This article was published in the Centenary Publication of collected articles on Dharampal and his works by PPST and Other India Books, Goa called Re-Imagining Swaraj through Indian Tradition. Having worked with Dharampal the Gandhian Historian between 2000 and his demise in 2006, Rama and Ramasubramanian, the founders of Samanvaya jointly have written this article based on one of the 20 archival compilations that they assisted Dharampal with. The book maybe purchased from the online book shop of OIB publications here
Revisiting Dharampal’s Archival Compilation on the
British attempt to dismantle revival of
Village Industries by Gandhi’s
All India Village Industries Association, c.1934-35
Section – I: INTRODUCTION
“What drives our ordinary people to behave the way they do, what gives them a sense of strength and what makes them weak?” was the preoccupation of Dharampalji as a scholar and thinker. Articulated in different ways during our stay, travel and work with him, this fascination with the ‘’ordinary people’’ of this country and their life sets both a perspective and a priority. Looking back at his work today with our own experience working with rural economy and village-based industries since being exposed to his ideas, we have often found ourselves asking this question as well.
Over the past twenty years being closely associated with several rural economic initiatives and having initiated a few ourselves, a persistent reflection is ‘’how could a society that has so much knowledge, capacity for resilience, wisdom in methods of working be made to feel that it is weak and backward?’’. A perception of backwardness that was perpetrated by the Colonial rulers, and since sustained through the structure of governance that emphasizes maintenance of an order and law at the cost of dignity and wellbeing of its own subjects. Dharampal often called this system as ‘order of grave’ and maintained that the Colonial structures ought to be destroyed[i]. He quotes Gandhi’s idea of Swadeshi when discussing the idea of backwardness[ii] as, “Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote…In the domain of economics I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbours and serve these industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting.[iii]” Dharampal prescribes a return of resource to village as the ‘’movement of income and resources from the metropolis to the places where they originally came from.[iv]’’ He often opined that the social backwardness could settle itself whereas the economic one needs to be definitely addressed as that was the disturbance of the colonial power.
Our work with the village community coincided with the bloom of Globalization in India which resulted in further transfer of ownership of even the industries in the metropolis to that of ‘foreign investors’ which were the modern corporates. One of Dharampalji’s oft repeated quotation was how the then American President in the 1940s wrote to the British Prime Minister, seeking that the British ensure ‘’India remains in the Western orbit’’. Globalization renewed Indian subscription to western orbit through diverse treaties, agreements, opening up to investments in all kinds of areas, subsidies in terms of land, resources, manpower and market privileges provided to such investors while imposing restrictions on our own industries, relaxing of regulatory regimes to suit profit making of foreign corporates and calling all of these as “development” and “progress”. Whether it be the medium of instruction, choice of careers, technology, defence, development, economic power, policy or even a sense of what constitutes dignity, if India merely subscribed to the Western orbital idea post Independence, the globalization agenda made us own up to the identity of being modern and western completely. Once in a conversation someone mentioned, ‘’but Dharampalji our people are employed in NASA and other big technological establishments’’ to which he responded, ‘’but what do they do? Can they actually change the way NASA or any of these companies work? Can they have a say in what gets done in the societies they live in or are they in these positions only because they are hard-working employees?’’.
During the past two decades, Urban Indian stories abound of silicon-valley successes and leadership positions occupied by hard working Indians who can’t but push the same Westernization agenda in India as well. It is in the villages of India that the real loss of resources, sense of control and dignity been most felt since the globalization came in to re-energize colonial past. Seeds, pest and weed management chemicals abound our villages with brand names of local deities owned by American and European corporates. Policies are modified to ensure that the local breeds of cattle, seeds and even exchange of knowledge is rendered illegal while the farmers struggle to hold their own. Children of farmers educated in schools often funded through sale of the family land either end up coming back to farm more indebted than their parents or fit into undignified professions in urban industrial ghettoes across India. Even subsidies for farmers are cornered by corporate houses through vaguely sounding policies, either as financial and market services or technology[v]. Mass produced consumer goods and textiles from China provide cheaper and less aesthetic alternatives sold to artisanal communities that had produced far superior materials[vi]. Far worse, the artisans and farmers are asked to ‘compete’ and produce for global markets through newer emphasis on ‘value chains[vii]’ which shifted the onus of ‘value addition’ on the primary producers, while those who control access to markets could remain unregulated.
If reluctant acceptance of Climate Change and adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) challenged the global economic order, the on-going Pandemic has escalated the need to relook at models of economic growth. The Pandemic crashed global supply chains (revival of which is even more expensive[viii]) and taught us the resilient nature of the rural economy. Which could accommodate abandoned migrant industrial labourers by generating agricultural employment and thereby stabilize societies in gainful and dignified vocations[ix]. Today, not merely the breakdown of the supply chains, but also the very foundations of the economy of scale is being challenged by industrialists themselves from a resilient prism[x].
