GORA'S SECOND TOUR
Part II (1974 Tour)
U.S.S.R. is the first country of my visit in this tour in Europe again, Earlier, in 1970, I went to other parts of Europe, America and Australia. By the kind recommendation of Mr. K.P.S. Menon, the President of the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society, I was invited to Moscow for five days by the Union of Soviet Friendship Societies and the Society for Soviet Indian Cultural Relations.
Sydney Webb and Beatrice Webb, who visited U.S.S.R. soon after the October Revolution, described the country as a "New Civilization." Mr. Vijayakumar Sinha, who toured in U.S.S.R. recently, called the citizen of U.S.S.R. "A New Man." I have been eager to see "The New Man in the New Civilization."
There is another interest in having a look at U.S.S.R. Economically, the developing countries of Africa, South America, and Asia, including India, are called the Third World. The developed countries of the Socialist Bloc and the Capitalist Bloc of Europe and USA are supposed to constitute the other two worlds. Living in India, as I do, and having seen USA and Capitalist Europe, I desired to be acquainted with the Socialist bloc as that would complete the picture of economic relations and would help me to formulate programmes of work in India.
Welcome With Smiles
Aeroflot, the airlines of the U.S.S.R., took a straight flight from Delhi to Moscow across the Himalayan range. Around seven o'clock in the morning of 30th July, 1974, the plane flew over the snow-clad peaks that were distinctly seen in the bright light of the dawn.
At quarter to eight, according to the local time, the plane arrived punctually at the Moscow airport. After the formalities of passport examination and customs, I was out at the gate in ten minutes to be greeted by the smiles of Irine Samova and Yuri Domnikov.
Mrs. Irine is a student of the School of Foreign Languages, with English as her principal subject and German secondary. She was allotted as my interpreter. Mr. Yuri is the Assistant Secretary of the Society for Soviet Indian Cultural Relations. My Indian dress helped them to recognise me immediately. The police officers were confused at the mention of my two names, Gora and Goparaju Ramachandra Rao, in the passport. They stopped me at the gate and went for one who could talk to me in English. But Mr. Yuri intervened, told the police officers that I was there at the invitation of the Friendship Societies, and the matter was cleared quickly.
Mrs. Irine is an active, smiling young woman who at once talked to me very familiarly. She told me that she was to act as my interpreter, assist in my programmes and to "take care of me and my health". The last task she allotted to herself, in view of my age, she added with an endearment.
Mr. Yuri, a middle aged person, with a high sense of service, showed me a drawn-up time-table of my visits. Besides visits to museums and places of tourist interest, the items included talks with persons and at institutions devoted to atheist propaganda, oriental studies, Lumumba University and Council of Religious Affairs, to suit my special interests.
Stay in Hotel Russia
We three drove to Hotel Russia where a single room in the eighth floor, overlooking the Moscow River, was reserved for me. The streets and buildings, shops and hotels, dresses and demeanours looked at first sight similar to those seen in any city of Europe or America, not so tall and packed together as in New York, The whole city of Moscow resembled the Fort area of Bombay or the posh areas of Calcutta. Unlike Bombay and New York which are built on islands with little room for spreading, except on the main land, and like Delhi or Hyderabad with scope for extensions all round, Moscow is growing with multi-storeyed (of fifteen to twenty floors on an average) structures coming up incessantly and rapidly. Building construction was the first charge on U.S.S.R. after the Revolution, in order to provide a tenement to every person. Professors or labourers, persons in high office or waiters in hotels, all people have the same accommodation of two rooms with kitchen, bath and toilet. If the family is large, it gets a three-room tenement. The sense of equality is clearly seen in providing people with living room. In a tenement which I visited, the occupant told me that his "boss" had a smaller tenement. Of course, there are no slums at all. Old buildings are pulled down and new structures of uniform accommodation come in their place.
Being a cold climate, plants grow more luxuriantly than in the tropics where there is dearth of water. Nevertheless, scrupulous care is taken in Moscow to grow trees in rows by the road side and in parks for children to play between blocks of buildings. In general, European habits have a high sense of tidiness.
A visitor would know a place within five days, but he would not know the people even after five years. People's minds and their ways need an intimate acquaintance for a real appraisal. My stay in U.S.S.R. being only for five days, and confined to Moscow city without visits to Collective Farms, which are the speciality of the Socialist Soviet organization, I should not indulge in outright generalizations. I can give only impressions I gathered from a few talks I had with heads of Institutions.
Mrs. Irine, my interpreter, would go to Hotel Russia punctually at nine in the morning and ring me from the reception hall. Due to my habits of early rising, I got myself ready to join her at breakfast in the dining room of the big hotel of 27 floors and accommodation for 3,000 inmates, the biggest hotel in the world, l am told. Russians are good eaters, and they are pleased when their guests eat well. Socialization of property and the consequent increase of production of food and consumer goods enabled U.S.S.R. to feed, clothe and house its people and its guests sumptuously. Mrs. Irine and the waitresses chose vegetarian dishes for me. Oftentimes a waitress would come to my table, pat me on my back and say in Russian, which my interpreter translated with a broad smile, "Eat well".
A kind of regimentation can be seen in the ways of people just as the spread of equality is obvious. I cannot say whether the appearance of regimentation is real or a reflection of the predisposition that freedom of the individual is restricted in Socialist countries. Even if it is real, it is justifiable on the score that it has achieved the purpose of feeding, clothing and housing all people. Until the same end is achieved by freer means, a method that has justified itself by attaining the purpose cannot be discredited. However noble a means is, it should be fruitful in order to be truthful. A sterile method is as useless as a fruitless flower. Its colour may please the eye of the well-fed rich, but it cannot feed the hungry poor.
Mrs. Irine remained with me from breakfast time till I ate supper and bade goodbye to her at the hotel room and retired to sleep. She literally took immense care of my health and endeared herself to me as my daughter. I felt a sentimental pang in my heart when I left her at the airport on the fifth day. She herself pressed a small present into my hand for my grandchildren in India. Regimentation may operate in mass relations, but in person to person relations, humanness is manifest.
Visit to Kremlin
On the first day, I was allowed to rest and to adjust myself to changes in food and climate. I took it easy and went round the Kremlin with Irine. It has fort-walls around and houses administrative offices. An old church within the Kremlin ifs preserved for its architectural value and is exhibited as a museum of icons and carvings. The Red Square outside the Kremlin walls is now under repair and is closed for public visit. The mausoleum of Lenin is kept under a big sheet of cloth.
Mrs. Irine carried a receipt book with her, and at the hotel or to the taxi, she paid by issuing a signed receipt. As hotels and taxi-corporations are run by the government, and the Union of Soviet Friendship Societies and Soviet Indian Cultural Society are also governmental bodies, the receipts issued by Mrs. Irine are as good as money for the account of book-transfer. Only visitors outside invitation by governmental bodies pay money in coins.
