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Books > History > Notes From Gandhigram (Challenges to Gandhian Praxis)
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Notes From Gandhigram (Challenges to Gandhian Praxis)
Notes From Gandhigram (Challenges to Gandhian Praxis)
Description

About the Book

In a critical departure from books that concentrate on Gandhi the person, Gandhian thought and Gandhism, Notes from Gandhigram focuses instead on the institutions and individuals that have adopted the Gandhian approach as a means of social transformation. It looks beyond the conceptual and symbolic into the concrete to determine whether Gandhi is passe, redundant or insightful.

The relevance of Gandhian thought is examined through a critical analysis of the experience of the Gandhigram Trust, a sixty-year old organisation based in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu. Retaining objectivity, but without being judgmental, the study validates the enduring relevance of Gandhi in converting a vision into a social engagement, creating a vibrant community with a culture of concern, humility and care. While Gandhigram has been buffeted by the conflicting relationships between individuals and the institutions, the people and the volunteer, economics and politics, tradition and modernity, self-interest and social interest, the Trust has endured.

In today's world, where the legacy of Gandhi has been reduced to lip-service, this book places Gandhi squarely into the ongoing debates on globalisation, freedom and the relationship between the individual and society. It thus makes a valuable addition to the literature on Gandhi.

About the Author

Samir Banerjee is an honorary consultant with the Gandhigram Trust and other grassroots organisations. He has been involved in activities related to development and change for the past forty years and a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.

Preface

By the middle of the last century India had gained independence. Soon after we declared ourselves to be a sovereign democratic republic. Bur what does this idea of a sovereign democratic republic mean? What does this identity envision for the vast majority of Indians as distinct from those who took over from the erstwhile masters? On any day, take any newspaper, our present day sentinel and you realise that maybe we never answered these questions. And then you try and look for answers!

Way back in another time, about two decades and a half before we gained independence, Gandhi had written in similar conditions. 'The human bird under the Indian sky gets up weaker than when he pretended to retire. For millions it is an eternal vigil or an eternal trance.' But unlike the rest of us, he had remained focussed. While discussing swaraj and truth he had categorically warned, 'there is no doubt that our last state will be worse than our first, if we surrender our reason into somebody's keeping.' And he had espoused optimism. While he did 'believe that the civilisation India has evolved is not to be beaten in the world'; he did 'not want my house to be walled in all sides and my windows to be stuffed.' This is the legacy of Gandhi. A legacy we chose and continue to choose to ignore. For decades we have seen him being quoted, extolled and converted into an icon. Strategies, tactics and a wide range of 'issues' were supposedly crafted out of what Gandhi said. But for the last fifty odd years, most of this has remained lip service. Every city, town and now even village has a Mahatma Gandhi Road. Any junction on this road has to have a statue of Gandhi. And this statue is the best place to hold forth, to cover self-interest with a veneer of Gandhism, and above all, attract attention.

But then, at least some amongst us, if one can say this, have a natural tendency towards introspection. These few refuse to be fooled all the time. Soon they tend to recognise and differentiate the grain from the chaff. This happens particularly when we realise that we have allowed rhetoric to chase us into a corner. Today we find ourselves in such a predicament. Globalisation, technology, capitalism, communalism, violence, consumerism, to enumerate a few of our woes, have hijacked our project of meaningful social transformation. And as usual we are trying to find our way once again. We have no option but to dig deep into our collective wisdom. And tucked away there, we find Mahatma Gandhi and his wisdom. But, retrieving him is not easy. No more will simplistic reading of what the grand old man stood for, help, and no more will cliches and opportunistic positioning suffice. We have to go beyond the rhetoric and dig deep to retrieve the wisdom he stood for.

Mercifully this is happening. The seduction of consumerism, the myth of the market, and rampant communalism have started eating into the basic structure and ethos of our milieu and this is becoming all too clear. Since no society can continue to ignore the deleterious impact of such processes, people have started prospecting for alternatives. But initiating, maintaining and rebuilding cannot be a sectarian affair. In Gandhi, they have started finding the necessary wisdom to help them articulate non-sectarian alternatives. The way he had warned about the perils of under-estimating the impact of issues like globalisation, technology, communalism and pluralism is remarkable. So is the stress on the significance of local traditions, ahimsa and self-reliance.

Most books on Gandhi over the last few decades have concentrated on Gandhi the person and what is termed as Gandhism. There are biographies, studies chronicling his life, analysis of his thoughts, his impact on the national movement and his specific epistemic contributions such as satyagraha, khadi, non-violence and so on. This book is a slight departure. After more than fifty years of independence I feel it is time we started looking into the import of the practices of people who took Gandhism as the driving ethos in their involvement in social transformation processes. It is time we looked beyond the symbolic, into the concrete, and decide if Gandhi is passe, redundant or insightful.

