Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Mahatma Gandhi – Poverty and Simplicity

Mahatma Gandhi – Poverty and Simplicity


There is a proverb in India that reads “Even at times of poverty, one shall not lose integrity and honesty”. The life of Mahatma Gandhi depicted the true spirit of this saying and stands as a strong exemplar for the poorest of the poor to lead a modest life. Even in the days of oppression and subjugation, he voluntarily led a simple life and preached the millions of people of India to maintain their integrity by means of adopting nonviolent methods, truthfulness and direct, honest submission of soul in front of the offending evil that was pilfering the rights and ethical living.

His doctrine of Aparigraha (Non-possession or Non-attachment) is one of the greatest ways for one to work for a common cause that keeps one away from all miseries. It also keeps the mind, body and soul in a purified and sanctified state which ultimately bring out the fruits of the Karma without need for violent, greedy means. His choice of shedding the lavish attire became the aesthetic symbol for himself in the later days of his life.


Millions of starving people had a spell bounding experience of a beam of light while slogging in a darkness of ignorance and foreign domination at the arrival of Mahatma in their villages; in their huts; in their lands and in their workplaces.  In order to feed, nurse and clothe the millions of poor Indians, he came out with the statement “... those of us who want to see light out of darkness have to follow this rule. I do not want to dispossess anybody. I should then be departing from the rule of Ahimsa. If somebody else possesses more than I do, let him. But so far as my own life has to be regulated, I do say that I dare not possess anything which I do not want... You and I have no right to anything that we really have until these three millions are clothed and fed better....” And, the world knows how one man lived up to it until his death which changed the fate of the nation.


His insistence of using the ancient Charka for their daily alms was a boon to those people who lived in the midst of everyday scavenging, man-to-man pleading or harassing for their earnings. His scheme of massive spinning and hand-woven clothes dignified women and children to lead an honourable living. He upheld the need for resolving India’s poor economic condition than the pursuit for freedom and many of his schemes and plans embodied that purpose. In his own words, “The charkha, which is the embodiment of willing obedience and calm persistence, must therefore succeed before there is civil disobedience.”


30 billion people of India had a rich experience with various cultures, administrative systems and diversified style of living but poorer in developing business skills and modernizing traditional methods to build their economy. When the British came with their line of work, the country tasted a westernized style of living and methods that added comfort and affluence forcing them to learn new approaches in all walks of life. The worsened part of this transition was that people lost their rights and liberty, power and pride. Mahatma Gandhi was the one leader who struggled to bring back the impoverished to the main stream to mingle them up with the social, political structure, giving them all importance and transform them refined.


His efforts for the cause of the Harijans (untouchables, caste people belonging to lower class) had a greater influence in the process of India’s independence. While the ignorance and aggression of the Harijans stood as a barrier to the reinforcing of the freedom struggle, Gandhi assured that it could not be the rationale for delaying the self-government for India by involving them in his various schemes such as sarvodaya, swadeshi and mass spinning movements. In “Harijan”, he wrote, “In battling against untouchability, and in dedicating myself to that battle, I have no less an ambition than to see a full regeneration of humanity.”


A pure, ethical truth is achieved only through unselfishness. Self-centered, self-interested search for truth pollutes the whole process of correction and the outcome by such means could lead to extreme self-righteousness, arrogance, sometimes, even tyranny. The world need a discipline that sees Truth as God and asserts God is Truth, and that is possible by the means of "Reducing oneself to Zero".


We can cite many Mahatmas and Gurus who had surpassed many superstitious beliefs and attained this level zero. They have changed the whole world, the way it lives, while living at zero point. Lord Buddha attained enlightenment not when he was a King. Mother Teresa was on the roads when she had a sparkle in her mind to serve the downtrodden. Mahatma Gandhi is relevant even today for he had gone to the extent of wearing the "level zero" attire for his cause.


Gandhi’s economic vision was aimed at the removal of poverty and exploitation, economic inequality and a world order based on war. He conceptualized the ideas of cooperation and sharing, universal participation in physical labour, voluntary limitation of wants, decentralization of economic activities, a new technology called “Swadeshi” in consonance with the new goals, and the transformation of private ownership into trusteeship. Our economic reforms are no inferior to these tenets put forth by Gandhiji. Yet, there exists a huge difference between those in terms of social contribution and political application. Even as Gandhiji was criticized for wanting the people in the state of perpetual poverty and demanding self-disciplined austerity from them, today’s economic reforms put us in a state of spurious prosperity and communal disorderliness. Gandhiji wanted to build social justice and welfare amalgamated with economy for the poor India where as today’s economic policies dictates terms on its own, not evolving out of any social means but for political pragmatism. Therefore, one must have to comprehend finally that the Gandhian model of simplicity is no poverty, but a risk-free commodity you buy in your own outlet.


P.S. Submitted at the event of “The 5th Frankfurt Talks” by GandhiServe Foundation on 16th November, 2013 at Frankfurt, Germany.

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