The first visit on the second day was to the Unions of my host associations. Com. Ledovasky, the vice-President of the Union of Soviet Friendship
Societies, Mrs. Irine K. Yershova, the General Secretary for Soviet Indian Cultural Relations and Dr. Valentina V. Lubomoudrova, Chief of South-East Asia Department, received me with warmth of affection and friendliness. We had tea and a small chat when I was explained the details of engagements and the persons whom I would be meeting for discussion.
At meetings I found only the head or a chief person to meet me for discussion, though my programme said "meeting with such-and-such an association". Other members of the association, though they were present round about, did not concern themselves in the conversation. The head would explain the working of the institution, show me around and sit to answer questions. A meeting is but a talk between two or three persons at the most, without a crowd. It is different from the experiences we have in India, where people gather around even two persons are engaged in a talk, and would sometimes intrude also into the conversation.
The days were distributed for talks with All-Union Society "Znaniye" (Knowledge). Council of Religious Affairs, Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University and with the Indian History Section of the Institute of Oriental Studies. Everywhere the head of the institution gave me an hour to talk with him freely.
As soon as I entered the room. shook hands and sat to talk, the chief would place his visitor's card before me. It contained his name, designation and full name of the institution of which he is the head. I did the same and thus time was saved in knowing each other. Further, my interpreter would brief me of the nature of the institution earlier and the head also was informed of my background and interests. So there was no need of formal introductions. We plunged straight into the discussion of a problem. The method reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi's procedure which was similar. Of course, there were no cards to be exchanged, but he kept himself informed through his secretaries of the person who sought the interview.
"Znaniye" Promotes Atheism
"Znaniye" is the institution devoted to the spread of scientific knowledge. Though the citizens of U.S.S.R. lived in the socialistic way of life, they cannot be actively socialistic unless they understood the materialistic way of thinking. It is one thing to do something and quite another to understand and to do it. Mahatma Gandhi's famous advice to the Khadi Association was "Spin, understand and spin". "Znaniye" is the institution devoted to educate people in the scientific way of understanding. It has a ramification of Institutions in all the Republics throughout U.S.S.R. for spreading scientific knowledge through exhibitions, talks, study camps and literature. They freely used the word "atheism" for the purpose. I found much in common with the Znaniye and could spend more than two hours there.
The Council of Religious Affairs is the complement of Znaniye. Article 124 of the Constitution of U.S.S.R. ensures to citizens "freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda". While Znaniye takes up anti-religious propaganda, the Council of Religious Affairs helps those who desire religious worship. It helps Christians of all denominations, Muslims and Jews to hold their Conferences, maintain their respective places of worship and publishes in Russian and regional languages religious literature like Bible and Quran. Of course, the vast majority of people, especially the young, are attracted towards Znaniye. A few old persons seek the help of the Council of Religious Affairs. As Church is separated from the State and Schools, the Council of Religious Affairs assists only in the organization of religious matters, but does not subsidise them with grants and funds from the government. Devotees have to maintain their institution. No funds are allowed from outside. There is no clash between the working of Znaniye and of the Council of Religious Affairs. Both of them are governmental bodies, fulfilling two different provisions of the Constitution.
Just as U.S.S.R. has the difficult task of reconciling between the freedom of anti-religious propaganda and the freedom of religious worship, it has a similar difficult task in reconciling between nationalism and internationalism. The state is clearly national. But it promotes international understanding through its Friendship Societies. The working of the Lumumba University is a specific instance in that context. It has about 5,000 students drawn from over 60 nationalities. Ordinarily they live harmoniously together. Except for cultural interests, no association with a national or religious fable is allowed. But at times of international clashes, like recent happenings in Cyprus and Bangladesh, the students concerned are emotionally agitated. But the tradition of the institution maintains peaceful attitude at the human level. There is no one solution for all such incidents. But tact, ideal of humanism and materialistic outlook help them to tide over temporary storms.
Understanding of History
Dr. Kamerov of the Institute of Oriental Studies visited India several times. Our discussion centred on the points whether materialistic interpretation of history provided one rule for peoples all over the world for working for a revolution, or countries, bound as they are today within limits of national governments, have different methods to follow? Can India break away from the past as Russia did and march towards a revolution or should it go by the stages outlined by the materialistic interpretation of history? He elaborated that materialism was a guide only. Every nation has to devise its methods of revolution appropriate to its conditions, social, cultural and political. The October Revolution demonstrated that breaking away from the past is possible. Talk with Prof. Kamerov was very educative and encouraging. He has abundant sympathy for revolutionary movement all over the world and is more practical in his understanding of history than dogmatically theoretical. I look forward to meeting him whenever he visits India.
At Progress publishers, Swetlana Dzenit, who visited Andhra Pradesh in particular, arranged a meeting with editors. She has tender love for Telugu speaking people as a result of her work with Telugu literature. That was an occasion for me to meet Mr. Ramachandra Reddy whose flat I visited later, along with Mr. Yetukuri Balaramamurthy, who is engaged at Moscow in research on Buddhism together with Mr. Pillalamarri Venkateswarlu and Mr. Prabhakara Chowdary. Mr. Constentine Sitaramayya, the veteran Andhra scientist who has settled down in U.S.S.R., kindly called on me at Hotel Russia. I passed on to him a copy of Soviet Land (June) which published his photograph and gave a short account of his work.
This was Lenin
Interspersed between the talks which I value most, I was taken to the Revolution Museum and U.S.S.R. Exhibition of Economic Achievements. Each, unique in its own way, resembled in style museums and exhibitions in USA which I saw in 1970. But I value the visit to Lenin's house in Gorki most and remember it with fond regard.
Gorki is the name of the place, forty kilometres from Moscow. Lenin lived there during his last days, when he was wounded by a terrorist at a meeting. Gorki is a small hill on which was constructed the palatial residence of general of Czar's regime. At the time of the revolution, the general fled away from Russia, deserting his residence. Lenin occupied the house, but what part of it? Its out-house, a servant's quarters. The main building was left for meetings of the Communist Party! The bare wooden bench on which he sat outside in open air, is still preserved in its original place as a memento.
There is a garden of colourful flowers around the building today. Through my interpreter I asked the guide whether there was a garden when Lenin lived.
"Oh! no." was the immediate reply, "We had tomatoes growing in that plot,', she added.
The guide was an old woman, who lived there with Lenin.
I was impressed with the similarity in the extreme simplicity of life between Gandhi and Lenin. Gandhi was not the head of the state; Lenin lived that way even as the head of U.S.S.R.
