The Sight of Poverty
196. He then took me to an open space in the very shadow of the hoary temple where were arranged in rows the famine-stricken people. The life was ebbing away in them. They were living pictures of despair. You could count every rib. You could see every artery. There was no muscle, no flesh. Parched, crumpled skin and bone was all you could see. There was no luster in their eyes. They seemed to want to die. They had no interest in anything save the handful of rice they got. They would not work for money. For love, perhaps! It almost seemed that they would condescend to eat and live if you would give them the handful of rice. It is the greatest tragedy I know torturing death. Theirs is an eternal compulsory fast. And as they break it occasionally with rice, they seem to mock as for the life we live.
- - VI, 31-10-24, 357.
197. True to his poetical instinct, the poet lives for the morrow and would have us do likewise. He presents to our admiring gaze the beautiful picture of the birds early in the morning singing hymns of praise as they soar into the sky. These birds have had their day's food and soared with rested wings. The human bird under the Indian sky gets up weaker than when he pretended to retire. For millions it is an eternal vigil or an eternal trance. It is an indescribably painful state which has got to be experienced to be realized. I have found it impossible to soothe suffering patients with a song from Kabir. The hungry millions ask for one poem-invigorating food. They cannot be given it they must earn it. and they can earn only by the sweat of their brow.
- VI, 13-10-21, 326.
198. Imagine, therefore, what a calamity it must be to have 300 millions unemployed, several millions becoming degraded every day for want of employment, devoid of self-respect, devoid of faith in God. I may as well place before the dog over there the message of God as before those hungry millions who have no luster in their eyes and whose only God is their bread. I can take before them a message of God only by taking the message of sacred work before them. It is good enough to talk of God whilst we are sitting here after a nice breakfast and looking forward to a nicer luncheon, but how am I to talk of God to the millions who have to go without two meals a day? To them God can only appear as bread and butter.
- VI, 15-10-31, 325.
199. To a people famishing and idle, the only acceptable form in which God can dare appear is work and promise of food as wages.
- VI, 13-10-21, 325.
200. Hanuman tore open his heart and showed that there was nothing there but RAMANAMA. I have none of the power of Hanuman to tear open my heart, but if any of you feel inclined to do it, I assure you, you will find nothing there but love for Rama whom I see face to face in the starving millions of India.
- VI, 24-03-27, 93.
No Question of Giving Alms but the Duty of Getting off Their Backs
201. We should be ashamed of resting or having a square meal solong as there is one able-bodied man or woman without work or food.
- VI, 6-10-21, 314.
202. My ahimsa would not tolerate the idea of giving a free meal to a healthy person who has not worked for it in some honest way, and if I had the power, I would stop every sadavrata where free meals are given. It has degraded the nation and it has encouraged laziness, idleness, hypocrisy and even crime.
- Vi, 13-8-25, 282.
203. Do not say you will maintain the poor on charity. Only two classes of people are entitled to charity and no one else the Brahmans who possesses nothing and whose business it is to spread holy learning, and the cripple and the blind. The iniquitous system of giving doles to the able-bodied idle is going on to our eternal shame and humiliation, and it is to wipe our that shame that I am going about with the message of the Charkha up and down the whole country.
- VI, 24-2-27, 58.
204. We may not be deceived by the wealth to be seen in the cities of India. It does not come from England or America. It comes from the blood of the poorest. There are said to be seven lakes of villages in India. Some of them have simply been wiped out. No one has any record of those thousands who have died of starvation and disease in Bengal, Karnataka and elsewhere. The Government registers can give no idea of what the village folk are going through. But being a villager myself, I know the condition in the villages. I know village economics. I tell you that the pressure from the top crushes those at the bottom.
All that is necessaries to get off their backs
- ABP, 30-6-44,
205. For the so-called Caste Hindus to serve the Harijans in a constructive manner is to get off their backs, to get down on their knees to them, to treat Harijan children as their own and Harijan men and women as blood brothers and sisters. It is almost a superhuman task and cannot be done without Divine aid. But Divine aid comes largely through human agency,
- H, 15-12-33, 3.
