Schumacher on Gandhi – by Surur Hoda

This essay first appeared in ‘Gandhi and the Contemporary World’, edited by Antony Copley and George Paxton, and published by the Indo-British Historical Society in 1997. The author, Surur Hoda, was one of the founders of The Gandhi Foundation

Gandhi’s visions of Gram Swaraj (i.e. self-sufficient but inter-linked village republics with decentralised small-scale economic structure and participatory democracy) left him immediately at odds with many in the Indian National Congress and outside who sought to develop India as a ‘modern’ industrial nation state. To Gandhi, political freedom was merely the first step towards attainment of real independence which entailed achieving social, moral and economic freedom for seven hundred thousand villages. ‘If the villages perish India will perish’ he had said. But the majority of academically-trained, so-called modern economists called his vision ‘retrograde’. Some extremists even described it as ‘reactionary’ or ‘counter-revolutionary’ which aimed to put the clock back.

Many of those who admired his skill in leading the struggle for national liberation reluctantly tolerated his views as the price to pay for his political leadership. They were sold on the concept of large-scale urban industrialisation, mass production and economics of scale. They failed to understand Gandhi’s economic insight and criticised him by saying ‘Whatever Gandhi’s merit as “Father of the Nation”, he simply does not understand economics.’

Yet almost a quarter of a century after his assassination, Dr E F Schumacher, when delivering the Gandhi Memorial Lecture at the Gandhian Institute of Studies at Varanasi (India) in 1973, described Gandhi as the greatest ‘People’s Economist.’ In his opening remarks, Schumacher told a story which went something like this. ‘A famous German conductor was once asked who did he consider as the greatest of all composers. “Unquestionably Beethoven” was his answer. He was then asked “Would you not even insider Mozart?” He said “Forgive me.” I thought you were referring to the others.’ Drawing a parallel Schumacher said the same initial question might he put to an economist as to who was the greatest. The reply might come ‘Unquestionably Keynes.’ Would you not even consider Gandhi?’ ‘Forgive me, I thought you were referring to the others.’

Schumacher indentified Gandhi as the people’s economist whose economic thinking was compatible with spirituality as opposed to materialism. He said: ‘Gandhi refused to treat economics as if people did not matter.’ Gandhi had his finger on the pulse of the masses and therefore when someone put it to him that no religion was any good that did not make sense in terms of economics, Gandhi countered that no economics was any good that did not make sense in terms of morality and the poor masses. Schumacher therefore interpreted Gandhian economics as people’s economics and explained the difference between economic reasoning based on ‘people’ as against ‘goods’, as was the case with materialistic economic thinking.

Schumacher explained that economic reasoning based on ‘goods’ would be solely concerned with increasing the supply of goods by means of advanced technology scientific knowledge and modern equipment. Based on this line of thinking industries should be large scale, highly sophisticated, capital intensive and labour saving, even to the point of total automation. From the ‘goods’ point of view, human beings were not ideal agents of mass production because they tended to make mistakes, were unpunctual, argued back and joined trade unions. The ideal therefore was to eliminate the ‘human factor’.

However, if the economic means of development was based on people, as with Gandhian thinking, one had to direct attention to people in need and start asking why are they poor; if it was because their productivity was zero, how then could this he raised?

With this line of reasoning eradication of worklessness was of paramount importance. The most disturbing aspect of most developing countries, Schumacher thought was the fact that millions and millions of people were without work or at such a low level of productivity that it was negligible.

How could these people be helped to help themselves? It was in order to address this issue that Gandhi gave a call for ‘production by the masses’ instead of ‘mass production.’ While giving his prescription to the nation, he said that

‘the salvation of India is impossible without the salvation of the villages and their poor inhabitants.’

The Gandhian Prescription

When asked how Gandhi, were he alive today, would view India’s present situation after three decades of independence, Schumacher pointed out that the number of rich, even very rich, people in India had increased as had the number of desperately poor people. He added that the situation in India reflected the situation of the world as a whole and Gandhi would undoubtedly consider this a sign of grievous failure. The obvious question, Schumacher asked, was

‘Why has it not been possible to help millions of unemployed and underemployed people to help themselves out ot poverty?’

The answer, Schumacher added, was that an approach to economic problems which started from ‘goods’ and therefore aimed to eliminate the human factor from the productive process could not possibly lead to constructive job provision. Gandhi would not have found it difficult to understand this. Schumacher prophesied that if the next twenty-five years in India produced a continuation of the trends of development based on the Western model established since independence, the outlook for the mass of poor people was grim, even hopeless.

Referring to the Western world, Schumacher said that ‘it is now widely accepted that there are limits to growth on the established pattern, so that, in all probability, the trends established over the last twenty-five years could not be continued even if everybody wished to do so. The requisite physical resources were simply not there, and living nature all around us, the Ecosystem, could not stand the strain. Gandhi had always known, and rich countries are now reluctantly beginning to realise, that their affluence was based on stripping the world. The USA with 5.6% of the world population was consuming up to 40% of the world’s resources, most of them non-renewable. Such a lifestyle could not spread to the whole of mankind. In fact, the truth is now dawning that the world could not really afford the USA, let alone the USA plus Europe plus Japan plus other highly industrialised countries. Enough is now known about the basic facts of spaceship Earth to realise that its first class passengers were making demands which could not be sustained very much longer without destroying the spaceship.’

Schumacher summed up Gandhi’s prescription for the salvation of India and in deed for the whole world as follows:

  1. Start all economic reasoning from the genuine needs of the people and help the poor to help themselves out of poverty.
  2. Revitalise and foster not only agriculture as such but also all possible productive, non-agricultural activities in the rural areas such as cottage industries for potters, weavers, shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths etc.
  3. Resist the further concentration of the growing population in large cities by reversing the trend of migration from rural to urban areas.
  4. Develop systematic policies, based on the best available knowledge for the mobilisation of all productive resources, the greatest of which is the population itself.

