The ideology of Sarvodaya is embedded in the Gandhian conception of an ideal social order as described by Ganguli who devoted his post-retirement phase, his time and energy to study Gandhian social philosophy. Based on this scholarly study he has written Gandhian Vision of an Ideal Social Order. I draw hereafter substantially from his work mostly in his own language.
Gandhi had in mind a structure of rural society which would shed its old weakness and be a fitting medium for the social processes under the changed conditions of modern life. The structure of society appears as a series of successive zones which are successively larger grouping of individuals. The initial grouping is the family – an eugenic base resting upon an economic base … the next inclusive group is the neighbourhood or the extended family...which forms the village community (outsiders may also be members of the community, subject to certain limitations). Gandhi thought of a casteless egalitarian rural society against the stark background of a caste-ridden village community. This was a contradiction. He not only faced it but tried to resolve it by means of progressive interpretation of the ancient differentiated social functions. Gandhi was in favour of an element of communism, what is called as primitive communism. Gandhi said “land today (in 1936) does not belong to the people is too true…..Land and all property is his who will work it.”
Another dimension of this ideal society was that it was a non-violent, non-exploitative equalitarian society.”Non-violence in practice” he said, “means common labour with the body.” He called it later as “bread-labour” an idea borrowed from a Russian philosopher Bondareff, through the work of Tolstoy. Gandhi’s approach to machine, which has been widely misunderstood, was “ I have no consideration for the machinery which is meant either to enrich the few at the expense of the many, or without cause, to displace the useful labour of many”.
Gandhi was not a theorist like Karl Marx, who read books in the London library and formulated his theory of communism – Communist Manifesto. He was a practitioner engaged in the movement for political independence including in it social reform and social service (constructive work) in rural areas. He formulated his ideas over a period of more than two decades. At times his ideas were full of contradiction when compared to what he had said before. He admitted this with the response that his views were responses to the prevailing conditions and if those conditions had changed over a period of time, he had to respond to those changed conditions. So, we may take as his final position an article he wrote in 1946 in Harijan, on the eve of independence and about two years before his assassination. The title of the article was “Content of Independence.” To requote from Ganguli:
Gandhi said so often, that political independence did not mean anything if it did not mean a new social order with a new system of human values. In my view, this essay (which was lost in the confusion of 1946) contains the quintessence of Gandhi’s social philosophy. It deserves better attention today than it recieved in the dark days of 1946 and the aftermath of Indian Independence when Gandhi’s voice had already been stilled in the Indian wilderness.
Gandhi said :
(1) “Indian independence must begin at the bottom. Thus every village will be a republic or panchayat having powers. It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its own affairs, even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world. It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without.”
(2) “Ultimately, it is the individual who is the unit. But this does not exclude dependence on the willing help from neighbours or from the world. It will be free and volunatary play of mutual forces.”
(3) “Such a society is necessarily highly cultured in which every man or woman knows what he or she wants, and, what is more, knows that no one should want anything that the others cannot have with equal labour.”
Gandhi thought that the essence of culture lies in knowing what one really wants. Also if one wanted anything that others cannot have with equal labour there is an element of exploitation which means violence as well as inequality that violence helps to sustain.
What would be the pattern of society that would emerge from the aggregation of numerous village republics ? Gandhi was opposed to a stratified society structured according to the requirements of concentration of economic and political power operating through remote control. This was contrary to his humanist conception of freedom. Let me quote some extracts, which are poetic alike in imagery and expression and have an air of sophistication about them if one were to analyse them in depth.
(4) “In this structure composed of innumerable villages there will be ever-widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units. Therefore, the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle, but will give strength to all within and will derive its own strength from it.”
One notes in Gandhi’s Harijan article his repeated insistence on the moral value of the individual being the basic unit of an ideal social order.
But what kind of economy would sustain Gandhi’s “oceanic circle ?” His synoptic description of such an economy is illuminating in many ways :-
(5) “In it there is no room for machines that would displace human labour and that would concentrate power in a few hands. Labour has its unique place in a cultured human family. Every machine that helps every individual has a place.”
