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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Balancing materialism with morality: Gandhi still lives / Manar-India.

Posted By: Vidyut Joshi and Rupa Desai Abdi
Date: Thursday, 12 August 1999, at 2:24 p.m.

Key words: agricultural schools, rural communities, urban migration.

INTRODUCTION: Some of you may feel that the example of wise management of human resources that we are about to cite is perhaps a bit out of place on this platform meant for discussing the wise management of natural resources, but are not the two - man and nature, interrelated? Can we really separate the moral from the material ? For without an ethical foundation, any pursuit, be it material or intellectual, would be self-destructive. Does not the wise management of human resources lead to the wise management of natural resources ?

Mahatma Gandhi inspired a whole generation of Indians and the generations to come with his visionary philosophy. Among other things, he was for a decentralised management and administrative set up and self-sufficiency among the rural communities. These are the essential ingredients of a sustainable model of development which in turn can only support a simple life style as opposed to the present day consumerism and crass materialism. His famous quote: 'Earth can provide for Man's need but not for his greed,' is often repeated by environmentalists the world over. But Gandhi has a few followers today and perhaps a man called Pravinbhai Mehta is one of them.

DESCRIPTION: Our story begins in a small coastal village of Manar in the western Indian State of Gujarat, where, based on the Mahatma's model of basic education, an agricultural boarding school - Gram Dakshinamurti, was started in 1951 by the late Padmashree Nanabhai Bhatt - a veteran educationist of this century. The Indian tradition of education has always advocated residential education system. It is know as Ashram Kelwani. The student spent 10 - 12 years of his life with the guru (teacher) who not only taught him the skills that are essential to eke out a living but also dharama- the philosophy of life, imbibing religious and ethical principals. In an Ashram Kelwani, the mind, body and spirit of student were nurtured. Gandhji and Nanabhai realised that the kind of educational system that the British had introduced in India was alien to India, where the majority of the population lived in the villages working off the land. They, therefore, came up with the concept of Lokshala or Folk Schools - schools with a strong rural base, teaching the art of agriculture and animal husbandry. Set amongst natural surroundings and rural ambience and steeped in Gandhi's philosophy of simplicity, self-sufficiency and spiritual values it was an ideal Ashram imbibing traditional Indian values with modern techniques of agriculture and animal husbandry. Basically, catering to the rural farming communities it also aimed at instilling a sense of love and pride for rural life among the young minds and at reversing the trend of rural to urban migration patterns so prevalent in developing countries including India. This phenomenon of migration is even more acute in the arid and semiarid plains of coastal Gujarat, where the unsustainable management of coastal resources has resulted in the erosion of livelihood and en-mass migration towards the cities.

Initially, the farmers of the adjoining villages were reluctant to send their children to Lok Bharti, since it meant losing a farm hand in addition to the financial burden of paying school fees. However, in 1981 the development of one of Asia's biggest ship-breaking yard at Alang, a village 5 km from Manar, ushered in a wave of economic prosperity in the surrounding areas and the flow of students at Gram Dakshinamurti increased.

The unemployed youth of the surrounding villages who were earlier a source of nuisance for the school authorities were diverted towards Alang for employment.

IMPACT OF THE SHIP BREAKING YARD AT ALANG: As the ship breaking yard and its ancillary industries grew, the peaceful and benevolent environs of Gram Dakshinamurti came under the onslaught of all kinds of negative influences. The flow of vehicular traffic to and from Alang increased manifold, leading to air and noise pollution. So also increased the flow of immigrant labour communities (immigrant labour-one of the most inhuman fall-outs of the Industrial Revolution where a man is forced to uproot himself from home and family and work under inhuman conditions just for the sake of survival).

Immigrant labour meant overcrowding, unhygienic living conditions, drunken brawls, cheap and amoral forms of entertainment and of course prostitution; all the right ingredients to lure young vulnerable minds. The foreign ships, that were meant for the scrapyard, often carried fancy items and gadgets-symbols of western materialism. The students of Lok Bharti who earlier used to go to the sea coast on religious festivals now found the environs of Alang attractive.

It became more and more difficult for the teachers of Gram Dakshinamurti to maintain the unique identity of their school environment. Gandhi's philosophy began to lose colour under the influence of forces that represented bourgeois materialism and its associated evils. The school authorities began to seriously consider shifting the school somewhere else, but one of the staff members, Pravinbhai held hard. Under his initiative the concerned government authorities were requested to construct an alternate route to and from Alang that would bypass Gram Dakshnamurti School. Television, VCR and games were procured for the school as healthy forms of entertainment for the students. Every class teacher was also made the guardian of his pupils and it became his duty to guide them and also keep a strict vigil on their day and night activities. The efforts of Pravinbhai bore fruit and today Gram Dakshnimurti at Manar stands testimony to the enduring quality of Gandhi's philosophy.

Moral of the story:

1. If there was no Gandhi we would have to invent one. ( with apologies to Karl Marx).


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