On January 30, 2024, Indians commemorated the 76th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Nation. Aligned with a political ideology diametrically opposed to the vision and values of Mahatma Gandhi gripping the majority of Indians, deliberate attempts are being made to erase the image of Mahatma Gandhi from the collective memory. Reducing Mahatma Gandhi to the Clean India programme is a shrewd tactic to make him irrelevant to the other serious aspects of the Nation's life. Gandhiji, who transcended the boundaries of India and influenced millions of people worldwide, continues to be an inspiration.
In the absence of Gandhian values like truth, non-violence, simplicity, religious pluralism, spirituality, freedom and dignity of the individual, what is flourishing in the society are the Seven Social Sins about which Mahatma Gandhi wrote on October 22, 1925, in his weekly newspaper Young India. The original author of the list of "Seven Deadly Social Sins" is Frederick Lewis Donaldson, an Anglican priest. Later, Gandhiji gave the same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi, written on a piece of paper on their final day together shortly before his assassination. Gandhiji wanted the people of India to be cautioned against the seven social evils.
1. Wealth without Work: Amassing wealth through unfair means harms society. There are various unethical ways by which wealth is amassed by individuals, organisations, political parties and companies. Receiving money as bribes by politicians and bureaucrats for doing their official work, tax evasion through fraudulent means, paying politicians to get favourable contracts, not paying proper wages to workers, gambling, and deceiving banks by not repaying loans are different methods of generating wealth without work.
Corruption has been a termite that eats the very vitals of the Indian Nation. Transparency International publishes the Corruption Perception Index every year. In 2023, it ranked 180 countries on a scale of 0 to 100, hundred being very clean and zero being highly corrupt. According to the report, 131 countries made no significant progress against corruption in the last decade. Two-thirds of the countries score below 50, and 27 are at their lowest score. India ranked 93 out of 180 countries.
Human greed is one of the significant reasons for amassing wealth unethically and illegally. In this context, what Gandhiji said is very relevant. "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed." Human wants have no limit, but the needs are limited. An economy based on multiplying people's wants naturally leads to greed and immoral ways of amassing wealth.
Wealth creation through legal and ethical means without inflicting harm to the environment is needed for the progress of any society.
2. Pleasure without Conscience: It means the pursuit of sensuality and gratification without responsibility to God, others and oneself. It also means enjoyment at the expense of others. People commit many crimes because they want enjoyment at the expense of others. The primary cause of sexual crimes, especially against women and children, is to satisfy one's desire for enjoyment without any consideration for the people who undergo suffering and humiliation. Those who indulge in these crimes fail to listen to their conscience.
Pleasure without conscience can lead to one's own destruction. Drug addiction, excessive consumption of alcohol, and diabetic patients eating forbidden food items are the results of the inability of people to control themselves. Practising self-control is essential not to become a victim of "pleasure without conscience".
3. Knowledge without Character: A person with knowledge but no character is not helpful to society. Sometimes, such persons can become dangerous to society because, in the absence of character, knowledge can be misused and abused for destructive purposes. The character represents a person's value system and the ability to choose between right and wrong. Hence, an education that imparts only knowledge without character can be very treacherous. Humanness is the essence of character. Against this backdrop, a quote from Dr. Haim Ginott, a child psychologist, educationist and survivor of the holocaust in Hitler's Germany, is very pertinent: "I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by the learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies were shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters or skilled psychopaths. Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human".
4. Business without Morality: Contemporary society needs business to meet people's needs and provide employment. But business should not be based on cheating and making excessive profits. One of the prime objectives of starting any business by investing one's resources is making a profit. But making exorbitant profits or resorting to cheating is "business without morality".
Using any unfair business methods will ultimately harm the business itself. People may lose faith in the company or businessman if they come to know that unfair methods are being used. For example, the share prices of many Adani companies plummeted when the Hindenburg report accused Adani companies of stock manipulations and accounting fraud. The Adani companies took a few months to recover from their tremendous loss.
5. Science without Humanity: Progress in science and technology has contributed immensely to alleviating human suffering and providing various facilities. For example, a mobile phone with multiple uses is a wonderful gift of science and technology. At the same time, the misuse of science has caused untold suffering to people. Manufacturing mass-killer weapons, including different types of bombs, is an example of the misuse of science.
When scientific and technological inventions are used without considering humanity, they become a curse. What is required is making use of science for the well-being of humankind. Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to mechanisation that displaces human labour, but he supported the use of machines for reducing drudgery. Large-scale mechanisation and automation lead to mounting unemployment in underdeveloped and developing countries. Experts are hotly debating whether increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots will result in a large-scale loss of jobs.
Science and technology are meant for the well-being of human beings. Hence, any use of them should not harm human creativity and dignity.
6. Religion without Sacrifice: Religions have played antagonistic and positive societal roles. They have motivated and inspired millions of people to find meaning in life and to be altruistic. There are thousands of religion-based organisations involved in various developmental and welfare activities. At the same time, religion has been a divisive force in society. Many wars were fought, and millions of people died in religion-based fights and conflicts. Religion is being misused by terrorists to kill human beings.
Religion becomes a divisive force when it is politicised and commercialised. The core values taught by all religions are the same: love, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, etc. When religions overemphasise rituals, dogmas, prayers and building gigantic worship centres, etc., to neglect the core values taught by them, abuse of religion takes place.
Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed in Hinduism but rarely visited temples to worship God. He conducted inter-faith prayer in his ashrams. When the issue of the reconstruction of Somnath temple was brought to his attention, he said that the government should not spend its money on temple construction; it should be done by the members of the Hindu society.
Practising the core values of religions requires sacrifice from its followers. In the absence of sacrifice, religion becomes a show. In this show-off, religions compete with each other by building gigantic worship centres, erecting gigantic statues and organising mega-religious events. Often, this competitive religiosity leads to conflicts and violence. The followers of religions have to be on their guard so that vested interests, especially politicians, do not make use of religion for their selfish interests. This requires balancing bhakti with critical thinking or scientific temper.
7. Politics without Principle: Generally, political parties in any country are based on ideologies or principles. The ideological orientation of political parties could be right, left, or centre. Moreover, all political parties in any democratic country are expected to follow the principles and provisions of their country's constitution, as it is the very foundation of governance. Political parties compromising their ideologies and overriding the country's constitution to remain in power leads to misgovernance, violation of the fundamental rights of people and misuse of state institutions and agencies.
Mr Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, is a classic example of "politics without principles". He had no hesitation in switching sides to join with the BJP party. Within ten years, he changed sides five times. The frequency of change earned him the pejorative "Paltu Kumar".
To capture power, the ruling parties were broken in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and MLAs were purchased in the recent past. The BJP has proved to be adept in breaking political parties opposed to it. This phenomenon exposes the type of political leaders India has. Their only aim appears to capture power and remain in power at any cost. They are least bothered about ideology, principles or ethics. This is the greatest tragedy of Indian politics and the failure of the Indian Nation.
Selfishness and self-centeredness are the root cause of all seven social evils. Unless individuals and communities emerge from their narrow shells of selfishness, the seven social evils will flourish. Spirituality based on the core values of religions can help people to break out of the shell of selfishness and become authentic human beings. The practice of the Gandhian ideals of Sarvodaya and Trusteeship effectively reduces the grip of seven social sins.