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ASSOCIATES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > VINOBA BHAVE > MOVED BY LOVE > To raise the Lowliest
To Raise the Lowliest
If someone were to say: ‘This man has forgotten the Harijans,’ I should have to reply that in that case no one else cares for them. The word Sarvodaya means that all should rise, should grow, and all includes the lowliest and last.1 But I don’t like treating them as a separate group. If we do that, when we go to a village people will say: ‘Here comes the Harijan worker,’ or the ‘khadi worker’ and so on. Our work cannot be carried on in this splintered, divided way. However, though I am convinced of this, I devoted myself for years to three kinds of work in order to identify myself with Harijans: scavenging, leather work and weaving.
My connection with Harijan work is a very old one, and began in the Sabarmati Ashram. In its early days scavengers were employed there and were paid for their work. When the head scavenger fell ill, a son took his place. Once it happened that a very young son of his was carrying the bucket full of excrement to pour it into the pit in the fields. The bucket was too heavy for him to manage, and the poor little lad began to cry. My younger brother Balkoba noticed him, took pity on him and at once went to help him. Later Balkoba came to ask me if I would agree to his taking up scavenging himself, as he wished to do. ‘That’s excellent,’ I said. ‘Do take it up, and I too will come with you.’ I started to go with him, Surendraji2 also joined us, and that was how the scavenging began.
That Brahmin boys should take to scavenging was something absolutely new. Ba (Kasturba Gandhi) did not like it as all, and complained to Bapu. ‘Could anything be better,’ he asked, ‘than that a Brahmin should take up scavenging?’ So it all started with Balkoba’s devoted efforts and Surendraji’s assistance. From that time on I have been closely associated with this work.
In 1932, after I was released from jail, I went to live in the village of Nalwadi near Wardha.3 There were ninety-five Harijan families, and five of other castes. I started working for the Harijans there, and in order to provide a new village industry for them, it was necessary to learn how to flay and tan hides. We sent two Brahmin boys to be trained for the work. They had many difficulties to face, but difficulties notwithstanding they became skilled workmen, and the two together ran a tannery at Nalwadi, which they started on July 1, 1935.
Then in 1946 I made a solemn resolve to take up scavengers’ work4 myself. By that time I was living at Paunar, and I began my scavenging in Surgaon, a village three miles away, setting off every morning with a spade on my shoulder. It took an hour and a half or two hours to come and go, and I spent an hour or an hour and a half on the actual work. I worked as regularly as the sun himself, except that I had to miss three days because of illness. I kept it up without a break throughout the year, through cold season, hot season and rains.
One day it rained so heavily that the whole road was waistdeep in water. There was also a deep gully which had to be crossed to reach Surgaon. Floodwater was rushing through it and it was impossible to cross. I stood on the bank and shouted across to a villager on the other side: ‘Please go to the temple and tell the Lord that the village scavenger came, but could not reach the village because of water in the gully.’ ‘All right,’ he said, ‘I’ll go.’ ‘And what will you say?’ I asked. ‘I’ll tell the priest,’ he replied, ‘that Babaji had come.’ ‘No, no, you have misunderstood,’ I said. ‘You must tell the Lord and tell Him that the village scavenger came, but could not reach the village because of the water.’
So I went back again to Paunar—but why did I set out at all that day? When the water on the road was waist-deep it was obvious that I could not reach the village, and yet I decided to go as far as I could before turning back, because for me the work was a form of worship. ‘How long will you go on with this work?’ people used to ask, and I would reply, ‘For twenty years, until the present generation makes way for the next. It is a question of changing the people’s mental attitude.’ In fact I could carry it on only for a year and three quarters; then, after Gandhiji passed away, I had to give it up. So long as it continued it took up five or six hours every morning. Sometimes people wanted to consult me, but I always told them that I would not be free before eleven, because up to then was my time for scavenging. For me this despised kind of work was a form of prayer, so I did not take a single day’s leave.