Accordingly, this book tries to understand the relevance of Gandhian thought or Gandhism through the experience of practising Gandhians and Gandhian institutions. To retain focus and utility, I have primarily used the experience of Gandhigram, a sixty-year-old organisation based in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu. While my effort is neither to evaluate Gandhigram nor pass judgement as an expert, I hope to use the insight to analyse the seminal ethos behind Gandhi and what today is bunched under Gandhism. To broaden the analysis, I have had long discussions with Acharya Ramamurti of Khadigram, Chandi Prasad Bhat of DGSM, 5hyam Bahadur Namra and many others about their experience of working with Gandhism. My focus is on the present utility of Gandhian thought and how it has been of relevance to groups actively involved in social transformation processes.

The first chapter is a little background about Gandhism and its significance as social praxis. This chapter looks into some of the seminal aspects of Gandhism and also looks into . how after independence it has influenced involvement in social transformation processes by the non-governmental sector. The second is on why and how after independence, an initiative like Gandhigram and the specific initiative, i.e. Gandhigram Trust emerges. The next three chapters are 'Notes from Gandhigram' that detail how the Gandhigram Trust went about its intervention in social transformation processes. Since its inception in 1947, the fundamental objective at Gandhigram Trust has been to consciously involve in social transformation processes so as to try and establish an equitable society in the true sense of swaraj. And the Trust has been at it with varying degrees of success and failure. However while helping the poor, the dispossessed and their suffering were of immediate concern to Gandhigram; in the long term the mission has been two-fold: first, to create sustainable and meaningful structures to fulfil society's basic needs through technology innovation and employment generation, and second, to initiate involvement practices to enhance social awareness amongst all sections of society. Accordingly at Gandhigram, intervention strategies have had a three- fold integrated and comprehensive thrust: social welfare, education and rural economics. The chapters on social welfare, education and rural economics, analyse the experience of Gandhigram Trust from a macro perspective. The next chapter seeks to draw lessons from this praxis. The last chapter discusses what Gandhism can give towards meaningfully meeting the challenges of social transformation.

In a way this book began when my late wife Uma, wanted to 'see' what Gandhism meant. Our travel to many Gandhian organisations was an eye-opener. Uma was the first to enlighten me about why Gandhi was so impressed by the first mantra of the Isavasyopanisad.

Isa vasyam idam sarvam yat kinca jagatyam jagat

tena tyaktena bhunjita, ma grdhah kasya svid dhanam.

Uma would have liked to read this book.

Later in my interactions with Gandhigram, I was intrigued by Gandhiji's message to Gandhigram. It read 'Success Attends Where Truth Reigns'-a very intriguing and compelling counsel. What did the Mahatma mean? The problematic is the term 'truth'. While Gandhiji might have suggested that all activities of Gandhigram must be premised on truth, Gandhigram still had to define 'truth'. Moreover, truth by itself does not evaluate success or failure. Truth can only caution us, particularly against exclusivism; what truth can do is help us establish a harmonious and sustainable relationship between the personal and the social, two volatile facets within each of us. Obviously satyagraha, non-violence and a deep sense of plurality will have to mediate this involvement with truth.

I might not have gone very far without the encouragement and considerable intellectual input of Dhanu Nayak and Sundar Sarukkai. Sundar virtually walked alongside while the book was being written. For an earlier study, 'Gandhian Thought, Social Transformation and Gandhigram', done for Gandhigram, from which I have drawn a lot, I must thank the Sir Ratan Tata Trust for a grant given to the Gandhigram Trust. At Gandhigram, M.R.R. 'Anna' with a blend of objectivity and the practical, helped sustain the study. I owe a lot to T.R.S. Sharma, Charumati, Chitra, Lakshmi, Suganthi, Sarvana and many others at Gandhigram who made this study possible. The quality of openness, receptivity and sharing made my work at Gandhigram an enriching experience.

For me, this exercise has been very edifying. And at a personal level, I would like to share one lesson I learned.

A strand of compassion can be woven in our tapestry of social relationship. But this string is sensitive. It is resilient, but prone to break.

Gandhiji might have suggested that all activities of Gandhigram must be premised on truth, Gandhigram still had to define 'truth'. Moreover, truth by itself does not evaluate success or failure. Trurh can only caution us, particularly against exclusivism; what truth can do is help us establish a harmonious and sustainable relationship berween the personal and the social, two volatile facets within each of us. Obviously satyagraha, non-violence and a deep sense of plurality will have to mediate this involvement with truth.

I might not have gone very far without the encouragement and considerable intellectual in pur of Dhanu Nayak and Sundar Sarukkai. Sundar virtually walked alongside while the book was being written. For an earlier study, 'Gandhian Thought, Social Transformation and Gandhigram', done for Gandhigram, from which I have drawn a lot, I must thank the Sir Ratan Tata Trust for a grant given to the Gandhigram Trust. At Gandhigram, M.R.R. 'Anna' with a blend of objectivity and the practical, helped sustain the study. I owe a lot to T.R.S. Sharma, Charumati, Chitra, Lakshmi, Suganthi, Sarvana and many others at Gandhigram who made this study possible. The quality of openness, receptivity and sharing made my work at Gandhigram an enriching experience.

For me, this exercise has been very edifying. And at a personal level, I would like to share one lesson I learned.

