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Mahatma Gandhi and Rural Reconstruction of India

S. K. Basu

India is a vast nation with a significant percentage of global poor residing in the rural areas. Lack of infrastructure, healthcare, education, employment, political destability and abject poverty have been pushing India backwards due to lack of proper rural development and failure in making millions of villagers across the nation a stakeholder in India's economic progress. The 'Father of the Nation', Mahatma Gandhi advocated for an independent India with villages and rural communities at the forefront of India's economic growth and sustenance. The following article humbly attempts to suggest some sustainable approaches in the line of Mahatma Gandhi's ideologies and philosophy towards rural reconstruction of India. Mahatma Gandhi, the 'Father of the Nation' was not only a great freedom fighter and an enlightened politician way ahead of his time; but was also one of the greatest political philosopher and a monumental visionary that the whole world acknowledges today. His single handed struggle changed and transformed global history and through his non-violence movement has established him globally as the apostle of peace and humanity. None like the Mahatma was ever able to unify the vast ethnically, linguistically, socio-culturally and economically diverse Indian populations practicing different faiths to come under one banner during the classical period of India's struggle for freedom. None other than the Mahatma had the ability to shake the pillars of eternal British colonial power and gracefully challenge the authorities of the then British empire through his doctrine of Satyagraha. It is hard to believe that a single man could change global history and contribute significantly towards the birth of a  modern nation called 'India' that over time has blossomed into the world's largest democracy. 

Mahatma Gandhi's monumental contribution and greatness not only just lies with the freedom of a conquered nation or in the birth of a modern India; but in demonstrating to the entire world that peace is the only solution to all our problems and that it can be resolved through perseverance, sincerity, dedication, non-violence and in being respectful to others who treated him no dignity, humanity and abject cruelty. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or the beloved 'Mahatma' will be always known in the modern history of humans as the greatest soul who never compromised with his ideologies, philosophy and his doctrine of love, humanity, empathy, compassion and respect for fellow human beings. None even in distant future could ever match up with the greatness of this individual who transformed the world through his perpetual faith in love, benevolence, peace and mutual respect for others. Mahatma Gandhi will continue to inspire generations to come and force us to think what selfless love and devotion could do to alter the course of modern human history.

However, we need to recognize that Mahatma Gandhi not only worked towards liberation of the Indian nation from British rule but also had a great vision of building the nation post independence. The unfortunate demise of Mahatma Gandhi at the crucial juncture of Indian history when he was needed the most for the future development of India will continue to haunt us for generations. As the greatest political philosopher of all times his visions towards the rural development of India is yet to be achieved even seventy years post independence. It is quite unfortunate that we have moved away from his grandeur vision of a strong united India by strengthening and empowering rural communities and making villages as the power house of India's economic growth. It is therefore important today to review his monumental vision of the resurgence of rural India and work towards rural reconstruction to help India grow and carry the fruits of India's economic growth across the length and breadth of this vast nation. 

 Rural reconstruction of India

Hence, at this crucial juncture it is important for us to revisit Mahatma Gandhi's monumental visions for the resurgence of rural India; so that millions of Indians who live in numerous villages across the country can become an important stakeholder in India's economic progress in the 21st century. Gandhi said that..."......India lives in her villages.."; and this is one of the greatest truth that confronts us today seventy years post independence. Without including the villages and rural communities within the economic framework of India, it will be difficult for the nation to move forward and lay a stronger foundation of the economy for her future generations.

Some humble recommendations for rural reconstruction of India are provided below:

  1. Rural development and rural administration need to be given a priority with emphasis on necessary modifications of the village Panchayati Raj system.

  2. The roots of corruption and administrative failures under the existing rural governance system needs to be investigated by a parliamentary committee and amended accordingly to benefit larger section of rural community members.

  3. Electoral reforms are also necessary for better functioning and working of rural governance, rural administration and rural development.

  4. Social security of Indian villagers and remote rural communities, forest residents, fringe forest dwellers, tribals, marginal farmers and land laborers together with necessary land reforms will be important. 

  5. Empowerment of rural women in the real sense of the term.

  6. Encouragement for developing all female working group or cottage industry groups, or micro financing groups in rural areas can also help building rural economy comprehensively.

  7. Establishing proper rural infrastructure through rural electrification, by developing motorable rural roads connecting adjacent villages as well as nearest towns and municipalities, and district headquarters can transform Indian villages as new power houses supporting the vigorous growth of the Indian economy.

  8. Developing necessary bridges and pools across rivers, tributaries, streams and lakes to cut down on distances between adjacent villages and making them easier and safer with respect to business and transportation.

  9. Need for establishing more primary, secondary and higher secondary schools and under gradate degree colleges and vocational training institutes to make education and training accessible to rural populations even in the remote rural border areas, forested and fringe forest areas, villages across different islands, creeks and channels and remote mountainous regions as well as deserts and other inhospitable terrains and locations.

  10. Many rural communities are settled along vulnerable areas in earthquake or tsunami prone zones, or in areas with high cyclonic activities. Rural infrastructure should also include building shelter homes at appropriate places to accommodate rural communities during natural calamities and save precious lives.