Along with the scavenging I was able to teach a number of things especially to the children. ‘Baba,’ they would say as they greeted me, ‘today we have covered our excrement with earth’—and I would go with them to inspect. When the time of the Ganapati5 festival came round, I found the whole village spotlessly clean and there was no work left for me to do. The villagers had decided the day before that as the next day was a holy day they would do all the scavenging themselves—so they had cleaned the whole village. ‘Here is a revolution indeed !’ I thought. If Gandhiji were still alive, I would even today be doing scavenger’s work in Surgaon.

The Service of the Cow
I took up the whole programme of constructive work and carried it out to the best of my ability. But it seemed to me that no aspect of it demanded such purity of mind, as did the service of the cow. This is a work that needs intensification of love. As love increases so does the quality of the work and so does the well-being of the cow. Her well-being depends on the love that human beings give her. It follows that those who undertake to care for the cow must learn to be as lowly as the cow herself. Their own nature must come to resemble the nature of the cow they worship. I have used the word ‘worship’ rather than ‘tend’ or ‘serve’ because it reflects my own feelings towards the cow.
In the Ashram we regarded milk as necessary, and therefore we began to keep cows. From that day to this the work has been part of our ordinary routine. However, on three occasions previously I had tried giving up milk, with the idea of caring for the cow without taking anything from her. One experiment lasted two years, the second three years, and the third two years—seven years in all. But I did not succeed, and in the end I gave it up. I might possibly have succeeded if I had concentrated on it and made it my first task, but it was only one of the various activities in the Ashram. Not only did it not succeed, it made me very weak in body. When Bapu heard about it he said: ‘If you consider this to be your life-work, you should concentrate on it completely; if not, there are other urgent matters which demand our attention.’ Accordingly I began to drink milk once more, and to consider how work for the cow could be combined with other important work.
In Surgaon, one of our projects was to run an oil-press and supply the village with oil. One press was not enough to meet the demand, and we started a second one so that there should be no need to buy oil from outside. Then however a new problem arose: what to do with the oilcake? There was no demand for it in the village, so we decided to keep as many cows as the oilcake could feed, and in this way the welfare of the cattle was linked with the oil-press. It is only when the need for khadi cloth, for oil and for cattle are considered together that our projects can be made meaningful and successful—otherwise they will fail6.
During the period when these projects were being conducted in the Wardha tehsil, I once stayed for four months at Paunar. I noticed that there were many cows in the village. The people made butter from their milk, and took it by the head-load to Wardha for sale. The merchants there bought it, but decided among themselves what price they would pay. The villagers used the money they got to buy cloth, also at the merchants’ price. The merchants profited both ways, buying butter cheap and selling cloth dear. Butter is meant to be eaten: people ought not to have to sell it. Tulsidas the poet says: ‘For one who is dependent on others there is no happiness, even in dreams.’ His words inspired me to suggest a slogan for Paunar: ‘Eat your own butter, make your own cloth.’

Serving Peace in the Name of God
In 1948, after Bapu’s death, his ‘family’ of fellow-workers met at Sevagram. I had been thinking already about what my duty was; it had struck me that I might perhaps have to leave my base. During that gathering at Sevagram I announced—considering how Pandit Nehru was situated and that he had asked for our help—that I would give six months experimentally to the service of those made homeless by the partition of the country. Some constructive workers were telling Pandit Nehru and other political leaders that they expected the Government to help forward the constructive programme. But for my part I made a point of saying, especially to Pandit Nehru, that I didn’t expect any kind of help, but would feel happy if I could be of service to him.
Along with some fellow-workers I therefore started work for the resettlement of the refugees. It would take a whole book to describe all the interesting things we saw during those months. I had to do liaison work, in my own language the work of Naradmuni, carrying messages to and fro. I soon found that Panditji would say one thing, and the men who had to carry out his instructions had different ideas, so nothing got done. If I made suggestions, Panditji would reply: ‘That is exactly what I want, and I gave orders three months ago for it to be done.’ Even then nothing came of it. I worked very hard during those six months, and there were certainly some results; but I did not get what I was looking for, so in the end I came away.
