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Towards An Understanding Of Gandhi's Views On Science

By Shambhu Prasad

[Gandhi, it is argued in this paper, was not anti-science as is commonly misunderstood. Through a look at his various experiments, many unrealized in his time, it is shown that Gandhi's life defined a space for an alternative science for civil society that would operate with different methods. Gandhi's focus on the non-physical resources in organizing for science, the satyagrahi scientist, for instance, is a radical departure from science policy as expressed by Nehru in his famous Scientific Policy Resolution of 1956 and followed in India since independence. He also had a universal message by providing a new cosmology of man-nature and fact-value relations that he articulated and put in place through his various experiments. With this outline of a theoretical framework for Gandhian science, the case of the khadi movement is taken up for detailed explication.]

A reading of the rather extensive literature on Gandhi reveals that his views on science rarely find mention, almost to the point of exclusion. Based on his critique of modern civilization and the sheer lack of material on his views on science Gandhi has been labelled as anti-science. This has not been addressed adequately either by his follower or by social analysis of Gandhi's philosophy and practice. In this paper focusing on his Collected Works (CW) (1888-1948) we seek to address this lacuna by presenting a detailed contextual collation and analysis of his views on science over the years. We look at the responses of scholars to these representations. We then present new material on Gandhi's views on the subject that have been ignored and stand in need of analysis. The readings presented here would in our opinion have the potential of answering squarely some of Gandhi's critics who saw his views as retrograde. This 'archive', it is hoped, will contribute to equalizing the focus in Gandhian studies from an overemphasis on his political philosophy to his contribution to intellectual history and the sociology of knowledge.

Gandhi's views on science have often been seen as presumed upon his views on machinery, the machine age and modern civilization. However, as we shall show, there is ample direct reference to science in Gandhi's discussion with co-workers or talks with fellow countrymen. The new data presented here would also strengthen the existing critique of modern science and development. While the contours of this 'alternative' view need working out in detail, the present collation will correct the situation of indifference, if not negation, of Gandhi's views on science by science policy proponents in India. While Nehru's views on science have been written about and quoted extensively, Gandhi's have not received any scholarly attention so far.

Aldous Huxley was among the first to brand Gandhi and the khadi movement as anti-science:

Tolstoyans and Gandhiites tell us that we must 'return to nature', in other words, abandon science altogether and live like primitives, or, at best, in the style of our medieval ancestors. The trouble with his advice is that it cannot be followed - or rather, it can be followed if we are prepared to sacrifice at least 8-900 million human lives. Science, in the form of modern industrialization and agricultural technology, has allowed the world's population to double itself in about three generations. ...Tolstoy and Gandhi are professed humanitarians, but they advocate slaughter, compared with which the massacres of Timur and Jinghiz Khan seem imperceptibly trivial [Quoted in Singh 1988: 15].

Huxley's criticism of Gandhi was representative of contemporary understandings of Gandhi on science. Even Nehru, one of Gandhi's closest followers, revealed the extent of his misunderstanding when he responded to Huxley above:

It [Gandhi's] may not be a correct attitude; its logic may be faulty..... Even this attitude is not necessarily accepted by the political associates and followers of Gandhi. Personally, I do not agree with it and I should make it clear that the Indian Congress and the national movement have not adopted it..... I have mentioned these considerations to you not to defend the spinning wheel but so that you may realise that Indian nationalism is not opposed to big scale machinery and much less to science. I have no doubt that when it is in a position to do so, it will industrialize the country as rapidly as possible. Meanwhile, helpless as we are, we have to carry out such make shifts as possible..... My whole outlook on life and its problems is a scientific one and I have never felt attracted towards religion and its methods [Singh 1988: 15-18].

Nehru while seeking to explain Gandhi's attitude to science actually ends up furthering the divide between the so-called personal view of Gandhi and the public view of the Congress. His view shared by a large section of the Indian intelligentsia even today acknowledges Gandhi's ability merely to mobilise people and rally them around the call for freedom. The Charkha is consequently important for its immediate economic and instrumental value in achieving freedom, to be discarded later. Nehru makes a clear divide between himself as a science person and Gandhi as a religious man. this stereotype that sees Gandhi in purely religious terms alone and thereby outside science, was expressed several years later by one of the few social scientists who interacted with Gandhi - the anthropologist Nirmal Kumar Bose.

As part of Gandhi's Noakhali effort of 1946, Bose had to soon confront his own serious disagreements with some of Gandhi's experiments which led to his departure from Gandhi's camp. What is significant is that Bose sought to explain his actions as those of a scientist with politics being undertaken only in emergencies (1974: 49-68). For Bose, science and politics were clearly separate entities with little possibility of one including the other. He thus unwittingly cast Gandhi as a political and religious person alone in contrast to himself as a scientist.1This image has stuck and been made unforgettable by Einstein's famous quote on Gandhi where he sees Gandhi as a saint and politician who was well versed with the art, not science of peace.2

Bose and Nehru indicate an attitude of discomfort and ambivalence to their leader Gandhi and are unable to reconcile his public persona with the more controversial 'private' one.The response by Indian scientists to Gandhi on the other hand shares none of this discomfort. Meghnad Saha, the scientist-architect of the planning and industrialisation model in independent India, for instance saw Gandhian science as entirely retrograde:

Amongst our leaders [are] a considerable number incapable of seeing the great and inevitable part which the new age of technique will play in India's destiny... One comes across overdrawn pictures of the imaginary good old days when nobody was supposed to have anything to complain of and a tendency to attribute all the troubles of the world to the evils of science..... We do not for a moment believe that better and happier conditions could be created by discarding modern scientific technique and reverting back to the spinning wheel, the loin cloth and the bullock cart [Quoted in Visvanathan 1985: 100-101].

Saha believed that the primary task of science in India was in "weeding out medieval passion" and training the populace for a "a proper grip and sufficient operation of the beauty and power of science". In another context, Saha informed Russian scientists that he and his brother scientists had "as little regard" for Gandhi's economic and social theories as you 'the Russians' have for Tolstoy [Quoted in Narayan 1960:55].

Saha's caricature of Gandhi's views on science in important historically for the role he played in formulating the ideology of science policy in free India. Given such views, it is no wonder that science policy writings in India have made no mention of Gandhi. Sinha while reviewing the relation of science to the Gandhian with an attitude that was revivalist and hostile to modern science [Kumar 1991: 161-81]. Tracing the history of science movements in India, Biswas in a recent study follows the received view on Gandhi and science. He believes the Gandhian view, unlike that of Vivekananda, is primarily spiritual and ignores the material foundations of Indian civilization. Nehru, he argues, followed the model of Vivekananda more perfectly [Biswas 2000: 205-17]. This representation conforms to the stereotype of the spiritual Gandhi ignoring the fact that the spirit and practice of the khadi movement was primarily grounded in the material culture of Indian civilization. Others like McClure miss the point entirely when they try to fit Gandhi into standard models of science and find him lacking, rather than questioning modern experimental methods (1997).

To add to this 'missing' Gandhi in science policy studies in the missing 'science' in Gandhian studies. Studies on Gandhi have largely focused on his political philosophy with little, if any reference to his views on science. Though the political scientist Parekh had correctly argued that "a good deal needs to be done on his [Gandhi's] conception of the mature of science [and] his reason for using the language of research and experiments" (1989b), work on Gandhi's science has been limited. Some recent scholarship has indeed attempted to make good this lack. For instance, Uberoi sees Gandhi as having a distinct theory and practice of the scientific experiment as well as a scientific explanation that presupposed the equality of man and nature (1982). Nandy argues that Gandhi was not opposed to technology per se but to technologism, which was a condition that created a hierarchical relationship between man (those who possess technology) and man (those who do not), and man and nature. Gandhi, according to him, judged a technology not on the grounds of what it replaced, represented or symbolized (1985).

