Gandhism and Multiculturalism in India

Gandhism and Multiculturalism in India


Gandhiji is a phenomenon in the history of mankind because he is the embodiment of certain human values which no culture of any region or nation can afford to ignore. Simplicity and sublimity in life style, nobility in thinking, global outlook, concern for others, humanistic perspective and ceaseless quest for truth are some of the unique qualities he represents. Since time immemorial India has emerged as a multicultural country. Multiculturalism in India is not an accident but a historical fact. India has been subjected to various foreign invasions and conquests; hence, Indian culture has assimilated the best of cultures of many races. Gandhiji, the humanist had appreciation of both the cultures : the native and the foreign. In the twenty first century when the power-drunk politicians, in the name of promotion of regional cultures want to divide the country a critical analysis of Gandian philosophy is a must . In this article a humble attempt is made to throw light upon Gandhian principles and his concepts like ‘Swaraj’, ‘Ramarajya’, ‘Sarvodaya’, ‘religious tolerance’ and ‘welfare of the disadvantaged groups’ which contribute to the sustenance of multiculturalism in India.

India is a multi-cultural state in which maintenance of unity in the midst of diversity is the pertinent issue. Multiculturalism as defined in Macmillan English Dictionary is, “the belief and practice of giving equal importance to each or different cultures in a society”. The respect for ‘the other’-specifically the practitioners of other cultures is not an easy issue in the twenty-first century when people have been self- centered, materialistic and ego – centric. In such a crucial time to preserve the integrity of Indian nation and quintessence of Indian culture is the main issue before the leaders of the country. Gandhiji, the father of Indian nation, was well- aware of the complexity of human psyche, imperfection of human nature and the problems that the multicultural country like India is to face. Hence he advocated certain principles which need to be followed in order to preserve the sanctity of multiculturalism in India.

This paper attempts at analyzing the problems and crises of multiculturalism and finds solution to them through the ways of living that Gandhiji, the father of nation, has advocated.

From time immemorial, India has emerged as a multicultural country . The people of different religions, languages, regions, dialects, castes and creeds inhabit it

. At present, it has more than 1650 mother-tongues belonging to five different language families, that is Austro-Asiatice, Dravidian, Indo-European, Semito Hermitice and Tibeto- Burman. The constitution of India recognizes 22 languages. In the curricula of school and colleges  it has also introduced a three language formula

: mother tongue (a regional language ) Hindi (a national language ), English(a international language). Such an introduction of three language formula has helped in the promotion of multiculturalism. Language is culture specific. If in a particular region an Indian learns three languages – regional, national and international he develops a fascination for diverse cultures – local, national and global – here lies the source for strengthening multiculturalism.

Homi K. Bhaba presents the conflict or crisis in a multicultural country in the following words :

In my writings , I’ve been arguing against the multiculturalist notion that you can put together harmoniously any number of cultures in a pretty mosaic. You cannot just solder together different cultural tradition to produce some brave new cultural identity. The current phase of economic and social history makes you aware of cultural difference not at the celebratory level of diversity but always at the point of conflict or crisis. (qtd. in Huddart 2007: 124).

The problem that Bhaba pictures cannot be ignored . Gandhism embodies the solution . Gandhi used to pose himself first as a man (global citizen), then as the citizen of India and finally as a man of Gujurat .Hence Gandhism is rooted in the culture of humanism rather than that in a specific regional culture. The problems related to culture identity and difference can be minimized if the people resort to tolerance. Gandhiji was the incarnation of tolerance. He tolerated his enemies like the British but did not appreciate the attitude of British. Hence he could bring independence to India through non- violent methods . Gandhiji’s view was that humanity is at the center and culture is meant for the promotion of welfare of all human beings. He was not a fanatic like Hitler. Hence his ideology suits multiculturalism in India.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes multiculturalism as an umbrella term to characterise the moral and political claims of a wide range of disadvantaged groups.’ Gandhiji was a champion of disadvantaged groups of India : the untouchables (Harijans), the low caste people , the primitive tribes , the women and so on . Gandhiji has fought for the uplift of the disadvantaged people of India which is clearly evident from his writing  in Young India (1.5.30):

The Swaraj of my …our …dream recognizes no race or religious distinctions. Nor is it to be the monopoly of the lettered persons not yet of moneyed men . Swaraj is to be for all including the former, but emphatically including the maimed, the blind, the starving toiling million. (qtd. in Roy : 76 )

Gandhiji’s advocacy of Swaraj was promoting the cause of the riff -raff of the society. It was also favouring the elites –the cream of the society. Thus it was conducive for the mingling of the cultures : the culture of the rich as well as the poor, the culture of the influential as well as of  the downtrodden.

In 1925 he wrote something in context of Swaraj in Young India which is favourable for the growth of multiculturalism :

…Real swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by the few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it abused. In other words

: Swaraj is to be obtained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.

Gandhiji’s political philosophy – the concept of Swaraj admits cultural diversity and maintenance of unity in the midst of diversity. In no way it promotes dictatorship which goes against the principles of multiculturalism. In Gandhiji’s concept of Swaraj the native has as much liberty as the immigrant does have ; the man has as much freedom as woman. Such a state  of affairs strengthens the roots of multiculturalism.

Gandhiji’s concept of religion corroborates to multicultural perspective. In his article Gandhi, Religion and Multiculturalism : An Appraisal, Siby K. Joseph quotes Gandhiji’s views from Hind Swaraj:

Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter if we take different roads as long as we reach the same goal? In reality, there are as many religions as there are individuals.

