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Gandhi and Science


The general impression that many people have about Gandhis is that he was anti-science in contrast to Nehru, who has been praised for being too scientific. Gandhi, being religious in his orientation, also played a part in creating this impression.Science policy writings in India have largely excluded Gandhi .There is also lack of science focus in Gandhian studies . Obviously , Gandhi was opposed to the ‘technologism’ that came in the wake of technology, which created another form of inequality between man and man and man and nature, according to Ashis Nandy. Shambhu Prasad says that while most of the critique of Gandhi of science and modern civilization is found in Hind Swaraj, the keen interest that Gandhi had expressed for an alternative path in science does not find mention in this book. Prasad says that popularization of science , according to Gandhi , ‘was not a linear transfer knowledge from the expert to the layperson but had to be a collaborative effort. It was only thus that science, too, could benefit from the process.’Prasad elaborate, ‘Gandi’ critique of science emanates from his dissatisfaction with the divorce  science and progress from morality ....However, despite his critique of civilization and the modern scientist. Among the lagely Indian readers of Indian Opinon, Gandhi sought to inculcate the courage and spirit of inquiry of the scientist’.


Gandhi used the term ‘science when referring to khadi, non-violence , peace and satyagraha. He was also inquisitive . His own self-image was that of a scientist more than that of a politician. Data collection was always something that Gandhi had advocated, wheather in Champaran or in the surveys undertaken by Kumarappa to understand reality without being content with imperssionistic accounts Gandhi was aware of the fact that one cannot live without science , provided it was kept in its right place. He said ‘science is essentially one of those things in which theory alone is of no value whatsoever. Unless our hands go hand in hand with our heads , we would be able to do nothing.’ Gandhi was not against the spirit of research of the modern scientists, but the direction that the spirit had taken .

            As an ardent advocate of the indigenous system of medicine with a strong slant towards nature cure, Gandhi tried to prod most of the practitioners of his age to undertake research and come up with systems of treatment that could cure the diseases of the day without being excessively adherent to what had been received from the texts .Prasad writes, ‘Nature cure to Gandhi was not a drub cure but a way of life to be learnt, which placed the onus on the patient’s self-curing abilities. Gandhi felt that although the medical profession had taken up some nature cure methods , over all they had given a cold shoulder to naturopathy. The medical professionals presented an attitude of indifference, if not that of content for anything that lay outside their groove. On the other hand, the nature curists nursed a feeling of grievance against the medicos and in spite of their very limited scientific knowledge, made tall claims. They also lacked the sprit of organization with catch one being self-satisfied and working in isolation instead of pooling their resources for the advancement of their system. No one tried to work out in a scientific sprit all the implications and possibilities of the system. It was his conviction that as long as dynamic personality , from among the naturopaths themselves , did not come forward with the zeal of a missionary , the present state of affairs would continue.’


Speaking to students of Indian Institute of Science , Bangalore, Gandhi said tha ‘Unless all the discoveries that you make have the welfare of the poor as the end in view , all your workshops will be really no better than Satan’s workshop. ‘He was more interested in that form of science that was more attuned to serving life in the villages. Gandhi also faulted the Indian system of education in which the occupational training was not serving an educational purpose. He found the remedy in imparting the whole art and science of a craft through practical training and such training as the basis of education. He also chastised the untouchability that came to bed associated with the craftsmen and their work. He said ‘We look down upon those who do manual work. Had we assigned to craftsmen and artisans a place of diginity in society , like other countries, we too would have produced many scientists and engineers.’

            Prasad writes, ‘Gandhi did not see science as an autonomous search  independent of the individual scientist. In Gandhi’s scheme, the agency of the scientist  was  of critical importance. The scientist had to be consious and self-reflecting. He was not to flinch from the question of what would the scientist be working on? He was clear that te right place of the scientist lay neither with the exploiting market nor with the stifling state , but with the people. All Gandhi’s experiments in science attempted to carve out and articulate this domain. To guide the scientist  was his favourite talisman.’

