Swadeshi – the Vision of Holistic Development

Why the Village Industries Movement

I have no doubt in my mind that we add to the national wealth if we help the  small-scale industries. I have no doubt also that true Swadeshi consists in encouraging and reviving these home industries. That alone can help the dumb millions. It also provides an outlet for the creative faculties and resourcefulness of the people. It can also usefully employ hundreds of youths in the country who are in need of employment. It may harness all the energy that at present runs to waste. 

The idea behind the village industries scheme is that we should look to the villages for the supply of our daily needs and that, when we find that some needs are not so supplied, we should see whether with a little trouble and organization, they cannot be profitably supplied by the villagers. In estimating the profit, we should think of the villager, not of ourselves. It may be that, in the initial stages, we might have to pay a little more than the ordinary price and get an inferior article in the bargain. Things will improve, if we will interest ourselves in the supplier of our needs and insist on his doing better and take the trouble of helping to do better.

This is a constructive, not a destructive, programme. The big industries can never, they don’t hope to, overtake the unemployed millions. Their aim is primarily to make money for the few owners, never the direct one of finding employment for the unemployed millions. The organizers of Khadi and other village industries don’t hope in the near future to affect the big industries. They may hope to bring a ray of light into the dark dungeons, miscalled cottages, of the villagers.... They are designed to well utilize the leisure hours of the idle millions.

In this there is no war against the misuse and abuse of machinery, i.e. its use to the detriment of the millions. Dead machinery must not be pitted against the millions of living machines represented by the villagers scattered in the seven hundred thousand villages of India. Machinery to be well used has to help and ease human effort. The present use of machinery tends more and more to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few in total disregards of millions of men and women whose bread is snatched by it out of their mouths. 

I would say that if the village perishes, India will perish too. It will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. Industrialization 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 village 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.

Rehabilitation of Village Industries

We may profess to gratuitously help textile, sugar and rice mills and, respectively, kill the village spinning wheel, the handloom and their product, Khadi, the village cane crusher and its product, the vitamin-laden and nourishing gur or molasses and the hand-pounder and its product, unpolished rice, whose pericarp, which holds the vitamins, is left intact by these pounders. 

Our clear duty is, therefore, to investigate the possibility of keeping in existence the village wheel, the village crusher and the village pounder, and, by advertising their products, discovering their qualities, ascertaining the condition of the workers and the number displaced by the power-driven machinery and discovering the methods of improving them, whilst retaining their village character, to enable them to stand the competition of the mills. How terribly and criminally we have neglected them! Here, there is no antagonism to the textile or the sugar or the rice mills. Their products must be preferred to the corresponding foreign products. If they were in danger of extinction from foreign competition they should receive the needed support. But they stand in no such need. They are flourishing in spite of foreign competition.  What is needed is protection of the village crafts and the workers behind them from the crushing competition of the power-driven machinery, whether it is worked in India or in foreign lands. 

In a nutshell, of the things we use, we should restrict our purchases to the articles which villages manufacture. Their manufactures may be crude. We must try to induce them to improve their workmanship, and not dismiss them because foreign articles or even articles produced in cities, that is, big factories, are superior. In other words, we should evoke the artistic talent of the villager. In this manner, shall we repay somewhat, the debt we owe to them. We need not be frightened by the thought whether we shall ever succeed in such an effort. 

 Within our own times, we can recall instances where we have not been baffled by the difficulty of our tasks when we have known that they were essential for this nation’s progress. If, therefore, we as individuals believe that revivification of India’s villages is a necessity of our existence .... we must mentally go back to the villages and treat them as our pattern, instead of putting the city life before them for imitation.

 If this is the correct attitude, then, naturally, we begin with ourselves and thus use, say, hand-made paper instead of millmade, use village reed, whenever possible, instead of the fountain pen or the penholder, ink made in the villages instead of the big factories, etc. I can multiply instances of this nature.
 There is hardly anything of daily use in the home, which the villagers have not made before and cannot make even now. If we perform the mental trick and fix our gaze upon them, we immediately put millions of rupees into the pockets of the villagers, whereas at the present moment we are exploiting the villagers without making any return worth the name. It is time we arrested the progress of the tragedy. 

