Rural renaissance is the key to realise Gandhi's dreams

Last Updated 14 January 2011, 17:19 IST

 Some of the more important among them are:

Non-violent non-cooperation leading not only to the independence of India, but also to many other globally significant events like the end of apartheid in South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States led by Martin Luther King, resulting ultimately in the election of Barack Obama as the President of USA, the fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines due to the non-violent revolution led by Corazon Aquino.

Gandhiji showed that violence breeds violence and that only non-violence can lead to a change of heart and lasting positive results. We see the wisdom of this message today on the basis of the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.

Harmony with Nature: Gandhiji’s saying that nature provides for everybody’s needs but not for everyone’s greed has underlined the need to curb the ‘greed revolution’ which we now see on our planet leading to the irreparable damage to basic life support systems and to ecosystem services. We now know that we cannot be non-violent to nature if we are going to be violent to each other. Therefore, non-violence must become the basic human ethos and culture.

Gram Swaraj is the pathway to Purna Swaraj: Gandhiji helped to bring the focus on rural families and rural professions. His emphasis on Swadeshi or self-reliance showed the sustainable pathway for food, water, and work security. He wanted production by masses and not mass production since the later will promote jobless growth. He underlined that jobless growth will be joyless growth.

 It is appropriate that the Rural Employment Guarantee Programme is named after him. India continues to remain predominantly rural and unless there is a rural renaissance arising from progress in agriculture as well as in non-farm occupations, we cannot see a happy India. Gandhiji pointed out that the bane of rural India is the divorce between intellect and labour. He therefore wanted educated people to share their brain with rural families so that brain and brawn can be combined to impart momentum to rural economic and social progress.

 I would like to take one area of great contemporary concern, viz. the extensive occurrence of hunger and malnutrition in our country and show how Gandhiji’s pathway of food with human dignity is the path we should follow to achieve our goal.

Mahatma Gandhi was in Naokahli (now in Bangladesh) in 1946, helping to heal the wounds caused by communal violence. He then  said, “To a people famishing and idle, the only acceptable form in which God can dare appear is work and promise of food as wages.”

National Food Security Act

In other words, he wanted that we should ensure food with human dignity and not convert our nation into a country of beggars. Now that the Government of India is working on the development and introduction of a National Food Security Act, we have an opportunity to convert Gandhiji’s ideas into reality. For this purpose we should frame our legislation based on the following principles:

*To ensure that every child born in the country has an opportunity for the full expression of his/her innate genetic potential for physical and mental development

* To empower every child, woman and man to have access to the nutritional support needed for a healthy and productive life

* To give integrated attention to food availability, access and absorption in the body

* To attend in a holistic manner to the three major forms of hunger, i.e. chronic, caused by protein-energy undernutrition, the hidden, caused by the deficiency of Fe, iodine, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and other essential micro-nutrients in the diet, and the transient, caused by disruption of communication and supply line during natural calamities or civil strife.

The basic structure of the National Food Security Act should provide for common but differentiated entitlements. The common entitlements should include the following:

* Universal Public Distribution System (in consultation with state governments)
* Safe drinking water under the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission
* Sanitation under the Total Sanitation programme
* Immunisation and Primary Health Care under the Rural and Urban Health Missions
* ICDS and School Noon Meal programme for all children (pre-school and school)
* A food cum drug approach in the case of those affected by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis etc.

The differentiated entitlements could include the following:

* Staple grains at concessional prices (quantity and price to be fixed from time to time)
*   Maternity entitlement at the rate of prevailing minimum wage in the area for a period of six months from the date of child birth to enable the mother to withdraw temporarily from the work force and focus on breastfeeding and care of the infant
*  Provision of crèches for children from 6 months to 3 years to ensure that in the absence of the mother or primary caregiver in the family, young children have access to adequate and appropriate food and healthcare

Successful implementation of the National Food Security Act will mark the fulfillment of Gandhiji’s desire for a hunger free India.

The extensive poverty and deprivation occurring in our country can be eradicated only by building the assets of the poor. The poor are poor since they have neither assets like land, livestock or fish pond, nor a marketable skill as often they are uneducated. Gandhiji wanted us to attend to the following four basic needs of the poor – education, nutrition; healthcare and sustainable livelihood.

Even after 63 years of independence we have not been able to bring together these vital ingredients for the eradication of poverty. This is why MSSRF started nearly 20 years ago the Biovillage Model of the Gandhian pathway for food with dignity.

The Biovillage model of sustainable human security and wellbeing involves the following three mutually reinforcing activities:

*Conservation and enhancement of natural resources like land, water and biodiversity
* Improvement of on-farm productivity through integrated attention to technology, training, techno-infrastructure and trade
*  Generation of non-farm employment opportunities which can help to convert biomass and natural resources into jobs and income

Thus, both on-farm and non-farm income will be essential for sustainable livelihoods. The Biovillage model of sustainable human development should be supported by Rural Knowledge Centres or Gyan Chaupals. These can be based on the use of the internet, cable TV, FM radio and the cellphone. Gyan Chaupals can help to end the divorce between intellect and labour, which Gandhiji considered as a prerequisite for agrarian advance and rural prosperity.

The biovillage model of sustainable human security has now been adapted in Africa under the name ‘Millennium Villages.’ This is because of the association between rural development and the achievement of the UN Millennium Goals.

Mahatma Gandhi’s life and work provide guidance to us in every walk of life.

(Published 14 January 2011, 17:19 IST)

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