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Recalling Gandhi's warning of the dangers of 'abject dependence' on technology

Dr John Chelladurai
By Rosamma Thomas*
The Gandhi Research Foundation (GRF), Jalgaon, was founded in 2012. In its less-than-a-decade lifetime, this institution has worked to “preserve for posterity the profound legacy of Gandhiji’s life, thought and work,” says its vision, declared on its website.
On August 28, 2021, Dean of Academics at the GRF was addressing an audience at Wardha, across the road from Gandhiji’s Sewagram Ashram, on the subject ‘How Gandhi comes alive today’. He had prepared his slides in English, but seeing that the audience comprised elected representatives from the gram panchayats in the state who would better understand if he spoke either Marathi or Hindi, he delivered his lecture in Hindi.
Conflict too can be a creative experience, he said. To Gandhi, Truth was Supreme – Satya, the Hindi word for truth, derives from ‘Sat’ the word that stands for essence in Sanskrit. Anything that exists is true, he said. You are truth, your life is truth; these are not figments of the imagination. To protect, promote and preserve all life was thus service of truth.
To understand Satya or Truth better, some actions were recommended – Sarvodaya – or the awakening of all, universal uplift – was the noble aim of all actions inspired by truth. And this could be achieved through Swaraj, Swadeshi and Swavalamban – self-rule, reliance on domestic production and self-sufficiency. Sarvodaya would not happen until Antayodaya was achieved – the upliftment and awakening of the very last man. We are thus all in it together, and prosperity for a few and pauperization of many can hardly achieve the aims that Gandhi stood for.
So how could we go about changing our situation? Dr Chelladurai explained:
“We are given to believe that when a big factory is set up in our village, employment will be generated. But is that really true? What if the factory produces sugar, and we already have as much sugar as we need? Then, a fresh factory will only cause a dip in the production from other factories, and perhaps a displacement of labour as some people may be laid off from their jobs in factories that decide to produce less, since consumption will not expand rapidly to absorb increased supply. Thus, instead of creating employment opportunities, the new factory might only cause displacement of employment.”
So what is the solution? What we need is a relationship between the producer and the supplier – when the two come together, production can be planned, and consumers instead of being passive can direct production. Suppose there is need for cooking oil. The needs of one family alone cannot sustain a production facility. If, however, there were 200 families that came together, and there was need for a large quantity of cooking oil, it may be possible to consider a production facility that serves their needs. 
This way, since all villages will never be able to produce all they need, they can enter into relationships with each other, and buy what they need from each other instead of enriching multinational firms or large corporate groups that do not offer any employment or other benefits to local communities who might be consumers of their products.
Dr Chelladurai was rudely stopped by Prof Gita Dharampal, Dean of Research, Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, while chairing the session
Dr Chelladurai, speaking in Hindi, had the audience transfixed. It was clear that what he offered was a workable solution, one that would go a long way in attaining gram swaraj. He was speaking at a session of the two-day ‘Gandhiji and Gram Swaraj’ meeting organized by Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, in collaboration with the Sewagram Ashram Prathishthan, Wardha.
This meeting was held partly online, since all speakers could not be physically present at the venue. Dr Chelladurai was abruptly – and rather rudely -- stopped by Prof Gita Dharampal of  the Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, where she is Dean of Research. Chairing the session she said she could not hear him online. The next speaker that Prof Dharampal thought exceedingly highly about was an undergraduate student conducting research on Gandhi and his work at Wardha.
The proceedings at this session reminded many in the audience of Gandhi’s “Hind Swaraj”, where he warned of the dangers of abject dependence on technology, which could serve to extend human abilities but could never completely replace human ability.
The vast majority of the audience gathered for the event was at Wardha. Yet, a professor listening online from Pune could call a halt to a speaker who was communicating well and perfectly audible, because she could not hear him; what is worse, Prof Dharampal even mentioned that Dr Chelladurai was not speaking on the theme of the session.
This incident also gave one reason to question the fact that an undergraduate student with nothing new to offer to people familiar with Gandhi literature was given as much time as a seasoned scholar with a wealth of interesting experience.
Some members in the audience were aghast by the rudeness of Prof Dharampal. Dr Chelladurai, however, spoke as requested, took only a few minutes more, and did not insist on showing the audience his full presentation – he is, after all, a “social analyst specialized in conflict transformation and peace building”.
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*Freelance journalist based in Pune

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