In this context when we remember Dharampalji through this commemorative volume, we chose to look at the Archival Compilation that has to do with the village industries movement of Gandhiji and how it was countered by the British. It seems to have been the last attempt by Gandhiji to build an alternative to the onward march of the western economic institutional model and executed during the same years the British were building the edifice of modern political and economic structure in India. A reading of this volume indicates how while the Viceroy in Delhi saw the million small village enterprises blooming as a threat, while neither the Provincial Governments, the Districts nor for that matter the members of the Congress really saw the significance of the village industries movement.
The Archival Compilation related to launch and the initial years of the All Indian Village Industries Association (AIVIA) by Mahatma Gandhi, is part of the twenty volumes that were compiled on different thematic lines by Dharampalji between 1996-2002[xi]. Currently, we are looking at the Vol. 15 of this thematic compilation. Volume no. 15 has the title “BRITISH COUNTERING OF MAHATMA GANDHI AND THE CONGRESS, 1934 – 1938”, it has in all 52 archival documents. The Order from the British Government Secretary of State, to the provincial governments on the village industries movement of Gandhi and the response of the provincial governments forms this archival compilation. The compilation itself was made into 3 sections of related but not necessarily integrated stories. While the first section with 37 archival documents is to do with the British Government targeting Mahatma Gandhi’s Village Industries movement, the second section is to do with the Viceroy’s views on Gandhi (7 documents) and third to do with the removal of the Governor of the United Province in 1937 (6 documents). In this article we are leaving out the second and third sections except as references and deal primarily with the content of the 37 documents on the village industries movement. We believe that it is perhaps the last period of dominance of Mahatma Gandhi as a driver of conscience of the freedom movement and perhaps his last major attempt to erect a new institutional edifice of economic and political activity.
Section – II: BACKGROUND
Gandhi launching the All India Village Industries Association (AIVIA)
The 1930s is a very busy decade for Gandhi that starts with the Round Table Conference followed by the Poona Pact. His attention had been heavily drawn to the life and lack of dignity of Harijans and he recognizes and articulates the need for providing them dignity through secured livelihoods in the village. His arrival at the launch of the AIVIA has a dual purpose of both social and economic upliftment. As he himself explains, “Very few people have any notion of what khadi means to Harijans. Simple weaving is almost an exclusive speciality of Harijans, and even though mill spinning and weaving have deprived many Harijans of a source of livelihood, thousands of them are still dependant upon weaving”. The kind of questions posed to him then are familiar as similar questions are posed even today. He outlines one such question, “…a friend argues: ‘What is the use of keeping alive a perishing industry? Why not give them instead an industry that may be growing? Surely, you do not intend to confine them to worn-out occupations even when you are devising all manner of means for their uplift otherwise.’ Indeed, I have no desire to confine Harijans, or for that matter, anybody, to spinning and weaving or to any one occupation, if they can be more profitably employed in any other; only I do not take the gloomy view of hand-spinning and weaving which the objector takes. I personally believe that hand ginning, hand-carding, hand-spinning and hand-weaving have a brilliant future, at least in India….”
He continues, “…khadi, as a village industry, requires very little capital. The implements can all be manufactured in the villages themselves, and there is no lack of indigenous technical skill. The only thing necessary is to change the mentality of the people. In spite, therefore, of the most skilful arguments to the contrary, and of imposing statistics with regard to the output of mills, I remain confirmed in my opinion that khadi in India has a very big future. What we may not do voluntarily and out of conviction, we shall be obliged to do through force of circumstances. India has to live, that is, her millions have to live. There is no difference of opinion as to the fact that they are not living today. They are merely existing. There is no other country in the world where so many millions of people have only partial employment and where, inspite of the civilization being predominantly rural, the holdings are rarely two acres per head. To manufacture the whole of her cloth requirements through steam or electricity, or any other than the human power behind the wheel, is still further to deepen the unemployment of the population. An industrialized India must, therefore, mean utter extinction of many millions, including, naturally, Harijans, who occupy, to our utter shame, the lowest strata of society”.
This conviction on his part about the social upliftment being the output of the economic system seems to be in line with his countering modernity as turnover, profits and contribution to government revenue became the values by which economy increasingly got to be judged. He of course is aware of the capitalist argument of inequal and trickledown theory as he further elaborates in his responds.
“…I know that some enthusiastic patriots will not only not mind such a process, but they will welcome it. They will say that it is better to have one crore of happy, contented, prosperous Indians, armed to the teeth, than to have 30 crores of unarmed creatures who can hardly walk. I have no answer to that philosophy, because, being saturated with the Harijan mentality, I can only think in terms of the millions of villagers and can only make my happiness dependent upon that of the poorest amongst them, and want to live only if they can live[i]”.
Gandhi also is at pains to express to his immediate friends and associates that his approach to the village industries is more moral and pragmatic and less driven by having to achieve an idealistic or luddite goal. He took extra precaution to point out that the movement to village industries as a stable economic thinking is not unknown to the West when he corresponded with English educated Indians. Here is a letter that he received during this period and his response -
“To my unaided mind you appear to be opening the first campaign of an endless and quixotic war against modern civilization. Long ago you proclaimed yourself its sleepless enemy, and now you would, if you could, turn it back on the course it has pursued for some millennia. I reel at the mere thought[ii].