Gandhian View of Social Service
Ganguli has selected the scattered ideas expressed on different occasions by Gandhi and has presented them under the title “Gandhi’s Plan of Social Work” in a speech he delivered in 1972. Hereafter, I will quote from that speech the relevant concepts and methods of constructive work also referred as samaj seva by Gandhian constructive workers. “Gandhi’s philosophy as well as the plan of social work was grounded on a broad strategy of total social development, resulting from a radical transformation from within in the case of the individual and of the community in which he lived. Social work was not to be directed merely to corrective or ameliorative activity although this was important . It had to be geared to radical transformation, not merely dealing with the consequences of an inequitable social order. For this purpose the spirit of swadeshi is important. It meant restrictions on the use and services of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of more remote, which meant using only things that are produced by the immediate neighbours i.e village industries.
Gandhi also stressed the importance of education as part of his concept of swadeshi which flowed from his basic principle of social action. “The masses have not shared our knowledge. If they had, the problem of village sanitation would have been solved and the village panchayats would be a living force in a special way.” Gandhi had further developed his idea of education as basic education or ‘Nai Taleem’ relevant to the day to day life of the villagers.
Gandhi wanted his teachers to be social workers and social workers to be teachers. “our teacher will touch the lives of grown-up and if at all possible, penetrate the purdah. (He used “purdah” metaphorically to refer to the passivity of the villagers) “Instruction will be given to grown up people in hygiene and the advantage of joint action for the promotion of community welfare.” Gandhi’s approach to social work was a total process – the concept of Samagra Grama Sevak. Written in 1946 he stated that “after a lifetime of field experience, he had realized how difficult it was to break down the passivity of the villagers.” Gandhi had in mind a resident Samagra Grama Sevak, who identifies himself completely with the village he serves – a worker who serves the entire village. “The Samagra Grama Sevak should know everybody living in the village. He should render them such service that he can. This does not mean the worker will be able to do everything single handed. He will show them the way of helping themselves. He will procure for them such help and materials they require. He will train his own helpers” He further said on a different occasion. “Social workers must be brave, intelligent and persevering. The villagers may not readily respond. They may even prove hostile. Many vested interests have to be disturbed before the necessary social change can occur. But non-violent workers should choose the line of least resistance. They should suffer in their own person before they could aspire to gain the cooperation of inert villagers on the one hand, and hostile villagers, on the other. They must persevere and persist without resentment and bitterness. Then only will their conduct strike the imagination of the villagers. And the element of surprise will open their way into their hearts. Once the ineart mass begins to yield, work will make rapid progress”.
Gandhian ideas of social service (constructive work) have been summarized into five basic principles - “Pancha-swa Sutra” (Pathak, 2013). They Are :
1. Swaraj or self-rule
Originally formulated in the context of nationalist movement for independence as the goal, it is capable of wider application in other areas of work. It means self-rule of an individual or a family and of a village society. Gandhi had considered, as quoted earlier by Ganguli, the individual as the ultimate unit, then expanding in successively widening circles of extended family, the village and finally a federation of villages. At the level of the individual it may be stated as the right of self-determination, a basic principle of professional social work.
During the nationalist movement this was used mainly with reference to preparing Khadi and wearing dresses made from Khadi, discarding the western (later Indian) mill made cloth. Gandhi himself had used the words “the use of immediate surroundings”. He meant use of local village products. Once again the concept can be broadened to include non-material “immediate resources” such as local village culture, or more specifically the sub-culture of a village community. As already explained in the previous chapter concepts of culture and subculture are quite relevant for the practice of social work. So we may rephrase swadeshi to mean the indigenous culture of the people which includes elements of a national culture as well as specific aspects of a sub-culture within which the villagers live and function.
3. Self-reliance or Swavalamban is the third basic principle of Gandhian social service. Whether an individual or a village community should try to live on one’s labour, capacity and resources, limiting the wants to match the available resources of a family or a vllage community using to the maximum the productive capacity of the people.
4. Personal experience of life and work is an importanty source of knowledge both to the village community and sarvodaya worker. This is called as swanubhava, practice-based knowledge and skills. Gandhi, as quoted earlier, had stated that “after a life time of field experience I came to the conclusion...” etc.