Only by following the above mentioned prescription, Schumacher thought, would developing countries such as India hope to feed, clothe, house and provide the bare necessities of life for their teeming millions.

He then went on to identify the five main pillars of Gandhian economic thinking.

  1. Nonviolent
  2. Simple
  3. Small
  4. Capital Saving
  5. Rural Based (Self Reliant and Employment-Orientated)

1. Nonviolent

Referring to the deep trouble in which the modern world found itself and the ecological crises facing it, Schumacher said that to most people this had come as a sudden shock. However, it would not have come as a surprise to Gandhi were he alive today. Gandhi perceived that the modern urban-based industrial civilisation was exploitative and violent. Gandhi did not employ nor did he require a computer to arrive at his conclusions. Common sense told him that Western style industrialisation was inherently violent and could never be implemented for the whole of mankind.

‘It would strip the world like a locust’

Gandhi had said and had warned that

‘For India to change to industrialism is to court disaster.’

Gandhi abhorred the industrial civilisation because it was based on callous exploitation of non-renewable resources. It made bodily welfare the sole object of life. which reduced man to nothing but a clever animal. It was the tendency of Indian civilisation and Indian philosophy, however, to make man better than he was and Gandhi therefore wanted India to follow a different path of development. Today people particularly the young, in the rich as well as poor countries, are looking for just this: a different path of development, a different type of society, a different lifestyle.

Schumacher, describing ‘Nonviolence’ as a Gandhian term, widened its concept to include not merely the violence of man against man, but also the violence of man in his dealings with living nature around him and violence against the limited and finite resources of the Earth. Taking agricultural research as an example, Schumacher said that this was all based on violence — the use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides. chemical fertilizers and the breeding of plants and animals which depended on the creation of highly abnormal living conditions. As a consequence modern agriculture had become a gigantic battle with nature instead of a careful, devoted striving to gear in with her unbelievably gentle and efficient methods. Organic agriculture based on the strict observance of biological laws, the proper recycling of organic materials, decentralising, diversification and good husbandry, was receiving virtually no support and attention. Yet there could be no disagreement that agricultural systems which depended completely and utterly on cheap availability of non-renewable materials such as oil had no long-term future. But a civilisation ruled almost exclusively by town dwellers was always in danger of forgetting this basic truth.

‘As in agriculture, so in industry and in every other walk of life’, Schumacher went on, ‘we need to give our attention to the developing and perfection of nonviolent methods to find answers to the threefold crises of the modem world the crises of resource exhaustion, the ecological crises and the crises of man’s alienation and dis orientation. All this requires work ie Gandhian work with a spirit of truth and non violence which inspired Gandhi.’

2. Simple

A simple lifestyle was Gandhi’s hallmark. At his death his sole possessions were a pair of slippers, a watch, a pair of glasses and a few loin-cloths. He lived in poverty by choice most of his life in line with his motto

‘Simple living and high thinking.’

Quoting Gandhi’s

‘High thinking is inconsistent with complicated material life’,

Schumacher said that all real human needs were essentially simple, therefore only frivolities and extravagances like supersonic transport were inevitably complex. Complexity had to be seen not as a sign of progress but as a mark of failure. It entailed the need for extreme specialisation so that men became ‘fragmentary’, too specialised to be able to obtain wisdom. Schumacher maintained that the essence of the message of all the prophets and philosophers born in the East was a simple lifestyle.
In an attempt to emphasise this point Schumacher added that in the area of economics modern civilisation was moving at ever-increasing speed towards immense complexity and high capital intensity with the sole object of increasing gross national product, growth rate and per capital income. Referring to his experience in one of the Eastern countries in the early 1960’s, he said:

“This struck me very forcibly in Burma when I considered what my economist colleagues told me that the national income per head in Burma was £20 a year and I recalled wartime England, when a very effective official policy squeezed us down until the pips began to squeak and when the economists added it up, and the income per capital then calculated was £200. Now this is a comparison which ought to arrest our attention: with something in the order of £200 we could only just exist, and in other places of the world, with something called £20 they too can just exist. Are these genuine comparisons? They point not to differences in wealth but to differences in living patterns and life-styles. One pattern manifests and reflects itself in economists’ calculations as £20 per annum per head and another at its minimum level, to basically the same job, ie just to carry the person through the year, manifests in the economists’ book as £200 a head. If it were possible in the economy which has a pattern and is symbolised by the figure of 20 a head, to increase national income so that the 20 would become 30 or 40, while yet adhering to the same life-style, you would have transformed that country into the nearest thing to paradise on earth. But in doubling the national income and allowing the pattern to shift from your indigenous to an American one, which does not begin to function unless it is endowed with, in my symbolical statistics of £200, then the result would be simply disappoint ing although the economist will think that you have doubled the nation al income, but contrary to economists’ estimation the country would rather slip into a slum economy than an economy of affluence, as the £40 a head income under altered conditions cannot even be enough to meet bare needs. Recognising that there are in fact two economics and two life-styles and that is the trickiness of the problem we can recognise a two-fold need, namely to make a success of the westernised sector and to make a success of the rest.”

3. Small

Referring to his book Small is Beautiful, Schumacher said that when Gandhi said

‘Not mass production but production by masses,’

or when he talked about

‘decentralised rural based self-reliant economy,’

or when he demanded that

‘production and consumption must be reunited,’

he was talking the language of Small is Beautiful.

‘Man is small and man is — or ought to be — beautiful and as such only the human scale economy of Gandhi’s dream is appropriate’,

said Schumacher. The greater the size of the production unit, the greater the separation of production from consumption. Reuniting production and consumption units was only possible if production units were small. It would be easy to manage and adaptable to local conditions. One of the enormous advantages of small-scale production, reunited with small-scale consumption, was the minimisation of transport. Mass production entailed increased transport which added to the cost but never added anything to the real value of goods.

