Although my country, India, has been known in all the centuries of its history as a place where religious ideas and institutions have flourished, still I would choose as my most closely held beliefs the words and principles of a modern Indian, a man who always refused the title of a saint or a holy man. The Indian people, in spite of his wishes, called him Great Spirit. The world knew him as Mahatma Gandhi.
It is his special definitions of suthia, truth, and ahimsa, non-violence, that have most affected my life, because his particular interpretations of these concepts in his life and in his words showed, to me at least, their direct application to all situations where social, political, and economic inequalities exist.
In India, it is impossible to miss the abject poverty in all its startling contrast to the occasional wealth, or the sickness and misery in contrast to the beauty of art or of landscape. The Princess Procession with its golden finery will pass the beggars and the maimed on the roadside. More than half of India’s mothers can expect to see a child of theirs die before he is a year old. Ninety percent of India’s children can never hope to go to school. These are the obvious and disturbing aspects of my country. In the face of them, it is easy to say—but harder to believe—that men are born equal in the eyes of God.
To me, as to so many other Indians, Mahatma Gandhi was a constant reminder of our place and our privilege, and in logical succession, our duty to India. Inequalities, inhuman conditions are, in the Hindu concept, explained by the theory of Karma: that this lifespan of an individual is only a part of a much larger scheme, is conditioned by previous lives, and is developing toward future ones. I am content to leave this to the interpretations of philosophers.
To me, Mahatma Gandhi’s conviction is more real: that there is no reason for human institutions to perpetrate injustices that warp and embitter the human being; that cost and creed and wealth are accidental; and that color, like beauty, is only skin deep. Human dignity, in whatever strata of society, remains the same and is of paramount importance. Environment and opportunity may play an important part in human affairs, but each individual has the same chance for spiritual attainment.
I think, therefore, that it is supremely important to recognize and respect truth, to strive for fair play, and most especially to do all this in an active but non-violent manner. But non-violence should not be interpreted simply as a laissez-faire policy. I feel that it is necessary to voice disapproval of an injustice and to persist in demanding that it be corrected.
The theory of non-violence is simple enough. The technique is extremely difficult. But I think that it develops in the individual considerable, spiritual strength—or as Mahatma Gandhi put it, soul force. Equally important, it saves a human being from the demoralization and degradation that violence brings. And it is my belief that the service of any religion must be, at least in part, the service of mankind.
Lady Rama Rau was an advocate for women’s rights in India. She founded the Indian Family Planning Association, and was president of the All India Women’s Conference. Rau led the International Planned Parenthood Association from 1963 to 1971. She died in 1987.
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