5. Closely linked to the principle of swanubhava is swadhyaya, self-study. Sarvodaya social service practitioner usually does not go through a process of formal education or training. The Gandhian constructive worker usually works under a leader as an ashramite, with sahawas and sahakarya i.e. living and working with a leader, learning through observation, and practice under guidance. Whatever he would have learnt if at all through a course of lectures of a week would have been on the thoughts of Gandhi and Vinoba, their social philosophy relevant for constructive work. This would include the values of truth and non violence which are absolute values to be practiced in all situations without any deviation. He has to continue this process of learning by doing even after he starts working independently in a village community. So an important source of knowledge is “swadhyaya”. He has to reflect on his own field experience periodically and draw appropriate lessons to improve his practice skills. So, the principles of personal experience of field practice and self-study are closely inter-linked. They are inseperable and mutually reinforcing.
From Constructive Work to Sarvodaya
As already mentioned (chapter No 6, pp 124-126) Gandhi’s approach to independence was not restricted to the political struggle through such activities like civil disobedience movement i.e. defying the laws imposed by colonial rulers which were considered unjust such as Dandi March to make salt without permission and without paying tax or non-payment of land revenues, and the struggle against the exploitation by the indigo planters of the rural poor in Bihar – the Champaran struggle. This resulted in courting arrests without violence and going to jails (jail bharo) after individual or mass satyagraha. Alternately there was the programme of constructive work called ‘rachanatmaka karya’ through which the nationalist followers of Gandhi were to work in the villages with the goal of rural reconstruction or what we now call as rural development. In 1925 Gandhi had prepared an 18 point programme which included : promotion of communal unity, removal of untouchability, promotion of Khadi and other village industries, promotion of village sanitation, basic and adult education, promotion of economic equality, service of the leprosy affected etc.
While some Gandhians devoted more time to political agitation, some others chose to devote most of their time to constructive work. Prominent among the latter group was Vinoba Bhave, popularly called as Vinoba. After independence it was Vinoba who redefined and further developed the original Gandhian ideas of social service and also initiated a major movement called Bhoodan movement (Land gift movement) . It was not a deliberately thought out and planned programme. It had its origin in an event that took place at the village Pochampalli in the Telengana region of Andhra. During his visit to this village Vinoba visited all the houses in the village to study their social-economic problems. And he identified 40 families as extremely poor who worked as daily wage labourers on the land of the rich landlords of the village, whenever they could find employment which was mostly seasonal. They had to starrve frequently if they did not find work.
During the evening prayer meeting organised and presided over by the local M.L.A. on 18 April 1951, Ramachandra Reddy, Vinoba stated that these 40 families needed a piece of agricultural land of about two and a half crores to cultivate and eke out a living. He asked the audience: is there anyone who is willing to donate land to these poor families? Ramachandra Reddy after some reference to his father’s concern for these poor families who had worked on their land, anounced that he would donate 100 acres of land to be divided among the 40 families. Vinoba was both surprised and happy, at this turn of events. And it led him to conceive of a countrywide programme of voluntary land-gift movement through pursuasion and not through agitation and violence as witnessed in Telengana during a short period of Communist Party rule-a parallel government. (Doraiswamy, 2011)
Gandhian constructive workers joined Bhoodan Movement in large numbers. Vinoba travelled accross the country by foot for a period of 14 years until bad health prevented him from continuing the movement. It may be mentioned here that there were two women among his followers who were with him during the long padayatra-Mahadevi Tai, a child widow from an illustrious family of freedom fighters of Siddapur taluk of Uttar Kannada district in Karnataka who had joined his Paunar Ashram during the 1930’s and Nirmal Vaid a North Indian young lady who had completed a professional social work course from Delhi School of Social Work. Among those who joined the Bhoodan Movement were Jayaprakash Narayan, leader of the Congress Socialist Party before independence and after independence, the first Secretery- General of the newly formed Socialist Party of India. Also Nabakrushna Chowdhary who resigned as Chief Minister of Orissa to join the movement and Dhiren Muzumdar, Achary Ram Murti, Manmohan Chowdhary and Malati Chowdhary, Narayan Desai and R.K. Patil who had resigned from the prestigious Indian Civil Service (I.C.S) and many more Gandhians active in the constructive work in various parts of the country. It is during this post-independent phase of constructive work under the supreme leadership of Vinoba Bahave, Gandhian constructive work was renamed as Sarvodaya, which was to be the popular name subsequently. Gandhi himself had used the word Sarvodaya as a title for the Gujarati translation of the English book by John Ruskin, Unto the Least of These, which Gandhi had read and was deeply influenced by Ruskin’s ideas (Doraiswamy, 2011).
