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Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi is perhaps more popular in his tenets of non-violent resistance and struggle for Indian Independence. In his booklet Hind Swaraj, which means self rule, Gandhi shows us another side as he tells us about the evils of technology in regards to Indian nationalism and society. (Gandhi, 1909) The booklet describes Gandhi’s concept of Indian self-rule. It tells us how, who and when will it be achieved. It describes not a revolution against the English, but simply a revolution against their civilization.

In the booklet, Gandhi talks about Machinery. He tells us that machinery in all forms is evil. He says that “It is machinery that has impoverished India”, that machinery is an extension of British colonialism. He makes a case point about textiles and the effect British machinery has on it. The Indian native handicrafts have suffered due to the rise of British made cloth. The hand made cloth industry in India has steadily declined due to mills and Manchester cloth. This comes partly as a result of the induced preference for such a cloth in India.

Thus, without consumers frequenting native hand made cloth, there would be no demand to produce it. The effect of technology is it makes people slaves to it. People will flock to technology because of the income it produces, often at the cost of their very existence. People behind technological industries like mills propagate this machinery craze with little thought to the lowly worker who labors for a mere pittance. Gandhi in Hind Swaraj deplores the condition of his country men who work and are treated like slaves.

He sees that it is not merely the conditions of working in technology that leads to impoverishment but also the culture associated with it. By accepting a society in which you work to earn money, you abide by conditions which inversely, all goods you need should be bought. Thus if your income is poor, you are further reduced to poverty. He notes the example that before the advent of mills, people did not starve. Thus, Gandhi advocates the separation of blood and money. He sees that it is better for Englishman to make English cloth, and for Indians to buy them, than for Indians to both make and buy English cloth.

To buy English cloth made by Englishman denotes only the use of money; to buy it from your countrymen could save money but would denote a sapping of the country’s moral being. (Gandhi, 1909) To look upon technology as a savior of India would be wrong. Trying to abide by the laws of capitalism in order to remove the shackles of British rule would be futile. Gandhi points out that there is no difference between an “Indian Rockefeller” and an American one. Both of them support the British rule that dictates their power in society.

To say that it will be Indians that will benefit form the growth of technology, in this case the mill industry would be inaccurate. Sure, it would make the Indian owners rich, and yet they became rich due to the poverty of their countrymen. And once rich due to the machination of British rule that allows them to become so, these Indian Rockefellers would be reluctant to stand against the very same institution that supported it. In the case of mills, the decision would be to close it down, or to let it expand.

To allow these mills would be to let the degradation of Indian culture continues, and yet to close them down would derive the mill-owners of their livelihood. Here Gandhi offers an alternative to these two difficult courses of actions. Instead, we must implore these owners not to close but simply to cease opening new mills. In doing so, Indian culture could be maintained at the same time giving the mill-owners another chance to revert back to hand made crafts and do away with machinery. For when business increases, the mill-owners have to expand, and have to do so by recruiting native Indian hand weavers.

In the question as to what to do with machine made goods, Gandhi supplies a simple answer. Do away with them. These goods like pins, glassware and matches are utilized now because they could be made. If the mechanisms for manufacturing them disappear, then these commodities would cease to be produced and people would live life without them. These goods which seem like an inseparable part of day to day life are in reality merely conveniences that people could do without. If people in the past could lead full life without these things, why then would the people in the present need them?

Instead of using money in the procurement of these things, Gandhi suggests doing away with these goods and instead using the money to support Swadeshi. Swadeshi is an economic strategy defined by Gandhi as a way to achieve Swaraj or self rule. It entails the boycotting not only of British products but also British means of production, favoring instead traditional goods and methods of manufacture. This change, according to Gandi, need not happen at the same time, with all the populace suddenly following this action. It is instead up to the enlightened leadership to set the example upon which others may follow.

It is also up to the individuals to recognize those things that they could do without, and to do their part in ceasing to use it, for there is no limit as to what those things are. Gandhi again provides a case example on the evil of technology in the discussion of railways and tramcars. He likens technology to a snake pit, which may contain numerous snakes, each a significant evil. The particular characteristic of technology is that when you allow one, it is inevitable that others will follow. Thus, the basic principle remains, do away with it.

In the case of railways and tramcars, Gandhi cites the observations of physicians of the corresponding decrease in health to the increase in use of artificial locomotion. The paradox comes when discussing the use of printed material in advocating the disuse of machinery. Since printed material is also produced by machination, would it not be hypocritical to use it against the utilization of technology? Gandhi argues that although the case demonstrates “using poison to kill poison”, people should not be confused as to the real issue, the evils of technology.

Gandhi in infinite foresight cautions his readers not to expect sudden change. He declares that by simply looking upon technology as an evil, people would be more reluctant to use it and would ultimately no longer utilize it at all. Gandhi does not differentiate between Indian and British technology, to him these names simply define ownership, but in essence, is the same technology propagated by British colonial rule. His boycotting of technology is an extension of his economic and social policy and a method to attain Indian self-rule.

He sees technology as a way by which the British could exert their influence thru the lure of employment and commodities. His book cautions that the employment offered could be gained in an equivalent nationalistic way by upholding Indian traditional practices. The commodities that are products of technology are, in his point of view, not necessary to Indian way of life. His arguments, although narrow-minded in its distrust of technology, shows us how various aspects of society could and were used to subjugate a nation.

References Gandhi, M. (1909). HInd Swaraj or the Indian Home-Rule. Chapter XIX

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