I went from Delhi to Haryana and Rajasthan to resettle the Meos,7 but there too I did not feel that my purpose would be realized. I had hoped that the power of non-violence might be demonstrated to some extent through the resettling of the refugees and of the Meos. I wanted to put my hands to something that could be called a practical beginning of Sarvodaya, of the non-violent revolution. I had realized that if I could find this starting-point, the work of khadi and village industries would also develop; but otherwise no one would be interested in either of them. So far, I had been unable to find that starting-point.
In those days there were many conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. The Muslims of Ajmer felt themselves to be in great danger. I went and stayed there for seven days, and visited the holy Dargah every day. That place is regarded as the Mecca of India. The Muslims welcomed me with great affection, and I told them all, Muslims and Hindus alike, that this kind of conflict was not right. They listened to my advice, and as a result they all sat side by side there for prayer.
The next day I went there again for the namaj (prayer). I found all the devotees sitting there peacefully; they showed me much love and trust, and every one of them came and kissed my hand. But I noticed that there was not a single woman among them, so at the end, when they asked me to say a few words, I said: ‘I was delighted to attend your peaceful prayer, but I could not understand one thing: why should there be discrimination, even while offering prayers to the Lord? Muslims must surely reform their practice in this respect.’

Kanchan-Mukti
It was in 1935-36 that I began to feel that we ought to dispense with money. A dislike of money had been with me from the beginning, and in my personal life I was doing without it already. But during that year I began to feel that I must devote myself to getting public institutions to follow the principle of non-possession and to give up using money, and sacrifice myself for this cause. I suggested that those to whom my idea appealed might also try the experiment. It could never end in failure, I said; it was bound to succeed, whether we live to see it succeed or not. To carry it on just one thing is needed: a complete change in one’s way of life.
At Paunar I used to sit and chat with the labourers. I said to them: ‘Why don’t you pool all your earnings and share the money equally all round?’ To my surprise they all agreed. ‘We have no objection,’ they said. ‘We can do it.’ But in actual practice, how could it be done if I kept aloof? If I were to join in, they and I together could make it work. I told my colleagues that they should lay aside all other activities and pay attention to this—this was real politics.
Kishorlalbhai was insisting that teachers ought to be paid at least twenty-five rupees a month, but the teachers in Paunar, who were paid sixteen rupees a month, were objects of envy for the labourers. Some time before, I had nearly lost my own life by attempting to live on a spinner’s rate of pay, and was only saved when the rate was increased. How could I feel at one with labourers who could earn four annas at the most by spinning ten hours a day, while I could not live on less than six annas? The real dignity of the labourer can only be ensured by paying him a full and just wage.
After Gandhiji’s death my mind turned continually to the idea that there should be a class of social workers, spread throughout the country, who would work as he had done to build up a worthy form of society by the power of living example. I was not at all pleased with what was going on around me, but darkness can only be dispelled by light, so I did not harp on my discontent but prayed for light.
In 1949 I spent a few days at the Mahila Ashram.9 I was planning to go to Bihar from there, but I postponed the journey because I was not well; I had severe pain in the stomach and returned to Paunar. There I announced my conclusion that the chief cause of the inequality and turmoil in society today is money. Money corrupts our common life, and we must therefore banish it from among us. ‘Here we are,’ I said, ‘engaged in an experiment in self-reliance. The saints, for the sake of spiritual discipline, always prohibited the use of gold. Today it is necessary to prohibit it even to purify our ordinary life. We here must begin to experiment in doing without money.’