Gandhi did not allow ornamental flower plants to be grown in Sevagram Ashram. The place was utilised only to grow edibles. Now flowers have invaded Sevagram Ashram. By adorning those whom we love, we put out of view the naive simplicity that was the basis of their greatness.
At the time of my visit to Gorki, a delegation from Vietnam also was there. I inquired an elder member of the delegation how Ho Chi Minh lived. Ho Chi Minh also lived similarly simple. I lived with Gandhi; he lived with Ho Chi Minh; both of us see how Lenin lived. The striking similarity in simplicity of their lives is marvellous.
On the fourth day the Moscow Radio Station recorded my impressions of the visit.
Mr. Yuri and his wife, Mary, were constantly keeping themselves in touch with Irine, my interpreter, and were inquiring of the progress of my programmes and of my health. They joined us at a Circus performance and a theatrical show to which I was taken.
The New Civilization
By and large the five-day acquaintance with Moscow gave me the impression that U.S.S.R. is competing favourably with USA in technological progress, in the availability of consumer goods and in the provision of comforts of life. Nevertheless, the difference is clear. There are ups and downs in USA life, the growth is uniform and equal among all people in U.S.S.R. I did not see a drunkard or groups of people idling away their time on pavements or in parks. Only old pensioners and their grand-children at play are found in parks during working hours. There is difference between finding employment for all people and giving doles to the unemployed. Social security and doles are features of capitalistic society where many people live upon the charity of a few. But creating employment for all able bodied adults is the speciality of the socialistic way of life. That is the New Civilization. U.S.S.R., the father of Socialist way of life, achieved it through regimentation. If it can be done another way also, it should be done and shown.
Though Karl Marx gave the slogan, "Workers of the world, unite", the internationals were split by feelings of nationality. Nationalism is the present fashion. Any nation which goes to the aid of another, even with the best of intentions, is dubbed by its adversary as an act of "imperialistic designs". So U.S.S.R. also is national. Not infrequently did persons greet me. "Welcome to my country", and "How do you find my country?" In the context of nationalism, U.S.S.R. can only give friendship. Every country has to find its own ways for solving its problems within the orbit of its national boundaries.
Why Not We Too March?
No useful purpose is served for the third world either by praising the achievements of USA or U.S.S.R. or by feeling inferior to them and looking for their aid. In fact; at the human level, the distribution of any into the third world looks improper and invidious. The theatrical show, THE INSPECTOR, to which I was taken at Moscow, depicted the life of pre-revolutionary days with a great sense of humour. But the manners portrayed there looked very similar to those found in the countries of the so-called third world. When that Russia could become U.S.S.R. through a revolution, it is equally possible for any country of developing economy to spring into sudden and surprising development. But it cannot do so, as long as it is content to look wistfully at USA or U.S.S.R.
Nor does the materialistic interpretation of history oblige people of
the feudal stage of development to pass through each stage of the socio-economic
system in order to emancipate themselves from capitalist exploitation The
transformation of Tajikistan, Kirghizia, Turkmania, Kazakhastan and the
trans-Caucasian republics testifies to the fact that people of present
backward economy can go over to socialism "without having to pass
through the capitalist stage", as Lenin forecast as early as in 1919.
Of course international cooperation helps backward countries to advance
rapidly. Such a co-operation at the human level, cutting across national
frontiers, may look well neigh impossible today, when nationalism is running
riot with the ugly manifestations of jingoistic chauvinism. Yet organizations
like the UNO and other international bodies call aloud for human accord
amid the din of gun-fire in fights over claims of nationals.
New Man in New Civilization
(Text of talk broadcast from Radio Moscow)
I have come to see the new man in the Soviet country. In New York and London there are taller buildings, in Holland and Sweden there are more colourful parks than in Moscow. But what is a rarity elsewhere and common in Moscow is the new man, who lives on terms of equality and in friendly relationship with fellow humans.
I was waiting at the Revolution Museum to open at 12 noon. A hefty worker of 58 and his wife of equal age recognized me as an Indian by my dress and came to greet me in broken English. He told that at the steel-plant where he was working, there were several Indians who came to be trained for Bhilai which is a U.S.S.R.-aided steel plant in India. Evidently the Indian trainees were well qualified engineers who, on return to India, are placed in high positions of wide disparity with common workers. But the friend who talked to me was unaware of the inequality. He had a feeling of good equality with everyone in his factory. He was retired three years ago, on account of the hardy and strenuous work he was doing, he is given a handsome pension which enables him to go round U.S.S.R. and enjoy the rest of his life.
Five-day visit to Moscow is too short a time to see people in farm and factory, in domestic relationship and in private conversation. But it is sufficient to see people on boulevards and in parks. Their smiling faces show no sign of discontent or anxious worry which is common in other parts of the world under capitalist regimes. People in U.S.S.R. are proud of their country. But the pride is not warped by narrow patriotism. It is spread in friendly relationships with people of the world. The Union of Soviet Friendship Societies and the Soviet-Indian Cultural Society, at whose invitation I am here, are proof of U.S.S.R.'s love of peace and friendship. Further a talk with the vice-Rector of the Patrice Lumumba Peoples Friendship University and a close discussion with the editors of Progress Publishers reveal the harmony. U.S.S.R. institutions are forging between national and international outlooks.
Freedom in U.S.S.R.
Another significant feature I noticed during my short stay is a practical manifestation of the "freedom of conscience" and "freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda" recognized for all citizens by article 124 of the Constitution of U.S.S.R. The Council of Religious Affairs publishes books and tracts on subjects of all religions and preserves old churches, mosques and synagogues as monuments of architectural and artistic excellences attained by religious devotion. Peoples of all religions approach the Council for assistance in conducting their seminars and conferences. As "the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the State and the school from the church", there is no state aid to religious institutions and practices. Believers have to maintain them. Nevertheless, freedom of worship is respected.
Just as an attempt is made to evolve harmony between nationalism and internationalism, U.S.S.R. is balancing the freedom of religious worship with freedom of anti-religious propaganda.
The All Union Society "Znanie" -- Knowledge -- has a network of bodies all over the Union for spreading scientific Atheism. They encourage and propagate scientific and realistic view of life and events through exhibitions, talks and demonstrations. Indeed, Scientific Atheism attracts the post-Revolution generations who prefer real, friendly association with fellow-humans to reliance on illusions of religious faith.
Building up Man
By and large, U.S.S.R. is developing a new man in a new civilization. The October Revolution, 56 years ago, ended capitalist exploitation in U.S.S.R. But, at the same time, it started the stupendous task of building up man with new values of life, with emphasis on a sense of reality, an appreciation of obligations of friendly relationships, an anxious attempt to live equal with fellow-humans, an ardent desire for peace, and, above all, a self-confidence in the ability to build up the new civilization. I recognize the new activity as atheism.