A strand of compassion can be woven in our tapestry of social relationship. But this string is sensitive. It is resilient, but prone to break.

It was a tense moment. Fifty years into independence in democratic India, the state had decided to crack down on the Narmada Bachao Andolan protesters. Baba Amte, one of the protestors, was being hauled away by the police. He and his fellow protestors were objecting to the supercilious attitude of the government. On being asked as to what he thought about his and the other protestors' predicament, he responded, 'a just place for a just man in an unjust society is either jail or death. I am aspiring for either: I have come to the people's court.'

This was a disturbing, albeit poignant comment. Were we revisiting the days of the freedom struggle? What did he mean by the people's court? Is there such a court, and if so, how is it different from what we know as 'the court' where the police take culprits? Had Baba Amte, known for his exemplary social work, lost faith in the nation-state?

His statement was sobering and in a way disquieting; more so because he was not being polemical. A bit of contemplation and you find yourself asking: is it not possible to contour a different path of social transformation, an alternative that will allow us to remain human, 'humane and humble? Can we not aspire to not become a parody of some advanced developed society? Can we not humanise our lives such that Baba, after decades of working to help the deprived and the abandoned, doesn't have to aspire to jail or death? Baba Amte along with like-minded people was protesting against two aspects of the central ethos of our present milieu: the notion of development and the practice of democracy. They felt they were representing the people and agitating against a state, which has hijacked the process of social transformation.

In effect, this skirmish with the state is a reflection of the tone, tenor and terms of the transformation of our milieu. On the one hand we have the rich. According to a FICCI estimate, 2.8 per cent of the population, about 30 million people, have the ability to spend Rs 13,82,815 a year on conspicuous consumption. Not surprisingly, a popular magazine admiringly says, 'people are ordering the right food, pronouncing it right, and even eating it the right way.' And sustaining all this, we also have the other. These are people who are finding that their skills, services, products and traditions are becoming increasingly irrelevant due to market demands, technology, changes in state policies and various other ever- emerging attributes of development. These aberrations are leading to frustration on the one hand and, ever-spiralling consumerism on the other. Consequently a large section of the people, particularly the ones who are left out, and some who recognise the malignancy are talking about true empowerment, organisation building, civil society movements, entitlements, endowments and community assets. Instead of tinkering with existing structures, the trend seems to be suggesting a need to shift towards radical and qualitative changes, intense and transparent involvement, practices and above all sustainability. In effect the anguish of Baba Amte is a propitious reminder. The time has come when we cannot afford to look at social transformation as a technical problem to be resolved by development professionals through management and rational decisions. The enormous changes that have taken place in the local, national and global milieu demand that we take stock, reflect and rededicate our nation-building endeavor. And in this the people have to have a central role. Our experience and the emerging expectations have to be rearticulated into new paradigms of intervention. Paradigm is in the plural because interventions cannot become single item discourses just like they cannot become the exclusive preserve of the professional experts. Otherwise we will run into seeming paradoxes and keep debating on what rights we have to ban Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola when we have traces of DDT in mother's milk. Our intervention has to become multifarious, holistic, transparent and progressively autonomous. The engagement has to shift from mere problem solving to enabling. The question then is, why should we want Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola in the first place? Isn't it the so- called green revolution technology that put DDT in the mother, both the earth mother and the human mother?

In other words, can we not profile an alternative strategy of transformation for our milieu? Cannot this alternative be something which does not have to base itself on a wholesale eradication of our histories, traditions and sensitivities at the altar of the market and the alluring notion of enlightenment a la the West? Why should every human practice, whether it is economics, politics, cognitive or environmental, become invasive? This is not epistemic nitpicking. It is to face the simple fact that while our democracy has helped us reduce and restrain the divisiveness and exploitation of caste, community and even class, the way reservation is fast degenerating into a theology, or the credulous haste with which we are marrying market with merit is frightening. Where does one begin then, to unravel this mess? Perhaps, putting down our experiences can be a good starting point.

 

Introduction

It was a tense moment. Fifty years into independence in democratic India, the state had decided to crack down on the Narmada Bachao Andolan protesters. Baba Amte, one of the protestors, was being hauled away by the police. He and his fellow protestors were objecting to the supercilious attitude of the government. On being asked as to what he thought about his and the other protestors' predicament, he responded, 'a just place for a just man in an unjust society is either jailor death. I am aspiring for either: I have come to the people's court.'

This was a disturbing, albeit poignant comment. Were we revisiting the days of the freedom struggle? What did he mean by the people's court? Is there such a court, and if so, how is it different from what we know as 'the court' where the police take culprits? Had Baba Amte, known for his exemplary social work, lost faith in the nation-state?

His statement was sobering and in a way disquieting; more so because he was not being polemical. A bit of contemplation and you find yourself asking: is it not possible to contour a different path of social transformation, an alternative that will allow us to remain human, humane and humble? Can we not aspire to not become a parody of some advanced developed society? Can we not humanise our lives such that Baba, after decades of working to help the deprived and the abandoned, doesn't have to aspire to jail or death? Baba Amte along with like-minded people was protesting against two aspects of the central ethos of our present milieu: the notion of development and the practice of democracy. They felt they were representing the people and agitating against a state, which has hijacked the process of social transformation.