For the city-dweller, the villages have become untouchable. He does not know them, he will not live in them, and if he finds himself in a village, he will want to reproduce the city life there. This would be tolerable, if we could bring into being cities which would accommodate 30 crores of human beings. This is much more impossible than the one of reviving the village industries and stopping the progressive poverty, which is due as much to enforced unemployment as to any other cause.

Spinning Wheel — the Life-Giving Sun

I feel convinced that the revival of hand-spinning and hand-weaving will make the largest contribution to the economic and the moral regeneration of India. The millions must have a simple industry to supplement agriculture. Spinning was the cottage industry years ago, and if the millions are to be saved from starvation, they must be enabled to reintroduce spinning in their homes, and every village must repossess its own weaver.

Spinning would spell the organization of crores into a joint co-operative effort, the conservation and utilization of the energy of the millions, and the dedication of crores of lives to the service of the motherland. The carrying out of such a gigantic task would, further, give us a realization of our own strength. It would mean our acquiring a thorough mastery of the detail and innumerable knotty problems which it presents, e.g, learning to keep account of every pie, learning to live in the villages in sanitary and healthy conditions, removing the difficulties that block the way and so on. For, unless we learn all this, we would not be able to accomplish this task. The spinning wheel, then, provides us with a means for generating this capacity in us.

There is no doubt in my mind that in a country like ours, teeming with millions of unemployed, something is needed to keep their hands and feet engaged in order that they may earn an honest living. It is for them that Khadi and cottage industries are needed. It is clear to me as daylight that they are badly needed at the present moment. What the future has in store for them, I do not know, nor do I care to know. . . . These little things add substantially to the income of the poor villagers. That is what Khadi is trying to do for the spinners today.

Khadi connotes the beginning of economic freedom and equality of all in the country… It must be taken with all its implications. It means wholesale Swadeshi mentality, a determination to find all the necessaries of life in India and that too through the labour and intellect of the villagers… The latter (villages) will be largely self-contained and will voluntarily serve the cities of India and even the outside world in so far as it benefits both the parties.

Khadi to me is the symbol of the unity of Indian humanity, of its economic freedom and equality and therefore, ultimately, in the poetic expression of Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘the livery of India’s freedom’.

Moreover, Khadi mentality means decentralization of the production and distribution of the necessaries of life. Therefore, the formula so far evolved is every village to produce all its necessaries and a certain percentage in addition for the requirements of the cities.

I... claim for the Charkha the honour of being able to solve the problem of economic distress in a most natural, simple, unexpensive and businesslike manner. The Charkha, therefore, is not only not useless... but it is a useful and indispensable article for every home. It is the symbol of the nation’s prosperity and, therefore, freedom. It is a symbol not of commercial war but of commercial peace. It bears not a message of ill-will towards the nations of the earth but of good-will and self-help. It will not need the protection of a navy threatening a world’s peace and exploiting its resources, but it needs the religious determination of millions to spin their yarn in their own homes as today they cook their food in their own homes.

I may deserve the curses of posterity for many mistakes of omission and commission, but I am confident of earning its blessings for suggesting a revival of the Charkha. I take my all on it. For every revolution of the wheel spins peace, good-will and love. 

What is claimed for spinning is that:

  1. it supplies the readiest occupation to those who have leisure and are in want of a few coppers;
  2. it is known to the thousands;
  3. it is easily learnt;
  4. it requires practically no outlay of capital;
  5. the wheel can be easily and cheaply made. Most of us do not yet know that spinning can be done even with a piece of tile and splinter;
  6. the people have no repugnance to it;
  7. it affords immediate relief in times of famine and scarcity;
  8. it alone can stop the drain of wealth which goes outside India in the purchase of foreign cloth;
  9. it automatically distributes the millions thus saved among the deserving poor;
  10. even the smallest success means so much immediate gain to the people;
  11. it is the most potent instrument of securing co-operation among the people.

