Gandhiji on Village Swaraj
NATIONAL WOMEN’S ORGANIZATION, PUNE
( Reg No. Mah/735/99, Pune exemption on U/S 80-g of the IT Act 1961)
A SEMINAR- CUM- PANEL DISCUSSION
TOPIC: GANDHIJI ON VILLAGE SWARAJ
Date: 30th January 2008;Time: 10 am to 2 pm & 2.30 pm to 3.30 pm;
Venue: Gandhi National Memorial, Agakhan Palace, Nagar Road, Pune –411006
The Surest and Perhaps the Only Solution to Our Impending Catastrophic Global Ecological Crises:Village Swaraj of Gandhi , the Apostle of Truth and Non-violence of our Age.
Neither Gandhiji nor the seers of various great religions would approve the present culture of development of modern western civilization which has caused disappearance of tens of thousands of plant and animal species and continues to cause greater and greater violence to our life-sustaining natural systems, (in the form of causing pollution of air, water, land, global warming and climate change, depletion of non-renewable natural resources (including energy), depletion of ozone layer etc.) which has devastating implications for our future generations as well as for the entire life world in the long run. He would not support a culture of development, which consumes natural resources for luxuries faster than the earth can replace them and produces harmful waste material beyond the capacity of man and nature to convert it into useful or harmless material. He was once asked if he expected independent India to attain the same standard of living as Britain. Gandhiji replied, “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve this prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require!” He firmly believes that “the earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
Polluting the essential requirements of life such as air, water and land, and destroying forests on which the very survival of wildlife depends, and which is the natural storehouse of our invaluable water, topsoil and medicinal plants for the sake of luxuries is highly immoral. All religions directly or indirectly accept non-violence to be the root of morality and violence to be the root of immorality. They all consider the natural system, which sustains healthy life to be sacred and invaluable. Today science also accepts this, and what we know from science so far only our planet earth has such a natural system.
His alternative to modern western form of development is his Village Swaraj, a non-violent form of development, the core of which essentially consists of villages with a critical ethical culture of Truth and non-violence, where each village is a complete republic, independent of its neighbours for its vital necessities, and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is a necessity, and dependent or interdependent on towns and cities for non-essentials, where people deliberately and voluntarily lead a simple life of high thinking and of exhilarating and life-giving body-labour in an atmosphere of natural purity, natural beauty and full of loving care of the life sustaining nature system, and where satyagraha is the means for every villager to fight against injustice and protection of his and his village’s honour. “My idea of Village Swaraj is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its vital wants, and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is a necessity…..The government of the village will be conducted by the Panchayat of five persons, annually elected by the adult villagers, male and female, possessing minimum prescribed qualifications… Since there will be no system of punishments in the accepted sense, this panchayat will be the legislature, judiciary and executive combined to operate for its year of office….. Here there is perfect democracy based on individual freedom. The individual is the architect of his own government. The law of non-violence rules him and his government. He and his village are able to defy the might of a world. For the law governing every villager is that he will suffer death in the defense of his and his village’s honor.”
“The contrast between the rich and the poor today is a painful sight. The poor villagers are exploited by the foreign government and also by their own countrymen- city-dwellers. They produce the food and go hungry. They produce milk and their children have to go without it. It is disgraceful. Everyone must have a balanced diet, a decent house to live in, facilities for the education of one’s children and adequate medical relief.” “A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and the power that riches give and sharing them for the common good.” It is surely highly deplorable that even sixty years after our country’ independence even when our GDP growth is very high, our farmers are committing suicide in large numbers. Our intellectuals have failed to create the mass awareness necessary to create mass movements against various forms of injustice. Although India is a land of morality and religions and of many great moral and spiritual teachers, under the influence of modern western civilization, they have even excluded ethics education from our education curricula. We must introduce universal compulsory critical ethics education from the beginning of our education system. We must study critically the views of great religions, and of great teachers and thinkers of mankind about various fundamental issues of ethics concerning ethical values and the value of ethical life for life and its means. How could people build ethically good life and good society without critical study of ethics?
Contrary to the widely accepted belief, Gandhiji is not against machinery or development per se. He is certainly not against pursuit of study or research in human or natural sciences or against the use of machinery for development within the limits of ethics. “I am a determined foe of all machine that is designed for exploitation of the people…. I do visualize electricity, ship-building, iron-works, machine-making, and the like existing side-by-side with village handicrafts. But the order of dependence will be reversed. Hitherto industrialization has been so planned as to destroy the villages and village crafts. In the state of future, it will subserve the villages and their crafts. Nothing will be allowed to be produced by the cities that can be equally well produced by the villages The proper function of the cities is to serve as clearing houses for village products.” He would not be against the use of machinery for development within the limits of ethics.
Even if it would be possible to have a highly affluent pollution free, eco-friendly, technological society with sustainable development, Gandhiji would not consider such a society to be ideal. For it is his firm belief that a society in which the masses lead a simple life of contentment and high thinking depending on body-labour for their essential requirements, the masses would lead a far more healthier and happier life. He is certainly against the replacement of body-labor by machine-work, but not against making physical work more joyful with the help of machines-work: it is his firm conviction that willing obedience to the law of body-labour brings contentment and health. “A millionaire cannot carry on for long, and will soon get tired of his life , if he rolls in his bed all day along, and even helped to the foods he eats. If every one, whether rich or poor, has thus to take exercise in some shape or form, why should it not assume the form of productive, i.e., Bread Labour?” According to him the view of the Bible that man must earn his bread by labouring with his own hands and the view of the Gita that he who eats without offering sacrifice, eats stolen food mean the same.
