Bio-Moral versus Bio- Medical Construction of Health: Medicine, Morality and Mahatma

Abstract: The paper seeks to explore Gandhi’s views on health arguing that his views represent a radical departure from the modern medical science’s perspective on health. It illustrates that modern medical science or bio-medical approach to health originated from the Cartesian ontology and its corresponding reductionism whereas Gandhi reconsidered health as an inescapable relationship between body, mind and spirit. The central argument of the paper is that Gandhi’s views on health represent a bio-moral approach to health that does not perceive body and mind in separation and locate the issue of health in the totality of human being, society and nature that act and react upon each other. Besides the paper also highlights Gandhi’s critical engagement with modern discourse on human body and its related cultural politics of health. To support the argument, the paper thematically engages Gandhi’s key writings on health to investigate his ideological maneuvering by which he also challenged the modern medical science’s views on health.

Keywords: health, healing, naturopathy, cartesian model of medicine, bio- medical vs bio-moral approach, holistic, modern medical science, modern civilisation


Although, at face value Mahatma Gandhi’s views on health may seem eccentric from modern medical science point of view, there are two reasons as to why one should re-consider them. First of all, modern medical science, which focuses on bio-medical approach to health, has succeeded in removing major illness from the world, but it is also equally true that it has not extended itself to promoting and sustaining human health and natural living. Second, although modern medical science has also succeeded in artificially prolonging the duration of human life, it has shown its incapability in producing natural longevity in human being. Despite these inherent limitations and self-defeating consequences, the bio-medical approach to health is hardly questioned. Moreover, this approach is taken today both by medical professionals and common people as self- evident and the only ‘truly scientific’ approach to understanding the issue of health, illness and cure. It is often overlooked that the bio-medical approach to health is a particular construction of the West that developed in the post Cartesian period under the veneer of ‘scientific method’. The other concern is that it has also marginalised other indigenous cultural perspectives on health labeling them ‘traditional’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘un- scientific in nature’. It is in this context that the present paper wishes to explore Gandhi’s approach to health as it exhibits a radical departure from the modern bio-medical approach to health and represents a paradigm shift towards the bio-moral approach to health, illness and cure. Contrary to bio- medical approach to health which is based on Cartesian dualism of mind/body and its corresponding reductionism, it is argued here that Gandhi’s approach to health does not perceive mind/body in separation and that it locates the issue of health in the totality of human being, society and nature that act and react upon each other.1 In addition to this, the paper also explores Gandhi’s critical engagement with modern discourse on the human body and its related cultural politics of health. This paper thematically engages with Gandhi’s key writings on health, illness and cure to investigate his ideological maneuver by which he constructed a dichotomous division between the bio-medical approach and his own bio-moral approach to health. This analysis further seeks to locate the aforementioned distinction between these approaches.2

Gandhi, Cartesian Body and Medical Science

Modern medical science that signifies bio-medical approach to health originated from the Cartesian ontology or body/mind dualism which considered human body as a machine open for scientific inquiry (Capra 138). Mind–body dualism enabled medical professionals as well as common people to perceive the human body as a physical object outside, external to and separate from the mind. Logical corollary of this consideration was that human being was viewed only as a biological organism to be understood only by examining her/his constituent parts employing the principles of anatomy and physiology. In this world- view, illness was seen as a deviation from the biological norms, caused by some particular physical or chemical event and cure was defined as an intervention that involved introduction of a corrective physical or chemical agent. Consequently, in bio-medical approach, as Hart puts it, “health came to be defined as an absence of disease and got associated with activities of doctors to the extent that to most people, medicine became synonymous with health” (34).

Contrary to this bio-medical view on health, Gandhi argued that health is not only an absence of disease. His writings on health, illness and cure suggest that he strongly rejected the bio-medical notion of health and viewed the issue of health in a more affirmative and broader way. Trying to see the problem of health from a very different perspective, he noted in the “Preface” of his book Key to Health that he had “looked upon the problem of health from a novel point of view, somewhat different from the orthodox methods adopted by doctors and vaidyas” (5). Moreover, he was not satisfied with merely putting forward his theoretical propositions on health. Being a practical idealist, he set up certain ‘rules of health’ in his small booklet , Key to Health and claimed that anyone who observed those rules would “find that he has got in it a real key to unlock the gates leading him to health” (KH 6).