206. 'Why should I, who have no need to work for food, spin?' may be the question asked. Because I am eating what does not belong to me. I am living on the spoliation of my countrymen. Trace the course of every price that finds its way into you pocket, and you will realize the truth of what I write.
I must refuse to insult the naked by giving them clothes they do not need, instead of giving them work which they sorely need. I will not commit the sin of becoming their patron, but on learning that I had assisted in impoverishing them, I would give them neither crumbs nor cast-off clothing, but the best of my food and clothes and associate myself with them in work.
God created man to work for his food and said that those who ate without work were thieves.
- Yi, 13-10-21, 325
The Gospel of Work
207. Service is not possible unless it is rooted in love or ahimsa. True love is boundless like the ocean and rising and swelling within one spreads itself out and crossing all boundaries and frontiers envelopes the whole world. This service is again impossible without bread labour, otherwise described in the Gita as Yajna. It is only when a man or woman has done body labour for the sake of service that he or she has a right to live.
- YI, 20-9-28, 320.
208. All natural and necessary work is easy. Only it requires constant practice to become perfect, and it needs plodding. Ability to plod is Swaraj. It is yoga. Nor need the reader be frightened of the monotony. Monotony is the law of nature. Look at the monotonous manner in which the sun rises. And imagine the catastrophe that would befall the universe, if the sun became capricious and went in for a variety of pastime. Bur there is a monotony that sustains and a monotony that kills. The monotony of necessary occupations is exhilarating and life-giving. An artist never tires of his art. A spinner who has mastered the art, will certainly be able to do sustained work without fatigue. There is music about the spindle, which the practiced spinner catches without fail. And when India has monotonously worked away at turning out Swaraj, she will have produced a thing of beauty, which will be a joy forever. But it cannot be without the spinning wheel. Therefore, the best national education for India is undoubtedly an intelligent handling of the spinning wheel.
209.In the last issue I have endeavored to answer the objections raised by the Poet against spinning as a sacrament to be performed by all. I have done so in all humility and with the desire to convince the Poet and those who think like him. The reader will be interested in knowing that my belief is largely derived from the Bhagavad-Gita. I have quoted the relevant verses in the article itself. I give below Edwin Arnold's rendering of the verses from his Song Celestial for the benefit of those who do not read Sanskrit:
Work is more excellent than idleness;
The body's life proceeds not, lacking work.
There is a task of holiness to do,
Unlike world-binding toil, which bindeth not
The faithful soul: such earthly duty does
Free from desire, and thou shalt well perform
Thy heavenly purpose. Spake Prajapati
In the beginning, when all men were made,
And, with mankind, the sacrifice-"Do this!
Work! Sacrifice! Increase and multiply
With sacrifice! This shall be Kamadhuk,
Your 'Cow of Plenty', giving back her milk
Of all abundance. Worship the gods thereby;
The gods shall yield ye grace. Those meats ye crave
The gods will grant to Labour, when it pays
Tithes in the altar-flame. But if one eats
Fruits of the earth, rendering to kindly Heaven
No gift of toil, that thief steals from his world."
Who eat of food after their sacrifice
Are quit of fault, but they that spread a feast
All for themselves, eat sin and drink of sin.
By food the living live; food comes of rain.
And rain comes by the pious sacrifice,
And sacrifice is paid with tithes of toil;
Thus action is of Brahma, who is One,
The Only, All -pervading; at all times
present in sacrifice. He that abstains
To help the rolling wheels of this great world,
Glutting his idle sense, lives a lost life,
Shameful and vain.