In effect, this skirmish with the state is a reflection of the tone, tenor and terms of the transformation of our milieu. On the one hand we have the rich. According to a FlCCI estimate, 2.8 per cent of the population, about 30 million people, have the ability to spend Rs 13,82,815 a year on conspicuous consumption. Not surprisingly, a popular magazine admiringly says, 'people are ordering the right food, pronouncing it right, and even eating it the right way.' And sustaining all this, we also have the other. These are people who are finding that their skills, services, products and traditions are becoming increasingly irrelevant due to market demands, technology, changes in state policies and various other ever- emerging attributes of development. These aberrations are leading to frustration on the one hand and, ever-spiralling consumerism on the other. Consequently a large section of the people, particularly the ones who are left out, and some who recognise the malignancy are talking about true empowerment, organisation building, civil society movements, entitlements, endowments and community assets. Instead of tinkering with existing structures, the trend seems to be suggesting a need to shift towards radical and qualitative changes, intense and transparent involvement, practices and above all sustainability. In effect the anguish of Baba Amte is a propitious reminder. The time has come when we cannot afford to look at social transformation as a technical problem to be resolved by development professionals through management and rational decisions. The enormous changes that have taken place in the local, national and global milieu demand that we take stock, reflect and rededicate our nation-building endeavor. And in this the people have to have a central role. Our experience and the emerging expectations have to be rearticulated into new paradigms of intervention. Paradigm is in the plural. because interventions cannot become single item discourses just like they cannot become the exclusive preserve of the professional experts. Otherwise we will run into seeming paradoxes and keep debating on what rights we have to ban Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola when we have traces of DDT in mother's milk. Our intervention has to become multifarious, holistic, transparent and progressively autonomous. The engagement has to shift from mere problem solving to enabling. The question then is, why should we want Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola in the first place? Isn't it the so- called green revolution technology that put DDT in the mother, both the earth mother and the human mother?

In other words, can we not profile an alternative strategy of transformation for our milieu? Cannot this alternative be something which does not have to base itself on a wholesale eradication of our histories, traditions and sensitivities at the altar of the market and the alluring notion of enlightenment a la the West? Why should every human practice, whether it is economics, politics, cognitive or environmental, become invasive? This is not epistemic nitpicking. It is to face the simple fact that while our democracy has helped us reduce and restrain the divisiveness and exploitation of caste, community and even class, the way reservation is fast degenerating into a theology, or the credulous haste with which we are marrying market with merit is frightening. Where does one begin then, to unravel this mess? Perhaps, putting down our experiences can be a good starting point.

When one decides to write a book, even if it is about our experiences, the first question asked is why do you want to do such a thing? And if the topic happens to be something to do with Gandhi or what is considered Gandhism, the misgivings acquire a shade of benign scepticism. The question becomes: what, how can you be bothered with Gandhi in this century? May be the sceptics have a point. After all in this age of information, many have become very informed and highly opinionated. But a paradox remains. 'Gandhigiri' impresses them and they clutch at the brand, which ostensibly replaces the icon. Most of our informed men and women remain woefully short on analysis. Consequently most, for instance, refuse to even think that markets and productivity could be the reason behind our wheat and rice becoming carcinogenic and capable of triggering Tourettes syndrome and Parkinson's disease.

All of us agree that as Indians we represent a distinct and discrete set of aspirations, forms of social articulation and complex notions explaining our societal contours and social significances. Yes, we do like to feel that as a nation we have a distinct discourse. When this discourse is infused with complex linguistic and civilisational accoutrements, we are very happy.

But this cannot be a one-way hope street. Inherent in this discourse is the notion of power. Therefore, feelings such as being Indian and unique, demands conscious and constant involvement while involving in social transformation processes. Otherwise the discourse will surely be hijacked. In effect such sui generis feelings mean being able to respond to complex issues such as: what does it mean to be an Indian? What does development of India mean? Does this development of India mean a flourishing of all Indians with a stress on the 'all'? How does this flourishing and development relate to the greater flourishing of mankind?

Up to a point, in our own way, we have been grappling with these complex issues. All our debates about secularism, nationalism, and role of technology, regionalism, tradition, the role of civil society and the state are indicative of our efforts. But lately we seem to have got lost. Our social formation and I use this term as distinct from nation because many of us are not sure of calling ourselves Indians is fragmented with sections which are unable to do dialogue with each other. Overall, while expediency seems to dictate, the present is emerging as a period of intense self-doubt and sycophancy.