In the context of existing frontiers of nation-states, U.S.S.R.
can serve as an example for others to adopt, and can aid others in friendly
relationships. But each county has to fashion its own systems and methods,
according to its genius and facility, to build up a new man in a new civilization.
Ways may differ with place and people, but the objective is the same one
world, one humanity and one peace.
The principal purpose of my visit to Europe is participation in the sixth Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (I.H.E.U.). It is a quadrennial Congress. I attended its fifth Congress at Boston, U.S.A., in 1970. In the span of these four years, The World Atheist Meet was held at Vijayawada in 1972 and my article on "Humanism and Atheism" is included in the collection of thirty articles on "The Humanist Alternative: Some definitions of Humanism" by Paul Kurtz. Due to the progress that atheist thought is making, friends have again come forward to help me attend the sixth Congress. The visit to Moscow was timed to suit the sessions of the Congress at Amsterdam, which was held from the 5th to the 9th of August, 1974.
I left Moscow to reach Amsterdam on the 4th evening. Mr. Max Rood and Prof. Madzy Rood received me as their guest. The Congress was held at the Free University, Amsterdam. Its halls and canteens provided ample accommodation for the deliberations and group discussions of around three hundred delegates from 21 countries of the world including Africa, Japan, U.S.A., Central America, and Australia.
The first day was occupied with registration of delegates and reception by the Government and Municipal administration of Amsterdam. On the second day, after the Chairman's opening remarks and greetings by Mr. Max Rood, the main speaker was Dr. Sicco L. Mansholt, former Chairman of the Commission of the European Economic Community. He spoke on "Human responsibilities in the world of tomorrow," the theme for the deliberations of the sixth Congress of I.H.E.U. Dr. Mansholt threw certain challenges in his very thought provoking address and frequent references were made to them in the course of the deliberations of the following days.
The three principal addresses at the Congress were by Mr. V.M. Tarkunde (India), Prof. K. Kularatnam (Sri Lanka) and by P. Thones (Holland) on the topics of Democracy, Ecology and Social Change.
Mr. Tarkunde's remarks on the irrelevance of political parties to the efficiency of democracy, raised a big discussion. But on his clarification of the points in detail, it commanded wide support at the end.
On the second and third days, the delegates sat in six discussion groups for five hours. The plenary sessions on the third and fourth days heard the reports of the discussion groups and adopted them with modification, if any. I participated in the discussion group on Democracy.
On the fifth and the last day, the Congress passed 15 resolutions concerning
Equality of Women, Situations in Yugoslavia, Canada, and Chile, Euthanasia,
World Citizenship and World Government.
Denmark and Sweden
The I.H.E.U. Congress at Amsterdam closed with a social gathering on the 9th (evening) August 1974. I left Amsterdam on the 10th morning for Stockholm.
The purpose of my visit to Sweden, and then to Denmark, was to study the plan of Adult Education which the Scandinavian countries have been evolving for over a century.
Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland are called the Scandinavian countries. Being in the northern part of Europe, close to the cold Arctic circle, the Scandinavian countries are not drawn much into the whirl of wars and revolutions that agitate Southern and Central Europe. Even at the time of the second world war, Sweden was not invaded by Nazi armies. They occupied Denmark and Norway along with the countries of the west coast of Europe in order to separate Britain from the rest of Europe. Further Scandinavian countries are thinly populated. Sweden has only eight million population, one-seventieth of India. Sweden maintains the steady level of population, balancing between the rates of birth and death. I found contraceptives kept open for sale, like newspapers. Several countries in the West sell contraceptives freely.
In the peaceful climate, undisturbed by wars and population explosions, Scandinavian countries have developed healthy conventions of democracy, preserving, at the same time, the old institution of monarchy. According to the constitutions, their kings preside over meetings of cabinets. But that is formal. The cabinet of ministers wields power and influence in the country. Though kings, queens and members of the royal family live in the palace, they do not get the pomp and pageantry of former monarchs. Kings and princes go for shopping like common citizens to select and buy books and articles of their interest and fancy. Neither the shop-keepers nor other people take special notice of them.
Towns and country-side of Sweden, Denmark and Norway have the same appearance, technological growth and cultural tastes as in the rest of Europe, U.S.A. or Australia. Moving rapidly through several countries, I sometimes missed to know whether I was in Moscow, Paris, London, New York. Amsterdam, Sydney, Copenhagen or Stockholm. Except for the difference in language, all peoples and places of Western civilization look alike. They differ with the countries of Far East, Middle East and African people in cultures and colours. Nevertheless, all people are basically human. If all people mingle together freely the differences between colour and culture will vanish in a few generations and one humanity with one culture and fairly uniform features will evolve. But national frontiers and religious faiths are preventing the free mingling. Even materialist outlook and socialist ways have not crossed national frontiers. The delay to merge into one-humanity causes wars and raises problems of minorities. Asians in Africa and Africans in America present problems that even the U.N.O. is finding difficult to solve. Therefore a strong band of non-national citizens with complete secular and socialist outlook will develop a dimension of humanness that will set aside and even humble the pride of patriotism and will dissolve the fanaticism of religious faith.
A mass basis for human outlook was laid a century ago in Denmark by N.F. Grundtvig (1789-1872). He conceived a plan of Adult Education which was a training for citizenship in democracy. He made a distinction between what was human and what was Christian and emphasised first and foremost on citizenship in democracy, disregarding religious convictions. Though Parish priests opposed his secular approach, the consideration for the human personality attracted wide support for the plan of Adult Education and today the governments of Scandinavian countries have taken Adult Education as an integral part of their Ministry of Education.
Side by side with regular schools and colleges for boys and girls, Adult Education is a plan of study for those who are above 18 years of age. Besides training in democratic citizenship, Adult Education is intended for those who missed regular education in their youth, for aged persons, for pensioners who desire to improve their knowledge and for adult artisans, mechanics and housewives who want to acquire skills and training in their trades and professions. The pupils (I saw some of them as old as 70) either attend classes regularly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or take classes part-time in the evening or at night, after their regular professions and duties.
The courses of study include education in mother tongue, learning a foreign language, knowledge of sociology, history, mathematics, physical and biological sciences, fine arts like painting, song, sculpture and dance. Some adult schools have provision for teaching nursing, secretarial work and even training in engineering like drilling, moulding, lathe-work and electrical fittings. The courses are either of short duration for two to four weeks or long extending to 40 weeks spreading over two or three years. Nursing end engineering come under long-term courses.