Work here undoubtedly refers to physical labour, and work by way of sacrifice can only be work to be done by all for the common benefit. Such work, such sacrifice can only be spinning. I do not wish to suggest, that the author of the Diving Song had the spinning wheel in mind. He merely laid down a fundamental principle of conduct. And reading in and applying it to India. I can only think of spinning as the fittest and most acceptable sacrificial body labour. I cannot imagine anything nobler or more national than that for, say, one hour in the day, we should all do the labour that the poor must do, and thus identify ourselves with them and through them with all mankind. I cannot imagine better worship of God than that in his name I should labour for poor even as they do. The spinning wheel spells a more equitable distribution of the riches of the earth,
- YI, 21-10-21, 329
210. The law, that to live man must work, first came home to me upon reading Tolstoy's writing on Bread labour. But even before that I had begun to pay homage to it after reading Ruskin's Unto This Last. The divine law, that man must earn his bread by labouring with his own hands, was first stressed by a Russian writer named T. M. Bondaref. Tolstoy advertised it, and gave it wider publicity. In my view, the same principle has been set forth in the third chapter of the Gita, where we are told, that he who eats without offering sacrifice, eats stolen food. Sacrifice here can only mean Bread labour.
Reason too leads us to an identical conclusion. How can a man, who does not do body labour, have the right to eat? 'In the sweat of the thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread', says the Bible. A millionaire can not carry on for long, and will soon get tired of his life, if he roles in his bed all day long, and is even helped to his food. He, therefore, induces hunger by exercise, and helps himself to the food he eats. If everyone, whether rich or poor, has thus to take exercise in some shake or forms, why should it not assume the form of productive, i.e., Bread labour? No one asks the cultivator to take breathing exercise or to work his muscles. And more than 19th of humanity lives by tilling the soil, how much happier, healthier, and more peaceful would the world became, If the remaining tenth followed the example of the overwhelming majority, at least to the extent of labouring enough for their food! And many hardships, connected with agriculture would be easily redressed, if such people took a hand in it. Again individual distinction of rank would be abolished, when every one without exceptions acknowledged the obligation of Bread Labour. It is common to all the varna. There is a world wide conflict between capital and labour, and the poor envy the rich. If all work for their bread, distinction of rank would be obliterated; the rich would still be there, but they would deem themselves only trustees of there properties, and would use it mainly in the public interest.
Bread labour is a veritable blessing to one who would observe Nonviolence, Worship Truth, and make the observance of Brahmacharya a natural act. This labour can truly be related to agriculture alone. But at present at any rate, everybody is not in a position to take to it. A person can therefore spin or weave, or take up carpentry or smithery, instead of tilling the soil always regarding agriculture however to be the ideal. Every one must be his own scavenger. Evacuation is as necessary as eating; and the best thing would be for every one to dispose of his own waste. If this is impossible, each family should see to its own scavenging. I have felt for years, that there must be something radically; wring, where scavenging has been made the concern of a separate class in society. We have no historical record of the man, who first assigned the lowest status to this essential sanitary service.
Whoever he was, he by no means did us a good. We should, from our very childhood, have the idea impressed upon our minds that we are all scavengers, and the easiest way of doing so is, for every one who has realized this, to commence Bread labour as a scavenger. Scavenging, thus intelligently taken up, will help one to a true appreciation of the equality of man.
211. "Brahma created his people with the duty of sacrifice laid upon them and said, 'By this do you flourish. Let it be the fulfiller of all your desires,' He who eats without performing this sacrifice eats stolen bread," - thus says the Gita. 'Earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow,' says the Bible. Sacrifices may be of many kinds. One of them may well be Bread labour. If all laboured for their bread and no more, then there would be no cry of over-population, no disease and no such misery as we see around. Such labour will be the highest form of sacrifice. Men will no doubt do many other things either through their bodies or through their minds, but all this will be labour of love for the common good. There will then be no rich and no poor, none high and none low, no touchable and no untouchable.
This may be an unattainable ideal. But we need not, therefore, cease to strive for it. Even if without fulfilling the whole law of sacrifice, that is, the law of our being, we performed physical labour enough for our daily bread, we should go a long way towards the ideal.
