One of the primary ‘missions’ for taking India forward being pursued at present on a national scale is ‘Skill India’ or making Indians, especially its upcoming youth, much more skilled in the various crafts, trades, industries and professions.
It would act as an ideal inspiration for both the propagators and the students of ‘Skill India’ mission to know that Mahatma Gandhi, all through his long public life (1893 till 30 January, 1948) invariably insisted on use of better and higher skills for working in whichever task or field he happened to be concerned with at any time. He believed in a constant and continuous learning process including experimentation, keeping the ideal as the goal but also knowing that human beings must always keep improving and rising in their skills but can never attain absolute perfection. Hence, he also called himself a ‘practical idealist’, going from ‘truth to truth’. He himself practiced the pursuit of skill in whatever he did even more than he told others to do.
In this paper an attempt has been made to give a summarized presentation of the multi-faceted Gandhian perspective on the critical role, application and development of varied skills in the numerous fields with which he was involved. Though his interest in the promotion of skills related to nearly any major activity he came across was sustained throughout, his longest and deepest engagement remained with the promotion of the skills required in the propagation of khadi (particularly that of hand-spinning) and other village industries. The promotion of khadi and other village industries was an essential part of his lifelong struggle for India’s freedom from foreign rule as well as for removal of poverty and economic morass into which India had sunk.
The presentation below starts with the section on ‘Gandhian Perspective on Skills as a Universal and Primary Requirement’ covering his general observations, including the roles of art, science and technology in skill formation, and the various qualities and characteristics that go with the skills. Then follows the main section on ‘Gandhian Engagement with the Propagation of Skills Along with the Struggle for India’s Freedom’, which has three sub-sections. The first subsection covers ‘Gandhian Movement for the Propagation of Hand-spinning and Khadi’, giving an idea about the development of the project on a national scale during different phases of the freedom struggle. The next subsection gives an idea about the ‘Gandhian Movement for Other Village Industries’ and the third subsection gives an overview of the ‘Gandhian Concern for Skills in Other Fields’, i.e., apart from the promotion of Khadi and other village industries. Then follows the ‘Conclusion’ which includes a brief glimpse of how Gandhi functioned himself while propagating ‘skill development’, particularly in the field of hand-spinning.
Gandhian Perspective on Skills as a Universal and Primary Requirement
Gandhi referred to the role of skill in every activity, including even in the use of weapons, such as guns and gunpowder, in wars and how India had developed the alternative of non-violent struggle, or satyagraha, for the practice of which Gandhi had laid down detailed prescriptions and the skills that must be developed as a satyagrahi. As early as 1909, this is how he praised the suffragettes protesting for voting rights for women in the U.K.: “The systematic way in which they set about their work and their skill deserve the highest commendation. Their enthusiasm is unbounded. [30.7.1909, CW 9:326]
In early days in South Africa itself, he would refer to the skills required in medical practice. He even trained himself in ‘nature cure’ and nursing and practiced these with meticulous skill. His lifelong interest in the skills required in the practices of hygiene and sanitation are well-known. What is not generally known is that based on his experience he also wrote a detailed booklet titled ‘General Knowledge About Health’ [Parts -I to –XXXIV] in 1913 [Parts –I to –XIII in CW 11, &, –XIV to –XXXIV in CW 12] and then another one titled ‘Key to Health’ in 1942 while in prison. [CW 77:1-48].
While being in South Africa (1893 to 1914), he made numerous observations regarding the need and worth of skill not only as general comments but also in specific instances. For example, he referred to the fertile soil of Natal awaiting ‘only a skillful hand’ to turn the land ‘into mines of gold’ [21.12.1895, CW 1:294], complained about the Indian merchants there being denied the ‘necessary skilled assistance’ from India [IO (28.10.1905), CW 5:112], observed how the whites in California were unable to bear the success of the Japanese settled there due to their ‘skill and intelligence’ [IO (12.1.1907), CW6:279], wanted the Press set up by him there to have, along with purity of objectives, also ‘skill and ability’ to be able ‘to do a great deal’ [28.1.1907, CW 6:302], felt that Indians’ participation was not being included in the Durban Exhibition as the whites were afraid of the Indian industry and also ‘Indian skill’ [IO (10.8.1907), CW 7:157], and that the planters there wanted Indians badly, though only as indentured labour, as the ‘indigenous labour was not so steady and skillful as the Indian’ [11/12.2.1915, CW 13:21].
To Gandhi, skill meant inherently also being artistic and scientific and technically sound. For example, in South Africa he once found none of the poems submitted worth the announced prize as none revealed ‘any special power or art’ and they needed to ‘reach a higher level of skill’ [IO (22.6.1907), CW 7:49]. In India, he wrote in a letter: ‘A person without art is like a beast. But how will you define art? Art is “skill in work”.’ [18.12.1930, CW 45:7] At a Khadi and V.I. Exhibition he said that ‘Art is a means of bringing out the inner as well as the outer beauty of a thing.’ He praised Nandlal Bose, the artist involved since the earlier exhibition, as also Pandit Khare for music and Ravishankar for art and the artistic skill of Kanubhai Desai and Vakilbehn in the khadi department. [10.2.1938, CW 66:359] He often referred to the role of science, such as, he wrote in the context of khadi: ‘We did not know the science of khadi. We do not know it fully even now. Therefore, - - we stumble again and again - -. - - - It is enough for us to know that it is the correct goal and - - - correct our mistakes and go forward. That is the essence of the scientific method. - - All sciences develop and are built up through experience. Perfection is not an attribute of science. Absolute perfection is not possible either for man or for the science that he creates.’ [3.4.1946, CW 83:355-57] Similarly, he often referred to the need for technical proficiency in any skill, such as, he wrote about the charkha: ‘The possibilities of the wheel are as wide as the world itself because its spread requires little capital. It merely needs fellow-feeling, ordinary organizing ability and technical skill which can be easily acquired.’ [YI (10.4.1924), CW 23:496] On a visit to Burma he even pointed out the lack of any space to impart the ‘technical skill’ in a school there. [NJ (31.3.1929), CW 40:194] He related man to the machine thus: ‘‘Man is not a lifeless machine, though he should work like a machine; he is a conscious being and while working as a machine he should work with faith and intelligence, that is to say, with his heart and his mind. Only then will he shine and succeed in his effort.’ [7.6.1945, CWMG 94:208]