All students of a class need not attend lessons at the same time. They come at their leisure and convenience. Yet the teachers have no difficulty as adults require only guidance in the work rather than regular instruction. Sometimes, a pupil knows more about a particular aspect of a subject than the teacher. So adult pupils themselves engage some classes which are mere in the nature of discussions among the pupils than as leaching by a master.
Folk High Schools
Adult Education schools go by the name of Folk High Schools. Today there are 71 Folk High Schools in Denmark, 83 in Finland, 74 in Norway and 103 in Sweden, run by the governments and spread all over the countries. Each School has its own set of buildings, with equipment of audio-visual aids, science laboratories for conducting experiments and hostels for students who come from a distance. Some schools have work-shops with lathes, drilling machines and electrical machines for the practice of students. There are calculating machines and typewriters for those who seeks training in secretarial work. There is suitable apparatus for practice of ceramics, photography and household work. Some schools are attached to regular educational institutions for the use of their laboratories and class rooms for evening classes of adults. A few teachers are whole-time and others are part-time.
Besides education, some pupils are paid a scholarship, if they are unemployed or come from a distance and reside in the hostels. The scheme of social-security for all citizens makes provision for the educational interests of the adults also. Teachers are paid by the government or by local bodies. There are some Folk High Schools which are run by private individuals, who gather donations and receive some grants also from the government.
There is no uniformity of syllabus for all Folk High Schools. Every class of adults formulates its syllabus according to present needs. Government provides for new equipment when a considerable number of students express desire for training in a subject not already taught in the school. So the scheme of Adult Education is flexible developing according to needs. There are no examinations at all. But at the end of a course of a study, each adult pupil is given a certificate which mentions the course of study and the number of classes attended. The certificate helps adults in seeking preference in jobs in that line. Some adults appear privately for examinations of the University after study at leisure in Folk Schools. I was happy to listen to the experiences of the head-master of a Folk High school. He worked with his father on an agricultural farm in rural parts till his twentieth year. He attended an Adult School as a part-time student afterwards. side by side with farm-work. After five years of study at Adult School, he appeared for the University Examination and obtained the degree which has entitled him to become the head-master of the Folk High School where here he works full-time with a salary. He is around 50 and is submitting his thesis for Ph.D. in a year or two. After Ph. D. he hopes to teach in a University College. The subject for his thesis is an aspect of rural economics. His work on the farm during early years provides him with ample material for his thesis.
I have heard of Folk High Schools of Scandinavian countries, but during my last visit to Sweden and Norway in 1970, I had no time to get into touch with the Folk High Schools, as I was rushing through the tour then to Boston (USA) for the fifth Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. This time I planned to stop for sufficient time in Denmark and Sweden to study the scheme of Folk Schools, with a view to adopt the plan in India. The secular character of adult education and its purpose to train citizens for democracy attracted me most. So I got some literature from the Danish Embassy in India and studied it in preparation for my visit to Sweden and Denmark this time. Also the Indian Embassies at Stockholm and Copenhagen and Dr. Helmet Merker and Mrs. Ulla Merker helped me to get contacts with Folk High Schools around Stockholm Helsingborg (Sweden) and Copenhagen.
The Indian Ambassador at Stockholm kindly introduced me to the Information Officer of the National Swedish Board of Education who acquainted me with the details of the workings of several types of Adult Schools, catering to the varied interests of the pupils. The first Folk High School in Sweden was established in 1868.
Two Types of Courses
There are two types of courses, a winter course when people are comparatively free on account of the suspension of agricultural operations due to fall of snow. The winter course is fairly long, extending to 30 weeks, and gives intensive training in special subjects. The other course in summer months is in general subjects like civics, psychology, music and general science and is a short one for two to four weeks. Every year, 11 to 12 thousand students take the winter courses. There is no centrally established curriculum for the Folk Schools, but winter courses tend to conform to a common syllabus. In recent years, initiative is developed by encouraging every pupil to draw up his or her own programme of studies. Students fall into groups when there is commonness in their interests of subjects. A pupil goes from group to group to study the common subject with that group. Folk High Schools cooperate extensively with popular education organizations and take part in study classes outside the school. So there is a close relation between the Adult School and the surroundings. At the Adult School at Vasterhaninge, which is about 30 kilometres from Stockholm, the head-master, Mr. Gunner Sundberg, told me that his students take up projects like local crops, local birds, local water courses and town planning; establish contacts with people of the locality, collect information from them and discuss it at the school after three or four days of survey. The age group of his students is 20 to 45, men and women. The school participates in the festivals of the locality. Instead of inviting the local people to the school, which they do on special occasions. The pupils go to the people of the village for information and for social contacts.
Social Contacts and Physical Exercises
Unlike the Folk High School at Vasterhaninge, the school at Sotoftegaard (Denmark) is an independent institution started by Johannes and Lane Dragsdhal as Directors. It is in a rural setting, eighty kilometres from Copenhagen. With a zeal to build up "human values that will be necessary if the great technical advances shall benefit mankind ", Mr. Dragsdhal has placed his paternal property at the disposal of the Institution from 1951. He tells "that to be a world citizen is something more than being inter-national (a meeting between nations); it will demand en alteration in our consciousness in order that we may experience people around us in a new way and have a deeper awareness of their problems". To this end, he admits 20 to 30 students (adults) in every batch for two or three weeks. All the students participate in all the work of the institution, cooking, washing and agriculture. It is an intensified group-life. They sit together and discuss with characteristic openness and confidence the problems that confront them, and exchange experiences. School business and teaching programmes figure in the discussions. Teaching takes the form of discussions. Being adults, they relate their experiences in the matter under discussion.
The students of Sotoftegaard visit another similar school, two kilometres away, every evening. That school is concentrating on teaching physical exercises and social disciplines in the form of dance movements. The several items of the group dance cultivate alertness, cooperative action, sharp observance, immediate response and rhythmic movement along with exercise of every joint in movements of extension and bending. The director explains the item of the dance in all its aspects at first, and then plays on piano to the tune of which the pupils have to move in rhythmic order. I took part in it one evening to experience the total exercise. The director has the creative genius to improve the exercises to make them more graceful and useful, individually and socially. An exercise requires balancing of a two-feet long stick on the head horizontally, while walking with steps in dance. It teaches the pose of keeping head erect and steady. I told the director that women in India are praised for the stateliness of their head, a pose to which they get accustomed by carrying pots of water from tanks, or baskets of weights from markets as head-loads. I visited another school in the area which is specialising in ceramics and handicraft art. Most of the schools I saw have weaving with hand-looms as one of their crafts. It seems it is an ancient art of Scandinavian countries.
For Factory Workers
Mrs. Ulla Merker arranged my visits to four Folk High Schools around Helsingborg each serving a special interest of adults.
