Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav
Gandhi Research Foundation Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India
Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229
Gandhi’s Ashram and its activities, Part-II
Mahatma Gandhi set up many Ashrams. He had set up two Ashram in South Africa and more than two ashrams in India. These ashrams were the activities places of Mahatma Gandhi. It was laboratory for his experiments. But maximum activities of ashrams were decided in Satyagraha Ashram. Its next version was Sabarmati Ashram. It was a new thing in Sevagram Ashram that it was laboratory of Indian politics and it was head quarter of freedom movement.
These two, along with truth, ahimsa and brahmacharya that have gone before, constitute the five maharajas (primary observances) of old and have been included in the Ashram observances as they are necessary for one who seeks self-realization. But they do not call for any lengthy discussion. To take something from another without his permission is theft of course. But it is also theft to use a thing for a purpose different from the one intended by the lender or to use it for a period longer than that which has been fixed with him. The profound truth upon which this observance is based is that God never creates more than what is strictly needed for the moment. Therefore whoever appropriates more than the minimum that is really necessary for him is guilty of theft.
This is covered by Non-stealing. We may neither take nor keep a superfluous thing. It is therefore a breach of this observance to possess food or furniture which we do not really need. He who can do without chairs will not keep them in his house. The seeker will deliberately and voluntarily reduce his wants and cultivate progressively simple habits. Non-stealing and Non-possession are mental states only. No human being can keep these observances to perfection. The body too is a possession, and so long as it is there, it calls for other possessions in its train. But the seeker will cultivate the spirit of detachment and give up one possession after another. Everyone cannot be judged by the same standard. An ant may fall from grace if it stores two grains instead of one. An elephant on the other hand will have a lot of grass heaped before it and yet it cannot be charged with having ‘great possessions’. These difficulties appear to have given rise to the current conception of sannyasa, which is not accepted by the Ashram. Such sannyasa may be necessary for some rare spirit who has the power of conferring benefits upon the world by only thinking good thoughts in a cave. But the world would be ruined if everyone became a cave-dweller.
Ordinary men and women can only cultivate mental detachment. Whoever lives in the world and live-in it only for serving it is a sannyasi? We of the Ashram hope to become sannyasis in this sense. We may keep necessary things but should be ready to give up everything including our bodies. The loss of nothing whatever should worry us at all. So long as we are alive, we should render such service as we are capable of. It is a good thing if we get food to eat and clothes to wear; it is also a good thing if we don’t. We should so train our minds that no Ashramites will fail to give a good account of him when testing time comes.
The Ashram holds that every man and woman must work in order to live. This principle came home to me upon reading one of Tolstoy’s essays. Referring to the Russian writer Bondaref, Tolstoy observes that his discovery of the vital importance of bread labour is one of the most remarkable discoveries of modern times. The idea is that every healthy individual must labour enough for his food, and his intellectual faculties must be exercised not in order to obtain a living or amass a fortune but only in the service of mankind. If this principle is observed everywhere, all men would be equal, none would starve and the world would be saved from many a sin. It is possible that this golden rule will never be observed by the whole world.
Millions observe it in spite of themselves without understanding it. But their mind is working in a contrary direction, so that they are unhappy themselves and their labour is not as fruitful as it should be. This state of things serves as an incentive to those whounderstand and seeks to practice the rule. By rendering a willing obedience to it they enjoy good health as well as perfect peace and develop their capacity for service. Tolstoy made a deep impression on my mind, and even in South Africa I began to observe the rule to the best of my ability. And ever since the Ashram was founded, bread labour has been perhaps its most characteristic feature. In my opinion the same principle has been set forth in the third chapter of the Gita. I do not go so far as to say that the word yajna there means body labour. But when the Gita says that ‘rain comes from sacrifice’, (verse 14), I think it indicates the necessity of bodily labour. The ‘residue of sacrifice’ (verse 13)2 is the bread that we have won in the sweat of our brow. Labouring enough for one’s food has been classed in the Gita as a yajna. Whoever eats more than is enough for sustaining the body is a thief, for most of us hardly perform labour enough to maintain themselves.
I believe that a man has no right to receive anything more than his keep, and that everyone who labours is entitled to a living wage. This does not rule out the division of labour. The manufacture of everything needed to satisfy essential human wants involves bodily labour, so that labour in all essential occupations counts as bread labour. But as many of us do not perform such labour, they have to take exercise in order to preserve their health. A cultivator working on his farm from day to day has not to take breathing exercise or stretch his muscles. Indeed if he observes the other laws of health, he will never be afflicted with illness. God never creates more than what is strictly needed for the moment, with the result that if anyone appropriates more than he really needs, he reduces his neighbour to destitution. The starvation of people in several parts of the world is due to many of us seizing very much more than we need. We may utilize the gifts of nature just as we choose, but in her books the debits are always equal to the credits. There is no balance in either column.
