Gandhi Sixtieth Memorial 30 January 2008
Gandhi National Memorial, Agakhan Palace, Pune
This report of proceedings is offered as a contribution toward the goal of a voluntary free society without the state
Seminar On Gram Swaraj (Village Republics)
Report and Commentary by Jeff Knaebel, 31 January 2008
The writer of this report was among the seminar presenters. He was the last speaker at the Plenary Session. Excerpts from four of the prior speakers are woven into his prepared remarks which are presented in the following commentary.
Thematic Note by the Convener [abridged]
The Surest and Perhaps the Only Solution to Our Impending Catastrophic Global Ecological Crises: Village Swaraj of Gandhi, the Apostle of Truth and Non-violence of our Age.
Neither Gandhiji nor the seers of various great religions would approve the present culture of development of modern western civilization, which has caused disappearance of tens of thousands of plant and animal species and continues to cause greater and greater violence to our life-sustaining natural systems, (in the form of pollution of air, water, land, global warming and climate change, depletion of natural resources (including energy), depletion of ozone layer etc. This has devastating implications for our future generations as well as for entire planetary life in the long run.
Gandhi would not support a culture of development which consumes natural resources for luxuries faster than the earth can replace them, and produces harmful waste material beyond the capacity of man and nature to convert it into useful or harmless material.
Polluting the essential requirements of life such as air, water and land, and destroying forests on which the very survival of biological life depends, and which is the natural storehouse of our invaluable water, topsoil and medicinal plants, for the sake of luxuries is highly immoral. All religions directly or indirectly accept non-violence to be the root of morality and violence to be the root of immorality. They all consider the natural system, which sustains healthy life to be sacred and invaluable. Today science also accepts this, and what we know from science so far only our planet earth has such a natural system.
Gandhi’s alternative to modern western form of development is his Village Swaraj, a non-violent form of development, the core of which essentially consists of villages with a critical ethical culture of Truth and non-violence.
"My idea of Village Swaraj is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its vital wants, and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is a necessity…..The government of the village will be conducted by the Panchayat of five persons, annually elected by the adult villagers, male and female, possessing minimum prescribed qualifications… Since there will be no system of punishments in the accepted sense, this panchayat will be the legislature, judiciary and executive combined to operate for its year of office…..
"Here there is perfect democracy based on individual freedom. The individual is the architect of his own government. The law of non-violence rules him and his government. He and his village are able to defy the might of a world. For the law governing every villager is that he will suffer death in the defense of his and his village’s honor.
"The contrast between the rich and the poor today is a painful sight. The poor villagers are exploited by the foreign government and also by their own countrymen- city-dwellers. They produce the food and go hungry. They produce milk and their children have to go without it. It is disgraceful.
"A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and the power that riches give, and sharing them for the common good."
It is surely highly deplorable that even sixty years after our country’ independence even when our GDP growth is very high, our farmers are committing suicide in large numbers…Although India is a land of morality and religions and of many great moral and spiritual teachers, under the influence of modern western civilization, they have even excluded ethics education from our education curricula.
How could people build ethically good life and good society without critical study of ethics?
Even if it would be possible to have an affluent, eco-friendly technological society with, Gandhiji would not consider such a society to be ideal. It is his firm conviction that willing obedience to the law of body-labor brings contentment and health.
Although Gandhiji’s ideal life is an enlightened unselfish ethical life of plain living and high thinking, it is absolutely voluntary. He would not approve anyone to be forced to lead a simple life.
"Man’s happiness really lies in contentment. He who is discontented, however much he possesses, becomes a slave to his desires….. The incessant search for material comforts and their multiplication is an evil. I make bold to say that the Europeans will have to remodel their outlook, if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves…
"A time is coming when those who are in mad rush today of multiplying their wants, will retrace their steps and say; what we have done?…. A certain degree of physical harmony and comfort is necessary, but above a certain level it becomes hindrance instead of help. Therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion and snare."
It was his firm conviction that in the materialization of his vision lay the true freedom of India, and through India of the world at large.