Contents

 

  Preface ix
l. Introduction 1
2 Gandhigram 21
3 The Gandhigram Trust 36
4 Social Welfare 62
5 Education 95
6 Rural Economics 117
7 Lessons from Praxis 191
8 Challenges in the Future 224
  Select Bibliography 245
  Index 247

 

Sample Pages
















Notes From Gandhigram (Challenges to Gandhian Praxis)

Item Code:
NAG480
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2009
ISBN:
9788125036883
Language:
English
Size:
8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Pages:
264
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 425 gms
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$30.00   Shipping Free
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About the Book

In a critical departure from books that concentrate on Gandhi the person, Gandhian thought and Gandhism, Notes from Gandhigram focuses instead on the institutions and individuals that have adopted the Gandhian approach as a means of social transformation. It looks beyond the conceptual and symbolic into the concrete to determine whether Gandhi is passe, redundant or insightful.

The relevance of Gandhian thought is examined through a critical analysis of the experience of the Gandhigram Trust, a sixty-year old organisation based in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu. Retaining objectivity, but without being judgmental, the study validates the enduring relevance of Gandhi in converting a vision into a social engagement, creating a vibrant community with a culture of concern, humility and care. While Gandhigram has been buffeted by the conflicting relationships between individuals and the institutions, the people and the volunteer, economics and politics, tradition and modernity, self-interest and social interest, the Trust has endured.

In today's world, where the legacy of Gandhi has been reduced to lip-service, this book places Gandhi squarely into the ongoing debates on globalisation, freedom and the relationship between the individual and society. It thus makes a valuable addition to the literature on Gandhi.

About the Author

Samir Banerjee is an honorary consultant with the Gandhigram Trust and other grassroots organisations. He has been involved in activities related to development and change for the past forty years and a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.

Preface

By the middle of the last century India had gained independence. Soon after we declared ourselves to be a sovereign democratic republic. Bur what does this idea of a sovereign democratic republic mean? What does this identity envision for the vast majority of Indians as distinct from those who took over from the erstwhile masters? On any day, take any newspaper, our present day sentinel and you realise that maybe we never answered these questions. And then you try and look for answers!

Way back in another time, about two decades and a half before we gained independence, Gandhi had written in similar conditions. 'The human bird under the Indian sky gets up weaker than when he pretended to retire. For millions it is an eternal vigil or an eternal trance.' But unlike the rest of us, he had remained focussed. While discussing swaraj and truth he had categorically warned, 'there is no doubt that our last state will be worse than our first, if we surrender our reason into somebody's keeping.' And he had espoused optimism. While he did 'believe that the civilisation India has evolved is not to be beaten in the world'; he did 'not want my house to be walled in all sides and my windows to be stuffed.' This is the legacy of Gandhi. A legacy we chose and continue to choose to ignore. For decades we have seen him being quoted, extolled and converted into an icon. Strategies, tactics and a wide range of 'issues' were supposedly crafted out of what Gandhi said. But for the last fifty odd years, most of this has remained lip service. Every city, town and now even village has a Mahatma Gandhi Road. Any junction on this road has to have a statue of Gandhi. And this statue is the best place to hold forth, to cover self-interest with a veneer of Gandhism, and above all, attract attention.

But then, at least some amongst us, if one can say this, have a natural tendency towards introspection. These few refuse to be fooled all the time. Soon they tend to recognise and differentiate the grain from the chaff. This happens particularly when we realise that we have allowed rhetoric to chase us into a corner. Today we find ourselves in such a predicament. Globalisation, technology, capitalism, communalism, violence, consumerism, to enumerate a few of our woes, have hijacked our project of meaningful social transformation. And as usual we are trying to find our way once again. We have no option but to dig deep into our collective wisdom. And tucked away there, we find Mahatma Gandhi and his wisdom. But, retrieving him is not easy. No more will simplistic reading of what the grand old man stood for, help, and no more will cliches and opportunistic positioning suffice. We have to go beyond the rhetoric and dig deep to retrieve the wisdom he stood for.

Mercifully this is happening. The seduction of consumerism, the myth of the market, and rampant communalism have started eating into the basic structure and ethos of our milieu and this is becoming all too clear. Since no society can continue to ignore the deleterious impact of such processes, people have started prospecting for alternatives. But initiating, maintaining and rebuilding cannot be a sectarian affair. In Gandhi, they have started finding the necessary wisdom to help them articulate non-sectarian alternatives. The way he had warned about the perils of under-estimating the impact of issues like globalisation, technology, communalism and pluralism is remarkable. So is the stress on the significance of local traditions, ahimsa and self-reliance.

Most books on Gandhi over the last few decades have concentrated on Gandhi the person and what is termed as Gandhism. There are biographies, studies chronicling his life, analysis of his thoughts, his impact on the national movement and his specific epistemic contributions such as satyagraha, khadi, non-violence and so on. This book is a slight departure. After more than fifty years of independence I feel it is time we started looking into the import of the practices of people who took Gandhism as the driving ethos in their involvement in social transformation processes. It is time we looked beyond the symbolic, into the concrete, and decide if Gandhi is passe, redundant or insightful.

