–Read India Initiative—
This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.
This book was compiled by H.M.Vyas. He has taken the writings of Gandhi from various sources (but primarily from Harijan and Young India magazines) and has converted it into a useful handbook. Printed and published by Navajivan Publishing first in the year 1962.
The book encapsulates the thoughts and ethos of Gandhi in the form of excerpts. Indeed Gandhi ji was an amazing thinker and a genius who had the blueprint of India ready even before she was born. The book diagrams the functioning of the smallest community unit of human habitat—that is the village and then sums it up for the nation. The book simplifies an average Indian’s life. It gives that margdarshan specifically to each Indian and perhaps even to all the citizens of the world.
This publication contains Gandhi’s views on different aspects of rural life including agriculture, village industry, animal husbandry, transport, basic education, health and hygiene.
For Gandhi Swaraj was a sacred word, a Vedic word, meaning self-rule and self-restraint, and not freedom from all restraint which ‘independence’ often means. As every country is fit to eat, drink and breathe, and so is every nation fit to manage its own affairs, no matter how badly.
By Swaraj Gandhi meant government of India by the consent of the people as ascertained by the largest number of adult population, male or female, native-born or domiciled, who have contributed by manual labour to the service of the State and who have taken the trouble of having registered their names as voters. Real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, Swaraj is to be obtained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.
The book has 29 chapters and within that you have sub chapters: Let me briefly take you through the headings of the main chapters in brief as that itself will give you a comprehensive flavour of the book.
- Meaning of Swaraj: Swaraj can be maintained, only where, there is a majority of loyal patriotic people to whom the good of the nation is paramount and above all other considerations including personal profit. Swaraj means government by many. But where, the many are immoral or selfish, their government will only spell anarchy and nothing else.
- A picture of an ideal society: There will be neither paupers nor beggars, nor high nor low, neither millionaire employers nor half-starved employees, nor intoxicating drinks, or drugs. There will be the same respect for women as vouchsafed to men and the chastity and purity of men and women will be jealously guarded. Where, every woman except one’s wife, will be treated by men of all religions, as mother, sister or daughter according to her age. Where there will be no untouchability and where there will be equal respect for all faiths. They will be all proudly, joyously and voluntarily bread labourers.
- Which way lies hope: Industrialism on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore, we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.
- Cities and villages: There are two schools of thought in the world. One wants to divide the world into cities and the other into villages. The village civilization and the city civilization are totally different things. One depends on machinery and industrialization, and the other on agriculture and handicrafts. We have given preference to the latter.
- Village Swaraj: To serve our villages is to establish Swaraj. Everything else is but an idle dream. If the village perishes India too will perish. It will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost.
- Basic Principles of village Swaraj: According to me the economic constitution of India and for that matter of the world, should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet. And this ideal can be universally realized only if the means of production of the elementary necessaries of life remain in control of the masses. These should be freely available to all as God’s air and water ought to be. They should not be made a vehicle of traffic for the exploitation of others. Their monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of the destitution that we witness today not only in this unhappy land but in other parts of the world too.
- Bread labour: The great nature has intended us to earn our bread in the sweat of our brow. Everyone, therefore, who idles away a single minute becomes to that extent a burden upon his neighbours, and to do so is to commit a breach of the very first lesson of Ahimsa. The divine law, that a man must earn his bread by labouring with his own hands, was first stressed by a Russian writer named T. M. Bondaref. Tolstoy advertised it and gave it wide publicity. In my view the same principle has been set forth in the third chapter of Gita, where we are told, that he who eats without offering sacrifice eats stolen food. Sacrifice here can only mean bread labour.
- Equality: My idea of a society is that while we all are born equal which means we have a right to equal opportunity, all do not have the same capacity. It is, in the nature of things, impossible. For instance, all cannot have the same height, or colour or degree of intelligence, etc.; therefore in the nature of things, some will have the ability to earn more and others less. People with talents will have more, and they will utilize their talents for this purpose. If they utilize their talents effectively, they will be performing the work of the State. Such people would exist as trustees, on no other terms. I would allow a man of intellect to earn more, I would not cramp his talent. But the bulk of his greater earnings must be used for the good of the State, just as the incomes of all earning sons of the father go to the common family fund.
- Theory of Trusteeship: Suppose I have earned a fair amount of wealth either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry, I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me, what belongs to me is the right to an honourable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community.