He responds to this question in detail, “This is from an intimate letter from a dear friend who wrote in reply to my letter, inquiring if he could extend his co-operation in the effort. As the view expressed so frankly by the friend is, I know, shared by quite a number of friends, it is well for me to explain my position. It would be impertinent for me to do so if my position was not also that of the A.I.V.I.A.
In seeking to revive such village industries as are capable of being revived, I am making no such attempt as the friend ascribes to me. I am trying to do what every lover of village life, everyone who realizes the tragic meaning of the disintegration of villages, is doing or trying to do. Why am I turning back the course of modern civilization when I ask the villager to grind his own meal, eat it whole, including the nourishing bran, or when I ask him to turn his sugar-cane into gur for his own requirements, if not for sale? Am I turning back the course of modern civilization when I ask the villagers not merely to grow raw produce, but to turn it into marketable products and thereby add a few more pies to their daily income?”
Here we find him advocating currently familiar value addition with a fundamental difference, in his case it is meant for the local consumption and not profit seeking for a far away owner. He continues - “And surely modern civilization is not millennia old. We can almost give its birth an exact date. If I could do it, I would most assuredly destroy or radically change much that goes under the name of modern civilization. But that is an old story of life. The attempt is undoubtedly there. Its success depends upon God. But the attempt to revive and encourage the remunerative village industries is not part of such an attempt, except in so far as every one of my activities, including the propagation of non-violence, can be described as such an attempt. The revival of village industries is but an extension of the khadi effort. Hand-spun cloth, hand-made paper, hand-pounded rice, home-made bread and jam, are not uncommon in the West. Only, there they do not have one-hundredth of the importance they have in India. For, with us, their revival means life, their destruction means death, to the villagers, as he who runs may see. Whatever the machine age may do, it will never give employment to the millions whom the wholesale introduction of power machinery must displace[iii]”.
While the preoccupation of the Mahatma was the social and economic upliftment of the poorer population in the country, it is important to understand the prime force that would oppose him, viz., the then Viceroy, Wellingdon. A sports enthusiast who encouraged the game of cricket among Indians[iv], Viceroy Wellingdon encounters Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement twice before the launch of the Village Industries movement.
In 1917, When Wellingdon was Governor of Bombay Presidency, a severe famine broke out in the Kheda region of Gujarat, which had far reached effects on the economy and left farmers in no position to pay their taxes. Still, the government insisted that tax not only be paid but also implemented a 23% increase to the levies to take effect that year. Kheda thus became the setting for Gandhi's first satyagraha in India… The people under Gandhi's influence then rallied together and sent a petition to Wellingdon, asking that he cancel the taxes for that year. However, the Cabinet refused and advised the Governor to begin confiscating property by force, leading Gandhi to thereafter employ non-violent resistance to the government, which eventually succeeded and made Gandhi famous throughout India and Wellingdon's departure from the Province.[v]
Willingdon returned in April 1919 as the governor of Madras and in November 1920, when he announced election for the Madras Legislative Council due to their adherence to Gandhi's non-cooperation movement, the Indian National Congress party refused to field any candidates. The following year, even as he was dealing with the Mopla rebellion and its outfall through martial law, over 10,000 workers in the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills of Madras city organised for six months a general strike contemporaneous with the non-cooperation movement, which also sparked riots between pro- and anti-strike workers that were again only put down with police intervention.
With both previous stints in India, having encountered Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, it was only natural that Wellingdon be looking at any initiative of Gandhi with suspicion. He served as the 22nd Viceroy and Governor General of India from April 1931 to April 1936. Important government institution building during this time included the Reserve Bank being created in 1934 and Government of India Act, 1935[vi]. Like most officials of higher posting, he disliked the decisions by his predecessor. He makes it clear that he doesn’t like the understanding with Gandhi by his predecessor through the Gandhi – Irwin pact. In fact, the first exchange with Gandhi, seems to offend the Viceroy. As he himself writes to the Secretary of State in London, “when first I arrived, (Gandhi was) in the position of one who was practically the head of a parallel Government. In our first discussions he practically placed that position quite clearly before me by stating he wished for certain information and requested me to do certain things which I, as the head of the Government, was quite disinclined to do. And the policy of my Government ever since I have been here has been in the main to make Gandhi realise that we are the Government, that he is only the head of a political party, and I think that during the over four years that I have been here we have got him to that position at last[vii]”.
His letters to the Secretary of State provides a clear indication of the state of mind of the Viceroy and his several uncertainties and challenges in dealing with both Gandhi and Congress. The Viceroy’s gossip filled correspondence with the Secretary of State, Marquee of Zetland (Section #2 of the Archival compilation of Vol 15) has an uncanny resemblance to the way political decisions are made even today amongst the higher officials.
