Swadeshi: Many-fold Localism

June 15, 2015

Every week, we feature excerpts by Gandhi that lend insight into his values and personal practices.

For Gandhi, inner and outer localism --or Swadeshi-- was the foundation of both constructive programme and obstructive programme . In a speech at a school in Hardwar, he thoroughly laid out his meaning of localism and, at the same time, he celebrated the self-governing nature of the institution: "It is totally independent of Government aid or patronage.... The most wonderful thing about it all is that the crowd consisting of about the thousand men, women and children is managed without the assistance of a single policeman and without any fuss or semblance of force, the only force that subsists between the crowd and the managers of the institution is that of love and mutual esteem." Here is the definition and meaning of his three-fold Swadeshi:

March 20, 1916

Definition of Swadeshi
After much thinking I have arrived at a definition of Swadeshi that, perhaps, best illustrates my meaning. 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. Thus, as for religion, in order to satisfy the requirements of the definition, I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion. That is the use of my immediate religious surrounding. If I find it defective, I should serve it by purging it of its defects. In the domain of politics, I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics, I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbours and serve those industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting. It is suggested that such Swadeshi, if reduced to practice, will lead to the millennium, because we do not expect quite to reach it within our times, so may we not abandon Swadeshi even though it may not be fully attained for generations to come. [...]

Education: A Terrible Handicap
We have laboured under a terrible handicap owing to an almost fatal departure from the Swadeshi spirit. We, the educated classes, have received our education through a foreign tongue. We have, therefore, not reacted upon the masses. We want to represent the masses, but we fail. They recognize us not much more than they recognize the English officers. Their hearts are an open book to neither. Their aspirations are not ours. Hence, there is a break. And you witness not in reality failure to organize but want of correspondence between the representative and the represented. If, during the last fifty years, we had been educated through the vernaculars, our elders and our servants and our neighbours would have partaken of our knowledge; the discoveries of a Bose or a Ray would have been household treasures, as are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. As it is, so far as the masses are concerned, those great discoveries might as well have been made by foreigners. Had instruction in all the branches of learning been given through the vernaculars, I make bold to say that they would have been enriched wonderfully. The question of village sanitation, etc., would have been solved long ago. The village Panchayats would be now a living force in a special way, and India would almost be enjoying self-government suited to its requirements.

Economy: The Cause of Our Poverty
Much of the deep poverty of the masses is due to the ruinous departure from Swadeshi in the economic and industrial life. If not an article of commerce had been brought from outside India, she would be today a land flowing with milk and honey! But that was not to be. We were greedy, and so was England. The connection between England and India was based clearly upon an error. But she does not remain in India in error. It is her declared policy that India is to be held in trust for her people. If this is true, Lancashire must stand aside. And if the Swadeshi doctrine is a sound doctrine, Lancashire can stand aside without hurt, though it may sustain a shock for the time being. I think of Swadeshi not as a boycott movement undertaken by way of revenge. I conceive it as a religious principle to be followed by all. I am no economist, but I have read some treatises which show that England could easily become a self-sustained country, growing all the produce she needs. This may be an utterly ridiculous proposition, and perhaps the best proof that it cannot be true, is that England is one of the largest importers in the world. But India cannot live for Lancashire or any other country before she is able to live for herself. And she can live for herself only if she produces and is helped to produce everything for her requirements within her own borders. She need not be, she ought not to be, drawn into the vortex of mad and ruinous competition which breeds fratricide, jealousy and many other evils. But who is to stop her great millionaires from entering into the world competition? Certainly, not legislation. Force of public opinion, proper education, however, can do a great deal in the desired direction. The hand-loom industry is in a dying condition. I took special care, during my wanderings last year, to see as many weavers as possible, and my heart ached to find how they had lost, how families had retired from this once flourishing and honourable occupation.  "Had we not abandoned Swadeshi, we need not have been in the present fallen state. If we would get rid of the economic slavery, we must manufacture our own cloth and, at the present moment, only by hand-spinning and hand-weaving." (1)