He defined skill in the context of swadeshi too. For example, he said, ‘Only that may be called swadeshi [at the Exhibition] which is wholly made in India by indigenous skill - -.’ [YI (16.1.1930), CW 42:402]He stated the basic truth, ‘It is the skill that has been banished from the land or left undeveloped owing to the absence of the swadeshi spirit. A country remains poor in wealth, both material and intellectual, if it does not develop its handicrafts and its industries and lives a lazy parasitic life by importing all the manufactured articles from outside.’ [YI (20.8.1931), CW 47:323]
Many a time, Gandhi even goes to the extent of quoting the Gita for propagating the need for skill in any activity: Yoga is skill in action (work) [II.50]. He says that Krishna asks Arjuna to be a yogi, for yoga means nothing but skill or wisdom in work/ action. [26.3.1926, CW 32:126; 28.3.1926, CW 32:127; 20.4.1926, CW 32:168; 12.5.1926, CW 32:202]It also means not attempting to do what we cannot do. [27/30.12.1930, CW 45:38] A true devotee is pure and skillful in action. [4.11.1930, CW 49:137] True yajna means to do one’s allotted task with whole-hearted attention and with skill and intelligence. [2.5.1932, CW 49:387] Yoga means union with God, achieved by skill in work. [28.8.1932, CW 50:433] It also means perfect combination of physical and mental work. [11.3.1933, CW 54:62]
Apart from the above specific features of the Gandhian conception of skill, he attributed numerous other qualities as being inherent to its practice. The examples being given here are only as an indication of the wide range of his conception of skill. He used to insist that labour too was ‘capital’: ‘I hold that a working knowledge of a variety of occupations is to the working class what metal is to the capitalist. A labourer’s skill is his capital.’ [H (3.7.1937), CW 65:348] He wrote, ‘If all men cultivated manual skill, then even if the population went on increasing, within limits, everybody would have enough food to eat, cloth to cover his or her body with and - - a home.’ [10.3.1933, CW 54:43] He wanted the right law of supply and demand to ensure that just wages are paid according to a workman’s worth so that competition makes the people ‘happy and skillful’. [IO (4.7.1908), CW8:338]He wrote to Ansuyabehn Sarabhai, ‘[W]e have to make workers independent and self-reliant - - skilled in their work—we do not want them to remain helpless or make beggars of them.’ [24.8.1927, CW95:62] This is so, as he wrote later to C.F. Andrews, because, ‘Real skill has its price everywhere.’[29.7.1935, CW 61:295]
Gandhi defined ‘Independence’ to include also sharing of skills and capital: ‘In concrete terms, then, the independence should be political, economic and moral.
‘Economic’ means - - - the humblest must feel equal to the tallest. This can take place only by capital or capitalists sharing their skill and capital with the lowliest and the least. [29.4.1946, CW84:80]
Speaking at a Khadi and V.I.s Exhibition, he wanted all Indians to become productive workers: “I want every man and woman from every part of India to realize what art and skill are hidden in their heads and hands.’ [20.2.1940, CW71:232] Having been told that activities like spinning were going on regularly even in jail, he wrote in a letter to Premabehn Kantak that he hoped that all the women would come out of jail ‘after having acquired great skill in constructive work.’. [28.12.1940, 73:263] He was amazed by the skill of the Ahmedabad craftsman, as he came across them. [21.9.1933, CW 56:16] He also asserted that the products of handicraftsmen could not be ‘standardized to perfection because each craftsman’s manufacture has its own individuality’ and, hence, handling the works of a large number would baffle even the most skilled organizer. [18.3.1933, CW 54:123]
He said in an interview that America was able to hold the world in awe partly ‘by selling her unrivalled skill’ and he wanted the Western nations to use their skills abroad and teach these (such as, how to make bridges) to the rest of the world without any charge. [16.10.1931, CW 48:165] In another interview, he said that India was ‘poor in technical skill’ but would not complain of ‘all the skill being monopolized by America’, if following ‘Jesus’s teaching’ it offered its skilled assistance to India as a sister country ‘not for exploitation, not for a terrific price, but for its benefit, and so for nothing.’ [17.9.1940, CW 73:29]
Gandhian Engagement with the Propagation of Skills Along with the Struggle for India's Freedom
Gandhi had gone to South Africa in 1893 as a young lawyer and while he was there (till 1914), he evolved the theory and practice of non-violent resistance, or satyagraha, to lead the Indians there against racial discrimination and had also organized certain basic skills, particularly in areas of community living, health, hygiene and sanitation. After returning to India, he had soon got deeply involved in the struggle for India’s freedom but also gradually built up, as an essential part of freedom struggle, a large-scale ‘Constructive Programme’ for the economic-social uplift of India out of its widespread poverty and backwardness resulting from the long foreign rule. Bulk of the Indians then lived in its villages. A major thrust of his ‘Constructive Programme’ was directed towards building up all-India movements for the production of khadi made with the hand-spun yarn so that the massive imports of foreign cloth could be replaced by cloth prepared with local skills, and for development of other village industries in order to revive the village economy and life in general. Simultaneously, he remained very meticulous in insisting upon use of maximum possible skills in any field or activity he was concerned with at any time. His observations on skill development have been summarized under three sub-sections below in the order of his involvement: Gandhian Movement for Hand-Spinning for the Propagation of Khadi, Gandhian Movement for Other Village Industries, and Gandhian Concern for Skills in Other Fields.
In 1941, when the 18-point ‘Constructive Programme’ had taken a final shape, two of its items were titled Khadi’ (Item 4) and ‘Other Village Industries’ (Item 5).