Accordingly, this book tries to understand the relevance of Gandhian thought or Gandhism through the experience of practising Gandhians and Gandhian institutions. To retain focus and utility, I have primarily used the experience of Gandhigram, a sixty-year-old organisation based in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu. While my effort is neither to evaluate Gandhigram nor pass judgement as an expert, I hope to use the insight to analyse the seminal ethos behind Gandhi and what today is bunched under Gandhism. To broaden the analysis, I have had long discussions with Acharya Ramamurti of Khadigram, Chandi Prasad Bhat of DGSM, 5hyam Bahadur Namra and many others about their experience of working with Gandhism. My focus is on the present utility of Gandhian thought and how it has been of relevance to groups actively involved in social transformation processes.

The first chapter is a little background about Gandhism and its significance as social praxis. This chapter looks into some of the seminal aspects of Gandhism and also looks into . how after independence it has influenced involvement in social transformation processes by the non-governmental sector. The second is on why and how after independence, an initiative like Gandhigram and the specific initiative, i.e. Gandhigram Trust emerges. The next three chapters are 'Notes from Gandhigram' that detail how the Gandhigram Trust went about its intervention in social transformation processes. Since its inception in 1947, the fundamental objective at Gandhigram Trust has been to consciously involve in social transformation processes so as to try and establish an equitable society in the true sense of swaraj. And the Trust has been at it with varying degrees of success and failure. However while helping the poor, the dispossessed and their suffering were of immediate concern to Gandhigram; in the long term the mission has been two-fold: first, to create sustainable and meaningful structures to fulfil society's basic needs through technology innovation and employment generation, and second, to initiate involvement practices to enhance social awareness amongst all sections of society. Accordingly at Gandhigram, intervention strategies have had a three- fold integrated and comprehensive thrust: social welfare, education and rural economics. The chapters on social welfare, education and rural economics, analyse the experience of Gandhigram Trust from a macro perspective. The next chapter seeks to draw lessons from this praxis. The last chapter discusses what Gandhism can give towards meaningfully meeting the challenges of social transformation.

In a way this book began when my late wife Uma, wanted to 'see' what Gandhism meant. Our travel to many Gandhian organisations was an eye-opener. Uma was the first to enlighten me about why Gandhi was so impressed by the first mantra of the Isavasyopanisad.

Isa vasyam idam sarvam yat kinca jagatyam jagat

tena tyaktena bhunjita, ma grdhah kasya svid dhanam.

Uma would have liked to read this book.

Later in my interactions with Gandhigram, I was intrigued by Gandhiji's message to Gandhigram. It read 'Success Attends Where Truth Reigns'-a very intriguing and compelling counsel. What did the Mahatma mean? The problematic is the term 'truth'. While Gandhiji might have suggested that all activities of Gandhigram must be premised on truth, Gandhigram still had to define 'truth'. Moreover, truth by itself does not evaluate success or failure. Truth can only caution us, particularly against exclusivism; what truth can do is help us establish a harmonious and sustainable relationship between the personal and the social, two volatile facets within each of us. Obviously satyagraha, non-violence and a deep sense of plurality will have to mediate this involvement with truth.

I might not have gone very far without the encouragement and considerable intellectual input of Dhanu Nayak and Sundar Sarukkai. Sundar virtually walked alongside while the book was being written. For an earlier study, 'Gandhian Thought, Social Transformation and Gandhigram', done for Gandhigram, from which I have drawn a lot, I must thank the Sir Ratan Tata Trust for a grant given to the Gandhigram Trust. At Gandhigram, M.R.R. 'Anna' with a blend of objectivity and the practical, helped sustain the study. I owe a lot to T.R.S. Sharma, Charumati, Chitra, Lakshmi, Suganthi, Sarvana and many others at Gandhigram who made this study possible. The quality of openness, receptivity and sharing made my work at Gandhigram an enriching experience.

For me, this exercise has been very edifying. And at a personal level, I would like to share one lesson I learned.

A strand of compassion can be woven in our tapestry of social relationship. But this string is sensitive. It is resilient, but prone to break.

Gandhiji might have suggested that all activities of Gandhigram must be premised on truth, Gandhigram still had to define 'truth'. Moreover, truth by itself does not evaluate success or failure. Trurh can only caution us, particularly against exclusivism; what truth can do is help us establish a harmonious and sustainable relationship berween the personal and the social, two volatile facets within each of us. Obviously satyagraha, non-violence and a deep sense of plurality will have to mediate this involvement with truth.

I might not have gone very far without the encouragement and considerable intellectual in pur of Dhanu Nayak and Sundar Sarukkai. Sundar virtually walked alongside while the book was being written. For an earlier study, 'Gandhian Thought, Social Transformation and Gandhigram', done for Gandhigram, from which I have drawn a lot, I must thank the Sir Ratan Tata Trust for a grant given to the Gandhigram Trust. At Gandhigram, M.R.R. 'Anna' with a blend of objectivity and the practical, helped sustain the study. I owe a lot to T.R.S. Sharma, Charumati, Chitra, Lakshmi, Suganthi, Sarvana and many others at Gandhigram who made this study possible. The quality of openness, receptivity and sharing made my work at Gandhigram an enriching experience.

