Revisiting Truth and Non-Violence in the Post Truth Age Makes Mahatma Gandhi More Relevant than Ever Before

On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 152nd birth anniversary we gratefully recall the centrality of Truth and non-violence to his worldview and indispensability of these two ideals in determining all his activities for freedom of India from British rule and progressive social transformation of Indian society. He had the challenging goal of applying truth and non-violence at the planetary level for achieving sustainability and justice endangered by accelerated pace of modern civilisation responsible, according to Gandhi, for incessant multiplication of wants and desires. It is quite heartening to note that these two enduring ideals -truth and non-violence- are commanding greater attention and renewed focus in multiple fora including judiciary and academia. The Chief Justice of India, Justice Chandrachud, in his M C Chagla Memorial Lecture asserted “… it is not difficult for one to understand why democracy and truth go hand in hand. Democracy needs the power of truth to survive. As such, once can consider “speaking truth to power” as a right every citizen must have in a democracy, but equally as also the duty of every citizen”.

Post Truth Age

In the Ajit Mohan & Ors. Vs Delhi Assembly the Supreme Court referred to the inclusion of the term Post Truth in Oxford dictionary in 2016 and gave its definition as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It also added that “This expression has a period relevance when it came to be recognised contextually with divided debates about the 2016 US Presidential Elections and Brexit – two important events with effects beyond their territorial limits.” The apex court then sharply observed, “The obfuscation of facts, abandonment of evidentiary standards in reasoning, and outright lying in the public sphere left many aghast.” This erosion of reasoning to understand truth has been the bane of post- truth age. The Supreme Court proceeded to state, “A lot of blame was sought to be placed at the door of social media , it being a source of this evolving contemporary phenomenon where objective truth is becoming a commodity with diminishing value”. The calculated attrition of truth through recurrent false narratives and falsehood of the powers that be underlines the intense relevance of truth which Mahatma Gandhi called as God to restore sanity and strength in the twenty first century world.

Amartya Sen’s Course on Truth for Harvard University

On 6th March 2021 NDTV’s Pranoy Roy discussed with professor Amartya Sen on economy and farm laws and asked him about his amazingly relevant course on Truth, prepared by him for Hrvard University, and its relevance in the present age where there is trust-deficit and truth-deficit at its peak.

Professor Sen stated that he was increasingly convinced that a lot of the difficulty in the world arises from people’s perception of truth being so limited. He invoked philosopher Wittgenstein who wanted to be a better person by being more intelligent. Adding further he added, “Being intelligent has not much to do with being a better person. But she thought that a lot of our failure, our inability to do the right thing arises from our intellectual failure and, in particular, not understanding the truth. And there is a big need for understanding the true nature of the Indian economy and the society and the polity, in the context of the differences and debates that we happen to encounter in the world.”

There is indeed massive and willful failure to understand truth about India, its history, its diversity and the struggle and protest movements of people for establishing a better society informed by constitutional values.
In these assertions in favour of truth that Gandhi’s enduring legacy anchored in truth and non-violence assumes greater significance for our post truth age thriving on webs of lies.

Truth, Plurality and Diversity

For Gandhi truth is associated with plurality and diversity and not uniformity. His words, “Truth has no form. Therefore, everyone will form such an idea or image of Truth as appeals to him, and there will be as many images of Truth as there are men. These will be true as long as they last. For, they enable a man to obtain everything he wants.”

The spirit of what he said is writ large in the aforementioned M C Chagla memorial lecture of Chief Justice when he said “it is important to remember that every person – rich or poor; male or female or belonging to a third gender; Dalit or Brahmin or otherwise; Hindu, Muslim or Christian or belonging to any other religion – has the inherent capacity to identify the truth, and differentiate it from falsehood.”

Mahatma Gandhi while addressing a prayer meeting in 1947 said “People professing different religions have mingled to form the Indian nation and they are all citizens of India and no section has the right to oppress another section. The power derived from the sword or from numbers is not real power. Truth is real power.”

His famous statement that “I do not want India to be wholly Hindu, wholly Islamic or wholly Christian but wholly tolerant with all its religions coexisting side by side and flourishing” captures truth of India as a confluence of civilisations in contrast to theory of clash of civilisations advocated by professor Samuel Huntington.

The failure of people to accept religious pluralism of India which is the manifested truth and a constitutionally ordained reality means doing violence to truth. Any attempt not to accept India’s diversities by imposing the notion of “one nation, one culture” is nothing but negating truth associated with the idea of India and so integral to the vision and action of Gandhi.

It is plurality associated with truth which made Chief Justice claim in M C Chagla lecture that “With progress in society and annihilation of the notions of patriarchy and caste supremacy, the opinions of women, Dalits, and other marginalised communities are slowly but gradually starting to be regarded as “truths” in India”.

State Cannot Determine Truth

Hence, he said that it is difficult to rely on the State to determine the “truth” and so stressed on
“determination of truth through deliberation and discussion by the citizens – by paralleling, combining, and expounding the claims of truth in the public sphere”.

Multiple Meaning of Non-violence

Mahatma Gandhi defined non-violence from multiple perspectives and for him non-violence was much more than non-application of force in day to day life. He understood non-violence among others, as a method of dissent, as a process to sharpen mind, ability to accept the facts and appreciate someone’s quality. It meant engaging with others through dialogue, discussion and deliberation and ushering in transformation of society by employing non-violent means so that, inter alia, women are socially enfranchised, illiteracy is removed, living standards of people are improved and judiciary is reformed for ensuring quick and inexpensive justice to people. All these methods and means are now considered indispensable for public reasoning to arrive at truth and understand it so that appropriate measures can be taken to address the challenges confronted by humanity.

Mahatma Gandhi in his book My Experiments with Truth claimed that he only had glimpses of truth and not whole truth. So like scientists who while experimenting with matter examine hypotheses and keep their minds open before finding the results, Gandhi also was open to explore diverse realms of truth.

Non-violence in the Context of Climate Change

It is instructive to note that non-violence is now considered as normative principles along with sustainability, respect and justice to save humanity from the dangers of climate change and global warming. In the publication “Surviving the Century: Facing Climate Chaos and Other Global Challenges”, edited by Herbert Girardet and published by the German based World Future Council it is stated that by following those four normative principles humanity can survive the century and successfully face climate chaos. The planetary significance of non-violence is underlined by the book and affirms Mahatma Gandhi’s momentous claim that non-violence is the law of our species.

Naveen Patnaik Appealed for Inclusion of Non-Violence in Preamble of Constitution

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealed to the Union Government to incorporate non-violence in the Preamble of the Constitution on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. On 23 March 2021, the Naveen Patnaik led Odisha government passed a resolution in the state Assembly to include non-violence in the Preamble of the Constitution. The resolution marked the commencement of a year-long celebration of the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s first visit to the state on 23 March 1921. Naveen persuasively argued that inclusion of non-violence would be step to counter divisive forces out to polarise society and divide people on the basis of faith, caste and other identities.

Speaking Truth to Power

In his M C Chagla lecture Chief Justice of India stated that to use truth to criticize someone powerful is akin to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha where truth is used as a form of non-violent resistance against those wielding power . He then said, “As such, “speaking truth to power” aims to wield the power of “truth” against the powerful, be it an imperial power or even an all-powerful State. Crucially, the assumption is that the act of speaking the “truth” will counteract power, and obviate a predisposition towards tyranny.”

As democracy in India and across the world faces severe assault from those who thrive on false narratives and assume power by mobilising people on falsehood we need to harness the power of truth and non-violence by following Mahatma Gandhi whose life and work assumes greater relevance than ever before.

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