Keeping Gandhi alive in the classroom


As the celebration of the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has become almost like any other ritual – routine and soulless – a political-philosophical and pedagogical question arises for me: as teachers/students , is it possible to keep Gandhi alive and vibrant in our classrooms?

Well, there is no dearth of scholarship, nor of the continued production of books, edited volumes and scholarly articles on Gandhi – from ‘postcolonial’/’postmodern’ Gandhi to musings on ‘the doctor and the holy”, or Gandhi through Dr. BR Ambedkar’s eyes. Yet, as a teacher, I often felt that there was something beyond these very charged speeches. Indeed, young students should be reminded of a simple fact: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was not a scholar – as some of our eminent historians and political philosophers are; nor did he communicate his ideas as they do. Instead, his books Hind Swaraj, My Experiments with Truth and his writings in Young India and Harijan are surprisingly “simple”.

Moreover, unlike an academic, he does not “theorize”. In fact, his writings, unlike a “values-neutral”/“peer-reviewed” research paper, were inseparable from his political-spiritual experiences, his self-reflections and vulnerabilities, and above all, the churning moral/ethical he went through throughout his life. And therefore, I think it wouldn’t be good teaching practice if we reduced Gandhi to just another academic puzzle to be solved in the classroom. Nor should Gandhi be reduced, as schools often do, to a separate chapter in the history textbook or an object of “moral education” with which children rarely identify.

Perhaps, through the creative drive of engaged pedagogy, we need to encourage our students – especially college and university students – to feel and experience Gandhi, or reflect on Gandhi with political-cultural and existential questions- authentic spiritual.

This is only possible if we constantly remind our students that they should not be paralyzed by the dominant images of Gandhi, be it the official/fossilized Gandhi as ‘Mahatma’, or the ‘impractical’ Gandhi. in the age of techno-capitalism, or the doomed Gandhi—”casteist” and even “effeminate.” Instead, with the student ethos, they should be endowed with the spirit of free inquiry. In this context, two points deserve particular attention.

First, imagine a teacher and her students as co-travellers reflecting on the violence of the two dominant identities that shape our existence today. As the principle of market fundamentalism implicit in the unstoppable march of neoliberalism transforms us into neurotically restless, greedy and atomized consumers trying to find our salvation in the act of relentless possession of “brands” and “products”, we are losing this which can be considered as the ethos of connectedness. Likewise, as hyper-nationalism becomes the order of the day, “enemies” are invented, loud and aggressive symbols of demonstrative patriotism are cherished, religion is deprived of the music of religiosity, it is reduced to a tight identity marker (I am a “Hindu”; you are a “Muslim”), and erect walls of separation. In other words, whether it is market fundamentalism or militant nationalism, our identities are becoming more and more violent.

And this violence is seen everywhere – the way the discourse of “unlimited growth” provokes an unsustainable and ecologically destructive “risk society”; or how the practice of hyper-nationalism limits our horizons and makes us perpetually precarious and therefore violent. In the midst of this all-pervasive violence, is it possible for a teacher and her students to rediscover Gandhi? A simple and profound truth that Gandhi tried to communicate through his words and deeds was that ahimsa or peace would be impossible without sarvodaya, the ethic of care or connection with the natural ecosystem and the community of relationships. interdependent societies, and the redemptive power of love. and nishkama karma.

It was not the sanctification of greed, but the wealth of inner abundance – or “strength of the soul” – was Gandhi’s truth. Likewise, until the last moment before the bullets of Nathuram Godse entered his physical body, Gandhi fought for an inclusive, non-violent and egalitarian nationalism. Let a dialogical and dynamic classroom encourage students to engage in self-reflection, ask new questions to make sense of the age they live in, and engage with Gandhi. And that Gandhi’s simple and profound ‘truth’ is not lost in the midst of what academics are otherwise fond of – an intellectually narcissistic game of ‘scholarship’.

Second, Gandhi made sense of the world not only through the cognitive power of the intellect. He worked on his body and soul, experimented with diet and healing practices, and attached extraordinary importance to the unity of brain and heart, or learning by doing. And Gandhi walked and walked and walked. Imagine his epic march to Noakhali in 1946; he was experiencing what he believed in—the power of satyagraha and ahimsa; and he met people, conversed with them and tried to restore peace and reason in a terribly violent environment wounded by the virus of the “two-nation theory”, or “Hindu-Muslim divide”.

The question is: can we teach Gandhi only in a sanitized classroom through the ritualization of exams, seminars and dissertations? Imagine a teacher persuading her student to fast for two days, carefully observing the vibrations of her body and consciousness, and wondering if voluntary fasting, or austerity for that matter, improves her “fortitude. “. Or imagine a teacher walking with her students through the alleyways of Old Delhi and Shaheen Bagh, meeting people, conversing with them, hearing stories of their fears and anxieties, and collectively reflecting on the meaning and symbolism of Gandhi’s prayers. .

Perhaps, through these “experiments with pedagogy,” our classrooms can engage with Gandhi more intensely and meaningfully—something beyond the act of publishing another article in the journal.” approved by the UGC”.

Avijit Pathak has taught sociology at JNU for over three decades.


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