In-Depth Jobs

Volume-26, 29 September to 5 October, 2018



Gandhiji and the Youth of India

Sudarshan Iyengar

In Gandhiji's concept of society,   youth would be working right from his/her days of schooling. He was a votary of productive work at school. In fact, his philosophy was 'Nit Nai Talim' and the method was 'learning by doing'. Gandhiji was certain that no person who wanted to work could remain unemployed. The system of education that was introduced by British in India was with the twin purpose of turning out clerks for their administration and intellectuals who could think the British way. The first purpose was utterly selfish to get cheap labour and the second purpose was born out of arrogance about the superiority of their modern civilisation. Gandhiji opposed both.

Gandhiji wrote his treatise in Hind Swaraj in 1909. I would urge the youth to read it with patience and decipher the message today because what he wrote for European civilisation in 1909 is to be witnessed in our country today. He wrote:

“Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word "civilization". Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life. We will take some examples. The people of Europe today live in better-build houses than they did a hundred years ago. This is considered an emblem of civilization, and this is also a matter to promote bodily happiness. Formerly, they wore skins and used spears as their weapons. Now, they wear long trousers, and, for embellishing their bodies, they wear a variety of clothing, and, instead of spears, they carry with them revolvers containing five or more chambers…Formerly, in Europe, people ploughed their lands mainly by manual labour. Now, one man can plough a vast tract by means of steam engines and can thus amass great wealth. This is called a sign of civilization... Formerly, only a few men wrote valuable books. Now, anybody writes and prints anything he likes and poisons people's minds… Men will not need the use of their hands and feet. They will press a button, and they will have their clothing by their side. They will press another button, and they will have their newspaper. A third, and a motor-car will be in waiting for them. They will have a variety of delicately dished up food. Everything will be done by machinery. Formerly, when people wanted to fight with one another, they measured between them their bodily strength; now it is possible to take away thousands of lives by one man working behind a gun from a hill. This is civilization… Formerly, men were made slaves under physical compulsion. Now they are enslaved by temptation of money and of the luxuries that money can buy…Formerly, people had two or three meals consisting of home-made bread and vegetables; now, they require something to eat every two hours so that they have hardly leisure for anything else.”

Has Gandhiji's criticism of modern civilisation not come true today? Even grudgingly one has to agree. The run is for money. Nobody wants to live in villages and undertake farming land, animals, forests and fisheries. All that youth want after some so-called education is jobs in some service. Do we understand that all production that we require to sustain our body i.e. roti, kapda and makan will be machine produced and in huge scale? The votaries of ever-growing science and technology would claim that new inventions and innovations will change the production method of material goods and humanity will be able to produce every need at home or habitation. 3D printing is often quoted for it. But have we stopped and asked where is the skill and with whom it is? While we should welcome all science and technology, as it has strengthened the sustainable survival of human species on this universe, it is absolutely necessary to put the question that Gandhiji put. Science and technology for what and for whom? Gandhiji had visualised and emphasised that urban civilisation was unsustainable mainly because it was highly resource intensive. He could not then anticipate the impact of human footprint on environment and ecology. But he had directed us toward simple village life with limited wants for physical survival. And he had said that all science and technology should be for decentralised economy where dignity of human labour is retained as being of paramount value.

For him every young person in the country had to contribute to the production of basic necessities required by all, that is roti, kapda, aur makan, by engaging in physical labour to a meaningful extent. He addressed the youth of his times and wrote in Harijan (a periodical edited by Gandhiji after 1932) issue of 1 March 1935, 'If the sense of shame that wrongly attaches to physical labour could be got rid of, there is enough work to spare for young men and women of average intelligence.' In the issue of Harijan of 19 December 1936 he further wrote, 'No labour is too mean for one who wants to earn an honest penny. The only thing is the readiness to use the hands and feet that God has given us.'

Gandhiji was for rural and decentralised economy. Even today there is huge amount of work that is, employment for all in rural areas. For that the dream has to change. In Gandhi's world minimum and sustainable livelihoods are there for all and it can only support simple life styles and not the one that he had depicted in Hind Swaraj so vividly.

The youth of India today can pay rich tribute to Gandhiji on his 150th birth anniversary by upholding his values of dignity of labour and his plan of building a rural-urban or urban society that would have all the science and technology helping to remove drudgery from lives, help provide physical, social and communication infrastructure, and support the use of hands for production of basic minimum needs. 

(The author is an eminent Gandhian and former vice chancellor of Gandhi Vidyapeeth. Email :, Views expressed are personal)