Sahasrabuddhe whose work exclusively focuses on what he terms the 'science question' argues that there is little work from the Gandhian angle on science though a lot has been written on his opposition to machinery. He sees Gandhi's 'life-work' as paving the way for a new dynamic theory of man-man and man-nature relations that do not separate fact from value. He sees Gandhi's critique of modern science hidden in his critique of modern western civilization and argues that it is only through his general philosophy - metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, ethics, logic and politics - that one can construct his view of science (1991, 1997). Visvanathan sees him as one of the great and most inventive of scientists of the swadeshi era. To escape the modern west, Gandhi had to subvert or transform science, playfully and politically. According to him Gandhi's was a fluid science of resistance. In Gandhi's altered organization of science, science would need money the least and that there would be instead of big laboratories, ashrams and gurukuls of science (1997: 212-44)

While the above studies have challenged Huxley's portrayal of Gandhi without being apologetic like Nehru, there still remain some questions. They have all used Hind Swaraj (1909) as the main text in their analysis. While it is true that most of his radical critiques of science and modern professions appeared in Hind Swaraj, the keen interest that Gandhi expressed for an alternate path in science finds little mention in this book. In fact, science finds no direct mention in Hind Swaraj. Yet given its importance in Gandhi's critique of modern civilization, it has been the main source or text for scholars studying Gandhian thought and by extension science. Out attempt here would be to show that such efforts are grossly inadequate in understanding Gandhi's views on science. There is enough evidence of Gandhi expressing himself directly on the subject in many of his other writings. On khadi and education, and almost throughout his Collected Works, in letters to his co-workers and speeches, Gandhi regularly uses the term 'science'.3 These could be seen as new sites to explore his writings on science. Historically too, the emphasis on Hind Swaraj freezes Gandhi's view on science to 1909, ignoring 39 years of his scientific practice since then. Another site that is often used to study Gandhi's scientific metaphor that he used for his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, is well known. Similarly, the fact that he made several experiments in the field of brahmacharya, dietetics and food. However, the notion of the experiment in his public life has not been examined adequately.

This paper has been organized into four parts. We first explore Gandhi's qualified critique of science by looking at his early writings on science covering his South African days. In it we highlight his critique of the separation of science and morality. We also explore his institutional experiments on his arrival in India and look at Gandhi's response to his science critics covering the period from 1915 to the mid-1920s. The period is significant for the non co-operation movement and his views on machinery received critical responses from intellectuals, which forced Gandhi to articulate his position on machinery and science.

In the second part we look at his fundamental critique of existing scientific practice through the case of vivisection - a part of normal science - and Ayurveda - a traditional Hindu system. We then, in the third part, examine khadi, perhaps the best site for his experiments in an alternative science practice. We trace his usage of the term "science of khadi" and see how he tries to make improvements in machinery, highlighting his lesser-known creative attitude of science focusing on the thirties. We review some of the institutional innovations and constructive programmes that sought to take this science to the village. We conclude in the last section by highlighting the distinguishing features of his method and its underlying cosmology.


Gandhi's Early Critique of Science

Modern civilization, far from having done the greatest good to humanity, has forgotten that its greatest achievements are weapons of mass destruction, the awful growth of anarchism, the frightful disputes between capital and labour and the wanton and diabolical cruelty inflicted on innocent, dumb, living animals in the name of science, falsely so called (CW1: 189-91). The boast about the wonderful discoveries and the marvelous inventions of science, good as they undoubtedly are in themselves, is, after all, an empty boast (CW3: 414).

The above quotes indicate Gandhi's strong views on science very early in his public life. The use of the phrase 'falsely so-called' indicates that Gandhi believed that the prevailing practice of science had defects but this was not necessarily intrinsic to the scientific quest. Nor was such a condition irremediable warranting a total rejection. There was a need for the scientific enterprise to undergo a course correction. This qualified criticism becomes clearer in his response to members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science who visited South Africa in 1904. Gandhi commended the association's effort in popularizing science and in bringing Britain and the colonies closer to each other. In pursuance of the latter, he suggested that the association should meet in India and be renamed as the 'British Empire Association for the Advancement of Science'. Such a visit, according to Gandhi, would be greatly to the advantage not only to India, but the association as well (CW 5: 46).

This seemingly innocuous move for a change of name is actually an early indication of his differences with the liberal view of the British and members of the Indian elite like Ram Mohan Roy who saw in the in the introduction of western science in India the key to India's emancipation. On the contrary, Gandhi placed science in the larger context of decolonization. The scientist, he believed, was to benefit equally from interaction with the colonies and its subjects. Popularization of science, Gandhi suggested was not a linear transfer of knowledge from the expert to the lay person but had to be a collaborative effort. It was only thus that science too could benefit from the process. The inclusion of the colonial subject was to Gandhi a starting point for the re-articulation of the content and not just the context of an alternate and non-violent science that had to include the claims of dumb, subhuman creatures as well.

Gandhi's critique of science emanates from his dissatisfaction with the divorce of science and progress from morality. He often quoted the scientist Alfred Wallace to argue that people's moral sense had in no way improved as a result of scientific discoveries. The advance of science had added "not an inch to the moral stature of Europe". It had not reduced hatred and injustice (CW 12: 146; 16: 1106-08 and 18: 235-36).

Gandhi's early critique of civilization and the modern professions found expression in some of his works, notably Hind Swaraj. However, despite his critique of modern science, he was appreciative of the spirit of modern scientists. Amongst the largely Indian readers of Indian Opinion (begun in 1903), Gandhi sought to inculcate the courage and spirit of inquiry of the scientist. The journal carried examples of scientists that Gandhi felt were worthy of emulation. In one such article, Gandhi praised Metussi's courage amidst danger in collecting data from the volcano Vesuvius while it was still active. He believed that, "when many Indians too of this caliber are born in India or South Africa, we shall cease to suffer as at present (CW 5: 286). The above instances of Gandhi's views on science from his early writings indicate that Gandhi's position on science was taking shape in South Africa. However, it is in his later years of stay in India that science finds increasing mention in Gandhi's writings, partly as a response to very many critics.

During the Non-Cooperation movement of 1919-20 and the popularization of khadi, in that period Gandhi was often questioned on his stand on machinery. Leaders like Tagore accused Gandhi of rejecting western science. Gandhi had to repeatedly clarity his stand on machinery and these have been extensively collated and quoted (Bhattacharya 1997, Parel 1997: 164-710).This material tends to highlight however the moral critique and portray Gandhi as anti-machine. They reveal little about his alternative practice evident from Gandhi's keen interest in improvements in machinery and various kinds of hand tools indicate the contrary. Gandhi claimed that he had no design on machinery as such and had no intention to put back the hand of the clock of progress. No disturbance had been created by machinery that could not be corrected. It was a mental state that had to be put right (CW 19: 241; 221: 114). It is this principle that was to guide him in his search for improved tools.

This attitude is perhaps best revealed in his letter to Daniel Hamilton on the newly begun khadi movements. Gandhi requested Hamilton not to be prejudiced by "anything you might have heard about my strange views on machinery". He added, "India does not need to be industrialized in the modern sense of the term" (CW 22: 401, emphasis added). The modern way, Gandhi suggests, is not the only way to industrialize a nation. This different path of progress holds the key to Gandhi's science through which the khadi movement was seeking to re-define machinery. As her argued he was not a romantic or a mystic out to "spiritualize machinery, but to introduce a human or the humane spirit among the men behind the machinery". The message of the Charkha, he reminded his American friends, was universal and would show for Lancashire as well so that they would have to cease to use machinery for exploitation (CW 28: 188).

It is perhaps not a matter of accident that the more radical of his critiques on machinery and modern 'civilization' was in interviews with the 'moderns' both in India and abroad. His writings on science addressed to his co-workers in India had a different colour altogether. It is in these letters, addresses and conversations that we get clues to the nature and scope of his alternative science. The Non-Cooperation movement placed Gandhi as the nation's foremost political leader. Strangely though, Gandhi's own self image was not that of a politician or a saint but that of a scientist:

It (saint) is too sacred a word to be lightly applied to anybody, much less to one like myself who claims only to be a humble searcher after truth, knows his limitations, makes mistakes, never hesitates to admit them when he makes them, and frankly confesses that he, like a scientist, is making experiments about some of 'the eternal verities' of life (CW 17: 405-6).