Unlike the explicit human-centric ethics of modern western civilization, the ethics of classical Indian civilization has been explicitly life-centric. [Emphasis added. This ethics is also found among indigenous peoples in many other cultures — Ed.]
The great teachers and seers of our ancient Indian civilization explicitly accept universal non-violence, i.e. non-violence to both human and non-human life, to be the foundation of ethics. They see clearly that enlightened selfless ethical life of love constitutes the core of Truth, and pursuit of selfless ethical life of universal love constitutes the core of its means.
"It is arrogant to say that human beings are lords and masters of the lower creatures. On the contrary, being endowed with great things in life, they are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom."
Gandhiji sees clearly that Western industrialism has two choices: "First it can wait until catastrophic failures expose systematic deficiencies, distortion and self-deception….Secondly, a culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systematic distortion prior to catastrophic failures…"
[Editor: it is obvious that we have chosen a path which leads not only to socio-economic catastrophe, but also to ecological cataclysm. Perhaps they will occur together].
Is not the Gandhian alternative the surest and perhaps the only solution to save our planet earth from its Impending Catastrophic Global Ecological Crisis? Let us examine it deeply before it is too late.
Smt. Rama Rauta
Convener, Save Ganga Movement
President, National Women’s Organization, Pune
Presentation of Jeff Knaebel, with excerpts from others
The purpose of this commentary is to offer a written summary of the presentation made by me at the Seminar on Village Swaraj (Village Self-Rule), together with excerpts of other presentations that are relevant to the aim of establishing a Society without State. The full list of speakers is shown following the text. I was the last speaker during the Plenary Session.
The problems faced by humanity — ranging from hunger, poverty, an epidemic of Indian farmer suicides, ecological destruction, pervasive pollution, systemic corruption, unsafe food, communal violence, endless war, the imminent extinction of plants and animals that have been our cohorts across untold millennia— indeed an endless list of travails — have been skillfully stated by speakers more astute than me. The solution of Village Swaraj — independent self-sufficient Village Republics in lieu of the present international structure — has been clearly propounded.
It seems akin to a team of doctors describing symptoms of a terminal disease and offering a material level treatment. All have agreed that a mark of the human is to rise above the brutal.
Long ago in my life, a Comanche medicine man told me that "the longest journey for the white man is from the head to the heart." He meant, in part, the difficulty of integrating wisdom into the heart of compassionate action. I ask you to examine whether — these excellent presentations notwithstanding — the work of Anna Hazare is most exemplary for leaving footprints on the path of action. Across a span of decades of hard work, Anna Hazare has built up at Ralgaon Siddhi a model village of international reputation. Theorists write papers about those who have acted. Example is the first and last precept of leadership.
I submit that our problem is:
- Either too simple for technically educated, media-conditioned minds to understand,
- Or, we willfully refuse to understand,
- Or, science has made us so arrogant that we think we don’t need to understand.
It is obvious that industrial civilization is destroying the planet. A food chain so polluted, so poisoned that mother’s breast milk is labeled as toxic, suffices as a tragic summary.
A human species in possession of its senses would not deliberately destroy its own biological life supporting ecology. We are suffering from an infectious disease of the mind that has become pandemic. Professor Jack Forbes (UCal) has called it "wetiko," the disease of cannibalism.
Anna Hazare: To implement Swaraj (self rule), we must build self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-sustainable villages. To develop the villages, we must develop the mind. We cannot develop the mind by sending our children to government schools. They return to us without common sense. Public education promotes competition instead of cooperation, and technology instead of wisdom. We must impart vidyan (knowledge) and gyan (wisdom) together. [Editor: I have noticed that "uneducated" rural Indians have better memories and extemporaneous speaking abilities than those of us educated through books and machines]. The village must be our Mandir (temple of worship). We must serve and respect it. To change the village, we must change the man.
