With Gandhi's advent on the Indian scene in 1915, things began to change all round. Gandhi looked at social welfare in his own unique way. His ways, indeed, were unique, so much so that even as early as 1894 i.e. when he was just 25 years old, he wanted to help his compatriots in South Africa by saving them from blatant and crushing racial discrimination. This shows Gandhi's consideration of his fellow men even at that young age. Gandhi never equated happiness with economic prosperity and physical pleasure alone. His concept of the welfare of society was totally opposed to the utilitarian concept, viz. the greatest good of the greatest number. Gandhi said, "A votary of Ahimsa would strive for the greatest good of all and die in the attempt to realise this ideal. He would be willing to die so that others might live. He would serve the rest by dying himself. The greatest good of all, inevitably included the good of the greatest number, and, therefore, he and the utilitarian would converge on many points. But ultimately they would have to part company and even work in opposite directions. The utilitarian to be logical will never sacrifice himself. The absolutist will even sacrifice himself'. It is Gandhi's deep-rooted conviction that individual happiness lies in the happiness of society and vice-versa; and this is constantly seen in almost all his pronouncements regarding social welfare. He considered man superior to the system he propounded, and so he was against the system which brought about moral degradation of Indian society. Gandhi never drew a sharp distinction between economics and ethics. For him, economic policies which were harmful to the moral well-being of an individual, community, society, country or a nation were immoral and therefore, sinful. For him happiness meant the happiness of the society as a whole and was indicated primarily, by its moral standard and secondarily, by its physical and economic well-being.
'Sarvodaya' the greatest good of all through truth and non-violence became the ultimate goal of Gandhi in social welfare. His methods of working towards this goal were different from those of many other leaders and social reformers. He took an integrated view of life and disapproved of dividing an individual's life into different compartments. Also the individual was looked upon by him not as a separate entity but as a constituent unit of society.
On his return from South Africa, he perceived after a year of extensive travel all over India, that if his mother-land wanted to get out of the grinding poverty, political freedom was the foremost requirement. This could come only through the awakening of society. His ideas of social reconstruction had already started forming in the last few years of his stay in South Africa. He believed firmly that the individual and the society were contributory to each other's happiness.
To Gandhi, nothing was more sacred than truth and non- violence. Originally he believed that God is Truth. Later he changed this a little and maintained that Truth is God. "Generally speaking", Gandhi said, "observation of the law of truth is understood merely to mean that we must speak the truth but we ...should understand the word 'satya' or truth in a much wider sense. There should be truth in thought, truth in speech and truth in action".
For seeking as well as for finding truth, Ahimsa-non-violence -love for all beings -was a necessity. Although Ahimsa -non-violence- is a negative word, Gandhi certainly did not consider it as a negative force. His concept of Ahimsa is not confined to human beings but includes the entire creation. He says, "In spite of the negative particle 'non', it is no negative force. Superficially we are surrounded in life by strife and blood- shed, life living upon life. But some seer, who ages ago penetrated the centre of truth, said, 'It is not through strife and violence that man can fulfill his destiny and his duty to his fellow creatures'. It is a force which is more positive than electricity and more powerful than even ether". It is essential to under- stand the implications of non-violence as Gandhi understood them as it was the creed to which he rendered life-long service.
According to Gandhi, Ahimsa is a necessity for seeking, as well as, for finding Truth. To him both are so intertwined that it is almost impossible to disentangle them. He calls Truth and Ahimsa two sides of' a smooth unstamped metallic disc', nevertheless, to Gandhi ahimsa is the means and Truth the end. Gandhi's non-violence was not a weapon of the weak and cowardly. It was meant for the fearless and the brave.
It was on these two rock-like pillars of truth and non-violence that Gandhi strove all his life to build the edifice of social reconstruction for 'Sarvodaya'. Of course, he believed that it was only by individual reformation through his famous eleven vows that an ideal society could be built.
To Gandhi, the individual was as important, if not more, than the society, as he firmly believed that the happiness of the individual formed the constituent part of the happiness of the society. So, for him, social welfare meant the conscious submission of the individual and a voluntary contribution of one's possession to the society, which consisted of all, not a majority and, in return, the social system, built upon the principles of non-violence and democracy, was to give a complete guarantee for the maximum development of the individual's personality.
