One might be amused by the title of this article with the question knocking our schemata or cognitive structures representing generic knowledge and memory – How on earth Mahatma Gandhi fought with Covid-19 when we know the virus emerged as recent as last year i.e. 2019? Is it a Joke?
Let me assure everyone, it’s not a joke and Gandhi ‘is’ fighting with the Covid-19 pandemic at present. Let me explain.
When we discuss a social thinker, we do not discuss a ‘person’ with bones and flesh; we do not discuss its height or weight; we do not discuss its blood group. When we are discussing social thinkers, we are interested in their ideas, in their perspectives and their social engagement helping millions of people in attaining their social consciousness. Therefore, Gandhi might have left this world around 72 years ago, but his ideas are still contemporary and widely present among us even during this times of unprecedented challenge to human society – Covid-19 pandemic.
Also, when we analyze a pandemic, it’s not only about deaths and related disabilities but its overall social impact on human civilizations or core social institutions i.e. impact on family, education, religion, economy and polity. We all know and have witnessed since the beginning of this year, how this pandemic have challenged our existing social relations, social institutions and social consciousness. The television visuals of millions of migrant workers walking down unending stretches of national highways are still fresh in our mind. The heart wrenching news of millions of people loosing employment during the lockdown is still fresh in our mind. The great Indian middle class frantically appealing to the government for home loan and school fees deferment is still fresh in our minds.
So can Mahatma Gandhi help to fight this pandemic and its fallouts in society? Well the answer is a definite yes. Let’s examine how Gandhi can help in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic related social problems in 2020 and in near future.
- Can Gandhi Return Your Job?
- Can Gandhi defer School Fees Payments of your child?
- Can Gandhi defer Payment of your Home Loans?
Gandhian economics is an answer to the rising discomfort in Indian Economy. With millions of people losing their regular jobs during the initial days of lockdown, opens the Pandora’s Box of the great lies hidden in the neo-liberal economic experiment which started in India during early 1990s. If ‘freeing’ the market led to employment generation in the country, it also laid the foundation for propagation of the idea of maximizing the self-interest of the market forces making humans (as employees) a mere ‘resource’. And a resource when exhausted, in a market oriented mode of production, is either replaced immediately or further exploited as per the business requirements of the markets. And this is exactly what we witnessed in the month of April this year when one of the biggest human migrations in the world, following job layoffs, kicked off in India. The job sector which is based on the free market economy, immediately shut off its doors to the millions of workers whether in corporate sector or factories, whether white collar workers or blue collar workers all lost their jobs. However, Gandhi had rejected this western economic system idea of ‘multiplication of wants’ where humans are treated as mere part of production process and not the equal stakeholders. Gandhi had termed this system as unsustainable and untenable. Therefore he must have not been surprised but pained during the lockdown with expulsion of millions of workers from their employment.
Gandhian economics instead focused on fulfilment of ‘organic’ needs of society rather than fulfilment of market constructed ‘artificial’ social and individual needs. Gandhi’s conception of the economy was aimed at acknowledging the ‘actual’ need of people and community at large. Let me explain this with an example. The recent Indian News Media over-emphasis on the Bollywood-Drug relationship and related stories (which is an offshoot of TRP oriented business model) thus constructs a public consciousness (into viewership for TRP) which creates an artificial cognitive ‘need’ of the individual and alienates the viewer from its organic survival need which also affects the larger human community resulting widening off the unemployment problem. Therefore the core rule in Gandhian economics is to realize or acknowledging the real need and rejecting the unwanted distractions.
Secondly, Since the Gandhian economics is aimed at fulfilment of ‘community’ needs. That means communities should acknowledge the job loss of an individual as a loss to the community as a whole and take the social responsibility of providing an alternative means of employment to the unemployed during the crisis. Thus dependence on the market for employment is not only reduced but also localized thus sustainable.
“..The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education..” (M. K. Gandhi – True Education.)
Gandhi had a clear vision regarding education. He was a critic of ‘job oriented’ approach and related structure of education system which produces mere ‘human resource’ for the market. For the same reason, he advocated an education system where core values of humanity is taught rather than only focus on skill development. Because of this over emphasis on skill development which suits the market requirements reduces an individual’s creativity, organic human potential and societal ethics. For the same reason, a probable delay of a year in education system due to Covid-19 related lockdown, ‘stresses’ the market forces as a delayed reinforcement of their labour force may put their ‘investments’ at risk. Hence the market forces promoting compulsory online learning for the primary school children (in some cases kindergarten children) even though it’s unethical, unhealthy, and economic exclusionary for the middle class families in India. Therefore as Gandhi says, the community as a whole should acknowledge this forced methods of artificial learning (for the market) and instead should implement Tagore’s Visva Bharti model of teaching and learning atmosphere in their neighborhood funded by the state government.
Gandhi also promoted the idea of cooperative societies for the benefit of the workers. In the cooperative societies the stakeholders are the workers or the aam admi. In this model of production, all the stakeholders are given an equal share of the profit arising out of the cooperative business. On the same line cooperative banks are an excellent model of banking and micro finance in a local neighborhood. Cooperative banks are smaller but are more efficient in evading banking failures that we are witnessing in current times. In such times of pandemic where millions have lost jobs, cooperative banks are at a better position for loan deferment.
Therefore the Gandhian solution for the Covid-19 induced lockdown and related social problems rests with the ‘people’ only, however not as an individual but as a community.
About the Author
Dr. Devanjan Khuntia
PhD in Sociology of Political Economy, Currently Faculty of Sociology at G D Goenka University, Gurugram. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org