- Swadeshi: There is a verse in Bhagavad Gita that says, masses follow the classes. Even, concept of Swadeshi like any other good thing can collapse and die if it is made out to be a fetish. That is the danger that must be guarded against. To reject foreign manufactures, merely because they are foreign and to go on wasting national time and money in the promotion in one’s own country of manufactures for which it is not suited, would be a criminal folly and a negation of the Swadeshi spirit. Remember Swadeshi is not a cult of hatred. On the contrary a doctrine of selfless service that has its roots in the purest Ahimsa, i.e., love.
- Self-sufficiency and cooperation: Truth and non-violence form the foundation of the order of my conception. Our first duty is that we should not be a burden on society, i.e., we should be self-dependent. From this point of view self-sufficiency itself is a kind of service.
- Panchayat Raj—Gandhi writes about Panchayats in pre-independence days: Panchayat has an ancient flavour; it is a good word. It literally means an assembly of five elected by villagers. It represents the system, by which the innumerable village republics of India were governed. But the British Government, by its ruthlessly thorough method of revenue collection, almost destroyed these ancient republics, which could not stand the shock of this revenue collection. Congressmen are now making a crude attempt to revive the system by giving village elders civil and criminal jurisdiction.
- Nai Talim: was popularly and correctly described as education through handicrafts. This was part of the truth. The root of this new education went much deeper. It lay in the application of truth and love in every variety of human activity, whether in individual life or a corporate one.
- Chapters 14 to 18 are on Agriculture and cattle welfare and deals with various agriculture related issues of those times. Our villagers who are mostly Kisans depend on agriculture and cattle for ploughing. I am rather ignorant in this respect for I have no personal experience. But there is not a single village where we have no agriculture or cattle. Our workers will have to keep a careful eye on the cattle wealth of their village. If we cannot use this wealth properly, India will be doomed to disaster and with that we shall also perish. For these animals will then, as in the West, become an economic burden on us and we shall have no option before us except for killing them.
The book deals with the problem of ownership of land: The Kisan is the salt of the earth which rightly belongs or should belong to him, and not to the absentee landlord or the Zamindar.
The other important question for consideration… was whether cow farming should be in the hands of individuals or done collectively. I myself had no hesitation in saying that she could never be saved by individual farming. Her salvation, and with her that of buffalo, could only be brought about by collective endeavour. It is quite impossible for an individual farmer to look after the welfare of his cattle in his own home in a proper and scientific manner. Amongst other causes lack of collective effort has been the principal cause of the deterioration of the cow and hence of cattle/ in general. The world today is moving towards the ideal of collective or co-operative effort in every department of life.
One potent way of increasing crop production is proper manuring. Artificial manures, I am told, are harmful to the soil. The compost manure emit no bad odour. It would save lakhs of rupees and also increase the fertility of the soil without exhausting it.
Food Shortage in India is not unfamiliar with starvation and death of tens of thousands, if not millions, due to famine, natural or man-made. I claim that in a well-ordered society there should always be prearranged methods of successful treatment of scarcity of water and food crops.
- Khadi & spinning: Every family with a plot of land can grow cotton at least for family use. Cotton growing is an easy process. In Bihar farmers by law were compelled to grow indigo (a tropical plant of the pea family, which was formerly cultivated as a source of dark blue dye) in one of their cultivable land. This was in the interest of the foreign indigo planter. So, why cannot we grow cotton voluntarily for the nation on a certain portion of our land? Decentralization commences from the beginning of the Khadi processes. Today, cotton crop is centralized and has to be sent to distant parts of India. Before the war it used to be sent principally to Britain and Japan. It was and still is a cash crop and therefore, subject to fluctuations of the market. Under the Khadi scheme cotton growing becomes free from this uncertainty and gamble. The grower grows what he needs. The farmer needs to know that his first business is to grow for his own needs. When he does that, he will reduce the chance of a low market ruining him. A combination of home grown cotton and charkha.
- Other village industries: I recall a conversation I had with Fazalbhai in 1920 when I was on the eve of launching the movement of Swadeshi. He characteristically said to me, ‘If you, Congressmen, become advertising agents of ours, you will do no good to the country except to put a premium on our wares and to raise the prices of our manufactures. His argument was sound. But he was nonplussed when I informed him that I was to encourage hand-spun and hand-woven Khadi which had been woefully neglected and which needed to be revived if the starving and unemployed millions were to be served. But Khadi is not the only such struggling industry. I therefore suggest to you to direct your attention and effort to all the small-scale, minor, unorganized industries that are today in need of public support.