The British is worried about the rise of the Communist within the Congress
While Gandhiji is worried about creating the social and economic order that will address the needs of the poorest and the most vulnerable in the country the global ascend of the Communists during the early 1930s seemed to be in the mind of the British Government in India as well. They equated the domination of the Socialist school of thought within the Congress and the elevation of Rajendra Prasad as the President in the 1934 Bombay Congress as equating to the advancement of the Communist ideology in India.
The letter from the Secretary of the State to the Provinces that is the first archival document in the compilation for instance, has over 6 references to the growing influence of the leftist school within the Congress party itself. The Communist party of India was in its early stages, but, the ideology was definitely catching up with several people in India[viii]. Trotsky was being studied and The History of the Russian Revolution and The Revolution Betrayed –were ‘selling like hot cakes’ in Benares, Calcutta, and Bombay according to one of the Communists[ix]. While the communists themselves looked at their work in India as not belonging to the hardcore Communist arms struggle idea, but, a soft socialist movement, the British saw them as a threat to domination as well and worried about their advancement in the Congress party and how it could be used by Gandhi to challenge the British rule.
The Viceroy talking to a group of industrialists in Calcutta for instance, states, “This is an age when the foundations of society are being questioned and we are not free in India from those who wish by invoking violence to overthrow the whole social structure. It would be superfluous for me to argue the case against Communism before an audience such as this; but I would like to draw your attention to this question because I feel there is a danger of under estimating the appeal…..that if a man thinks he has nothing to lose but his chains it is not difficult to persuade him that any change must be for the better.[x]” Interestingly, during the same time we have an exchange on the meaning of the word ‘Socialism’ and the way it is interpreted by the Congressmen between Nehru and Gandhi[xi].
Recognition of the Village Industries Movement as a New dangerous political strategy by Gandhi
“The Government of India recognise that the development of village industries…(the) potential dangers of the constructive movement will agree to carry out the policy indicated above”. – Halett, Secretary to Govt. of India, Letter to the provincial heads dated 23.11.1934
The Viceroy is convinced that the village industries movement is only for the purpose of getting the civil disobedience movement re-started, as he states to the Secretary of State in the letter on another matter, “Gandhi clearly says that he is against Council entry at all, that is general policy is to go on with his village uplift movement and then to start civil disobedience in some form once more. Whatever good people from here may say, that is his fixed idea…[xii]”
Of course, a year later he was not averse to ‘helping’ the village movement if anyone were to ‘appeal’ to his government. In a letter in Oct 1935, he states, “…our officers who, in every Province …are doing vastly more to help the agricultural ryot, (than Gandhi) …especially so as our reports from all round India show clearly that Gandhi is hardly making any way at all. Don't please think that we have any objection to any work he wishes to do, or that we wouldn't help him if he asked us to do so, but as far as I can find out, his people have never attempted to appeal to us for any assistance in their work, and as a matter of fact I think they have very little money to do anything at all. ”[xiii]
The Congress Party
The Congress party was at the throes of gaining powers at the Provincial level due to the new Act of Governance that distributed powers to the provinces and were least interested in the confrontational protest movement, in the process adopting the Western form of representative Democratic institutional structure without question. “Indian political opinion claimed representative institutions and an enlarged franchise as a natural right…. Deepening Indian commitment to this particular imported political style and framework was partly ideological, the fruit of expanding western education and its implicit values. It was also a tactical response of men who recognized the advantage of using the language and categories of those from whom they wished to extract concessions. Striking evidence of the magnetism of the new political institutions was the fleeting commitment of Congressmen to civil disobedience. Few saw it in terms of self-purification and striving after truth. For most it was a tactic for temporary use when apparently productive, to be dropped if it involved them in more suffering and frustration than benefit.[xiv]” This is reflected in the views of the Viceroy when he outlines the purpose of being open to the Congress is to share an opportunity for them to ‘’join with us’’ as he states in his letter to the Secy. Of State in Britain in July 1934 - “(p.219) And with regard to contact, may I say that I insisted on having an Assembly Election, though I knew that it would be very favourable to Congress. I did it because I wanted to give Congress every opportunity of joining with us and co-operating in the administration of our affairs…. I don't think the Governors will have these terrible difficulties that people anticipate when they get into office…. Since the ban was lifted from Congress, they have split into many factions all of whom would like to get Gandhi's blessing and a "Prime Minister's letter" from him, for their elections.