This law is not invalidated by the fact that men raise bigger crops by mechanizing agriculture and using artificial fertilizers, and similarly increase the industrial output. This only means a transformation of natural energy. Try as we might, the balance is always nil. Be that as it may, the observance best kept in the Ashram is that of bread labour, and no wonder. Its fulfillment is easy with ordinary care. For certain hours in the day, there is nothing to be done but work. Work is therefore bound to be put in. A worker maybe lazy, inefficient or inattentive, but he works for a number of hours all the same. Again certain kinds of labour are capable of yielding an immediate product and the worker cannot idle away a considerable amount of his time. In an institution where body labour plays a prominent part there are few servants. Drawing water, splitting firewood, cleaning and filling lamps with oil, sanitary service, sweeping the roads and houses, washing one’s clothes, cooking, all these tasks must always be performed. Besides this there are various activities carried on in the Ashrams a result of and in order to help fulfillment of the observances, such as agriculture, dairying, weaving, carpentry, tanning and the like which must be attended to by many members of the Ashram. All these activities may be deemed sufficient for keeping the observance of bread labour, but another essential feature of yajna(sacrifice) is the idea of serving others, and the Ashram will perhaps be found wanting from this latter standpoint. The Ashram ideal is to live to serve. In such an institution there is no room for idleness or shirking duty, and everything should be done with right goodwill. If this were actually the case, the Ashram ministry would be more fruitful than it is. But we are still very far from such a happy condition. Therefore although in a sense every activity in the Ashrami of the nature of yajna, it is compulsory for all to spin for at least one hour in the name of God incarnated as the Poor People often say that in an institution like the Ashram where body labour is given pride of place there is no scope for intellectual development, but my experience is just the reverse.
Everyone who has been to the Ashram has made intellectual progress as well; I know of none who was the worse on account of a sojourn in the Ashram. Intellectual development is often supposed to mean a know172ledge of facts concerning the universe. I freely admit that such knowledge is not laboriously imparted to the students in the Ashram. But if intellectual progress spells understanding and discrimination, there is adequate provision for it in the Ashram. Where body labour is performed for mere wages, it is possible that the labourer becomes dull and listless. No one tells him how and why things are done; he himself has no curiosity and takes no interest in his work. But such is not the case in the Ashram. Everything including sanitary service must be done intelligently, enthusiastically and for the love of God. Thus there is scope for intellectual development in all departments’ of Ashram activity. Everyone is encouraged to acquire full knowledge of his own subject. Anyone who neglects to do this must answer for it. Everyone in the Ashram is a labourer; none is a wage-slave. It is a gross superstition to imagine that knowledge is acquired only through books. We must discard this error. Reading books has a place in life, but is useful only in its own place. If book-knowledge is cultivated at the cost of body labour, we must raise a revolt against it. Most of our time must be devoted to body labour, and only a little to reading. As in India today the rich and the so-called higher classes despise body labour, it is very necessary to insist on the dignity of labour. Even for real intellectual development one should engage in some useful bodily activity. It is desirable if at all possible that the Ashram should give the workers some more time for reading. It is also desirable that illiterate Ashramites should have a teacher to help them in their studies. But it appears that time for reading and the like cannot be given at the cost of any of the present activities of the Ashram. Nor can we engage paid teachers, and so long as the Ashram cannot attract more men who are capable of teaching ordinary school subjects, we have to manage with as many such as we have got in our midst. The school and college-educated men who are in the Ashram have not still fully acquired the skill of correlating the three R’s with body labour. This is a new experiment for all of us. But we shall learn from experience, and those of us who have received ordinary education will by and by find out ways and means of imparting their knowledge to others.
At the Ashram we hold that swadeshi is a universal law. A man’s first duty is to his neighbour. This does not imply hatred for the foreigner or partiality for the fellow-countryman. Our capacity for service has obvious limits. We can serve even our neighbour with some difficulty. If every one of us duly performed his duty to his neighbour, no one in the world who needed assistance would be left unattended. Therefore one who serves his neighbour serves the entire world. As a matter of fact there is in swadeshi no room for distinction between one’s own and other people. To serve one’s neighbour is to serve the world. Indeed it is the only way open to us of serving the world. One to whom the whole world is as his family should have the power of serving the universe without moving from his place. He can exercise this power only through service rendered to his neighbour. Tolstoy goes further and says that at present we are riding on other people’s backs; it is enough only if we get down. This is another way of putting the same thing. No one can serve others without serving himself. And whoever tries to achieve his private ends without serving others harms him as well as the world at large. The reason is obvious.
All living beings are members one of another so that adperson’s every act has a beneficial or harmful influence on the whole world. We cannot see this, near-sighted as we are. The influence of a single act of an individual on the world may be negligible. But that influence is there all the same, and an awareness of this truth should make us realize our responsibility. Swadeshi therefore does not involve any disservice to the foreigner. Still swadeshi does not reach everywhere, for that is impossible in the very nature of things. In trying to serve the world, one does not serve the world and fails to serve even the neighbour. In serving the neighbour one in effect serves the world. Only he who has performed his duty to his neighbour has the right to say, ‘All are akin to me’. But if a person says, ‘All are akin to me’, and neglecting his neighbour gives himself up to self-indulgence, he lives to himself alone. We find some good men who leave their own place and move all over the world serving non-neighbours. They do nothing wrong, and their activity is not an exception to the law of swadeshi. Only their capacity for service is greater. To one man, only he who lives next-door to him is his neighbour. For a second man his neighborhood is co-extensive with his village and for a third with ten surrounding villages. Thus everyone serves according to his capacity. A common man cannot do uncommon work.
Definitions are framed with an eye to him alone, and imply everything which is not contrary to their spirit. When he observes the law of swadeshi, the ordinary man does not think that he is doing service to any others. He deals with the neighbouring producer, as it is convenient for him. But an occasion may arise when this is inconvenient. One who knows that swadeshi is the law of life will observe it even on such occasions. Many of us at present are not satisfied with the quality of goods made in India, and are tempted to buy foreign goods. It is therefore necessary to point out that swadeshi does not simply minister to our convenience but is a rule of life. Swadeshi has nothing to do with hatred of the foreigner. It can never be one’s duty to wish or to do ill to others. Khadi has been conceived as the symbol of swadeshi, because India has committed a heinous sin by giving it up and thus failing in the discharge of her natural duty. The importance of khadi and the spinning-wheel first dawned on me in 1908, when I had no idea of what the wheel was like and did not even know the difference between the wheel and the loom. I had only a vague idea of the condition of India’s villages, but still I clearly saw that the chief cause of their pauperization was the destruction of the spinning-wheel, and resolved that I would try to revive it when I returned to India. I returned in 1915 with my mind full of these ideas. Swadeshi was one of the observances ever since the Ashram was started. But none of us knew how to spin. We therefore rested content with setting up a handloom.
