Friday, August 13, 2010

My Mission

Author: Prof. M. P. Mathai

Published by: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 221-223, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 250.

Mahatma Gandhi's Worldview is the doctoral dissertation of Prof M. P. Mathai. Prof Mathai argues that in today's world in which the humanity is facing extinction, Gandhi's worldview has much more relevance than it had in his own day. Although Gandhi was primarily a karmayogi (man of action), his action was firmly founded on a very strong worldview. This worldview, sprouted in Gandhi's young mind as a passion for truth, slowly grew into a mighty tree absorbing nutrients from the best religio-philosophical systems in the world. Grounded on the Advaita-Vedanta Philosophy of oneness of all that exists, he identified the ultimate reality with God. Nature, therefore, is not an object to be exploited, but it is like our own body or our own mother that need to be taken care of. Human beings, regardless of their race, caste, color, or gender, are all God's temples, and therefore, deserve equal respect. His social goal was sarvodaya, which is the rise of all. And his plan of action was satyagraha, an earnest wish to reach the ultimate goal of truth through honest means.
Review by: John D. Kunnathu

MAHATMA GANDHI'S WORLD-VIEW: M.P. Mathai; Gandhi Peace Foundation, 221-223, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 250.

CONTEXTUALISING THE central theme of the book under review, its Marxist-turned Sarvodaya Gandhian, academic and activist, Prof. M.P. Mathai of the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, in his introduction, traces the present crisis in values that haunts the world to the debility of the dominant and divergent world-views, namely, religious (read spiritual) and scientific (read mechanical and materialistic). Hence, the emergence in recent times of a new perspective that in order to save humanity, ``a holistic world-view is needed which would synthesise the positive aspects of the experiments and experiences of the past.'' It is in this backdrop that Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy and programme of action can contribute substantially towards the construction of a holistic world-view, says the author.

Gandhiji's fundamental convictions of eternal Truth as God and non-violence as its true expression constitute a viable weltanschauung (a world-view) of far-reaching dimensions. For, the author convincingly argues, Gandhiji's is a holistic approach as he primarily emphasised the essential wholeness of life. Rejecting compartmentalisation of human activity, he told a group of Christian missionaries in 1938: ``The whole gamut of man's activities today constitute an indivisible whole. You cannot divide social, economic, political and purely religious work into water-tight compartments. I do not know any religion apart from human activity. It provides a moral basis to all other activities which they would otherwise lack, reducing life to a maze of sound and fury signifying nothing.'' (Harijan, Dec. 24, 1938)

Gandhiji's concept of Self-realisation as the ultimate goal of humankind is ably presented, with choice quotations, in the chapter ``Gandhian teleology''. The author pinpoints: ``Truth and its realisation through ``Anasakti-yoga'' (selfless action) thus constitute the core of Gandhi's weltanschauung. Self-realisation in fact is the pivot on which the whole system revolves...'' connecting the ``theoretical part of his world-view with the practical.''

As early as in 1926, Gandhiji asserted that ``moksha'' or self- realisation was impossible today without service of and identification with the poorest.'' What Gandhiji meant by service was not relief or charity, but radical restructuring of the present exploitative economic system. For the individual, as for the society, life was a great assent, a steady evolution from good to better and better to near-perfection.

In the chapter on ``Sarvodaya'', the author highlights removal of untouchability and emancipation of women as illustrative examples to drive home the point that a society may be said to be non- violent and thus conducive to the total development of the personality of all its members and to the fulfilment of the ultimate goal of life, only when evils like segregation and gender prejudices are totally eliminated from it.

In his lucid resume, the author points out that ``Gandhiji, like the old reformers and prophets, did not systematise his ideas... No one should be misted into believing that his actions were sporadic or merely contextual, unsupported by vision or thought.'' As Gandhiji himself said ``The root of all actions is in thought... Right action has its roots in right thoughts.'' He had also made it clear that ``Thought is never complete unless it finds expression in action and action limits your thought. It is only when there is perfect accord between the two that there is full, natural life.'' (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 53, p. 426 and Vol. 82, p. 153) In his life, precept and practice went hand in hand. That is why he said with confidence: ``My life is my message.''

By going through this book under review, a thoughtful reader can gain a more rounded perspective of Gandhiji's postulates.