Gandhian Movement for Hand-Spinning for the Propagation of Khadi
Gandhi would frequently remind how before the British rule India used to produce all its needed cloth and how the hand-spinning and hand-weaving skills had been lost. He talked about the fine Dacca muslin, ‘where do we find such craftsmen and such weavers? - - How is it that they have lost the skill now?’ [8.5.1919, CW 15:292] India depended entirely on her skills. The kind of fine cloth which India produced then no other country did. This very India had fallen into the sad plight. [17.6.1919, CW 15:375] He said that though India still produced good varieties such as muslin, it did not have ‘skilled workers, nor men to promote such crafts’. [29.6.1919, CW 15:407] He told in interview to Katherine Mayo [17.3.1926, CW 30:122] how the East India Company ‘came to buy, and remained to sell. It compelled us to cut off our thumbs. - - - This is the history of how our skill was lost.’ Much later, he told in a discussion how we had been ‘apt to think lightly of village crafts because we have divorced educational from manual training. - - - we came to regard spinners and weavers and carpenters and shoe-makers as belonging to the inferior castes and the proletariat. We have had no Cromptons and Hargreaves [inventors of spinning mule, improved weaving loom, and spinning-jenny] because of this vicious system of considering the crafts as something inferior divorced from the skilled. - - - - the inventive skill that an intensive learning of the craft will stimulate will subserve the needs of the villager as a whole. [before18.9.1937, CW66:138-9]
Gandhi started with setting up a hand-weaving unit in Sabarmati Ashram using mill yarn in 1917, and then located a spinning-wheel and gradually built up a countrywide movement for hand-spinning to provide yarn for weaving khadi. In July 1917, he directed ‘every inmate to learn hand-weaving and thus study at first hand the secrets and defects of the art and then find out the means of saving the industry.’ He stated that a few inmates had already ‘attained considerable skill in the art.’ [on or after 3.7.1917, CW 13:461-2] At weavers’ meeting at Dohad he said [31.8.1919, CW 16:82] that the old craft had not yet vanished there, and that, after his conversation with the weavers, they had ‘pledged themselves to weave hand-spun yarn’. A week later he wrote, ‘India lives in farmers’ huts. The weavers’ skill is a reminder of India’s glory, and so I feel proud in describing myself as a farmer and weaver.’ [NJ (7.9.1919), CW 16:94] He explained that the highly skilled weavers of Madanpura in Bombay had higher earnings ‘only by virtue of the skill’. [NJ (18.5.1924), CW 24:81]Later, during his visit to Burma he said, ‘You have got enough weavers - -. But they instead of working for the good of the nation are slaving away for a foreign capitalist because it is to foreign yarn that they are applying their skill and workmanship.’ [12.3.1929, CW 40:134] Back in India, he observed that there were hundreds of thousands of expert weavers in India and it was‘ our duty to make use of their skill. - - - We have still to convince them that in the reform of their trade lies the welfare of the country.’ [NJ (1.9.1929), CW 41:346]
He told at a women’s meet at Surat that even if they were not satisfied with their weaver’s saris, to ‘make do with them to start with and ask him to improve.’ He said, there was ‘dharma in wearing a sari in which the worker has revealed his skill and poured out his heart.’ He also told that he had accepted the coarse khadi first given to him in Vijapur. [26.5.1919, CW 15:325] In another speech at Godhra, advocating a taste for swadeshi he said that ‘they must not be ashamed of coarse cloth.’ Ties of honour, prudence and economics bound them ‘to wear what cloth every village could produce and be satisfied with it, till their skill, industry and enterprise could produce a better quality.’ [14.8.1919, CW 16:30]
By 1919, work on developing skills for hand-spinning of the yarn had been initiated in the Ashram. Under Gandhi’s leadership spinning-wheel gradually became the symbol of an all-India movement, which rose as an essential part of the freedom movement itself. He had set up All India Spinners Association (A.I.S.A.) and built up a vast cadre of Congressmen and constructive workers and a following among common people who worked to pursue the production and use of khadi. Brief comments regarding the propagation of hand-spinning and khadi are being presented below in four phases separated by the three prolonged imprisonments which Gandhi underwent during the satyagrahas he led for India’s freedom.
The Initial Phase (1919 --- Start of Non-cooperation Satyagraha in 1922):
He welcomed the idea of ‘offering prizes for improving tools so as to make carding easier and discovering simpler means of starching.’ He reiterated that, ‘We treated skilled work as low and exalted clerical work, and thus invited slavery for ourselves. - - - From their trades and their homes we have taken away all courtesy, learning, decency and culture.’ [NJ (2.11.1919), CW 16: 277]He would keep reminding that, ‘Securing a spinning-wheel is only the first step - - - because we have still not acquired efficiency and skill.’ [NJ (6.2.1921), CW19:326] He was happy to see that spinning-wheel was still in common use in Punjab. He also noticed that their wheels were ‘skillfully designed. - - Some are very artistically made.’ He found the demand for spinning wheels so great in Punjab that ‘the craftsmen are unable to meet it.’[NJ (20.3.1921), CW19:454] He insisted that ‘Without skill, one cannot work the spinning-wheel’ and it also ‘puts to a fairly stiff test a man's perseverance, his firmness, his sincerity and his patience. Spinning does not mean drawing thread anyhow from cotton. It means being conversant with all the preliminary processes.’ [NJ (8.5.1921), CW 20:76] While working for presenting the spinning-wheel at the forthcoming Congress session and its exhibition, he wrote, ‘Perhaps there is nothing on which so much skill is being employed as what artisans at innumerable places are spending these days on the spinning-wheel.’ [NJ (12.6.1921), CW 20:207] He praised Andhra for still having the skill to produce the finest hand-spun yarn in India. [YI (4.8.1921), CW 20:461] At Chittagong, he asked railway workers to fight for swaraj by carding, spinning and weaving and that, ‘The greater your skill the more you will earn.’ [31.8.1921, CW 21:28] He praised Assam for being well-known for the weaving skill of its women. [NJ (11.9.1921), CW 21:85] He praised the weavers of Madras for their skill and the workers at Kumbakonam for having undertaken to use only hand-spun yarn. [NJ (25.9.1921), CW 21:206] Writing under the title ‘Wanted Experts’ [YI (22.9.1921, CW 21:180] he listed the areas needing scientific work in spinning: ‘Millions will spin for supplementing their resources, all will spin as a sacrament, some must spin for reducing it to a science. - - - as they spin on, they must match the quality of the yarn. They must measure every day their output - -. They must learn the process of carding and weaving. They must know the different qualities of cotton, - - the different types of wheels and - - to execute ordinary repairs.’ He stressed that ‘successful reintroduction (of spinning-wheel) does need skillful endeavour, honesty and co-operation on the largest scale known to the world.’ [YI (3.11.1921), CW 21:391]
Second Phase (after release from jail in 1924 --- start of Salt Satyagraha in March, 1930):
He explained why spinning was an apt universal occupation in India. Then famine was chronic in India and an occupation supplementary to the main one of agriculture was an absolute necessity, an occupation whose products can be used by the whole population and which one could be easily learn without involving ‘a great manufacturing skill’ or being expensive. Spinning was the answer. [18.8.1925, CW28:81] In most of the provinces people lived from hand to mouth and the answer lay in the revival of spinning, for which were needed skilled workers and efficient organizations. [YI (8.10.1925), CW28:301]The discussion on spinning-wheel in the Conference held at Kaliparaj left a deeper impression on Gandhi because apart from being imbued with commonsense, simplicity, economy and skill it was artistic too. [NJ (25.1.1925), CW 26:41] In his ‘Reminiscences of Bengal’ Gandhi stressed that there was ‘plenty of artistic sense, and much skill in spinning too.’ [4.5.1925, CW27:39] In a spinning competition held there he saw ‘a degree of skill among voluntary spinners not to be met with perhaps elsewhere.’ Further, ‘if Bengal wills, it can lead the country in khaddar - -. She has talent, she has a fine imagination, she has poetry, she as great self-sacrifice to her credit, she has the necessary skill, she has material.’ [7.5.1925, CW27:58] While men and women of Bengal had a special talent for spinning, ‘for want of technical skill, this talent and this sacrifice are running to waste’. [YI (28.5.1925), CW27:160]