As early as 1915, on his return to India from South Africa, Gandhi's concept of an individual's development had completely formed as is evident from the following: "Truthfulness, Brahmacharya, non-violence, non-stealing and non-hoarding, these five rules of life are obligatory on all aspirants. Every one should be an aspirant. A man's character, therefore, is to be built on the foundation' of these disciplines. Beyond doubt, they are to be observed by everyone in the world. Though a businessman, one must never utter or practice untruth; though married, one must remain celibate; though keeping oneself alive, one can practise non-violence".
After the establishment of the Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi added the following vows of physical work, control of palate, fearlessness, acceptance of all faiths, Swadeshi and the removal of untouchability to those already mentioned, as an Ashram rule 'to enable an individual to lead a disciplined life.
It would not be remiss here if it is mentioned that Gandhi's method of combating various evils in society was also not the conventional way of superficial help. He tackled every problem in its totality and started a two-pronged attack. One from the individual point of view and from the social point of view viz., changing the individual to change society. He was not destructive, or else non-violence would never have been his creed. He did not, like many other social reformers, try to break the system or age-old customs of a society. He tried to give those age-old customs a rational interpretation and apply them in the changed context of modem times. In short, he tried to bring about a synthesis between the good points of both the old customs and the modem ways to bring about real social welfare.
Like the Anarchists, Gandhi also has a stateless society as his ideal. He is opposed to the State because the State, according to him, is an instrument of violence. He says, "The State rep- resents violence in a concentrated and organised form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soul-less machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence".
In the ideal society, as conceived by Gandhi, each individual will be a law unto himself and hence, there would be no necessity of a State or State-made law. He, however, was realist enough to realise that it would take a long time for this ideal to be attained, maintaining that, "A government cannot succeed in becoming entirely non-violent because it represents all the people. I do not to-day conceive of such a golden age. But I do believe in the possibility of a predominantly non-violent society. And I am working for it."
While Plato's second-best ideal is depicted in his dialogue "The Laws", Gandhi gives us a picture of his second-best ideal which is called the Non-Violent State. This State will not be able to completely eliminate violence.
Though as a general rule, Gandhi does not believe in the State encroaching upon the liberty of the individual, he, at the same time, realizes that so long as the State exists, it will have to try to create conditions which will enable an individual to realise his best self.
The main characteristics of the Non-Violent State are:
So far as jails and courts are concerned, jails will be more for reforming the prisoners rather than frightening or breaking them. Prisoners will be treated as defectives and not as criminals to be looked down upon. The jail officials will be their mends and instructors. Judicial work will be done by the Panchayats.
So far as institutional changes are concerned, some of the main suggestions made by Gandhi regarding different institutions are:
Family, one of the many social institutions, was sacred to him. He considered family as a 'God-ordained institution'. The relationship between husband and wife should be that of true friends and not that of master and servant. He certainly did not approve of the relationship of husband and wife-one superior and the other inferior -as was the case in majority of Indian families. Both must hold the other's body and soul as sacred as one's own. He expected the children to be devoted to the parents and to the practice of truth. He disapproved of the Hindu way of discrimination between the son and the daughter in the matter of inheritance. He wanted sons and daughters to be treated with absolute equality. Just as children should be devoted to parents, so also the parents must mould the character of the children and provide education to enable them to become self-reliant and to earn an "honest livelihood by the sweat of the brow" instead of, "making them slaves of ancestral property which kills enterprise and feeds the passions which accompany idleness and luxury".
Gandhi was totally opposed to child-marriage. He considered the custom of child-marriage indicative of physical and moral degeneration. He said, "This custom of child-marriage is both a moral as well as a physical evil. For, it undermines our morals and induces physical degeneration. By countenancing such customs, we recede from God as well as Swaraj. A man who has no thought of the tender age of a girl has none of God. And under-grown men have no capacity for fighting battles of freedom, or having gained it, of retaining it...Legislation is being promoted to raise the age of consent. It may be good for bringing a minority to book...But it is not legislation that will cure a popular evil, it is enlightened public opinion that can do it. I am not opposed to legislation in such matters, but I do lay greater stress on cultivation of public opinion...Ordinarily, a girl under 18 years should never be given in marriage". He gave enthusiastic support to the Child Marriage Restraint Bill (1929) passed by the then assembly. This bill legally forbade marriages between boys under eighteen and girls under fourteen years of age, while the Hindus and Muslims were very much against it and opposed it bitterly.
