TODAY -

Gandhi, self-help, khadi and Atmanirbhar Bharat

Ningthoukhongjam Sabita *



Not so long ago we were talking about global warming and climate change as one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century and ways and means to control it to save the world before it is too late. But the Covid-19 pandemic has made us realise that there are so many things we cannot control or change in life.

We still do not know what is going to happen in our lives. Despite the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, we are hopeful that together we can fight the virus and life will return to normal soon.

In the midst of the worldwide pandemic Prime minister Narendra Modi unveiled Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (or Self-reliant India Mission) during the announcement of the coronavirus pandemic related economic package saying that the country should view the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to achieve economic self-reliance. He stressed the importance of promoting local products to boost small and local businesses.

The prime minister's call for self-reliance reminds us of Mahatma Gandhi's concept of Swadeshi, self-reliance in the spirit of universal love and service. The Father of the Nation who led the masses in India's freedom struggle had identified man's 'greed' as the primary cause of trouble.

His ideas help us understand the underlying reality of 'global citizenship' and its various facets by articulating the thoughts of the voiceless multitudes lying dormant in the heart of India and seek to provide resolutions for building a better society. In India millions of people live today surrounded by medical issues, infrastructure problems and no food to eat.

According to Gandhi "Man is not born to live in isolation but is essentially a social animal independent and inter-dependent. No one can or should ride on another's back. If we try to work out necessary conditions for such a life, we are forced to the conclusion that the unit of society should be a village or call it a manageable small group of people who would, in the ideal, be self-sufficient (in the matter of their vital requirements) as a unit and bound together in bonds of mutual co-operation and interdependence."

After his return to India from South Africa in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the country to see and study the situation. He realised that the "real" India lived in villages.He interacted with the masses and tried to understand the rural way of life. He was aware that the people must become self-reliant and financially independent by concentrating on development of cottage industries if they were to fight against the British Raj. For him the country's political independence had no meaning without economic independence.

The leader strongly believed that Khadi, the handspun and handwoven cloth could be instrumental in bringing the rich and poor together to achieve Swaraj. He said "Like swaraj, khadi is our birth-right, and it is our life-long duty to use that only. Anyone who does not fulfil that duty is totally ignorant of what swaraj is." (Navajivan, 5-3-1922; 23:11) The promotion of Khadi by Gandhi was aimed at achieving self-sufficiency and promoting indigenous cottage industries.

In an interview with Nirmal Kumar Bose in November 1934, Gandhi said, "Through khadi we teach people the art of civil obedience to an institution which they have built up for themselves. Only when they have learnt that art can they successfully disobey something which they want to destroy in the non-violent way. This is why I should advise all workers not to fritter their fighting strength in many-sided battles, but to concentrate on peaceful khadi work in order to educate the masses into a condition necessary for a successful practice of nonviolent non-co-operation. With their own exploitation, boycott of foreign cloth through picketing may easily be violent; through the use of khadi it is most natural and absolutely non-violent."

The khadi movement was a campaign to help the masses solve unemployment problem with a stress on removal of poverty with people's involvement. For him the khadi movement symbolised unity among the people. Gandhi asked every Indian to do spinning at least one hour every day as sacrifice to his county, as duty towards the poor.

He knew millions of Indians were either unemployed or underemployed and khadi movement could save the poor from being exploited by the rich. Khadi was a passion for him.Gandhi took a vow not to take his food untill he spun for half an hour every day. He even employed an expert spinner to teach spinning to those living in his ashram. It is said that the sound of a humming wheel soothed Gandhi when he was convalescing from an illness.

We often come across pictures of the great Indian leader using a spinning wheel seated on a dais. Once after having a long talk with Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore told him that he must have wasted his time. Gandhi replied: "No. I have been spinning away without a break in the conversation. For every minute I spin, I feel that I am adding to the nation's wealth. If one crore spin for an hour every day, we would add Rs. 50,000 each day to the national wealth. The spinning wheel is not meant to oust a single man or woman from his or her occupation."

The masses and their basic needs were at the centre of Gandhi's activities. Long before India's he pointed out the significance of the basic strength of the masses in building up the nation's prosperity. According to him every man has an equal right to the necessaries of life and all must have equal opportunities.

Gandhi wanted to make the villages self-reliant with the help of Khadi and Charkha. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that the revival of cottage industries is crucial if we are to solve economic distress for the teeming millions who have gone out of work. As the prime minister said the country should view the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to achieve economic self-reliance.

Experts said that Gandhi had the foresight to believe that the national movement to free the country from the yoke of colonial rule, which was impoverishing the people, could be achieved only if economic self-sufficiency of the masses grew. The hand woven cloth is relevant as a symbol of Gandhi's concept of Swadeshi and self-reliance.

Let's hope that his thought " Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world; but to change ourselves" continues to inspire us in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic.


* Ningthoukhongjam Sabita wrote this article for PIB which was published at Imphal Times and The Sangai Express
The writer is Senior Journalist and Columnist
This article was webcasted on September 11 2020.



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