( ticles/ gandhi_religion.html)

Indeed Gandhiji respects the individuality in a person of any religion – be he Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Parse. He used to dine with the people of any social status. Indeed he upheld the quintessence of Hinduism. In Young India on 22nd December 1927 he wrote something which defends his stance of multiculturalism :

..Inspite of being a staunch Hindu, I find room in my faith for Christian, Islamic and Zoroastrian teaching; mine is a broad faith that does not oppose Christians- not even a Plymouth brother- not even the most fanatical Mussalman. It is a faith based on broadest possible toleration. I refuse to abuse a man for his fanatical deeds because I try to see them from his pont of view..It is a somewhat embarrassing position, I know- but to others, not to me!.

The above words of Gandhiji speak eloquently in favour of the existence of diverse religions and diverse cultures. Fanaticism is the enemy of multiculturalism. Gandhiji practised tolerance for all religions and advocated togive up fanaticism of all sorts. Thus he was paving the way for multiculturalism to flourish in a country like India.

Spirituality is the essence of religion. Gandhi was basically an advocate of spiritual practices . He was the exponent of the concept of the spiritualization of politics but not the reverse – the politicization of spirituality. In 1929 he made statements in context of Ramarajya which are worth analyzing in context of multiculturalism :

I warn my Mussalman friends against misunderstanding me in my use of the words ‘Ramaraj’. By Ramaraj I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by Ramaraj Divine Raj, the kingdom of God. For me Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. I acknowledge no other God but the one of the truth and rightness. Whether Rama of my imagination ever lived or not on this earth, the ancient ideal of Ramaraj undoubtedly one of true democracy in which the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice without an elaborate and costly procedure. (Young India

: 305)

The above passage sheds light upon   Gandhiji’s concept of Ramarajya (the Utopian ideal). Ideal conduct of each citizen – be he a Hindu or Muslim or Christian which is a must for materializing the concept of Ramarajya. It is a necessary condition for the sustenance of multiculturalism . Democracy can thrive in a multicultural country like India if the citizens tolerate the cultures and traditions of each section of heterogeneous population. Gandhiji’s worship of Rama, the ideal ruler and ideal man, is not without justifications necessary for the emotional integration of people in a multicultural nation like India.

The book India of My Dreams complied by R. K.Prabhu contains Gandhiji’s views on the concept of the Sarvodaya State which supports the cause of multiculturalism in India :

The state represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul , but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence …What I disapprove of is an organization based on force which a state is. Voluntary organization there must be . (p. 412)

Gandhiji was emphasizing persuasion rather than force as a method to be adopted for the progress of the nation. Hence he was focusing on the role of voluntary organizations. Indeed it is the voluntary organizations which can play significant roles in the maintenance of unity, harmony and peace in a multicultural state like India . Such organizations can sort out cultural differences between different tribes, religions and so on.

As regards the sustenance of multiculturalism in India Gandhiji’s views published in Young India dated 1st September 1921 are  worth analyzing. Gandhi views:

It stands for synthesis of the different cultures that have come to stay in India, that have influenced Indian life, and that, in their turn, have themselves been influenced by spirit of the soil. This synthesis will naturally be of the Swadeshi type, where each culture is assured its legitimate place, and not of the American pattern, where one dominant culture absorbs the rest, and where the aim is not towards harmony, but towards an artificial and forced unity.

Gandhiji expresses high opinion about multiculturalism in India. He views that there is proper synthesis of cultures in India. Indians are better attuned to multiculturalism than the Americans. He holds that harmony is the essence of Indian culture which is the amalgamation of several cultures. Gandhiji’s views are corroborated by Prof. V. K. Gokak who writes in his famous book India and World Culture :

For it is here, on Indian soil, that the pattern of the world culture of tomorrow is on the anvil for being fashioned in all its unity and complexity. (Cover Page.)

Multiculturalism in India highlights the essence of global culture because such a culture represents the best that has been said, thought and done in many parts of the globe. Gandhiji the father of the Indian Nation is the embodiment of the essence of diverse cultures if a particular culture is meant to represent a particular life style . It is he who reconciles the universal with the local and the temporal with the eternal. It is he who thinks globally but acts locally. Who does not know that Gandhiji, a conservative Vaisnava, used to pay as much attention to his goat as to the Governor of Great Britain. He had profound love for all the creatures, humans irrespective of their social status – here lies the uniqueness of a cultured Indian .

To conclude, at present, multiculturalism in any country of the world-America, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and above all India, is not without shortcomings. In many parts of the globe agitations are launched for recognition of ethnic identity and accommodation of cultural differences- India is not free from it. For the progress of a multicultural state, specially India, the adherence to Gandhian ideology and philosophy is necessary because no other political thinker has voiced about the need of sinking the cultural differences  as Gandhi has done.

Works Cited

Gandhi, M. K.Young India, 19.9. 29, p. 305: for a statement, Young  India, 28.5..31,p.126.  print.

Gandhi, M. K .Young India ,1.5.30, p.149 . print. Gokak. V.  K.   India and World  Culture.  Delhi:

Sahitya Academi, 1994(reprint).

Huddart, David . Homi K Bhaba. London & New York : Routledge, 2007.

Joseph, Siby k. “Gandhi, Religion and Multiculturalism : An Appraisalhttp://

Macmillan English Dictionary. Malaysia : Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2002. print.

Prabhu, R. K. (comp.) INDIA of My Dreams:M.K.Gandhi. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House , 2011(15th reprint.)

Roy, Krishna (Ed.) . Political Philosophy: East & West. New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 2003. print




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