We will explore this in Gandhi's views on vivisection as a critique of the existing scientific practice and on Ayurveda as a critique of techno-revivalism.In the next section, we will focus instead on his understanding of khadi as a practice on an alternate science. Defending himself against the charge of being anti-science Gandhi often admitted that though he was not an 'unmixed' admirer of science, he was not a sentimental proponent of tradition. This is evident from his ongoing dialogues with Ayurveda scholars. Gandhi remained aware that one could not live without science, provided though it was kept in its right place. He had seen the misuse of science in his travels round the world and believed that there were limitations even to scientific search.


Existing Scientific Practice: Vivisection and Ayurveda

The practice of vivisection for Gandhi was a shining example of the need for such limitation in modern scientific research particularly since the practice of inflicting pain and violence on live animals was a part of the experimental method 'normal' to modern science. Premised on a mechanistic notion of the body and the universe, it legitimated the subjugation of the inferior non-human creation by and for the human. This to Gandhi was ethically and epistemically unacceptable. Recent critiques have highlighted vivi-sectory practice not only in medicine as a machine, but in the concentration camps of Hitler and the bombing of Hiroshima during second world war (Visvanathan 1997: 15-47). Gandhi's writings on a nonviolent cosmology anticipated these criticisms as far back as the early 1920s and also argued that criticism must include a different conception of the experiment and not just be reduced to the realms of humanistic despair.

Vivisection according to Gandhi had not added "an inch to our moral height". Though the scientific spirit of the west commanded his admiration it was qualified, because the scientist of the west took no note of God's lower creation:

I abhor vivisection with my whole soul. I detest the unpardonable slaughter of innocent life in the name of science and humanity so-called, and all the scientists' discoveries stained with innocent blood I count of no consequence. If the circulation of blood theory could not have been discovered without vivisection the human kind could well have done without it. And I see the day clearly dawning when the honest scientist of the west will put limitations upon the present methods of pursuing knowledge. Future measurements will take note not only of the human family, but of all that lives and even as we are slowly but surely discovering that it is an error to suppose that Hindus can thrive upon the degradation of a fifth of themselves or that peoples of the west can rise or live upon the exploitation and degradation of the eastern and African nations, so shall we realise in the fullness of time, that our dominion over the lower order of creation is not for their slaughter, but for their benefit equally with ours. For I am as certain that they are endowed with a soul as that I am. (CW 29: 325-26).

Through practices like vivisection modern medical science to him divorced itself from true religion and had separated the body and soul. By disregarding the claims of subhuman creation, man, instead of being lord and protector of the lower animal kingdom, had become its tyrant:

Vivisection in my opinion is the blackest of all the blackest crimes that man is at present committing against god and his fair creation. We should be able to refuse to live if the price of living be the torture of sentient beings (CW 19: 357-58).

Scientists, in Gandhi's conception needed to recognise their own role in the cosmos. What science saw as progress, Gandhi wanted to qualify based on his experiences of the colonized and as a spokesperson for the dumb creation. For Gandhi, the real challenge of science lay in carrying out experiments not on the 'other' - the colonized, the excommunicated brothers, or the dumb creatures - but on the self. With this view he exhorted the science students to work with their hands, as science was one of the few things that involved accuracy of thought and accuracy of handling:

Students in India labour under one very serious disability. Those who go in for this class of education or for higher education are drawn from the middle class. Unfortunately for us and unfortunately for our country, the middle classes have almost lost the use of their hands.....Science is essentially one of those things in which theory alone is of no value whatsoever... Unless our hands go hand in hand with our heads we would be able to do nothing whatsoever. (CW 29: 326-27).

Asking the students to follow the two most brilliant examples of Indian scientists who carried their profession for the sake of it, namely, J C Bose and P C Ray, he remarked, "They cultivated it (science) for the sake of it....their researches have been devoted in order to enable us to come nearer to our maker.....I feel that we are placed on this earth to adore our maker, to know ourselves, in other words, to realise ourselves and therefore to realise our destiny" (CW 29: 326-27). Despite his radical criticism of the anthropomorphism of modern medicine inherent in the practice of vivisection, Gandhi was deeply appreciative of modern scientists' humility and spirit of inquiry, a spirit that he felt traditional people solely lacked. This comes through in his dialogue with Ayurvedic scholars. Gandhi's severe critique of western medicine for practising vivisection and thereby disregarding the claims of the non-human creation was presumed upon a different cosmology of the god-man-nature relationship - one which was non-hierarchical and non-violent.

Traditional medicines like Ayurveda and Unani, Gandhi felt, had unlike western science, maintained a relation between science and religion, body and soul, but had not inculcated the spirit of research that fired modern science and gave it contemporary relevance. In 1921, inaugurating the Tibbia College at Delhi, Gandhi expounded his views on modern and traditional medicine. His speech started with his radical and then well known critique of modern medicine. In the same speech however, he lauded the spirit of inquiry of the modern scientists:

I would like to pay my humble tribute to the spirit of research that fires the modern scientists. My quarrel is not against that spirit. My complaint is against the direction that the spirit had taken. It has chiefly concerned itself with the exploration of laws and methods conducing to the merely material advancement of its clientele. But I have nothing but praise for the zeal, industry and sacrifice that have animated the modern scientists in the pursuit after truth. I regret to have to record my opinion based on considerable experience that our hakims and vaids (ayurvedic practitioners) not exhibit that spirit in any mentionable degree. They follow without question formulas. They carry on little investigation. The condition of indigenous medicine is truly deplorable. Not having kept abreast of modern research, their profession has fallen largely into disrepute. I am hoping that this college will try to remedy this grave defect and restore Ayurvedic and Unani medical sciences to its pristine glory. I am glad, therefore, that this institution has its western wing (CW 19: 357-58).

In 1925, he was asked to speak at the Ayurvedic Pharmacy, Madras and later in the same year to inaugurate the Ashtanga Ayurvedic Vidyalaya at Calcutta. On both these occasions, he reminded those who had gathered of his criticism of the vaids. He was pained by the large-scale advertisements primarily of Ayurvedic tonics as sexual stimulants, ample proof that Ayurvedic physicians were merely trying to capitalize on the pastglories of Ayurveda for the market without any genuine research. He bemoaned the fact that there was no association of Ayurvedic physicians that protested against these immoral business and ethical practices. Testifying to the spirit of the western physicians, he remarked that despite his strong views on modern medicine the one thing that it had in its favour was the humility of its practitioners and its research. He wished that this spirit would fire the Ayurvedic physicians too. Ayurveda's lost glory could only be recovered if the vaids acquired honesty of purpose and pursued the research spirit of the west (CW 26: 388; 27: 44-45).

Gandhi's controversial speech at Calcutta evoked a letter Kaviraj Gananath Sen, a senior practitioner, asking that Gandhi clarify his stand on Ayurveda. In his response, Gandhi repeated that many Ayurvedic practitioners were mere quacks pretending to know much more than they actually did and arrogating to themselves an infallibility and ability to cure all diseases. Instead of studying the Ayurvedic system and wresting from it secrets which appeared to be completely hidden from the world, they imputed to Ayurveda omnipotence making it a stagnant system instead of a gloriously progressive science. His criticism was about the lack of humility and complacency of professors of Ayurveda and not the discipline itself. He remarked provocatively that: "I know of not a single discovery or invention of any importance on the part of Ayurvedic physicians as against a brilliant array of discoveries and inventions which western physicians and surgeons boast". Elaborating his position as some vaids were not satisfied with Gandhi's response, Gandhi added:

I do like everything that is ancient and noble, but I utterly dislike a parody of it. And I must respectfully refuse to believe that ancient books are the last word on the matters treated in them. As a wise heir to the ancients, I am desirous of adding to and enriching the legacy inherited by us (CW 27: 344).