He has been wise enough to keep out of it altogether, and there is not the smallest doubt that many of the politically minded Congress, …would be very glad if he were to disappear from this world.[xv]”
Subsequently, the Viceroy seems to realize that perhaps this may not be the case even as the election results from the Provinces were starting to come and when he recognizes that the Congress was uniformly winning everywhere. He writes in early November the same year to the Secretary of State, “…That is what I feel is Gandhi's position now. He is breaking away from Congress, but he keeps control and he sticks to civil disobedience, and I am inclined to think that his real purpose in this village uplift scheme of his is to get the Congress ideas into the minds of all the agriculturists of the country and then can start again with redoubled vigour. … I think this is going to increase our difficulties in the future because with Congress fairly strong in the Assembly and Gandhi doing his propaganda work outside he will have a dual policy with which to upset us in the future.[xvi]”
When the Congress wins the election in many parts and they are in power, the Viceroy seems to be even more clear that Gandhi will use the power of the Congress in the provincial governments to ensure the success of the village industries movement and the overall purpose of the village industries movement is to create a new resistance but this time riding on the shoulder of the farmers in the villages. In a letter later that year after Congress wins the elections, the Viceroy writes to the Secretary of State, “…Let me add that there is no doubt that the whole thing has been a great triumph for little Gandhi. He has gone out of the Congress, but he keeps control. He is now anxious to start, what he is pleased to call, his social uplift campaign in the districts and we are all quite clear that his one purpose is to instruct in the next year or two the agricultural population politically through this means, so that he may be able to come back at us with redoubled strength in the future.[xvii]”
After the Congress members have gotten hold of the letter to the Provinces and it looked inevitable that they raise the issue further, the Viceroy in his letter to the Secretary of the State in London states, “The Congress have got hold of that memorandum which we issued from the Home Department with regard to Gandhi's village uplift scheme, and they hope to make much capital out of it. We are going to go for them on this matter, and we have speeches and extracts from nationalist papers saying definitely that their purpose is a great political movement of the agricultural classes in the future, which will sufficiently prove the justice of our despatch. …I am afraid rather that they are in an ugly frame of mind, these Congress people…[xviii]”
The Letter to the Provinces on the Village Industries Movement
The contentious letter to the provinces is sent on the 23rd November 1934 by the Secretary of State for the Government of India. This numbered letter consisting of 23 paras can be roughly broken down to the following components – analysis of the Gandhi initiative of the village industries movement which goes on for the first 15 paras, 5 paras that speak of popularizing the measures and programmes done by the British government and the last 3 paras on the inadequacies and lack of seriousness as perceived by the Secretary of State on the provincial governments. This is followed on the 29th Nov 1934 with a telegram in which it is requested that the provincial governments only share the part of the earlier letter that is to do with the expression of apprehension on the village industries movement and the provincial governments are advised not to share the part of the letter that is to do with the inadequacies in performance with the district level officials, i.e., the last 3 paras.
The response to the letters from the various provinces (except that of the United Province) is received over a year and forwarded to the Under Secretary by the Deputy Secretary on the 12th November 1935.
Section – III: RESPONSE TO THE LETTER BY THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA FROM THE PROVINCES
Responses from the Provinces on the overall spirit of the letter and the nature of suggestions provided as follows –
Punjab in a detailed and lengthy response didn’t see the Congress as awaiting or having wound up its activities. Nor does the government of Punjab believe that the lack of clarity on the part of Gandhiji is in any way to be construed as having no agenda at all. It goes on to state, “Whatever his motives may be, the movement is potentially of great danger: and his past history shows that, however devoted he may appear to be to social or economic reform, he is liable, at any time, to resume political activities and to convert the position he has gained by other methods to political account.[i] “ It goes on state that how the village industries movement has an universal appeal beyond the political division and boundaries defined by ideological differences – “In this role, he will attract a great deal of public sympathy and support, and this will extend beyond the immediate ranks of the Congress. It has to be remembered that the development of Indian industries has rightly the support of every school of politics, and that, so far as rural interests are concerned a new importance now attaches to the subject because of the economic depression in agriculture proper. …There is perhaps no subject on which Indian opinion is so sensitive. The boycott of British goods during the civil disobedience movement attained more success than any other activity, and was extremely difficult to combat. It had the sympathy of a large section of the people who genuinely disapproved of the civil disobedience movement as a whole.
It may, therefore, be assumed that the disposition of the public, until there is good evidence to the contrary, will be to regard Mr. Gandhi's Village Industries Association as a scheme designed in the genuine interests of industrial development, and that, in the absence of definite proof to the contrary, it will strongly disapprove of a policy of open hostility by Government towards it.“
The response from Bengal flags the growing socialist takeover, “While agreeing however that with a Congress of its present political colour the appreciation applies, and the line of action proposed is appropriate, the local Government feel strongly that the possible emergence of, and the capture of power by leaders of an extreme socialistic type is likely to produce important changes to meet which Government will have to be prepared to adapt their policy. The development of the situation therefore, as the Government of India observe, will need most careful watching”.