Some of us still retained a liking for fine cloth. No swadeshi yarn of the requisite fineness for women’s saris was available in the market. For a very short time therefore they were woven with foreign yarn. But we were soon able to obtain fine yarn from Indian mills. It was no easy job even to set up the handloom at the Ashram. None of us had the least idea of weaving. We obtained a loom and a weaver through friends. Maganlal Gandhi undertook to learn weaving. I conducted experiments at the Ashram and at the same time carried on swadeshi propaganda in the country. But it was like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark so long as we could not spin yarn. At last however I discovered the spinning-wheel, found out spinners and introduced the wheel in the Ashram. The whole story has been unfolded in the Autobiography. But that did not mean that our difficulties were at an end. On the other hand they increased, since such of them as were hidden till now became manifest. Touring in the country I saw that people would not take to the spinning-wheel as soon as they were told about it. I knew that not much money could be made by spinning, but I had no idea of how little it was. Then again the yarn that was spun would not at once be uniform as well as fine. Many could spin only coarse and weak yarn. Not all kinds of cotton were suitable for spinning. The cotton must be carded and made into slivers, and in carding much depended upon the condition of the cotton. Any and every spinning-wheel would not do. To revive the spinning-wheel thus meant the launching of a big scheme. Money alone could not do the trick.
As for man-power too, hundreds of workers would be needed, and these men should be ready to learn a new art, to be satisfied with a small salary and to live out their lives in villages. But even that was not enough. The rural atmosphere was surcharged with idleness and lack of faith and hope. The wheel could make no headway if this did not improve. Thus a successful revival of the wheel could be brought about only with an army of single-minded men and women equipped with infinite patience and strong faith. At first I was alone in having this faith. Faith indeed was the only capital that I had, but I saw that if there is faith, everything else is added unto it. Faith enlightens the intellect and induces habits of industry. It was clear that all experiments should be conducted at and through the Ashram which indeed existed for that very purpose. I realized that spinning should be the principal physical activity of the Ashram. Thus only could it be reduced to a science. Therefore spinning was at last recognized as a mahayajna (primary sacrifice), and everyone who joined the Ashram had to learn spinning and to spin regularly every day. But yajna implies skill in action. To spin some yarn somehow cannot be called a yajna.
At first the rule was that the members should spin for at least half an hour every day. But it was soon found that if the spinning-wheel went out of order, one could not spin even a couple of yards in half an hour. Therefore the rule was modified and members were asked to spin at least 160rounds, one round being equal to 4 feet. Again yarn was no good if it was not uniform as well as strong. Tests of strength and uniformity were therefore devised, and we have now made such progress that spinning yarn coarser than 20s does not count as yajna. But granted that good yarn is spun, who would make use of it? I was sure from the first that the person who did spinning as a sacrament must not use his own yarn, but I was unable to carry conviction to others. Where the harm was if the spinner paid the wages and purchased his yarn for himself? I deceived myself and agreed that one who paid the wages and bought his own yarn should be considered a spinning-sacrificer. This error has not still been fully rectified. Errors not dealt with a strong hand at their first appearance tend to become permanent, and are difficult to eradicate like chronic diseases. As a consequence of this yajna, spinning has made great strides in India, but it has still to take root in each of our villages. The reason is obvious.
My faith was not coupled with knowledge. Some knowledge was acquired after mistakes had been committed. Coworkers have joined me, but are too few for the great task in hand. There are hundreds of workers, but perhaps they have not in them the requisite faith and knowledge. The root being thus weak, one may not expect to enjoy the ripest fruit. But for this I cannot find fault with anybody. The work is new and wide as the ocean and it bristles with difficulties. Therefore though the result of our activity is not gratifying, it is still sufficient for sustaining our faith. We have every right to hope for complete success. Faithful workers, men as well as women, have joined in adequate numbers and have accumulated a fund of valuable experience, so that this movement is certainly destined not to perish. Khadi has given rise to quite a number of other activities at the Ashram as well as elsewhere in the country which cannot here be dealt with at any length. Suffice it to say that cotton crops are raised, spinning-wheels are made, cloth is dyed, and simple hand-operated machines are manufactured for all the processes from ginning to weaving. These machines are being improved from time to time. The progress made in producing a more efficient type of spinning-wheel is a piece of poetry to my mind.
The Ashram was founded in order to serve and if necessary to die in the service of Truth. If therefore while holding that untouchability is a sinful thing, it did not do something positive in order to end it, it could hardly deserve the name of Satyagraha Ashram. Even in South Africa we recognizeduntouchability as a sin. When the Ashram therefore was founded in India, removal of untouchability easily became one of its major activities. Within a month of the foundation of the Ashram, Dudabhai applied for admission along with his family. I had no idea that the testing time of the Ashram would arrive so soon. Dudabhai’s application was supported by Shri Amritlal Thakkar. I felt bound to admit a family which was recommended by him. The arrival of Dudabhai was the signal for a storm breaking upon the placid atmosphere of the Ashram. Kasturba, Maganlal Gandhi and Mrs. Maganlal had each of them some scruples in living with so-called untouchables. Things came to such a pass that Kasturba should either observe Ashram rules or else leave the Ashram. But the argument that a woman in following in her husband’s footsteps incurs no sin appealed to her and she quieted down. I do not hold that a wife is bound to follow her husband in what she considers sinful. But I welcomed my wife’s attitude in the present case, because I looked upon the removal of untouchability as a meritorious thing.