Gandhi's position on science was not for empty revivalism. He maintained a fine yet distinct line that was critical of the prevalent practices of the vaids and full of praise for the modern doctors. At the same time it was also an endorsement of the Ayurvedic system as a coherent system comparable to modern science. The assertion that ancient texts were not the last word was to him an axiom that would pave the way for further research creating new textbooks in a contemporary context. The vaids he observed had not yet created a contemporary Charkha Samhita (the classic Ayurvedic treatise).

Gandhi's position can be appreciated better if one notes the contexts of his criticisms. His open criticisms were from within, those of an internal critique, made from platforms such as opening of Ayurvedic colleges or through his journal. He felt the need to revitalise a tradition whose self-reflective practices had either been lost or become blunt with disuse. He wanted to reform it from the inside and not by pitting it against a more competitive and organized system from the outside. This role of the internal reformer that Gandhi saw for himself becomes clear by examining the detailed correspondences he had with individual practitioners. Through dialogues with them, he sought to raise and answer questions and get them to undertake research. He even offered himself and his own institutions as sites for experimentation. Through this process, he wanted to create a few satyagrahi scientists amongst them. For he believed, like in the field of politics, that a few satyagrahis of purity of character and faith was all that it would take to turn the tide.

One such vaidya with whom he had a dialogue was Gangadhar Shastri Joshi. Gandhi enquired from him in what was Ayurvedic treatment superior to the allopathic treatment? How was Ayurveda aimed at purifying the whole system rather than affording only temporary relief? Was there any progressive research work being done either in Ayurvedic materia medica or in any other branch of medicine or surgery in terms of Ayurveda (CW 33: 439)?The letter is indicative of Gandhi's intention to focus the critique of the discipline vis--vis allopathy and to learn about the discipline. A month later he wrote again to Joshi saying that he had found Ayurveda to be neither cheap nor simple or efficacious. Some of the prescriptions were most complicated. Even for simple home treatment, he had been obliged to use allopathic drugs. For instance, he remarked that he found nothing as efficacious as quinine for malaria or iodine for simple pains or Condy's fluid as a disinfectant (CW 34: 199).

This dialogue with the vaids continued for several years. While in Sevagram in January 1945, Gandhi became seriously ill experimenting with the Ayurvedic system.To Shiv Sharma the vaidya who treated him, he said that despite its failure to cure him, he was keen to spread Ayurveda. But it was only when a 'true practitioner' of Ayurveda went to the villages that this would happen. Through his dialogue with the vaids, Gandhi was seeking to explore if the system could he reformed and in a sense upgraded. He was curious to know for instance if Homeopathy or Ayurveda could cure the cholera that had broken out in Sevagram and if experiments could be conducted in that direction (CW 79: 42; 81: 222, 224).

Gandhi's search for a true practitioner, his satyagrahi scientist, was not a completely successful one. Yet, from his writings, especially his letters to the vaids, we can get an idea of the method that he would have pursued. To Vallabhram Vaidya, a practitioner who he believed had qualities of the satyagrahi scientist he was looking for, Gandhi indicated that he and a few others should get together, form a team and train volunteers. He offered to absorb these volunteers in his own institutions even if they had no degrees (CW 85: 458).We find similar echoes in his Key to Health wherein he talks about the kind of organisation that would be required for a revitalized health care system. Though mentioned in the context of nature cure, the statements would be applicable to Ayurveda too. Nature cure to Gandhi was not a drug cure but a way of life to be learnt, which placed theon us on the patient's self curing abilities. Gandhi felt that although the medical profession had taken up some nature cure methods, overall they had given a cold shoulder to naturopathy. The medical professionals presented an attitude of indifference, if not that of contempt, for anything that lay outside their groove. On the other hand, the nature curists nursed a feeling of grievance against the medicos and in spite of their very limited scientific knowledge, made tall claims. They also lacked the spirit of organisation with each one being self-satisfied and working in isolation instead of pooling their resources for the advancement of their system. No one tried to work out in a scientific spirit all the implications and possibilities of the system. It was his conviction that as long as some dynamic personality, from among the naturopaths themselves, did not come forward with zeal of a missionary, the present state of affairs would continue. It would be asking for too much to expect the medical profession to put faith, all of a sudden, in things that were yet to be fully tested and scientifically proven (CW 77: 25-26).

Gandhi's experiments and suggestions in Ayurveda did not reach fruition in his time as he could not see it through. We thus perhaps do not have a clear empirical case to see how Gandhi's science was translated in practice in the area of health. The above dimension illustrates that in Gandhi's method for organising science it is the individual scientist, rather than physical resources, which hold the key to change, His whole method hinged on finding or creating such scientists. In khadi, Gandhi came closest to finding such a science and his ideal practitioner - the satyagrahi scientist, Manganlal Gandhi.


Alternative Scientific Practice: Khadi

It is in the khadi movement that the Gandhian understanding of science was translated most into practice leading to the coinage of new terms such as the 'science of the spinning wheel' and later 'khadi science'. Gandhi's extensive use of the term 'science' is found in speeches and discussions with khadi workers. He wanted these workers to become satyagrahi scientists. The Satyagraha Ashram at Ahmedabad provided the necessary institutional base for training satyagrahi scientists needed for the khadi movement. Foremost amongst them was Maganlal Gandhi, the manager of the Satyagraha Ashram and a long-standing associate of Gandhi. Maganlal was able to translate many of Gandhi's ideas and vision into reality. The ashram in Ahmedabad functioned as a laboratory, educational and training institution and a production house.

For Gandhi, the knowledge of the 'science of spinning' was critical to the success of the khadi movement and he therefore urged all community workers to be well versed in it. Gandhi believed that only those who had a thorough knowledge of both theoretical and practical aspects of the science of spinning could become village workers. The rigorous technical criteria for khadi workers indicate how Gandhi envisaged the community worker as a scientist. The worker was to be well versed in all aspects of cloth making. He was to know the different varieties of cotton and the method of picking cotton suitable for hand spinning. He had to know how to gin and the varieties of hand-gins used in Indian villages. The worker had also to be able to test the strength, evenness, and counts of yarn, know a good Charkha from a bad one, be able to put dilapidated Charkhas under repair and he able to straighten an incorrect spindle (CW 33: 151-52).

Gandhi warned workers that this science of the spinning wheel was by no means trivial, often the task involved greater care that in the mill processes. Unlike in mill-spinning cotton for hand spinning, if not properly picked, would make the yarn stronger. Then again, the mills did not have to bother whether the cotton seeds remained intact in ginning, but khadi workers could not afford to be careless in this matter. The seeds had to retain their properties and had to be fed to the cattle and oil extracted from them (CW 39: 222).

The Charkha to Gandhi was also a grand and noble science:

I call it grand because the more closely we study it the more we discover in it. And we need as much skill to attain proficiency in it as any other major craft. I call this noble because it touches millions of people (CW 33: 44).

The rediscovery of the "cunning of the hands" that was presently lost hut had earlier brought fame to Indian textiles, would require the same kind of attention that Bose and Raman gave to their work:

The science of khadi requires technical and mechanical skill of a high order and demands as much concentration as is given by Sir J C Bose to the tiny leaves of plants in his laboratory before he wrests from them the secrets of nature held by these fellow creatures of ours (CW 59: 127).

While much of his attempts to inculcate the spirit of the science of the Charkha were directed at khadi workers, students of his institutions and the Congress, he also sought to further his idea amongst modern scientists. He did not want khadi scientists to be working in isolation from the latter. In 1927 when he addressed students at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, he reminded them of their responsibility to society and the need to combine both heart and mind in their research and experiments:

If we were to meet the villagers and to explain to them how we are utilising their money on buildings and plants which will never benefit them, but might perhaps benefit their posterity, they will not understand it. They will turn a cold shoulder. But we never take them into our confidence; we take it as a matter of right, and forge that the rule of 'no taxation without representation' applies to them too....." the properties of some ......chemicals..... take years of experiments to explore. But who will try to explore these villages? Just as some of the experiments in your laboratories go on for 24 hours, let the big corner in your heart remain perpetually warm for the benefit of the poor millions....I expect much more from you than the ordinary man in the street. I tell you, you can devise a far greater wireless instrument, which does not require external research, but internal - and all research will be useless if it is not allied to internal research - which can link your hearts with those of the millions. Unless all the discoveries that you make have the welfare of the poor as the end in view, all your workshops will be really no better than satan's workshops (CW 34: 156-157).