Defining health in terms of ‘enriching life’, Gandhi argues that health depends upon “our knowledge of our own body and surroundings” (KH 18). Thus, for Gandhi, health cannot be seen merely as a matter of analysing the state of body and reducing it to a static condition of absence of disease as the bio-medical approach claims. For him, health must be seen in the broad framework of the life of the individual in its wholeness. Referring that health depends upon ‘our knowledge of our own body’ Gandhi also indicated that any criteria and notion of health must be freed from the medical experts or doctors who claim to know others’ health by observing others’ body. At this point, one may consider Gandhi’s view on human body. In his booklet Key to Health, Gandhi saw human body as a ‘universe in miniature’ as well as a complex ‘human machine’. In his words, “A happy working of the human machine depends upon the harmonious activity of the various component parts. If all these work in an orderly manner, the machine runs smoothly. If even one of the essential parts is out of order, it comes to a stop” (KH 19).

Gandhi’s perception of human body as a machine seems echoing the Cartesian formulation of the human body; however, it can be argued that Gandhi does not view the human body as a separate and unlinked entity as the Cartesian formulation proposed. Unlike the Cartesian formulation that saw the human body as a secular entity, Gandhi argued that the human body is not only a material entity but it also holds the divine spirit. Recognising the human body as a ‘temple of spirit’, he argued in his booklet, Key to Health that it is the duty of a human being “to take such care of his body as to enable it to practice the ideal of service to the best of its ability” (20). In other words, the human body was not an end in itself but a means to achieve greater ethical and spiritual objectives. Thus, Gandhi saw health as an essential quality of the body as it helps human beings to achieve a higher ethical goal.

Indeed, it is for this higher ethical goal of life that Gandhi dealt with the issue of health and viewed it as a condition where “all the senses and the mind act in perfect co-ordination” (KH 18). Gandhi’s formulation surprisingly reminds us of the views of Gadamer (1900- 2002) who also added philosophical substance to the notion of human health by interpreting health as a state of inner accord or harmony with oneself (113). It is interesting to draw a parallel between Gandhi and Gadamer. Like Gandhi, Gadamer did not see health as a fragmented issue, but “as integration into life, a place in the world” (112). If Gandhi saw health in ‘enriching life’ by knowing ‘enough of our own body, our own house, our village and its surroundings, the crops that grow there and its history’, for Gadamer, ‘health is the state of being in this world with other human beings, a state of an active and rewarding participation in everyday duties’ (113). Gandhi saw the issue of health in the bigger framework of society and nature. Similarly, Gadamer viewed that one must think that “we are part of nature and sustained by nature” (116). For both Gandhi and Gadamer the issue of health cannot be left to medical experts. Gandhi mentioned in the “Preface” of his booklet Key to Health that his idea of health may be ‘real key to unlock the gates leading him [individual] to health’, in the same way, Gadamer wrote in his book Enigma of Health that the book is not addressed simply to physicians, but is aimed at all of us because, “we must take care of our own health through the way in which we lead our lives” (viii). Thus, Gadamer and Gandhi both viewed health as a particular responsibility of each person.

As discussed above, the idea of human body is central to any discourse on health. In this regard, Gandhi did not see human body and its relation to health only as a biological subject but he also found that ‘human body’ and ‘health’ are profound constructions of the modern civilisation. Gandhi’s views on the constructs of ‘human body’ and ‘health’ which evolved under the modern civilisation might be seen in his extreme and radical critique of the modern medical profession that he launched in his seminal text Hind Swaraj which is known for its “severe condemnation of the modern civilisation”(15). Gandhi argued in the Hind Swaraj that the modern civilisation is primarily body centric and materialistic which looks ‘human body’ only as a play ground of sensual pleasures. Medical profession as a derivative of the modern civilisation, he further argued, is propagating the cult of ‘bodily welfare’ among the people as the prime object of life. Gandhi saw such a construction of body and life as a warning sign for humanity as the construction attempted to reduce the uniqueness of human being to a biological level, while in his view the destiny of human being lies in his/her ethico-religious quest of self-transformation.

