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18. Military Programme
George Joseph has been one of my dearest comrades. When I was having rest in Yeravda, he was editor of Young India. Before that at my instance he was editor of the now defunct Independent. He had sacrificed a lucrative practice for the sake of the country. He went to gaol for the same cause. He is an earnest and honest worker. He is therefore entitled to a respectful hearing, the more so when such a man differs from you, and, rejecting the old, recommends with the fervour of a convert the adoption of a new policy.
He condemns Khadi, he is "quite satisfied that the removal of untouchability is not primarily a problem of statesmanship." His programme in one simple sentence is ‘Militarize India’. Here is an extract from the speech:
We cannot all become soldiers. There is enough room for us. But it should be possible for us to set about the idea of training about 5,000 men every year in this presidency in urban units. The men will go to drill two or three times a week, go out to camp three weeks in the year. Such training should be made available not only for the students who are at college, but also for men of sufficient social and educational status, the educational standard being the membership of the School Leaving class. If you see in every street such people going about in khaki, there will be a new element in our life. This kind of training would make people to stand straight, to think straight, and to speak straight. It will be a great enrichment of our life."
My experience teaches me differently. I have known men in khaki rolling in gutters instead of standing straight. I have seen a Dyer thinking crooked and speaking not straight but nonsense. I have known a commander-in-chief being unable to think at all, let alone thinking straight. Let those who are enamoured of military training have it by all means; but to suggest it 'as a new constructive programme' betrays impatience and hasty thinking. There is not much danger of 'the new programme' taking root in the Indian soil. Moreover, it is against the new order of things that is coming into being even in the West which has grown weary of the war-god. The military spirit in the West bids fair to kill the very humanity in men and reduce him to the level of the beast. What is wanted and what India has, thank God, learnt in a measure undreamt of before is the spirit of unarmed resistance before which the bayonet runs to rust and gunpowder turns to dust. The vision that Joseph puts before us of an armed govern-ment bending a minority to its will by a clatter of arms is a negation of the democratic spirit and progress. If that is the promise of the new programme, we have the armed coercion even now, not indeed of a mere minority but of an overwhelming majority. What we want, I hope, is a government not based on coercion even of a minority, but on its conversion. If it is a change from white military rule to a known one, we hardly need make any fuss. At any rate the masses then do not count. They will be subject to the same spoliation as now if not even worse. When George Joseph has lived down his impatience, I know him to be too honest not to retrace his steps and become the fine democrat that, to my great joy, I had discovered him to be on the Madras beach in 1919.
Let us then turn to what he has to say about Khadi: As long as I was within the fold of the Congress, the only thing the constructive programme represented was khaddar, removal of untouchability, and in later years prohibition. Now I must frankly tell you that I have come deliberately to the conclusion that not one of these goes to the root of the fundamental need of this nation. Khaddar does not. I think it will not survive the creator of the movement, Gandhiji. I have come to that conclusion because of the fundamental economic defect which is attached to khaddar. It costs far too much to produce and to buy, and is, consequently, unjust to the consumer. Khaddar which costs about a rupee a yard will not stand against the cloth produced by the machine industries costing as. 6. My experience of khaddar is that it results in injustice to the producer also. The women, the spinners, who are at the root of khaddar, working for 10 hours a day, have got to be content with a wage of as. 3. I suggest that an industry based on the payment of as. 3 as wages to the fundamental producer thereof cannot succeed, because it amounts to sweating of labour. The sweating of labour consists essentially in paying to the labourer less than is sufficient for her physical maintenance. It is no answer to say that the country is stricken with famine, that there are millions of people without occupation, and to say that for these as. 3 is better than no income whatever. I refuse to accept that argument. That cannot be an argument which can appeal to any human employer of labour, or any-statesman with a forward-looking view, in reference to the affairs of his country. It is no consolation to be told that I shall be right in offering as. 3 wages a day, when I know as a matter of economic necessity that the wages would not be sufficient to maintain the worker, much less her family. That is to my mind the hopeless, ineradicable and inexorable vice that attaches to khaddar. That is why today, in spite of 7 or 8 years of labour by Gandhiji, and 'n spite of lakhs of money poured like water into the organization of the industry, the production of khaddar is infinitely small compar-ed to the magnitude of the problem that has got to be solved, that JS to produce clothing for the whole of India, and to put an end to the importation of Rs. 60 crores worth of cloth every year."
Here George Joseph's impatience for reform has betrayed him into lapse of memory. For he brings no new argument in support of his summary rejection of Khadi, but quotes as facts what he himself used to refute as fal-lacies. Arguments may be revised on further consideration, but facts may not be unless they are proved to have been false. Khadi as conceived for the use of millions does not cost more than foreign cloth for the simple reason that the millions must, if Khadi is to be used by them, be their own manufacturers and consumers. These pages have shown that in Bardoli, Bijolia and several other places Khadi is being so manufactured and consumed, even as in millions of homes people cook and eat their own food. It is possible to demonstrate, in terms of metal, that rice or bread cooked in a few factories would cost less than they cost today in the millions of homes. But nobody on that account would dare suggest that the millions should cease to cook and should send their raw rice and wheat to be cooked in centralized factories.
Again it is not true to say that women spinners work ten hours per day. Whatever spinning they do is done during their spare hours, and what they get is not a day's wage but in the majority of cases a substantial addition to their daily earnings from their daily avocation. The earning from spinning is waste turned into wealth and not the price of 'sweated labour' as Joseph puts it. And let me correct Joseph by saying that no spinner even working for 10 hours per day can earn 3 as per day. Spinning has never been conceived as a full-day occupation. Lastly, it is untrue to say that "lakhs of money have been poured like water into the organization of the industry." No organization on a nationwide scale has been known to cost less in organizing than this has. What is true is that a paltry 25 lakhs have been invested as capital for organi-zing this great and daily growing cottage industry which brings water to thousands of parched lips. Joseph must think cheap of his countrymen when he prophesies that an organization which employs at least 1,500 willing work-ers in 1,500 villages, an organization which brings daily relief to nearly 1,50,000 women, an organization which commands the self-sacrificing labours of a Mithubai Petit, the Naoroji Sisters, of a Banker, a Jamnalal, a Rajagopalachari, and Abbas Tyebji, a Venkatappayya, a Pattabhi, a Gangadharrao, a Vallabhbhai, a Lakshmidas, a Rajendra prasad, a Jairamdas, a Mahadev, a Kripalani, a Satish Chandra Dasgupta, a Suresh Banerji, aye a Jawaharlal, and a host of others, doctors, merchants and laymen too numerous to mention though known to fame, will die after the death of one man. It will be a tragic miracle, if all these men and women find the morning after my death that Khadi was a 'huge blunder'.
And the pity of it all is that Joseph does not suggest an alternative. Not even if every educated Indian was dressed in khaki and knew how to shoot straight, would the problem of growing poverty and the forced partial unemployment of millions of the peasantry be solved with-out a special programme devised for the purpose. For better or worse Khadi is that programme till a better is evolved.
Young India, 19-12-1929