Recently, I was invited to attend a seminar entitled "Gandhi Returns – Back to Basics", which was held in Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad. Gujarat Vidyapith was founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920s and deals with mostly Gandhian subjects. Three themes were discussed and deliberated in the seminar: education, non-violence and constructive sustainable development. About 200 participants took part in the conclave for two days. I took part mostly in the session "Value based decentralised production systems and constructive work", though for a short time also sat in the education panel.
However in both these panels and also in the general session I was very surprised by the anti-technology stance of quite a number of the participants.
These anti-technology people who frequent the Gandhi seminars preach one thing (don't use technology) and practice something else (they use the technology all along).
One participant who graduated as an engineer (long ago) from one of the IITs even went to the extent of telling the group that the worst exploitation of poor people has happened because of technology. He suggested that everybody should defecate in the open because the sun removes the odour and detoxifies the faecal matter better than sewage treatment!
Similarly another participant suggested that mechanisation of agriculture will bankrupt the farmers and will ruin the land. He also suggested that simple pastoral farming is the solution!
Yet these and other anti-technology participants were continuously checking their smart phones and most of them came to the conference in planes, trains and cars! This is the hypocrisy that I have seen in many such forums and seminars. I think they understand neither Gandhi nor his thoughts.
Gandhi generally practiced what he preached, and he was very transparent in his conduct. These anti-technology people who frequent the Gandhi seminars preach one thing (don't use technology) and practice something else (they use the technology all along).
So what makes such "so-called" Gandhians anti-technology? Was it Gandhi himself who knowingly or unknowingly spread the message against advanced technology or is it that very few people have really understood Gandhi's ideas on the matter? I think the answer lies somewhere in between.
Mahatma Gandhi, as a proponent of non-violence, used this concept for everything—including industrialisation. He rightly thought the industrialisation of the 1920s to be a violent system characterised by heavy machinery, very inefficient energy and materials conversion technologies and no concern for the environment. Intuitively he revolted against those systems and felt that a simple life (with few needs)—with most daily items being produced from locally available materials—was non-violent and in tune with nature.
He also believed in rural-based and economically viable local production and consumption systems. Hence he was against things manufactured in Bombay and shipped to rural areas. Similarly he said that he objected to electricity being produced in Bombay and transmitted to Wardha (where his ashram was). He wanted it produced in Wardha from local resources—again showing his vision since decentralised power production is presently gaining currency.
I think that most people do not understand the deep meaning of Gandhian philosophy and ascribe superficial meaning to the things that Gandhi wrote and said.
I believe that Gandhiji was not anti-technology or anti-science. He was a prisoner of his times. He always said that he was a pujari (priest) of the "body-temple" and since it was the most complex machinery in the world, how could he be anti-machinery? Thus, he used telephones, typewriters, telegraphs, cars and trains quite frequently. One of his prized possessions was a sophisticated high-tech Swiss watch that was always tucked in his dhoti!
Not being a student of science or engineering he could not express his feelings in a scientific way but always talked about his dream village, which he felt will be self-sufficient with its inhabitants living in harmony with nature. Modern technology, which is following bio-mimicry, allows for the first time to have softer and efficient systems to achieve our purposes and for the Gandhian dream becoming reality.
Gandhiji believed in all-inclusive growth and felt that India could only become a great nation when its teeming and impoverished rural masses were better off. He therefore focused on rural development for the last 30 years of his life and felt intuitively that the future of India lay in decentralised rural development. This vision which he stated in the 1920s is even more valid today after almost 100 years.
I am sure if Gandhi were alive today he would have felt that his dream village could have taken shape with the availability of internet connectivity, 3D or desktop manufacturing and small renewable energy power packs. His dream of giving employment and a decent life to the rural population may become possible with the availability of these energy-efficient and high-tech systems.
I am sure if Gandhi were alive today he would have felt that his dream village could have taken shape with the help of technology.
I therefore think that most people do not understand the deep meaning of Gandhian philosophy and ascribe superficial meaning to the things that Gandhi wrote and said. They take every word literally. Thus they are following the same path that fundamentalists do—and every word Gandhi said or wrote becomes sacrosanct.
Thus, the memory of the Mahatma in India is reduced to mere rituals today. Today's youth need to be educated about how Gandhi's anti-technology image was wrong. They also need to be taught why Gandhi was such a great person and why he is still very much relevant in today's greatly changed world.
As a spiritual being and visionary Gandhiji was far ahead of his times and if we follow his ideas of holistic living then it will lead to sustainable and emotionally satisfying development.