Thus while on the one hand, Gandhi wanted his village workers to be confident of their science, on the other, he felt that the modern scientists had to take the villagers into confidence in their scientific pursuits...

Throughout his tours to various parts of the country, Gandhi emphasised the need for knowledge of the science of spinning and often personally inspected the various wheels of operation. While he did emphasise the importance of the technical aspects, he did not see the science of the Charkha in purely material terms but as a social process that would create the right atmosphere. The task of the students of the national schools was not just in knowing the science of the wheel. This science had an important role in the creation of the 'Charkha atmosphere'. Gandhi was clear that unless these scientists of the national schools were to spin themselves the movement was unlikely to succeed. This emphasis on 'spinning for sacrifice' (see below) and the creation of the 'Charkha atmosphere' led him to introduce a spinning franchise in the Congress constitution that made it mandatory for every congressman to spin for half an hour a day.He was convinced that the middle classes should take actively to spinning. "Let me point out from my own experience and that of co-workers that khadi work will not flourish unless the principal workers know the science of ginning, carding, spinning" (CW 32: 30). In a letter to Purushottam, he linked the slow spread of the movement to the fact that there were still very few persons who recognized "spinning as a science and are interested in it as a science" (CW 42: 127).


Improvements in Spinning

The Charkha atmosphere created by Gandhi's army of committed scientists had an important consequence in bringing about improvements in the various processes and the machinery of spinning.The unique concept of 'spinning for sacrifice' was his and the khadi movements original contribution to science in civil society:

If you will yourself spin, the quality of spinning will improve. Those who spin for wages must naturally be impatient.They will continue to spin the count that they are accustomed to.The task of improving the count of yarn essentially belongs to the research worker, the lover of spinning. This has been proved by experience.If there had not arisen a class of spinners, including both men and women, who spin purely out of a spirit of service the amazing progress that has been achieved in the quality of yarn would not have been possible.If you spin, your talents can be utilised in effecting improvements in the mechanism of the spinning-wheel.All the improvements that have been made in the mechanism of the spinning-wheel and the speed of spinning up till now are solely due to the efforts of those devoted workers who spin for sacrifice (CW 30: 309-10, emphasis added).

Inaugurating the Khadi Service, he reiterated that:

The science of hand-spinning is capable of progressive improvement.Researches that are being made from time to time show that there is room for the best among us to apply themselves to the development of the art so that without extra effort or time the income of millions, for whom hand-spinning is designed, may be almost doubled (CW 32: 447).

Thus, it was only when there were several satyagrahi scientists who practised science for sacrifice that the Charkha would acquire new meanings. Gandhi believed that meaning had to be given to the Charkha and was not necessarily intrinsic to it. The spinning wheel has no such inherent property as the quinine pill. It was for the satyagrahi scientists to discover this meaning. He remarked despite the fact that village crafts like the wheel had been in India for a long time, the tremendous possibilities hidden in them could only be realised if they were plied by awakened masses as a means for attaining freedom (CW 68: 256, 69: 241). The Charkha, Gandhi reminded students of the national school, was an instrument of service:

In a national school therefore, where the nation expects us to train national servants, the scheme of studies will centre round the Charkha. It is a science in itself and it is a science which gives us a knowledge of the means of ameliorating the condition of the masses (CW 33: 56-7).

Gandhi's keen interest in improvements in machinery and various kinds of hand tools for spinning is evident from his correspondence with many inventors. These letters reveal a new dimension to his controversial views on machinery. Gandhi offered the ashram as a place where these implements could be tested. He instituted prizes for an improved spinning wheel. The first such prize in 1921 was for Rs 5,000 and amount that increased in 1929 to Rs 1 lakh hoping to attract inventors from all over the world. His journals often carried articles of machines that seemed to be in the spirit of the khadi movement in India but were invented elsewhere (CW 68: 399-400).

Apart from improvements in the spinning wheel, Gandhi was also on the lookout for a machine that would turn out good spindles. The straightening of the spindles at the ashram was a laborious process and imposed a strain upon the eyes of the mender. He was not in favour of hand tools in case there was drudgery in the work and was deeply concerned about the effect tools had on the worker's health. It was this concern that made him and the All India Spinners Association (AISA) search for a machine to straighten spindles. To the superintendent of a government workshop, Gandhi wrote enquiring if there was any machine that could straighten out spindles that had become bent or crooked. Improvements in machines to Gandhi were to be carried out in detail in immediate contexts. He was no Luddite or traditionalist out to preserve dying techniques at any cost. Where "absolutely necessary" the khadi worker was not to hesitate to introduce machinery (CW 36: 347, 37: 211, 41: 511).

At the same time improvements in machinery were to be pursued without sacrificing certain limiting principles. The quote below in the context of the All-India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) that he instituted in 1934 (see below) indicate his view on speed and efficiency as the main criteria in improved machines:

The village movement, as I conceive it, does not discount speed or efficiency of production. Our village folk need all the efficiency that we can give them and more. The AIVIA is doing its level best to increase the speed of production consistently with its ideal and self-imposed limits. Already the speed of the 'takli' (distaff) has been increased beyond the wildest expectations of its protagonists. But this was achieved without the slightest sacrifice of the principle of rural mindedness. More, I claim that the marvelous ingenuity and skill which rendered this possible could only spring from a village brain. The limiting principle that was kept in view in effecting improvement in the speed of the takli, the spinning wheel and other domestic tools should hold good in respect of the writing pen too (CW 65: 210-11).

To a socialist friend who queried him on his views on electricity he said:

If we could have electricity in every village home, I should not mind villagers plying their implements and tools with the help of electricity. But then the village communities or the state would own power houses, just as they have their grazing pastures. But where there is no electricity and no machinery, what are idle hands to do? (CW: 61: 187).

Scientists in civil society could not ignore the question of ownership of their inventions. Ownership had to be with the commons. Thus far from a model of static continuation of existing technologies, Gandhi was for improvements in machinery when they were in favour of the villager.

By the mid-1930s these views were crystallized under the framework of khadi science and articulated in a series of articles in Harijan (begun in 1933). Gandhi's key axiom was that everything could be turned into a science or a romance if there was a scientific or a romantic spirit behind it. Khadi, he argued, would cease to be an object of ridicule if it was attributed with meaning. The potency of khadi could not be achieved as a mantra by pursuing it mindlessly as a needy artisan who gins, cards, spins or weaves because he must for his bread. Gandhi's scientist would pursue it in a deliberate, wise, methodical manner and in a scientific spirit realizing that: "A science to be science must afford the fullest scope for satisfying the hunger of the body, mind and soul" (CW 64: 268).

To Gandhi, Maganlal was one such scientist who had a 'living faith' in the potency of khadi. Maganlal had laid bare the foundation of khadi science in his classic book - Vanaat Sastra (Charkha Sastra in English, 1924). Richard Gregg, the American who was interested in industrial relations and attracted to the khadi movement, too had the same fire in him and gave khadi a universal meaning through his Economics of Khaddar (1928).Both had recognized that the spinning wheel was the technology par excellence of nonviolence. He wanted Maganlal's classic Vanaat Sastra updated and extended to other fields too. Gandhi saw Maganlal as a model satyagrahi scientist and wanted others to follow him. Though Maganlal had not specialized in all the various crafts that were being pursued by AIVIA, his khadi activity was it precursor providing the nucleus round which the village industries movement flourished. Gandhi believed that every field had to find its own 'science men'. The khadi movement had found one such in Maganlal but it and Gandhi needed more. Jhaverbhai Patel of Maganwadi was studying the 'ghani' (traditional oil making machine) in all its aspects "with zeal and precision of a scientist". The village 'chakki' and the village sugar can crusher, however, were yet to discover their science men (CW 64: 268, 362; 67: 256; 70: 120-21).

