Nepal | November 27, 2020

Today’s global crisis and Gandhi: The village is the answer

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Gandhi had stated, ‘It was not that we did not know how to invent machinery, but our forefathers knew that if we set our hearts after such things, we would become slaves and lose our moral fiber. They, therefore, after due deliberation, decided that they should only do what we could with our hands and feet.’

Till date, more than 37 million cases of the coronavirus have been reported across 188 countries and territories with more than a million deaths. The pandemic has created havoc at a time when the global powers were happily sharing the market-led capitalist mode of production.

Say it state capitalism popularised by China or neo-liberalism promoted by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, both had argued that they had improved people’s quality of life, with better education, improved health conditions, reduced poverty, among others, as indicators. Almost all countries somehow are trying their best to follow either of the two models.

A simple question here is, why has the world been stuck by the global pandemic for at least a year now if everything was going in the right direction? And why has the ‘better’ and ‘developed’ world suffered more in comparison to the ‘least’ developed global south if their model was so successful? In fact, COVID-19 is an outcome of the total failure of both the capitalist modes of development.

Capitalists define their model as an ‘urbanisation process’ that is the only legitimate step towards modernisation. But the people who live in the urban areas have no choice but to take whatever is offered by the market. They have to trust the bazaar as an institution to regularise their life, forgetting that the bazaar has evolved only to secure a profit.

The motive behind the capitalist mind is to create more and more aspirations of the people to join ‘urban life’ in the name of ‘enjoying a modern life’, so that the market-led development model could speed up further. As the project is anti-humanitarian and return-oriented, society has lost control of everything including its food habits, life style and health management.

The only thing humans have been able to retain today is the market, which they hope will help them put things in order.

On serious introspection, this crisis strongly suggests that human beings should not be promoting projects that concentrate people who live scattered in one area. Also, the message of the crisis is that there should be no extractivism in the name of ‘development’.

All measures suggested by WHO and others, that is, avoid crowded places; stick to a small and consistent social circle and avoid large gatherings; limit contact with outsiders; and keep a physical distance of at least 2 metres are features of rural life.

People especially from the upper and upper-middle classes seem to be the most tormented by COV- ID-19. They are forced to live in isolation without them being able to use urban facilities such as roadways and highways, highrise buildings, multinational banks, modern goods and services.

Hence the focus of the class today is to explore the possible mechanism to maintain normalcy like situation in order to tempo their dream to ‘modernize’ or ‘develop’ the country. This is the paradoxical situation one finds in the society today.

The issue today is how to convince the policy makers, planners and opinion builders about the mistake they made in the past. They need to realise that all the infrastructure created in the name of ‘urbanisation’ has become useless as the same middle and upper class people who were advocating for such infrastructure have stopped using those facilities during the crisis. Considering it as a misuse of time and resource, it is the right time for everyone to focus on village- centric resources.

Here Gandhi is to be remembered, who rightly envisioned today’s crisis while sketching his tiny book Hind Swaraj some 112 years ago. There one finds an alternative but quite relevant approach to today’s problem. He states, ‘It was not that we did not know how to invent machinery, but our forefathers knew that if we set our hearts after such things, we would become slaves and lose our moral fiber. They, therefore, after due deliberation, decided that they should only do what we could with our hands and feet.’ While talking about an ideal village, Gandhi writes that people were satisfied with small villages after they saw that real happiness and health consisted in the proper use of our hands and feet. For Gandhi, large cities were a snare and a useless burden and that people would not be happy in them. That is why he stressed on creating villages as autonomous entities so that the villagers could ‘develop’ them as per the requirement of the locals.

He stated that only a livable village with basic improvements in infrastructure and human relations could ensure self-rule and Swaraj.

The capitalist mind ignores the village, which by nature is a safer place to avoid infections by COVID- 19-like viruses. Scattered settlements help people to maintain physical distance.

Also, self-sufficiency achieved by growing most of the grains and vegetables for one’s survival is another strength of village life. The solidarity component or support system found in the rural areas must be counted as a great strength of the villages to overcome the crisis. That is why those who had left the villages for years returned there when the pandemic was at its peak.

If isolation was the only way out, why did we need to invest millions of rupees to train a doctor? Gandhi saw no real service of humanity in a doctor’s profession.

For him, one becomes a doctor to obtain honours and riches. But the notion which could be considered as the preferred and suitable alternative for countries situated in the global south is being understood differently by Gandhi’s own loyal followers in India and elsewhere.

Those who often remember Gandhi as an icon of simple living have forgotten that changing a village to an urban area was not the Gandhian model of Swaraj. They think an improved village life is possible only after converting the rural features to urban ones.

A version of this article appears in print on October 21, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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