Friday, January 11, 2008

Gandhi and Machines

Gandhi's had certain misgivings on the mass production through machinery. Gandhi was not opposed to machines as such. To a question whether he was opposed to machines he answered in the following way:

"How can I be when I know that even this body is a most delicate piece of machinery? the spinning wheel is a machine, a little toothpick is a machine. What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on "saving labour" till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation.I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind but for all. I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of few, but in hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions"

Gandhi's views on machinery evolved over time. From time immemorial Indian villages remained self-sufficient. Indian textiles made by artisans acquired fame all over the world and its not an exaggeration to say that India dominated the trade in this part of the world. Under the colonial rule, this village economy gradually collapsed under the British Land revenue and Commercial policies. India was made a net exporter of raw materials to British industries. Indian exports were discouraged and machine made goods from Britain were given duty free access. Rail lines were laid between ports and hinterland for free movement of raw material and imported goods. Indian artisans couldn't withstand the dumping of machine made goods. Coupled with commercialization of agriculture, the ruining of village cottage industries made the life of rural population miserable. The ‘Economic critique of colonial rule’ provided Dadabhai Naoroji, R C Dutt and others in late 19th century sowed the seeds of nationalist movement in later years.

Gandhi had an open mind but he had firm beliefs. He revised his beliefs over time. Criticizing Gandhi that he was against industrialization by quoting his book 'Hind Swaraj' written in early 1900s makes little sense. One has to understand the context and the then prevailing conditions.

Gandhi once said, let the windows remain open and let the air (ideas or thoughts) flow freely from outside but don't loose your ground in the flow. Everything said by Gandhi may not be relevant today. We need to take in to account the changes that have taken place. Still his words- ‘let the air flow in but not loose the ground’ are relevant to India in the present age of globalization, liberalization of economy and growing rich-poor divide .His ideas on village cottage industries will remain relevant for addressing the current rural distress and for bridging the Urban-Rural divide.

Man and Machine

(All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as told in his own words compiled and edited by Krishna Kripalani.)

No comments: