Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on self-rule, community relations, sanitation, villages, non-violence and peace always invoke inspiration, reverence among people world over. Gandhi was not a great proponent of cities. There were not many cities then but urbanisation is a reality of today’s world. We don’t know what would have been his thoughts on cities today. Cities have a lot to learn from his philosophy to build self-sustainable communities with a focus on sanitation, education, health facilities, and deep-rooted democratic practices in running urban systems. We can embrace a lot of Gandhian thoughts to improve cities of today
As we celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, it is worth underlining that he has been inspiring millions of people even after 70 years of his death. That is the impact of Gandhian thoughts and philosophies on the collective consciousness of Indians. Gandhian thoughts on some issues may have limitations in today’s times but his philosophy on life, environment and human behaviour remain relevant even today.
In the times of Gandhi, there were only a handful of cities. India was not industrialised. In India after Gandhi, a lot of things in our society changed. The Indian population was a mere 300 million that rose to 1.3 billion in 2019. There was no large-scale industry. A majority of people were living in villages as there were only a few cities which had little space for common Indian as they remained power centre for politicians, bureaucrats and the rich. Perhaps that is why Gandhi was of the view that cities exploit villages and villagers for their advantage. He promoted the idea of self-sustaining communities in villages that do not need to depend on cities for their daily needs.
The time has changed. Cities in different parts of the country emerged and common man built the foundation of those cities and had a share in their prosperity. This was propelled by industrialisation in the sixties and later after opening up of the economy in the last decade of 20th century. Urbanisation picked up pace but the development was neither inclusive nor sustainable. Hence the slums emerged, the pollution level in cities continues to be very high and there was a stark difference in access to civic services in the low-income and high-income colonies. Here, Gandhi can come into the picture. Cities can embrace Gandhian ideas to become more inclusive and sustainable.
“Do you know that big cities like London have exploited India and the big cities of India, in turn, have exploited its villages? That is how palatial mansions have come up in big cities and villages have become impoverished. I want to infuse new life into these villages. I do not say that all the mills in cities should be demolished. But we should be vigilant and start afresh wherever we happen to make a mistake. We should stop exploiting the villages and should closely examine the injustice done to the villages and strengthen their economic structure.”
Talk with Manu Gandhi(18-4-1947)
Gandhi’s love for villages
Gandhi always talked of self-reliance and promoted the rural industry. The spinning wheel of Mahatma Gandhi symbolises this idea. Gandhi envisioned India as a nation of self-sufficient villages. His famous quote, “The future of India lies in its villages” reverberated in the minds of Indian policymakers post-independence. Since Gandhi remained an inspirational force for Indian polity, perhaps, that is why Indian policies largely focused on development of villages in the last seventy years.
In one of the books on Mahatma Gandhi ‘Gandhi and His Ashrams’, Mark Thomson writes Gandhi wanted to reconstruct the villages which, he felt, were existing merely to be exploited by the cities and dependent on the latter’s sufferance for survival. He further says that Gandhi believed that the strained and unnatural situation could only be alleviated when the city people realised their “duty of making an adequate return to the villages for the strength and sustenance which they derive from them, instead of selfishly exploiting them”.
In his article in Harijan in 1937, Gandhi wrote, “Today our villages have become a mere appendage to the cities. They exist, as it were, to be exploited by the latter and depend on the latter’s sufferance. This is unnatural. It is only when the cities realise the duty of making an adequate return to the villages for the strength and sustenance which they derive from them, instead of selfishly exploiting them, that a healthy and moral relationship between the two will spring up, and if the city children are to play their part in this great and noble work of social reconstruction, the vocations through which they are to receive their education ought to be directly related to the requirements of the villages.”
In many of his writings, Gandhi has mentioned that towns and cities exploited the villages and villagers. He expressed his anguish over the phenomenon in many of his works and public speeches. This may sound ironical but it is true that almost every other city in India has a road named after Mahatma Gandhi; popularly known as MG Road. It is very difficult to contain Gandhian ideology just to villages. The canvass of his philosophy and ideas is so immense that it has something valuable for cities too.
“In the scheme of reconstruction for Free India, its villages should no longer depend, as they are now doing, on its cities, but cities should exist only for and in the interest of the villages. Therefore, the spinning-wheel should occupy the proud position of the centre around which all the life-giving village industries would revolve.”
Gandhi and his relation with cities
Gandhi’s work in cities was significant as he led most of his movements from cities.Gandhi got a large chunk of financial support for his movements from his followers in cities which were businessmen. There is no denying the fact that Gandhi spent important years of his life in the cities of South Africa, Britain and India. Cities helped in shaping his movements but he could not develop liking for urban life and preferred to build his Ashrams in rural settings. Ahmedabad Ashram was also built in a rural setting but eventually that also came under the city’s territory.
