Sunday, 1 December 2013

An Ideal Society: The Gandhian Model



McIver has defined human society as a web of social
relationships. From Plato to Che Guevara, philosophers,
social scientists and activists have tried to give this
web an ideal shape—the blue print of an ideal society.
Among innumerable models of the ideal society, Gandhi’s
model stands apart at least in one respect- his model
rests on the twin pillars of truth and non violence. No
one else in the history has laid so much emphasis on
these two values in the social context. He was aware
that his critics would call it Utopia, but this label can
be attached more or less to any other model available.
In the absence of a clear-cut plan of an ideal society, in
the literature of professional social work, the
professional social worker may find Gandhi’s model
interesting.
Gandhi termed his ideal society as ‘Ramrajya’ i.e. the
kingdom of god on earth. In his weekly ‘Harijan’, he
wrote: “There will be neither paupers, nor beggars,
neither high, nor low, neither millionaire employers nor
half starved employees, neither intoxicating drinks nor
drugs. There will be the same respect for women as for
men, and the chastity and purity of men will be jealously
guarded…. where there will be no untouchability and
where there will be equal respect for all faiths. They
will be all proudly, joyously and voluntarily breadlabourers.”
The City: Not an Ideal Community for Human Dwelling
Although Gandhi’s ideal society does have both cities
as well as the villages, yet he was against the exploitation
of villages by the town dwellers. He regarded cities as
an evil, a snare, a useless encumbrance where people
will not be happy to live — unfortunate for the mankind
and the world. He felt that the English educated men
and women from the cities have criminally neglected
the villages of India, which are backbone of the country.
In fact the blood of the villages is the cement with which
the edifice of the cities is built…. the blood that is today
inflating the arteries of the cities should run once again
in the blood vessels of the villages. He hoped to see a
reasonable wholesome balance, totally free of exploitation
between industry and agriculture, city and the village.

The Rural Society: An Ideal Society

It can therefore be inferred that Gandhi’s ideal society
is predominately a rural society. Gandhi believed and
repeated innumerable times that “India is to be found
not in few cities but in its villages. The real India lies in
the villages. If Indian civilization is to make its full
contribution to the building up of a stable world order,
it is this vast mass of humanity that has to be made to
live again. I would say that if the villages perish, India
will perish too. India will be no more India. Her own
mission in the world will get lost.”
Gandhi had full faith in the wisdom of the rural people.
He opined that the age old Indian culture and wisdom
still continues. “The moment you talk to them (Indian
Peasants) and they begin to speak, you will find wisdom
drops from their lips. Behind the crude exterior, you
will find a deep reservoir of spirituality. I call this culture
— you will not find such a thing in the West. In case of
the Indian villager, an age old culture is hidden under
an entrustment of crudeness. Take away the
encrustation, remove his chronic poverty and illiteracy
and you will find the finest specimen of what a cultured,
cultivated free citizen should be.”
Gram Swaraj: Self Rule by the Village
Gandhi’s rural society is based on the concept of ‘Gram
Swaraj’, i.e., self-rule of the village, by the village and
for the village. In his words, “My idea of village Swaraj
is that it is a complete republic, independent of its
neighbours for its own vital wants and yet interdependent
for many others in which dependence is necessary. Thus
every village’s first concern will be to grow its own food
crops, and cotton for its cloth According to Gandhi a
village is conceived as the strongest social unit that
can give a good account of it, if it is well organized on a
basis of self-sufficiency.
Village Structure
It will have cottages with sufficient light and ventilation,
built of a material obtainable within a radius of five
miles of it. The cottages will have courtyards enabling
the householders to plant vegetables for domestic use
and to house their cattle. The village lanes and streets
will be free of all avoidable dust. It will have wells
according to its needs and accessible to all. It will have
houses of worship for all, also a common meeting place,
a theatre, a village common for grazing its cattle, a cooperative
dairy, primary and secondary schools in which
industrial education will be the central factor, and it
will have village Panchayats for setting disputes. It will
produce its own grains, vegetables and fruit, and its
own Khadi.”
Panchayat
Non-violence with its techniques of Satyagraha and nonco-
operation will be the sanction of the village
community. There will be a compulsory service of village
guards who will be selected by rotation from the register
maintained by the village. The government of the village
will be conducted by a Panchayat of five persons
annually elected by the adult villagers, male and female,
possessing minimum prescribed qualifications. These
will have all the authority and jurisdiction required.
Since there will be no system of punishments in the
accepted sense, this Panchayat will be the legislature,
judiciary and executive combined to operate for its year
of office.
Industry
Machinery has its place, it has come to stay. But, says
Gandhi, it should not be allowed to displace human
labour every improvement in Cottage Machinery is
welcome…… Gandhi is not against machines, but
against their indiscriminate multiplication which
snatches away employment and thereby bread from poor
people. The ideal society will be free from all destructive
machinery and shall focus on such simple tools and
instruments that save individual labour and lighten the
burden of the millions of artisans. Gandhi pleads for
that machinery which is helpful in removing India’s
idleness and pauperism.
Defence
Gandhi believes that “Any village can become such a
republic today without much interference. I have not
examined here the question of the relations with the
neighbouring village and the Centre if any. The purpose
is to present an outline of village government. Here is
perfect democracy based upon individual freedom. The
individual is the architect of his own Government. The
law of non-violence rules him and his Government. He
and his village are able to defy the might of the world.
For the law governing every villager is that he will suffer
death in the defence of his and his village’s honour.
The villagers should develop such a high degree of skill
that articles prepared by them should command a ready
market outside. When our villages are fully developed
there will be no dearth of men with a high degree of
skill and artistic talent. There will be village poets,
village artists, village architects, linguists and research
workers. In short, there will be nothing in life worth
having which will not be there in the villages. Today
the villages are dung heaps. Tomorrow they will be like
tiny gardens of Eden where highly intelligent folk whom
no one can deceive or exploit would dwell.
A Horizontal Society
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 give strength to all
within and derive its own from the centre. I may be
taunted with the retort that this is all Utopian and
therefore not worth a single thought. If Euclid’s point,
though incapable of being drawn by human agency, has
an imperishable value, my picture has its own for
mankind to live. Let India live for this true picture,
though never realizable in its completeness. We must
have a proper picture of what we want before we can
have something approaching it. If there ever is to be a
republic of every village in India, then I claim variety
for my picture in which the last is equal to the first, or
in other words, none is to be the first and none the last.