We began with vegetables. I announced that from the first of January 1950 the Ashram would buy no vegetables. I had with me some educated young men who were eager to try the new way. A vegetable garden was started in the Ashram compound. This had to be watered from the well, which had a Persian wheel which we worked ourselves. We fixed eight poles to the wheel at chest height, and with two men to each pole we turned it together. As we turned it we recited our morning prayer. We also recited the Gitai, one shloka (verse) to each round, so that when we had completed its seven hundred shlokas we had also done seven hundred rounds. One day Jayaprakashji came to meet me, and joined us at the Persian wheel. It gave him new inspiration.10
The land that we had taken for the experiment was not enough to produce all our needs. We began working another piece of land where there was no water supply. So one morning, as soon as I got up, I went off to that field and started to dig a well. Everyone joined in. They were all strong young men, with twice the strength that I had, but I found they could do only half my work. This was because I did all my work by mathematics. I would dig a little while in silence, then stop for a few seconds, and so on every few minutes. But these strong youths would shovel furiously until they had to stop from sheer exhaustion, so that on the whole they needed more rest than I did. I also used my shovel in a scientific way, and discovered that our tools needed much improvement. Mathematics plays a part in all my doings, and I sometimes think that mathematical calculations would play a part even at the time of my death !
We had dug a channel from the original field to bring water from the well there. We were all new to the job; those who worked with me were College students, and though I liked physical labour I did not have the necessary knowledge. We dug the channel, we let in the water, but the water did not run into the new field. We could not understand why, but discovered later, through observation and experience, that the field level was two inches higher than the channel, so that the channel soaked up all the water and practically none reached the field. Later I used our experience with the channel to illustrate what happens to the welfare schemes of the Government of India: a lot of the ‘water’ gets soaked up by the ‘channels’ so that very little reaches the needy.
This rishi kheti11 at Paramdham attracted a lot of attention. A camp for the peasants of Khandesh was held there. They were experienced farmers with a good knowledge of agriculture. They liked the Paramdham farm so much that they said they would try out the method in their own fields.
When I first suggested rishi kheti, people did not think that it would work. One of their doubts was that to do everything by hand, without the help of bullocks, would mean excessively hard work, beyond human capacity. Another objection was that it could not produce much and would turn out to be too costly. But our young men carried out my suggestions, undertook an experiment, and after two years’ work placed theresults before the public.
This experiment was made on a field of one and a quarter acres, and needed 1140 man-hours of work in a year, that is to say four hours a day for 285 days. In other words, a man who worked eight hours a day could com- fortably cultivate two and a half acres of land by his own labour alone. I say ‘comfortably’ because I am leaving eighty of the year’s three hundred and sixty-five days out of account.
Only the digging should be reckoned as really hard labour. We spent three hundred and thirty-seven and a half hours in digging our one and a quarter acres; two and a half acres would have taken us twice as long, six hundred and seventy-five hours. Most of those who did this work were High School and College students who had never done such work before. Their rate of work must have been very slow. A villager would certainly have needed much less time, say five hundred and seventy-five hours. This means that two hours’ digging a day, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, is on the average all that is needed.
Digging is a healthy exercise for the body. I myself did digging work for years, and it did my body a lot of good. People used to tell me that in those days I had the body of a wrestler. I mention this so that no one should feel afraid of it. And besides benefiting the body, I also found that it benefited the mind in a remarkable way. It is good fortune indeed to have an opportunity to stand upright beneath the wide sky, in the fresh air, caressed by the rays of the sun.
I am of the view that it would be more useful in every way to take physical exercise in the fields, digging, than in gymnasiums which produce nothing at all.
If one considers this experiment in its productive aspect the results are not meagre. Calculated at the market rates of 1953 our one and a quarter acres made a net profit of 285 rupees, the equivalent of a wage of four annas an hour. The male labourers in the fields around Paramdham were paid thirteen annas for an eight hour day, the women only seven annas, so the average wage was ten annas a day or one and a quarter annas an hour. The wages earned by our rishi kheti are more than three times as large. But there is more to it than that, because the workers in Paramdham were both labourers and owners, and earned four annas in both capacities. Now in 1953, the landowner could not realize any more himself than he paid his labourers, so if owner and labourer are the same man he should expect to have double the rate—two and a half annas an hour. Even so, rishi kheti is over fifty per cent more profitable than ordinary bullock farming.