Sarvodaya: Ideology and Practice
Gandhian social workers prefer to describe themselves as constructive workers engaged in the process of radical transformation of society, which they consider as a revolutionary activity. The word “revolutionary” gets repeated in a variety of contexts as part of the goal, as part of social action and as part of an approach or method of work. They distinguish between professional or traditional social work which they term as an ameliorative work. ‘Rahat Ka Karya’ and their constructive work as “Mukti Karya’’, liberation work i.e. to liberate people from exploitation by others and fight against social injustice like the practice of untouchability, exploitation of the village poor by the rich land-lords in a variety of ways because of economic inequality based on land-ownership.
Bhoodan movement became a prominant area of social service during the post-Gandhian phase of constructive work. New concepts emerged in addition to earlier concepts and some of the concepts were modfied and reformulated by Vinoba. Spirituality is one such concept which refers to the man’s relationship with God, a superior, super-natural force. Gandhian attitude to man is drawn from the spiritual objectives of existence. Man’s capacity to acquire strength from something transcendental and higher is recognised by Gandhian workers as axiomatic although this does not exclude the atheists from the Gandhian movement. The emphasis is more on ethical norms than on religious rituals. This new orientation of the whole concept of spirituality, recognising its importance along with science led Vinoba to refashion his prayer meetings, drawing more on the spirit of compassion (Karuna) than on various religious preachings (IR. p 169-171).*
Jayaprakash Narayan has described the Gandhian constructrive work as a psycho-ethical approach to social problems through service (seva). It is not going around preaching but by doing somethings to help the people by means of social service, showing them how life in the village could be better organised, the internal effort leading to economic development, if the land of the village became the property of the community (I.R. p. 92).
Another important concept is Loka Sakti in the sense of people’s power as an action of resistance. According to Gandhiji this meant building up the capacity of the people to resist any wrong or resist any authority when it is abused. Real Lok Sakti will come not only when people are able to solve their own problems or work for their own development, but also when they can demonstrate that they can regulate and control their own affairs...LokaSakti as a concept also means force, which can bring about changes in the institutions or changes in the situation in which people find themselves...This implies non-violent resistance, and non-cooperation and other means through which a wrong is resisted or the existing state of things is changed (IR. 107-108).
Identification with the people with whom the constructive worker works, usually a village community, is another concept of Sarvodaya social service. According to J.P. this concept was not there in the beginning phase of constructive work but emerged later out of field experience during the latter phase of constructive work. Initially some constructive workers tried to interpret it to mean that they should live like the villagers including wearing the dress like them and leading a life of extreme simplicity and austerity.
There was a good deal of discussion on this issue during the dialogue phase of the Interim Report. Consensus seemed to be that the day-to-day-life of the constructive worker and the village community should be as close as possible-not too wide a gap, but it need not be identical. In J.P.s words, “he need not renounce the world and embrace a life of poverty, while desiring a modicum of material comforts for himself and his family. He should be genuinaly motivated by the desire to serve and help his fellow men.” (Foreward, Dasgupta, 1967)
Participation is another concept which means the constructive worker should actively participate in the deliberations of the meetings of the village community, expressing his views while playing the role of a guide and catalyst of change. He does not remain aloof or neutral. But he will be non-partisan and objective without taking sides between different village factions holding different views on any issue which may be highly controversial.
Sarvodaya worker is expected to be supported by the community, Jana Adharit not Nidhi Adharit or Sanstha Adharit (not supported by a trust/fund or an organisation.) Most of them work as free-lancers (independent) though some may be Ashramites (Chowdhary).