- Village transport—a plea for the village cart: “Animal power is not costlier than machine power in fields or short distance work and hence can compete with the latter in most cases. The present day tendency is towards discarding animal power in preference to machine power. If a farmer has his own cart and travels in it, he has not to spend anything in the form of ready money but uses the produce of his own field in producing power by feeding bullocks. Really grass and grain should be looked upon by the farmer as his petrol, and the cart the motor lorry, and bullocks as the engine converting grass into power. The machine will neither consume grass nor will it yield manure, an article of vast importance. Then the villager has to have his bullocks; where, in any case he has his grass. And if he has a cart, he is also maintaining the village carpenter and the blacksmith; and if he is keeping a cow, he is maintaining a hydrogenation plant converting vegetable oil into solid butter or ghee and also at the same time a bullock manufacturing machine—thus serving a twofold purpose.”
- CURRENCY, EXCHANGE AND TAX: Under my system, it is the labour which is the current coin, and not the metal. Any person who can use his labour has that coin, has wealth. He converts his labour into cloth, he converts his labour into grain. If he wants paraffin oil, which he cannot himself produce, he uses his surplus grain for getting the oil. It is this exchange of labour on a free, fair and equal terms—hence it is no robbery. You may object that this is a reversion to the primitive system of barter. But then is not all international trade based on the barter system?
- VILLAGE SANITATION: Divorce between intelligence and labour has resulted in criminal negligence of the villages. And so, instead of having graceful hamlets dotting the land, we have dung-heaps. The approach to, many villages, is not a refreshing experience. Often one would like to shut one’s eyes and stuff one’s nose; such is the surrounding dirt and offending smell. If the majority of Congressmen were derived from our villages, as they should be, they should be able to make our villages models of cleanliness in every sense of the word. But they have never considered it their duty to identify themselves with the villagers in their daily lives. A sense of national or social sanitation is not a virtue among us. While taking a bath, we do not mind dirtying the well or the tank or the river by whose side or in which we perform our ablutions. I regard this defect as a great vice which is responsible for the disgraceful state of our villages and the sacred banks of the sacred rivers and for the diseases that spring from insanitation.
- VILLAGE HEALTH AND HYGIENE: In a well-ordered society the citizens know and observe the laws of health and hygiene. It is established beyond doubt that ignorance and neglect of the laws of health and hygiene are responsible for the majority of diseases to which mankind is privy. The very high death rate among us is no doubt largely due to our gnawing poverty, but it could be mitigated if the people were properly educated about health and hygiene. “Mens sana in corpore sano” a Latin phrase is perhaps the first law for humanity. Which means “A healthy mind in a healthy body” is a self-evident truth. There is an inevitable connection between mind and body.
- Diet: Gandhi suggests a diet chart for men with sedentary habits as follows: Cow’s milk 2 lbs. Cereals (wheat, rice, bajra, in all) 6 oz. Vegetables leafy 3 oz, others 5 oz. Raw 1 oz. Ghee 1½ oz. Or Butter 2 oz. Gur or white sugar 1½ oz. Fresh fruit according to one’s own taste and purse. In any case it is good to take two sour limes a day. The juice should be squeezed and taken with vegetables or in water, cold or hot. All these weights are of raw stuff. I have not put down the amount of salt. It should be added afterwards according to taste. Now, how often should one eat? Many people take two meals a day. The general rule is to take three meals: breakfast early in the morning and before going out to work, dinner at midday and supper in the evening or later. So try it out.
- VILLAGE PROTECTION: Peace Brigade. Some time ago I suggested the formation of a Peace Brigade whose members would risk their lives in dealing with riots, especially communal. The idea was, that this Brigade should substitute the police and even the military. This reads ambitious. The achievement may prove impossible. Yet, if the Congress is to succeed in its non-violent struggle, it must develop the power to deal peacefully with such situations.
- THE VILLAGE WORKER: The centre of the village worker’s life will be the spinning wheel. The idea at the back of Khadi is, that it is an industry supplementary to agriculture and co-extensive with it. The spinning wheel cannot be said to have been established in its own proper place in our life, until we can banish idleness from our villages and make every village home a busy hive. The worker will not only be spinning regularly but will be working for his bread with the adze or the spade or the last, as the case may be. All his hours minus the eight hours of sleep and rest will be fully occupied with some work. He will have no time to waste. He will allow himself no laziness and allow others none. His life will be a constant lesson to his neighbours in ceaseless and joy-giving industry. Our compulsory or voluntary idleness has to go.
In chapters 28 & 29 he has covered Government and the village and its links with Khaddar and India and the world.
Overall it’s a great book just in case you want to know about Gandhi in a much more comprehensive manner. Even, when, the book was written way back one finds the central theme so very relevant for India even today. I’m convinced every Indian should read it.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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