Dr. Narendra Jadav: We are forgetting that a code of ethics was foundation and frame of Mahatma Gandhi’s thought, and his models. His model of Village Republic was based upon a unitary Legislative-Executive-Judicial function in the hands of elected village elders who were known to have committed their lives to the defense of sacred honor even unto death. A far cry from the festering swamp of corruption that is national politics today. Although India is ranked as the second fastest growing economy in the world, we are in the bottom ten percent of the United Nations Human Development Index. Corruption in government is the major culprit.
Anna Hazare: Leadership must be based upon pure thinking, the moral life, and sacrifice. "At the age of 24 I was considering suicide. Only after I committed my life to the service of others did it acquire meaning." A seed must die in the earth before it comes to life. Real charity is to give of ourselves.
It is no use to talk of India’s achievement as the second fastest growing economy in the world [referring to remarks of Narendra Jadav]. We should speak of human happiness, not statistics of economic growth. Our village people are hungry — children go to sleep hungry — how to talk of educating a hungry man? First let him have the means to grow food. Our buildings are growing higher and higher, all the while our minds sink lower.
We sons of the soil must be like the grass, bending when the river floods over us, and standing again when the storm has passed. The only constant is change. This too shall pass.
Dr. Kumar Saptrishi: Globalization and its fall-out have made urgent the necessary adoption of Gandhi’s ideas of decentralization. Corruption is reduced in small social units. There is no brotherhood in large, anonymous organizations. However, it is useless to speak of the empowerment of villages unless the caste system [social violence] is eradicated.
The western religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are based upon a philosophy of man’s domination over nature. These structures evolve from the perceived need to control nature. [From this alienated construct arises a mind prone to violence]. Indian religions and philosophies are grounded in Ahimsa, nonviolence.
We are being killed by allowing corporations and the State to kill our planet. Corporate State Fascism is killing the earth. It Must Go. The Nation State system is beyond reform. It Must Go.
The Mere Existence of the Nation State — conceived in and maintained by violence — is an assault on the human spirit.
Seventeen years ago years ago, at a conference similar to this in Northern Mexico, I made a decision of permanent exile from my nation. A Tarahumara elder from the Sierra Occidental had spoken to this conference on a project financed by the World Bank to cut the last virgin old growth forest of his tribe’s mountain homeland. He had held up a trash magazine and said that when you have cut all our trees to make this, my people will die, and your people will read these things.
The Gulf war of Bush the Elder was raining death from the sky. Everywhere industrial civilization was killing and destroying, consuming and exploiting.
I asked myself: does my government murder? Do I finance its murder? Answers: Yes, and yes, my taxes finance murder. Am I therefore an accomplice to murder?
I chose exile, sold everything, and left.
I am not American. Not Indian. Not Mexican, nor Russian. I am a human being.
Owe no loyalty to any Nation State. All are criminal political operations. They bomb, murder, destroy, oppress and exploit. I submit that the Indian State is a British abstraction which bears no resemblance to India as a human civilization.
The best hope for human species survival is worldwide Village Swaraj — the independent self-sufficient Village Republics envisioned by Mohandas Gandhi. Without this, or something close, we will destroy the earth and humanity. If the villages of India cannot survive, humanity cannot survive.
How Did We Get Here?
Biological man must work with the natural resources of earth to sustain his life. Direct work is termed the "economic means." Taking the produce of others by force has been termed the "political means." The State is the organization of the political means, by which violence and force are given the cloak of moral legitimacy.
The modern State is controlled by corporations. Corporations are inhuman legal constructs whose design code is to generate monetary profit for its owning shareholders. For the corporation there is no humanity and no society, except as they provide an arena or means for profit.
The Powers That Be who control both Corporation and State are shielded from the consequences of their actions by the legal constructs of limited liability and Sovereign Immunity. These people remain largely anonymous and essentially unaccountable. They are protected from retribution of even heinous crimes against humanity by the power the gun, wielded by agents of the State, who are accepted by society as "legalized" murderers. The real decision-makers of world affairs are behind the scenes, unknown and unknowable to the public.
Shielded by sovereign immunity, these men are allowed act out their drives for power and domination in an irresponsible manner, without concern for personal accountability.
