Significance of Gandhism for Public Health Issues

Author- Kumar Pankaj

On his death anniversary, people worldwide, regardless of their political leanings, paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, the “Father of the Nation.” Despite the propaganda to the contrary, Gandhi and his ideas are still relevant in the modern world, even if the dominant powers believe that Gandhi’s ideals are impractical to implement in the current geopolitical context. Given the gravity of humanity’s current problems, it is wise to delve into Gandhi’s philosophy and how its messages can help us overcome these obstacles.

The Pandemic Tragedy

The recent COVID-19 Pandemic has revealed the very nature of global development, with many people losing loved ones and suffering in ways that should not be counted in terms of numbers and rates of morbidity and mortality. This tragic event causes unimaginable suffering to millions of people and their loved ones worldwide, regardless of socioeconomic, political, or cultural status. In India, nearly 5 million people died due to COVID-19-related causes, and millions suffered from preventive measures implemented by various governments. People have lost their jobs travelling long distances to get home, many have died in train accidents, and how can we forget the image of the baby crying on the dead body of his mother in Bihar, and pregnant women walking more than 1000 kilometres?

Current Public Health Challenges

Furthermore, the latest data on the global disease burden indicates that developing and underdeveloped countries bear a double disease burden worldwide. Noncommunicable diseases, also known as lifestyle diseases, pose a severe problem to industrialised countries. The disadvantaged, the poor, and the members of racial minority groups bear a disproportionate share of the burden of illness, making health inequality a further critical issue. Carbon emissions, ozone depletion, deforestation, and pollution are all problems that have directly resulted from human greed and are adding to an already overwhelming list of environmental concerns. In addition, terrorism is another public health concern as the number of people who lost their lives due to terrorism has reached an all-time high, as there were 32,685 and 29,376 deaths related to terrorism in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Significance of Gandhi’s Philosophy

Now it has become prudent to investigate how the principle and ideas propagated by Gandhi can be an instrument in addressing these challenges. Can the challenges like inequity in health status, environmental degradation, and pollution be mitigated through the pathways laid by Mahatma Gandhi? Further, is it prudent to propose that issues like terrorism, while keeping the current geopolitical context in mind, can be dealt with through his ideas?

Maintaining hygiene and cleanliness is considered one of the crucial preventive measures that can lessen the probability of getting sick significantly. The recent pandemic has proved why maintaining hygiene is vital during public health emergencies. Since Gandhi understood the correlation between poor health and economic hardship, social deprivation, lack of personal hygiene, and unhealthy diets, he took steps to improve the lives of ordinary Indians. By eliminating the unsanitary conditions that Gandhi saw as the root of so many health issues, he thought he could help people everywhere, as witnessed in western countries such as Britain, France, Germany, and the USA, where the burden of communicable disease was mitigated through sanitary reforms.

Different Perspectives and Pathways

Looking from an Ambedkarite and Marxist perspective enables us to understand that one’s material and social positioning is central to one’s well-being and health. Various socioeconomic Determinants such as caste, gender, economic status, education and racial identity contribute to inequity in health status; the burden of diseases in poor socio-economic groups, indigenous tribal populations, and racial minorities; and the human suffering are other aspects where Gandhian principles can help address the determinants. The current global economic order is the reason for prevailing inequality and making millions of people vulnerable to deprivation, poverty and destitution. Realising that economic inequality was the root cause of social inequality, Gandhi developed plans for economic reconstruction in independent India. Gandhi wrote in Young India about his economic ideas.

I must confess that I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics; economics that hurt the wellbeing of an individual or a nation are immoral and therefore sinful. Thus, the economics that permits one country to prey upon another are immoral. It is sinful to buy and use articles made by sweated labourers”.

(M.K.Gandhi, Young India, 1921)

The idea that every individual must have adequate means to feed and clothe himself was central to Gandhi’s economic ideas. Defining the meaning of equality, Gandhi said, “economic equality of my conception does not mean that everyone will have the same amount. It simply means that everyone should have enough to meet their needs… “The true definition of economic equality is ‘to each according to his needs.'”

Relevance of Practices of Gandhi in addressing challenges of Non-Communicable Diseases

Changing one’s behaviour and embracing the principles of nonviolence and Ahimsa is the answer to a specific problem and a wide range of complex issues. While communal and extremist forces may be at their most potent right now, Gandhi’s ideas will remain relevant and present a long-term challenge to their dominance. Finally, his thoughts on religious harmony will serve as a beacon for all time.

“My religion has no biographical limit,

my religion is based on truth and non-violence.”

Kumar Pankaj ( is a PhD scholar at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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