The condition of women, though oppressive, was not like that of the Harijans; and there were philosophical treatises as well as historical roots to fall back upon. At some point of time the evils like sati, pardah, etc. did crop up but women, in spite of these practices commanded respect and dignity, at least in the household. Over all they were second to men; nonetheless, they participated in other activities of life right from assisting in cultivation to intellectual pursuit. An example to substantiate the arguments won't be out of place. Dubois, a missionary in Mysore, wrote from Seringapatan dated 15 December 1820 that ‘‘the authority of married women within their houses is chiefly exerted in preserving good order and peace among the persons who compose their families; and a great many among them discharge this important duty with prudence and a discretion which have scarcely a parallel in Europe.... Besides the management of the household, and the care of the family which is under their control, the wives and daughters of husbandmen attend and assist their husbands and fathers in the labours of agriculture. Those of tradesmen assist theirs in carrying on their trade. Merchants are attended to and assisted by theirs in their shops. Many females are shopkeepers on their own account. This was the condition after the arrival of the British when insecurity, alienation, etc. had started creeping into the body politic which had reinforced the evils doubly. Prior to their arrival the condition was even better in certain matters. However, overall, they were second sex which they had become in course of history. Gandhi's struggle for elevating the status of women was basically to help them in achieving their glory which they had once upon a time. Momentarily, if seen in the time scale of history, it was also to bring them out of their homes, on the street, to fight the British Raj. Unless this fifty percent population of India came out on the street it was difficult to throw the yoke of the British rule; and in order to achieve the twin objectives of freedom and re-establishment of village republics it was necessary to remove the evils that haunted the villages, particularly the upper castes women. For this it was necessary to imbue the women with education and help them in becoming economically independent. Nai talim, adoption of charkha and khadi, etc. were therefore started as one of the means to help not only women but also the Harijans apart from making the Indians in general economically and morally independent and self-reliant.


Gandhi's concept of nai talim was essentially a character-building process based on the ancient school system. It was to train the people to bring their senses under their control and put ethics on firm foundation. Secondly, it was to teach the people in the art of bread-labour, i.e, a person was to be taught about the instruments, techniques etc. best suited to his genius so that he could earn his livelihood. Thirdly teaching was to be in vernaculars in mother tongues so that a person could understand and articulate a view in the best possible way. And above all, it was to add happiness to life. All these emphasis on elementary education, however, must be seen in the background of a society which was turning away from its civilizational roots, in which peasantry were being divorced from their immediate llivelihood, and over which an alien language as a medium of instrtuction was being imposed. The nai talim was to help in re-establishing such a peasant society where a peasant earns his bread honestly. He has ordinary knowledge of the world. He knows fairly well how he should behave towards his parents, his wife, his children and has fellow-villagers. He understands and observes the rules of morality. This educaton was essentially to teach the methods of cultivation, spinning, weaving, tanning, nature-cure, sanitation, beekeeping, etc. to people who had become rootless, unemployed etc. or were in the process of becoming so. Its purpose was to install in people a sense of dignity towards labour enabling them to earn their bread and eradicate hunger and poverty.


The concept of bread-labour, paripassu, was based on ‘‘the law, that to live man must work... The divine law, that stressed by a Russian writer named T M Bondaref. Tolstoy advertised it and gave it wider publicity ... The same principle has been set forth in the third chapter of the Gita, where we are told, that he who eats without offering sacrifice eats stolen food. Sacrifice here can only mean bread-labour.’’ This meaning of bread-labour as understood by Gandhi, must be seen once again in the background of an agricultural society where majority of the peasant families worked to earn their livelihood. It was true that majority of the people of upper castes did not do actual ploughing which, instead, was done by either  intermediary castes or untouchables. But it was equally true that these men of upper castes did participate in other aspects of cultivation like irrigating fields, sowing seeds, harvesting crops, thrashing grains, cleaning cattlesheds and animals weaving cots, etc. Only very few did not do anything and belonged to the parasitic stratum. The intermediary castes and untouchables were in anyway the real practitioner of this law of bread-labour. The peasantry, thus by and large, earned their bread through the labour