No one could uphold untouchability and still live in the Ashram. It would have been extremely painful to me if my wife had had to leave the Ashram, seeing that she had been my companion all these days at the cost of great suffering. It was hard to be separated from her, but one must put up with every hardship that comes his way in the discharge of his duty. I had therefore no hesitation in accepting my wife’s renunciation of untouchability not as an independent person but only as a faithful wife. Maganlal Gandhi’s case was harder than mine. He packed up his things and came to me to bid good-bye. But who was I to bid him good-bye? I put him on his guard. I told him that the Ashram was his creation as much as mine, and would be destroyed if he left it. But he certainly did not want that it should perish. He did not need to seek my permission to leave an institution which he himself had brought into existence. But to leave the Ashram should be something unthinkable for him. This appeal did not fall on deaf ears. Perhaps Maganlal had thought of leaving in order to give me a free hand. I could endure to be separated from the entire world besides but not from Maganlal. I therefore suggested that he should go to Madras with family.
He and his wife would learn more of weaving there and would have more time to ponder over the situation that had developed. So they went and lived in Madras for six months. They mastered the art of weaving and after mature consideration also washed their hearts clean of untouchability. The internal storm thus blew over. But there was a storm outside the Ashram too. The chief person who financed the Ashram discontinued his assistance. There was even a possibility that the Ashramites should not be allowed any more to draw water from the neighbour’s well. But all difficulties were surmounted by and by. As regards finance, something happened which not unlike Narasinha Mehta’s hundi (bill of exchange) was being honouredat Dvaravati. A sum of thirteen thousand rupees was received from an unexpected source. Thus the Ashram ordeal in keeping Dudabhai at any cost was not as severe as it might well has been. The Ashram passed that test as regards its opposition to untouchability. ‘Untouchable’ families come to the Ashram freely and live in it. Dudabhai’s daughter Lakshmi has become a full member of the family.
Three callings followed by the so-called untouchables are practiced in the Ashram, and improved methods are devised in each. Everyone in the Ashram has in turn to do sanitary service, which is looked upon not as a special calling but a universal duty. No outside labour is engaged for this work, which is carried on lines suggested by Dr. Poore. Night-soil is buried in shallow trenches and is thus converted into manure in only a few days. Dr. Poore says that the soil is living up to a depth of twelve inches. Millions of bacteria are there to clean up dirt. Sunlight and air penetrate the ground to that depth. Therefore night-soil buried in the upper layer readily combines with the earth. Closets are so constructed that they are free from smell and there is no difficulty in cleaning them. Everyone who visits them covers the night-soil with plenty of dry earth, so that the top is always dry. Then again we have handloom weaving. Coarse khadi was manufactured in Gujarat by Harijan weavers only. The industry was almost on the verge of destruction, and many weavers were compelled to take up scavenging for a living. But now there has been a revival of this handicraft. Thirdly we have tanning. We shall deal with it in the chapter on the Ashram dairy.
The Ashram does not believe in sub castes. There are no restrictions on interdining and all Ashramites sit to dinner in the same line. But no propaganda in favour of interdining is carried on outside the Ashram, as it is unnecessary for the removal of untouchability, which implies the lifting of bans imposed on Harijans in public institutions and discarding the superstition that a man is polluted by the touch of certain persons by reason of their birth in a particular caste. This disability can also be removed by legislation. Interdining and intermarriage are reforms of a different type which cannot be promoted by legislation or social pressure. The Ashramites therefore feel themselves free to take permitted food with everyone else but do not carry on any such propaganda. Schools are established and wells sunk for Harijans through the Ashram which chiefly finds the finance for such activities. The real anti untouchability work carried on in the Ashram is the reformed conduct of the Ashramites. There is no room in the Ashram for any ideas of high and low. However the Ashram believes that varnas and ashrams are essential elements of Hinduism. Only it puts a different interpretation on these time-honoured terms.
Four varnas and four ashram as are an arrangement not peculiar to Hinduism but capable of world-wide application, and a universal rule, the breach of which has involved humanity in numerous disasters. The four ashrams are brahmacharya, garhasthya, vanaprastha and sannyasa. Brahmacharya is the stage during which men as well as women prosecute their studies, and should not only observe brahmacharya but should also be free from any other burden except that of studies. This lasts till at least the twenty-fifth year, when the student becomes a householder if he wishes. Almost all the students thus become householders. But this stage should close at the age of fifty. During that period the householder enjoys the pleasures of life, makes money, practices a profession and rears a family. From fifty to seventy-five wife and husband should live apart and wholly devote themselves to the service of the people. They must leave their families and try to look upon the world as a big family. During the last 25 years they should become sannyasis, live apart, set to the people an example of ideal religious life and maintain themselves with whatever the people choose to give them. It is clear that society as a whole would be elevated if many carried out this scheme in their lives. So far as I am aware, the ashram arrangement is unknown outside India, but even in India it has practically disappeared at present.