Meaning of Swadeshi
[...] When we have sufficiently cultivated the spirit of fearlessness, we shall see that there is no salvation for us without true Swadeshi, not the Swadeshi which can be conveniently put off. Swadeshi, for me, has a deeper meaning. I would like us to apply it in our religious, political and economic life. It is not, therefore, merely confined to wearing on occasions a Swadeshi cloth. That we have to do for all time, not out of a spirit of jealousy or revenge but because it is a duty we owe to our dear country. We commit a breach of the Swadeshi spirit certainly if we wear foreign-made cloth, but we do so also if we adopt the foreign cut. Surely, the style of our dress has some correspondence with our environment. In elegance and tastefulness, it is immeasurably superior to the trousers and the jacket. An Indian, wearing a shirt flowing over his pyjamas with a waist-coat on it without a neck-tie and its flaps hanging loose behind, is not a very graceful spectacle.​ 

Spirituality: Consistent With the Law of Humility and Love
It has often been urged that India cannot adopt Swadeshi, in the economic life at any rate. Those who advance this objection do not look upon Swadeshi, as a rule of life. With them it is a mere patriotic effort-not to be made if it involved any self-denial. Swadeshi, as defined here, is a religious discipline to be undergone in utter disregard of the physical discomfort it may cause to individuals. Under its spell the deprivation of a pin or a needle, because these are not manufactured in India, need cause no terror. A Swadeshist will learn to do without hundreds of things which today he considers necessary...

I would urge that Swadeshi is the only doctrine consistent with the law of humility and love. It is arrogance to think of launching out to serve the whole of India when I am hardly able to serve even my own family. It was better to concentrate my effort upon the family and consider that through them I was serving the whole nation and, if you will, the whole of humanity. This is humility and it is love. The motive will determine the quality of the act. I may serve my family regardless of the sufferings I may cause to theirs. As, for instance, I may accept an employment which enables me to extort money from people. I enrich myself thereby and then satisfy many unlawful demands of the family. Here I am neither serving the family nor the State. Or I may recognize that God has given me hands and feet only to work with for my sustenance and for that of those who may be dependent upon me. I would then at once simplify my life and that of those whom I can directly reach. In this instance, I would have served the family without causing injury to anyone else. Supposing that every one followed this mode of life, we should have at once an ideal state. All will not reach that state at the same time. But those of us who, realizing its truth, enforce it in practice, will clearly anticipate and accelerate the coming of that happy day. [...]

Swadeshi in religion teaches one to measure the glorious past and re-enact it in the present generation. The pandemonium that is going on in Europe shows that modern civilization represents forces of evil and darkness, whereas the ancient, i.e., Indian civilization, represents in its essence the divine force. Modern civilization is chiefly materialistic, as ours is chiefly spiritual. Modern civilization occupies itself in the investigation of the laws of matter and employs the human ingenuity in inventing or discovering means of production and weapons of destruction, ours is chiefly occupied in exploring spiritual laws. Our Shastras lay down unequivocally that a proper observance of truth, chastity, scrupulous regard for all life, abstention from coveting others' possessions and refusal to hoard anything but what is necessary for our daily wants is indispensable for a right life, that without it a knowledge of the Divine Element is an impossibility. Our civilization tells us with daring certainty that a proper and perfect cultivation of the quality of Ahimsa which, in its active form means purest love and pity, brings the whole world to our feet. The author of this discovery gives a wealth of illustration which carries conviction with it. [...]

Swadeshi An Active Force
It should be remembered that in practicing Ahimsa, there need not be any reciprocation though, as a matter of fact, in its final stages it commands reciprocation. Many of us believe, and I am one of them, that through our civilization we have a message to deliver to the world. This Swadeshi is to be considered as a very active force to be ceaselessly employed with an ever-increasing vigilance, searching self-examination. It is not meant for the lazy, but it is essentially meant for them who would gladly lay down their lives for the sake of Truth. It is possible to dilate upon several other phases of Swadeshi, but I think I have said enough to enable you to understand what I mean​." (2) & (3)

M.K. Gandhi                                                Hardwar, March 20th, 1916.

(1) Mahatma: Vol. II, page 21​​
(2) Speeches & Writings of Mahatma Gandhi: G. A. Natesan & Co., Madras, 1933, 4th edition. page 336-344. [In The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, page 394-395.]
(3) CWMG Vol. 15 page 203-207

Be The Change

This week make an effort to consume only local food to support your local farmers, or even better, start trying to grow part or all your own food.