Gandhi saw a fundamental relationship between human biology and morality from which his idea of health emerges. In Gandhi’s words, “morals are closely linked with health. A perfectly moral person alone can achieve perfect health” (qtd. in J. Alter 3). And it is in this relationship that he inquired the role of doctors, modern medical institutions, and modern medicines and examined the modern discourse on illness and cure.

Gandhi argued that doctors as the representatives of the modern civilisation “…induce us to indulge, and the result is that we have become deprived of self-control and have become effeminate” (HS 52). He saw the deprivation of self control as a moral damage and the root cause of the loss of health. He further argued that claiming to be the care taker of people’s health and their life, doctors and medical professionals make us believe of their utility and goodness; however apparently this is not the case. Critiquing doctors and their attitude about saving patients’ life, he argued in Hind Swaraj, “Doctors assure us that a consumptive clings to life even when he is about to die. Consumption does not produce apparent hurt, it even produces a seductive color about a patient’s face so as to induce the belief that all is well” (39). Extending this argument to whole medical establishment, Gandhi wrote that modern “hospitals are institutions propagating sins,” as, because of doctors and hospitals “men take less care of their bodies and immorality increases” (HS 52). On the other hand, medical professionals are not for the service of humanity as they claim but ‘doctors make a show of their knowledge’, and we want to “become doctors so that we may obtain honors and riches” (HS 52). As a result, modern doctors are not peoples’ dependents but they, in fact, have become peoples’ masters propagating a certain set of materialistic values.

These arguments of Gandhi against modern medical institutions and medical professionals have two separate but interrelated dimensions. First, Gandhi observed that modern medical establishments show little respect to the integrity of the human body and its relation to individual moral discipline. Second, he also found that doctors and medical professionals exercise tremendous control over the patients’ body by showing their knowledge/power.

A second dimension of his critique of medical profession and institution also indicates his political reading of the constructs of ‘health’ and ‘body’ that the modern civilisation proposed. Linking modern civilisation with colonialism, Gandhi saw that such modern discourse on health and body also served the colonialists’ purpose by masking their political and economic domination as welfare practices. Colonialism thrived by imposing their cultural and political hegemony on India by accelerating what Arnold describes as “a process of medical colonisation” (12). It is not surprising to note that in Hind Swaraj Gandhi argued that “The English have certainly effectively used the medical profession to holding us. English physicians are known to have used their professions with several Asiatic potentates for political gain” (51).

But for Gandhi, a more dangerous thing was that the Indian people were accepting the modern medical colonial construction of health and body without interrogating them critically. These constructions, expressing themselves as ‘universal’ and superior to other system of health, were taking root in Indian peoples’ psyche. Furthermore, Gandhi also found that because of the effect of these constructs, Indian people were unwilling to contemplate on what constituted the best moral life or good life. It is important to note here that Gandhi did not only advocate a ‘healthy life’ but more profoundly a ‘moral life’ in which, as Joseph Alter pointed out, “truth and biology were equally implicated” (3).

It is this ideological and contextual location in which Gandhi examined the modern medical discourse on disease and cure. He saw that the questions of modern health, illness, and cure emphasise a very particular notion of body that implies modernists’/colonialists’ materialistic and political undertones. In opposition to bio-medical view and its related cultural politics of illness and corresponding cure, Gandhi presented his own views on illness and cure which were entirely based on his notion of bio-morality. At this point, it seems necessary here to compare Gandhi’s view on illness to the bio-medical approach to illness.

Illness, Indulgence and Modern Medicine

Considering disease as an emergency event in the human body, caused by some external or genetic factors, modern medical science or bio-medical approach calls for all kind of external pathological support for cure. In this process, the non-organic factors associated with the human mind and emotions are undermined in the search for biological causes of pathological symptoms. Consequently, as Capra pointed out, the bio-medical approach has reduced illness (a condition of the total human being) to disease (a condition of a particular part of the body) (118).

