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MAHATMA GANDHI AND SELF-SUFFICIENCY
THE MEANING OF SWARAJ
Gandhiji described this vision in many of his writings, most notably in Hind Swaraj, a treatise written in 1909 while he was aboard a ship, coming back from Britain. He wrote about the idea of a self-contained village republic inhabited by individuals whose lives were selfregulated. In Gandhiji’s philosophy, swaraj for the nation did not mean merely political independence from British rule. Swaraj, for him, was something more substantive, involving the freedom of individuals to regulate their o w n l i v e s w i t h o u t h a rm i n g o n e another. His swaraj was one where every individual was his or her ownruler, with the capacity to control and regulate his or her own life. This would remove inequalities of power and status in society and enable proper reciprocity. Gandhiji certainly did not want British rule to be replaced by another f o rm o f r u l e w h e r e W e s t e r n institutions of governance and civil society w o uld be ru n by In dian s instead of white men. That would b e “ E n g l i s h r u l e w i t h o u t t h e Englishman’’. He wrote that such a process “would make India English. And w hen it b ecomes Eng lish, it will be called not Hindustan, but Englistan. This is not the swaraj I want”. Swaraj, from Gandhiji’s perspective, would have to be located not only outside the domain of British political control, but also beyond the influence of Western civilisation.
SPINNING THE IDEA OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY
However, for all this to happen, Indians would have to take care to revive and preserve all the village arts and crafts. Among the crafts, the one on which Gandhiji put the greatest emphasis was spinning and weaving. He wrote, “What is the kind of service that the teeming millions of India most need at the present time, that can be easily understood and appreciated by all, that is easy to perform and will, at the same time enable the crores of our semi-starved countrymen to live? And the reply came—that it is the universalisation of khadi or the spinning-wheel that can fulfil these conditions.’’ Spinning, an integral aspect of Indian handicrafts, had to be made an essential part of the lives of the common people. This w ould make the common people selfsufficient and thus enable them to survive. The poor of India, if they were to prosper, needed a subsidiary sourceof occupation and livelihood. They could not remain solely dependent on agriculture. Gandhiji suggested thathand-spinning and, to a lesser extent, hand-weaving could become the subsidiary source. He commented,
“This industry flourished in India a hundred and fifty years ago and at that time we were not as miserably poor as we are today.’’ In this way, the villages in which they lived would be less dependent on mills and machinery. For Gandhiji th is w as ve ry im p o rta n t s in c e ma ch i n e s w ere an instrument of industrial societies. They produced in massive quantities. Thus the spread of khadi would challenge the influence of mills and machines and the import of cotton to India from England, and would enable the people of India to free themselves non-violently from the negative influences of industries and the violence they inevitably produced. Gandhiji was doing a number of things at the same time. He was reviving a handicraft which had been a vital component of village life. Through the revival ofspinning and weaving, people would be able to live better since they would have another source of livelihood. Ind ivid u als an d villages w o u ld become mo re selfsufficient. At the same time, the even bigger purpose of fighting the bad effects of industrialism would also be met.
1. “The whole fabric of swaraj hangs on a thread of the handspun yarn and (that is why) I have called the charkha our mightiest weapon.” Explain Gandhiji’s concept of swaraj.
2. Explain the idea of Gandhiji’s self-sufficient village. Do you think it is possible to realise this idea in India today? Support your arguments with examples.
3. Describe the meaning of khadi as an essential part of Gandhiji’s philosophy, and its symbolism and meaning today.
4. Write an essay on ‘The Indian Village of my Dreams’.
5. Develop your own strategy for the survival of a craft of your locality in an age of globalisation.
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