He did not want to taboo every thing above and beyond the bare necessities but they must come after the essential needs of the poor are satisfied. Although Gandhiji’s ideal life is an enlightened unselfish ethical life of plain living and high thinking, it is absolutely voluntary. He would not approve anyone to be forced to lead a simple life unless in some situation it is a moral requirement. No villager should be deprived of pursuing a high urban life within the limits of morality which would not be possible without providing all equal opportunity for education and work.
“Man’s happiness really lies in contentment. He who is discontented, however much he possesses, becomes a slave to his desires….. The incessant search for material comforts and their multiplication is an evil. I make bold to say that the Europeans will have to remodel their outlook, if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves.. A time is coming when those who are in mad rush today of multiplying their wants, will retrace their steps and say; what we have done?…. A certain degree of physical harmony and comfort is necessary, but above a certain level it becomes hindrance instead of help. Therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion and snare.” In his conception of ideal happy life, moral and spiritual happiness constitutes its core, aesthetic and intellectual happiness, its middle,and happiness based on luxuries within the limits of ethics, its periphery.
Although Gandhiji was a firm believer of God, for him to realize God, to realize Truth, i.e., the true ultimate goal of life, is essentially the same as to realize ethical perfection, and unlike for the votaries of modern western civilization, for him to lead religious life, to lead spiritual life is essentially the same as to lead selfless ethical life of love. Unlike the votaries of modern western civilization, he sees clearly spiritual life to be an intrinsically happy life. His conception of ideal society involves essentially retelling the basic values of the great teachers and seers of classical Indian civilization in the context of our present technological age. It was his firm conviction that in the materialization of his vision lay the true freedom of India, and through India of the world at large. The conception of ideal form of development of modern western civilization is sustainable development, but Gandhiji’s is a non-violent sustainable development. Unlike the explicit human-centric ethics of modern western civilization, the ethics of classical Indian civilization has been explicitly life-centric.
The great teachers and seers of our ancient Indian civilization explicitly accept universal non-violence, i.e. non-violence to both human and non-human life, to be the foundation of ethics. They see clearly that enlightened selfless ethical life of love constitutes the core of Truth, and pursuit of selfless ethical life of universal love, making constant effort to grow towards ethical perfection constitutes the core of its means. They see clearly that such a life is eternally intrinsically supremely valuable, and that any person can pursue it through selfless ethical service to ones society to the best of ones ability through some work required for the general good and making constant effort to purify ones inner world and grow towards ethical perfection. They see clearly that our love for human beings is bound to be highly imperfect if we interact cruelly with our fellow non-human beings. They explicitly accept that pursuit of wealth and pleasure within the limits of ethics is essential not only for the pursuit of the ultimate goal of life, but also for sustainable development and prosperity in society. Gandhiji sees clearly that all great religions also explicitly or implicitly accept the same. Gandhiji says: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated…It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God the compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.” “It is arrogant to say that human beings are lords and masters of the lower creatures. On the contrary, being endowed with great things in life, they are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom.”
Gandhiji sees clearly that Western industrialism has two choices: “First it can wait until catastrophic failures expose systematic deficiencies, distortion and self deception….Secondly, a culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systematic distortion prior to catastrophic failures.” If we do not listen the present ecological warnings of Nature, its ruthless worth will slowly but surely come.
Surely our classical Indian civilization, the mother of many great religions, has the moral and spiritual resources to provide the awareness necessary to create a mass Satyagraha to save the world from the impending massive ecological crises, and India should create and lead such a movement. Unlike modern western civilization, classical Indian civilization has clear answer to the question why to make sacrifices for our future generations or for our fellow harmless lower form of beings even if it is against our substantial selfish interest. We must not repeat the mistakes of the form of development of the West. Let us replace the present eco-hostile, out-and-out consumerist and unsustainable self–destructive culture of development which is considered to be immoral even by the votaries of the human-centric ethics of the West, by a non-violent sustainable life-saving culture of development. Let us provide the world a culture of Truth and non-violence in the context of our present technological age, where all religions could grow harmoniously in spite of their differences in the realm of metaphysics, and where development could take place with loving care of the invaluable countless kinds of flora and fauna of our life-sustaining natural systems.
Gandhiji is the apostle of Truth and non-violence of our age. In the words of Einstein: “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this, it may be, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” “The moral influence which Gandhi has exercised upon thinking people may be far more durable than would appear likely in our present age, with its exaggeration of brute force. We are fortunate and grateful that fate has bestowed upon us so luminous a contemporary, a beacon to generations to come.” Is not the Gandhian alternative the surest and perhaps the only solution to save our planet earth from its Impending Catastrophic Global Ecological Crises ?Let us examine it deeply before it is too late*
*The quotations have bee taken from NK Bose (Ed.), Selections form Gandhi (Navajeevan Publishing House, Ahmedabad-14,) and T.N Khoshoo, Mahatma Gandhi: An Apostle of applied Human Ecology (Tata Energy Research Institute, New Delhi, 2002.)