Gandhi also abhorred any measure or condition like widowhood, divorce, the dowry system, which smacked of victimization in any form of the weaker section of society. Gandhi had specific ideas about widowhood and he said, have repeatedly said that every widow has as much right to remarry as every widower. Voluntary widowhood is a priceless boon in Hinduism; enforced widowhood is a curse".
One of the main problems of society and more so in India, which drew Gandhi's attention was the social status of women. "His attitude to women's rights was uncompromising under all conditions". "He could visualize woman only as man's companion, gifted with equal mental capacities, possessing 'the right to participate in every minute detail in the activities of man' and an equal right of freedom and liberty". It would be relevant to state that Gandhi's 'Satyagraha' movement was instrumental in releasing the countless inhibitions, social, emotional, political and physical, of the woman in India from the villages as well as from the cities, from the highest caste and class to the lowest. It was as if the flood-gates of suppression were lifted, and out flowed the unbreakable force of the strength that was latent in the so called weaker sex.
Gandhi wanted the enlightened women of India to seek relentlessly the repeal of all legal disqualifications and removal of social discrimination against women in India. He considered legislation to remove the inequalities of women as essential...But at the same time, he did not favour women competing with men in -all vocations. He advocated selective education for women, not with any sense of women being inferior to men, but he did believe that they were not identical and that their fields of work were different.
Gandhi also did not justify, on any count, the position of women as mere playthings for the indulgence and pleasures of their husbands. Gandhi saw the mother in every woman. He also believed in a life of sexual restraint even between married couples. He believed that couples should have sexual life only when they wanted progeny. This was his ideal. But he believed in restraint only when it was both mental and physical and not mere outward suppression in the case of married couples.
In the matter of family planning, Gandhi firmly believed that self-restraint was the only method of family planning. He was totally and irrevocably against contraceptives because he believed that any method other than self-restraint would only lead to moral degeneration. He did not at all agree with the view that abstinence was harmful to men and women, as it was a denial of a natural urge. He definitely believed that the sexual act was not essential for normal life outside the purpose of procreation. He has said, "Self-indulgence with contraceptives may prevent the coming of children, but will sap the vitality of both men and women". He also believed that for self-restraint not only sex, but all the senses of sight, hearing, taste and touch should be under restraint. He said, "If self-control be an interference with nature precisely in the same sense as contraceptives, be it so. I would still maintain that the one interference is lawful and desirable because it promotes the well-being of the individuals as well as society, whereas the other degrades both and is therefore unlawful. Self-control is the surest and the only method regulating the birth-rate. Birth-control by contraceptives is race-suicide".
Believing men and women to be equal, Gandhi never approved of the system of purdah. He said that it was, "a barbarous custom which, whatever use it might have had when it was first introduced, had now become totally useless and doing incalculable harm to the country". He further said, "Chastity is not a hot-house growth. It cannot be superimposed. It cannot be protected by the surrounding wall of the purdah. It must grow from within, and to be worth anything, it must be capable of withstanding every unsought temptation...It must be a very poor thing that cannot stand the gaze of men. Men, to be men, must be able to trust their womenfolk, even as the latter are compelled to trust them... By seeking to-day to interfere with the free growth of womanhood of India, we are interfering with the growth of free and independent-spirited men...It partly accounts for our weakness, indecision, narrowness and helplessness".
