Disparities, deprivation and discrimination around the world are too visible to be ignored in today's globalised world. These are of different types—economic, social, and educational and health related. While the rich have all the comforts of life in terms of housing, educational facilities, nutritious food and other necessary requirements of a good life, the poor and marginalized peoples of the world are deprived of basic human rights and needs.
These marginalized populations exist in many parts of the world — in Africa, Latin America and Asia, but disparities especially economic and social are not confined to these regions alone. Even USA perhaps the wealthiest country in the world, has large economic disparities as highlighted by their Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. He writes 'American inequality didn't just happen. It was created'.
The reasons for the economic and social disparities are too complex to be adequately described in this small essay, but the political system and the capitalist, neo-liberal economies of these countries are dominant factors for the conditions prevailing in many parts of the world.
Poverty, discrimination and oppression in one form or another have existed in the world since prehistoric times. A hundred years back when Gandhi was on the scene in the Indian continent (present India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), conditions of the farmers and the countryside were deplorable. In his small 90 page booklet called Hind Swaraj that Gandhi wrote in 1908 while he was returning to South Africa from England, he has dwelt in a concise manner why India was poor and deprived.
He laid the blame squarely upon the British colonialism that had impoverished the country. He was against modern civilization that then prevailed in the world's richest country. England at that time not only exploited its various colonies spread all over the world but was exploitative within the country itself. Gandhi wrote that modern machinery had made life comfortable for the well to do populations of England at the expense of factory workers and miners who toiled in risky and unhygienic conditions. Even women are sometimes forced to work in these poor, unhealthy conditions.
For Gandhi, machinery was an instrument of exploitation and destitution of people especially in the Indian countryside since it displaced labour. He wrote in Hind Swaraj "Machinery is the chief symbol of modern civilization; it represents a great sin".
As an example he wrote about the displacement of village weavers who could not compete with the cloth mills that manufactured cloth rather cheaply. While Manchester in England prospered due to its cloth mills, the Indian towns and villages that fabricated cloth by simple handlooms were adversely affected and became impoverished.
Machinery was also affecting the Indian farmers who used to work with simple tools and their bullocks for ploughing their farmlands. Gandhi wanted to promote village activities not only those of making cloth by handlooms, but also soap making, paper making, tanning etc. This would not only be a source of adequate income for the villagers but would also maintain their dignity and promote friendship and harmony.
Perhaps Gandhi's attitude towards machinery would appear not only outdated but extreme in today's context. However the conditions of farmers in India are really bad due to several factors apart from the issues of machinery and many of them resort to suicide to escape their ordeal even today.
According to Professor Pulin Nayak, a well known economist of Delhi School of Economics, Hind Swaraj 'aimed for self rule in a context where the twin principles of satyagraha and non-violence were the core postulates'.
Poverty, discrimination and oppression visible at present are, as indicated above, due to complex factors. But even today the conditions of not only farmers but the tribal peoples living in remote regions are bad and grim. Tribal people, who have survived for centuries in their so called primitive conditions, are victims of modern developmental paradigm as their forest lands have been encroached upon and they are forced to evacuate their habitats. Gandhi, who lived in a simple manner, was careful in not exploiting nature that has now resulted in environmental pollution and climate change.
Gandhi advocated a system that he called Swaraj or Home Rule that was conducive for all peoples and was inclusive in nature, where people had opportunities to live in a harmonious manner keeping in view their specific conditions, needs and skills. Such a system is necessary even today if we want all sections of the population to live harmoniously and with their basic requirements fulfilled.
Does the present globalised neo liberal economic model produce these conditions? The answer can only be in the negative. Gandhi who was killed in 1948 is relevant even today for his holistic approach in promoting a just economic and political system, skill based education and an environmentally friendly system for preserving nature and not over exploiting our earth. Talking of Gandhi, the well known scientist Albert Einstein had once said that future generations will hardly believe that such a man ever walked on this earth. We need Gandhi more than ever today.
TRANSCEND Media Service