Gandhi often elaborated on the qualities of skilled spinners. They should pass the ordinary tests about strength and evenness of the yarn spun and know about carding. They should have the necessary technical skills so that they may devise own machinery according to the needs and which would go to improve the quality of khadi. And it was the duty of the centres run by the A.I.S.A. to adopt all possible improvements in the quality of khadi. [2.10.1926, CW 31:469; YI (16.12.1926), CW 32:434; YI (20.1.1927), CW 32:579); NJ (16.12.1928), CW 38:230-1]
Gandhi emphasized the need for rise in skills and efficiency of production of khadi also so that the khadi workers’ earnings rose while the price of khadi fell. He wrote under the title, ‘Khadi in Kathiawad’: ‘These happy results depend on the spirit of self-sacrifice, efficiency, perseverance, humility and energy which khadi workers may be able to display.’ [NJ (2.5.1926), CW 30:404] He wrote a few days later, ‘Manufacture requires skill and sustained effort. Sale requires prestige and pushfulness.’ [YI (13.5.1926), CW 30:442] The Abhoy Ashram report too gave him the idea that, ‘khadi prices will drop still further as the skill of spinners and weavers increases.’ [YI (30.12.1926), CW 32:472] He said that ‘learning the elements of anything is always difficult and irksome’, be it music or mathematics. And the same ‘is the case of this grand and noble science of the charkha.’ Hence, ‘we need as much skill to attain proficiency in it as in any other major craft.’ [29.5.1927, CW 33:401] Hence, too, he wanted all those ‘who would learn all about the technique of khadi from hand-ginning to hand-weaving, and study the instruments used in the processes and to see them at work by skilled hands’, not fail to attend the Bangalore Khadi Exhibition. [YI (30.6.1927), CW 34:78]
Gandhi exhorted the workers in Kathiawad thus, ‘the wealth of the entire world is being drained away to Lancashire. - - - If the workers - - understood this simple yet wonder-working idea, they will learn every step in the processing of cotton and introduce this skill among the entire population. This is the first political task.’ [NJ (18.5.1924), CW 24:78] He wanted not only khadi to gain a firm position in Kathiawad but also that ‘we should acquire such skill as to be able to weave fine saris.’ [NJ (8.3.1925), CW 26:252] Khadi was capable of giving as much variety as mill-cloth, but it required ‘revival of the original skill of our forefathers. - - we have not yet put this national cottage industry on a sound basis.’ [YI (5.6.1924), CW 24:187] He wanted Congressmen to ‘study its science thoroughly and see that they acquire the skill to spin the finest yarn.’ [NJ (8.6.1924), CW 24:209] Only when spinning became a common occupation, shall we ‘get the requisite number of skilled spinners who can give the necessary preliminary tuition, choose the right kind of wheel, do the repairs, etc.’ [YI (31.10.1924), CW 25:274]
Gandhi warned that for hand-spinning, special skill was also needed ‘for classifying and conserving cotton.’ [YI (11.12.1924), CW 25:422] He argued that just as a doctor or a lawyer who did not show proper skills were rejected, ‘a spinner who spins indifferently and sends yarn that is not tested steals merit.’ [YI (14.5.1925), CW27:94] Answering a student’s questions, he wanted ‘all young men with a scientific training to utilize their skill in making the spinning-wheel, if it is possible, a more efficient instrument of production - -.’ [YI (17.12.1925), CW29:325]
He appreciated the faith shown by the citizens of Mysore ‘in the message of the spinning-wheel and khadi.’ He wanted the State and the people to work out ‘the spinning-wheel in a scientific spirit’. It required ‘a detailed organization and expert knowledge no less than the building and working of the great undertakings like the Bhadravati Iron Works; the difference is only that of degree.’ He wanted them not to let ‘this great movement die for want of skilled and careful nursing.’ [28.8.1927, CW 34:414] As a seeker of truth he had to have a scientific approach in every facet of human life. He wrote in a letter, ‘[A]ll other things come in after you have mastered the science of the spinning-wheel. The science of course includes ginning, carding, spinning, repairing the spinning-wheel, straightening the spindle, making a cord for connecting the wheel with the spindle, mounting the sadi on to the spindle, etc.’ [12.9.1927, CWMG 34:525] In another letter he referred to an example of Mithubehn having created a good market ‘for her skill in khadi’. [26.9.1927, CW35:41]
In a speech at Rajapalayam he told that he was ‘agreeably surprised’ that some of the lady spinners there were earning ‘much more than spinners earn in other parts of India’ and the reason was that they were ‘more industrious, more skillful and are able to give more time to spinning.’ It thus showed ‘the possibilities there are in the spinning-wheel.’ [4.10.1927, CW35:78] At Trichur, he wanted them to handle ‘this very great experiment’ in hand-spinning ‘very seriously, scientifically and skillfully.’ [14.10.1927, CW35:134] And, at Galle in Sri Lanka, for national strength he wanted them to ‘learn with great skill all the indigenous crafts’ and for identification with the poorest he knew ‘nothing so ennobling as hand-spinning.’ [24.11.1927, CW35:306]
Gandhi said that in case of a sudden famine of cloth in India, if encouraged the masses now  had ‘sufficient skill and the indigenous machinery for manufacturing their own khadi.’ And to make khadi an irresistible choice, ‘khadi workers have to work away with steadfastness, honesty, scientific skill and precision.’ [YI (12.4.1928), CW36:218] A year later he regretted that every hamlet was a potential spinning mill but the skill and the time there were ‘running to waste for want of use. He wanted khadi to become ‘a current coin’ as then ‘the toiling millions will spin their own yarn and get it woven by the village weaver’ as before. [YI (25.4.1929), CW 40:281]
Third Phase (after start of Salt Satyagraha --- start of 'Quit India' Satyagraha in August 1942):
With the start of ‘Salt Satygraha’ women too became involved in the freedom movement on a mass scale and that further helped in production and use of khadi. In a speech during the Salt Satyagraha, he asserted that women were making a far greater contribution to the Charkha Sangh and it was on account of their skill that fine khadi was being made in Andhra. [on or before 30.3.1930, CW 43:154] He reiterated, ‘Men may well spin, but for generations the profession of spinning has been practised by women and men’s hands do not possess the same skill in this that women’s do.’ [NJ (13.4.1930), CW 43:249]
While speaking about the mills and foreign cloth boycott, he reminded that skilled weavers were found all over India and the only problem was that of spinning. [YI (24.4.1930), CW 43:313] Also, ‘Plying the spinning-wheel is an art and it can, therefore, be mastered only by one who has the required skill.’ [11.8.1930, CW 97:127] He suggested that a new model of spinning-wheel be named after Maganlal who had ‘transformed spinning-work into a science.’ [11.8.1930, CW 97:134] Even while in prison during Salt Satyagraha, propagation of skills in spinning remained one of his primary concerns. He wrote to Narandas Gandhi in the Sabarmati Ashram: ‘Take the utmost care about the [spinning] yajna. Endeavour to remove the deficiencies in such work. Everyone should learn to test the strength and count of yarn, - - every day. A rough and ready method of testing the strength can be easily invented. - - If the yarn spun by each is woven separately, we would know its strength better.’ [27.11./3.12.1930, CW 44:354]He also asked Kanu Gandhi and other boys to go to Wardha to learn Bhau’s skill, as he could ‘spin on the takli equally well with either hand.’ [1/6.1.1931, CW45:66] He also wrote to the Ashram boys and girls to ‘acquire complete mastery over the takli and referred to Bhau’s skill. [5.12.1932, CW 51:122]
