A national seminar on “Gandhi on Dignity” was organized by Philosophy department of Wilson College, Mumbai in collaboration with Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) on 8th and 9th October at Wilson College. The seminar was part of the celebrations on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi. The objective of the seminar was to revisit the philosophy of Gandhi against the backdrop of contemporary socio-political context. The seminar was attended by over 600 students in the course of the two days. Though there was a floating audience in accordance with their lecture schedule, the hall at any given point was full reflecting the interest that the seminar invoked amongst students.
The organizers had invited eminent scholars, college professors and students to present papers on different themes. The themes included Gandhi and the question of caste, Gandhi and religious diversity, Gandhi and his idea of nationalism. The invited guest speakers included Justice (retired) Gokhale who delivered the keynote address, Tushar Gandhi who delivered the valedictory address, Irfan Engineer, Rajni Bakshi, Ram Puniyani, Abhijeet Deshpande, Harishchandra Navale and Geeta Mehta.
The presentations journeyed through the philosophy of Gandhi from an inter-disciplinary approach and also through the various debates and contributions of Gandhi. Gandhi who is an inspiration the world over for movements of equality, against colonialism, racism etc has been reduced to a mere token and symbol of sanitation programme by the state. His vision of an inclusive, just and equal India is not achieved and is in fact been tarnished by targeted violence, inequality and hatred. This necessitated revisiting his message which was appreciated by the students. Broadly, as was pointed out by Justice Gokhale, the greatest contribution of Gandhi was the framework that he provided for nationalism- inclusive, liberal, and democratic. His strong moral force and spirituality influenced his political tools which succeeded in making him a visionary, statesman and nation builder. He critically looked at the evil practices in his own religion though he was a devout Hindu. Rajni Bakshi explained that his concept of Ram Rajya was not a militarized hypo-masculine one but one founded on values of love, compassion, morality and tolerance.
Thus, it was no surprise that he had followers across religious identities. Irfan Engineer emphasized that Muslims in India rejected the two- nation theory and were primarily the supporters of Indian National Congress and Gandhi. Gandhi’s views on religion, non- violence and compassion influenced the ideology of Muslim stalwarts like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. They were examples of nationalist Muslims in India who worked towards Hindu-Muslim unity and peace. Arguing that Gandhi’s nationalism is in contradiction with the hyper-nationalism of the Hindu supremacists, Ram Puniyani said that today there is an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance which is promoted by ruling dispensation. There is a mere appropriation of Gandhi and his symbols by the state but none of his principles are being practiced. Tushar Gandhi pointed out that the State is duty bound to promote the dignity and human rights of all section of the society are to be protected and promoted equally especially of the marginalized communities.
The Seminar received a very encouraging response in terms of the participation of the students, the points discussed and also the appreciation of the students. Last, the conference wouldn’t be this successful without the initiative from Prof. Harsha Badkar, Porf. Biraj Mehta and the students from the Philosophy Department.