The Problem of Unemployment
We should be ashamed of resting or having a square meal so long as there is one able-bodies man or woman without work or food.
Young India, 6-10-‘21
Imagine a nation working only five hours per day on an average, and this not by choice but by force of circumstances, and you have a realistic picture of India. If the reader would visualize the picture, he must dismiss from his mind the busy fuss of the city life or the grinding fatigue of the factory life or the slavery of the plantation. These are but drops in the ocean of Indian humanity. If he would visualize the picture of the Indian skeleton, he must think of the eighty per cent of the population which is working its own fields, and which has practically no occupation for at least four months in the year, and which therefore lives on the borderland of starvation. This is the normal condition. The ever recurring famines make a large addition to this enforced idleness.
Young India, 3-11-‘21
The reason why our average life-rate is deplorably low, the reason why we are getting more and more impoverished is that we have neglected our 7,00,000 villages. We have in-deed thought of them, but only to the extent of exploiting them. We read thrilling accounts of the ‘glory that was Ind’, and of the land that was flowing with milk and honey; but today it is a land of starving millions. We are sitting in this fine pandal under a blaze of electric lights, but we do not know that we are burning these lights at the expense of the poor. We have no right to use these lights if we forget that we owe these to them.
There is a difference between the civilization of the East- the civilization of India-and that of the West. It is not generally realized wherein the difference lies. Our geography is different, our history is different, our ways of living are different. Our continent, though vast, is a speck of the globe, but it is the most thickly populated, barring China. Well, now, the economics and civilization of a country where the pressure of population on land is greatest are and must be different from those of a country where the pressure least. Sparsely populated, America may have need of machinery. India may not need it at all. Where there are millions and millions of units of idle labour, it is no use thinking of labour-saving devices. If someone devised a machine which saved us the trouble of using our hands to eat, eating would cease to be a pleasure, it would become a torture. The reason of our poverty is the extinction of our industries and our consequent unemployment. Some years ago India’s agricultural population was said to be 70 pet cent. Today it is said to be 90 per cent. It does not mean that 90 per cent are agriculturists, but that, instead of 70 per cent who depended on land, 90 per cent are now driven to depend on land. In other words, whereas there were industries and crafts enough to feed the 20 per cent, some time ago, these are no longer there and the people have thus been thrown on land. They thus steal their living, not because they want to, but because there Is no more land.
Not that there is not enough land to feed our 35 crores. It is absurd to say that India is overpopulated and that the surplus population must die. I am sure that if all the land that is available was properly utilized and made to yield up to its capacity, it would surely maintain the whole population. Only we have got to be industries and to make two blades of grass grow where one grows today.
The remedy is to identity ourselves with the poor villager and to help him make the land yield its plenty, help him produce what we need, and confine ourselves to use what he produces, live as he lives, and persuade him to take to more rational ways of diet and living.
We eat mill-ground flour, and even the poor villager walks with a head-load of half a maund grain to have in spite of the plenty of foodstuffs we produce we import wheat from outside and we eat the ‘superfine’ flour from Australia? We will not use our hand-ground flour, and the poor villager also foolishly copies us. We thus turn our wealth into waste, nectar into poison. For whole meal is the proper meal. Mill-ground flour is vitamin less flour; mill-ground flour kept for days is not only vitamin less, but poison. But we will not exert ourselves to produce flour which we must eat fresh every day, and will pay for less nutritious things and purchase ill-health in bargain. This is not any abstruse economic truth, it is a fact which is daily happening before our eyes. The same is the case with rice and gur and oil. We will eat rice, polished of its substance, and eat less nutritious sugar and pay more for it than more nutritious gut. We have suffered the village oilman to be driven to extinction and we eat adulterated oils. We idolize the cow, but kill by slow degrees. We eat honey and kill the honey-bee, with the result that honey is such a rare commodity today that it is only available to a ‘Mahatma’ like me or to those who must have it from the physician as a vehicle for the drugs he prescribes. If we took the trouble of learning scientific and harmless bee-keeping, we should get it cheaper and our children would get out of it all the carbohydrates they need. In all our dietetics we mistake the shadow for the substance, preferring bone-white sugar to rich brown gur and pale white bread to rich brown bran-bread.
We are said to be a nation of daily bathers. That we are, to be sure, but we are none the better for it. For we bathe with unclean water, we foul our tanks and rivers with filth and use that water for drinking and bath. We lawyers and degree-holders and doctors will not learn the elementary principles of sanitation and hygiene. We have not yet devised the most economical method of disposal of our evacuations and we turn our open healthy spaces into breeding grounds of disease.
I implore you t throw off your inertia, to bestir yourselves to study these elementary facts and live more rational lives and learn how to turn waste into wealth. I have told you simple truths which we would soon realize and act up to if we threw off the inertia of ages. But we have shunned body-labour to the detriment of our brains, and thus rest content with the irrational ways of diet and living. Let us pull ourselves together and resolve to make our bodies and brains more active.
(From a summary of Gandhiji’s address at a public gathering at Indore.)
In one sense the problem of unemployment in our country is not so difficult as in other countries. The mode of life is a great factor. The Western unemployed worker must have warm clothing, boots or shoes and socks like the rest of the people, he must have a warm house and many other things incidental to the cold climate. We do not want all these things. I have indeed wept to see the stark poverty and unemployment in our country, but I must confess our own negligence and ignorance are responsible for it. We do not know the dignity of labour as such. Thus a shoe-maker will not do anything beyond his shoes, he will think all other labour is below his dignity. That wrong notion must go. There is enough employment in India for all who will work with their hands and feet honestly. God has given everyone the capacity to work and earn more than his daily bread and whoever is ready to use that capacity is sure to find work. No labour is too mean for one who wants to earn an honest penny. The only thing is the readiness to use the hands and feet that God has given us.
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. Just as the capitalist cannot make his capital fructify without the co-operation of labour, even so the working man cannot make his labour fructify without the co-operation of capital. And, if both labour and capital have the gift of intelligence equally developed in them and have confidence in their capacity to secure a fair deal, each at the hands of the other, they would get to respect and appreciate each other as equal partners in a common enterprise. They need not regard each other as inherently irreconcilable antagonists. But the difficulty is that whilst today capital is organized and seems to be securely entrenched, labour is not. The intelligence of the working man is cramped by his soulless, mechanical occupation which leaves him little scope or chance to develop his mind. It has prevented him from realizing the power and the full dignity of his status. He has been taught to believe that his wages have to be dictated by capitalists instead of his demanding his own terms. Let him only be organized along right lines and have his intelligence quickened, let him learn a variety of occupations, and he will be able to go about with his head erect and never be afraid of being without means of sustenance.