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Gandhi read a poem describing the farmer as the father of the world. It said God was the provider and cultivator was his hand. He asserted that in peasants' freedom from poverty and ignorance lay the freedom of India: " Over 75% of the population are agriculturists. The Kisan is the salt of the earth which should belong to him and not to the absentee landlord sabhi bhumi gopalki. There cannot be much self-government about us, if we take away from the peasants almost the whole of the results of their labour. Our salvation can only come through the farmer. Neither the lawyers nor the doctors, nor the rich landlords are going to secure it."
Twenty-five percent of the state revenue was collected from the peasantry. The pressure of land tax was heavy. Whenever Gandhi heard of or saw a new palatial building being constructed in any city in India, he sadly remarked : " Oh it is the money that comes from agriculturists." Any such symbol of urban prosperity reminded him of the peasantry burdened with taxation, illegal exactions, debts which could never be fully paid, illiteracy, superstition and diseases.
Gandhi was not a born Kisan but he made every effort to become one. From boyhood he loved to grow fruits. Every afternoon, coming back from school, he carried buckets of water up on the terrace to water plants. At the age of 36, he began to live a peasant's life on a farm. An acre of ground with some fruit trees attracted him when he was searching a plot of land with his family and friends. slowly he took to farming and gave up the gentlemanly occupation of an attorney. the cottages were built by the inmates of the farm. Gandhi tilled the soil, drew water, grew vegetables and fruits and hewed wood. He soon converted the land into an orchard.
Ten years of farm life in south Africa armed him with good knowledge of and experience in farming. He popularised the non-violent and more scientific method of bee -keeping that did not displace the honey comb, nor destroyed the bees. He explained how bee-keeping near a harvesting land or a garden of fruits and vegetables increased the yield from plants. The bees while drinking honey from the flowers carry pollens with their feet and improve the quality and quantity of crops.
Gandhi brushed aside any complaint about the barrenness of land, dearth of implements or meagre water supply. The major asset of a cultivator, he affirmed, was an intelligent use of his labour. He should be energetic, resourceful and self-reliant. When an organiser of the Nayee Talim complained that the land at their disposal was not fit for agriculture, Gandhi said: " You do not know what kind of land we had to begin with in South Africa. If I were in your place, I would not use the plough to begin with. I would arm the children with hoe and teach them to use it. It is an art. the bullock power can come later. A thin top layer of loam or compost manure can enable us to grow many a useful vegetable and pot-herb. Conversion of night-soil into manure by shallow trenching system does not need more than a fortnight . Our children should be taught to regard the work of agriculture as honorable. It is not degrading but a noble occupation." Gandhi thought agriculture could play an important part in basic education scheme.
Just before the partition of India, the Hindus of Noakhali asked him:" How can we continue to stay here, what are we to feed on? the Muslim peasants are non-co-operating with us and are not supplying us with bullocks or ploughs." Gandhi retorted: " Get hold of some pickaxes and start digging. Crop yield won't be poor from earth dug with pickaxes."
In 1943, when Gandhi was in jail, lakhs of people died of starvation in Bengal. The memory of that tragic event was fresh in the minds of the people and the government officials. When there was fear of another famine in 1947, the Viceroy promptly sent his private secretary to Sevagram in a plane to seek Gandhi's advice. Gandhi remained unshaken and asked people to shed all fear of the approaching calamity; " There is plenty of fertile land, enough water and no dearth of man-power. Why should there be food shortage under such circumstances? People should be educated to become self-reliant. He who eats two grains must produce four. Everyone should grow some edible for personal use. The easiest way to do so is to collect clean earth, mix it with organic manure even a little bit of dried cow-dung is good organic manure and put it in any earthen pot or tin pot and throw some seeds of vegetables and daily water the pots. All exports of seeds should stopped. Starch can be derived from such roots as carrots, parsnips, potatoes, yam and bananas. The idea being to exclude from the present diet grains and pulses which can be kept and stored." His call for self-help needed determined practice of discipline and austerity, adaptability to anew type of food habit and no begging from abroad.
During the control of food and cloth, Gandhi needed no rations from the Government stock. He could manage without rice, bread and pulses and did not use sugar. He made his own cloth.