The province of Bihar and Orissa reports that things were finding it difficult to sustain as there was no money available to continue with the campaign. “the movement is unorganised in this province and except in isolated localities, where Congress ashrams with small bodies of enthusiastic Congress workers were already established, matters have hardly anywhere proceeded beyond the stage of talking… Two-thirds of the districts report that the Village Industries Association has displayed no activity whatever and in many of these districts not even a branch of the Association has been set up. Even where branches have been opened matters have not progressed beyond the enrolling of a few prospective workers and the collection of subscriptions. There is a general dearth of funds, the local Congress Committees are mostly in low water and the central organisation at Wardha is not distributing money on any regular scale. No further progress is likely until money is forthcoming.”[ii]
This province though it has several interesting areas of work, complains that there are no great ideas within the AIVIA in the province even in places where they have a presence. The district administrations in some parts complains that the Congress people are ‘under a cloud’ due to their spending of relief funds and they have not approached the district administration for any help whatsoever.
Section – IV: VILLAGE INDUSTRIES SITUATION
On the status of the village industries themselves and the potential of their revival, diverse opinions and ideas were shared by the different provinces, all of them forming a veritable matrix of what forms the basis of our village industries understanding to the day.
Punjab provincial government, for instance doesn’t provide any scope for development for the village industries beyond agriculture and want to leave any other village industries ‘impossible’ development to Gandhi. They state - “The scope for developing or reviving subsidiary village industries will again be explored; but it is open to doubt whether this will prove to be a valuable field, and, apart from one or two industries of comparatively minor importance, it will probably be found better to allow Mr.Gandhi to attempt the impossible in his contempt for economic forces, than for Government to waste time and money on experiments which are doomed to failure. The more profitable line appears to be definitely to recognise agriculture, with its allied branches …as essentially the basic industry of the rural classes and to concentrate mainly on its improvement. In the Punjab, subsidiary industries, such as weaving, are not likely to be taken up by the mass of agriculturists: and, if Mr. Gandhi's attention is turned to village industries in the narrow sense of the term, then, in this province, he will only touch the menial classes in the villages….If he wishes to establish his influence among the masses of the agricultural population, he will have to extend the field of his activities, and his previous history suggests that the line he is likely to take is to represent, on their behalf, alleged grievances relating to land revenue, water rates village chaukidars and other rural questions.” Clearly the Provincial Governments has not caught the social intentions of Gandhi and are only looking at the failure of the village industries movement in making having any political outfall.
The Bengal province also speaks of strengthening the existing village industries apart from concentrating on agriculture and assures the Secretary that they are already pursuing the same of course subjected to the financial availability – “As regards the …probable activities of the New Village Industries Association the Government of Bengal agree that their own activities should be intensified along the lines suggested. The policy of developing and improving agriculture, of endeavouring to find means of alleviating rural indebtedness of improving village industries and the like and generally of endeavouring to establish closer contact between the people at large and the Government has long formed one of this Government's chief pre-occupations and will be pursued with vigour, subject of course to the limitations imposed by their financial position.”
“In Darbhanga the Association has opened two grocery shops where stone-ground flour, hand-pounded rice and molasses and other indigenous foodstuffs are sold. As the rates are rather above the market rates they are not likely to attract many customers outside the politically-minded classes. …At Madhubani in Darbhanga there is a branch of the All-India spinners' Association which employs a number of Muhammadan weavers, but this is not directly a part of the Village Industries organisation and merely gives employment to an already established community of weavers. In Bhagalpur …an important ashram has been established since the non-cooperation days at Bihpur with branches at Deosri and Janidih. …These ashrams are intended to be centres for instruction and for the collection of yarn and khaddar….In Purnea an attempt was made to open a technical school which broke down owing to internal squabbles, but at the Tikapatti ashram in Katihar charkhas are being distributed and volunteers trained in spinning. The inmates of the ashram here mill their own rice and flour and are trying to persuade people of the vicinity to do likewise. About 20 ring wells have been sunk with the aid of a grant from the Bihar Central Relief Fund and a little village scavenging is also done. In Puri, Cuttack and Balasore attempts have been made for some years past to organise cotton growing and spinning partly in connection with the Harijan movement and partly in connection with the khaddar movement. These attempts still continue but are only loosely connected with the Village Industries Association. In Cuttack (there is)… a school for carpentry and weaving for untouchables. In Puri there are five small centres for weaving and an attempt is being made to start the silk weaving industry, but the two principal organisers have now dissociated themselves publicly from Congress politics. In Balasore a few spinning classes that were started during the khaddar movement still continue. In Manbhum work is localized in one small area. Night schools have been started in five or six villages. An attempt has been made to assist the silk weavers at Raghunathpur to find a market for their goods and some charkhas and cotton seeds have been distributed. One of the night schools has had to close down and the cotton-growing venture is not showing any results. The movement attracts little interest because the local organiser is publicly discredited and incompetent.
