tell foreign visitors: “If you dangle your millions before us, you will make beggars of us and demoralise us. But in one thing I do not mind being a beggar. I would beg of you your scientific talent” (Answers to Questions,1 December, 1936, CWMG, Vol. 64, p.99).

The khadi programme was intended to generate some income, especially for the poor and underemployed in rural India. Gandhi commended a scientific attitude and held up Galileo and Newton as examples. Referring to them, he wrote in 1941: “A khadi worker should adopt a similar scientific attitude. Newton or Galileo did not ponder over the problem of Daridranarayana and of serving Daridra Narayan. They followed an intellectual quest. The khadi worker has however to find a solution to the problem of feeding the hungry masses. That is why their attitude should be all the more scientific” (CWMG, Vol. 74, pp 270-279).

He had already honed his position on machinery: “I would prize every invention of science made for the benefit of all. I should not care for the asphyxiating gases capable of killing masses of men at a time. The heavy machinery for work of public utility, which cannot be undertaken by human labour, has its inevitable place, but all that would be owned by the state and used entirely for the benefit of the people. I can have no consideration for machinery which is meant either to enrich the few at the expense of the many, or without cause to displace the useful labour of many” (Harijan, 22 June, 1935, CWMG, Vol. 61, p. 187). [38] “How useful it would be,” he said in August 1945, “if the engineers in India were to apply their ability to the perfecting of village tools and machines. This must not be beneath their dignity” (CWMG, Vol. 81, p.130).

The charge of unreason has been thrown at Gandhi, largely because of the statements he made at the time of the Bihar and Quetta earthquakes in 1934-35 and the great Bengali litterateur Rabindranath Tagore’s immediate condemnation of these. Gandhi, immersed in his anti-untouchability campaigns, had attributed the Bihar earthquake to divine retribution for the practice of untouchability. Though the statement is often recalled, it was atypical of Gandhi, except in the general sense of the popular Hindu belief that everything is divinely ordained. Tagore himself admitted that Gandhi’s argument “far better suits the psychology of his opponents than his own”. [39] Indeed, Gandhi’s statements on reason as an essential test for scriptures are perhaps unmatched by Tagore himself.

Gandhi criticised the blood sacrifices made in the name of the goddess Kali. He was disgusted by such sacrifices when he came across them on his visit to Calcutta in 1901 and continued to oppose them publicly and privately. [40] He returned to the subject in 1913, describing the practice as obnoxious (CWMG, Vol. 12, p 155). Referring to the practice, Gandhi wrote in his autobiography: “I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to the protection of man from the cruelty of man” (CWMG, Vol. 39, p.190). He addressed the Humanitarian League on 31 December, 1917 and reiterated his opposition to animal sacrifice in the name of Hinduism (CWMG, Vol. 14, p.121 and p.154). Later, on 3 February, 1934, he was to make a similar point in Ottupatrai in South India where Harijans or Dalits were given to this practice in the name of Kali (CWMG, Vol. 57, p. 106).

Gandhi and Tagore shared a similar attitude in looking for the essence or spirit of a scriptural text. In a letter from Johannesburg on 7 August, 1913, Gandhi used strong language: “We need not assume that all our shastras have been written after careful thinking and from knowledge... If by the term shastra we mean that alone which contains perfect knowledge, then, of course, we can say that all shastras have been written from knowledge.

From this point of view, any shastra which mentions human sacrifice etc should be taken to be mere ignorance. The idea may have been interpolated in the genuine shastras at some later time... It is the concern of the historian; we, on the other hand, should look for the essence, the spirit of every text or utterance. Why should we put ourselves to the bother of reading sense in their nonsense in the belief that all shastras are shastras [in fact]” (CWMG, Vol. 12, p.155)?

Gandhi spoke out repeatedly against prevailing social mores on marriage. While in South Africa he had already written against the “cruel practice of kanya-vikraya”, the demand of a price for girls offered in marriage (Indian Opinion, 23 April, 1910, CWMG, Vol. 10, p.227). He criticised child marriage, saying that ordinarily “a girl under 18 years should never be given in marriage”, supported legislation raising the age of consent and warned that laws would not suffice: public opinion would have to be created (Young India, 26 August, 1926, CWMG, Vol. 31, p. 330).