As said earlier, Gandhi considered a situation in all its aspects and so when he was keen to raise the status of women in India to its rightful place, he took into. account the question of the prostitutes and Devadasis. He felt very pained at the problem of Devadas is, because he felt that it was deceiving God to use young girls for the priests' carnal pleasures under the guise of service to God. Similarly, he considered the existence of the institution of prostitutes a shame on society and more so a shame on men. In connection with the problem of Devadas is, Gandhi considered the name 'Devadasi' a euphemism for prostitutes. He considered it in the same light as that of prostitution. And to him this crime of man against woman was much more serious than that of a hungry man stealing a banana or that of a needy youngster picking a pocket. Gandhi believed that this vice was prevalent in cities and the majority of villages were more or less free of it.
Thus, in the question of uplifting the status of women, as in other questions, Gandhi looked at it from the totality and believed that the change should start at the root of social thinking. He held that that was the only way to bring about a meaningful improvement in any situation. Gandhi's method of combating an evil in society did not vary in its fundamental principle of social reconstruction from within and synthesis of the old and the new.
Another question that shook Gandhi to the innermost core of his being was that of untouchability in Hinduism. He believed in 'varnashrama', which meant division according to one's profession, but he certainly did not accept the rigid caste system which had taken the place of the original 'varnashrama'. Untouchability, he maintained, was no part of Hinduism. He wrote, "Untouchability is not only not a part and parcel of Hinduism, but a plague, which is the bounden duty of every Hindu to combat". According to Gandhi, the deviation from the 'varnashrama dharma' was largely responsible for the economic and spiritual ruin of India. Gandhi believed that there was a lot of sense in the law of 'varna' as discovered by Rishis of old and it was a simple precept in Hinduism. But he certainly did not accept the claims of superiority by any 'varna'. The superiority in the type of service did not give the right of superiority to one 'varna' over the other. It was the violation of the spirit of the 'vamashramadharma' which led to the degeneration of Hindu society; and untouchability was the lowest point touched by this violation. It made Gandhi shudder to think of and see the conditions, the untouchables were made to stay in. They were treated as social lepers. The higher castes did not touch them and gave the poor creatures a terrible beating if by accident they touched a higher caste person. The untouchables had literally to beg for water, because they were not allowed to draw it from the village wells. They were denied entry to the temples, forgetting that the All-Merciful God did not make any distinction between man and man. Gandhi firmly believed that Indians were treated as pariahs in South Africa, because of the treatment they meted out to the untouchables in India. Removal of untouchability became one of the major missions of his life. He called the untouchables, 'Harijans', which meant people of God. He went and stayed in Bhangi colonies, undertook a fast for getting them temple entry, undertook an all-India tour for removal of untouchability and fought relentlessly for them throughout his life, by creating the Harijan Sevak Sangh, to help them remove evil habits nom their lives with the help of a batch of devoted workers.
The abject poverty in which the majority of his countrymen lived, prompted him to be active in public life. He blamed the rich for the condition of starvation and poverty and considered it immoral to keep such vast numbers under those conditions. He said,: it is the fundamental law of nature, without exception, that nature produces enough for our wants nom day to day; and if only everybody took enough for himself, and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world, there would be no man dying of starvation". He maintained that a non-violent system of government is not possible as long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persisted. Therefore, he suggested, "leveling down of a few rich in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of the nation's wealth on the one hand and the leveling up of the semi-starved, naked millions on the other". But this result had to be accomplished by a non-violent process.
To achieve the above for maintaining some equality and stability, he propagated his doctrine of Trusteeship. Trusteeship meant that "the rich man will be left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the rest of the society".
Gandhi did not believe that happiness of either the individual or of the society lay in multiplication of wants. He did not believe in the modem tendency to over-emphasize the importance of overall improvement in the standard of living, specially in the 'underdeveloped' regions of the world. He asked the wealthy or the upper middle class Indians to give up some of their comforts and adopt simple lives. This did not mean that Gandhi wanted all Indians to be paupers. According to him, voluntary poverty was an act of nobility which could be achieved only by those who had possessions.