The provincial report continues that there ‘’appear to have few ideas beyond weaving, a field which the local Government have fully exploited for many years, and the growing of cotton for which their is not much prospect’’. In three districts, Patna, Cuttack and Muzaffarpur, isolated workers are playing with the idea of preparing gur from the toddy palm as a village industry. In Cuttack and Muzzafarpur attempts have been made to prepare gur or molasses from date palm mainly with the object of affecting the Government revenue from toddy, but this would require research for which the promoters of the scheme are not equipped. Hand-grinding and milling of grain can hardly be described as an industry and in any case no attempt is being made to organise it. All these activities of the Association are viewed apathetically by the villagers. Charkha spinning, the spasmodic cleaning of village paths and the distribution of an occasional dole of cotton seed does not appeal to the common sense or the imagination of the villager. Congress workers are in many places under a cloud owing to the maladministration of the Bihar Central Relief Fund and the Congress is in any case half-hearted in its support of Mr. Gandhi's scheme.
Similarly, the Madras province too reports that there is not much activity on the Village Industries in the province, “In the Chingleput District an Industrial School is working under the auspices of the association, at which weaving, rattan work, tinkery and carpentry are done. A branch of the association has been organized in the Vizagapatam district but has done no practical work. In South Malabar an inquiry which led to no practical results was made into the possibilities of developing the weaving, bell metal and carpet industries. In Salem some hand pounding of paddy has been done by women coolies under the auspices of the Association: as in other districts nothing has been done in the villages. In East Godavari a scheme to finance the making of mats and baskets fell through as the villagers did not approve of it but some money has been invested in spinning, weaving and carpentry, and the hand pounding of paddy. In Madura the Mira Bai hand pounding rice factory' gives employment to about 25 coolies: it is likely to close down soon as it cannot compete with the cheaper machine hulled rice. In Guntur attempts are being made to develop pottery and shoemaking and to push the sale of pounded rice and khadder.”
Perhaps the most striking nature of these reports in the fact that much of the efforts in the districts seemed to have been targeted at the harijans as originally intended by Gandhiji. To that extent the reports from across the districts (with the limited material available in this archival compilation) seems to indicate a success to Gandhi. However, the British government having portrayed this to be a political threat in its original letter, the district administrations too have shaped their responses in assuring that no such threat emerges from the movement.
Summarizing the reports from the provinces, the Viceroy in his letter to Secretary of State in London firstly claims credit for have forestalled the efforts of Gandhi, mentions the following as amongst the reasons for the failure of the village industries – Congress organisations as having been split by bitter personal feuds and they being more interested to be part of the Government and grievance redressing mode. He indicates that even Gandhi is not clear on what needs to be done, as “has done very little even at Wardha itself…or spreading the scheme in other centres in the tehsil”. Of course, he also claims credit for his Government’s own “progress …making with …own efforts for the improvement of conditions in villages”
Did Gandhi commit a mistake in stepping aside from the Congress during this period to launch the AIVIA? Should he have been emphatic in assertion that the Congress ought not to participate in the elections and thereby subscribe to an alien form of Governance and Economic order? While Gandhi’s initiatives addressing social inequalities had been indulged by the powers of the day, was this institutional strengthening of the harijans through the village industries movement too much of a threat that it was debased everywhere, including by the Congress still recovering from having to vacate aspirations over seats that were allocated to the harijans? Did any of these village industries that were started then survive? Is there a connection between this period in history to the few pockets where village industries across the country often show signs of resurgence? – all of these and more could be subject of economic studies by students and scholars if there was real interest in the village industries or that of taking Dharampalji’s work forward. The archival compilation itself is rather limited and needs several parallel readings of other contemporary literature by Gandhi, his colleagues of that period and others to gain further weightage and perhaps some of the conclusions above could be drawn through them.
Village Industries thrive in small local and low scale ventures that abound even today. Whether it be khadi, natural dye, producing gur, oil press, food processing and personal cosmetics, all of these can be locally produced. The industries don’t need a great amount of capital, the village community can do with a bit of training and hand holding. The weakness of the village industries movement during 1934-35 seems to be due to the lack of empathy towards the poorest and landless harijans in the village by the educated youth of the Congress and the inability of both the Congress and the British government to look at the small industries of local relevance as having not much value in the centralized industries they envisioned. And finally, it seems to be also due to the inability to imagine and envision beyond the immediate for creating an alternative to modern economic order by most of the stake holders. Today as we stand in the crossroads in the post-Pandemic situation to make serious decisions on which form of economy we need to focus, many parts of Europe and America have embraced newer terms for local economy. This archival compilation is definitely indicative of the kind of mistakes that were made and from which we can learn. Dharampalji often would say, “purpose of learning colonial history is to not get angry with the Colonizer, but to ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistaken once again”. Maybe, we learn.