Review by: La. Su. RENGARAJAN

Constructive Nonviolence

Yelena Filipchuk
"Gandhi was fully committed to the belief that while nonviolence had an impressive power to protest and disrupt, its real power was to create and reconstruct." - Michael Nagler, The Search for a Nonviolent Future
Dr. M.P. Mathai, a world-renowned Gandhian scholar and professor at the School of Gandhian Thought and Development Studies at the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, India, recently came to speak at UC Berkeley about the history and future of the Gandhian movement in India. His talk encompassed the far-reaching possibilities of constructive nonviolence, including a positive international response to 9/11 and different strands of Gandhian thought in India. Mathai continues to work with those who directly contributed to the independence movement and hopes to replicate the same type of liberation from centralized, authoritarian power for the villages of India. Fully embracing Gandhi's idea of self-sufficient improvement, he wants to bring development and personal empowerment back into the hands of the people.

Mathai opened with a historical overview of the Gandhian movement. At the beginning of India's fight for independence, all members of the Satyagraha (holding fast to truth) campaign were united under the common goal of ending British colonialism. There were those, of course, who were more active in the political realm, practiced civil disobedience, and lead the direct nonviolent resistance against the British. The other stream of the movement, who Mathai called "the silent service," helped pull the rural population, bereft of resources, out of extreme poverty. Gandhi's Constructive Program at the time of independence had over 80 arms and included aiding the cause of the untouchables, women, the elderly, and educating the youth in the methods of nonviolence.

However, the movement began to split and the members of the Indian National Congress distanced themselves from Gandhian ideas of social justice and the duties of the Satyagraha in favor of political and public life. So before his death in 1948, Gandhi expressed his vision for a nonviolent, peaceful, egalitarian Indian society and set up the Sarva Seva Sangh to carry it out. The organization, whose name means, "to serve all people," was to coordinate, provide funding for, and carry out all aspects of the Gandhian movement.

When Gandhi said, "corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today," he expressed his faith in self-rule but was cautious of the political process itself. Corruption on the national and local level soon began to wear away at the social fabric of India. Mathai explained that Gandhi had always been wary of the National Congress, perhaps because he foresaw a conflict between the government and his vision of development. Although, initially, Sarva Seva Sangh actively participated in the political process, in the atmosphere of rapid industrialization and economic progress, it was quickly marginalized.

Amidst the political emergency of the early 1970s, the Gandhian movement surged to the forefront of national debate. When Indira Gandhi began to centralize power in response to economic instability, opposition parties began to rally en masse. People took to the streets, union workers began to strike and plunged the country into a state of emergency. However, despite draconian government measures that attempted to stamp out popular resistance, Gandhi's influence could be seen everywhere. The right-leaning Janata power called on the police to resist the call of breaking up protests, and a huge rally surrounded Indira Gandhi's residence, demanding accountability and her resignation. Fearing the nonviolence movement's perceived radical nature, the government instituted a "commission of inquiry," what Mathai called a witch-hunt, to persecute the movement's supporters.

However, those in the "silent service" never ceased to serve the population of India and they became the base of the movement's second revival. Workers struggling for economic opportunity, farmers organizing for sustainable agricultural practices, and women coming together for social justice formed pockets of resistance to an increasingly deregulated market. Mathai expressed his apprehension about the economic growth that the government promised as the main channel to eradicate poverty and adamantly professed his fear that this would leave the rural population without any recourse to activate civil society organizations and reclaim access to their resources. To give these people a political voice, the Gandhian movement was reborn in the countryside. Organized officially in 1994, the National Alliance of Peoples' Movements struggled on behalf of those people who had been pushed to the periphery by economic globalization. The most triumphant victory for the movement was the closing of a Coca-Cola production facility that was poisoning river waters, draining underground reserves, and polluting the environment in Kerala, one of the most densely populated and poorest states of India.

However, the movement again began to lose steam without the guidance of a leader and a set of goals to which to aspire. This was when Mathai said he realized the problem plaguing any kind of progressive development was the lack of participation on the part of the younger generation. The trouble is not that they are apathetic or lazy; the trap that the youth falls into, he says, is the desire to live a propitious career life. Wanting to make a difference, they join political parties and are then co-opted by the system of power and corruption and forget their desire to change the system itself. He says that many people pay lip service to the movement but refuse to associate themselves with it. Radical intellectuals and Gandhian scholars sit comfortably in professorships or publishing houses and refuse to connect with the people they are trying to help. He derided this kind of armchair activism, saying that the most important part of the nonviolence movement was the practice of constructive work.

Mathai's greatest hope for the movement is what he called a global nonviolent reawakening. He wishes for the Gandhian movement to mark the point in history when a transformation begins to take place and people will unite under the goal of ending poverty and suffering all over the world. Mathai left us with the example of several students he knew that, immediately after graduating from one of the top engineering universities in India, moved to villages in rural India to work on water conservation and bringing renewable electricity directly to the people. These students contributed a couple years of their lives for the betterment of the world around them and embodied the Gandhian model of development.