In 1933 Gandhi formally dissolved the Sabarmati Ashram. After his Harijan Tour to various parts of the country he shifted his base to Wardha and finally to Sevagram a year later. He had also resigned from the primary membership of the Indian National Congress. His years after 1933 were aimed at working on the content and structure of the independence that he visualised in Hind Swaraj. During his Harijan Tour it occurred to him that the khadi effort was inadequate in rejuvenating the villages and was becoming a 'lifeless symbol'. It was confined to a very few and he observed that even those who used khadi exclusively were under the impression that they might use other things irrespective of how and where they were made. If such a state of things was allowed to go on, he feared that khadi might even die of sheer inanition. In the following section, we look at how the basic khadi model for Gandhian science was applied in other areas and how its limiting principle was applied.


AIVIA and Science for the Villages

Keen on tackling the twin problems of Indian society - idleness and the snapped link between the villages and the town-dwellers - Gandhi's scientific activities expanded beyond khadi. During the tour it occurred to him that the village industries were gradually slipping out of the hands of the villager, who had become a mere producer of raw materials. The villager gave and got little in return. The artisan too had lost his creativity and partook of the resourcelessness of the rest of the village. It is with this vision of "reinstating the villager" that Gandhi constituted the AIVIA in November 1,1934

Gandhi found the task was not easy. He felt out of depth while researching it:

Here the field is so vast, there is such an infinite variety of industries to handle and organise, that it will tax all our business talent, expert knowledge and scientific abilities to this supreme purpose. Thus, I sent a questionnaire to several of our well known doctors and chemists, asking them to enlighten me on the chemical analysis and different food values of polished and unpolished rice, jaggery and sugar, and so on. Many friends, I am thankful to say, have immediately responded, but only to confess that there has been no research in some of the directions I had inquired about. Is it not a tragedy that no scientist should be able to give me the chemical analysis of such a simple article as gur? The is that we not thought of the villager (CW 59: 409).

Elaborating on the organisational difficulties he would have, Gandhi emphasised the importance of the scientific challenge ahead:

What kinds of laboratory research shall we have to go in for? We shall need a number of scientists and chemists prepared to lay not only their expert knowledge at our disposal, but to sit down in our laboratories and to devote hours of time, free of charge, to experiments in the direction I have indicated. We shall have not only to publish the results from time to time, but we shall have to inspect and certify various products (CW 59: 409).

The board of advisers of 20 members of AIVIA thus included eminent scientists like C V Raman, P C Ray, J C Bose and Sam Higginbotham. Gandhi felt that there was a need for "centralisation not of administration, but of thought, ideas and scientific knowledge".

From 1934 onwards Gandhi's emphasis moves clearly to "science for the villages". In his speeches Gandhi emphasised "rural mindedness" just as he had emphasised the creation of the "Charkha atmosphere" in the 1920s. To him "rural mindedness" was no "mere detail, but a prime necessity". Though the first step towards rural mindedness was taken at the Ahmedabad exhibition in 1921, it was only in 1936 at the Khadi and Village Industries Exhibition at Lucknow that a concrete conception of a rural exhibition had reached maturity (CW 60: 152,256; 69: 297-98).

The concept of rural mindedness was to repeatedly appear in Gandhi's writings and speeches:

You cannot build non-violence on a factory civilization, but it can be built on self-contained villages. Even if Hitler was so minded, he could not devastate seven hundred thousand non-violent villages. He would himself become non-violent in the process. Rural economy as I have conceived it eschews exploitation altogether and exploitation is the essence of violence. You have therefore to be rural minded before you can be nonviolent, and to be rural minded you have to have faith in the spinning wheel (CW 70: 295).


Crafts and Indian Science Education

One of Gandhi's earliest experiments, both at the Ashram and outside was in the field of science education. Gandhi's educational scheme was based on an emphasis on the role of manual work, practical training and the use of the vernacular as a medium of instruction. Gandhi was keen to break the vice like grip tat the English medium had on education in science. He cited Japan as an example of an educational system that taught science in the vernacular. To teachers and students of the Gujarat Vidyapith he urged the learning of science through the vernacular, adopting English words wherever technically necessary but giving explanations only in Gujarati (CW 39: 396). This vision of using the vernacular for scientific matters was translated into action by the khadi movement both during and after his death. Amongst Gandhi's other major institutional innovation in the 1930s was Nai Talim (or basic education). It is in his writings on Nai Talim that we find Gandhi's unique explanation to the question that has troubled many sociologists of science namely, 'Why did India not have the industrial revolution?'.

Gandhi's critique of education, both modern and traditional, was based on the place of manual and crafts work in its overall scheme. He was convinced that:

The utterly false idea that intelligence can be developed only through book reading should give place to the truth that the quickest development of the mind can be achieved by artisan's work being learnt in a scientific manner. True development of the mind commences immediately the apprentice is taught at every step why a particular manipulation of the hand or a tool is required (CW 64: 2119).

Indian education had separated the mind and body, reserving the former to the sciences and the latter to occupations through vocational education. He wanted teachers to make the distinction between vocational training as a science and vocational training as a trade. He did not want to teach industry and handicrafts in the traditional way but wanted crafts as a living medium of instruction (CW 65: 389; 69: 203-05). Indians, according to him had not developed its scientist-engineers like in the west because:

We are apt to think lightly of the village crafts because we have divorced educational from manual training. Manual work has been regarded as something inferior, and owing to the wretched distortion of the varna, we came to regard spinners and weavers and carpenters and shoemakers as belonging to the inferior castes and the proletariat. We have had no Comptons and Hargreaves3 because of this vicious system of considering the crafts as something inferior divorced from the skilled. If they had been regarded as callings having an independent status of their own equal to the status that learning enjoyed, we should have had great inventors from among our craftsmen. Of course the 'spinning-jenny' led on to the discovery of water power and other things which made the mill displace the labour of thousands of people. That was, in my view, a monstrosity. We will by concentrating on the villages see that the inventive skill that an intensive learning of the craft will stimulate will subserve the needs of the villager as a whole (CW 66: 137-38).

This quote, typical of Gandhi's writings starts firstly with a critique and explanation for the existing state of affairs but soon moves towards an alternative path. To Gandhi, it did not follow from the 'logic of history' or 'destiny' that the industrial revolution was inevitable firstly in the west and later in the rest of the world. On the contrary, Gandhi by giving primacy to the agency and intention of the scientist-experimenter, arguing that what had historically happened was an accident and not an immutable law. There could be another path, an alternate science, where the inventive genius of Compton and Hargreaves need not necessarily lead to monstrous results but instead contribute to communities as a whole.

Pointing to the English 'genius' for developing crafts, he reiterated that unless the Indian educational system recognised this, the creative capacities of the populace could not be awakened. His reform of the system was based on the fact that the occupational training then was not serving an educational purpose. Many skills were lost to the countryside resulting in poor workmanship that made it difficult to find an efficient carpenter or smith in a village. The remedy lay in imparting the whole art and science of a craft through practical training and through imparting education (CW 66: 234).

Following his critique of traditions from the standpoint of a believer, he argues that the stagnation in matters of science was inevitable if the practice of untouchability persisted.

We look down upon those who do manual work. Had we assigned to craftsmen and artisans a place of dignity in society, like other countries we too would have produced many scientists and engineers (CW 88: 207).

It is clear that in Gandhi's Nai Talim, science education was not to proceed by pursuing islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. Work was to be done on the base of education so that no hierarchies o knowledge were created between the scientists as experts and the people. He wanted a proliferation of scientists and engineers in the villages, an increase in Indian's scientific manpower that would not be measured by the number of university degrees in science, but in creating scientists who would be true servants of the nation. Gandhi said that he was no opponent of higher education but the manner in which it was being imparted in the country. He remarked:

Under my scheme there would be more and better libraries, laboratories, and research institutes. Under it we should have an army of chemists, engineers and other experts who will be real servants of the nation and answer the varied and growing requirements of a people who are becoming increasingly conscious of their rights and wants. These experts would speak not a foreign language but the language of the people. The knowledge gained by them will be the common property of the people. Only then would there be truly original work instead of mere imitation and the cost evenly and justly distributed (CW 73: 278).


