A vision of true unity
The path to building true social cohesion in our divided times starts with educating the youth the Gandhian values of morality, spiritualism and humanism
In his epoch-making document, Hind Swaraj, published in 1909; young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi expressed serious reservations about what is generally known as modern/western civilisation: "It is a civilisation only in name. Under it, the nations of Europe are becoming degraded and ruined day by day. ..This civilisation takes note neither of morality nor of religion…. After twenty years of experience, I have come to the conclusion that immorality is often taught in the name of morality. … (This) Civilisation seeks to increase bodily comforts and fails miserably in doing so." He was very clear about his concept, life is not mere materialistic pursuits and acquisition, there is much more to it. This is generally expressed in terms of morals, ethics, values and character. If moral and ethical aspects are weak in both the content and process of teaching and learning during the sensitive years in schools, the personality development of the learner would be deficient on these aspects and hence, unacceptable aberrations would take over the vacant space. The measure of character development would be inadequate. Gandhi was prophetic in his vision. His life and events prove it beyond an iota of doubt. Globally, people are seriously studying him, analysing how he could be so accurate in his intuition. Why was he so insistent on character building, why he devoted so much of time and energy to his conceptualisation and experiments in basic education!
An exemplary lifelong learner, he devoted a full year to understand India, its people, its diversities and the thread of its inherent unity. He did so due to the advice of Gopal Krishna Gokhle after his return from South Africa. This understanding was mainly responsible for the transition of MK Gandhi to Mahatma Gandhi. The youth of India are missing this acquaintance with their people, culture, heritage and history. Most importantly, they remain unaware of the depth of the Indian tradition of knowledge quests which laid primary emphasis on man-nature relationship, serving others and devotion to spiritual pursuits. His primary concern was to give the last man in the line his due! Nothing was more important to him than retrieving him out of humiliation, hunger, poverty and social degradation. It emerged out of the Champaran movement and that one year travel around India!
As he became more aware of how India was being run — exploited, decimated and humiliated — by the British, he took a comprehensive view of the conditions existing at that stage and how these would emerge after India becomes free. It was this concern that led to him authoring the Seven Social Sins, which are eye-openers and far more relevant today for all those concerned about the survival of the planet earth and humanity! These are: Politics without principles; Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without Sacrifice. The global task ahead of nations, international organisations, professional institutions and people is to strive individually, and collectively, to substitute 'with' in the place of 'without' in all the seven sins mentioned above. That could pave the rainbow path to creating a value-based society and a world full of peace. The articulation of seven social sins is an anguished expression of deep concern on the inadequacy of the education system in values, ethics and morals.
Ancient Indian culture emphasised a value-based duty-oriented life. Morality, ethics and humanistic values were the basic postulates to move towards a life that values spirituality. Take the continuity of this emphasis on the value of aparigraha, non-accumulation. This could be comprehended best in this one-liner of Gandhi: "Nature has sufficient resources to meet the needs of everyone but not the greed of anyone." As moral values were not being internalised with sufficient conviction, people forgot that it is their prime responsibility to maintain and sustain the sensitive bond between man and nature. Globally, unbridled materialistic pursuits and neglect of the spiritualistic quest has led to widespread violence, distrust, destruction and devastation. In a globalised world, materialistic pursuits have overtaken the spiritual quest which stands relegated to backwaters. How could this tide be reversed? Most of the people shall come forth with one prescription, we need an education system that prepares the youth by duly imbuing them with moral, spiritual and humanistic values. This could, no doubt, be achieved provided education systems accept that true education 'draws the best out of body, mind and spirit'. The current system lays a premium only on grades and marks, ignoring the hand and heart completely. And that is the challenge before education. On the other side, the explosion of expectations from education, too, requires some moderation. Delors Commission Report, prepared at the behest of UNESCO in 1996, summarises it cogently: "The Commission does not see education as the miracle cure or a magic formula opening the doors to a world in which all ideals will be attained but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war."
It is always prudent to take a realistic view of issues and only then search for solutions. At the present juncture, it includes realisation and acceptance of the fact that different religions are a reality. Religions are not the only source of values but these are a major source of value inculcation, nurturance and development. The first requirement is to let the children know the basics of all religions. They should know the commonalities and learn to respect differences wherever these exist. Schools shall not take up dogmas and rituals, only basics. It would be seen that five values are common to all- Truth, peace, nonviolence, righteous conduct and love. This could usher in true secularism. No religion, no individual, no believers, no nonbeliever has ever said 'no' to these values. These are universal human values.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are strictly personal