Interestingly, his own marriage to Kasturba had been a child marriage. When a religious text was sought to be invoked in support of child marriage, Gandhi said: “But even if the texts ordering child, as opposed to early (for early marriage means marriage well before 25), marriage be found to be authoritative, we must reject them in the light of positive experience and scientific knowledge” (Young India, 9 September, 1926, CWMG, Vol. 31, p. 380).

Gandhi was inclined to treat some gross cases as void from the beginning: “The least that a parent, who has so abused his trust as to give in marriage an infant to an old man in his dotage or to a boy hardly out of his teens, can do is to purge himself of his sin by remarrying the daughter when she becomes widowed. As I have said in a previous note, such marriages should be declared null and void from the beginning.” (Young India, 11 November, 1926, CWMG, Vol. 32, p. 22).

A lawyer from Gujranwala, a town now in Pakistan, sought Gandhi’s advice on a legal problem arising from what was apparently the farcical “marriage” of his sister. Gandhi’s advice was blunt: “If you have enough courage, the remedy is incredibly simple. Your sister should ignore the so-called marriage and take a suitable person for a husband... When a girl is given in marriage without her knowing the person, that ... is no marriage according to law” (letter dated 23 September, 1929 to Ratanlal Tara, CWMG, Vol. 92, supplementary Vol. 2, p. 84).

Gandhi was critical of deti-leti, the practice of dowry-seeking by prospective husbands, or money payments by the wife’s relatives at the time of marriage. He told students that he expected them “to boycott deti-leti once and for all” (Young India, 14 March, 1929, CWMG, Vol. 40). He condemned the practice of sati or widow self-immolation (Young India, 21 May, 1931, CWMG, Vol. 46, pp 73-75). He mocks the practice, saying: “Yet we have never heard of a husband mounting the funeral pyre of his deceased wife. It may therefore be taken for granted that the practice of the widow immolating herself at the death of her husband had its origin in superstitious ignorance and the blind egotism of man. Even if it could be proved that at one time the practice had a meaning, it can only be regarded as barbarous in the present age. The wife is not the slave of the husband but his comrade, otherwise known as his better half, his colleague and friend.

She is a co-sharer with him of equal rights and of equal duties. Their obligations towards each other and towards the world must, therefore, be the same and reciprocal.” Three days after the publication of this article, Gandhi wrote to Premnath Bazaz of Kashmir in support of widow remarriage, even outside their caste if necessary. He said young men should treat this as a kind of satyagraha (CWMG, Vol. 46, p. 213). On 29 January, 1935 he said: “I insist on the industrial education of girls. That will make them independent” (CWMG, Vol. 60, p. 125).

Criticising female infanticide, Gandhi formulated a principle of social responsibility that bears repetition in today’s context: “We consider ourselves Indians and we believe ourselves to be one nation and persuade others to believe so. Therefore, whether from the point of view of religion or of patriotism, we are one; the responsibility of the misconduct of anyone falls on all of us. For this reason, we are all responsible for the infanticide of girls among Rajputs, whether we are Rajputs or from any other community” (Harijan Sevak, 4 July, 1936, CWMG, Vol. 63, p. 117). His criticism of the practice of nose-piercing and ear-piercing is noteworthy: “Why increase artificial differences between boys and girls?

Are there many parents amongst us who get the ears of both their boys and girls pierced? Why then show this favour to, or inflict this tyranny on, girls alone” (from Gujarati) (Harijanbandhu, 6 December 6, 1936, CWMG, Vol. 64, p. 109)? In such piercing of women’s noses and ears, Gandhi saw “a symbol of their slavery” (ibid., p. 110).