Through complex psychological and social dynamics that I have yet to understand, we have placed ourselves in voluntary servitude to this institutional system. Which means — in a nutshell — that we have surrendered control over our own lives, and the destiny of this planet, into the hands of perhaps a few hundred sociopathic egomaniacs.
Somehow we allowed ourselves to become mentally and morally numbed by the unending barrage of symbols, propaganda and spin promulgated by the Established Money Power.
There is now erupting an exponentially exploding and intertwined virus of mindlessly used technology, industrialization, and population growth which will soon u2018go critical.’ Globalization has operated to substitute economic activity and its relentless and directionless growth for any other measure of human dignity, purpose, and happiness. (Cruttwell, 1995).
We have it upside down and backwards. Far from being our savior, technology is our mortal enemy, acting as a graveyard spiral with never-ending promises to save us from the never-ending problems that it has itself created. Technology simply puts ever-more powerful tools and weapons into the hands of the egomaniacs that control human affairs.
I want to share with you the following communication which has come from V.K. Desai for contribution to this seminar.
I live in Rajkot, a city of Mahatma Gandhi, but now nothing special and turned into highly industrialized city with nowhere Gandhi except his home as monument in busy business street.
In radius of around 200km from Rajkot, 5000 villages are situated in which life style still exists somewhat similar to what you want to create. Seventy five percent of the village people are farmers having their own land, cultivating groundnut, cotton, wheat, pulses, grain etc but never tobacco or harmful crop, not even exception in one acre. Village structure is more or less the skeleton of a moral, cooperative, self-reliant, self-employed society, but villagers do not know its significance. Here I can see your concept materialized to some extent.
But Government is breaking it very fast by heavily taxing it, exploiting it, snatching away their lands forcefully and illegally, whenever and wherever required by big industrialists, forcing them to tempt for city life through TV, making them into addict for tobacco vices for the interests of tobacco industries and spoiling them by every possible way. Almost entire population (10 million) is vegetarian with a few exceptions. Small farmers till their land by bullocks and big ones by tractors. Cows are vanishing very fast due to slaughter houses for meat export. Our people have never seen meat. So much merciful are they, if women just happen to see meat, many of them become unconscious by shock. This year, rainfall was very much and so everywhere there is widespread happiness, no poverty, no hunger anywhere. There is prohibition by law. So no alcoholic drinks anywhere.
We are very much concerned how to save our villages, how to make better living conditions, how to rid them of fertilizers and pesticides and stop their exploitation which Government is heavily promoting as our biggest enemy. Many people are trying, but rush and attraction for modern life style is so much presented in TV that our efforts are of no use. Yesterday I was in a village in public meeting for such purpose. [END OF EMAIL]. ///
We have ended up in the situation foretold by Gandhi, and against which he devoted his life. Our land base is rapidly nearing total destruction. Without a land base — fertile soil, vegetation, forest, water and clean air — we cannot survive. Any species, in order to survive, must enhance both itself and its environment. No species is independent of its ecology. They are bound together.
There are two clearly definable and interconnected "enemies."
- External: The Money Power, acting through the Central Bankers and using the "iron triangle" of military-industrial-political complex.
- Internal: Our own mind. The frontier of the battle for human survival is consciousness itself.
- The interconnection: much of human consciousness is now manipulated or outright controlled by the Money Power acting through corporations, media and State.
I conceptualize Gandhiji’s method as a cart with two wheels, pulled by the power of Ahimsa and Truth. One wheel is Resistance and the other is a Positive Constructive Program. It has been my personal experience as an activist that without both wheels, one loses his mental balance. An unbroken regime of resistance leads to the burn out which results from dryness and lack of loving expression. A Constructive Program without resistance leads to a sense of futility and resignation that no amount of effort will change the system.
"Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless and corrupt."
