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Need to Look at Gandhi’s Concepts Critically, Says Writer Ajay Skaria  

Kochi, July 12: Underscoring the need to look at Mahatma Gandhi’s concepts and approaches critically, author and academic Ajay Skaria observes that though he insisted on equality of men and women he had done it in a patriarchal way.

Speaking at the “Let’s Talk”, organised by Kochi Biennale Foundation here on Wednesday, Skaria  also took sharply  critical view of the Mahatma’s concept of equality and the legacy of his struggles for the downtrodden.

“While Gandhi insisted on equality between men and women, he did so in a way that put in place, a profoundly patriarchal order that reified the distinction between men and women”,  Skaria, author of “Unconditional Equality; Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance ,” said.

“The term ‘ Harijan’ while doubtlessly empowering in its own times to many formally untouchable communities in the early twentieth  century also disempowered more insurgent and militant demands for equality,” Skaria, Scholar  of South Asian  Politics  and History at University of Minnesota,  said.

Skaria also said, Gandhi’s approach towards religion might have enabled the rise of ‘Hindutva’ later.

“If you had asked me as late as 2000, whether there was any chance I would work on Gandhi, I would have emphatically said  no. And, I would have said so partly  because of my atheism and also because both as a college student, and later in my work in Adivasi regions , I often encountered too many Gandhians running ashrams  that effectively practised  an  upper caste Hinduism. Even, now to my mind, his Hinduism as a social phenomenon likely enabled the later rise of Hindutva’.

Skaria  said that like most others who had come of intellectual age owing to the influence of Indian leftist movement, he too was suspicious of Gandhi’s concept because of the latter’s apparent religiosity.

Though he was a bit reluctant to work on several concepts formulated by Gandhi, he said he later started carefully reading them to encounter questions that de-familiarize the modern concept of Equality.

“We usually perceive equality in terms of similarities. But what we tend to forget is that there are differences within the similarities.  For instance, the concept of human rights is premised on the similarity of humans. We may say that animals have rights but not human rights and that’s distinction we should be aware of,” Skaria noted. Bose Krishnamachari, President, KBF and Riyas Komu, Secretary, KBF were  also present.

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