The other major aspect of social welfare which drew Gandhi's attention was that of urban labour as well as that of the landless farmers, constituting rural labour. He was appalled at the living conditions of the factory workers in the city and of the landless farm-labourers in the village. He believed that the spinning wheel was the answer to many of India's problems. By the spinning wheel, he no doubt meant Khadi, but he also meant the revival of village industries. He was of the opinion that India was a country of villages. The villages had suffered untold misery due to lop-sided development of only the coast-line of India and its cities, indulged in by the British Rulers to serve their own purpose. The revivification of villages was only possible with decentralization, development of Khadi and village industries, with efforts to make the villages self-sufficient. The self-sufficiency of villages would then gradually eradicate the need to migrate to the over-crowded cities for work and employment to earn their daily bread. Gandhi was completely conscious of the miseries of the urban labourer and believed that the urban labourer must have a minimum living wage, adequate living conditions and ideally, every concern should have a scheme for sharing of profits with all the workers. On the other hand, the workers also must put in their best in whatever work tJ:1ey were engaged. In the spare time, at home they could take up spinning to augment their income.
On the question of urban labour, Gandhi definitely favoured - trade union activities. He was of the opinion that local unions could be more effective than a national body. Nevertheless, he was responsible for establishing the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) in 1947 which had evolved from Hindoostan Mazdoor Seva Sangh started in 1938. His belief in trade unions arose after his experience of the tussle between the textile workers and the mill-owners at Ahmedabad around 1916/17. He felt that it was necessary for labour to be united. But he firmly believed that the trade union should only take up issues that were correct from the ethical point of view; that negotiations were the best way to resolve issues; and that confrontation and strikes should be resorted to only in extreme cases of injustice. Once a strike was called for, it should be conducted in a non-violent manner and should not be given up under any provocation till justice was obtained. But it was essential that the union leaders did not resort to a strike unless the issue was thoroughly examined from all sides and its moral justification was fully established. He was of the opinion that if the cause was right and non- violence adhered to, labour would ultimately win.
Thus Gandhi's concept of social welfare was 'Sarvodaya' based on a healthy give and take between the individual and society; each contributing to the other's moral, spiritual, economic arid social progress, prosperity and happiness, based on the firm foundation of truth and non-violence. Examined from all angles, this concept enveloped the field of social welfare in its entirety, unlike the modem western concept.
Even the modem institutional concept of citizen-right is concentrated on the different needs, of an individual or a group like physical, mental or economic.
The Gandhian concept takes a total perspective and focuses on the development of the moral and spiritual aspects with truth and non-violence as its base; with all the other aspects, such as physical, mental and economic, to enhance the individual's social sense, thereby creating a society of healthy individuals. "One important aspect of Gandhi's social thought was his tendency not only to bridge the gap between individual and social ethics but also" to regard social reality as a counterpart of man's inner reality".
In the western concept of social welfare there lies a sense of giver and receiver even in today's institutional and citizen-right concept. This may be due to the fact that the present concept has developed from the initial residual concept of charity.
In the Gandhian concept there is no giving or receiving. As said earlier, it is a total perspective, not divided into areas, i.e. the total individual or society has to "reform and thus build up the. society on a moral concept of happiness which covers all other aspects. The individual contributes to the society and the society helps the individual.
The modem concept of social welfare developed in the West with the onset of industrialization and hence into that of citizen- right.
The Gandhian concept has been built up in India, where social welfare was woven in the fabric of its society since time immemorial. Help to the needy was enjoined by 'dharma' for the joint families, communities and kings. Gandhi went a step further and for him, rights and duties Went hand-in-hand. Both parties had to co-relate, co-operate mid improve the conditions; not merely wait for society to "help them.
In the modern concept, the welfare services consist of help. in one form or another and the emphasis is on help in the form of money or material or services obtained through them.
In the Gandhian concept the emphasis is on the human aspect and the dependence to contribute to social welfare is not on money or materials alone. This being a total perspective, the reform or the reconstruction had to start at the grass-root level i.e. the village level, gradually reaching the seat of the government. Not only India, but the world came under its purview. "Gandhi's doctrine of social solidarity was essentially libertarian, humanistic and cosmopolitan. He said, 'As with the individual so with the society. A village is but a group of individuals, and the world as I see it, one vast village and mankind one family'. Here there is a resemblance to Kropotkin's social philosophy, as one of its main ingredients was his elaborate analysis of the part played in history by people's constructive agencies of 'mutual aid' rather than 'competition' in the Darwinian sense - a point stressed also by Gandhi in every aspect, but emphatically so in human welfare."
