Gandhi’s Alternative Understanding of Justice: A Unilateral Duty of Deference
Professor Bindu Puri, renowned Mahatma Gandhi Scholar, recently delivered a talk at the University of Melbourne’s Asian Law Centre as part of the Institute’s Visiting Fellows Series.
It might seem natural that Gandhi should have been concerned about justice given that he was seeking political and economic justice for colonised Indians.
However, in this lecture, Professor Bindu Puri from Jawaharlal Nehru University at New Delhi in India argues that a concern for justice governed both the means and ends of Gandhi’s politics. Differing Liberal accounts of justice (whether they emphasized utility or rights) have rested upon the idea that justice is primarily a function of consent-based state authority. Such liberal accounts (no matter the differences between them) accept the rule of law through third-party justice and abstract equality before the law.
On a somewhat contrary note, Gandhi had argued that justice as a virtue of social institutions rested upon an individual and unilateral obligation/duty of deference to the other – whether major or minor-oppressed or colonizing oppressor . Gandhi spoke of “securing rights by personal suffering” rather than of getting justice by making others suffer. In this context, Professor Puri will refer to the concepts – swabhava ramrajya swaraj and tapasya – that Gandhi employed (both conceptually and practically) to resolve conflicts with hostile others. She reminds listeners that as a historical aside, it is interesting to recall that it was Rabindranath Tagore who had first recognized the significance of tapasya or self-imposed pain /austerity as the method of securing rights/justice in Gandhi’s ethics when he described Gandhi as ‘the great tapasvi’.