After his release from the prison, he continued to press for greater skill and efficiency in spinning. He wanted that camping for Congress volunteers should mean ‘greater skill in hand-spinning and carding, greater skill in dealing with repairs to various machines required for spinning, ginning, carding, etc.’ [before 9.5.1931, CW46:126] To him it was evident that as the demand for khadi grew, ‘a larger number of people and more skilled people will take interest in it and the quality will improve and the prices decrease.’ [NJ (7.6.1931), CW46:342] Speaking to the British MPs, he wanted that the hand-looms should work with hand-spun yarn in place of mill-spun yarn and that ‘the English to give him British skill to perfect the hand-spinning machine’ and told how a British engineer had gifted him his invention of a simpler pattern of handloom which would give better results. [16.9.1931, CW48:23]
Again from the prison, he wrote to Ashram boys and girls ‘In order to have a full knowledge of the science of spinning, one must have some knowledge of each of the following: agriculture, chemistry, dyeing, painting, carpentry, smithy, weaving, knitting, sewing, carding, ginning, laundry work, history of the industries of the different countries, engraving, Arithmetic, geometry, etc.’ [10.4.1932, CW 49:292] Much later, he wrote under the title ‘What is Khadi Science?’: ‘The late Maganlal Gandhi - - wrote the elements of the science of khadi. - - - Richard Gregg - - has given it a universal meaning. His Economics of Khaddar is an original contribution to the movement. - - A science to be science must afford the fullest scope for satisfying the hunger of body, mind and soul.’ [H (16.1.1937), CW 64:248-9]
He wrote in a letter that it was most important to spin the finest possible yarn of different counts and also note the contribution of each process as well as of the spinner’s skill, and then to compare the result with that of other spinners. [6.7.1932, CW 50:158] The standards had finally evolved into the members being asked to spin at least 160 rounds, one round being equal to 4 feet, and the yarn to be uniform as well as strong and the yarn coarser than 20s did not count as yajna, i.e. as skill in action. [11.7.1932, CW 50:220]
He wrote to Vinoba Bhave that it was necessary ‘to revive the old skill in order to popularize khadi among all classes of people.’ [24.10.1932, CW 51:292] He insisted that those in the Ashram too acquired the skill to weave their finest yarn as it was seen that ‘when the people themselves had not learnt the required skill the craft remained poor’. [26.10.1932, CW 51:301] He reiterated that so long as the mill industry depended upon foreign machinery and foreign skill, ‘it would be untrue to call it an indigenous industry’, while khadi, as a village industry, required very little capital, the implements could be manufactured locally and there was no lack of indigenous technical skill. He gave the example of Germany which, even having the highest technical skill, was trying to go back to village industries to solve its unemployment problem. [H (27.10.9133), CW56:146, 148] He told at a public meeting that the lower quality of their khadi simply showed that they were not being imparted ‘the full skill of khadi production’ because their instructors themselves were ‘perhaps not in the possession of the art.’ [28.4.1934, CW 57:445]
While recounting that the progress in tools and in skills of spinning had made khadi much cheaper and better in texture and also raised the spinners’ incomes, he pointed out that there were still organizational defects and not enough critical study of every problem. He reiterated that the science of khadi required technical and mechanical skill of a high order and also ‘as much concentration as is given by Sir J.C. Bose to the tiny leaves of plants in his laboratory’. [H (5.10.1934), CW 59:128-9]He wrote that in the case of khadi ‘the use of machinery can be increased only within certain limits. But there is no limit to increasing art, skill, efficiency and honesty.’ [before21.10.1934, CW 59:207]
Gandhi wrote that ‘self-sustained khadi’, ‘the true mission of khadi’, depended on local resources and met the local village or town needs. No khadi store would be run at a loss and every piece of khadi must be strong and durable. Workers would ‘think of improvements retaining intact the old existing background’. That was ‘true economy.’ [H (29.3.1935), CW 60:353-4] To develop ‘self-sufficient khadi’, there must be a living faith accompanied by technical skill. However, he felt that the giving to the worker all the skill necessary for his task had ‘hardly been attempted as yet on any large or organized scale or a well conceived plan.’ [H (3.8.1935), CW 61:305]Only a small part of the spinners could attain the standard fixed ‘partly because of the crudeness of the spinning-wheels and slivers and partly because of their lack of skill.’ It was the duty of all workers to help in removing these deficiencies. [16.1.1937, CW64:252]
Gandhi also gave close attention to the earnings of the spinners. He wanted that ‘a woman who spins skillfully for an hour should also be paid one anna.’ [Hbandhu (28.2.1937), CW64:406]He said that ignorance of the science of khadi was responsible for not reaching the goal of having the spinner’s wage of 8 annas/ day. ‘More scientific knowledge must improve the capacity of hand-gins, carding-bows and spinning-wheels. Greater observation of spinners’ work must result in their being more skilled and more efficient. Greater grasp of administrative detail and greater faithfulness must mean a substantial decrease in overhead charges.’ [H (17.4.1937), CW 65:91]
He acknowledged the ‘marvellous ingenuity and skill’ which led to the increase in the speed of the takli ‘beyond the wildest expectations of its protagonists’. [H (5.6.1937), CW65:211] Two years later he wrote that under Vinoba’s supervision ‘no youngster, after a month’s training only, spins less than 100 rounds in half an hour on the takli - - and the average does not fall below 160 rounds.’ [17.7.1939, CW 93:256] He saw a vital link between the charkha and non-violence and considered ‘adequate skill in spinning and its anterior processes’ as one of the ‘qualifications indispensable in a non-violent soldier, i.e., a satyagrahi’. [28.11.1939, CW 70:390]
Addressing a Gandhi Seva Sangh meeting, he asked them to have ‘expert knowledge not only of the science of the spinning-wheel but also of the art of spinning.’ He expected especially ‘knowledge and skill’ from them. Their yarn should be ‘fine, strong and may not snap’. He wanted them to be ‘expert craftsmen and scientific researchers’. [22.2.1940, CW 71:261] He called the science of khadi a lofty study, needing dedication of experts including ‘economists as well as highly skilled mechanics’ for rapid far-reaching progress. He even asserted, ‘Much more talent, knowledge, application and research are required to improve the village implements than to build a bridge on the Ganga.’ [15.5.1941, CW74:60]
In 1941, in his 18-point ‘Constructive Programme’ point 4 was titled, ‘Khadi’, and it read as under:
‘4. KHADI: - - It connotes - - economic freedom and equality of all in the country. - - It means a wholesale swadeshi mentality, a determination to find all the necessities of life in India and that too through the labour and intellect of the villagers. - - - instead of half a dozen cities of India and Great Britain living on the exploitation and the ruin of the 7,00,000 villages of India, the latter will be largely self-contained, and - - serve the cities - - in so far as it benefits both the parties. - - - -
Khadi to me is the symbol of unity of Indian humanity - - - in the poetic expression of Jawaharlal Nehru, “the livery of India’s freedom”. - -khadi mentality means decentralization of the production and distribution of the necessaries of life. - - - Production of khadi includes cotton-growing, picking, ginning, cleaning, carding, slivering, spinning, sizing, dyeing, preparing the warp and the woof, weaving, and washing. - - - -
Since the wanton destruction of this central village industry and the allied handicrafts, intelligence and brightness have fled from the villages, leaving them inane, lusterless - -.