There is no such thing now as brahmacharya, which is intended to be the foundation of life. For the rest we have sannyasis, most of them such only in name, with nothing of sannyasa about them except the orange robe. Many of them are ignorant, and some who have acquired learning are not knower’s of Brahman but fanatics. There are some honourable exceptions but even these well-conducted monks lack the luster we love to associate with sannyasa. It is possible that some real sannyasis lead a solitary life. But it is obvious that sannyasa as a stage in life has fallen into desuetude. A society which is served by able sannyasis would not be poor in spirit, unprovoked even with the necessaries of life, and politically dependent, as Hindu society is at present. If sannyasa were with us a living thing, it would exert a powerful influence on neighbouring faiths, for the sannyasi is a servant not only of Hinduism but of all the faiths of mankind. But we can never hope to see such sannyasis unless brahmacharya observed in the country. As for vanaprastha, there is no trace of it. The last stage we have to consider is that of the householder. But our householders are given to unregulated self-indulgence. Householders in the absence of the three other ashrams live like brutes.
Self-restraint is the one thing which differentiates man from beast, but it is practiced no longer. The Ashram is engaged in the great endeavour to resuscitate the four ashrams. It is like an ant trying to lift a bag of sugar. This effort though apparently ridiculous is part of the Ashram quest of truth. All the inmates of the ashram therefore observe brahmacharya. Permanent members must observe it for life. All the inmates are not members in this sense. Only a few are members, the rest are students. If this effort is crowned with success, we may hope to see a revival of the ashram scheme of life. The sixteen years during which the Ashram has functioned are not a sufficiently long period for the assessment of results. I have no idea of the time when such assessment will be possible. I can only say that there is nothing like dissatisfaction with the progress achieved up to date. If the ashram scheme has broken down, the plight of the Varanasi’s equally bad. At first there were four varnas; but now there are innumerable sections or only one. If we take it that there are as many varnas as there are castes and sub castes, their name is Legion; on the other hand if, as I think, varnas have nothing to do with caste, there is only a single varna left and that is the Shudra. We are here not finding fault with anybody but only stating the facts of the case. Shudras are those who serve and are dependent upon others. India is a dependency; therefore every Indian is a Shudra. The cultivator does not own his land, the merchant his merchandise.
There is hardly a Kshatriya or a Brahmin who possesses the virtues which the Shastras attribute to his Varna. My impression is that there was no idea of high and low when the Varna system was discovered. No one is high and no one is low in this world; therefore he who thinks he belongs to a high-class is never high-class, and he who believes himself to be low is merely the victim of ignorance. He has been taught by his masters that he is low. If a Brahmin has knowledge, those who are without it will respect him as a matter of course. But if he is puffed up by the respect thus shown to him and imagines himself to belong to a high class, he directly ceases to be a Brahmin. Virtue will always command respect, but when the man of virtue thinks much of himself, his virtue ceases to have any significance for the world. Talents of all kinds are a trust and must be utilized for the benefit of society. The individual has no right to live unto him. Indeed it is impossible to live unto oneself. We fully live unto ourselves when we live unto society. No matter what was the position in ancient times, no one can nowadays go through life claiming to belong to a high class. Society will not willingly admit any such claim to superiority, but only under duress. The world is now wide awake.
This awakening has perhaps given rise to some licence, but even so public opinion is not now prepared to accept any distinctions of high and low, which are being attacked on all sides. There is ever increasing realization that all are equal as human souls. The fact that we are all the creatures of one God rules out all ideas of high and low. When we say that no one is high-born or low-born, it does not mean that all have or ought to have equal talents. All have not equal talents, equal property or equal opportunities. Still all are equal like brothers and sisters of different dispositions, abilities and ages. If therefore the Varna system is a spiritual arrangement, there cannot be any place in it for high and low. Thus there are four varnas, all equal in status, and they are determined by birth. They can be changed by a person choosing another profession, but if varnas are not as a rule determined by birth, they tend to lose all meaning. The Varna system is ethical as well as economic. It recognizes the influence of previous lives and of heredity. All are not born with equal powers and similar tendencies. Neither the parents nor the State can measure the intelligence of each child. But there would be no difficulty if each child is prepared for the profession indicated by heredity, environment and the influence of former lives; any time would be lost in fruitless experimentation, there would be no soul killing competition, a spirit of contentment would pervade society and there would be no struggle for existence. The Varna system implies the obliteration of all distinctions of high and low. If the carpenter is held to be superior to the shoemaker and the pleader or doctor is superior to both of them, no one would willingly become a shoemaker or carpenter and all would try to become pleaders or doctors. They would be entitled to do so and to be praised for doing so.
That is to say, the Varna system would be looked upon as an evil and abolished as such. But when it is suggested that everyone should practice his father’s profession, the suggestion is coupled with the condition that the practitioner of every profession will earn only a living wage and no more. If the carpenter earns more than a shoemaker and the pleader or doctor more than both, everyone would become a lawyer or doctor. Such is the case at present, with the result that hatred has increased and there are more lawyers and doctors than are necessary. It may be that society needs the lawyer or doctor even as it needs the shoemaker and the carpenter. These four professions are here taken only as illustrations and for comparison. It would be irrelevant to stop to consider whether society has particular need or no need at all for this, that or the other profession. This principle then is an integral part of the Varna system, that learning is not a trade and may not be used in order to amass riches. Therefore in so far as his ministrations may be necessary, the lawyer or doctor ought by practicing his profession to earn only a living wage. And such was actually the case formerly. The village vaidya did not earn more than the carpenter but only a living wage. In short the emoluments of all crafts and professions should be equal and amount to a living wage. The number of varnas has no sanctity about it; their value is due to the fact that they define the duties of man. Varnas may be supposed to be one or more just as we like. The scriptures enumerate four of them. But when once we have assigned equal status to all, it makes little difference whether we think that there are four of them or that there is only one. Such is the Varna system which the Ashram is trying to resuscitate. It is like Dame Parrington with her mop, trying to push back the Atlantic Ocean. I have already mentioned its two fundamental principles, namely, that there are no high and low, and everyone is entitled to a living wage, the living wage being the same for all. In so far as these principles win acceptance, they will render appositive service to society. It may be objected that if such a plan is accepted there will be no incentive for the acquisition of knowledge. But the object with which knowledge is acquired nowadays tends to corrupt it, and therefore the absence of an incentive will be entirely beneficial. Knowledge truly so called is intended for one’s salvation, that is to say, service of mankind. Whoever has a desire to render service will certainly try to equip him with the requisite knowledge, and his knowledge will be an ornament to himself as well as to society. Again when the temptation to amass riches is removed, there will be a change for the better in the curriculum of studies as well as in the methods of education.