Even as late as the 1950s there were fierce debates in India about reform of Hindu and other laws to give equal status to women. Gandhi, for his part, had declared as early as 17 October, 1929: “But I am uncompromising in the matter of woman’s rights. In my opinion she should labour under no legal disability not suffered by man. I should treat the daughters and sons on a footing of perfect equality” (CWMG, Vol. 42, pp.4-5). The impact of such statements on orthodoxy can well be imagined. This writer can recall Hindu orthodox elements, even in the early 1970s, still fuming over the legal reforms in the late 50s, which placed daughters on the same footing as sons in the matter of succession to property.

Of the Manusmriti, Gandhi wrote: “When I read this book, whilst I was stirred by many verses of moral beauty, I was repelled by several verses, which seemed to be so wholly contrary to the spirit of the moral teaching” (7 Feb. 1933, CWMG, Vol. 53, p. 241).

The social revolutionary Gandhi was acknowledged as such by his contemporaries, though in recent years the focus has been mainly on those who were often not well-disposed toward him. [41] The educationist Zakir Husain, who had been a leading figure in the Gandhi-inspired movement for basic education and was later to be president of India, told an interviewer in 1957: “Gandhiji was one of the most rational thinkers I have come across.” [42] The basic education movement inspired by Gandhi had brought together leading educationists like Husain himself, EW Aryanayakam and Asha Devi. It was based primarily on Gandhi’s view that: “The utterly false idea that intelligence can be developed only through book reading should give place to the truth that the quickest development of the mind can be achieved by artisan’s work being learnt in a scientific manner” (Harijan, 9 January, 1937, CWMG, Vol. 64, p. 219). Dada Ganeshi Lal, an old Indian socialist and freedom fighter, was one of the first in Punjab to organise the agricultural tenants or muzaras. Ganeshi Lal used to say: “Swami Dayanand had dyed me bhagwa (saffron/red), Gandhiji washed it white.” [43]

Gandhi’s contemporary, the Marxist socialist Narendra Deva (1889-1956), was the doyen of the Indian socialist movement. Narendra Deva maintained that Gandhi was “in no sense an orthodox Hindu. On the contrary, he breaks almost every rule and practice enjoined by orthodox Hinduism”. [44]

The socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia wrote of Gandhi in an essay on Hinduism in July 1950: “Never had a Hindu delivered greater blows on fanaticism in respect of caste, woman, property or tolerance.” [45] Rahul Sankrityayan (1893-1963), the scholar who was also in the Congress Socialist Party and, along with Narendra Deva, a co-translator into Hindi of the Communist Manifesto, wrote an essay during Gandhi’s lifetime titled Buddha and Gandhi. In this essay, Sankrityayan, while stressing the philosophical pre-eminence of the Buddha, acknowledged the evolution of Gandhi, that Gandhi had struggled for the benefit of “Bahujans” and that he had in his lifetime to face difficulties, which even the Buddha perhaps did not face. Sankrityayan called upon Gandhi to focus on the economic class struggle, which, according to Sankrityayan, would take Gandhi even beyond the achievements of Buddha himself. [46]

These were, perhaps, appropriate comments on one whose long praxis had led him to the conclusion that: “Humanism is true religion” (24 June, 1947, CWMG, Vol. 88, p. 203).

[1See Anil Nauriya, ‘Gandhi and Humanism: Some Notes on Gandhi and Reason’, Humanist Outlook, Winter 2003, Vol. 10, No 6

[2D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Volume 3, Publications Division, New Delhi, 1961, pp, 87-88.


[4This argument has been elaborated earlier in Anil Nauriya, ‘The Hindutva Judgements: A Warning Signal’, Economic and Political Weekly, 6 January 1996. Pp. 10-13.

[5Speech on Fundamental Rights, Karachi Congress, 31 March, 1931, Young India, 9 April, 1931, CWMG, Vol. 45, p. 373.

[6Indian Annual Register, 1931, Vol. 1, p. 279. The resolution moved by Gandhi is at pp. 277-278.

[7The Statesman, Delhi, July 8, 1951.

[8See Anil Nauriya, ‘Gandhi on Secular Law and State’, The Hindu, 22 October 2003.