The A.B.F. School has the largest number of pupils, because it teaches adults drawn from several trade-unions. This year they worked in 1,226 groups, taught 10,692 students for a total period of 34,512 hours. They do not have regular school buildings. The factory or the place of work is used for adult school. No discrimination is made on the score of colour, language or status of the worker. The subjects of the study include trade-union laws, Constitution of the country and intensive group discussions, besides lessons in language, general science and art. It is gratifying to note that by attending adult classes, several labourers have improved their job opportunities. There are a few whole-time teachers. Most of the teachers are drawn from the ranks of workers themselves and are called "leaders" instead of teachers. The practical experience of leaders in their respective trades gives lessons a sense of reality, unlike the academic principles taught by university graduates. A worker group chooses its leader in a subject and is changed whenever he falls from the standard. The present secretary, Mr. Willy Blanker, was himself a leader for five years before he was chosen as the secretary of A.B.F. (Arbetarnas Blidnings Forbund).
Vuxengymnasium is an adult school, attached to a regular school. Vuxengymnasium works mostly in the evening time, utilising the class rooms and laboratories of a regular school for boys and girls. The education is in general subjects, being limited to the facilities afforded by the regular school. (gymnasium is a general term used for training of mental faculties as much as physical prowess).
A.M.U. Centre is the institution fitted with a big work-shop, intended to train unemployed labour for long terms of 30 to 40 weeks and to fit them to meet commercial and industrial demands. So, besides preparatory theoretical tuition in language and general knowledge, special training is given for 30 to 40 weeks, extending over two to three years, in Nurse assistants, retail trade, repairing of gadgets, lathe-work, cylinder grinding, milling, operations, surveying, fitter, welding, electricians etc. Students choose a subject according to their taste and interest. The work shop is not intended to manufacture articles for marketing. The work shop is primarily used to give training for those adults who desire to improve their skill or to get qualified for a trade.
As the students here are unemployed, the government gives them allowances to maintain their families. There is no hostel for residence.
The Folk School at Svalov is in a small town, away from the cities. It has residential accommodation for 150 adults who primarily speak non-Swedish languages. They are immigrants from different countries. The school is equipped for training in ceramics, weaving and a few mechanical arts, though not to the extent of A.M.U. Centre.
Reflection in Action
I saw the students conducting their study classes in different language groups. There is a big library.
The plan of adult education is a necessary complement to regular schools for boys and girls of school-going age. As some boys and girls miss regular schooling due to other avocations or to retarded development of interest and talent, adult education is necessary to fill in the omission. Thus it has amazingly served its purpose in the Scandinavian countries by spreading a climate of secular democratic citizenship.
The plan fits in well with the countries wherein there is social security as in Europe, America, Australia and in Socialist countries. ID those countries the state is genuinely interested in educating the people and in fitting them well for democratic governance. But in countries of developing economy, called the Third World, where there is no social security, the plan of adult education, as practised in Scandinavian countries is not wholly adoptable. The common mass of people of the Third World who need to be educated, are engrossed with problems of food and security and have little peace of mind or interest in literacy or further education. Of course, education and the consequent awakening may lead to economic revolution too. But the first step of education itself, on the model of Europe, presents an insurmountable hurdle. Therefore, Prof. Paul Freire, who worked for adult education in South America (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) planned in a way different from Grundtvig. Freire's plan is for peoples of the Third World.
Freire's method plans "to awaken consciousness in adult (Conscientization) and to develop a critical awareness of a person's own identity and situation, a reawakening of the capacity to analyse the causes and consequences of one's own situation and to set logically and reflectively to transform that reality." What Freire calls praxis or reflection-in-action is essential to the process. Freire's method involved adults in political thought and action which resulted in his banishment from Chile, just as Grundtvig was opposed by the contemporary clergy.
Similarly Mahatma Gandhi's plan of adult education, as contained in Basic Education, is designed to suit the conditions of poverty and rural basis of Indian population. Basic education is craft-centred and is intended to provide livelihood at once along with education, just as the dance exercises in the adult school in Denmark combined entertainment with discipline and agility.
Adult Education Should Be Political
Education in itself is of little value unless it leads towards good brotherhood. Inequalities of any kind are the opposite of brotherhood. While socialist countries remove inequalities through socialisation of the means of production. Scandinavian countries reduce inequalities through heavy taxation, going up to 60 percent of higher incomes. Of course tax-evasion is severely punished. The third-world countries where government is more interested in power and pomp than in service to the people, adult education has to be more through political action and involvement than by teaching, through discussion or training. Education in developing countries should take the form of political awakening rather than acquisition of knowledge or skill in trade. Comparing the type of adult education in Scandinavia with my experiences with adult education in villages and slums of India, I am convinced of the urgency of political awakening in India, The Adult School at Sotoftegaard is hitting a new line of approach for awakening of consciousness of humanness with a purpose similar to the needs of developing countries.
Difference in East & West
A great difference between the East and the West is the rapid technological progress and the abundance of mechanical devices in the West. Of course, the West is highly industrialised and therefore there are many more mills spread all over the continents in U.S.A., Europe and Australia than in Asia or Africa, with the exception of Japan, which has also adopted the ways of Western industrialisation. Some cities like Bombay Ahamedabad, Calcutta and Coimbatore in India may have several mills, and look like any city of the West. But unlike the West. the rural parts and homes of India are not invaded by mechanical devices. Wherever we go in Europe, we find cranes engaged in building-construction and tractors, combines and several kinds of machines ploughing, harvesting crops and packing hay into bundles in fields. Further, a European kitchen has appliances to cook. roast, crush juice, cut vegetables, mince meat and to wash dishes. Several cleaning operations are made by vacuum cleaners. At the railway stations, not only we get the tickets by pushing a coin into the slot, but the gate opens by pushing the ticket into another slot there. The use of calculating machines and computers is widespread, for peaceful routines as well as for military operations. The journey to moon is the latest achievement of technological progress.
The use of mechanical devices, no doubt makes life easy and comfortable. Escalators carry passengers up and down stairs and distances, while belts carry baggage at airports. Except electric light and fan, a motor bus and an occasional tractor, most of the Asian populations do not yet enjoy the comforts of household gadgets. Only a few rich have imported a few mechanical appliances from the West to make their own life comfortable. But the common man of the West enjoys the comforts that a rich man of the East can command at considerable expense. Several persons of the East are drawn towards the Western ways of life on account of the ease and comfort it yields.
Nevertheless, three big evils are appearing in the wake of technological progress. They are pollution, unemployment and leisure.
