Without correction or contradiction: What millennials know and believe about Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi remains a remote figure for most millenials who seem to remember Home Minister Amit Shah’s quips that Mahatma Gandhi was a ‘Chatur Bania’ but little else

Without correction or contradiction: What millennials know and believe about Gandhi

Garima Sadhwani

Not too many millennials know much about Mahatma Gandhi. A random conversation with some of them in their twenties revealed that while they are ‘aware’ of the Mahatma and some claimed to have read parts of his ‘Hind Swaraj’, primarily because it was prescribed reading, their ideas about arguably the most recognised Indian globally is hazy at best.

Delhi based Niharika Dabral says, “I do not agree with everything he said or preached” but precedes it by admitting that she has read very little of Gandhi’s original work. A History graduate from Meerut Garima Shakya believes “Gandhi was against railways, any kind of globalisation and liberalisation,”. Shubhonil Sircar, who works in the corporate sector, is sceptical about Gandhi’s non-violence. Non-violence, he thinks, is overrated and was easily suppressed by the British. Violent methods by the likes of Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, he is convinced, was what earned India her freedom.

Sayani from Siliguri, barely 22 years old, is more philosophical. Gandhi was neither ‘a political hero or a political villain’, she says and adds that he neither needs to be hero worshipped nor shunned. A student in Prayagraj Sharvi Saxena concedes that Gandhi played an important role in the freedom struggle. But she gravely adds, “but he was manipulative and was no Mahatma’.

Harshit Maurya is however impressed with Gandhi’s honesty. He has read ‘My Experiments with Truth’ and declares, “it takes courage to publicly accept all your failures with no regret”.

Gandhi’s idea of Trusteeship as against ownership of resources is what appeals to Ragini Jhariya from Jabalpur. She is however guarded and says that despite his greatness, Gandhi was a flawed human being and points to his experiment of sleeping naked with young girls to test his restraint.

Abhijeet from Delhi, a journalist says he had read Hind swaraj but quips, “What do you say about a man who speaks to himself?” Gandhi was against modernity and industry, he claims.

The following statements made by them reflect this generation’s confusion about Gandhi and the freedom struggle. Schools, colleges and universities clearly have not done a good job of explaining Gandhi to them. Good teachers possibly have not spared the effort. As a result, Gandhi remains a remote figure for this generation.

We reproduce some of the statements made by the millennials that reflect their confusion about Gandhi (without editing, correction or contradiction):

  • Gandhi is deeply ingrained in our imagination and I think he is still relevant even though this government has reduced him to a Swachh Bharat icon only. His teachings on communal harmony should guide us but at the same time, his subtle casteism expressed in the promotion of vegetarianism or rural lifestyle should be rejected.

  • The beauty of Gandhi is that he can give the impression that he is very accommodating, but ultimately, he was really strong in his belief. So anyway, in Hind Swaraj, we see this general hatred for any kind of work for women, especially sex work, because women's body was a temple and couldn't be desecrated.

  • In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi had already imagined a nation in which everybody else apart from Hindus was an outsider, the Indian civilization was essentially a Hindu civilization but other minorities and the Brits were also living there.

  • Gandhi was a multitude of a person, mostly dominated by very regressive politics.

  • Why does one need to celebrate Gandhi Jayanti? How exactly is one supposed to celebrate Gandhi Jayanti? The government keeps the alcohol shops closed.

  • In his book Hind Swaraj, I’ve read what he says about home rule or Swaraj. However, I feel he was given more importance than was due, there were so many other leaders who never got the praise they deserved. Also, Gandhi was quite contradictory. He wanted to uplift the women but when the women's movement was going on in India during the independence, he sidelined it

  • The way of life which Gandhi followed, by this I mean the principle of non-violence particularly, I don’t think that is relevant in India now, in fact I don’t think it was even relevant at that time.

  • Gandhiji’s wisdom according to me is relevant and will always be relevant, "Bura na Dekho, Bura na Kaho, Bura na Suno", I think is misinterpreted by the monkeys. I think what it actually meant was to take action against the evil (rather than just avoiding it by closing eyes/ears as portrayed by the monkeys).

  • I’ve read Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, where he has talked about a lot of things in a question-answer format. Through that book, you actually get to see things from Gandhi’s ideological viewpoint. For instance, Gandhi was against using machinery, but something as simple as a pair of scissors would have been considered a piece of machinery a few centuries ago. Gandhi’s idea was that the use of machines should not replace man. And though Gandhi was against it, machines were very necessary.

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