Gandhi’s first objection against the bio-medical approach to disease lies here. He did not accept this fragmented view of illness and critically wrote that “the business of doctor is to take care of the body, or, properly speaking, not even that. Their business is really to rid the body of disease that may afflict it” (HS 51). Latter on he mentioned, “Vaids, hakims and doctors have merely busied themselves with the body, and have not analysed the mind at all; being themselves men troubled by desires, they have spent their time finding out remedies merely by observing the changes in the body” (Collected Writings 28: 213).

In this regard, he saw that Indian quacks are better than qualified doctors because “they put on an air of humanness” (HS 51-2). Gandhi’s valorisation of quacks may be viewed as a subversive position against the colonial or Western doctors, as quacks represented Indian counterparts of Western medical practices and medical doctors; yet it was not confined to that. Gandhi’s quacks symbolise ‘humanness’ and ‘overall care’ to a sick person in a more meaningful way than the modern medical professional approach that treats disease of a particular body part symptomatically. Moreover, Gandhi’s quacks and his own quackery offers, as Shetty argues, “therapies for nothing – not for money, not only for cure, and never for the sake of life itself as defined by convention or science [medical]”(63).

Rejecting the bio-medical approach that looks at disease as an emergency event, Gandhi viewed disease as a non- emergency or non – crisis event. In fact, he saw disease as a moral failure of the individual to cope with the law of body and nature. He argued that diseases arise “surely by our negligence or indulgence” (HS 51). Extending this argument and considering the role of doctors to treat illness and its subsequent fallout, he further wrote in Hind Swaraj, “I have indulged in vice, I contract a disease, a doctor cures me; the odds are that I shall repeat the vice. Had the doctor not intervened, nature would have done its work, and I would have acquired mastery over myself, would have been freed from vice and would have become happy” (51).

Close reading of this extract suggests that Gandhi saw illness as a problem of undisciplined life style and, what was more baffling, he found that modern medical interventions in managing illness encouraged erratic habits and gastronomic excess of people. Consequently, people always remain caught in the vicious circle of one or the other form of illness. On the other hand, for him modern medicines make people dependent beings and help them indulge more. Moreover, Gandhi thought that because of doctors and medicine, people increasingly fail to take their own responsibility for what they do to themselves as they know that they can pay a physician and get cured. Besides, Gandhi also saw that modern medicines are quick in their work which entirely negates the importance of uncomplaining ethical living.

It is significant to point out here that Gandhi did not criticise the modern bio- medicine but the very idea of medicine. In this regard, Gandhi’s positions on medicine shows a profound break even with Indian Ayurvedic therapeutic system. As bio-medical approach looks illness as an emergency event, Ayurveda too views illness as apad- dharma, which calls for an immediate response to illness with the objective of easing suffering and preserving life at any cost. Gandhi seriously contended and rejected any moral legitimacy of illness as an emergency event or apad-dharma. He did not endorse any medical therapeutic intervention in the case of illness. In fact, anything injected to the body, like modern medical substances, was against the law of body and it was not acceptable to Gandhi.

Another problem that Gandhi found with modern medicines is that they are not limited to simply treating diseases; medicines change people’s way of life by influencing their choices. As choices are made in a broad social context, Gandhi saw that medicine and medical practices were no longer solely concerned with the biological and the physical spheres, but they were responsible for projecting a body centric idea of health, disease and cure in a bigger social context.

It is these grounds that compelled Gandhi to term Western medicine as “concentrated essence of black magic” (CWMG 10:169). Although, Gandhi did not ‘despise all medical treatment’, and thought that we can learn a lot from the West about safe maternity and the care of infants, his main objection to the Western medicine was that “the West attaches an exaggerated importance to prolonging man’s earthly [bodily] existence. Until the man’s last moment on earth you go on drugging him even by injecting. I do not want that excessive desire of

living that Western medicine seems to encourage in man even at the cost of tenderness for subhuman life” (CWMG 71:405).

