The Danish Peace Academy

Mahatma Gandhi: Ramayana and Justice

By: Dr. Ravindra Kumar

Ramayana is neither an epic nor it is a treatise which is composed in rich diction and a grand style. In fact, it is delineation of the life and deeds of Maryada Purushottam Rama. The main characteristic of Ramayana is its universality. Therein almost all aspects of life have been vividly depicted. According to PA Barannikow, idealism, realism, humanism and catholicity have been fully incorporated in it. The significance of Ramayana has not faded with time. It has found a place in the hearts of all rich, poor, scholars or illiterates alike. Millions of people not only in India but also in other countries hold Ramayana, the grand story of Rama’s life, in high esteem. A great majority of Indians regard it as an ideal model of life and treat it as the symbol of their religion. Frank Whaling, quoting the author of Ramayana, writes: “Rama has remained a symbol of dharma, human relationship and kingship; for others he has been a symbol of Brahman or a symbol or the living Lord. It may well be that this concept symbolical development and symbolical levels will illuminate other facets of religious life.

How, then, a great personality like Gandhi would have remained unaware of, and unaffected by Ramayana that has a universal appeal and by Rama, its hero? In all probability the two had impressed him most. Gandhi was a great Hindu, a true Indian, and real citizen of the world. He was greatly influenced by the central character of Ramayana and considered him an ideal model for mankind. Above all, Rama’s system of administration was, from his point of view, the true democracy. Gandhi’s heart was a permanent abode of Rama, who was endowed with the attributes of Brahman, and who was an ideal king, self-disciplined, obedient, dutiful, patient, dignified, a man of word, law-abiding and coordinator. Thinking about Rama and his system of administration, he was many a time lost in a world of dreams. Later, when he came back from that world of imagination to the world of reality, his inner feelings were: “Whether Rama of my imagination ever lived or not on this earth, the ancient ideal of Ramarajya is undoubtedly one of true democracy…” Indeed, Ramarajya as has been described in Ramayana had all the characteristics of democracy. In spite of the fact that there was no electoral procedure in those days like the one in the present day democratic system, the public opinion was taken into account and was given due importance. Notwithstanding, there was no written constitution of Ramarajya, the citizens enjoyed the right of equality and avenues of development were open to all. In the eyes of law, all, whether rich or poor, a royal or a beggar, were the same. Everyone enjoyed the socio-religious freedom. Ramarajya, as Gandhi has also said, was not a Hindu rule, it was the kingdom of God. Although Rama was the ruler, every person had a right to speak his or her mind. What we expect of a democratic state-liberty, equality, rights, duties etc.? They are indispensable to democracy. Besides, more important is that the progress of all is assured; law protects everyone; and above all, people realize that they are an integral part of government. No one should feel that his/her say has no importance and that he/she is ignored. A person must be accorded justice if his/her right of equality is at risk, his/her entitlement or liberty is suppressed, his/her path of progress is obstructed or one has failed to do the duty to him/her.

The main characteristic of Ramarajya was that it covered all aspects of democracy as mentioned above. It set a high standard of an ethical and moral conduct. There was all likelihood of getting justice. That is why, Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged Ramarajya as true democracy. In his own words: “In the Ramarajya the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice without an elaborate and costly procedure. Even the dog is described by the poet to have received justice under Ramarajya.”

It is now apparent that Gandhi considered Ramarajya truly democratic, as there was no possibility of injustice therein. Where justice is available even to a common man, there will be no occasion for exploitation. Non-violence would exercise an overbearing influence and peace would be rife among all. Under these circumstances, one and all would be able to pursue undeterred the goal of their life. In short, justice was the yardstick of democracy from Gandhi’s point of view. According to his philosophy founded on non-violence, the concept of democracy can only be realized if justice is made ubiquitous.

Broadly speaking, justice supplements non-violence or it can be said that it is an essentially appended value of non-violence. In context of the concept of justice, if we analyze the views of scholars, especially those from the West, we can arrive at the truth of the above statement. The subject-specialists already know that for Aristotle justice was, ‘equal things to equal persons’. According to Benthom, the formula of justice is: “Everyone to count for one and nobody for more than one”. Likewise, in the opinion of Rashdall, the concept of justice is, ‘bestowing equal good on equal capacity’. Justice for Sidgwick means, ‘behaving towards all in a fitting manner’. Urban associating it with moral self-realizing says: “Justice consists in giving to everyone the indispensable conditions of the moral life, or of self-realization”.

Therefore, it is clear that the above-mentioned thinkers consider equality to all, without prejudice, as the criterion for justice. Green and some other thinkers associate ‘non-interference with the existence of any living being’ or to be positive ‘interference for promotion of existence’ with justice. All these views come within the domain of Gandhi’s ‘positive non-violence’. It is worth giving a thought; if equality, non-interference with the existence of other beings or interference for promotion of existence or moral self-realization is made the criterion for non-violence and the daily practices are conducted accordingly, will they not deepen the roots of non-violence and eventually strengthen it? They certainly will. For this very reason Gandhi’s non-violence would evolve into a more matured form and would be more effective in a state like Ramarajya where none would be above law. It is needless to remind that Rama is the persona magnum of Ramayana, and everyone knows it. It is also not doubtful that he is revered by the many. Rama’s life reflects many facets of an ideal life. They excel one and the other. Those who have faith in Rama have a great regard for all of them, but some, of their own free will, treat any of them as the best. For example, one may look upon him as the paragon of dutifulness, whereas, the other as a unique example of friendship. Similarly, one may acknowledge him as the model of self-disciplined and self-restrained life, the other as symbol of love, and such thoughts have no end. Rama has set a perfect example of an ideal son, brother, husband or a son-in-law. Gandhi, as I think, had a great regard for all his personal traits and relationships as a man. He had faith in Rama’s all pervading form. However, the extent and intent of Gandhi’s thoughts on Ramarajya and the swift justice assured then cannot be appraised in a few words. To all democracies prevailing in various countries, his thoughts on Ramarajya are of great significance. It is, now, high time that we put our heads together and carry on intensive research work or analysis of Gandhian thoughts to ascertain unaberrant and better governance.

Kumar, Ravindra: Reverence for All Life: A Move Towards Cosmic Consciouness.


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