Modern economic thinking celebrated high speed and massive goods transport as wonderful achievements and included their costs in the gross national product as an indicator of economic progress. Post-modern thinking, according to Schumacher, would conceive the negative theory of transport, looking upon the need for goods transport primarily as an indicator of failure, proving that goods were being produced in the wrong places. This kind of thinking was already quite familiar to the factory planners and production agencies who strove for the minimisation of transport inside the factory and did not take pride in creating an elaborate infrastructure just for transporting goods from place to place.

The same thinking applied to society as a whole, which would never lose sight of the ideal, that things should be produced where they were needed. To use Gandhi’s language:

‘Production and consumption should become reunited,’

or, to use another phrase of Gandhi’s:

‘Bring work to the people and not people to the work.’

Hence the need Schumacher emphasised for the development of small units, to fit into small scattered markets. ‘Can we utilise science and technology to this end?’ Schumacher asked. It was important to ask our scientists and technologists to use their knowledge and ingenuity not to make production units even bigger — seeking so called economics of scale — but to develop mini-plants so that people living in small communities in rural areas could again become productive, without being dependent on people already rich and powerful to provide ‘job opportunities’ for them.

‘Economics of scale, which may well have been a nineteenth century truth, can be shown to be a twentieth century myth’, said Schumacher.

4. Capital Saving

One of the pillars of Gandhian economic thinking was capital saving. Tragically, Schumacher pointed out, the world was moving at ever-increasing speed into large-scale, immense complexity, high capital intensity, and elimination of the human factor: which was leading mankind into a crisis of survival. One of the reasons for Gandhi’s opposition to capital intensive and complex machinery was the fact that it turned a large number of people into ‘machine minders.’ This did nothing to develop their personalities and merely robbed them of their creative power. Schumacher supporting Gandhi said that, in addition, highly capitalised modern, complex and gigantic technology had proved monstrously inefficient in solving the problems of the world. He added:

‘If an ancestor of long ago visited us today, what would he be more astonished at? The skill of our dentists or the rotteness of our teeth? The speed of our transport or the length of time and the discomfort incurred in our travelling to and from work? The progress of our medicine or the overcrowding of our hospitals’! Our ability to land man on the Moon or our inability to find employment for people wanting work! The efficiency of our machines or the inefficiency of our system as a whole?’

Admiring Gandhi’s sureness of touch, Schumacher said: ‘Gandhi knew that a capital intensive economy could never solve India’s unemployment problem, and went on to explain by giving an example. He said that in order to establish one work place it cost 100,000 Rupees and if you had 100 Crores (1 Crore = Rs. 10,000,000) you could establish only 10,000 work places. If one had to tackle an unemployment problem which ran into hundreds of millions, one could see the problem facing a poor country like India.’

Quoting another example, Schumacher said that he went to see a village potter, who was a marvellously skilled man but who had very primitive technical equipment worth Rs. 50. He then went to a city and met another potter minding a machine tool imported from Belgium, the price of which was in the region of Rs 500,000. Evidently the worker could never afford that kind of money to set himself up in business and as a consequence would be forced to go to a big city like Bombay, where there were already hundreds of thousands of unemployed people. It therefore followed that constructive job provision was only possible if one followed the Gandhian prescription, namely to design work to develop modes of production which fitted into the actually existing conditions in terms of capital availability relative to labour availability. In other words: systematic development of technologies cheap enough in terms of capital to give the chance of work to everybody.

5. Rural Based

As stated earlier, to Gandhi political independence was merely ‘the first step’ towards the attainment of real independence: i.e. social, moral and economic independence in terms of India’s seven hundred thousand villages as distinct from its cities and towns. In a document which has become known as his ‘Last Will and Testament’ he provided a guideline to his followers to follow the Sarvodaya (Welfare of All) Movement for the uplifting of the villages. Quoting Gandhi

‘You cannot build nonviolence on a factory civilisation, the economy which I conceived eschews exploitation, because exploitation is the essence of violence. You have to be rural minded before you can be nonviolent ‘

Schumacher described him as a nonviolent social revolutionary. Schumacher said: ‘The grand objective of the Sarvodaya Movement as conceived by Gandhi and pursued by his followers was the total reconstruction of society. This meant that the village would become the basic unit of politics, economy and society. In such a unit agriculture would remain the basic industry but other small scale village industries using the most modern technology where it did not conflict with human needs would be developed. In short Gandhi’s dream was to develop a decentralised economy in which each basic unit would be self-sufficient in meeting its main material needs — food, clothing and housing.’

Schumacher regretted that the Government of India in the post-independence period did not pay much heed to the Gandhian dream and sought to develop India as a modern, industrialised nation state. Though India was on the way to becoming the tenth largest industrial state, Schumacher thought it remained a predominantly rural based agricultural economy.

Despite the fact that almost 80% of the Indian people lived in the villages, no proper attention was given to improving the quality of life and creating employment opportunities in rural areas. As a result there was a large migration of people in search of employment from the rural areas to the cities where they only swelled the ranks of the slum dwellers. The only way to reverse this trend and save the villages of india from perishing was to create small village industries with the help of appropriate technology, thought Schumacher.

Big city-based industries and mass production methods destroyed the productive capacity of the rural inhabitants and robbed them of their means of livelihood. Citing an example of how villages had been deprived of their employment opportunity, Schumacher said: ‘Once the paddy grown in the village was hand pounded in the village itself and consumed by the villagers, the surplus being sent to the nearest town or area where there was a shortage. Now all the paddy grown is taken by improved means of transport to the rice mills in a large city where it is pounded and sent back to the villages infected with all kinds of diseases. The village workers have lost their jobs and the net result remains the same, if not worse. What ought to have been done is to introduce improved paddy threshing equipment in the village itself. Unless we put all the able-bodied young men and women to productive use in the villages it would not be possible to pull India out of the massive poverty in which it finds itself,’ said Schumacher and quoted Gandhi as follows:

‘If we tap all our resources, I am quite sure, we can again be rich, which we were I suppose at one time. We can repeat the phenomenon if we profitably occupy the idle hours of the millions.’