There is much misuse of knowledge at present. This misuse will be reduced to the minimum in the ‘new order’. Even then there will be scope for competition in trying to be good and helpful. And there will be no discontent or disorder as all will receives a living wage. Varna is wrongly understood today. That wrong understanding must make way for the principles outlined above. Untouchability must go, and varnas should have nothing to do with interdining or intermarriage. A person will dine with and marry whom he likes. But as a rule he will marry someone who belongs to the same Varna as himself. But if he marries a person belonging to another Varna, his act will not count as a sin. A person will be boycotted not by the Varna but by society at large when his conduct justifies such a measure. Society will be better constituted than it is at present, and the impurity and hypocrisy which infest it now will be dislodged.
This department of Ashram activities owes its existence to Maganlal Gandhi. But for him I would not have had the courage to take up agriculture at all, although an ashram without it would be something like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. For we had not the requisite skill and environment for it as I thought. Agriculture is a very big undertaking and would call for a lot of land, money and man-power. I was afraid that it would distract our attention from other necessary things which could be done and would not wait. But Maganlal was insistent and I yielded to him. ‘Let me do it’, he said, ‘if only for my own diversion’. Maganlal hardly ever argued with me. He thought it his duty to carry out my ideas. If he did not understand them or if he disagreed, he would tell me so. If even then I stuck tomy plans, he would take it that they were correct, and execute them. In fact he believed that an ashram without agriculture was something not to be thought of, and he would have had to make out a case for his belief. Instead he put forward the supreme argument of love and the Ashram launched upon agriculture. Most of the trees in the Ashram were planted by Maganlal or at his instance. I still have my doubts about agriculture.
Even today I cannot claim that it is a full-fledged Ashram activity. But I am not sorry for what little cultivation of the soil is done in the Ashram. A considerable amount of money has been sunk in it. It is not possible to show that it is self-supporting. However I am inclined to think that this much farming was necessary for the Ashram. No farming, no Ashram; for it must grow its own vegetables and fruit as far as possible. Indeed later on Maganlal took a vow that he would restrict himself to the use of Ashram-grown vegetables. An ashram should acquire the capacity to grow its own food grains and grass for the cattle. It may not carry on agricultural research, but an ashram without its farm would look like a face without the nose. The Ashram farm is only in an experimental stage. It has not much to teach anybody. It is intended to impart only an elementary knowledge of agriculture. At first there was not a single tree in the Ashram, but now there are many trees, planted with a view to their utility. Vegetables are grown as well as some fruit and fodder. Night soil is used as manure with satisfactory results. Ancient ploughs are used as well as modern improved models; water is pumped from wells by methods which can be followed in villages. We are rather partial to ancient implements which are suitable for the poor farmer. They may be susceptible of some slight improvement, but nothing definite can be said about it, as the Ashram has not the time to apply its mind to the subject.
The Ashram ideal is to do without milk, as it holds that the milk of animals like meat is no food for mankind. For a year and more no milk or ghee was used in the Ashram, but as the health of the children as well as the adults suffered under this regimen, first ghee and then milk had to be added to the Ashram dietary. And when this was done, it was clear that we must keep cattle in the Ashram. The Ashram believes in goraksha (cow-protection) as a religious duty. But the word goraksha savours of pride. Man is incompetent to ‘protect’ animals, being himself in need of protection from God who is the Protector of all life. The word goraksha was therefore replaced by Goseva. But as the experiment of doing without milk or ghee and thus serving the cow without any selfish considerations did not succeed, cattle were kept in the Ashram. We had buffaloes as well as cows and bullocks at first, as we had not yet realized that it was our duty to keep cows and bullocks only to the exclusion of the buffalo. But it became clear day by day that cow-service alone at present stood for the service of all sub-human life. It is the first step beyond which we have not the resources to go for the time being. Again cow186slaughter is very often the cause of Hindu-Muslim tension. The Ashram believes that it is not the duty of a Hindu, nor has he the right to take away a Muslim’s cow by force. There is no service to or protection of the cow in trying to save her by force; on the other hand it only expedites slaughter. Hindus can save the cow and her progeny only by doing their duty to her and thus making her slaughter a costly act which no one can afford to do. Hindu society does not discharge this duty at present. The cow suffers from neglect.
The buffalo gives more and richer milk than the cow, and keeping a buffalo costs less than keeping a cow. Again if the buffalo brings forth a bull calf, people do not care what becomes of him because buffalo ‘protection’ or ‘service’ is not a religious duty for them. Hindu society has thus been short-sighted, cowardly, ignorant and selfish enough to neglect the cow and has installed the buffalo in her place, injuring both of them in the process. The buffalo’s interest is not served by our keeping her, but lies in her freedom. To keep the buffalo means torturing its bull calf to death. This is not the case in all the provinces, but where the buffalo bull is useless for agricultural purposes as in Gujarat for instance, it is doomed to a premature death. On account of these considerations, buffaloes were disposed of and the Ashram now insists on keeping cows and bullocks only. Improvement of breed, increasing the quantity and enriching the quality of milk by giving various feeds, the art of preserving milk and extracting butter from it more easily, least painful methods of castrating bull calves, all these things are attended to. It is in an experimental stage, but the Ashram does believe that the cow will pay for its keep if she is well treated and all her products are fully utilized. Many perhaps are not aware that a man cannot simply afford to keep a cow, and slaughter is inevitable so long as that is the case. Mankind is not so benevolent that it will die to save the cow or allow it to live on itself as a parasite.