One must also take into account the fact that in Paramdham, not only did the workers have no experience of farming, but the land on which they worked was not even second class. It was on a mound, and was full of bricks and stones and (as I have described) statues. Even after two years’ labour, it can still be reckoned only third-rate, if that. Also, this plot was dependent on the rainfall. I have not the least doubt that with irrigation facilities it would have produced even more.
There is no reason why rishi kheti and rishabh kheti12 (bullock cultivation) should be regarded as rivals. In Paramdham we use both methods, and we are also trying out an engine to lift water for irrigation from the river. I do not believe in using machines indiscriminately and keeping bullocks idle, but I have given permission for this on an experimental basis, so as to make full use of the river in case of special need. ‘Enmity towards none’ is the maxim of our striving for harmony. We continue to regard bullocks as an inseparable part of our family, and at the same time we carry on rishi kheti and also try out modern machinery on a limited scale. Rishi kheti, rishabh kheti and engine kheti are all going on side by side in Paramdham; we are bold enough to try them all.
This experiment offers a partial solution to the problem of unemployment. It can be used by farmers who have no bullocks; it gives scope for thoughtful study and wide-ranging experiments in agriculture; it is a boon for Nai Talim;13 it is also a far-sighted step to take, considering the ultimate meaning of non-violence.
The human population of the world is increasing, and the land available for each individual therefore decreases proportionately. That is why in a crowded country such as Japan farming is done by hand. ‘A meat-eater needs one and a half acres to produce his food, a lacto-vegetarian three quarters of an acre, a vegetarian half an acre.’ As time goes on, human beings will certainly realize the significance of these figures and consequently will first give up meat and then limit their use of milk. A time may come when they will question whether they should keep cows and bullocks at all. For the present, however, we need to maintain our cattle, and at the same time to try out rishi kheti.
The future is going to witness the clash of two ideas: Communism and Sarvodaya. Other ideas may seem influential today, but they will not last long. Communism and Sarvodaya have much in common, and just as much in which they are opposed. What the age demands is Sarvodaya. It is our task to demonstrate that a society free from money and political power can be established. No matter on how small a scale, we must be able to show a model of it. Then and then only can we hope to stand our ground as an alternative to Communism.
I used to tell my companions over and over again that if we could do this agricultural work in the right way it would purify our whole outlook, and to some extent that of our society too.
‘People are in great need just now,’ I said, ‘of something that will set their minds at rest. The common folk are like a man whose mind is afflicted, and who needs something, some diversion, to help him out of his misery. No one in particular is to be blamed for this state of affairs. All of us are responsible for it. But of what use is it to discuss that? What is needed is to put things right, and for that there is a way, a simple, easy, effective way which is open to all—the way of life we are following in Param- dham. And although we are not yet following it as well as we could wish, we are making sincere and strenuous efforts to do so, and we do not grow weary. That is something that can bring great peace of mind.’ So I thought, let this work in Paramdham take proper shape, and after that I may move out, supposing that there should still be any need to move out.
Meanwhile, however, it was arranged that I should go to the Sarvodaya Sammelan at Shivarampalli near Hyderabad. There everything happened so unexpectedly that I felt that in this too was the working of the will of God.
When I came back to Paunar after my travels through Telangana, I told my companions that I had been able to speak to the people there with self-confidence because of the work going on in Paunar itself: ‘Our experiments here strike at the very roots of present-day society, and if we can carry them out in full there is no doubt that they can transform the world. Their importance should be as evident to anyone who thinks about the matter as it is to me.’
This work of mine is not confined only to the Ashram. In the Ashram I am, as it were, making curd.14 When it is ready it can be mixed with a great deal of milk and turn it all into curd also. The idea should be tried out first in a number of villages, and after seeing how far it is successful there, the experience gained should be placed before the country. What I aim at is nothing less than to set up Ramarajya, the Kingdom of God. That is something very big indeed, but I can speak in no smaller terms, for God has put the words into my mouth.