- - - Every family with a plot of ground can grow cotton at least for family use. - - - Today cotton crop is centralized - -. - - - Every spinner would buy—if he has not his own—enough cotton for ginning, which he can easily do - - - with a board and an iron rolling-pin. Where - - impracticable, hand-ginned cotton should be bought and carded. - - - The greater the decentralization of labour, the simpler and cheaper the tools. The slivers made, the process of spinning commences. I strongly recommend the dhanushtakli. - - it is more easily made, is cheaper than and does not require frequent repairs like the wheel. - - -
Imagine the unifying and educative effect of the whole nation simultaneously taking part in the processes
up to spinning! - - - the finer and better the yarn the greater will be its value. - - - there has been a divorce between labour and intelligence. - - If there is an indissoluble marriage between the two, and that in the manner here suggested, the resultant good will be inestimable. - - -.’ [13.12.1941, CW 75:150-52]
Fourth Phase (after release from jail in 1944 --- his Martyrdom on 30 January 1948):
By 1944, hand-spinning and production and use of khadi had already become not only an essential part of the freedom struggle and the centre of the rural industries but also had gained an all-India presence and respect. These had also become the most common craft used for the teaching of ‘Basic Education’ (Nayee Talim) started by Gandhi for universal school education.
Gandhi asked his followers to increase their skills and overcome all difficulties by ‘patience, knowledge and diligence.’ [6.2.1945, CW 79:103] He told the secretary of Bombay Khadi Bhandar to also be an expert in all the processes employed in khadi as selling it was only a minor activity. [27/28.11.1945, CW 82:123]He wrote to Rathindranath Tagore, ‘The spinning-wheel and all it means lends itself to the exhibition of all your skill.’ [22.12.1945, CW 82:250] And to Kantilal Gandhi, ‘If you have skill, proficiency, firmness of mind, purity of character, devotion to God and humility, then the work [relating to spinning] you do at home will be like the Ganga flowing by your door-step.’ [29.12.1945, CW 82:298]
He called the cloth famine in India [after World War II] ‘a mockery’. If only the Government acted honestly and intelligently, ‘We have cotton enough and idle hands enough and skill enough to make in our villages all the cloth we need.’ [on or after 11.2.1946, CW 83:120-1]Gandhi strove continually for technical improvements in khadi and other village industries. He set up necessary organizational structures and introduced exhibitions on khadi and other village industries as a part of the annual Congress sessions. He had introduced a highly evolved costing system for khadi. As independence was approaching, he reiterated to the khadi workers: ‘The new conception of khadi work includes all the processes from the cultivation of cotton to the preparation of cloth. A worker who does all these intelligently and can mend the spinning-wheel or the spindle, will never have any difficulty in earning his livelihood and teaching others to do so. - - Education has to be imparted through a craft. Therefore I do not consider it apart from khadi work.’ [H (4.8.1946), CW 85:74]
He recalled that Dacca owed its world-wide fame to its Shabnams, a variety of muslin, to the ‘deftness and skill of Muslim women spinners and Muslim weavers.’ [29.7.1946, CW85:87] If India made full use ‘of her spinning and weaving tradition and the matchless hereditary skill of her artisans’, she could even help the world in the matter of cloth manufacture. [before 17.8.1946, CW85:171] He asked the members of A.I.S.A. to have faith in the charkha and that India had ‘got enough artisans and indigenous skill in our country to produce all the cloth that we require for ourselves.’ [8.10.1946, CW85:438]
Gandhian Movement for Other Village Industries
While Gandhi gave maximum importance to the revival of the art and science of hand-spinning and making khadi, he also initiated a movement for the similar revival of other village industries. He not only strove to bring about technological improvements but also, similar to the A.I.S.A., set up All India Village Industries Association (A.I.V.I.A.), which under its Secretary, J.C. Kumarappa (the author of the well-known book ‘The Economy of Permanence’ and other numerous works) set up centres for development of village industries and introduced numerous technological innovations, such as Magan chulha, improvements in manufacture of pottery, soap, hand-paper, oil extraction and so on based on the Gandhian approach of swadeshi, production by masses and appropriate technologies. The centre set up by him in Wardha continues to be active. In 2007, a very well-documented book, ‘J.C. Kumarappa: Mahatma Gandhi’s Economist’ [by Mark Lindley, Mumbai: Popular Prakashan] has been published.