The cattle population at present is so large that if it is well fed, the human population wills not have enough food left for it. We must therefore prove the proposition that the cow if well kept is capable of greater production. If this proposition is to be proved, Hindu society must discard some superstitions masquerading as religion. Hindus do not utilize the bones, etc., of dead cows; they do not care what becomes of cattle when they are dead. Instead of looking upon the occupation of a tanner as sacred, they think it unclean. Emaciated cattle are exported to and slaughtered in Australia where their bones are converted into manure, their flesh into meat extract and their hides into boots and shoes. The meat extract, the manure and the shoes are then re exported to India and used without any compunction. This stupidity makes for the destruction of the cow, and puts the country to huge economic losses. This is not religion but the very negation of it. Tanning has therefore been introduced in the Ashram .None of us is still a skilled tanner. No tanner from outside who would keep the Ashram rules has been available.
But all the same tanning is an integral part of Ashram industry and we have every hope that it will be developed and propagated like spinning. The cow will cease to be a burden to the country only if dead cattle are fully utilized. Even then there will not be any profits. Religion is never opposed to economics, but it is always ranged in opposition to profits. If the cow is to pay for its keep, dead cattle should not be allowed to go to waste or to swell the profits of large-scale tanneries. This cannot be done by force. But Hindu society should keep the cow, treat her and her progeny well so long as they are alive, cherish them in their old age, and fully utilize their car cases when they are dead. Thus alone can the cow be saved, and in saving her we shall perhaps learn how to save the rest of the sub-human creation. Thanks to our ignorance, laziness and hatred, the cow today is hastening to her destruction. As for the other cattle, the less said about them the better. The Ashram suggests that all goshalas and pinjrapoles should be organized religiously and scientifically. The rich should have their own goshalas and insist on using cow’s milk and ghee only. Trading in cow’s milk should be looked upon as a sin, and the well-to-do should manage public goshalas so as to make both ends meet. The cow would then soon be saved. The Ashram at present has a limited object in view: to conduct a model goshala at the Ashram, to breed good cows and bullocks, to utilize their car cases fully when they are dead so as to show that cow keeping is an economic proposition, to train workers and provide for their employment upon the completion of their training. This work is going on at present. There are many difficulties, but we are fully confident of success.
The word is here used in a special as well as the current sense. The Ashram experiment in education was a trial for us as nothing else was. We saw at once that the women and children in the Ashram should be taught to read and write, and a little later on that there should be similar facilities for even the illiterate men that came to the Ashram. Those who had already joined the Ashram could not undertake to teach. If capable teachers were to be attracted to the Ashram, the rule of brahmacharya had to be relaxed in their case. The Ashram was therefore divided into two sections, the teachers ‘quarters and the Ashram proper. Human beings cannot overcome their weakness all at once. As soon as the two sections came into being, a feeling of superiority and inferiority poisoned the Ashram atmosphere in spite of all our efforts to scotch it. The Ashramites developed spiritual pride, which the teachers could not tolerate.
This pride was an obstacle in the attainment of the Ashram ideal and therefore an aspect of untruth as well. If brahmacharya was to be observed in its perfection, the division was inevitable. But the brahmacharis had no reason to think too highly of themselves. It may be that the brahmacharis who sinned mentally in spite of themselves were retrogressing while those who did not claim to be brahmacharis but liked brahmacharya were making progress. This was clear to the intellect but it was not easy for all of us to put it into practice. Then again there were differences of opinion as regards the method of education which gave rise to difficulties in administration. There were bitter discussions, but at last all calmed down and learned the lesson of forbearance. This was in my view a triumph of truth, the goal of all Ashram endeavour. Those who held divergent views harboured no evil intentions in their minds, and were indeed grieved at the divergence. They wished to practice truth as they saw it. Their partiality for their own stand-point came in the way of their giving due weight to the arguments of their opponents, Hence the quarrels which put our charity to a severe test. I have my own perhaps peculiar views on education which have-not been accepted by my colleagues in full and here they are:
1. Young boys and girls should have co-education till they are eight years of age.
2. Their education should mainly consist in manual training under the supervision of an educationist.
3. The special aptitudes of each child should be recognized in determining the kind of work he or she should do.
4. The reasons for every process should be explained when the process is being carried on.
5. General knowledge should be imparted to each child as he begins to understand things. Learning to read or write should come later.
6. The child should first be taught to draw simple geometrical figures, and when he has learnt to draw these with ease, he should be taught to write the alphabet. If this is done he will write a good hand from the very first.
7. Reading should come before writing. The letters should be treated as pictures to be recognized and later on to be copied.
8. A child taught on these lines will have acquired considerable knowledge according to his capacity by the time he is eight.
9. Nothing should be taught to a child by force.10. He should be interested in everything taught to him.
11. Education should appear to the child like play. Play is an essential part of education.
12. All education should be imparted through the mother tongue.
13. The child should be taught Hindi-Urdu as the national language, before he learns letters.
14. Religious education is indispensable and the child should get it by watching the teacher’s conduct and by hearing him talk about it.