If we did so, our wants would be minimized, our food would be simple. We should then eat to live, not live to eat. Let anyone who doubts the accuracy of this proposition try to sweat for his bread, he will derive the greatest relish from the productions of his labour, improve his health and discover that many things he took were superfluities.
May not men earn their bread by intellectual labour? No. The needs of the body must be supplied by the body. 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's' perhaps applies here well.
Mere mental, that is, intellectual labour is for the soul and is its own satisfaction. It should never demand payment. In the ideal state, doctors, lawyers and the like will work solely for the benefit of society, not for self. Obedience to law of Bread labour will bring about a silent revolution in the structure of society. Men's triumph will consist in substituting the struggle for existence by the struggle for mutual service. The law of the brute will be replaced by the law of man.
Return to the villages means a definite voluntary recognition of the duty of Bread labour and all it connotes. But says the critic, 'Millions of India's children are today living in the villages and yet they are living a life of semi-starvation.' This, alas! is but too true. Fortunately we know that theirs is not voluntary obedience. They would perhaps shirk body labour if they could, and even rush to the nearest city if they could be accommodated in it. compulsory obedience to a master is a state o slavery, willing obedience to one's father is the glory of sonship. Similarly compulsory obedience to the law of Bread labour breeds poverty, disease and discontent. It is a state of slavery. Willing obedience to it must bring contentment and health. And it is health, which is real wealth, not pieces of silver and gold. The village industries Association is an experiment in willing Bread labour.
212.(Addressed to the students of the Benares Hindu University)
Panditji has collected and has been still collecting lakhs and lakhs of rupees for you from Rajas and Maharajas. The money apparently comes from these wealthy Princes, but in reality it comes from the millions of our poor. For unlike Europe, the rich of our land grow rich at the expense of our villagers the bulk of whom have to go without a square meal a day. The education that you receive today is thus paid for by the starving villagers who will never have the chance of such an education. It is your duty to refuse to have an education that is not within reach of the poor; but I do not ask that of you today. I ask you to render a slight return to the poor by doing a little yajna for them. For he who eats without doing his yajna steals his food, says the Gita. The yajna of our age and for us is the spinning wheel. Day in and day out I have been talking about it, writing about it.
- YI, 20-1-27,22. cf,697
Intellectual and Manual Labour
213. Q. Why should we insist on a Rabindranath or Raman earning his bread by manual labour? Is it not sheer wastage? Why should not brainworkers be considered on a par with manual workers, for both of them perform useful social work?
A. Intellectual work is important and has an undoubted place in the scheme of life. But what I insist on is the necessity of physical labour. No man, I claim, ought to be free from that obligation. It will serve to improve even the quality of his intellectual output. I venture to say that in ancient times Brahmans worked with their body as with their mind. But even if they did not, body labour was a proved necessity at the present time. In this connection I would refer to the life of Tolstoy and how he made famous the theory of Bread labour first propounded in his country by the Russian peasant Bondaref.
- H, 23-2-47, 36
214. Q. You have always been against charity and have preached the doctrine that no man is free from the obligation of Bread labour. What is your advice for people who are engaged in sedentary occupations, but who lost there all in the last riots (at Noakhali)? Should they migrate and try to find a place where they can go back to their old accustomed habits of life, or should they try to remodel their life in conformity with your ideal of Bread labour for everybody? What use shall their special talents be in that case ?