Methods of Work
In Sarvodaya work, the emphasis was more on the motivation and the attitude towards service rather than on training and use of methods and techniques. A constructive worker is expected to be motivated by a deep urge for service of others and derive sartisfaction from his work-lok seva or samaj seva. He generally worked with a leader as an apprentice assisting him by doing the assigned duties. After a period of work as an apprentice when he felt he was ready, he set out to work on his own choosing his area, a village for his constructive work. Alternately he might be deputed to go to a certain village and begin work by the leader under whom he worked as a novice. As J.P. admitted, in the Sarvoday field there was a reluctance to admit that their work was leader-centred. J.P. also said that Vinoba was averse to “techniques”. Some methods of Sarvodaya work, however, were identified by J.P. and Narayan Desai during the Dialogue Sessions of the two groups, professional social workers and Sarvodaya workers. According to J.P. pursuasion was the most important method of work. Some form of direct service (seva) which may take the shape of a comprehensive reconstruction of a society. Third factor or method is the creation of a certain social forces in the community (Loka Sakti).
Narayan Desai mentioned the following as Sarvodaya methods :
1. Prachar (Propaganda), 2. Parichaya (initial contact), 3. Adhyayan (Survey or Study), 4. Sahavasa (association), 5. Seva (service of individual), 6. Pratikar (resistance), 7. Constructive work or community service and 8. Building up the climate of change.
Change of heart can also be considered as a method. which consists of six elements :
1. Karuna (compassion), 2. Samavedana or sympathy, 3. Seva or service, 4. Paristhitiyan and Janamanaski Parakh i.e., intuitive understanding of the situation and people’s feelings and thought, and Sraddha or faith on both sides-the worker and the client-for each other. (P. 227-228).
Change of heart is also a concept and an important part of the Gandhian constructive work. It is linked to the method of pursuasion. Pursuasion presupposes that it is possible to bring about a change of heart in the opponent either through discussion and if that does not yield the desired result through resort to direct action i.e., individual Satyagraha including dharna and fast. The latter method has an element of coercion which was agreed to by J.P. who called it a moral coercion.
Dr. Chatterjee, a psychiatrist , made a comparative analysis of the Gandhian concept of change of heart and the Freudian psycho-analytic theory of change of heart. He said :
“to Gandhian logic, the change of heart was a total, revolutionary, cataclysmic event, encompassing the entire ‘philosophy of life’, so that all actions subsequent to the change of heart are in conformity with the radical change that has taken place at the core. Like professional social workers, Gandhians also believe that mere intellectual acceptance, on grounds of logic, is not enough; the change has to be at the levels of emotions and feelings too-the involvement has to be total, at the cognitive, conative as well as the affective levels.” According to Dr. Chaterjee, there is one essential difference between the Gandhian and the Freudian concept of personality change. In Gandhian technique, change of heart is sought through strengthening the control of the super-ego. The appeal is to the conscience. In Freudian psycho-analysis, normalization (change) is sought through lessening the control of a too severe and unrealistic super-ego. (Quoted in Pathak, 2013)
The main features of Sarvodaya approach to social service could be summarised as follows:
1. The goal of social work is the establishment of a classless non-violent society, where there will be no ex-
ploitation of man by man.
2. Truth, non-violence, a belief in the innate goodness of man and his capacity to change are the basic values of sarvodaya group.
3. Simple, austere living and manual labour constitute the personal armoury of sarvodaya worker.
4. His approach to people is to stimulate and encourage them to work for their own welfare. He provides them with leadership and guidance when necessary. He does not tell them what they should do. In other words, he works with people and not for them. This is an important change in approach and was introduced by Vinoba.
5. With a clear goal, a set of values, a code of living and an approach to work, a sarvodaya worker develops his own methods of work based on his field experience. So, it is essential for him to evaluate his work from time to time to improve his methods of work. Thus, an objective appraisal of his own work or self-evaluation is characteristic of sarvodaya work.
Rtd. Professor of Social Work, Delhi University
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