Gramdan sarvodaya is a movement of the people towards total freedom. It grew out of India’s great non-violent struggle for political freedom. But it was always a fundamental part of that significant struggle. It is true that it was primarily a movement of the national leaders; but to their credit and to the credit of Gandhi in particular, they had a profound sense of the deep-felt needs of the people and always tried to make the immediate program that of the people. One remembers so well when Vinoba came to the Madurai district. With hesitation we set for ourselves a goal of 25
gramdans. Then we were experiencing unusual success. Vinoba asked, “How do you explain this?” I replied, “You have sensed what is already in the hearts of the people; that is why there is a remarkable response”. Of course, this was but partly true
Food, clothing and better housing are certainly felt-needs of the people. Thus the “land to the tiller” program strikes a responsive note in the heart to the needy. The khadi program has had remarkable success in a land of need at a time of great world industrialisation. It helps the helpless who have no money to buy cloth to clothe themselves. Thus there are always ready responses to a cottage or village industries program that meets a real need. It is true that we need good technicians and capital; we need to solve the problem of marketing. However, in the original Khadi and Village Industries Program we started at such a simple level that these latter needs were insignificant. The wastes of the village were used to meet real needs.
Unto the Last
There has been a surprising response to bhoodan and other dan programs. As some of our local Kannavaipatty people said to a question, “Why did you become gramdan?” The immediate reply was, “We were getting poorer and poorer. We saw no other way out.” In the recent efforts for gramdan in the Tirunelveli district, where several new gramdans have been secured in recent months, it has been remarked that most of these are small hamlets and involve the poorest of the village people. Sometimes we say that our efforts have not reached the very poor. In December 1963, at Gandhigram, Jawaharlal Nehru reminded us several times during the day that we had not gone down to the neediest. However, in the bhoodan and the gramdan movement we must recognise that this noble but difficult aim of sarvodaya has been achieved to a very large extent. Even in the Constructive Program much has been done, and is being done, in reaching this goal. How many hungry have been helped in the khadi program during these several years! How many helpless and needy untouchables such as the scavengers have been aided by the Harijan Sevak Sangh. Certainly the program for a national language and special attention to the vernaculars has taken into consideration the lowliest who could never think of any education in English. The program for women and children again has been for the very needy. I have seen much of the work of the Kasturba Memorial Trust. Especially when I went to the balvadis, and at the beginning of such a program, I would see naked children, suffering from malnutrition, being helped. Certainly, in the work with women in this area we have dealt with the very needy. In Gandhi’s program for labourers and students he went to the neediest. Basic Education surely has the needs of the neediest in mind as well as the welfare of all. The leprosy program has been directed towards one of the needy sections of our population. The bhoodan and gramdan movements have continued this emphasis.
Special Challenges of Today
All of us are painfully aware of the passing of another of our outstanding national leaders. We have yet to appreciate the unique contribution of Nehru in formulating a great nation building program. For the moment I am thinking primarily of the Community Development Program which now covers every village in India. India is a land of villages. At least 80 per cent of our people still live in the village. Perhaps food is the outstanding problem of India. The village provides for the nation the answer to these basic needs of people: food, clothing and housing. However, it is my conviction that a rural-based society alone can produce a rich and lasting culture and civilization. The foundations of a democratic, socialistic society can only be provided by a village-centred nation. If we are to have a substantial spiritual base I am convinced that it must find its foundations in the villages. We are stressing cooperation in India today. The natural forms of cooperation are always evident in a village economy. If there is any truth in my claims, then sociologists must study this aspect of social life most carefully that we may know best to develop in the future.