A. In reply Gandhiji said that it was true that for years he had been against charity as it was understood and for years he had preached the duty of Bread labour. In this connection he mentioned the visit he had received from the District Magistrate and Zaman Saheb along with a police officer. They wanted his opinion about giving doles to the refugees. They had already decided to put before them the work of the removal of water hyacinth, the repair of roads, village's reconstruction or straightening out their own plots of land or building on their land. Those who did any of these things had a perfect right to rations. He said that he liked the idea. But as a practical idealist he would not take the refugees by storm. A variety of works should be put before the people and they should have one month's notice that if they made no choice of the occupations suggested nor did they suggest some other acceptable occupation but declined to do any work though their bodies were fit, they would be reluctantly obliged to tell the refugees that they would not be able to give them doles after the expiry of the noticed. He advised the refugees and their friends to render full co-operation to the Government in such a scheme of work. It was wrong for any citizen to expect rations without doing some physical work.
215. The economics of Bread labour were the living way of life. It meant that every man had to labour with his body for his food and clothing. If he could convince the people of the value and necessity of Bread labour, there would never be any want of bread and cloth. He would have no hesitation in saying to the people with confidence that they must starve and go naked if they would neither work on the land nor spin and weave. They read in the papers that the whole of India was on the brink of starvation and nakedness. If his plan were accepted, they would soon find that India had enough food and enough Khadi, which the masses would produce for themselves. No doubt, they should be assisted in the matter of using the land wisely and should also be supplied with spinning and weaving accessories and instructors. He added that he had not hesitated even to discuss his method with Mr. Casey (the Governor of Bengal) who was taking keen interest in the water supply of Bengal. No doubt, Mr. Casey's was a gigantic scheme requiring years and tons of money. His was an efficient by unambiguous and inexpensive programme
- H, 7-9-47, 316
The Spinning Wheel
216. There is, on the face of the earth, no other country that has the problem that India has of chronic starvation and slow death-a process of dehumanization. The solution must therefore be original. In trying to find it, we must discover the cause of the tremendous tragedy. These people are starving because there is chronic famine, due to floods or want of rains. They have no other occupation to fall back upon. They are therefore constantly idle. This idleness has persisted for so long that it has become a habit with them. Starvation and idleness are the normal condition of life for thousands of people. We may find remedies to prevent floods. That will take years. We may induce people to adopt better methods of cultivation. That must take still more years. And when we have stopped inundations and have introduced among millions up-to-date cultivation, there will still be plenty of time left with the peasants if they will only work. But these improvements will take generations. How are all the starving millions to keep the wolf from the door meanwhile? The answer is through the spinning wheel.
- YI, 31-10-24, 357
217. The only question therefore that a lover of India and humanity has to address himself to is how best to devise practical means of alleviating India's wretchedness and misery. No scheme of irrigation or other agricultural improvement that human ingenuity can conceive can deal with the vastly scattered population of India or provide work for masses of mankind who are constantly thrown out of employment. Imagine a nation working only five hours a day on an average, and this not by choice but by force of circumstances, and you have a realistic picture of India.
- YI, 3-11-21, 350.
218. At one time our national economics was this that just as we produced our own corn and consumed it, so did we produce our own cotton, spin it in our homes and wear the clothes woven by our weavers from our own yarn. The first part of this description is still true while the latter part has almost ceased to hold good. A man generally spends upon his clothing a tenth of what he spends upon his food; hence instead of distributing ten percent of our income among ourselves, we send it to England or to our own mills. That means that we lose so much labour, and in the bargain spend money on our clothing and consequently suffer a twofold loss. The result is that we stint ourselves in the matter of food in order to be able to spend on clothing, and sink to greater misery day by day. We are bound to perish if the twin industries of agriculture and spinning as well as weaving disappear from our homes or our villages.
- YI, 8-1-25, 11
219. Revival of the cottage industry, and not cottage industries, will remove the growing poverty. When once we have revived the one industry, all the other industries will follow. I would make the spinning wheel the foundation on which to build a sound village life; I would make the wheel the centre round which all other activities will revolve.
220. The Charkha is a useful and indispensable article for every home. It is the symbol of the nation's prosperity and therefore freedom. It is a symbol not of commercial war but the nations of the earth but of goodwill and self-help. It will not need a navy threatening a world's peace and exploiting, its resources; but it needs the religious determination of millions to spin their yarn in their own homes as today they cook their food in their own homes.