~ MK Gandhi (DG Tendulkar, 1960, Publications Division, Government of India)
"Individual civil disobedience is everybody’s inherent right, like the right of self-defense in normal life." ~ MK Gandhi (Epigrams From Gandhiji, 1971, Publications Division, Government of India)
Are we there yet — that is, into lawlessness and corruption? We can read the answer every day in the newspapers, endlessly. It churns the guts with shame to be human.
- Fight to defend our land base from corporate exploitation. Form Direct Action Defense committees (DAD).
- Treat corporate land expropriation — acting behind the State’s shield of Eminent Domain — as you would a foreign invading enemy taking your land, and thus your life.
- Defend your land as you would life, by whatever means necessary.
- Help others to defend their land.
- Boycott corporate products, especially non-essential luxuries. Support local artisans.
- Refusal of taxes. Refusal of voting. Withdraw from institutional participation.
- Ignore the State. Become self-sufficient. Refuse its services. Don’t give it energy.
- We need not bow down to these forces of destruction and death.
- Moral education. Gandhi said it is necessary to defend honor unto death.
- Ecological education by right livelihood example.
- The Anna Hazare model demonstrated by his work at Ralgaon Siddhi. There are others also.
- Self Restraint and Self-Reliance.
- Selfless service to others without expectation of reward or results.
- Be part of the problem: support corporations with purchases of fancy things at the malls of mindlessness. Things designed in the wake of artificially created "needs" in order to temporarily satisfy desires that the advertising media intends to make insatiable.
- Be part of the solution: by self-restraint, self-denial, boycott, resistance, tax refusal, and protest.
- Village Swaraj is the last best chance for the survival of humanity. Support it with actions.
WE NEED NOT QUIETLY ACCEPT THIS VIOLATION OF OUR HUMANITY
Complete non-violence today would mean acquiescence in systematic destruction of the whole earth, and thus all of humanity with it. Some situations demand that we defend our land, our right to livelihood, and our lives with violent defensive action.
Direct Action Today, I feel, however, is best expressed in self-restraint, in the quiet refusal to buy corporate products, in boycott, in self-reliance and in tax refusal, in refusal to report for combat in aggressive war, in refusal to accept corporate and government media propaganda as truth.
Direct Action Today is in cleansing our minds of the falsehoods that have led us to believe that money, and position, and power have any meaning whatsoever. We are committing suicide because we have given meaning to these falsehoods and are allowing them to control our lives.
For Nonviolent Direct Action Today to succeed, I feel that there must be some among us who have the courage and the will for violent defense of their rights, such as those at Nandigram and Sirur, and the heroic women of Chiapas, and the bravest of Seattle 1999. These brave ones among us must have not only the will, but the means and the proven ability to execute. Nonviolence cannot succeed where the Money Power thinks that it can walk over us with consequence no greater than muddy feet.
Unfortunately, for nonviolence to succeed in the political arena, there must be blood on the hands of the guilty — blood that the nonviolent can point to, and that may prick the conscience of the aggressor.
Gandhi on 22 March 1922: "The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still small voice within. And even though I have to face the prospect to a minority of one, I humbly believe I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority that to me is the only truthful position."
~ Romain Rolland (Mahatma Gandhi — The Man Who Became One With The Universal)
The last quote of Mohandas Gandhi above is a theme that this website at www.freeofstate.org has been emphasizing again and again:
That representative "liberal democracy" is a falsehood and a sham. It is simply not possible for one person to u2018represent’ the conscience of another. Gandhi will accept only the authority of the "still small voice" within himself.
The Money Power, bloated as they are on blood money, must not be permitted to cast secret ballots from safe positions and comfortable seats in controlled environment buildings. Those who would make war must not be allowed to do so by vote to spill another’s blood. They must put themselves in harm’s way and meet their so-called enemy face to face in mortal combat. Among those who may return, few will be inclined to give great orations on the consecration of the corpses littering a trampled field of mayhem and death.
May you live long and live free and succeed in the quest for peace.
Jeff Knaebel [send him mail] is an expatriate American domiciled in India since 1995. He formerly practiced as a registered professional engineer, having been trained at Cornell Univ. and the Colorado School of Mines.