‘To occupy the idle hours of the millions’ was the most serious challenge facing a country like India, said Schumacher and added that no country could develop without letting the people work. The greatest deprivation that anyone could suffer was to have no chance of making a livelihood. He questioned the wisdom of maintaining an educa tional system with 50 million people in primary school, 15 million in secondary school and roughly 1/2 million in institutions of higher learning unless at the end of the pipeline there was something for them to do. One way to occupy the idle hours of the millions in the village of India was to embark upon self-help projects.

Giving an example of self-help, he said ‘One of the greatest teachers of India, Lord Buddha, included in his teaching, the obligation of every good Buddhist to plant and see to the establishment of one tree every year for five years running. This in five years would give 2,000 million trees. The economic value of such an enterprise, intelligently conducted, would be greater than anything promised by five-year plans. It would produce foodstuffs, fibres, building materials, shade, water — in fact almost anything that is ready needed. And all this would have been done without a penny of foreign exchange and very little investment.’

According to Schumacher, Gandhi identified himself completely with the naked, hungry, starving millions of India and fought all his life to improve their lot. This is evident from the advice he gave to his followers which is know as ‘Gandhi’s Talisman.’

‘Whenever you are in doubt, or when self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: recall the face of the poorest and the weakest person you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to that person. Will that person gain anything by it? Will it restore that person’s control over his or her own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and starving millions? Then you will find doubts and self melting away.’

This talisman is a challenge even today to all the decision makers of Gandhi’s India.

Introduction to 2007 Annual Report – by Godric Bader

Godric Bader is Patron of The Gandhi Foundation

I respond with pleasure to a request for a few words to go in this report, for I do find the work – and indeed the very existence – of the Gandhi Foundation helps me mentally and spiritually in my whole basic working life to live out the conviction that Gandhi Truth is the way and has the power to change and evolve our world.

I get strength from the ability it provides to have direct access to Gandhi’s thinking and his words and to refresh, in particular, his propounding of the ethic of Trusteeship. It is such a basic concept that it is clearly the only way forward for the world’s civilisation. In order to be able to progress sustainably and successfully on our planet we need to thus maintain and develop the continuing future evolution of our species.

For – yes – we do have to “be the change” we want to see and live the changes we need to express our humanity. Right now we have an encouraging glimpse of its actual existence in the way the world has reacted to the horrific and appalling devastation in Burma and China. Gandhi, like the Baha’is, believed “the world is but one country and mankind its citizens”. This realisation was part of the motive that moved the industrial organisation I have spent my life with to be the change (1951) we need to make, to show there is life beyond predatory capitalism and that the way to transform is hold our corporation – especially internationally – as Industrial Democratic Trusteeship.

A glaring need is now, of course, oil – this should be held like all the world’s resources in trust for the peoples of the world and not as exploitable resources for profit-making, money-seeking corporations.

May the Gandhi Foundation long continue to be a vital motivator and a resource for a healthier and more viable world.

Annual Gathering 2007 – by Denise Moll

29 people gathered in a circle on Saturday, 19th May at Kingsley Hall; 11 sent apologies. Welcomed were many of Surur Hoda’s family, including his widow Elisabeth, for lunch and to dedicate a stone bench in the garden and a photograph of him for the office, in his memory. There were some speeches, photographs, tears and laughter – the youngest little “Hoda” was a babe in arms!

The meeting began with all 29 people introducing themselves and sharing their interests – a rich mix of interests and values were shared. Minutes of the 2006 AGM were read and accepted, as was the Annual Report 2006/07. GF Friend Arvind Devalia posed a challenging question: What can we do to attract more young and active people to the GF? A question we frequently put to ourselves but don’t find easy answers – the main obstacle being lack of people able to devote time to this question. Jill Stevenson told us two delightful Cheerokee Indian stories from Gail Ross, and her book Virgins Fetch the Highest Price was on sale. David Maxwell read extracts from his booklet Muriel Lester, Gandhi and Kingsley Hall (more details on the Resources page). A delicious Indian lunch was provided by Kala Gunness and Chandra Misir.

In the afternoon, Yeoshahfaht Israel led a workshop on Martin Luther King. There was enthusiastic participation as we practised putting ourselves in another’s shoes and considering questions about nonviolence that deepened our understanding of what it really means.

The meeting both began and ended with Silence.

Inter-Religious Approach to Communal Harmony – by M.R. Rajagopalan

While there are many causes of violence, religious differences have been historically one of them, in spite of their teachings of love, compassion and service to humanity.

As empires arose in different parts of the world, the kings claimed divinity and the priest class facilitated the process. Thus the link between religion and polities has continued all through history and religion has been in part an integrating or stabilising factor.

In India from the days of Ramayana (probably around ioth century BCE) kings claimed divine origin — either Surya (sun) or Chandra (moon) Vamsa — both sun and moon are gods in Hindu mythology. As the Pallava and Chola empires arose in south India around 7th century CE, the Bhakti cult also emerged and huge temples were constructed. The emperors often assumed the name of the presiding deity of the greatest temples. For the masses the king was indistinguishable from God.