not only by cultivation but also by doing spinning, weaving carpentary, smithery, etc. Gandhi was aware of this history. This was his objective to be achieved. Therefore, in his contemporary society he tried to make people to earn their breads through labour which was essentially physical in nature. Since performing cultivation was not possible for everyone due to the social limitations which according to Gandhi was an ideal form of bread-labour but certain other aspects allied with cultivation could be taken up for bread-labour. Hence there was emphasis on charkha, khadi, scavenging, carpentary, smithery, etc. It was also a moral challenge to the British rule by not assisting them in their economic activities. It was equally an alternative economic plan to solve the problems of Indians beset with poverty, hunger and unemployment. Gandhi was not against machinery in concrete, practical terms, otherwise, he would not have asked for scientific tanning, better spinning wheel, scientific production of ghani oil, hand-made paper, etc. What he was against was the phenomenon of industrialization, which in simple terms meant growth of large-scale factories, capital, wage-earners, urban-centres, etc. which come up only after divorcing the cottage industries from cultivation, peasants from their means of production, and villagers from their natural surroundings. All these elements were not abstract independent entities, things-in-themselves. They were, on the contrary, linked with each other through a process. Once this process starts, it becomes ever expanding phenomenon engulfing, in course of time, the entire society. Gandhi was aware of this through practical experiences and theoretical knowledge. He was pained to see the destruction of traditional, simple life of villages being replaced by a society over which an individual had no control over his work and life. He, therefore, attacked the very roots of the new phenomenon, that mechanization posed danger to the livelihood of peasantry by replacing their works at a faster pace and mass scale thereby, making them ilde and leaving them with no jobs to do. The  phenomenon apart from creating unemployment and starvation also ruined the individuality of a peasant, his artistic production, his love towards production for self, and in turn, submerged him in the collective life of factories where alienation reigned supreme. The conversion of villagers into wage-earners was the death knell of the peasant society. Gandhi was in favour of developing such techniques and machines which helped artistic talent of an individaual, his individuality, his production, and which was in harmony with the nature. In brief, he was for machines which helped peasant society in their existence; he was against the process of mechanization which uprooted peasantry from their work, property and natural surroundings.

Lastly, Gandhi's philosophy of trusteeship draw its sustenance from two sources : one from the practical examples of renunciation practised by saintly minded individuals and second from the historic existence of communal ownership of non-cultivable lands and other properties regulated by panchayat. The theory came in response to the socialist principles which sought abolition of private property. The essence of the theory was : ‘‘Enjoy the wealth by renouncing it. Expand its means. Earn your crores by all means. But understand that your wealth is not yours ; it belongs to the people. Take what you require for your legitimate needs and use the remainder for society’’14. Expanding it further the theory means that ‘‘(Zamindars and Talukdars) must regard themselves, as the Japanese nobles did, as trustees holding their wealth for the good of their wards, the rytos...The capitalist, if he follows the Samurai of Japan, has nothing really to lose and everything to gain...... They would be allowed to retain the stewardship of their possessions and to use their talent to increase the wealth, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the nation and  therefore, without exploitation. The state would regulate the rate of commission which they would get commensurate with the service rendered and its value to society15.’’ On close scrutiny one finds that it was basically an appeal to the rich to surrender their property voluntarily for the betterment of people or share the benefits with the people and not to monopolise the property and its benefits for the self. Gandhi laid a personal example and tried to convince others to do the same. The concept based on the principle of renunciation was inspired by the examples of Jains and other saintly persons who used to donate their properties to trusts, temples etc. to be looked after for the larger causes and in return were given a fixed sum decided by trusts for their expenses. The concept was equally inspired by the historic roles of the panchayat comprising mostly members of the  dominant castes who used to look after the communal property for the betterment of the villages without taking any due from it , and the individuals, without any greed for self, used to perform services for the villages. In a word, service and not self had the prominence. Gandhi tried to inspire the rich of his time to follow suit.