In Harijan, he gave detailed instructions as how to make compost manure using the things that were near at hand, the things that cost nothing -cow dung, night soil, urine, peelings of vegetables and deadly water hyacinths. With labour and application, compost manure could be made without any capital . In his ashrams, night-soil and urine were conserved in pits. In a short time, they were turned in to rich manure. This bhangi cum kisan's work did not appeal to the conservative peasants. Gandhi preferred organic manure to chemical fertiliser. Use of the latter for soil fertility or for quick return of crop was in his opinion dangerous. It might results in depletion of the soil in spite of its promise of dramatic results.
He also did not favour the use of a tractor in place of cattle plough. At the Sabarmati Ashram he tried almost all improved ploughs but the primitive cattle plough proved must suitable. It conserved soil because it ploughed deep enough for the crop but never too deep to do any damage. Moreover, he disliked the displacement of human labour of hundreds of men by a tractor. He wanted to employ them in fruitful productive work. He had a fear that a mechanical device would blunt the creative faculty of the peasants. The age long system of ploughing small holdings separately was not approved by him because " it is better for 100 families to cultivate together and divide the income there from than to divide the land any how into 100 portions. Everyone in a village having a bullock and a bullock-cart seems wasteful'. He advocated co-operative cattle farming. Collective cattle farming can ensure proper veterinary treatment to animals and maintain a common grazing ground and a select stud bull for many cows. No ordinary farmer can provide for these arrangements. Cattle Fodder often costs more than what the cattle yield. As the number of cattle increases , under pressure or turns them out to starve to death. He ill treats the cattle and cruelly extracts work from them.
Gandhi laid special stress on protection of the cow the most valuable animal in farm economy. During his tours all over India, he was distressed to see lusterless eyes of the peasants and the pitiable condition of the cows; " In no country on earth were the cow and its progeny so ill-treated as in India where the cow is held in veneration. The veneration now consists of deadly feuds with the Muslims over cow-killing and in sanctifying ourselves with her sacred touch. Many pinjrapoles and goshalas are dens of torture." He expected the pinjarapoles to take care of dry and disabled animals and to give expert advice on cattle breeding. He preferred cow's milk and butter to those of a buffalo for their superior quality. Moreover after death, the skin, bone, entrails and flashings of the cow are useful.
In his ashram goshala he kept good stud bulls and maintained a model yet inexpensive cow-shed. He attended to every detail of the goshala. All new born calved were greeted with a loving pat by him. A heifer was once suffering from an incurable disease. No medicals relief was of any avail. Gandhi decide to end its life and himself held a paw of the ailing calf when the doctor put it to sleep. There was aloud protest against this act of violence committed by the great apostle of non-violence. One Jain threatened to wipe out this sin with Gandhi's blood. Gandhi faced the storm calmly.
Once more he shocked the rigid observers of ahimsa with his proposal of killing the monkeys that destroyed crops, fruits and vegetable grown in the ashram, He said: " having become a peasant myself, I must find out some means by which crops can be safeguarded against them with the minimum use of himsa. The monkey nuisance has become very acute. The monkeys refuse to be frightened even by gun-shots and only gibber and howl when shots are fired. I am seriously considering the question of killing them, in case it should become unavoidable. " No monkey was ever killed or hurt by arrows or otherwise in the ashram.
How to increase the income of the poor peasants was Gandhi's constant concern. They were without work for four to six months a year. They could not maintain themselves only on agriculture. He tried to utilize this enforced idleness of 30 crores of peasants by restoring to women their spinning wheel and to men their handlooms . He wanted to raise the income of these illiterate, ill-clad, ill-fed peasants to a level that would ensure a balanced diet, livable dwelling houses cloth enough for health requirements and good education. they should also develop a will to resist He stood for Kisan-Mazdoor-Praja-Raj and warned: " When the peasant is fully awakened to a sense of his plight and knows that is fully awakened to a sense of his plight and knows that is to not his kismet that has brought hi m to this helpless state, he will abolish all distinctions between constitutional and unconstitutional means . When the Indian peasantry will under stand what swaraj is, then nobody dare hold it back from him."
Under Gandhi's lead, the peasants joined the civil disobedience movement, made salt despite the official prohibition and took the Independence Pledge in public meetings. During the no-tax campaign, their land and property were confiscated. they lost economically but grew in moral stature.