[9See Anil Nauriya, ‘Gandhi on Secular Law and State’ supra.

[10It is not unusual to come across writings that pit Gandhi’s and Nehru’s ideas against one another in this context rather than see their complementarity and, with regard to the secular state, their congruence. As an instance, see B. Cossman and R. Kapur, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 31, No 38 ( Sept 21, 1996), pp. 2613-2630 at p. 2621. But the trend is an older one and has gotten entrenched by the omission of Gandhi’s views on the secular state. It is instructive on this point to notice an earlier study: Bidyut Chakrabarty (ed.), Secularism and Indian Polity, Segment Publishers, New Delhi, 1989. There are 26 contributors to the book edited by Chakrabarty. Many of them have referred to Gandhi and his views on equal respect for all religions. Yet only one (Satish Chandra, the historian from Jawaharlal Nehru University) touched, albeit tangentially, on Gandhi’s support for a religiously neutral state and then he too quickly changed the subject. [See Satish Chandra, ‘The Indian National Movement and the Concept of Secularism’, in Chakrabarty (ed.), pp. 69-81 at p,78] When I drew attention some years ago to Gandhi’s position on the religious neutrality of the State [Anil Nauriya, ‘Gandhi on Secular Law and State’, The Hindu, 22 October 2003], some academic writers failed to grasp the layering of Gandhi’s ideas at the levels of the individual, society, polity and the state. As an instance of the persisting and entrenched stereotyping, where Gandhi’s views on the religious neutrality of the state are lost in a quest to fit him exclusively into a “religiosity box” so as to set it against a “secularity box”, see Christine Deftereos, ‘Contesting Secularism: Ashis Nandy and the Cultural Politics of Selfhood’, Ph. D Thesis, University of Melbourne, 2009.

[12Report of the Committee appointed by the Conference to determine the principles of the Constitution of India, reprinted in Selected Works of Motilal Nehru, (Vol.. 6), Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1995, p. 75.

[13The literal translation of Nayee Taleem or Nai Taleem would be “New Education” which is perhaps also a truer description than “basic education” as the latter seems to draw attention to its primary character rather than to the novelty of its approach. See also Anil Sadgopal, ‘Nai Taleem: Gandhi’s Challenge to Hegemony’, Social Scientist, Vol. 47, Nos. 5-6, May-June 2019, pp. 9-30.

For an earlier work, see M.S. Patel, The Educational Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad,1953. For a very short compilation of some of Gandhi’s writings on the subject, see M.K. Gandhi (Bharatan Kumarappa (ed.), Towards NewEducation, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1953.

[14Gandhi’s prayer meetings, which were open to the public, were characterised by readings from diverse religions. In a letter to the Home Secretary, Government of Bombay, in 1933 Gandhi refers, inter alia, also to the establishment of his Ashrams in Ahmedabad in 1915 and 1916 and notes that ‘equal respect for all religions’ was one of the commitments required of the inmates there. (July 26, 1933, CWMG, Vol. 55, p. 301).

[15Gandhi’s references to the concept and practice of Equal Respect for all Religions relate to the social and individual levels. See, for example: (a) 26 July 1933, CWMG, Vol. 55, p. 301, (b) 5 May 1935, CWMG, Vol. 61, p. 38, (c) 22 February 1936, CWMG, Vol. 62, p. 202, (d) 1 June 1937, CWMG, Vol. 65, p. 261, (e) 4 May 1938, CWMG, Vol. 67, p.64, (f) 6 July 1938, CWMG, Vol. 67, pp. 154-155, (g) 16 July 1938, Harijan, CWMG, Vol. 67, p. 175, (h) 22 April 1940, CWMG, Vol. 72, p.18, (i) 5 July 1942, Harijan,CWMG, Vol. 76, p. 249, (j) 22 October 1945, CWMG, Vol. 81, p.405, (k) 1 November 1945, CWMG, Vol. 82, p. 4, (l) 24 November 1946, CWMG, Vol. 86, p. 155; and (m) 23 January 1948, CWMG, Vol. 90, p. 485.