For me, this exercise has been very edifying. And at a personal level, I would like to share one lesson I learned.

A strand of compassion can be woven in our tapestry of social relationship. But this string is sensitive. It is resilient, but prone to break.

It was a tense moment. Fifty years into independence in democratic India, the state had decided to crack down on the Narmada Bachao Andolan protesters. Baba Amte, one of the protestors, was being hauled away by the police. He and his fellow protestors were objecting to the supercilious attitude of the government. On being asked as to what he thought about his and the other protestors' predicament, he responded, 'a just place for a just man in an unjust society is either jail or death. I am aspiring for either: I have come to the people's court.'

This was a disturbing, albeit poignant comment. Were we revisiting the days of the freedom struggle? What did he mean by the people's court? Is there such a court, and if so, how is it different from what we know as 'the court' where the police take culprits? Had Baba Amte, known for his exemplary social work, lost faith in the nation-state?

His statement was sobering and in a way disquieting; more so because he was not being polemical. A bit of contemplation and you find yourself asking: is it not possible to contour a different path of social transformation, an alternative that will allow us to remain human, 'humane and humble? Can we not aspire to not become a parody of some advanced developed society? Can we not humanise our lives such that Baba, after decades of working to help the deprived and the abandoned, doesn't have to aspire to jail or death? Baba Amte along with like-minded people was protesting against two aspects of the central ethos of our present milieu: the notion of development and the practice of democracy. They felt they were representing the people and agitating against a state, which has hijacked the process of social transformation.

In effect, this skirmish with the state is a reflection of the tone, tenor and terms of the transformation of our milieu. On the one hand we have the rich. According to a FICCI estimate, 2.8 per cent of the population, about 30 million people, have the ability to spend Rs 13,82,815 a year on conspicuous consumption. Not surprisingly, a popular magazine admiringly says, 'people are ordering the right food, pronouncing it right, and even eating it the right way.' And sustaining all this, we also have the other. These are people who are finding that their skills, services, products and traditions are becoming increasingly irrelevant due to market demands, technology, changes in state policies and various other ever- emerging attributes of development. These aberrations are leading to frustration on the one hand and, ever-spiralling consumerism on the other. Consequently a large section of the people, particularly the ones who are left out, and some who recognise the malignancy are talking about true empowerment, organisation building, civil society movements, entitlements, endowments and community assets. Instead of tinkering with existing structures, the trend seems to be suggesting a need to shift towards radical and qualitative changes, intense and transparent involvement, practices and above all sustainability. In effect the anguish of Baba Amte is a propitious reminder. The time has come when we cannot afford to look at social transformation as a technical problem to be resolved by development professionals through management and rational decisions. The enormous changes that have taken place in the local, national and global milieu demand that we take stock, reflect and rededicate our nation-building endeavor. And in this the people have to have a central role. Our experience and the emerging expectations have to be rearticulated into new paradigms of intervention. Paradigm is in the plural because interventions cannot become single item discourses just like they cannot become the exclusive preserve of the professional experts. Otherwise we will run into seeming paradoxes and keep debating on what rights we have to ban Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola when we have traces of DDT in mother's milk. Our intervention has to become multifarious, holistic, transparent and progressively autonomous. The engagement has to shift from mere problem solving to enabling. The question then is, why should we want Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola in the first place? Isn't it the so- called green revolution technology that put DDT in the mother, both the earth mother and the human mother?

In other words, can we not profile an alternative strategy of transformation for our milieu? Cannot this alternative be something which does not have to base itself on a wholesale eradication of our histories, traditions and sensitivities at the altar of the market and the alluring notion of enlightenment a la the West? Why should every human practice, whether it is economics, politics, cognitive or environmental, become invasive? This is not epistemic nitpicking. It is to face the simple fact that while our democracy has helped us reduce and restrain the divisiveness and exploitation of caste, community and even class, the way reservation is fast degenerating into a theology, or the credulous haste with which we are marrying market with merit is frightening. Where does one begin then, to unravel this mess? Perhaps, putting down our experiences can be a good starting point.

 

Introduction

It was a tense moment. Fifty years into independence in democratic India, the state had decided to crack down on the Narmada Bachao Andolan protesters. Baba Amte, one of the protestors, was being hauled away by the police. He and his fellow protestors were objecting to the supercilious attitude of the government. On being asked as to what he thought about his and the other protestors' predicament, he responded, 'a just place for a just man in an unjust society is either jailor death. I am aspiring for either: I have come to the people's court.'

This was a disturbing, albeit poignant comment. Were we revisiting the days of the freedom struggle? What did he mean by the people's court? Is there such a court, and if so, how is it different from what we know as 'the court' where the police take culprits? Had Baba Amte, known for his exemplary social work, lost faith in the nation-state?

His statement was sobering and in a way disquieting; more so because he was not being polemical. A bit of contemplation and you find yourself asking: is it not possible to contour a different path of social transformation, an alternative that will allow us to remain human, humane and humble? Can we not aspire to not become a parody of some advanced developed society? Can we not humanise our lives such that Baba, after decades of working to help the deprived and the abandoned, doesn't have to aspire to jail or death? Baba Amte along with like-minded people was protesting against two aspects of the central ethos of our present milieu: the notion of development and the practice of democracy. They felt they were representing the people and agitating against a state, which has hijacked the process of social transformation.