When simple people of India are disturbed by the smoke from chimneys of a few factories and waters of streams are contaminated with the molasses of a sugar factory, the extent of pollution caused to water and earth by the effluxes of the many factories of the West can well be imagined. The wealth of the waters is rapidly dying in the seas and fish are either becoming scarce or their meat is being rendered unfit for eating on account of the poisons they have absorbed into the bodies from the wastes thrown into the ocean by the factories. Some sea-beaches are declared unfit for bath on account of the effluxes of factories thrown into the sea there.
Committing Future People
At a high level of technology, the pollution due to the manufacture of nuclear energy becomes evident from a report on the control of pollution, presented by an officially appointed body. The report says, "The biggest cause of worry for the future is the storage of the long-lived radioactive wastes. Unlike other pollutants, there is no way of destroying radioactivity. So there is no alternative to permanent storage. In the United Kingdom, Strontium-90 is at the present time stored as a liquid in huge stainless steel tanks at Windscale in Cumberland. They have to be continually cooled with water, since the heat given off by the radiation would otherwise raise the temperature to above boiling point. We shall have to go on cooling the tanks for many years, even if we build no more nuclear reactors. We are consciously and deliberately accumulating a toxic substance on the off-chances that it may be possible to get rid of it at a later date. We are committing future generations to tackle a problem we do not know how to handle."
The indecent haste with which the mineral, oil and coal deposits of the earth are being used up, is viewed with concern and with a vision for the future. Several people have already started growing "biological" or "organic" foods. on natural manures and feeds instead of on inorganic manures like phosphates and nitrates.
The second evil is rise of unemployment due to extensive use of labour-saving machinery. The problem of unemployment is aggravated by the influx of Asians whose residence in Africa is rendered difficult due to the awakening of nationalism in African countries. I met several Indians who have immigrated from Africa into Europe. Some of them have been living in Africa for over three generations and they never went to India. But they regard themselves Indians. The Institution of Minorities Rights Group publishes pamphlets examining the cause of these immigrants who are considered minorities. How long can they remain in the category of minorities? Can they be absorbed into the mainstream of the people of the country? If that were possible, they would not have left Africa at all. As long as nationalism rules the day, the problem of minorities appears as a by-product, just as pollution is a by-product to technological growth. So a new dimension of thinking beyond nationalism at human level is becoming increasingly imperative.
U.S.S.R. solves the problem of unemployment by socialisation of the means of production within the limits of its national government. But the countries of Europe with capitalist economy can feed their unemployed on doles of social security. Non-socialist European countries provide social security by the wealth they have exploited from Asia and Africa in the days of colonial expansion. In effect they have transferred the problem of unemployment from Europe to Asia and Africa. The poverty of Asia and Africa is due to the dumping of articles of European technological manufacture and the consequent unemployment in the East. Like postponement of the disposal of nuclear waste to the succeeding generations, Europe is transferring the problem of unemployment to Asia and Africa after enjoying the comforts of technological progress themselves. A global action bursts the bubble somewhere sooner or later. Therefore, E.F. Schumacher, an eminent economist of Europe, advocates "Intermediate Technology" that stands between the extremes of primitive implements of undeveloped countries and the highly sophisticated machinery of the Western technology, The Intermediate Technology resembles the village industries advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, whom Schumacher quotes frequently. Intermediate Technology by its "smallness" avoids both pollution and unemployment. To bring home his point of view, Schumacher chooses for his latest bock the title of "Small is Beautiful". It is widely discussed in Europe.
Problem of Leisure
The third evil of capitalist technological growth is the abundance of leisure. Not only the unemployed who enjoy doles of social security do not know what to do with the time, but the lives of common people are made so easy and work so light that men and women have plenty of leisure. Sport, holidaying and hitchhiking are common features in Europe. But they too grow monotonous after a while. So the youth are taking to drugs just as the poor in India take to drink in order to forget their worries during the period of their intoxication. Further the social security without full-employment is found to breed individualism and licentiousness with little social obligation. Such youth are escaping into the practice of yoga, an export from India like hashish. The meditation of yoga provides an engagement for some time. Also, those who sit in yoga, derive a mental tranquillity that is not found in hectic life, song, dance and sport.
The yoga yields different results in India and Europe. In Europe persons sit in yoga meditation after their material wants are fully satisfied. It is an employment of leisure that easy life yields in India, yoga is otherworldliness which neglects tasks here and now. So while yoga has led to inattention to material needs and consequent poverty in India, yoga is a means of mental peace in Europe. Finding me in the Indian dress, not infrequently have I been approached by European youth for instruction in yoga, and I discussed the question with them. I told them that involvement in the problems of the eastern countries will find engagement for them to employ leisure. Also their technical knowhow helps India and Africa to develop a more realistic view of life. Some of them are planning to go to India, not to hitchhike for holiday but for understanding India and involving themselves in its problems with a human outlook, instead of paternalistic care of foreign aids.
"What is the purpose of life?" is a question that people in Europe have asked me. Their material needs are satisfied. They are idealistic enough not to be greedy of power or wealth. They have social security. What then have they to do? Life looks blank to them.
Life appears blank, because their interests are circumscribed by immediate surroundings or at the most by the national frontiers. They have plenty within national frontiers and no problems to face. Social security removes worries of unemployment. So they are frogs in the well of comfort.
I suggested a widening of their sphere of interests. If we think at the human level, problems are many. Otherwise, people with plenty live as callously as a rich man in his mansion which is surrounded by hovels of misery. Partly the other-worldly outlook of the East and partly the imperialism of the West have contributed to the existence of poverty and ignorance in the East and of wars and profligacy in the West. The rise of nationalism in the East has put an end to Western imperialism. But nationalism has a tendency to deteriorate into chauvinism. Therefore the idealistic youth of the West have to involve themselves in the humanist endeavour to develop human equality among people everywhere. This is a mighty task that can find full employment of leisure. What next, when all the people all over the world have their material wants satisfied, is a distant prospect. Nevertheless, it can be answered in the words of Marx as "Real history of mankind begins without war and want". That will be a progress of culture with immense possibilities.
Dr. Helmet Merker and Mrs. Ulla Merker took extreme care of me and my engagements in Halsingborg (Sweden). They took me to several Folk High Schools in and around Halsingborg and also showed me a fishermen village which' despite the acquisition of a large portion of its lands by urban population, preserves the traditional simplicity of old civilization. Its wooden houses and fishing boats end nets linger among modern structures. We visited Dr. Anulf, Merkers' son in his summer house of a sea side villa and took our supper there. In Europe there are no villages of the like of India. Except that villages are far from the bustle of towns, village houses have all the amenities of telephone connections, water and power supply which towns enjoy. Most of the residents of the villages own automobiles for going to the town.
Merkers drove me to Copenhagen airport on the 22nd, August, across the
channel of the narrow strait that separates Sweden from Denmark at Helsingborg.