At least in India the kings and society at large showed tolerance towards different faiths. Perhaps this was inherent in the ‘tenets’ of Hinduism itself. Though one of the oldest religions in the world, it does not have a single god head or a gospel or a single institution. Atheism was also born in India – the Charvaks who were atheists posed a challenge to the priestly class. They were tolerated. The word ‘Hinduism’ was born around 8-9th century and was used by the Arabs and Persians for those living beyond the river Indus. Prior to this, expressions like Sanatana Dharma, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shakti cult and so on were used.

Buddhism was just 2-3 centuries old during the reign of Asoka. After his victory in the Kalinga war in the 3rd century BCE he gave up violence and embraced Buddhism. His edicts enjoin that other sects deserve reverence. It is important to note that although Asoka became a Buddhist he did not announce Buddhism as the state religion. Hinduism and Jainism, which also arose around the time of Buddhism, flourished in Asoka’s empire.

In the south both under Pallavas and Cholas, Buddhist viharas and Jam temples were part of the town’s landscape along with the Hindu temples. There was freedom to choose one’s religion. The Bhakti cult that arose with the Nayanmars and Aiwars around the 7th century CE became over whelmingly popular in Tamilnadu, and Buddhism and Jainism started to decline. Perhaps these religions could not match the sagacity and popularity of the wandering minstrels singing the praises of the Hindu gods!

Akbar’s Divine Faith

An attempt was made by the great i6th century mogul emperor Akbar to integrate the different religions. Though he was not a man of letters – in fact he was illiterate — he established a library in his capital Agra and arranged for works like Ramayana and Maha Bharatha to be translated from Sanskrit into Persian. He acquired a deep and thorough knowledge of the religions of his time — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism by arranging recurring dialogues with scholars of these faiths. Akbar liked to reason about particular components of each multi-faceted religion. He was sceptical of the rituals of Jainism but he liked and opted for vegetarianism from that religion. Taking the essential elements from different faiths, Akbar founded a new religion — Din-e-ilahi, meaning ‘Divine Faith’ or ‘Religion of God’. He did not manage to popularise it among the masses; it remained academic. Yet its importance should not be underestimated. That the greatest emperor of his times devoted his time and energy to the study of religion and came up with the idea of a common religion is a landmark in human history. No king either before or after Akbar showed this constructive attitude towards religions.

Tolerance by other Muslim rulers

There is a popular belief that under Muslim rule conversions to Islam took place at the point of the sword. Since Hindus continued to be the majority population in the mogul capital Delhi and all over the empire even after five centuries of Muslim rule this cannot be true. In truth millions of Hindus especially Dalits and some classes of artisans who were denied entry to Hindu temples, embraced Islam since it offered brotherhood and inside the mosque all are equal before Allah.

Spain came under Muslim rule in the 1oth century and ruled the country for five centuries without forcible conversion. Today Muslims number less than five percent of the population of Spain.

The same religious tolerance was prevalent under the Ottoman empire which flourished from the 13th till early 20th century. Especially between 1500 and 1920 the Turks ruled over not only Arabia, central Asia and Greece but also the Slavic nations, and in Turkey, Syria, Egypt and so on a Christian population lived in peace.

Gandhiji’s views on Religion

In January 1935 Dr S Radhakrishnan asked Gandhiji three questions:

  1. What is your religion?
  2. How are you led to it?
  3. What is its bearing on social life?

Gandhiji’s reply was:

“My religion is Hinduism which, for me, is religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me. I take it that the present tense in the second question has been purposely used instead of the past. I am being led to my religion through Truth and Nonviolence, ie love in the broadest sense. I often describe my religion as religion of Truth, Of late, instead of saying God is Truth, I have being saying Truth is God, in order more fully to define my religion. I used at one time to know by heart the thousand names of God which a booklet in Hinduism gives in verse form and which perhaps tens of thousands recite every morning. But nowadays nothing so completely describes my God as Truth. Denial of God we have known. Denial of Truth we have not known. The most ignorant among mankind have some truth in them.

The bearing of this religion on social life is, or has to be, seen in one’s daily social contact. To be true to such religion one has to lose oneself in continuous and continuing service of all life. Realisation of Truth is impossible without a complete merging of oneself in and identification with this limitless ocean of life. Hence, for me, there is no escape from social service; there is no happiness on earth beyond or apart from it. Social service here must be taken to include every department of life. In this scheme there is nothing low, nothing high. For, all is one, though we seem to be many.”

In his famous constructive programme, communal unity occupies the first place. In Gandhiji’s words: “Unity does not mean political unity which may be imposed. It means an unbreakable heart unity. The first thing essential for achieving such a unity is for every person, whatever his religion may be, to represent in his own person Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jew, etc In order to realise this, every person will cultivate personal friendship with persons representing faiths other than his own. He should have the same regard for the other faiths as he has for his own.”

The situation in the 21st century

Gandhiji would have derived great comfort and happiness about one significant aspect of the Indian situation today. With more than 8o% of the population being Hindu, India has a Prime Minister (Man Mohan Singh) from the Sikh religion, a President (Abdul Kalam) who is a Muslim, and the ruling party, Congress, being presided over by a woman from a Christian background (Sofia Gandhi). I wonder whether such a situation has ever existed in any other country with a democratic form of government?

A real danger in the world today is the tendency to segregate and identify people on the basis of religion. Almost every country in the world has become multi-ethnic and is home to people from different faiths. To segregate them as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists etc could create complications. We have to understand the reality that we have multiple identities based on language, religion, nation, gender, profession etc. The use of religious identity alone as a rubber stamp is improper and dangerous.

Nevertheless, we have to face the reality that after 11th September 2001 Muslims have to some extent become suspect. How do we overcome this situation? The word Jihad in the literal sense means effort, or a striving. Islamic scholars say that the Quran and Hadith ascribe two meanings to the term: ‘al-Jihad al Akhbar’ and ‘al-Jihad al Asghar’.