  11. It is important to include rural community members as parts of border management forces in sensitive, remote international border areas, forest protection forces and also in village security forces for better protection and security of rural communities.

  12. Establishing adequate health centers, police stations, banks and post offices in rural areas to provide better and higher coverage on ground to different villages and rural communities.

  13. Highest priority must be to be given towards mass education and awareness in rural areas to make people aware of various aspects of rural governance and administration, state and central government socio-economic programs for rural communities, ecological and environmental issues pertinent for rural communities, regarding health and hygiene, banking and postal system, sensitization against superstitions, religious and socio-cultural prejudices, regarding modern agricultural practices and farming methods, soil conservation for establishing sustainable agricultural production system, modern forestry practices, social forestry, to educate and train rural communities for being ecologically and socially sensitive, supportive and proactive towards local issues and concerns.

  14. It will be important to design special educational programs and curricula for the rural areas that can cater to their daily rural area based problems, issues and challenges and provide necessary training and guidelines to cope wit these situations.

  15. Mass education and literacy campaigns must be emphasized to bring education to the door step of the rural poor, socio-culturally backward communities, tribals, marginal farmers, oppressed castes and communities as well as illiterate rural adults and seniors.  

  16. Local and regional infrastructural development, social and industrial forestry, forest and wildlife conservation, agricultural work opportunities through fruit and tree orchards, tea gardens, organic agriculture, pisciculture (fish farming), sericulture (silk production), lacculture (lacca production), apiculture (commercial production honey and other by products), health, education and mass awareness programs and rural development will need year round supply of laborers, workers, porters and volunteers.

  17. These are important avenues of employment for rural communities and they should be trained and engaged to participate for better annual income generation and encouraged to explore multiple channels of employment opportunities.

  18. Extensive dependence of remote rural communities on local forests for food, fodder, forage, fuel and fertilizer needs to be handled judiciously.

  19. While the forest rights for certain communities need to be respected; but it is also important to protect India's receding forest resources through judicious and sustainable use, providing alternative resources by local administration, restricted and monitored fenced grazing of cattle and livestock to reduce grazing pressure on local forests.

  20. Harvesting forest resources such as timber, medicinal plants, leaves, mushrooms and other important major and minor forest products should be supervised by forest department in close coordination with the local villagers. They could be seasonally employed as forest guards, laborers and porters. This will help in reducing poaching and trafficking of wildlife and wildlife body parts, reduce pressure on forest resources and help in the long term conservation of the local ecosystems.

  21. Government needs to have strong political will and take proactive steps to reduce wildlife, human and drug trafficking and smuggling of contraband commodities in small villages, hamlets and human settlements along sensitive points across international borders to establish peace and law in vulnerable areas.

  22. One of the best approaches to achieve proper security coverage for India's rural areas could be to engage qualified villagers in village and border area surveillance; and serve as an extended hand for the border security forces, intelligence and customs department as well as local administration. This could be potential another source of income for some villagers.

  23. Encouraging establishment of major industries and mining areas in rural areas could also help building rural economy.

  24. Rural areas rich in natural resources with better connectivity to major highways and railway networks should be an attractive proposition for many industrialists to establish industrial complexes at suitable locations.

  25. This will help in healthy distribution of major industrial units across the nation rather than only concentrating in cities and towns and will also help in poverty eradication and provide employment for a larger section of the rural communities.

  26. Rural areas based small or medium scale industries should also be encouraged where there is less opportunity for establishing heavy industries.

  27. Cottage industries have been an integral part of traditional Indian village life and should be continued to be practiced as many of these products have high international demands. However they need support from the local administration with respect to modern technology, tools, training and infrastructural development for quality production and capturing foreign markets.

  28. Village based art products are in particular high demand at the international markets and can become source of additional income as well as foreign exchange earner for the country.

  29. To engage rural youth towards positive attributes of life in addition to education through  sports and cultural activities could play a significant role. Well developed youth engagement centers and modern sports facilities need to be built across rural areas. India's poor show at international sports events could be solved by finding, training and sponsoring talented sports enthusiasts from rural areas and help them represent the nation at international events.

  30. Sports can culturally transform the rural sector and connect divergent socio-cultural communities in nation building and prevent misguided youth being attracted to antisocial and anti national activities in vulnerable localities.

 Conclusion

Millions of rural poor across the nation who suffer from abject poverty, unemployment, minimal government services like bank and post offices, rural schools and colleges, health centers and pharmacies, police stations, poor and archaic agricultural technology and forestry practices, lack of proper infrastructure connecting villages with one another and to the nearest cities, towns and/or municipalities is a shame that each of one has to accept; as we have failed to build these infrastructures or provide these minimal services seventy years post independence. The death and suicides of farmers across India is a shame that should touch every citizen of the nation. To make the grandeur aspirations of greatest political philosopher and visionary like Mahatma Gandhi for building a better India through rural remonstration; should be a dream of every Indian both within the country and overseas. Acknowledgement: The Science Association of Bengal



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