An invitation from Samanvaya has to be taken seriously, for Ram, his wife Rama and colleague Priya who run it are serious, commited people. The invitation was to a weekend retreat to discuss Gandhi’s view of Self-Rule, which he called Swaraj. Everyone has heard the word Swaraj and understands it differently. I too had my own understanding of it. What might have made Samanvaya convene a weekend retreat focused on it, in Gandhigram, near Madurai? I decided to attend, and returned with practical ideas to experiment with at pointReturn.
A slender book, the “Hind Swaraj” [downloadable from here] is widely considered to be the essense of all that Gandhi sought to convey through his life and convictions. Its sub-title “Indian Home Rule” made many think of it as a political manifesto for freedom from British Rule; Gandhi exasperated them by saying it was not. It is a book where Gandhi defines Satyagraha or soul force. It is also a book where Gandhi castigates western civilisation, machinery, lawyers and violence. Not surprisingly, many consider him obscurantist. One of the participants at the retreat thought so. Does it urge us to create lucrative markets for village produce? An elderly former industrialist thought so. Does it advocate local self-sufficiency? I thought so.
At Gandhigram, Ram and Priya read us through the text and set us up elaborating our points of view. As the retreat was in concluding stages, there was consensus that Gandhi was driving at this: unless the individual was free in spirit, a ‘free’ nation is irrelevant to him. Replacing the British ruler with Indian ones of the same mindset does not constitute ‘independence’. What we needed to do was to restore the Indian value system and way of life.
I was quickening now. How might one do that? What in fact is it that we must ‘restore’? What are the difficulties in doing so? I found good expositions in the words of two participants from rural Tamil Nadu, who had not been too exposed to ‘modern’ education.
The first Mr Kumaravelu of Vilathikulam, had me spell bound as he described a way of life he experienced as a child. I paraphrase his words:
“The family’s 40 acres which I still farm- but with difficulty- has no assured irrigation- no river, no tank, no wells, let alone pumpsets. It depends entirely on rains. Yet it supported a household of 50 dependants and provided for our food and health and gave us the money for marriages and crises for several generations. How did we do it, whereas I struggle now?
“We managed because we lived as one large family. We were not all blood related; there were others and labourers too. Everyone was assured of food, clothes, shelter and those needs at times of birth, marriage, ill health, old age and death. We all worked hard, throughout the year. There were over fifty heads of cows and goats and chores of farming, land husbandry and processing produce kept us forever busy.