Value Base of Gandhi’s Ideal Society and
Social Work Related Intervention

Dictionary of Sociology by Fairchild defines ‘Values’ as
the socially desirable goals. Every social endeavour,
movement or programme strives towards the
achievement of the values set jointly by the people
involved in such activities. Obliviously Professional
Social Work (PSW) as well as Gandhian Social Work
(GSW) have their own sets of values. Prof. Herbert Bisno,
the Philosopher of PSW, mentions dignity of man, equality
and welfare of the weaker as prime values, while the
“International Code of ethics for Professional Social
Workers” adopted by the International Federation of
Social Workers general meeting held in 1976 at Puerto
Rico has added self fulfillment and service above the self
to this list. In the year 1996, SWEF (Social Work
Educators Forum) in its conference on ethics for the
Professional Social Workers held at the Tata Institute of
Social Sciences, Mumbai extended this list by adding
overall well-being of people, in the spirit of Sarvodaya,
social, economic, political and legal justice, people centred
development in the spirit of Swarajya, democracy and
Ahimsa. This was a sincere step on the part of the PSW’s
in India in the direction of bringing the two schools
closer to each other, which is yet to be endorsed by the
global fraternity of the PSW’s.
Coming to the Gandhian framework of values, we find
that these are 14 in number. Social philosopher Joseph
H. Bunsel has classified values into two broad categories
— internal or personal and external or social. But in
the Gandhian set of values, there is no such clear cut
demarcation. Out of these, 11 values have been
beautifully condensed into a Sanskrit / Hindi verse by
Acharya Vinoba Bhave. These values are as follows:
Gandhi’s 11 Vows
Ahimsa Non-violence
Satya Truth
Asteya Non-stealing
Brahmacharya Self-discipline
Aparigraha Non-possession
Sharirshrama Bread-labour
Aswada Control of the Palate
Sarvatra Bhayavarjana Fearlessness
Sarva Dharma Samantva Equality of All Religions
Swadeshi Use Locally Made Goods
Sparshbhavana Remove Untouchability
The other three are peace, equality and democracy.