Shahid Bhagat Singh, whose birth anniversary nation celebrated recently, reminded us that it was easy to kill an individual, but not to kill an idea. Mahatma Gandhi was killed but his ideas endure. No idea remains valid for all times unless it assimilates evolving contradictions of social, cultural and environmental consciousness. When he gave a call against the expanding market of foreign made clothes to promote Khadi, his slogan was, “buy and burn”. He did not ask loot and burn. When he advocated picketing by sitting outside the shops selling imported clothes and persuade buyers not to buy; his concern was employment, respect for handmade things and also that Khadi was healthy for our body.
How do we interpret his thoughts for generating energy for the future evolution of Gandhian values as well as practices? Several lessons follow: a) He never advocated taking law into one’s hand except when he symbolically broke law during Salt Satyagraha, using completely nonviolent means of expressing his view. When groups of people suspect somebody else of breaking a law, should they report the matter to police or take the law into one’s hand? Or should they try to dispense a mob ‘justice’ which makes it a mockery of democracy and rule of law? Imagine, if more people start doing it, will the rule of law ever prevail, will it not become jungle raj? The hard-earned freedom and democracy through the sacrifice of thousands of freedom fighters will go in vain. Similarly, if we don’t like a particular variety of a crop, food, or anything else, the alternative is to demonstrate alternatives ways and leave the choice to the individuals or groups as the case may be, so long as constitutional freedom protect them for exercising these choices. The Gandhian way is that of persuasion except when a public policy is in the larger social interest such as availability and use of toilets of suitable design with adequate water supply to keep them clean. In the larger interest of sanitation, and public health, the policy can persuade, educate, incentivise and constitutionally coerce the people.
When Gandhi announced in 1929 (http://gyti.techpedia.in/announcement), an open innovation crowd-sourced contest for designing a new version of spinning wheel, he was obviously inventing several new models of promoting innovations. Some of these were: crowd sourcing ideas globally for a local problem, defining boundary conditions of the desired solution keeping gender and affordability, maintenance and drudgery into account; prize as an inducer of innovation; protection of intellectual property rights and trade-off between open source design and prize money versus retention of patent of design but no award money etc. How many educational institutions have announced such awards posing the persistent unmet social needs in their hinterland as a challenge?
To make a Gandhian legacy of dynamic, inclusive and responsive society for the next millennia and a half, we will have to make many significant changes in educational policies and structures. Each institution must learn to follow four steps that the Honey Bee Network has been pleading for: search, spread, celebrate innovations and sense or scout the unmet social needs. Isn’t it a pity that despite seven decades of independence, we don’t even have a process of regularly updating the inventory of unmet social, ecological, industrial and governance needs in the hinterland of each research and educational institution? The question of putting such needs on the agenda of students and faculty then does not arise. By now, we should have had a robust system of doing it, periodically reviewing it and then rewarding outstanding solutions so developed (see gyti.techpedia.in as an illustration). I hope that when we pay tribute to Gandhiji on October 2, we will take a hard self — critical look at the system and processes we need to put in place to achieve his ideals for putting the last first, antyodaya. Gandhian thought is relevant for all time to come but practices have to be dynamically evolved.