Postgraduate Institute for Research

Significantly, most of Gandhi's attempts at institutional reorganization had their base in scientific research. When he reconstituted the Satyagraha Ashram in 1928 following Maganlal's death, he emphasised that the ashram was a "scientific and prayerful experiment". A month before his assassination, at a constructive workers' committee meeting, he had reiterated that he wanted the various Sanghs to become research laboratories in their respective fields (YI 14-6-28, CW 90: 215-19).

The Gandhi Seva Sangh was started in 1923 as a support structure for volunteers interested in constructive work, or "real politics" as Gandhi referred to it. In 1949 he wanted to recast it into a 'postgraduate institute for research' to be used as a platform to speak about science and research for the villagers. In 1937 at Hudli, Gandhi was keen that the members of the Sangh participate in politics. However in February 1940 at Malikanda, West Bengal, Gandhi sought a radical change in the direction of the Sangh that not only meant eschewing politics, but its reconstitution as a centre for science. He envisioned the Sangh as an organisation for postgraduate studies that would undertake a great deal of research for organisations like the AISA, AIVIA and the Talimi Sangh. By themselves, these could not take up such work to the required extent, as their field of activity was limited. Then main task of the Seva Sangh, in his conception, would be that of giving meaning to the wheel and disseminating this new knowledge. Towards this end he wanted the members to achieve perfection and specialise in some field and become experts by doing research and making discoveries in the post-graduate laboratory. These experts would specialise not for making money but for serving the poor and bettering their lot. On the method and task of such scientists in civil society, Gandhi emphasised:

You should have expert knowledge not only of the science of the spinning wheel, but also of the art of spinning. Your spinning wheel should work more efficiently than that of the Charkha Sangh. Your yarn should be fine, strong and may not snap. For the expert, his tools should be of the highest quality. There should be something special about your slivers, your implements. Your implements would be out of the ordinary. I do not wish to make you just skilled labourers. I want to make you expert craftsmen and scientific researchers. I expect something unique from you (CW 71: 280).

This scientist would like Vinoba Bhave, considered his spiritual successor (and earlier Maganlal), study the smallest detail and build up a "science around everything". Mere changes is technical processes alone would not suffice. Here Gandhi breaks the fact-value dichotomy by insisting that the scientist should be engaged in creating meaning as well:

You would not merely improve the tools and implements, but also see their conformity with our principles. You would have to see if the Charkha increases your non-violent powers. There may not be politics in the spinning wheel of the Charkha Sangh; but you would have to see if it... increases the strength of the people and whether, in free India, the economic provisions of swaraj could be based on the spinning wheel. Would it turn people into mere automatoms capable of physical labour or would it make them nonviolent soldiers of swaraj? (CW 71: 280).

Gandhi thus sought to create a new band of satyagrahis who would not march to Dandi and receive the blows of the lathi but who would become specialists in the science of non-violence. Gandhi's response to the Hitlerian science of violence was by engaging in research and experimentation in a new science of peace. Germany, he observed, was in need of specialists in the science of non-violence. The way of violence was old and established and it was not so difficult to do research in it (we have already noted his early views on vivisection and its violent cosmology). Now, he wanted his small centre of research to bring about a new social order based on truth and non-violence. He told the Sangh members that there was a wide scope for research and experiment in this field as it was new and needed all their talents. Through these experiments, they would be placing before the country and the world the ideal of a new culture. The "unity of body, mind and spirit" was universal. The concept of nonviolence it presumed belonged to the millions. Anything that could not reach the millions was not for him (CW 71: 260-76).

Without method and universalisability Gandhi was acutely aware that each of the individual constructive programmes like khadi, Nai Talim, etc. would end up being fetishised. It was the duty therefore of the scientists to work out and demonstrate wider meanings and to be constantly reflexive. When asked by a scientist who wished to know what men of science were to do if they were asked by the Indian government to engage in researches in furtherance of war and the atom bomb, Gandhi replied categorically: "Scientists to be worth the name should resist such a state unto death" (CW 89: 52). Clearly Gandhi's method had a dissenting element and was against the political and social isolation inherent in paradigms of 'normal science'.


Gandhi's Scientific Method

For Gandhi India was an ideal site for experiments on the self and he saw himself as a scientist experimenting to prove the fallacies of the dominant argument on science. Experience, he argued, enriched not contaminated his experiments. From being a serious critic of modern science in his early years, Gandhi later focused more on the possibilities of a new science and its practice. This has been brought out in his writings on Khadi and through novel institutional changes like Basic Education (Nai Talim) and a "post graduate research laboratory". We shall now point to some of the salient features of this method - in the choice of subject of research, the constitution of the scientific worker, the practice of science and finally, the under-lying cosmology of non-violence.

Gandhi did not see science as an autonomous search independent of the individual scientist. In Gandhi's scheme, the agency of the scientist was of critical importance. The scientist had to be conscious and self-reflecting. He was not to flinch from the question of "what should the scientist be working on"? He was clear that the right place of the scientist lay neither with the exploiting market nor wit the stifling state, but with the people. All Gandhi's experiments in science attempted to carve out and articulate this domain. To guide the scientist was his favourite talisman:

Whenever in doubt recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him (CW 89: 125).

The duty of the satyagrahi scientist was to work on those areas that required "tender nursing" which neither the state nor the market could institutionally provide for. This domain was large and had substantial scope for research (CW 24: 390). This considered and deliberate choice of the subject matter was the first step in his science. To aspiring scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, he pointed out the need to link external research to internal research. By internal research, Gandhi did not mean a private incommunicable domain of mystic experience but a public space where the questions of science, both moral and societal, kept within the purview of laypersons. Gandhi's science was thus to give voice to these inarticulate subjects as well, including the non-humans.

Underlying this considered choice of the subject of research was his conception of the scientific worker. In arguing for a science of nonviolence, Gandhi insisted that standard methods and personnel could not pursue these goals. This science would need its own method and means of organisation:

Attainment of world peace is impossible except for greater scientific precision, greater travail of the soul, greater patience and greater resources than required for the invention and consolidation of the means of mutual slaughter. It cannot be attained by a mere muster roll signed by millions of mankind desiring peace. But it can, if there is a science of peace, as I hold there is, by a few devoting themselves to the discovery of the means. Their effort being from within will not be showy but then it will not need a single farthing (CW 66: 72)

His own life he demonstrated was one of constant experimentation in this 'discovery of means' - a task that was not simple and could only be carried out by those who had been trained for it. The main purpose of Gandhi's ashrams and his reformed Gandhi Seva Sangh was in preparing such satyagrahi scientists. Gandhi's contribution lay in demonstrating this possibility as a universal truth through his life and that of his co-workers like Maganlal. Through his experiments, he sought to articulate the concept of a community worker as a scientist. He highlighted the need to embed the community in the practice of science. True progress of science would happen according to him once the satyagrahi scientist of Gandhi's science workers like Maganlal or Mirabehn were found or created. These scientists would then go about creating a text and manuals necessary for the spread of science. Though Gandhi's scientists were special, what he emphasised was the method, the fundamental possibility of every one being a person of science. Science was not an exclusive preserve of scientists working in laboratories. In a discussion with Rajagopalachari he pointed out that he treated his mother who was well versed in fasting as a scientist. "One who is pure, who adheres to truth and wants to cling to it is as much a scientist as a physicist" (CW 55: 441).

Gandhi did not provide a blueprint for a scientific method but gave general guidelines for experimentation. He saw his community workers as scientists. Though he was one of the foremost spokespersons of traditional technologies and the artisanal class in contemporary politics, he did not believe in a simple valorisation of the artisanal class. His community workers had to therefore go beyond learning the skill, which though important would not suffice for making experiments and discoveries. They were to see spinning and weaving not as a trade but as a science. Mastery of the art of spinning (sanitation, agriculture) was a necessary, but not sufficient condition in his scientific scheme. This mastery had to be transformed into a science and this was the duty, though not exclusive right, of the educated classes. The scientist had to have a living faith in his subject like Maganlal. His idea to reform was based on experiments carried out by this class.

