Village Work

We are inheritors of a rural civilization. The vastness of our country, the vastness of the population, the situation and the climate of the country have in my opinion, destined it for a rural civilization.  Its defects are well known but not one of them is irremediable. To uproot it and substitute for it an urban civilization seems to me an impossibility, unless we are prepared by some drastic means to reduce the population from three hundred million to three or say even thirty. I can therefore suggest remedies in the assumption that we must perpetuate the present rural civilization and endeavour to rid it of its acknowledged defects. This can only be done if the youth of the country will settle down the village life. And if they will do this, they must reconstruct their life and pass every day of their vacation in the village surrounding their colleges or high schools, and those who have finished their education or are not receiving any should think of settling down in villages.

The All India Spinners’ Association with all its multifarious branches and institutions that have sprung up under its protection affords an easy opportunity to the students to qualify themselves for service and to maintain themselves honourably if they will be satisfied with the simple life which obtains in the villages. It maintains nearly 1,500 young men of the country drawing anything between Rs. 15 to 150, and it can take in almost an unlimited number of earnest, honest, and industrious young men who will not be ashamed of manual work. Then there are national educational institutions affording a similar though limited scope, limited only because national education is not in fashion. I therefore commend to the attention of all earnest young men, who are dissatisfied with their existing surroundings and outlook, to study these two great national institutions which are doing silent but most effective constructive work, and which present the youth of the country with an opportunity both for service and for honourable maintenance. Whether however they avail themselves of these two great nation-building agencies or do not, let them penetrate the villages and find an unlimited scope for service, research and true knowledge. Professors would do well not to burden either their boys or girls with literary studies during the vacation but prescribe to them educative outings in the villages.

Young India, 7-11-’29

The students should devote the whole of their vacation to village service. To this end, instead of taking their walks along beaten paths, the should walk to the villages within easy reach of their institutions and study the condition of the village folk and befriend them. This habit will bring them in contact with the villagers who, when the students actually go to stay in their midst, will, by reason of the previous occasional contact; receive them as friends rather than as strangers to be looked upon with suspicion. During the long vacations the students will stay in the villages and offer to conduct classes for adults and to teach the rules of sanitation to the villagers and to attend to the ordinary cases of illness. They will also introduce the spinning-wheel amongst them and teach them the use of every spare minute. In order that this may be done students and teachers will have to revise their ideas of the uses of vacation. Often do thoughtless teachers prescribe lessons to be done during the vacation. This, in my opinion, is in any case a vicious habit.

Vacation is just the period when students’ minds should be free from the routine work and be left free for self-help and original development. The village work I have mentioned is easily. the best form of recreation and light instruction. It is obviously the best preparation for dedication to exclusive village service after finishing the studies.

The scheme for full village service does not now need to be elaborately described. Whatever was done during the vacation has now to be put on a permanent footing. The villagers will also be prepared for a fuller response. The village life has to be touched at all points, the economic, hygienic, the social and the political. The immediate solution of the economic distress is undoubtedly the wheel in the vast majority of cases. It at once adds to the income of the villagers and keeps them from mischief. The hygienic includes insanitation and disease. Here the student is expected to work with his own body and labour to dig trenches for burying excreta and other refuse and turning them into manure, for cleaning wells and tanks, for building easy embankments, removing rubbish and generally to make the villages more habitable. The village worker has also to touch the social side and gently persuade the people to give up bad customs and bad habits, such as untouchability, infant marriage, unequal matches, drink and drug evil and many local superstitions. Lastly comes the political part. Here the worker will study the political grievances of the villagers and teach them the dignity of freedom, self-reliance and self-help in everything, This makes in my opinion complete adult education. But this does not complete the task of the village worker. He must take care and charge of the little ones and begin their instruction and carry on a night school for adults. This literary training is but part of a whole education course and only a means to the larger end described above.

I claim that the equipment for this service is a large heart and a character above suspicion. Given these two conditions every other needed qualification is bound to follow.

Q. "We propose doing medical work there. How shall we go about our business, Mahatmaji? Could you give us some hints?"

Gandhiji said, "I have experience of this work since my early days in South Africa. Let me then begin with a warning. By taking a little medical aid to them, you do not really help them. You must teach them sanitation and hygiene, which alone can prevent malaria. Quinine does seem to subdue malaria, but will not root it out. What is essential is the preventive treatment and the aftercare of patients. They do not know that careless diet often prepares the breeding ground for malaria germs. They eat anything and everything. But a malaria patient must eschew starch, too much protein, and live mainly on milk during convalescence. That is what we have to tell them. Teach them how to prevent disease. I will not congratulate you if you tell me that you have distributed a thousand quinine pills. Give them practical lessons in sanitation, if you can. Go there with spades and shovels, fill up stagnant pools, see to the drainage, see that their wells are properly dredged and that their tank is not contaminated. The late Principal Rudra, under whose hospitable roof I have had the privilege of living, used to tell me how Delhi had fought a successful battle against the swamps and mosquito-breeding pools around Delhi. We have now to teach the people to do what the Municipality or the Local Boards may not do, for want of funds or any other reason.

"Above all, teach them to rid their village of filth and dirt. It is the most difficult part of your work, unless you would be willing scavengers. For days you must sweep the streets and teach them to preserve health and conserve their golden manure at one and the same time. Poore’s Rural Hygiene used to be a precious little book on this subject. You have to teach them to bury their night-soil in nine-inch deep pits and cover it up with earth, the principle being that such earth is full of life and that the sun’s rays penetrate that depth. In a little while the whole will be converted into rich manure, and you can grow the finest vegetable on this ground.

"I had better tell you about internal hygiene too. You must study the problem of food from the point of view of health, know" the foods charged with vitamins and persuade them to eat hand-husked, unpolished rice, whole wheatmeal, whole sugar, greens grown on their patch of ground, and oil, fresh­pressed in the village oil-press. Every doctor nowa­days insists on prescribing a few green leaves to be eaten raw. Every peasant could grow all kinds of bhaji (vegetables) for nothing and eat it raw as part of his normal diet. It was discovered during the War that compressed and dried vegetables were harmful and that, not lime-juice, but the juice pressed out of fresh limes, was the preventive of scurvy."

We want ideal labourers in the country’s cause. They will not bother about what food they get, or what comforts they are assured by the villagers whom they serve. They will trust to God for whatever they need, and will exult in the trials and tribulations they might have to undergo. This is inevitable in our country where we have 7,00,000 villages to think of. We cannot afford to have a salaried staff of workers who have an eye to regular increments, provident funds and pensions. Faithful service of the villagers is its own satisfaction.

Some of you will be tempted to ask if this is also the standard for the villagers. Not by any means. These prospects are for us servants and not for the village-folk our masters. We have sat on their backs all these years, and we want to accept voluntary and increasing poverty in order that our masters’ lot may be much better than it is today. We have to enable them to earn more than they are earning today. That is the aim of the Village Industries Association. It cannot prosper unless it has an ever-increasing number of servants such as I have described. May you be such servants.

Harijan, 23-5.’36