In effect, this skirmish with the state is a reflection of the tone, tenor and terms of the transformation of our milieu. On the one hand we have the rich. According to a FlCCI estimate, 2.8 per cent of the population, about 30 million people, have the ability to spend Rs 13,82,815 a year on conspicuous consumption. Not surprisingly, a popular magazine admiringly says, 'people are ordering the right food, pronouncing it right, and even eating it the right way.' And sustaining all this, we also have the other. These are people who are finding that their skills, services, products and traditions are becoming increasingly irrelevant due to market demands, technology, changes in state policies and various other ever- emerging attributes of development. These aberrations are leading to frustration on the one hand and, ever-spiralling consumerism on the other. Consequently a large section of the people, particularly the ones who are left out, and some who recognise the malignancy are talking about true empowerment, organisation building, civil society movements, entitlements, endowments and community assets. Instead of tinkering with existing structures, the trend seems to be suggesting a need to shift towards radical and qualitative changes, intense and transparent involvement, practices and above all sustainability. In effect the anguish of Baba Amte is a propitious reminder. The time has come when we cannot afford to look at social transformation as a technical problem to be resolved by development professionals through management and rational decisions. The enormous changes that have taken place in the local, national and global milieu demand that we take stock, reflect and rededicate our nation-building endeavor. And in this the people have to have a central role. Our experience and the emerging expectations have to be rearticulated into new paradigms of intervention. Paradigm is in the plural. because interventions cannot become single item discourses just like they cannot become the exclusive preserve of the professional experts. Otherwise we will run into seeming paradoxes and keep debating on what rights we have to ban Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola when we have traces of DDT in mother's milk. Our intervention has to become multifarious, holistic, transparent and progressively autonomous. The engagement has to shift from mere problem solving to enabling. The question then is, why should we want Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola in the first place? Isn't it the so- called green revolution technology that put DDT in the mother, both the earth mother and the human mother?

In other words, can we not profile an alternative strategy of transformation for our milieu? Cannot this alternative be something which does not have to base itself on a wholesale eradication of our histories, traditions and sensitivities at the altar of the market and the alluring notion of enlightenment a la the West? Why should every human practice, whether it is economics, politics, cognitive or environmental, become invasive? This is not epistemic nitpicking. It is to face the simple fact that while our democracy has helped us reduce and restrain the divisiveness and exploitation of caste, community and even class, the way reservation is fast degenerating into a theology, or the credulous haste with which we are marrying market with merit is frightening. Where does one begin then, to unravel this mess? Perhaps, putting down our experiences can be a good starting point.

When one decides to write a book, even if it is about our experiences, the first question asked is why do you want to do such a thing? And if the topic happens to be something to do with Gandhi or what is considered Gandhism, the misgivings acquire a shade of benign scepticism. The question becomes: what, how can you be bothered with Gandhi in this century? May be the sceptics have a point. After all in this age of information, many have become very informed and highly opinionated. But a paradox remains. 'Gandhigiri' impresses them and they clutch at the brand, which ostensibly replaces the icon. Most of our informed men and women remain woefully short on analysis. Consequently most, for instance, refuse to even think that markets and productivity could be the reason behind our wheat and rice becoming carcinogenic and capable of triggering Tourettes syndrome and Parkinson's disease.

All of us agree that as Indians we represent a distinct and discrete set of aspirations, forms of social articulation and complex notions explaining our societal contours and social significances. Yes, we do like to feel that as a nation we have a distinct discourse. When this discourse is infused with complex linguistic and civilisational accoutrements, we are very happy.

But this cannot be a one-way hope street. Inherent in this discourse is the notion of power. Therefore, feelings such as being Indian and unique, demands conscious and constant involvement while involving in social transformation processes. Otherwise the discourse will surely be hijacked. In effect such sui generis feelings mean being able to respond to complex issues such as: what does it mean to be an Indian? What does development of India mean? Does this development of India mean a flourishing of all Indians with a stress on the 'all'? How does this flourishing and development relate to the greater flourishing of mankind?

Up to a point, in our own way, we have been grappling with these complex issues. All our debates about secularism, nationalism, and role of technology, regionalism, tradition, the role of civil society and the state are indicative of our efforts. But lately we seem to have got lost. Our social formation and I use this term as distinct from nation because many of us are not sure of calling ourselves Indians is fragmented with sections which are unable to do dialogue with each other. Overall, while expediency seems to dictate, the present is emerging as a period of intense self-doubt and sycophancy.

Contents

 

  Preface ix
l. Introduction 1
2 Gandhigram 21
3 The Gandhigram Trust 36
4 Social Welfare 62
5 Education 95
6 Rural Economics 117
7 Lessons from Praxis 191
8 Challenges in the Future 224
  Select Bibliography 245
  Index 247

 

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