Back to the Village
I have believed and repeated times without number that India is to found not in its few cities but in its 7,00,000 villages. But we town – dwellers have believed that India is to be found in its towns and the villages were created to minister to our needs. We have hardly ever paused to inquire if those poor folk get sufficient to eat and clothe themselves with and whether they have a roof to shelter themselves from sun and rain.
I have found that the town–dweller has generally exploited the villager, in fact he has lived on the poor villager’s subsistence. Many a British official has written about the conditions of the people of India. No one has, to my knowledge, said that the Indian Villager has enough to keep body and soul together. On the contrary they have admitted that the bulk of the population lives on the verge of starvation and ten percent are semi–starved, and that millions have to rest content with a pinch of dirty salt and chillies and polished rice or parched grain.
You may be sure that if any of us were to be asked to live on that diet, we should not expect to survive it longer than a month or should be afraid of losing our mental faculties. And yet our villagers go through that state from day to day.
Over 75 percent of the populations are agriculturists. But there cannot be much spirit of self –government about us if we take away or allow others to take away from them almost the whole of the result of their labour.
Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 323
The cities are capable of taking care of themselves. It is the village we have to turn to. We have to disabuse them of their prejudice, their superstitions, their narrow outlook and we can do so in no other manner than that of staying amongst them and sharing their joys and sorrows and spreading education and intelligent information among them.
Young India, 30–3–‘31
We have got to be ideal villagers, not the villagers with their queer about sanitation and giving no thought to how they eat and what they eat. Let us not, like most of them, cook anyhow, eat anyhow, live anyhow. Let us show them the ideal diet. Let us not go by mere likes and dislikes, but get at the root of those likes and dislikes.
We must identify ourselves with the villagers who toil under the hot sun beating on their bent backs and see how we would like to drink water from the pool in which the villagers bathe, wash their clothes and pots, in which their cattle drink and roll. Then and not till then shall we truly represent the masses and they will, as surely as I am writing this, respond to every call.
Young India, 11–9–‘24
We have got to show them that they can grow their vegetables, their greens, without much expense, and keep good health. We have also to show that most of the vitamins are lost when they cook the leaves.
We have to teach them how to economize time, health and money. Lionel Curtis described our villages as dung-heaps. We have to turn them into model villages. Our village –folk do not get fresh air though they are surrounded by fresh air; they don’t get fresh food though they are surrounded by the freshest foods. I am talking like a missionary in this matter of food, because my mission is to make villages a thing of beauty.
It is profitless to find out whether the villages of India were always what they are today. If they were never better it is a reflection upon the ancient culture in which we take so much pride. But if they were never better, how is it that they have survived centuries of decay which we see going on around us…. The task before every lover of the country is how to prevent this decay or, which is the same thing, how to reconstruct the villages of India so that it may be as easy for any-one to live in them as it is supposed to be in the cities. Indeed, it is the task before every patriot. It may be that the villagers are beyond redemption, that rural civilization has had its day and that the seven hundred thousands villages have to give place to seven hundred well–ordered cities supporting a population not of three hundred millions but thirty. If such is to be India’s fate, even that won’t come in a day. It must take time to wipe out a number of villages and villagers and transform the remainder into cities and citizens.
The village movement is as much an education of the city people as of the villagers. Workers drawn from cities have to develop village mentality and learn the art of living after the manner of villagers. This does not mean that they have to starve like the villagers. But it does mean that there must be a radical change in the old style of life.
The only way is to sit down in their midst and work away in steadfast faith, as their scavengers, their nurses, their servants, not as their patrons, and to forget all our prejudices and prepossessions. Let us for a moment forget even Swaraj, and certainly forget the ‘haves’ whose presence oppresses us at every step. They are there. There are many who are dealing with these big problems. Let us tackle the humbler work of the village which is necessary now and would be even after we have reached our goal. Indeed, the village work when it becomes successful will itself bring us nearer the goal.
The village communities should be revived. Indian villages produced and supplied to the Indian towns and cities all their wants. India became impoverished when our cities became foreign markets and began to grain the villages dry by dumping cheap and shoddy goods from foreign lands.
It is only when the cities realize the duty of making an adequate return to the villages for the strength and sustenance which they derive from them, instead of selfishly exploiting them, that a healthy and moral relationship between the two will spring up. And if the city children are to play their part in this great and noble work of social reconstruction, the vocations through which they are to receive their education ought to be directly related to the requirements of the villages.
Harijan, 19 –10–‘37
We have to tackle the triple malady which holds our villages fast in its grip: (i) want of corporate sanitation; (ii) deficient diet; (iii) inertia…. They are not interested in their own welfare. They don’t appreciate modern sanitary methods. They don’t want to exert themselves beyond scratching their farms or doing such labour as they are used to. These difficulties are real and serious. But they must not baffle us. We must have an unquenchable faith in our mission. We must be patient with the people. We are ourselves novices in village work. We have to deal with a chronic disease. Patience and perseverance, if we have them, overcome mountains of difficulties. We are like nurses who may not leave their patients because they are reported to have an incurable disease.
The moment you talk to them [the Indian peasants] and they begin to speak; you will find wisdom drops from their lips. Behind the crude exterior you will find a deep reservoir of spirituality, I call this culture you will not find such a thing in the West. You try to engage an European peasant in conversation and you will find that he is uninterested in things spiritual.
Harijan, 28 – 1 –‘39
In the case of the Indian villager, an age–old culture is hidden under an encrustment of crudeness. Take away the encrustation, remove his chronic poverty and his illiteracy and you have the finest specimen of what a cultured, cultivated, free citizen should be.