The government and the law took a secondary place, unlike in the modem concept and the responsibility of 'Sarvodaya' rested solely on human effort and on developing the individual along natural and ethical lines to create a better society. For this Gandhi had already formed the eleven vows for the individual. These eleven vows and the items of Gandhi's programme of constructive work, touched every aspect of an individual's and a society's life in every minor and major field.
In the case of women welfare too, Gandhi wanted the change in social thinking about the status of women. He did not say that women have to be given their rights. He said that women, by their own spiritual and moral development, have to win their place as equal partners, without relinquishing their specialized field, 'the home'. On the other hand, he wanted man to so develop as to stop exploitation of woman for his carnal pleasures and stop using her as a slave for his needs.
"Gandhi was a critic of society, both Eastern and Western. He judged a social structure in terms of his own valuation of what the social process is or could be...He had a clear aware- ness of the 'imperfect state' of society, irrespective of whether it was Eastern or Western. Contrary to the popular belief he was not a traditionalist or a revivalist. Nor could he be a revolutionary who would tear up the foundation of a social structure without even trying to transform it by peaceful means".
He did not believe that traditions should be adhered to if they become a constraint on the development of new social processes demanded by changing values of the modem world; but neither did he favour, "uncontrolled operation of blind economic forces released by the contemporary technological and industrial civilization, undermining the social foundation in both overt and insidious ways".
It is difficult to determine Gandhi's concept of social welfare, because, he dealt with all problems from the point of view of a social revolutionary without violence. His humanism and relentless efforts to wipe off injustice in any form, to any person or group such as women, Harijans, landless farmers, makes him a pioneer of social welfare through social change. with a base of truth and non-violence leading to 'Sarvodaya'. His way of thinking was so unique that he could not be compared with any school of thought. "Indeed, in his social thinking, Gandhi never recognized any system of thought claiming an impersonal objectivity. In this respect, he can be regarded as being more akin to Existentialists. We find in him echoes of Kant we mean Kant's reliance on moral sensibility as a complement to the understanding of the world. Bred in the Indian philosophical traditions, Gandhi believed in the penetration of self and personality as a prelude to the development of moral sensibility which, he thought was an important factor in individual and social life, and in terms of which man could judge the validity of his social ideals and of his own social institutions".
Ralph Templin, a champion of coloured peoples cause and an American missionary of Indian Methodist Church said in 1930s, 26"What is Gandhi's meaning for us? The world social revolution is long overdue. Time presses us to bring our social arrangements up to the level of our technological achievements. Many urge the use of the age's favourite weapon, the 'coup d'etat', which would reform politics from the top down and from outside in. Some of these with the usual impatience of immediatists in all ages, reveal contempt for morality as a support of their reform. They are indifferent to the violence which drenches the world in blood. Their futility has been demonstrated by every Western revolution, beginning with the French. Gandhi offers an alternative way of revolution. In this lies his great gift to the world. He begins with a basic philosophy of eminent soundness which combines all the power of personal integrity - 'Satyagrahi' or soul-force with the pooled strength of the co-operative means to mastery of nature and human nature - 'Swadeshism' or the economics of group self-help. This way of revolution turns its followers back from the political instrument - the mutual application of labour to natural resources in the production and distribution of all that is needed by the human family. Machinery is to be opposed only when it magnifies the power of the political instrument in the hands of those who would attempt to thwart the people's mastery of their own destiny. Without disrupting all at once the structure of a society that has evolved through generations, this way of revolution begins its reformation within each life by stripping away all the psychological elements that divide and disorganize people, such as the desire for power over others, the desire to exploit or regiment others, and violent attitudes and methods in conflict. Simultaneously, it attacks both the inner and . outer citadels of resistance to reform. On the positive side, it engages people at once and in even wider areas in the mutual conquest of power within and without".
Thus Gandhi did not visualize social reconstruction and welfare as a field for helping the needy as charity, but as the emergence of people through individual and social discipline, towards a healthy and happy society.
[Source: Pushpanjali - Essays on Gandhian Themes, edited by - R. Srinivasan, Usha Thakkar, Pam Rajput]