[i] Excerpts from the LETTER FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF THE PUNJAB, 4.12.1934, Archival Compilation, Dharampal, Vol 15
[ii]LETTER FROM THE OFFICIATING CHIEF SECRETARY TO GOVERNMENT, BIHAR AND ORISSA, TO THE SECRETARY TO THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, HOME DEPARTMENT, NO.2901-C., DATED THE 29TH JULY, 1935, Document #26 in Section 1 of Archival Compilation Volume 15
- Dharampal, Archival Compilation Vol 15, BRITISH COUNTERING OF MAHATMA GANDHI AND THE CONGRESS, 1934 – 1938, Unpublished 2003
- Vol 1-5, Collected Writings of Dharampal, Other India Press, 2000
- Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), Publication Division
- Dharampal, Rediscovering India, SIDH, Dec 2003
- Romain Rolland And Gandhi Correspondence, Publication Division, 2017
- Peter Gonsalves, Khadi Gandhi’s Mega Symbol of Subversion, SAGE, 2012
[i] Harijan, 27-10-1933
[ii] 1 Vide , footnote 1”Letter to V. S. Srinivasa Sastri”,17-11-1934
[iii] Harijan, 4-1-1935, CWMG, Vol.66 pg. 56-57
[iv] Source: https://www.greatexplain.com/2021/01/list-of-most-famous-sports-personalities.html
[v] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Freeman-Thomas,_1st_Marquess_of_Willingdon
[vi] Source: https://www.gktoday.in/topic/lord-willingdon-governor-general-and-viceroy-of-india-1931-1936/
[vii] VICEROY LORD WELLINGDON TO THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND, 13.7.1935, document #1 in the Section 2 of the Archival Compilation Vol. 15
[viii] In Romain Rolland’s Diary dated 26th March 1935, he observes, “I do not doubt that, whatever happens, the Marxist idea will, in a form appropriate to India, play an important role in the social development of your country. I am sorry that in this respect Gandhi has been held up by prejudices and preconceptions”
[ix]Letter from Onkamath Shastri, undated, received in February 1978. Source: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/india/india01.htm#n17
[x] Lord Wellingdon, Associated Chamber of Commerce, Calcutta, 8th Jan 1934, Excerpts from the book, Lord Wellingdon in India by Victor Trench, 1934, pg.264
[xi] Letter from Jawaharlal Nehru dated Aug 13,1934 and Gandhi’s response dated Aug 17, 1934
[xii] VICEROY WELLINGDON TO MARQUESS OF ZETLAND, 19.8.1935, document #2 in the Section 2 of the Archival Compilation Vol. 15
[xiv] Pg.277, Crises of legitimacy: conflict and consultation, 1928-1934, Modern India The Origins of an Asian Democracy, Judith M. Brown, Oxford 1986
[xv] Archival Compilation Vol. 15, document #1
[xvi] Ibid. document #35
[xvii] Ibid. document #36
[xviii]Ibid. document #37
[i] Responding to question after his talk, ‘Undamming the flow’-- from Ayodhya and The Future of India, ed. Jitendra Bajaj, Centre for Policy Studies, Madras, 1993; talk by Dharampal, 28.2.1993, pp. 213-238. In this he seems to be rephrasing Gandhiji who in 1928 writes, “I would accept chaos in exchange for (English yoke). For the English peace is the peace of the grave.” – Quoted by George Orwell in ‘Reflections on Gandhi’, Partisan Review, vol. 16, no. 1, January 1949, 85-92.
[ii] ‘’The Question of Backwardness’’ being a paper presented in the Gandhian Institute, Varanasi, 1982 published as part of Rediscovering India by SIDH 2003
[iii] Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), Vol 13, p.219 Speech in Missionary Conference at Madras, 14.12.1916. Incidentally the speech was eight days after his historic speech at the BHU
[iv] Question of Backwardness, p. 104
[v] As we complete this article, the Government of India has announced a new 100% grant for purchase of drones for large agricultural farm usage citing that there can be adequate benefits from the same. In a country where 70% of the farmers are still small or marginal land holders, this defies reality
[vi] We have worked with silk weavers in Varanasi with superb traditional skills that are employed in shops that sell cheap Chinese made Benaras Silk sarees
[vii] The term ‘value chain’ itself was first coined in 1983 (link) after global corporates had taken over the containerisation of goods, warehousing and other logistic control. With computerization, their control over the ‘access to the (organized) markets’ became synonymous with what got defined as markets itself
[viii] The projections for 2022 indicate that the global supply chains may suffer from warehousing manpower challenges, 36% cost escalation, demand for greener logistics from consumers, circular supply chains among others according to industrial news (link)
[ix] Many articles in the last 2 years have shown how the rural economy could employ returnee industrial migrants into its system as well as maintain a steady growth when the industries dependent on global supply chains declined into negative growth (link)
[xi] The 20 volumes of archival material compiled thematically through our work was basically his perhaps last effort (we effectively worked with him for the last 6 years of his life between 2000 and 2006) to reorder the archival documents that he had collected over the previous 40 years. While most of them were from the British documents of the India Office Library, he also did gather substantial number of documents and records from other sources as well. Each of these 20 volumes had anywhere between 50 to 10 documents. He did acknowledge that some of these volumes were too thin to ‘tell a story’, by themselves while others could stand alone. In his usual style of writing, he could have written the longer introduction setting the context for some of the volumes. Unfortunately, he was getting tired towards the last years and could not bring himself to write the introduction to these volumes. His repeated requests to some of his close associates to take interest on these compilations wouldn’t fetch any response.