In a recent article for a daily English newspaper Ramchandra Guha, a famous historian, writes, “All through his Indian years, too, Gandhi’s life was deeply intertwined with the city. It was the merchants of Bombay who most abundantly funded his movements; it was the ordinary citizens of that city who most enthusiastically went to prison on his behalf. Bombay was the epicentre of his first major all-India satyagraha — the Rowlatt Satyagraha of 1919 — as well as of the last — the Quit India movement of 1942.”
Guha further details his links with cities saying, “Gandhi’s three most famous fasts were conducted in three great Indian cities — in Poona in September 1932, in Calcutta in September 1947, and in New Delhi in January 1948. Before and after these fasts, he visited these cities often, and had many friends and associates in each of them (and a few rivals and adversaries in each of them, too).”
What do the views of a leader who lived in a different era hold significance today? One can find Gandhi and his name almost everywhere on currency notes, street names, busts, pictures, etc. But, the million-dollar question is: can we take his ideas on self-governance, inclusivity, sustainability and several other cross-cutting sectors in the urban domain to build better cities for coming generations. I strongly believe that such an endeavor would be the best tribute to the Mahatma.
‘Swachhta, Samriddhi & Swaraj’ – Gandhi’s dream ‘Bharat’
The month of October has been one of the most important months since the past five years when the Government of India on October 2, 2014, the 145th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, launched ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ which was one of the biggest behavioural change campaigns ever launched by the government. The campaign brought into light Mahatma’s biggest concern –‘Swachhta’. To know about Gandhi’s dream India and significance of ‘swachhta’ in his life, team Urban Update visited Gandhi Smriti and interviewed Sailaja Gullapalli, Research Associate at Gandhi Smriti
What were the views of Gandhi on urbanisation?
Gandhi, although having a progressive outlook towards development, thought that greater stress on urbanisation would ultimately retard the growth of villages. He always emphasised focusing more on the village economy, as he said that if the village economy is strong and people residing in villages are encouraged to produce their own goods, sell them in market and make this their source of income, then they need not to go to big cities in search of livelihood.
Today, the widely promoted government programme–Swachh Bharat Mission, is based on Gandhi’s teachings on sanitation and hygiene, so what exactly was Gandhi’s paradigm on sanitation and hygiene?
Gandhi, during his life span, visited many parts of India and observed that people are not much aware about cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation, which was degrading health standards. So to create awareness amongst people, he started teaching and engaging more people in his cleanliness initiative.
He stayed for almost a year in Champaran to fight for the rights of the Indigo farmers. Not only did he engage people in the non-violent protests but he also engaged his band of volunteers to teach people the importance of sanitation, hygiene and cleanliness.
Even his wife Kasturba Gandhi was actively involved in this movement. Kasturba also used to teach women about these important issues.
Gandhi was the first leader who not only spoke about the importance of independence but also addressed other issues which are still relevant to this day. Even today you can see hoardings of Gandhi cleaning toilets at various places just to make people aware about the importance of cleanliness.
In 2018, the government took the initiative ‘Swachhta se Swachhagraha’, which was inspired by the ideals of Gandhi and was similar to what people saw during Champaran movement but it wasn’t continued. Do you think the implementation of such movements which are inspired by Gandhi can be feasible for urban India?
Yes, we can initiate and implement movements inspired by Gandhi’s ideals in today’s cities. But you have to understand that for each movement to grow and generate the expected results, it takes some time. Initially, there is going to be some resistance as people may not readily involve themselves and hence gradual fruition of such projects can be expected. You have to educate people about the campaign’s objectives.
What are the lessons we can learn from Gandhi’s lifestyle, can we implement them in our daily lives?
Implementing or mirroring the principles of Gandhi in your life is not an easy task. Most of us lack the discipline and time management skills he had and hence you need to be extremely determined to adopt a similar lifestyle.
He led a very regimented life. Imagine back in those days he used to get up at 3 am, did his daily chores, responded to all the communication he received that too handheld letter many a time, he made sure no letter went unanswered. He used to talk to officials and Indian leaders, set up common place to meet the needful citizens of the country. He used to do his spinning and also taught school children in his ashram, etc. This routine ensured that he was successful in his endeavors and we can take inspiration from this and carry out various task in a day’s time.
The good thing about Gandhi’s teaching is that he first practised then he preached not the other way round.
Do you think the idea of ‘Swaraj’ is rightfully implemented in Indian democracy today?
The political comparison of today’s democracy to the time when Gandhi introduced ‘Swaraj’ is completely different. During that time, we were under colonial rule and hence Gandhi promoted the idea of self-rule to people.
Now we are independent and the perception of ‘Swaraj’ has changed. ‘Swaraj’ is not just a political policy, it talks about the complete development of a nation, which we don’t see today in India. While some sects flourish, growth of others is still gradual. We still have made certain progress in many fields but in some fields we are lagging behind. In order to achieve a strong foothold in the world arena, our nation needs to move forward together.