The former means the ‘greater warfare’, which is against one’s inner demon, while the latter means the ‘lesser warfare’ against infidels. The perception of jihad in the former sense is subjective and has moral implications. It involves a way of life in which fleeting temptations have no place. Individuals become discerning subjects who comprehend that worldly temptations are ephemeral and have to be fought. It is also the ability to suffer virtuously the afflictions caused by the foe by following the commandment of Allah and to preach, through education, art and literature, the precepts of Islam.

The second meaning of jihad is the religious war against ‘oppressive occupiers’ of the homeland of Islam, Dar-al-Islam. The jihad is a defensive act: it is a war of last resort dictated by circumstances and compulsions confronting Muslims. Yet unfortunately some Maulvis and Maulanas are obsessed with the politics of communal power and preach false interpretations of jihad as the fight against non-believers.

An agenda for peace and harmony

How do we ensure communal harmony and peace in this strife-torn world? The ball is in the court of the Gandhians and all social groups which stand for peace and harmony and above all — responsible leaders of different religions. Religious leaders have a tremendous responsibility. There is no religion in the world that does not speak about love, compassion and service to society. We have to go back to the days of Akbar and draw inspiration from his wisdom of bringing out the Religion of God. We cannot create a new religion and unify the population. But we can learn to tolerate and respect other religions. We have to sit together and draw up an agenda for peace and communal harmony. This agenda should take its cue from Gandhiji’s doctrines of Truth and Nonviolence.

M R Rajagopalan is Secretary of the Gandhigram Trust in Tamil Nadu.

People’s Power for Peace – by John Papworth

Gandhi’s life was essentially a quest for truth; it led him to enunciate two principles, both of which he believed to be essential to any improvement in the human condition. It is one of the great tragedies of the unfolding drama of modern history that whilst one of these principles has gained wide popular recognition, which is a long way from saying that any government has come remotely close to adopting it in practice, the other has been almost universally ignored. Gandhi’s reputation today rests largely on his advocacy of nonviolence as being one of the keys to a stable and peaceful world. In doing so he was updating a great deal of ancient teaching of several world religions. In Luke, to quote but one example, we find Jesus saying:

Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other. (Luke 6.37)

Unlike the generality of modern religious leaders who preach such doctrines Gandhi, as a political leader, sought to put them into practice, and paid with his life for doing so.

But Gandhi was aware that the intensely personal nature of such teaching was not enough, that in itself, and despite its urgency and importance, it did not answer the problem of applying it to the relationships between nations, and especially between those which ranked as ‘great powers’. He came to see that it was possible for vast numbers of people to accept the principle of nonviolence, but who could none-the-less be swept up in a tornado of war and violence between such powers and which they were powerless to stop. He realised people were not controlling events; it was events which were controlling people.

The point is expressed as poignantly as can be by the way ordinary German and British soldiers climbed out of their opposing trenches on the first Christmas Day of World War One and played a game of football. Was it not the birthday of the Prince of Peace? What better way to celebrate than by rejecting violence and by competing with each other in a game that expressed something of their common humanity?

It was more recently expressed when millions of people marched in vast peaceful crowds in cities around the world against US and British plans to attack Iraq. They paraded for peace, but all they got was war. Gandhi would not have been surprised by this, he realised that modern states did not, indeed could not, express the moral aspirations of ordinary people, especially in the matter of violence and war. His thinking was a developing growth which brought him to see that the matter of personal relationships was paramount in any discussion of moral practice and objectives, and that the key to their effectiveness lay not in seeking to convert giant states, which, because of their size, had an inbuilt propensity to subordinate any moral objectives to the maintenance and augmentation of their power, but in empowering the small, local village, and enabling the villagers to hear his message and respond to it.

People’s Power

This was his second basic principle, people’s power, village power. His first principle, of nonviolence, helped to beget a huge literature on the subject of peace; books, pamphlets, leaflets and journals, all proclaiming peace as their message, poured out of the presses, peace organisations erupted into being, peace demonstrations became the order of the day and peace concern became the central focus of multitudes of well-meaning people’s preoccupations, as indeed they still do.

It has to be said that none of this activity appears to have had any more effect on the problem of war than that historic game of football in the no man’s land of World War One. Those soldiers were not members of any peace movement and apart from their bibles (sic!) probably read no peace literature. But they wanted peace! All they lacked was the power to insist on it. The war danger today is infinitely greater, so great indeed that questions are being asked about whether civilisation can survive the use of the weapons ostensibly created to defend it.

What has gone wrong here is an almost total failure to attend to Gandhi’s second principle, the principle of people’s power in local village hands. It needs to be recalled that Gandhi was no stranger to the mechanics of power-mongering on a giant scale; had he not taken a leading part in the struggle for Indian independence from British rule? It was doubtless his awareness of how such power, even if labelled for apparently worthy ends, could be ruthlessly abused, which must have prompted his realisation of the need for power to be in people’s hands at the base of society, at the village level, if its abuse was to be effectively checked. There was also a deeper reason; he could see that peace, like freedom, democracy, justice and other attributes, was a moral principle and he realised that morality was a function not of people’s relationships with power structures, whether with giant political parties, or government institutions, or giant commercial enterprises, but with each other.

Community Power

This meant that the significance of personal relationships in local, human-scale communities, the moral principles they expressed and their capacity to enable those principles to impinge on the social order, was one of the vital mainsprings on which the well-being of society rested. He was saying that community power and community relationships were bedrock necessities to the effective maintenance of any moral principle in society, whether it was peace, justice or any other quality, if only because in the wider sphere of national affairs moral principles were inevitably subordinated to the quest for power or the play of power. In Gandhi’s view it was essential that the power of government should be widely dispersed and be in the hands of the only social unit where morality based on personal relationships could take precedence — the village community. Hence his insistence, to use his own words,

“You cannot have morality without community”.

Village Economics

He also saw clearly that the problem of war was not simply one of politics out of control because giant units cannot be controlled either by their electorates or even by their leaders, it was also a matter of economics out of control. He also saw what all events since his death have amply confirmed, that giant industrial and commercial growth would not solve the problems of India’s village poverty, they would only make it worse. India, like the rest of humanity seems to have forgotten the meaning of an ikonic, bespectacled figure, clothed in homespun and seated at a spinning wheel.

The Mahatma was not opposed to technology, was not his spinning wheel one example of it? But he wanted people to use and control technology for the supreme moral ends of human betterment; he did not want technology to use people for ends that were merely mercenary and of benefit only to a minority. He saw khadi and other village industries as not simply a mean of relieving village poverty and making life decent and tolerable for millions, he saw it as a means of enhancing village power and reducing state power, so that village moral options would play their own part in the political process.

It is one of the great tragedies of the 20th century that the significance of this aspect of his teaching has been almost completely overlooked by those who have sought to promote change under the banner of ‘peace’. They have made the error of assuming that in human affairs the shortest distance between two points is a straight line: that peace could be achieved with knee- jerk reactions to any moves towards war made by governments, that if only enough people would read enough peace literature, join enough peace organisations, attend enough peace conferences and peace rallies, even if they were only talking and meeting with each other, one day, somehow or other, ‘peace’ would prevail.

Mass Democracy Fallacy

One reason for this confusion arises from our readiness to accept that because each of us has a vote perhaps half a dozen times in a lifetime, that gives us control of the giant machinery of political power and that we are thereby entitled to assume it is our moral options which prevail and that our form of government is therefore democratic. This is one of the most momentous illusions of the modern era and has done more to destroy the effectiveness of the peace movement than any other factor.

The meaning of the word ‘democracy’ is based on the concept that people control the power of government, what prevails today is the exact opposite; it is the power of government which now controls people. The reason for this stems from our failure to see the force of Aristotle’s remark:

“To the size of a state there is a limit, as there is to plants, animals, and implements for none of these retain their natural facility when they are too large”.

Rousseau made much the same point: The more the state is enlarged the more freedom is diminished.

It is an illusion based on a failure to absorb the elementary arithmetic of power; that the smaller the political unit the bigger the significance of the individual member, contrawise the larger the political unit the smaller the significance of the individual: so that, for example, a unit of just two persons, each having the right to vote of course, means that each person has one half of the power: a unit of 100 means each has one hundredth, a million yields a one millionth. The UK has around 50 million voters, and if one 50 millionth of the share of governing power may give cause for discontent just think of the luckless inhabitant of the democratic Chinese paradise enjoying about one and a third billionth of power!

Why do these numbers matter? Because as the size of the unit increases and the power of the individual diminishes, where then does the power go? The answer is, to the centre. The mere factor of growth itself transfers power from the individual to central government, and the bigger the unit the more power the centre is able to wield.

But, a voice will object, the people control the government with their votes. It is a theoretical objection based on an illusion. The voters may elect the persons who govern, but on a mass scale is quite unable to control what they do. This is why we are in the midst of the greatest crisis of civilisation that has confronted humanity in all its history, for once in power the leaders control policy decisions, they control appointments, patronage, the power to influence the media, taxation, foreign relations, the power to make war, even the power to destroy the country’s very identity by submerging it in a federation of other mass powers. The voters may be aghast at what is happening, but on a mass scale all they can do is to vote into power another mass party leadership of different personalities which will tend to have almost identical policies.

Mass Party Illusions

Why should this be so? One reason is the leaders of all mass parties find themselves obliged to pursue the same objectives, if only because they are subject to the same constraints promoted by giant economic forces. These forces largely determine the values by which people live, which in turn are largely determined by consumerist propaganda, and no party leader dare oppose these values and hope to attain office. It is not for nothing that the sums spent on advertising today rival the budgets of educational authorities. The need to abandon mass motoring in favour of public transport is one of the utmost urgency if we are to heed the voices warning us of global warming and oil bankruptcy. What mass party leader dare propose as much ? Not even when the Astronomer Royal is now warning us that because of our love of cars and our acquiescence in the everlasting need for economic ‘growth’ the chances of human survival by the end of this century are only 50/50.

Another reason relates again to size; mass party members do not control the party, it is the party machine which controls the members. At party conferences it is the leaders who decide what resolutions are on the agenda and who will speak, they also decide what resolutions will not be tabled and who will not speak.

Power Out of Control

Peace activists have been banging their heads against the war makers with no understanding that what governments did was quite secondary to what they were, that they were so large as to be beyond the control of anyone for any sane social purposes at all, and that big leaders were blindly bent on nothing else but developing precisely those drives for power and money which had made them gigantic in the first place, drives which of course, make war inevitable.

Our peace brigades have failed to see that the problem was not just one of war as such, but of moral control, and that such control as was required if ever peace was to be secured, could only come from small-scale community power which was in the hands of people who, on the basis of their personal relationships, could give priority to moral principles which might yield peace, as well as a nonviolent social order and a general respect for moral integrity.

The failure of peace seekers to see the relevance of the inevitable powerlessness of people to influence events on a mass scale, and the need for democracy to be on a small scale if it was to be effective, meant that for a generation or more the peace movements of the world have been seeking to move forward by marching on one leg. The result, in these opening years of the 21st century, is a general movement for peace and social progress more confused, divided, and ineffective than it has ever been, even as the danger of increasingly destructive war continues to dominate the human outlook.

The Power Pyramid

It will be clear from the foregoing that a quite Herculean task confronts all who would follow the Mahatma in his quest for peace; it consists of nothing less than re-inventing the already inverted pyramid of power in our societies so that their moral priorities at last become effective and take precedence over power questing; it means abandoning our 19th century concepts of statehood, where it is accepted as normal that the power to run local matters, schools, health, police, planning, welfare and so on, is not in the hands of local people. It means stripping national government of all powers that are not essentially national; it means trusting people to make the necessary coordinating arrangements for their services with neighbouring communities without reference to the national government; perhaps above all it means local people taking collective community command of local resources so that no government can command them for purposes of war without their full consent.