In arguing for a science of non-violence as necessary  for world peace , Gandhi said ‘Attainment of world peace is impossible except for greater scientific precision, greater travail of the soul, greater patience and greater resources than required for the invention  and consolidation of the means of mutual slaughter. it cannot be attained by a mere muster roll signed by millions mankind desiring peace. But it can, if there is a science of peace , as I hold there is , by a few devoting themselves to the discovery of the means . Their effort being from within will not be showy but then it will not need a single farthing.’

Gandhi ‘s irrepressible optimism and careful reading of history led him to conclude that the history of human societies was predominantly one of non-violence –a fact that has been supressed in most of the available accounts of history . He also found it to be the base of all religions . He , therefore , wanted to create a social, political and economic order that was non-violent, one that conformed to the natural order. He said ‘I have found that life persist in the midst of destruction , and therefore there must be a higher law was that of love , of non-violence.’

Gandhi sought to create a science which could be practised by everyone without the distinction of being the expert and the layman, of the elite and the subaltern. More than scientific qualifications, a research attitude was the most important quality required . And Gandhi wanted the more than resources, what was needed was firm commitment to the cause of the poor and the marginalized. The scientist was not just concerned with fact alone, but in the creation of meaning(Value) in all activities. His science spoke  not only from the perspective of the humans but also of the non-human nature. He also did not see the dichotomy between science and religion/ spirituality and tried to fuse them, an enterprise that has caught up in recent years.

Shiv Viswanathan, interpreting Gandhian Science, Says , ‘The solution to the dangers of idle curiosity is not abstract ivory  tower science. It is to turn science to the community , where one interacts with everyday questions from the mundane to the esoteric . Theories like khadi would be spun at home, and science would not be just abstract problem solving. Nor would relevance be ordained by the bureaucrat. The scientist would like the housewife, care, heal, preserve, nurse and realize that there is an inventiveness to maintaining , preserving and preventing. The community of science would vary from city to city, village to village studying plants , sky, forests, wood seasons, stone, houses, flowers, soil, tools. Yet each community would not be an ocean of alternatives.’

Viswanathan continues’Despite or may be because of the Jain elements in his philosophy  Gandhi was never sentimental about nature. He would have realized that most forms of work involve some violence to nature but one must seek to minimize it. If the theory of handcraft constitutes one aim of this, his naturopathic perspective constitutes the other. Possibility because of the influnce of Kuhne (a famous 19th century naturopath known for his bath method for toxin eliminations and healing) his experiments in vegetarianism , and the experience of theosophy, Hind Swaraj is written as an intensely naturopathic document. Essential to naturopathy is the idea of harmony.For Gandhi , the body was a microcosm of the universe and he sought a harmony of two kinds. first the harmony of the body and its  constituent parts, and second, between the body and its environment, particularly with earth water, light, and air.All disease is a violation of harmony . In naturopathy, one strengthens the body to resist disease. The healer is one who recognizes the wisdom of the body  rather than relying on the all-conquering drug. For naturopathy, there is no greater violation than the body on clock time. The modern city and the modern idea of work add to the stresses that disrupt the harmony of the body , the soil and the cosmos. One uses natural rhythms of life and death  to strengthen the soil and so aviods synthetic ferilizers. One uses the idea of organicity to redeem the mechanomorphic  city . One limits desire to restrict technological rapacity. Naturopathy, like traditional agriculture and handicraft, builds into the system a sense of limits , of responsibility, which  no modren system of knowledge possess at the epistemic and ethical level.

Many people do not know that Arne Naess, the well-known Norwegian philosopher and exponent of the concept of deep ecology, was influnced earlier on by Gandhi. Gandhian experiments in simple living i harmony with the environment, his ideas relating to human connectness with nature, his linkage between self-realization, non-violence and biospherical egalitarianism ‘ and rejection of materialist   civilization made him a deep ecologist of sorts . Gandhi used tongs to remove snakes , yet did not find it difficult to recommend mercy killing  of animals in a acute pain due to incureable disease or injury , which demonstrates that his approach was practical enough. Gandhi said ‘I do believe that all God’s creatures have the right to live as much as we have’

Weber tells us that the best example of Gandhi’s respect for nature comes from his defence of the cow and its protection as one of the important facts of human evolution. Gandhi said’’It takes the human being beyond his species. The cow  to me means the entire sub-human world. Man , through the cow , is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives.’