- YI, 8-12-21, 406.
Spinning as a Supplementary Industry
221. Hand-spinning does not, it is not intended that it should, compete with, in order to displace, any existing type of industry; it does not aim at withdrawing a single able-bodied person, who can otherwise find a remunerative occupation from his work. The sole claim advanced on its behalf's is that it alone offers an immediate, practicable, and permanent solution of that problem of problems that confronts India, viz. the enforced idleness for nearly six months in the year of an overwhelming majority of India's population, owing to lack of a suitable supplementary occupation to agriculture and the chronic starvation of the masses that results there from.
- YI, 21-10-26, 368.
222. I have not contemplated, much less advised, the abandonment of a single healthy, life-giving industrial activity for the sake of hand-spinning. The entire foundation of the spinning wheel rests on the fact that there are crores of semi-employed people in India. And I should admit that if there were none such, there would be no room for the spinning wheel.
- YI, 27-5-26,191.
223. The spinning wheel is not meant to oust a single man or woman from his or her occupation. It seeks only to harness every single idle minute of our millions for common productive work.
- YI,23-1-30, 30.
224. But I cannot be satisfied, not till every man ad woman in India is working at his or at her wheel. Burn that wheel if you find a better substitute. This is the one and only work which can supply the needs of the millions without disturbing them from their homes.
After all, a lip-profession of faith in the Charkha and the throwing of a few rupees at me in a patronizing manner won't bring Swaraj and won't solve the problem of the ever-deepening poverty of the toiling and starving millions. I want to correct myself. I have said toiling millions. I wish that it was a true description. Unfortunately, as we have not revised our tastes about clothing, we have made it impossible for these starving millions to toil throughout the year. We have imposed upon them a vacation, which they do not need, for at least four months in the year. This is not a figment of my imagination, but it is a truth repeated by many English administrators, if you reject the testimony of your own countrymen who have moved in the midst of these masses. So then if I take this purse away and distribute it amongst the starving sisters, it does not solve the question. On the contrary it will impoverish their soul. They will become beggars and get into the habit of living upon charity.
Heaven help the man, the woman or the nation that learns to live on charity. What you and I want to do is to provide work for those sisters of ours living protected in their own homes, and this is the only work that you can provide them with. It is dignified and honest work, and it is good enough work. One anna may mean nothing to you. You will throw it away in getting into a tram car and lazily passing your time instead of taking exercise for 2,3,4 or 5 miles as the case may be. But when it finds its way into the pocket of one poor sister it fructifies. She labours for it and she gives me the beautiful yarn spun by her sacred hands, a yarn that has a history behind it. It is a thread worth weaving a garment our for princes and potentates. A piece of calico has no such history behind it. I must not detain you over this one theme, great as it is for me, and though it engrosses practically the whole of my time.
- YI,15-9-27, 313.
Its Organizational Aspect
225. Khadi gives work to all, mill cloth gives work to some and deprives many of honest labour. Khadi serves the masses, mill cloth is intended to serve the classes. Khadi serves labour, mill cloth exploits it.
- H,10-4-27, 313.
226. Organization of Khaddar is infinitely better than co-operative societies or any other form of village organization. It is fraught with the highest political consequence, because it removes the greatest immoral temptation from Britain's way. I call the Lancashire trade immoral, because it was raised and is sustained on the ruin of millions of India's peasants. And as one immorality leads to another, the many roved immoral acts of Britain are traceable to this one immoral traffic. If, therefore, this one great temptation is removed from Britain's path by India's voluntary effort, it would be good for India, good for Britain and , as Britain is today the predominant world-power, good even for humanity.
- YI, 26-12-24,420.
