As a great humanist Mahatma Gandhi put forth before the world from-to-time his views on almost all subjects related to life. He discussed at length all walks of life –importance, impact and related problems thereof in particular. How was it then possible that he could remain indifferent to the role, significance and contribution of youth and women to the society, nation and humanity as a whole? Rather, he had sanguine thoughts about them. His views pertaining to youth and women were unique. They are still matchless and worth considering in current perspective. How? Before taking this in course of discussion and analysis, it is necessary be familiarity with extracts of some of the statements and articles Mahatma Gandhi penned on youth and women.
Talking of importance and the role of the youth, Gandhiji asserted, “Youth are life of the nation. They must [therefore] be ready to discharge responsibility as it will prepare them to become mature and worthy….They have their duties towards society and the nation….they are needed [always].” [Youth and Politics, page 26]
Further, calling the youth the Mahatma urged, “Young men…claiming…to be the father of tomorrow, [you], should be the salt of the nation. If the salt loses its flavour, wherewith shall it be salted?” And, “You [youth] go forth as messengers of God carrying balm for the wounded soul…” [Young India, December 22, 1927]
Likewise, declaring a woman the shaper and the moulder of society and the nation in the same measure as the man, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Man and woman are of equal rank…they are a peerless pair being supplementary to one-another; each helps the other, so that without one the existence of the other cannot be conceived, and therefore it follows as a necessary corollary from these facts that anything that will impair the status of either of them will involve the equal ruin of them both.” [Harijan, February 27, 1927]
That is why; while discussing the issue pertaining to rights of women, he firmly stated, “I am uncompromising in the matter of women’s rights….treat the daughters and sons on a footing of perfect equality.” [Young India, October 17, 1929]
From the above-mentioned short statements of the Mahatma the following two things become categorically clear:
1. The youth [girls and boys, both] are the most imperative as is amply clear from two words –the life and the salt [of the nation] used therein; and the equality of woman and man is beyond any iota of doubt; and
2. The role and contribution of youth and women in the making of society and the nation are of utmost importance, and for this they have their own responsibilities and duties to discharge.
The Gandhian view [undoubtedly based on realities of life and premised around Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with truth in particular] is one of the best approaches available to mankind for real progress and prosperity in life. Its distinctiveness lies in the fact that it incorporates high human values –especially the supreme value of Ahimsa [non-violence]. Moreover, it is committed to morality and ethics –the two foremost features of Ahimsa itself. It ordains carrying out day-to-day activities on the basis of morality and ethics. It is important to note that it makes discharging one’s responsibilities and performing duties the acid test of her or his morality and ethics. That is why; the Gandhian view emerges as the most significant in the context of youth and women. Simultaneously, it is capable of giving appropriate direction to youth on one hand and on the other to bring women to the same platform as men making their contribution to the building of society, the nation and humanity as a whole transparent and appreciable.
How? This can also be well grasped from the message in the root of the above-mentioned statements, and the practical application thereof. Categorically, the message is to understand well one’s duties and responsibilities and discharge them most dispassionately. The Gandhian way expects this from one and all at all levels and in all walks of life.
In all issues related to youth –their march in the right direction, their contribution in social, political and economic fields in particular; obstacles or problems that dogged them in the past, or are bothering them currently, obviously stem from sloppy discharge of duties and responsibilities by those who were, or are, in one way or other the part and parcel of their learning process. This reality can be accessed from a dispassionate examination and analysis of the subject in hand.
In context of women –their condition, particularly arising from centuries of inequality and injustice, lack of responsibility of men towards daughters, mothers and sisters is to blame. Man has exploited woman in numerous ways, and he is still doing it as Mahatma Gandhi himself admits, “Women has been suppressed under custom and law for which man was responsible and in the shaping of which she had no hand.” The Mahatma went on to add that, “They [women] can never be imposed from outside. Men have not realized this truth in its fullness in their behaviour towards women. They have considered themselves to be lords and masters of women instead of considering them as their friends and co-workers. [India of My Dreams, page 224]
Hence, the clarity we find in the Gandhian view pertaining to youth and women seems unique and such a thing is not often found in ideas, addresses and writings of thinkers. Mahatma Gandhi himself was matchless in this regards. For his clarity of reality-based thoughts he still rules the roost. Apart from this, the manner in which he prepared ground for active participation of youth and women in national liberation movement of India and simultaneously engaged them in constructive work for enhancement of their own self-sufficiency, was astonishing, and remains unparalleled till today.
From every part of the country –from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from NWFP to NEFA, youths in their thousands came to join the national liberation movement under the leadership of the Mahatma. Simultaneously they become the part and parcel of various constructive programmes under the guidance of the spearhead team of Mahatma and his colleagues.
Not only this, Kasturba Gandhi [1869-1944], Sarojini Naidu [1879-1949], Sucheta Kriplani [1908-74], Aruna Asaf Ali [1909-6], Durgabai Deshmukh [1909-81], Mnibehn Vallabhbhai Patel [1903-90], Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay [1903-88], Muthulakshmi Reddy [1886-1968], Rajkumari Amrit Kaur [1889-1964], Begum Hamid Ali, Renuka Ray [1904-97], Usha Mehta [1920-2000], Padmaja Naidu [1900-75], Vijay Laxmi Pandit [1900-90], Rukmini Laxmipatti [1892-1951], Meerabehn [1892-1982], Bibi Amtuslam, Mithubehn Petit, Indumati Chimanlal Seth and Premebehn Kantak [1906-85], were some of the iconic figures among thousands of brave women who came in the forefront during the national liberation movement on Mahatma Gandhi’s call. They played a vital role in the fight for freedom and by way of multifarious constrictive programmes they worked for self-sufficiency and the uplift of common man, and in the building of society and the nation during the freedom struggle and in the post- independence India. Most of them emerged as public figures and exemplary social workers.
This was the result of the Gandhian approach to woman and his commitment of bringing women to the main stream of society. Mahatma Gandhi used to say, “[Women] should not be doll and objects of indulgence, but should be treated as honoured comrades in common service.” [Constructive Programme, page 17] Moreover, whatever he said he practiced in his life with total commitment.
Unfortunately, the Gandhian viewpoint particularly pertaining to women did not receive due response in free India. The Mahatma urged for social reforms so that men could realize the importance of women’s role in their time space. He desired men to change their mentality towards women. The Mahatma longed for women’s equality in socio-political and economic fields and surety of their participation in the system.
For this gigantic task Mahatma Gandhi wished men to come forward considering it as their duty-bound moral responsibility and jettison vanity of being superior to women. He emphasized the need for rooting out such social wrongs committed against women through the ages, as made them slaves and deprived them of their legitimate rights. Though this alone could a proper and real progress of society, the nation and humanity as a whole be possible. There is no other way superior to this, i.e. a change in men’s mentality toward women and justice to women by granting them equality and freedom at par with men.
In the same way, it is the responsibility of men that they accord right direction to the youth. Accepting the fact that only on the strength of enthusiasm and energy of youth a society, nation and the world can achieve what is expected for the wellbeing of one and all, they must make sure that the role and contribution of youth in the developmental process at all levels and in all walks of life is duly acknowledged. India has lagged behind on this count in the past. It is still lagging to a large extent, which is a sad and unfortunate.