To clothe the Bhangi with the dignity and respect due to him is the especial task and privilege of the educated class. Some members of the class would first themselves master the science of sanitation to educate the Bhangi round them in the same. They would carefully study their present condition and the causes underlying it and set themselves to the task of eradicating the same by dint of inexhaustible perseverance and patience that never looks back and knows no defeat (CW 64:86).

Gandhi's scientist would have to reduce the subject to a science and to prepare treatises on sanitation. Thus, Gandhi was also articulating his notion of community workers who would break the barriers of the 'elite' and the 'subaltern' in their own lives. Swaraj could not leave out experimentation on the self - the educated middle class. Advocacy alone would not do:

It is no use merely making speeches or giving lectures; we must make scientific experiments and declare from the housetops the results of our experiments (CW 78: 67).

The future of khadi (and all his programmes) lay in workers not pursuing a Gandhian 'line' but in carrying out scientific experiments.

The practice of science Gandhi emphasised required an attitude for research more than scientific qualifications. In Gandhi's method, lack of resources could not be an excuse for not practising science. Contrary to the emphasis on physical resources which have been the focus of science policy in independent India, for Gandhi physical resources had to be presumed instead on a strong and moral fundamental base. He wanted from the scientists' sacrifice and dedication first. More than money Gandhi emphasised that there was a need for persons with strong faith and willing hands. He wanted that the new generations of scientists make original researches and not be imitative:

I wish Indian medical men would make original researches and explore the possibilities of dietetic changes... Has Indian medicine no fresh contribution to make to the medical science? Or must it always rely upon the patented nostrums that, together with other foreign good, are dumped down upon this unfortunate soil? Why should the West have a monopoly of making researches? (CW 35: 480).

The non-west too, he believed, could and should contribute to this universal resource of science. At the same time he was not being exclusive in ruling out the possible contribution of the people of the west in this search:

In one thing I do not mind being a beggar. I would beg of you your scientific talent. You can ask your engineers and agricultural experts to place their services at our disposal. They must not come to us as our lords and masters but as voluntary workers. A Mysore engineer who is a Pole (Maurice Frydman) has sent me a box of hand made tools made to suit village requirements. Supposing an engineer of that character comes and studies the tools and cottage machines, he would be of great service (CW 64: 99)

Such an attitude would not only provide new results but also contribute to the process of diffusion. In khadi if the key element lay in the fact that the distribution of wealth was concurrent to and not consequent to its production, so too in Gandhi's science issues of diffusion were not to be separated from the production of knowledge. The scientist community worker had to do it himself and be an active participant in the diffusion of ideas. However Gandhi does not stop by suggesting a different practice, instead he offers a new cosmology.

As we have seen in his views on vivisection, Gandhi's non-violent cosmology challenged the anthropomorphism of modern science and spoke on behalf of non-human nature as well. Unlike his scientific contemporaries, Gandhi saw no reason why science should inevitably be linked to the idea of progress. He remarked:

We are dazzled by the material progress that western science has made. I am not enamoured of that progress. In fact, it almost seems as though God in His wisdom had prevented India from progressing along those lines, so that it might fulfill its special mission of resisting the onrush of materialism (CW 35: 524).

He also sought to reconstitute the relations between fact and value, science and religion in his method. By insisting that scientists are to provide meaning to what they do, he made clear that he was not interested in mere technical solutions to a problem. The role of a scientist lay not in the realm of fact alone but in creating meaning (value). To him they were not to be separated. Sahasrabuddhe has also explicated this aspect of the importance of the creation of meaning in his analysis of the Gandhian concept of technology-practice. Gandhi related and connected diverse programmes with the Charkha. The Charkha for Gandhi was the symbol of a new technology - an new relationship of man with nature, a relationship that could be brought into existence only by active, mutually cooperating persons. It would be meaningless for him if people who did not value cooperation practised it. (1991: 27)

Unlike many reformers and secular scientists, Gandhi did not see science as outside of religion. On the contrary, he tried updating religion to include science and science too to include faith. But unlike the Vedantists, for Gandhi to be scientific was to practice one's dharma:

If we had not become apathetic to our dharma, if we had not been indifferent to it, we would... relinquished those ancient superstitions or ancient practices which have lost their utility or become harmful today... It is a sin to disregard the necessary dharma which is in keeping with the times under the pretext of following an imaginary but ideal dharma which is not practicable (CW 41: 449-50).

Yet, Gandhi did not see the domain of science as all encompassing through the spread of universal reason, like many positivists. For him faith transcended reason. The intellect to him, took man along the battle of life to a 'certain limit' but at the crucial moment failed:

Faith is the function of the heart and had to be enforced by reason. The two are not antagonistic as some think. The more intense one's faith is, the more it whets one's reason. Faith he believed enlightened the intellect and induced habits of industry (CW 71: 378).

When faith materializes it manifests itself through reason. It is not self-luminous. For when faith transcends its bounds and finds another medium to express itself it shines forth all the more. faith is never lost; in fact it grows and sharpens the intellect. And then faith can challenge reason (CW 78: 67).

Though a great believer in science, he was clear of its role in the cosmos. Science to him was not above truth and ahimsa, which were 'truer' than many so-called scientific facts. They were however difficult to put into practice and only with "proper previous preparation" could be rendered possible and easy (CW 63:393).The Ashram as an institution was meant to facilitate this pursuit of truth of which science was a means. He also firmly believed that there were many aspects of life that science had yet to touch and it would be arrogant on the part of scientists to assume knowledge of these.

If the pursuit of science through instrumental rationality led to the We berian position of "a disenchantment with the world", Gandhi's non-violent science argues that the combination of faith and reason could lead to territories hitherto unexplored by science. "Science has yet much to learn. It has so far touched only the hem of the garment" (CW 89: 273). Scientists to him also had no clue of the relation of moral behaviour with natural phenomena. He controversially linked the Bihar earthquake of 1932 to the Hindu practice of untouchability:

Yajna does not merely mean work for the good of others; it also means body labour. If men did not do body labour, that is, did not cultivate land and grow crops, the rains would stop. My own belief is that natural phenomena are connected with moral behaviour.I have no proof of this. It is my faith. Such faith can do no harm in any case. Little research is done about such matters in the present age, and what is written about them in ancient books is treated as superstition (CW 49:150).

In Gandhi's cosmology, the unity of body, mind and spirit was needed in exploring the relation between nature, man and God. This as we have seen comes through in his views on vivisection, the critique, as also in reshaping the Gandhi Seva Sangh - the practice. His understanding of the scientific method is perhaps best summarized in his own words on khadi:

It must be borne in mind that to make the spinners self-reliant and through their activity to achieve India's freedom is, and ought to be, the Association's goal. That we may not reach that goal should not cause undue worry. It is enough for us to know that it is the correct goal and, having started the activity, we have to correct our mistakes and go forward. That is the essence of the scientific method. No science has dropped from the skies in a perfect form. 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 (CW 83: 355-56).

We have in this paper shown that Gandhi is not anti-science as is commonly misunderstood. Through a look at his various experiments, many unrealized in his time; we have also shown that Gandhi's life defined a space for an alternative science for civil society that would operate with different methods. Gandhi's focus on the non-physical resources in organizing for science, the satyagrahi scientist, for instance, is a radical departure from science policy as expressed by Nehru in his famous Scientific Policy Resolution of 1956 and followed in India since independence. He also had a universal message by providing a new cosmology on man-nature and fact-value relations that he articulated and put in place through his various experiments. With the above outline of theoretical framework for Gandhian science in place, we take up for detailed explication the case of the khadi movement.


Notes

  1. See Srinivasan (1993) for a critique of Bose's method in Noakhali and his separation of the 'self' and 'other' in field work.

  2. See Veeravalli, A (1999) for a comparison of Einstein and Gandhi's views on the science of peace.

  3. Samuel Compton, the inventor of the spinning mule in 1779 and James Hargreaves, the inventor of the spinning jenny in 1764.