227. A starving man thinks first of satisfying his hunger before anything else. He will sell his liberty and all for the sake of getting a morsel of food. Such is the position of millions of the people of India. For them, liberty, God and all such words are merely letters put together without the slightest meaning. They jar upon them. If we want to give these people a sense of freedom we shall have to provide them with work which they can easily do in their desolate home and which would give them least the barest living. This can only be done by the spinning wheel. And when they have become self-reliant and are able to support themselves, we are in a position to talk to them about freedom, about Congress etc, Those, therefore, who bring them work and means of getting a crust of bread will be their deliverers and will be also the people who will make them hunger for liberty. Hence the political value of the spinning wheel, apart from its further ability to displace foreign cloth and thus remove the greatest temptation in the way of Englishmen to hold India even at the risk of having to repeat the Jallianwala massacre times without number.
- YI, 18-3-26, 105.
228. It would necessitate the closest contact of workers with the masses and thus make them one with the people. If successful, it would result in total elimination of foreign cloth, thus reducing, if not altogether destroying, the poisonous influence of foreign capital upon the system of Government prevailing in India. This is its very important political result.
- YI,5-5-27, 148.
229. Before the educated classes, I do not place the economic aspect of the spinning wheel. I simply want them to realize the spiritual aspect of the thing. By spinning and wearing Khadi alone, they will express their sympathy for the poor. But for the poor the economic is the spiritual. You cannot make any other appeal to those starving millions.
Does It Mean Going Back?
230. Many people think that in advocating khadi I am sailing against a head wind and am sure to sink the ship of Swaraj, that I am taking the country to the dark ages. I do not propose to argue the case of Khadi in this brief survey. Bur (I want to repeat that) it connotes the beginning of economic freedom and equality of all in the country.
231. Mediaeval times may have been bad ,but I am not prepared to condemn things simply because they are mediaeval. The spinning wheel is undoubtedly mediaeval, but it seems to have come to stay. though this article is the same, it has become a symbol of freedom and unity as at one time, after the advent of the East India Company, it had become the symbol of slavery. Modern India has found in it a deeper and deeper and truer meaning than our forefathers had dreamt of. Even so, if the handicrafts were once symbols of factory labour, may they now be symbols and vehicles of education in the fullest and truest
sense of the term.
- H, 16-10-37, 300
Khadi Not a Commercial Concern
232. Every one should realize that it is wrong to consider Khadi as merely a means of livelihood. If it were only an industry it ought to be run on commercial lines. The mills provide livelihood to thousands, if not lakhs, in one city. Through Khadi we put crores or rupees into the pockets of 15,000 villages. That the case for the use of Khadi to the exclusion of mill cloth loses much of its force. And the claim of Khadi as a means of attaining Swaraj also falls to the ground. But the ideal of Khadi has always been as a means, par excellence, for the resuscitation of villages and there through the generation of real strength among the masses the strength that will ipso facto bring Swaraj.
It is not proper that the relief rendered to villages should rest on the sentiments of townsfolk. We have to awaken villagers themselves and make them capable of tackling their own problems and forging ahead through their own strength. Multiplication of mills will certainly provide cloth for people and if there is proper governmental control of prices, it will be sufficiently cheap too. That will save people from exploitation and ensure decent wages also for the mill hands. But the special claim for Khadi is that it is an unrivalled means for rescuing the masses from the idleness and inertia in which they are today plunged and for creating in them the necessary strength for winning through.
Q. Did our claim amount to this, that Khadi can provide a supplementary means of livelihood to those who remain idle for so many months in the year?
A. That is so, of course, but it did not stop there. It was claimed that Swaraj hung on the yarn of the spinning wheel.
233. It will not produce the slightest impression on me if the figures for Khadi production were to shoot up from two to four lakhs. If that were to happen, it would only prove that Khadi is a blessing to the poor. But then why have a country-wide organization like the A.I.S.A. merely for the purpose? Economic relief to the poor by itself cannot bring Swaraj. I go so far as to say that even if poor-relief Khadi disappears in the face of Khadi for Swaraj, the poor will not be losers, because it will be possible to provide bread for the poor through other means. The pride of Khadi consists in subserving the ideal of Swaraj as well as helping the poor. For, only in such Swaraj can the poor really come to their own.