His speech carried a resounding message for college students today: To make a difference in the world, one may have to sacrifice superfluous material things, "live simply so that others may simply live," and commit yourself to what you believe in.

A Ravindra Varma Festschrift

Edited by M.P. Mathai, M.S. John and Siby K. Joseph, Concept, 2002, Gandhian Studies and Peace Research Series 19, xx, 228 p, ISBN : 81-7022-961-8, $20.00 (Includes free airmail shipping)


Introduction/M.P. Mathai, M.S. John and Siby K. Joseph. I.

Impressions: 1. Ravi/N. Krishnaswamy. 2. Natural leader/Manoranjan Dutta. 3. A jewel in the Gandhian crown/Brij Mohan. 4. A very happy association/A.K. Damodaran. 5. The young Ravindra Verma/A.P. Mahadevan. 6. A dedicated Gandhian/K. Janardhanan Pillai. 7. A human dynamo/K. John Mamman. 8. Recalling our days in way/Piet Dijkstra. 9. An inspiring personality/S.K. Bandopadhaya. 10. A politician with a difference/Sadiq Ali. 11. My teacher/Sanjay Matey. 12. A unique personality/Neema Vaishnav.

II. Essays: 1. Social and environmental violence : a Buddhist perspective/Sulak Sivaraksa. 2. Gandhi’s lessons for the twenty-first century/Gene Sharp. 3. Honouring Gandhi and Gandhians/Peter van den Dungen. 4. Gandhi and Tolstoy/Anthony J. Parel. 5. Spiritual living, Gandhian economics and well-being/Romesh Diwan and Shakti Bethea. 6. Gandhi on modernity : a revisionist paradigm/K. Raghavendra Rao. 7. Is a Gandhian world social order desirable and possible?/T.K.N. Unnithan. 8. Breaking the shackles : Gandhi’s views on women/Usha Thakkar. 9. Development paradigm transition : from the second to the third millennium/Amalendu Guha. 10. Religion and nation-state : the untenable linkage/T.K.Oommen. 11. Education and living : the sustainability connection/K. John Mammen. Index.

"This festschrift in honour of well-known Gandhian, Ravindra Varma, provides a deep insight into his multi-dimensional personality and examines various aspects of Gandhian thought. The book is divided into two parts.

The first part, containing impressions and personal recollections of some of those who have privilege of knowing Ravindra Varma personally and intimately, throws a flood of light on the nature of involvement of Shri Varmaji in the national movement. The second part, having 11 papers by scholars of international repute covers a broad range of Gandhian themes including Gandhis views on spiritual living, economy modernity social world order women religion education nationalism and development paradigm, as also Gandhi’s lessons for the twenty-first century. A Buddhist perspective on social as well as environmental violence also makes part of this volume." (jacket)

We are all emotionally surcharged. The topic we deal today has an emotional content that is quite unusual in public deliberations. There is commercialization and commodification in almost all spheres of life from the 1970s. Its balance sheet is what is resounded in our environment. We all should seriously ask ourselves whether we should divide our society in fragments as it is happening around.

While A.K.Antoney was the Chief Minister of the State, he sanctioned all applications –26 of them in total – for professional colleges in private sector. “It was a deliberate decision to prevent bribes and back-door dealings” - was his rationale. Out of the 26 applicants, only five of them went to All India Medical Council for further approval. If Antoney had made an agreement with those managements with regard to the admissions and appointments, the present crisis would not have emerged. Remember, C.Achutha Menon, the former Chief Minister had done this with the managements in respect of direct payments.

I do not hold the view that the new legislation that has been introduced by the present regime to regulate private professional colleges is good in law. The dispute arises mainly on the definition given to minority educational institutions. This could have been averted.

I wish to challenge the values that have been imparted through these so-called minority institutions. How do you distinguish yourself from others? Basic values like love, honesty, compassion, truth, sense of justice, simplicity etc have become alien to the campus, including minority institutions. The mission of the churches in this milieu should not be profit-oriented, fiduciary business transactions only.

There is an inherent danger of higher values in consumerist culture. Even the churches are not free to sublimate the petty interests of the market. In this context, the churches should manifest the decency and humility to admit their helplessness and disposition that they are no more motivated by the evangelical call for service, but are inspired by the temptations of the market. Here again there is scope for dialogue. But do not turn your back to abject realities. It was possible in Karnataka State, why not then in Kerala?
Who should run the professional institutions for higher educations? What sort of education does the general public expect of them? We also should subject them to a social auditing to verify how best they had contributed for the making of a better society. I place on record my appreciation to Jananeethi for providing this forum for a healthy discussion, rather than dragging into a nasty war of words.

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