I have often said that if seven lakhs of the villages of India were to be kept alive, and if peace that is at the root of all civilization is to be achieved, we have to make the spinning wheel the centre of all handicrafts. Thus my faith in the spinning wheel is growing every day and I see it more  and more clearly that the Sun of the wheel will alone illumine the planets of other handicrafts.

But I go a step further and say that just as we go on discovering new stars and planets in the vast solar system, even so we shall go on discovering fresh handicrafts every day. But for the sake of this thing, we have to make the spinning wheel the really life-giving Sun.

Difficulties in the way

My difficulties are two.  One is whether it is possible to sell hand-made articles as cheaply as machine-made ones. The second is that out of the articles that have been enumerated in the scheme there is hardly any except Khadi which can become universal. They will not, in a large measure, be consumed locally and so will have to be sold in the cities. This is as it should be. 

The villagers should, develop such a high degree of skill that articles prepared by them should command a ready market outside. When our villages are fully developed there will be no dearth in them of men with a high degree of skill and artistic talent. There will be village poets, village artists, village architects, linguists and research workers. In short there will be nothing in life worth having which will not be had in the villages. Today the villages are dung heaps.Tomorrow they will be like tiny gardens of Eden where dwell highly intelligent folk whom no one can deceive or exploit.

The reconstruction of the villages along these lines should begin right now. That might necessitate some modification of the scheme. The reconstruction of the villages should not be organized on a temporary but permanent basis. 

My second difficulty is that in the scheme under question, craft and education have been divorced from each other. Craft, art, health and education should all be integrated into one scheme. 

Nai Talim is a beautiful blend of all the four and covers the whole education of the individual from the time of conception to the moment of death. Therefore, I would not divide village uplift work into watertight compartments from the very beginning but undertake an activity which will combine all four. Instead of regarding craft and industry as different from education, I will regard the former as the medium for the latter. Nai Talim ought to be integrated into the scheme.

“Begin with Yourself”

Correspondents have been writing, and friends have been seeing me, to ask me how to begin the village industries work and what to do first. The obvious answer is, “Begin with yourself and do first that which is easiest for you to do.” This answer, however, does not satisfy the enquirers. Let me, therefore, be more explicit. 

Each person can examine all the articles of food, clothing and other things that he uses from day to day and replace foreign makes or city makes, by those produced by the villagers in their homes or fields with the simple inexpensive tools they can easily handle and mend. This replacement will be itself, an education of great value and a solid beginning. 

The next step will be opened out to him of itself. For instance, say, the beginner has been hitherto using a tooth-brush made in a Bombay factory. He wants to replace it with a village brush. He is advised to use a babul twig. If he has weak teeth or is toothless, he has to crush one end of it, with a rounded stone or a hammer, on a hard surface. The other end he slits with a knife and uses the halves as tonguescrapers. He will find these brushes to be cheaper and much cleaner than the very unhygienic factory-made toothbrush. The city-made tooth-powder he naturally replaces with equal parts of clean, finely-ground, wood-charcoal and clean salt. 

He will replace mill-cloth with village-spun Khadi, and mill-husked rice with hand-husked, unpolished rice, and white sugar with village-made gur. These I have taken merely as samples already mentioned in these columns. I have mentioned them again to deal with the difficulties that have been mentioned by those who have been discussing the question with me.

All should make it a point of honour to use only village articles whenever and wherever available. Given the demand, there is no doubt that most of our wants can be supplied from our villages. When we have become village-minded, we will not want imitations of the West or machine-made products, but we will develop a true national taste in keeping with the vision of a new India in which pauperism, starvation and idleness will be unknown.

The article comprises select passages from notable works such as Hind Swaraj, Village Industries, Community Programmes published by the Navajeevan Trust and sourced for Quest with the kind permission from The Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal – Gandhi Book Centre, Mumbai.