Gandhi argues that by the promise of prolonging bodily life through medical efforts, modern medicine and medical profession encourage people to believe that biological life is itself the highest good. For Gandhi, the highest good is ethical and self-restrained life, not the disease-free prolonged biological life. Based on this assumption, Gandhi makes an unexpected and striking distinction between the healthy body and the strong body ¾ a distinction that does not get recognition in modern medical discourse. He argued that a strong body did not mean a healthy body. According to him, making body stronger or developing bodily immunity through modern medicine is not a sign of health. On the contrary, moral development or ‘progress towards freedom from sin’ is a prerequisite for the healthy body. Gandhi argued that “as the atman [soul] becomes healthier—is less and less troubled by desire— the body too becomes healthier” (CWMG 28: 23).

Gandhi’s idea of modern medicine which he termed as ‘black magic’ remained unchanged even in the later period of his life. In 1946, he argued that “I have used the harsh term, and I do not withdraw it, because of the fact that it has countenanced vivisection and all the awfulness it means and because it will stop at no practice, however bad it may be, if it prolongs the life of the body and because it ignores the immortal soul which resides in the body” (CWMG 91:415). These discussions lead us to argue that Gandhi saw the entire modern medical discourse on illness as the construction of body-centric politics of modern medical science while illness, in his view, actually reflected “willful or ignorant breach of the laws of nature” (CWMG 92:127). His analysis of bio-medical model of health and illness convinced him to entirely reject this model and develop an alternative therapeutic what he called Nature Cure or Natural Therapeutic.

Gandhi’s Nature Cure: Deconstructing the Binary of ‘Normal’ and ‘Pathological’

Gandhi’s alternative therapeutic or Natural Therapeutic or Nature Cure is based on his experiences and experimentations with health and illness. In opposition to the bio-medical model, his Nature Cure constructs a bio-moral approach to health, illness and cures which is anti-pharmacological and anti-surgical in nature and also attempts to free people from the knowledge/power hegemony of modern medical science and experts. Besides, his Nature Cure as an alternative therapeutic also exemplifies the reconstituting of an Indic cultural construction of health. This cultural construction emphasised, as Zimmerman puts it “a practice that shows assurance, vows, determination, ritual abstinence, that is, into the entire domain of everyday self-regulation and in Brahminical terms, purity”(2). In this regard, his nature cure radically differs even from the Indian Ayurvadic system.

Reading Gandhi’s text, Nature Cure together with his other texts Key to Health and Diet and Diet Reforms gives us valuable clue for understanding his basic principles of Natural Therapeutic system. Introducing his Natural Therapeutic, Gandhi wrote in Key to Health, “The science of Natural Therapeutics is based on a use, in the treatment of disease, of the same five elements which constitute the human body” (53). These five elements, as Indic tradition tells us, included earth, water, ether, sunlight and air and he tried to show in his text Key to Health that how they can be utilised to cure different ailments.

Constructing a fundamental difference from both modern medical science and Indian Ayurveda, Gandhi argues that his natural therapeutics depends upon the thoughtful observance of the laws of the body and the Nature. In his view, doctors and vaidayas generally provide remedies to those who have so defied laws of body that they have contracted some illness. Therefore, doctors and vaidayas often successfully prescribe what sufferers should do to become well, but they do not prescribe what healthy men and women should do for maintaining their health. Contrary to this, one who practices nature cure plays a different role. In Gandhi’s words:

The ordinary doctor or vaidya is interested mostly in the study of disease. The Nature Curist is interested more in the study of health. His real interest begins where that of the ordinary doctor ends; the eradication of the patient’s ailment under Nature Cure marks only the beginning of a way of life in which there is no room for illness or disease. Nature Cure is thus a way of life, not a course of ‘treatment’. It is not claimed that Nature Cure can cure all disease. No system of medicine can do that or else we should all be immortals. (CWMG 90: 90)

The passage suggests us that Gandhi’s conception of Nature Cure is much broader than its therapeutic values. It is not merely a cure for disease or ‘a course of treatment’ after disease has occurred but a plan for living life according to the laws of the Nature and the body. Close reading of this passage further implies that Gandhi’s Nature Cure has three separate but interrelated aspects: preventive, curative and prescriptive.