Gandhi’s visit to Uttarakhand in 1929 led him to make  a number of statements reinforcing the connections between the Himalayas and the survival of the entire country . P.C Joshi , who wrote on the visit said that Gandhi’s understanding of the importance of Himalayas in sustaining the entire country was ahead of his time when he said that if therewere no Himalayas, the entire plain land of India would have been a desert like the Sahara. Joshi said, ‘In it are  present the seeds of today’s scientific ecology and environmentalism. His understanding of the link between the survival of the entire northern  India and its well-being and the Himalayas, on which  they depend and are centred , was unparalleled in his time. No other contemporary political leader or thinker had this perspective insight. Perhaps even the scientists  of the era did not have this Penetrating insightful perception of the interconnections  and linkages of the himalayan  environment  with the well-being of India as a whole...For one who was seeing the Himalayas for the first time and who had visited  just one part of the hills , Uttarakhand , to have acquired such a penetrating insight into the intrinsic secrets of the mountainous natural system  at the very first glance speaks of the exceptional quality of his powers of observation , keen insight, and extraordinary capability to reach deeper from the surface into the essence of the grand natural phenomena that he sighted. Joshi thinks that the Chipko movement in many ways  can be considered as a continuation  to his legacy by the ordinary people of the region.

Jhon Galtung ., who could be described as the father of modren peace research , also owes a lot to Gandhi . Thomas Weber says, ‘In  a sense , Gandhi was Galtung’s entiree into the world of peace research.’ Galtung himself has admitted that Gandhi and Buddhism were the major influences on his work . One of the major challenges facing humanity is to bring about desirable changes in society by removing oppressive structures . But the manner in which it is to be brought out has always remained a problem. . Many so called revolutionaries belonging to the progressive tradition think that one could use violence selectively to achieve change. Marxists, for example, do not rule it out. But it was Gandhi who made a connection between the means employed and the ends realized.Accordingly good ends realized through bad means will not be sustainable .


when can a citizen resist authority ? Gandhi has been known for his contribution to resistance politics. Regarding matters over which resistance  was permissible, Gandhi left it to the  individual conscience. If the conscience says that a particular law of the state  or act or a social practice needs  to be resisted, an individual is allowed to do so. about at the same time, only a law-abiding person can habituated to disobeying the law engages in forms of resistance that it has any meaning. Gandhi also envisaged a duty to resist where conscience was involved. He described real Swaraj as existing when people acquire the capacity to resist authority when it is abused. Any thing that does not agree with human diginity, freedom, equality, thus , becomes worthy of resistance.

Gandhi believed that non-violence should be adopted by the resisters as a creed rather than merely asa  a cost-effective expedient. This is because he believed that the deeper soul change that he directed would not come if non-violence was employed with a view to defeating  the adversary and undermining his rule. Unlike the Marxist dialectic, which stops with the end of class conflict, emergence of conflict dynamics does not stop. but instead  expects the emergence of conflict in any social order. The only difference is that the way we  express them and try to resolve  them directs us to new possibilities that many Marxist have been wary of contemplating. Gandhi was critical of history  being violence-centric and palace-based and not reflective of the ordinary masses. Since histories are written in a partial perspective, even their heuristic value  was in doubt , according to him.

In non-violence in peace and war, Gandhi  wrote, ‘So far as I can see, the atomic bomb has deadened the finest feeling that has sustained mankind for ages. There used to be the so-called laws of war which made it tolerable. Now we know the naked truth. War knows no law except that of might. Further, he said ‘I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women, and children as the most diabolical use of science.’ After the Hiroshima disaster, Gandhi said, ‘The moral to be drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter-bombs even as violence cannot be ended by counter-violence. Mankind has to get out of violence only through non-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love. Counter-hatred only increases the surface as well as the depth of hatred.’








Source: Mahatma Gandhi and the Environment