Feeding the Hungry
The bhoodan movement recognises the need for land being in the hands of the tiller. It is a nonviolent attempt to solve this serious problem. I am quite convinced, as I watch our struggle for more food in India, that we cannot provide such until every agricultural labourer owns the land on which he works. There cannot be any absentee ownership. Here again, there must be a careful study out of which must grow a definite and nonviolent national program. Gramdan is a natural approach to cooperative farming and village industries. Again it is my conviction that if we are to have a natural and substantial Cooperative Movement in India it must flow from the people themselves. It cannot come from the Government. The Government can and will play a very important part in such a movement. However, it must be fundamentally an expression of the people concerned. When the people work together, facing this large food problem of India, then only can we feed all adequately In solving the food or any other problem in the village we must face the need of minimum physical strength. We cannot expect hungry people to work hard, to have the needed initiative, to take the necessary leadership, to have the needed morale and to rise above an animal level of existence. The present economic system brings food to the people who are able to buy it. It does not provide adequate food for the men who produce it. This is most unjust. Gramdan is working towards this end. The public must be more sensitive to and more cooperative with this important approach to another of our great national problems
Rural workers are constantly stressing the need for kitchen gardens. However, in many villages the local family has no place where they can even construct a latrine. There must be a minimum of land in each village for each family. Where villages are crowded, we can resort to common gardens and orchards. This kind of cooperative effort is not easy. However, it must be attempted. In our health programs we must stress the preserving and increasing of food values. For example, a common procedure in our South Indian villages is the germination and sometimes the sprouting of grams, pulses, millets and maizes. By this often important and protective food values are increased 10 per cent and more. When we are deficient in food these methods are extremely important.
We must also give more attention to the proper use of the soil. New buildings are often built upon good soil. This should be prohibited unless absolutely necessary. We have so many stony and dry places that it is a crime in these days to fill up a rice field to build a building thereon. The question arises also in my mind whether we should not plant millions of palmyrah and other sugar producing trees in sandy and dry areas where they will grow and thus release good wet lands from the necessity of producing sugar. It is also a fact that we are using more sugar than needed. If this is true, then we should educate our people. In this connection, I am convinced that more of our millets and maizes can be used in the preparation of our biscuits and breads That again would help us to improve our diets and increase our food supplies. I suggest these practical programs because it is at this point that gramdan workers can make a substantial contribution to Government efforts I would also stress the sanitation program. “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Health is essential to a good social program. Gandhi made scavengers out of his workers and this had many implications. The Government and the gramdan movement have still to make one village clean. We cannot have sound health without cleanliness. We need all of the village wastes to feed the soil if we are to make our efforts most fruitful. Gandhi again taught us the importance of composting night soil. We are tending to get away from this important emphasis. I know of no place that is seriously taking up the composting of night soil and other village wastes. Even the Sanitation Institutes are not facing these potentialities as seriously or as effectively as they might.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Gandhi’s Constructive Program was Harijan Seva. When I see what has taken place in India and compare this with what is taking place after one hundred years of similar service in the U.S.A., I am profoundly impressed by the work in India in regard to this serious problem. There is no question but that we must work for a “casteless classless society”. I believe this is the desire of our people. The Government has made substantial contribution to the solution of the problem of the “outcaste”. However, the
sarvodaya movement might do much more. There are many amenities offered to the Harijans. Again and again, these do not reach them because there are no proper channels. The last few days parent after parent has come to me for help to buy books, etc. It is a noble thing to want better education. However, so many of the poor people cannot afford it, especially of the Harijan groups. Here again, we need common funds set aside for special needs. In many cases there might be inter-marriages, the common use of wells, common projects; but this is not accomplished because the leadership is not as active and courageous as it ought to be.
Abundant Life to Women and Children
One is always impressed by a balvadi or any other good work for our village women and children. In many of our villages there have been chit funds so that village homes might have better utensils. We have had several workshops for mothers. We try to open up to them this wonderful new world in which we are living. We try to give them a few techniques that will be significant for their family life. We have found them most cooperative. Personally, I have been concerned about family planning. I am not thinking of this need in any narrow sense. Great changes are taking place in the village family. Old traditions are being broken. New developments are taking place. However, this is not being done thoughtfully and with careful planning. There are many traditions that are useless or harmful. There are others tremendously significant for the development of the new family in a sarvodaya society. What are the new patterns of family life that are important for such a society? How can cooperation be emphasized in the home so that the family may participate more fully and effectively in a cooperative village? There needs to be careful family budgeting of resources and time. I repeat that it is a great joy to see this work taking place in our villages. However, we still touch only a small percentage of such villages. If we could do such work in every gramdan village we would be giving substantial support to the whole community development program of the Government. One wonders whether the Government should not set aside more funds to assist such important work.