As far as the preventive aspect of Nature Cure is concerned, Gandhi candidly accepted that he had faith in that “school of thought which believes more in prevention than in cure, which believes in Nature doing things for herself… the less interference there is on the part of doctors, on the part of physicians and surgeons, the better it is for humanity and its morals” (CWMG 31:281). Gandhi’s preventive measures of illness presuppose an ‘ideal mode of life’ that epitomises individual self restraint and self discipline. Gandhi’s self discipline included a strict plan of vegetarian diet and regular periods of fasting, pranyama, sleeping outdoors, walking and most importantly observing Brahmacharya. On the other hand, he also viewed that things like condiments, tea, coffee and cocoa, tobacco, opium and other intoxicants are bigger hindrance on the path leading to self discipline and they must be avoided at any cost. Gandhi argued for the urgency of self discipline as it makes one’s body and mind sound and in his words “He, whose body and mind are perfectly sound, should never suffer from illness (CWMG 85: 258). He further viewed that bodily disease must be seen primarily as a deviation from self-discipline and one must observe self-restraint as its gives ‘the comparative freedom from illnesses’.

Although Gandhi argued that Nature Cure is not ‘a course of treatment’ but ‘a way of life’, its curative aspects need consideration.3 Curative aspects of Gandhi’s Nature Cure are based on the idea that there is a spontaneous working system in our body. According to him, “Nature has provided within the body itself the means of cleansing it, so that when illness occurs, we should realise that there exists impure matter in the body and that she has commenced her cleansing process” (CWMG 12:373). Nature cure emphasises that one should help nature in this cleansing process. And in this cleansing process one must take help from nature’s five elements, earth, water, ether, sunlight and air by remaining more and more in direct contact with them. His own experiences and experiments with people who were ill, as his Autobiography and his book Key to Health tells, give us a detailed idea of his alternative therapeutic that included mud therapy, eating earth, sun bath, steam therapy, hydro therapy and neuropathy. Even in extreme cases of illness like pneumonia, typhoid, and cholera, Gandhi employed his Nature Cure and succeeded.

Rejecting the speedy bio-medical intervention – oral or surgical – in the treatment of illness, one might observe that Gandhi’s Nature Cure as a therapeutic represents slow experimentation with illness. In this process, as we may see, a person becomes his/her own doctor. He/she tries to set the body according to the law of body and nature. For Gandhi, it is immaterial whether a person is an expert or ignorant in technical matters of treatment or cures as it is possible to stay healthy by following the law of body and self discipline.

Although Nature Cure has preventive and curative aspects, Gandhi saw it chiefly as ‘a way of life’ that calls for an overall transformation of one’s entire life —physical, mental, moral and social

– in accordance with the law of nature and the body. In his words, “Nature cure does mean a change for the better in one’s outlook on life itself. It means regulation of one’s life in accordance with the laws of health” (CWMG 91: 33). Although, for him the question of health and cure are primarily a matter of individual responsibility and concern, he also argued that society also must set a norm for making physical and social environment conducive to the development of a sound body and a sound mind. In his words, “Nature cure implies an ideal mode of life and that in its turn presupposes ideal living conditions in towns and villages” (CWMG 91:12).

In short, Gandhi’s Nature Cure as a therapeutic system as well as a way of life entirely rejected the Cartesian body-centric narrative of modernity in general and ‘hygienic modernity’ in particular. It argued for the connection and perfect coordination of body, mind and spirit. It may also be seen as a resistance to the modern medical knowledge that propagates indulgence and encourages human beings to break every law of health and morality and then seek a cure through commercialised drugs. In this sense, Gandhi’s nature cure deconstructs the binary of ‘normal and pathological’, ‘sick and healthy’ body, and ‘ordinary and expert’ cure that modern medical science has produced.