In 1941, in his 18-point ‘Constructive Programme’ point 5 was titled, ‘Other Village Industries’, and it read as under:
5. OTHER VILLAGE INDUSTRIES: These stand on a different footing from khadi. - - Each industry will take the labour of only a certain number of hands. These industries come in as a handmaid to khadi. - - - Village economy cannot be complete without the essential village industries such as hand-grinding,
hand-pounding, soap-making, paper-making, match-making, tanning, oil-pressing, etc. - - - When we have become village-minded, we will not want imitations of the West or machine-made products, but we will develop a true national taste in keeping with the vision of a new India in which pauperism, starvation and idleness will be unknown. [13.12.1941, CW 75:152-53]
In a speech at Gurukul in 1916, Gandhi wanted the education to enable the village workers to follow their traditional occupations, but ‘to follow them more scientifically’, ‘with greater skill’. [20.3.1916, CW 13:259] Even during the strike of Ahmedabad mill-workers, which Gandhi had led (1918), he wanted the workers who knew some skilled work, such as tailoring, cabinet-making or wood-carving and engraving, to seek such work in order to survive. [28.2.1918, CW 14:224]
Gandhi firmly believed that the nation ‘is not dying for want of raw products, but it is dying for want of labour and minimum skill.’ [23.9.1924, CW 25:204] He applied this approach not only to khadi but also to practically every other field. When asked by G. Ramachandran if he was against all machinery, he replied how could it be so when even our body was a most delicate machinery and the spinning-wheel itself was a machine. He wanted appropriate technology. What he objected to was ‘the craze for machinery, not machinery as such’. He wanted ‘to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all.’ [21/22.10.1924, CW 25:250-55]
He wrote to Dr. B.C. Roy (1935) seeking his ‘concrete assistance for the A.I.V.I.A.’ He told that its members had been instructed to induce the villagers ‘to take to hand-husking of unpolished rice and pressing their own oil and cane, and grinding their own corn - - and to attend to village sanitation and hygiene’ and that Dr. Roy could cover the whole of Bengal with an army of workers for ‘a visible and immediate improvement in the economic condition and health of the villagers’. No province had ‘so much chemical skill as Bengal’ and it was that which was principally required in this programme. [5.2.1935, CW 60:169] He explained that this village movement was one of decentralization and restoration of ‘the skill of the artisan to villagers.’ [H (22.3.1935), CW 60:329]
He considered that bodies like A.I.V.I.A. were formed ‘to work out particular purposes often requiring high technical skill’, and the work would make progress ‘in exact proportion to our knowledge, earnestness and industry.’ [20.8.1945, CW 81:144] In 1946, as India was approaching freedom, Gandhi said, if he were the minister in charge of revival of villages, his first business would be to put the best among the officials in touch with the A.I.S.A. and A.I.V.I.A. to have a scheme ‘for giving the village crafts the greatest encouragement’ and for the villagers to be taught to ‘rely upon their own labour and skill for the production of articles of food, cloth and other necessaries.’ [26.8.1946, CW85:211] He wanted the villagers to ‘develop such a high degree of skill that articles prepared by them will command a ready market. When our villages were fully developed there would be no dearth in them of men with a high degree of skill and artistic talent.’ He said that the villages were then ‘like dung-heaps. Tomorrow they will be like beautiful gardens’. [29.10.1946, CW 86:59]
Gandhi had continued to take deep interest in the development of many of the rural crafts and industries. He started work on some of these in his Ashram at Sabarmati and the A.I.V.I.A. at Wardha provided a major centre for pursuing the development of village industries all over India. A few of his observations relating to some specific industries are being given here as examples of his wide interest.
Gandhi had received samples of hand-made paper from a village near Kanpur. It was stout and glossy, its skill being supplied by an old man. It had charm of its own and could be supplied at the price of mill-made paper. [H (14.9.1934), CW58:444] He found twofold monetary gain in using unpolished rice in place of mill rice. A lesser quantity was enough to satisfy the palate and the appetite and husking involved much less labour cost than pounding which required more effort and skill. Its greatest benefit lay in the strength and satisfaction derived from eating it. [Hbandhu (24.2.1935), CW 60:257] He compared shoe-making in a factory and by a shoe-maker. The latter would bear the impress of the shoe-maker’s skill and allow the joy of creating something while the former cannot. [before1.3.1935, CW 60:267]
He appreciated the skill in sewing, such as when Albert West’s mother-in-law used to help the Phoenix Settlement with her skill in it; and again, when Chandrakanta’s mother, good at sewing, would earn her living through skilled service at the Ashram in Sabarmati. [CW29:144; 9.12.1929, CW92:123-4] He ‘felt proud of the skill of our craftsmen’ when he found the best knives in India being made in Nizamabad in Punjab. Though using old tools, the work ‘had a finish and was of best quality’. He felt that when we ‘do not make full use of such skill what can we expect but starvation’. [~ 1.12.1919, CW 16:325]
Gandhian Concern for Skills in Other Fields
Apart from having initiated all India level movements for skill development in production of khadi and other village industries, Gandhi also showed wide interest and concern for adequate skills and competence in agriculture as well as in numerous professions and activities with which he became associated. Here only some indicative references are being given as examples of his deep interest.