India has yet to understand the full meaning and appreciate the significance of Basic Education, especially at the village level. It pained me yesterday to hear that the Education Department was sabotaging Basic Education by not providing cotton at least for the schools ready to take up this project seriously. Surely, an experienced educationist must recognise the importance of the training of body, mind and spirit. The use of a craft like the cotton craft helps in the integration of such training and especially in the village situation. But even more important is the need for the complete integration of the village school and the community development program. When Ponnuraman of Kottaipatti returned from Israel he said that he was most impressed by the care of the children on the part of the various communities in Israel. He suggested that if there was a village hostel in connection with the Basic Education school in his village this would help gramdan greatly. Surely, the patterns of cooperation in the gramdan village, and now in all of India, are most important. If the community is to be trained in cooperation it must start at the school. Here again the Government should help us to carry on pilot experimentation.
Gramdan sarvodaya is a program for the “welfare of all unto the last”. The Government has made significant contributions towards panchayat raj. This can only be implemented by full cooperation on the part of the villagers and village-level workers. In our area we are making a special attempt to have regular monthly mahasabha meetings. This reminds one of the old Town Meeting of New England which became the foundation of American democracy. Certainly we cannot expect any other such foundations than those which will be made in our villages. These village assemblies elect their own panchayats which become the administrative channel for the decision of the mahasabha. In the Batlagundu area, common projects are growingly seen in the gramdan villages. Slowly common funds are being started. Common labour programs have been initiated. In the Government development program provision has been made for Volunteer Forces. In Tamilnad we are making special efforts to have village Shanti Senas. We still need to develop a rural youth movement. Some good work is being done. However, such work must be made more universal. At least in three gramdan villages in this area land has been shared with the landless. However, it is becoming clear to me that this sharing cannot go on indefinitely. For example, in Kannavaipatty the absentee landlords own more than the people living in the village. There is no other solution of the land problem: the absentee landlord must give his land to the landless. The people are slowly being organized to carry out such a program. However, all resources in India, both Government and non-official, must be mobilized to solve this serious problem. Only then can we truly take sarvodaya and all good Government programs fully to the people, especially as we try to produce more food.
Gandhi constantly reminded the constructive workers that he was giving them a very difficult program and that it could not be carried out unless all had “a living faith in Truth (God)”. I have already suggested that the faith of the common villager is remarkable. It must be given more substance. It must be channelled more fully into difficult daily living. However, Vinoba constantly reminds us that the existing religions are insufficient for the need, that we must have a reunion of spirituality and science. Certainly, there is much that is valuable for the present and future in the great religious traditions of India. We are fortunate in having here all of the great and living religions of the world. However, and unfortunately, these religions are dividing us. All too often, they hinder us as we move into a new social order. Fortunately, there is a rich prophetic element in each one of these religions to which we can appeal. A growing number of our leaders are becoming sensitive to the importance of the prophetic elements in the Buddha, in the Prophet, in the great prophets of Israel, in Jesus Christ and in present-day prophets. India has great spiritual traditions and resources. During these recent decades we have had outstanding spiritual leaders here in South India. There are still some who are helping us. However this area of our social life needs attention. I am quite convinced that we cannot do our best in the gramdan Sarvodaya program of the Batlagundu area until sensitive, cooperative men and spiritual leaders of vision come together and plan a constructive programme to encourage spirituality and science. Just as we plan for the new family so also must we plan for a new and substantial spiritual expression that will make itself felt at every point of need and progress.