Gandhi’s writings on health, illness and cure made a clear-cut distinction between bio-medical approach and his proposed bio-moral approach to health. Gandhi’s bio-moral approach to health, on the one hand represented a construction that challenged the Western bio- medical approach and its related political and cultural hegemony, on the other it also reinstated traditional Indic cultural practices of health and cure. These two constructions signify two opposite paradigms. Bio- medical approach to health considers only human body or part of it while Gandhi’s bio-moral approach sees an inescapable relationship between body, mind and spirit. While bio-medical model is viewed as a quick method to lessen symptoms but with only provisional effects, Gandhi’s bio-moral approach to health is holistic, moral and enduring. Moreover, Gandhi’s bio-moral approach emphasises greater effort and self-control on the part of the individual in dealing with the issue of health and illness. In broader terms, Gandhi’s bio-moral approach proposes a new philosophy of the body, health, illness and cure. His approach also offers a new consciousness that involves the individual in his/her own well-being with a new sense of living a natural and sustaining life. In this regard, his idea on health may be seen as part of a wider shift towards a naturalistic approach that deconstructs the binary of lay versus expert, normal versus pathological and sick versus healthy.


1. However, inherent in these constructions were also the political- cultural theme/undertone. As some recent scholars have pointed out, bio-medical approach also proved an important ‘tool of imperialism’ in the first half of eighteenth century (Arnold 15). Especially its claim of being scientifically ‘superior’ to other Indian systems of health and medicine was directly linked to the moral legitimacy to the colonising process in India. Against this, Gandhi’s critique of bio-medical approach and his construction / valorisation of indigenous approach to health illness and cure, besides his ethical imperative, may be viewed as an act of resistance to those aspects of colonisation/westernisation in India in which Britain pushed the development and expansion of bio–medical institutions, hospitals and clinics, claiming that bio-medical approach was scientifically superior to Indian systems of medicine. One cannot deny the fact, especially received from the textual analysis of his seminal text Hind Swaraj (1909/2008), that Gandhi’s ideas on health, illness and cure were part of his rebel cultural politics against British colonials. However, his ideas were not limited to a deliberate act of rebellion and had deeper contents and significance. In fact, Gandhi’s ideas on heath, illness and cure were constructed against the broader discourse of modern civilisation in which ‘body’ was of supreme consideration. His idea of health represents, as Joseph Alter has pointed out, a “rational science of moral health which is at once, national, and indeed, transnational and also strictly self oriented” (91). The paper attempts to read Gandhi’s construction of health from this point of view.

2. Gandhi’s key writings on health, illness and cure are included his booklets Self Restraint Vs Self Indulgence (1930), Key to Health (1948/2011), Diet and Diet Reforms (1949) and Nature Cure (1954). Apart from these booklets, his vast experiments in dietetics and illness scattered in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) also form a rich textual source to explore his views on health, illness and cure.

3. The therapeutic-curative aspect of Gandhi’s Nature Cure was partly influenced by Just’s naturopathy and Kuhn’s hydro therapy as Gandhi himself explains in his Key to Health. Nature Cure owes its efficacy to the Indic tradition of healing and Gandhi’s own experiences and experimentations.


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Arnold, David. Colonising the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India. Berkeley: California UP, 1993. Print.

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Shetty, S. “The Quack Whom We Know”. Rethinking Gandhi and Nonviolent Rationality: Global Perspective. Debjani Ganguly and John Docker (eds.), New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2009. 47-83. Print.

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PREM ANAND MISHRA. He is Assistant Professor in Peace Research Centre, Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad. Receiving first class first in M.A and M.Phil, respectively from Jain Vishva Bharati University, Rajasthan and Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedbad in Peace Research, he has also got M. S. Swaminathan Award for the latter. His doctoral thesis Hind Swaraj: A Deconstructive Reading now published as a book with the same title is a philosophical exploration of Gandhi’s discursive politics. He is currently working on a book entitled, ImagiNation of Gandhi, Aurobindo and Savarkar that enquires the idea of nation and form of nationalism visualised by these three nationalist idols.

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He is Assistant Professor in Peace Research Centre, Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad. Receiving first class first in M.A and M.Phil, respectively from Jain Vishva Bharati University, Rajasthan and Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedbad in Peace Research, he has also got M. S. Swaminathan Award for the latter. His doctoral thesis Hind Swaraj: A Deconstructive Reading now published as a book with the same title is a philosophical exploration of Gandhi’s discursive politics. He is currently working on a book entitled, ImagiNation of Gandhi, Aurobindo and Savarkar that enquires the idea of nation and form of nationalism visualised by these three nationalist idols.

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