In South Africa itself, he was well aware that a farmer must be equipped with necessary skills: ‘A farmer cannot work without applying his mind. He must be able to test the nature of his soil, must watch changes of weather, must know how to manipulate his plough skillfully and be generally familiar with the movements of the stars, the sun and the moon.’ [IO (12.4.1913), CW 12:22] In his classic work, Satyagraha In South Africa, he referred to the Dutch having been ‘as skillful cultivators as they have been brave soldiers’ and how they commenced agriculture with the labour of the South African ‘natives’. [Ch.II, CW29:15]In India, he observed that in his time there was ‘no scope for attainment of a more remunerative skill in the agriculturist’s occupation’ and one ‘who drives a plough, sows seeds or weeds the fields will not earn higher wages by the culture of the hand.’ [YI (9.9.1926), CW 31:381]
He gave all credit to Maganlal Gandhi for the Ashram at Sabarmati having taken up agriculture as it was thought that they had not ‘the requisite skill and environment for it’. [11.7.1932, CW 50:228]He was very elated to discover that Sardar Patel was ‘a skilled agriculturist. Every inch of space in the banana garden and every drop of water that was being given to it had been made careful use of. - - - The Sardar’slabour had yielded the Ashram several thousand rupees and set an example to others. As a result dozens of people had taken to banana-growing.’ [on or after 10.1.1942, CW75:213-4] He wanted all kisans, young and old, men and women, to be educated, the landless labour being paid living wages, land laws and peasant indebtedness being examined and the intricate problem of cattle, an integral part of agriculture, being given attention by skilled constructive workers. [22.10.1944, CW78:220]
In 1946, with food scarcity around, he did not think ‘it is impossible to grow more foodstuffs, though I agree that it is difficult. The difficulty is due to our lack of knowledge and the requisite skill.’ [16.2.1946, CW 83:139] After independence, regarding Gujarat he observed that ‘there are skilled farmers there. The soil is fertile and water is available.’ Hence, were ‘lethargy and malpractice’ behind the scarcity of food? [17.11.1947, CW 90:53]
He often praised the writing skills when he came across these. He had no doubt that Mahadev Desai would ‘prove his editorial skill’ even while facing physical tortures in the prison. [YI (5.1.1922), CW 22:128] He also felt that ‘very few of us have the skill of writing anything from the standpoint of history.’ [7.10.1926, CW 31:484] When asked by Viyogi Hari to write for the Hindi Harijan Sevak he told him to select anything from the Harijan and that his skill would be tested in making a proper selection and translating the relevant portions. [25.2.1933, CW 53:419] For the same journal, he wrote to Sushila Nayar to ‘write something original’ and that if she wrote a series of articles on sanitation, etc., in beautiful Hindi she would improve her ‘skill as a writer’. [31.8.1940, CW 93:354]
He praised Sir Ganga Ram for having done ‘great things in the Punjab by his engineering skill’, as Sir Vishveshvarayya had done in Mysore. [24.7.1927, CW 34:233] He saw ‘with wonder and admiration Krishnarajasagar and the Bhadravati Iron Works, the two great monuments of Sir M. Vishveshvarayya’s zeal and skill.’ [28.8.1927, CW 34:414] Later, he even wrote to M. Vishveshvarayya, ‘You have enriched the life of the country by your unrivalled engineering skill.’ [6.8.1944, CW78:14]
He had taken a life-long interest in education. When asked, apart from the teachers placing the printed books in the pupils’ hands, what other skill he expected the teachers to possess, he said that a good teacher would ‘go beyond the text-books and present his subject to the pupil in a vivid manner in the same way as an artist does. - - A true teacher introduces the pupil to his subject, creates in him interest for the subject and enables him to understand it independently.’[NJ (10.6.1928), CW36:382-3] According to him, ‘the real test of a teacher lies in his success in training his pupil to do better than himself.’ While his own ‘knowledge and skill’ might be limited, a pupil with a great natural aptitude could ‘considerably increase what he receives from the teacher.’[5.12.1932, CW 51:122] He cautioned Devdas Gandhi that the task he had undertaken, of getting the people in Madras province to learn Hindi as a bridge with other parts of India, required ‘greater skill and patience’ than that required to build a bridge across the Ganga’. And, the task of making Hindi simple and interesting ‘will exercise all your skill’. [2.7.1918, CW 14:466]
When he saw in a school that cotton too was grown, a dairy was run and foodstuffs for a balanced diet prepared there, he observed, ‘If these activities are properly developed and the boys and girls are taught in the skills needed for them in a manner which they would understand, their minds would truly develop.’ [Hbandhu (21.3.1937), CW 65:12] He had conceived his plan to impart primary education through the medium of a handicraft ‘as the spearhead of a silent revolution’ and it would also avoid ‘a helpless dependence on foreign imported machinery or technical skill.’ [H (9.1.1937), CW66:169-70] In a speech in England, he referred to a family being in demand all over India as teachers, ‘because both husband and wife are accomplished weavers and conscientious and skilled workers.’ He also informed about Elmhurst, an Englishman who really gave life to experiments in the poet Tagore’s village, owing to which‘they were opening canal irrigation works which did not require any skill other than that produced in that village.’ [20.10.1931, CW 48:195, 200]
He wanted that ‘lawyers and doctors should be paid a certain fixed sum by the State and the public should receive their services free’ so that ‘the rich and the poor will have then the same amount of attention and skill.’ [5.3.1928, CW36:84] He wanted the doctors to use all their medical skill, the lawyers to patch up quarrels and stop litigation instead of fomenting trouble, and the engineers to build model houses suited to the means and needs of the people. [18.10.1931, CW48:183] He wrote that skilled medical assistance was required to be able to find a substitute for opium, which would kill the craving and build up the shattered bodies. [3.4.1939, CW69:105]
On Congress ministries being formed in many provinces in 1937, he advised the Ministers to take steps to make people learn the dignity of labour by engaging in a productive occupation, and to ‘make a proper effort to harness engineering skill so as to guide into healthy channels the course of the rushing waters during the monsoons.’ [25.9.1937, CW66:161] In his address to the I.N.A. officers, he suggested that they may work for turning available land into model farms and for setting an example of industry, skill and diligence to the masses. [22.5.1946, CW84:188]
He praised one of the women who sang ‘sweet bhajans at evening prayers’ as being ‘very skillful in playing the vina.’ [12.7.1927, CW 34:153] Similarly, he praised the driver who drove throughout a tour in Tamil Nadu as ‘a very skillful and attentive driver’. [21.2.1934, CW57:190] Again, he forwarded a cheque for Rs. 100/8/- to the Railway authorities for a train driver who was driving the train with Gandhi in it and had ‘by his skill avoided what might have proved a serious accident’. [2.8.1946, CW85:110]
How were the British able to have a colonial empire and rule over India? In 1918, Gandhi thought that it was not merely physical strength. ‘They have the art, they have skill and foresight, shrewdness and wisdom.’ [21.6.1918, CW 14:438] Then, during World War II, he said that ‘with America as her ally she [Britain] has inexhaustible resources and scientific skill. This advantage is not available to any of the Axis powers.’ [30.5.1942, CW76:169]
From the contents presented above it becomes obvious that Gandhi was a consistent seeker for better and higher skills in practically every facet of his life, in every activity that he was engaged with or came across. He used the term ‘skill’ in its widest sense. He believed in a continuous learning process and experimentation, an approach he defined for himself as ‘practical idealism’. It meant being artistic, being scientific and welcoming technological and inventive expertise. It included manual, mental and intellectual skills. It included numerous associated qualities and aspects, such as industry and enterprise, perseverance, sincerity and patience, honesty, co-operation and endeavour, commonsense, simplicity, efficiency and organizing ability, intent, will, devotion and imagination, knowledge, precision and earnestness and so on. He also referred to the Gita’s definition of Yoga as ‘skill in action’.
His unique pursuit of skill development was truly seen in his propagation of hand-spinning and hand-weaving for production of khadi and he made it into an all-India movement as an integral part of the freedom movement, which he led for nearly three decades. Similarly, his propagation of ‘Other Village Industries’, and other miscellaneous crafts and professions presents an historic example of the pursuit of the ideal of ‘skill development’. We need to study the whole span of over 54 years of Gandhi’s public life, starting from his arrival in South Africa in 1893 till his martyrdom, and learn all possible lessons for our own pursuit of ‘skill development’.
* Dr. Y.P. Anand is Former Chairman, Railway Board & ex-officio Principal Secretary to Govt. of India and Former Director, National Gandhi Museum. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org