Q. We shall have to discontinue the large-scale sales of Khadi in vogue in the cities, if the prospective purchasers are to be asked to spin for it. This will mean, in the first instance, large-scale closing down of bhandars.
A. Your objection is probably substantial from the commercial point of view. The masses today are steeped in poverty. They will do anything they are asked to. But unless their activity is directed by full understanding, we shall deceive them and ourselves to the bargain. The employment we give to spinners and weavers today is almost on a par with doles distributed during times of famine or distress against such occupations as breaking of stones, building of roads, etc., which has no permanent value.
- STC, 15.
Relation between the New Scheme of Khadi, Swaraj and Non-violence
234. My experience tells me that in order to make Khadi universal both in the cities and villages, it should be made available only in exchange for yarn. Today a mere one anna's worth in the rupee is demanded. But this must be for the initial stages only. When people have understood the meaning of new rule and learnt how to spin, then Khadi should be procurable only in full exchange for hand-spun yarn. As time passes I hope people will themselves insist on buying Khadi through yarn currency. It, however, this does not happen and they produce yarn grudgingly, I fear Swaraj through non-violence will be impossible.
One of the strongest arguments advanced against the new system is that if the city folk produce their own yarn, even the little that is being done by the Sangh for the poor will vanish and the hope of seeing villagers clad in home-spun will remain a dream. Suppose for argument's sake, that city people give up wearing Khadi either through anger or laziness and villagers, for consequent lack of wages, cease to spin and weave, what great loss accrues? The poor will seek out other occupation and somehow or other eke out a living. Indeed lakhs are doing so today but the analogy cannot affect crores. Those engaged in bidi-making today earn four times as much as, or even more than, the spinners. Many mill laborers have become rich. it follows then that those who are starving today will starve unto death and the few who are able to make money will exploit the rest. An increase in the number of mills and cities will certainly not contribute to the prosperity of India's millions. On the contrary, it will bring further poverty to the unemployed and all the diseases that follow in the wake of starvation. If town-dwellers can look upon such spectacle worth equanimity there is nothing more to be said. In such an event it will be the reign of violence in India, not a reign of Truth and ahimsa. And we shall be forced to admit that there is naturally no room there for Khadi. Military training will then have to be compulsory for all. But we must only think in terms of the starving crores. It they are to be restored, if they are to live, then the Charkha must be made the central activity and people must spin voluntarily. The weapon of non-violence may not, however, be taken up because there is no alternative to it. There must be faith in it. The rule of yarn for the purchase of Khadi must not only come into force but must increase in its application. If, on account of it, the existing bhandars have to close down and Khadi wearers give up Khadi, it will still be a triumph for Truth because it will be clear that people had no real faith in non-violence and that they wore Khadi out of ignorance and deceived themselves into thinking that thereby they would obtain Swaraj. When I know that such Khadi will never obtain Swaraj and even if Swaraj is attained it will immediately be discarded, how can I allow people to continue to deceive themselves? In that case the prophecy of the late Shri Chintamani will come true that on Gandhiji's death people will dislike him and his spinning wheel to such an extent that they will throw out Charkhas from their homes to make his funeral pyre. If hand-spun yarn is not in fact a symbol of non-violence then I should retrieve my error during my lifetime and save, at any rate, the wood of the Charkhas. But I do not believe in the truth of that prophecy. People have understood that the crores of India cannot win freedom through violence. India occupies a very great position in the world. she can become still greater. But she can only do so through non-violence. If India's crores wish to demonstrate the workability of nonviolence they can only do so by making the Charkha their central activity. And as the desire for freedom is even stronger amongst city people, it becomes their bounden duty to understand this truth and take to spinning and Khadi-wearing in earnest for their attainment of non-violent Swaraj.
- STC, 5.