Gandhi the Realist

Yet if Gandhi’s teaching went beyond nonviolence to embrace the political and economic imperatives of his time, let it never be forgotten how it stemmed also from an acute and profound perception of the moral and spiritual nature of human destiny. There was nothing facile in his reasoning; he was always conscious of the complexity of any approach to the moral transformation that life demands and no one reading his voluminous writings, especially his answers to specific questions or problems, can fail to see just how deeply he had penetrated the philosophical depths of the human dilemma. Gandhi still appears to many influential people whose values are steeped in the tragic market imperatives of giant ‘consumerist’ oriented societies as a dreamer and a utopian idealist. In fact no leader of his time was more practical and realistic.

Instead of war he advocated nonviolence, instead of giant mass parties as instruments of social improvement he urged the need for village power to solve village problems, and instead of giant industries and markets as the path to economic betterment, he promoted the powerful symbolism of the spinning wheel as the type of village industry that could accomplish village regeneration. The world today is in travail because it persists in ignoring the lessons one of the astutest economic and political theorists of the modern era.

The programme he promoted requires a vast educational trans formation to enable people everywhere to become aware that if they wanted peace, or any other decent social objective, then the power to achieve it needs to be in their own hands. People’s Power for Peace is a mantra that can rescue aspirants for any form of genuine social progress from their current slough of despond and ineffectuality more decisively than any other route available.

How would Gandhi have responded to this need? He would not have joined or formed some giant (and centrally controlled) mass party, he would have taken his message to the villages and local neighbourhoods, he would have encouraged and inspired local people, by nonviolent means, to assume power to decide and control village affairs at village level, and so open the floodgates of village talents and abilities to create a new life, one which reined in the power of big governments to perpetrate big mischief and big evils so that goodness, decency and creative beauty might flourish.

That was Gandhi’s way, that is the route he would take today. The fate of our civilisation now depends on the speed with which we follow his teaching and take it.

This essay was submitted for the Rodney Aitchtey Memorial Prize in 2004.

Ancient Wisdom – by Negeen Zinovieff

The truth is as old as the hills, Gandhi points out. In discovering the educational theories of the great master of Chinese philosophy, Confucius (born 551BCE), we find they are often similar to that of Gandhi who insisted that teachers should be role models for their pupils. How far this idealism can be practised is anyone’s guess.

By comparing Confucius to Gandhi I’m not in the least bit suggesting that Gandhi knew of Confucius’ writings. For Gandhi as for Confucius learning did not usually mean the accumulation of facts for their own sake, it meant the gathering of knowledge for the sake of guiding one’s conduct. The constant learning to which Gandhi and Confucius were devoted was the pre-requisite to achieving improvements in others. People must be impeccably moral.

Gandhi writes,

“The condition has been growing upon me that whatever is possible for me is possible even for a child”. (Trust in God, p13)

The relationship with the subconscious is important. The subconscious is the heart and knows more than the mind in certain cases. For instance, the subconscious of everyone knows it has a godhead but that she does not have a past life. So Mr X is a healthy being with a soul who has past lives and has not forgotten them all. It is outrageous to tell a person that in his or her past life he or she was illiterate and that is why he or she must suffer. The heart and mind are likened to a coin: on one side is reason, the other side the heart. Why teach a people that their sorrows come from a previous life? The poor psyche has enough problems consuming inadequate facts in his or her own culture without teachers insisting that the psyche has previous lives.

Confucius writes,

“The principle that education should be readily available to all who seek it follows naturally from the idea that all men are born equal in the sense that every man has the innate capacity to develop into a sage”.

Gandhi too believes that literacy in itself is no education. He writes that a child’s mind should not be cluttered with facts and figures.

“By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in the child and man – body, mind and spirit”. (The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, p.379)

Both Masters attached importance to culture, which enriches the whole person. Again Gandhi writes,

“I attach far more importance to the cultural aspect of education than to literacy”.

For Confucius too literacy was of no importance except in so far as it served the purpose of moral training. Gandhi says by spiritual training he means education of the heart.

“A proper and all round development of the mind, therefore, can take place only when it proceeds with the education of the physical and spiritual faculties of the child.” (Ibid p.378)

He continues to say that one is not mere intellect not the gross animal body, nor the heart and soul alone. A proper and harmonious combination of all three is required in the true making of the whole human person and constitutes the true recovery of education.

I studied philosophy of education at the Institute of Education (University of London) and they had no clue what the heart and soul implied and considered a human being as mere moral intellect. By culture one means the way of life and both Gandhi and Confucius knew how attractive morals are. Confucius thought that

“it was equally true that history’s purpose was to serve as a moral guide to present conduct”. (Confucius, Raymond Dawson, p.15)

Both Masters thought that the teaching of morals (by a strictly moral person) was the foundation of education. Therefore a person, says Confucius, who had shown himself to have learnt certain lessons could be described as “fond of learning”.

Gandhi emphasises that a child should learn a handicraft so he uses his faculties from an early age. Using the imagination is essential in educating people. Another common feature is that Confucius and Gandhi are against any violence and give different terms to a nonviolent way of life. Confucius says that ideally the enemy should be won over by a display of China’s superiority rather than being conquered militarily. (Ibid, p.15)

Gandhi believed the truth had been uncovered many times for humanity by saints and sages. Carl Gustav Jung believed in the collective subconscious. It is not really surprising that Confucius who is a Master should have approached the theme of education in the same way as Gandhi.

Negeen was educated in various universities in Russia, USA and Iran and is a writer.


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