[16For a discussion of the first of these propositions see Anil Nauriya, ‘Humanism and Secularism’, The Hindu, Chennai, 2 September, 1997.

[17For an account of this see Sadanand More, (Tr. Abhay Datar), Lokamanya to Mahatma, Sakal Publications, Pune, 2018,Vol II, pp. 1082-1089.

[18See, for instance, Gandhi‘s letter dated 1 June, 1937 to Narandas in which Gandhi writes: “If we see an error in any religion, why shouldn’t we point it out when occasion demands? That we must make sure that the occasion is proper, is a different matter.” (CWMG, Vol. 65, p. 261). It is significant in this context to note also Gandhi’s letter dated 1 November, 1945 to Mahadevshastri Divekar in which he remarks that “every religion contains both truth and untruth”. (CWMG, Vol. 82, p. 4).

[19Anil Nauriya, Relationship Between State and Religion: Antinomies of Passive Secularism, Economic and Political Weekly, 25 February, 1989.

[20Gandhi was reported as having said at a meeting in 1937: “As a matter of fact my writings should be cremated with my body. What I have done will endure, not what I have said or written” (Harijan, 1 May, 1937). Interestingly, if understandably, the editors of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi did not include this report in the relevant volume. Besides, Gandhi did say a couple of years later: “I flatter myself with the belief that some of my writings will survive me and will be of service to the causes for which they have been written” (Harijan, 27 May 1939).

[21See Anil Nauriya, ‘ The Dome to Protect is the Constitution’, The Hindu, March 20, 2019

[22Bapu Ke Ashirvad: A Thought For The Day, Publications Division, New Delhi, 1968.

[23The relevant page of CWMG, Vol. 95, has “prare” which appears to be a misprint for “orare”. Gandhi had studied Latin, so this is probably a printing or transcription error. I have no access to the original, presumably handwritten, letter.

[24H.S.L. Polak, H.N Brailsford, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Mahatma Gandhi, Odhams Press, London, 1949, p.19.

[25Gora, An Atheist with Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1951, pp 56-57.

[26Gora, We Become Atheists, Atheist Centre, Vijayawada, 1975, p.64.

[27Gora, An Atheist with Gandhi, p. 38

[28ibid., p. 40.



[31Gora, We Become Atheists, p. 65.


[33Gora, We Become Atheists, pp 65-66.

[34Gora, We Become Atheists, pp. 66-67.

[35Gora, We Become Atheists, p. 67.

[36Gora, We Become Atheists, pp 67-68.

[37William L. Shirer, Gandhi: A Memoir, Abacus, London, 1979, p.184.

[38See also Anil Nauriya, ‘On Gandhi’s Reflections During His Last Days: Some Socio-Economic and Political Aspects’, Social Scientist, 550-551, March-April 2019.

[39D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Vol3, Publications Division, New Delhi, 1961, p.250.

[40H.S. L. Polak, H.N Brailsford, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, MahatmaGandhi, Odhams Press, London, 1949, p.38.

[41There is an elaborate discussion by the late Panna Babu, leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party of India, of Gandhi’s revolutionary role; see Pannalal Dasgupta (Tr. K.V. Subrahmonyan), Revolutionary Gandhi, Earthcare Books, Kolkata, 2011.

[42Francis Watson and Maurice Brown, Talking of Gandhiji, Orient Longmans, Bombay, 1957, p. 15.

[43Prem Bhasin, Democratic Socialism: Profiles in Courage andConviction, Sneh Prakashan, Yamuna Nagar, India, 2000, p.220.

[44Hari Dev Sharma (ed.), Selected Works of Acharya Narendra Deva, Volume 2 (1941-1948), Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 1998, p.119.

[45R M Lohia, Fragments of a World Mind, Maitrayani, Calcutta, n.d., p.118.

[46Rahul Sankrityayan, “Buddha Aur Gandhi” reprinted in Rahul Sankrityayan, Ateet Se Vartaman, Hindi Pracharak Pustakalaya, Varanasi,
1965, pp 119-123.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.