15. Nine to sixteen constitutes the second stage in the child’s education.
16. It is desirable that boys and girls should have co-education during the second stage also as far as possible.
17. Hindu children should now be taught Sanskrit, and Muslim children Arabic.
18. Manual training should be continued during the second stage. Literary education should be allotted more time according to necessity.
19. The boys during this stage should be taught their parents ‘vocation in such a way that they will by their own choice obtain their livelihood by practicing the hereditary craft. This does not apply to the girls.
20. During this stage the child should acquire a general knowledge of world history and geography, botany, astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.
21. Each child should now be taught to sew and to cook.
22. Sixteen to twenty-five is the third stage, during which every young person should have an education according to his or her wishes and circumstances.
23. During the second stage (9-16) education should be self supporting; that is, the child, all the time that he is learning, is working upon some industry, the proceeds of which will meet the expenditure of the school.
24. Production starts from the very beginning, but during the first stage it does not still catch up with the expenditure.
25. Teachers should be paid not very high salaries but only living wage. They should be inspired by a spirit of service. It is a despicable thing to take any Tom, Dick or Harry as a teacher in the primary stage. All teachers should be men of character.
26. Big and expensive buildings are not necessary for educational institutions.
27. English should be taught only as one of several languages.
As Hindi is the national language, English is to be used in dealing with other nations and international commerce. As for women’s education I am not sure whether it should be different from men’s and when it should begin. But I am strongly of opinion that women should have the same facilities as men and even special facilities where necessary. There should be night schools for illiterate adults. But I do not think that they must be taught the three R’s; they must be helped to acquire general knowledge through lectures, etc., and if they wish, we should arrange to teach them the three R’s also. Experiments in the Ashram have convinced us of one thing, viz., that industry in general and spinning in particular should have pride of place in education, which must be largely self-supporting as well as related to and tending to the betterment of rural life. In these experiments we have achieved the largest measure of success with the women, who have imbibed the spirit of freedom and self-confidence as no other class of women have done to my knowledge. This success is due to the Ashram atmosphere. Women in the Ashram are not subject to any restraint which is not imposed on the men as well.
They are placed on a footing of absolute equality with the men in all activities. Not a single Ashram task is assigned to the women to the exclusion of the men. Cooking is attended to by both. Women are of course exempted from work which is beyond their strength; otherwise men and women work together everywhere. There is no such thing as purdah or lay in the Ashram. No matter from where she has come, a woman, as soon as she enters the Ashram, breathes the air of freedom and casts out all fear from her mind. And I believe that the Ashram observance of brahmacharya has made a big contribution to this state of things. Adult girls live in the Ashram as virgins. We are aware that this experiment is fraught with risk but we feel that no awakening among women is possible without incurring it. Women cannot make any progress so long as there are child marriages. All girls are supposed to be in duty bound to marry and that too before menstruation commences, and widow remarriage is not permitted. Women, therefore, when they join the Ashram, are told that these social customs are wrong and irreligious. But they are not shocked as they find the Ashram practicing what it preaches. Not much of what is usually called education will be observed in the Ashram. Still we find that the old as well as the young, women as well as men are eager to acquire knowledge and complain that they have no time for it. This is a good sign. Many who join the Ashram are not educated or even interested in education. Some of them can hardly read or write. They had no desire for progress so long as they had not joined the Ashram.
But when they have lived in the Ashram for a little while, they conceive a desire for increasing their knowledge. This is a great thing, as to create a desire for knowledge is very often the first step to be taken. But I do not regret it very much that there are insufficient facilities in the Ashram calculated to satisfy this desire. The observances kept in the Ashram will perhaps prevent a sufficient number of qualified teachers from joining it. We must therefore rest satisfied with such Ashramites as can be trained to teach. The numerous activities of the Ashram may come in the way of their acquiring the requisite qualifications at all or at an early date. But it does not matter much, as the desire for knowledge can be satisfied later as well as sooner, being independent of a time-limit. Real education begins after a child has left school. One who has appreciated the value of studies is a student all his life. His knowledge must increase from day to day while he is discharging his duty in a conscientious manner. And this is well understood in the Ashram. The superstition that no education is possible without a teacher is an obstacle in the path of educational progress. A man’s real teacher is himself. And nowadays there are numerous aids available for self-education. A diligent person can easily acquire knowledge about many things by himself and obtain the assistance of a teacher when it is needed. Experience is the biggest of all schools. Quite a number of crafts cannot be learnt at school but only in the workshop.
Knowledge of these acquired at school is often only parrot-like. Other subjects can be learnt with the help of books. Therefore what adults need is not so much a school as a thirst for knowledge, diligence and self-confidence? The education of children is primarily a duty to be discharged by the parents. Therefore the creation of a vital educational atmosphere is more important than the foundation of numerous schools. When once this atmosphere has been established on a firm footing the schools will come in due course. This is the Ashram ideal of education which has been realized to some extent, as every department of Ashram activity is a veritable school.
The various activities of the Ashram have already been covered more or less. The Ashram came into existence to seek the Truth by adhering to truthful conduct. And while doing so, if we are required to use the weapon of Satyagraha, the Ashram may experiment with it, may explore its rules and limitations. The broad framework of these rules has also been discussed. But what are the limits of Satyagraha? When can this weapon be employed with vigour? Man’s adherence to truth is also Satyagraha. It is not this form of Satyagraha that is being discussed here. I am examining its utility as a weapon against an opponent. Such Satyagraha can be offered against associates, relatives, society, the State and the world at the root of it. After this we can say that Ashrams ware played an important role in his life and country life also.
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