Gandhi’s Religious Pluralism and What it Did for India


2019 is the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, celebrated at a ceremony January 2, where his granddaughter Ela Gandhi was presented the Defender of Peace Award. Indian historian Ramachandra Guha believes Gandhi's linguistic and religious pluralism saved the country.

“To be a patriotic Indian, one need not be a Hindu, speak Hindi or even hate Pakistan. This diversity has fully saved us,” said Guha. “South Africa taught Gandhi to respect linguistic and religious diversity and that is how he created a nation that does not define citizenship by religion or language.”

At a celebration of Gandhi’s birthday October 2, 2018, E.E. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, said, “The name and image evoke the very concepts of peace, restraint and passivity, even in the face of violence and extremism. This is incredible, especially when one considers that it has been 70 years since his passing. Entire generations have lived and died without ever really appreciating the true legacy of a man who worked tirelessly in a country on the other side of the world. And yet, despite the distances in time and geography, we would be challenged to find anyone, in any part of the world, who has not heard of or been redeemed by the principles he represented. This is remarkable. For while the details of the man may blur and fade, the essence of what he stood for will live on, long after we ourselves have passed.”

Although Hindu, Gandhi drew from many faiths in his philosophy and actions and his religious beliefs and his commitment to pluralism are best expressed in his own words:

  • I believe in the fundamental Truth of all great religions of the world. And I believe that if only we could, all of us, read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.

  • Belief in one God is the cornerstone of all religions. But I do not foresee a time when there would be only one religion on Earth in practice. In theory, since there is one God, there can be only one religion.

  • The one religion is beyond all speech. Imperfect men put it into such language as they can command, and their words are interpreted by other men equally imperfect. Hence the necessity for tolerance, which does not mean indifference towards one's own faith, but a more intelligent and pure love for it.

  • True knowledge of religion breaks down the barriers between faith and faith. Cultivation of tolerance for other faiths will impart to us a true understanding of our own. Tolerance obviously does not disturb the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil.

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religious pluralism religious tolerance Mahatma Gandhi