On the side of Denmark is Helisinger to which Shakespear referred in his
drama, Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. I flew to Edinburgh.
My host at Edinburgh (Scotland) is John Hubley, a research scholar in microbiology. His wife, Penelope, was in Argentina in her childhood. She is working at the Institute of Research in Child Psychology. The young couple attended to my needs with affectionate attention.
That was the period when there was an exhibition of the Third World on show at Edinburgh. Mr. Hubley was taking certain responsibilities in the conduct of the exhibition. There was a section on India. It exhibited handicrafts of different states of India and more attractively long saris with bright colours and border designs The section was looked after by a group of Indian emigrants from African countries to U.K. Some of them had not visited India so far. They hold British passports. Mr. Girdharlal Khatri is a retired engineer who boycotted schools at Gandhi's call in early twenties, in India. Later he left for Edinburgh, prosecuted studies and settled down there. He and his Scotch wife occasionally visit India. Mr. Pramesh Mehta is a barrister. He shifted to Edinburgh seven years ago from Zanzibar. He jokingly told me that he advises students going to India from Scotland, though he had not visited India so far. His mother maintains the Indian habits of orthodoxy and observes fasts and ceremonies of religious faith. Whereas Indian men have taken to trousers, Indian women stick on to saris sentimentally. Loose clothing is inconvenient for travel and wash in European countries. But sentiment gets the better of convenience, when rational thinking is subordinated to religious faith.
Mr. Hubley visited India two years ago to study the Gramdan movement. He and his wife propose to visit India again. They want to learn an Indian language in order to get closer to the common people and to know their mind. But the variety of languages in India presents a problem. Hubley's interests are divided between Prembhai's work in Bihar and Jagannathan's work in Tamilnad. The two states speak entirely different languages. Though different countries of Europe speak different languages, ordinarily a traveller, a businessman, a student or a public man knows one or two or even more languages than his own. There is no prejudice to learn other languages. But in India conditions are different. Yet Hubley and Penelope hope to pick up a smattering of Hindi and Tamil and manage the rest with English. Obviously the people with whom they would work and converse in the study of the Gramdan movement do not suffer from the prejudice of "other" language.
Concern for Third World
Hubley's interest in India stems from his work on the problems of the Third World. My stay with him for six days enabled me to know the work that the youth of Scotland and England are doing for developing countries of the world. The interest of the youth is genuine and their outlook is human. The following extracts from the pamphlets which they publish explain their concern:
-- One-third of the world's population on (including us -- UK) possesses nine-tenths of world's wealth. The rest have to share out the last tenth between them.
-- The Third-World is the underdeveloped world. There is no dole in the Third-world. And if you are unemployed, you starve. You can beg, sleep in a piece of sewer-pipe, get diseases through lack of food and may be die roughing it in a city in the Third-World.
-- You blame poverty and unemployment on the population explosion, and give "free advice" -- that is Family Planning! But this often is just an excuse for doing nothing at all to help. The population explosion will continue so long as there is poverty.
-- Unemployment cannot be simply explained away by population explosion. Unemployment increases with the introduction of modern machines. Surely machines must always be an advantage to make life easier, only if men employ machines. But today machines unemployment men.
Look at Africa.
5,000 men made leather shoes. Raw materials were bought locally, leather, glue, tools, thread, tacks etc. Nothing bought abroad. Total men employed, 5,000.
Plastic shoes last longer. Plastic shoemaking is a good idea for the poor countries. What happened when plastic shoes were introduced in an African city?
Only 40 men make all the shoes.
Nothing is bought locally.
Machinery and raw materials bought abroad. Two injection moulding machines and P.V.C. plastic.
Result: Total men employed 40, rest of 5,000 lost jobs.
The rich country which makes P.V.C. and machines gains and gets more employment.
Machines benefit rich countries while the poor countries get poorer.
World development is more than a fight against injustice of poverty. It is a process of social, economic and political change which increasingly enables all to realise their full human potential. The issues of development are essentially human.
These posters at the Third-World exhibition were accompanied by appropriate cartoons, photographs and tables of facts and figures. The interest and involvement of the youth attracted visitors. Members of the Youth League followed each visitor and explained the import of every poster. Admission was free, but visitors bought pamphlets and books with liberal payments.
My stay with Hubley was rewarding as I gained acquaintance with workers
of the Third-World group. One day I went to Glasgow at the invitation
of the Peace House. I saw the photograph of Mahatma Gandhi kept prominently
in the hall.
From Edinburgh, I went to Bristol (England) to meet Gill Dammers and her parents. Gill was at the Atheist Centre in India for a few months in 1970. She identified herself with the ideology of the Centre and its programmes so intimately that she helped to collect funds for my first visit abroad that year. Her name was well remembered when funds were again collected for this second visit to Europe. When I went to England in 1970, on my way to USA to participate in the fifth Congress of I.H.E.U. at Boston, I visited Gill's parents. She had not returned to England from India at that time. Now she is with her parents at Bristol and my visit got the double advantage of meeting Gill and her parents too at the same time and place.
Gill is working in England as a teacher and may visit India again. She has an innate interest in associating herself with the down-trodden. In England, too, she works in schools which are intended for the handicapped.
Gill's father, Rev. Horace Dammers, is the Dean of the Cathedral at Bristol. He and Mrs. Dammers worked in India for four years at Tinnevelly, fifteen years ago and they are in great sympathy with the conditions of poverty and superstition. They remember some words of Tamil which they learnt in India.
Even in 1970 when I visited Dammers. I found Rev. Horace engaged in programmes where he could bring together on to a common platform, persons who are devoted lo the service of the people, regardless of their faith and profession. At that time I met Rev. John L. Collins, canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, who had a similar programme of service to the people under the name of Christian Action. Rev. Collins is elder to Rev. Horace, and he visited South Africa several times fighting for the rights of "coloured people." Christian Action is making steady progress in the cause of the homeless.
Rev. Horace calls his programme "Life Style" and persuades people "to live a simple life to simply help people." He considers poverty, population, pollution and profligacy as the chief evils of the present age. He tells that an average child of the developed countries consumes a hundred times of the facility to live more than a child of Asian countries. So he calls for severe restraints on the life in the West with prayer, prophecy, political action and personal moderation. Membership of Life Style is open to all persons outside Christian faith also, and he takes care to exclude from programmes of Life Style anything "unacceptable to humanists, adherents of other people of goodwill."
The efforts of Christian Action, of Life Style and of the Third World group will go to show the rising interest of the people of the West to develop a new dimension and platform in the present society where people can come and work together at the human level, without distinctions of religious faith and national citizenship.
On the day I was at Bristol, Gill took me to an exhibition at Bath. It was organised by young and progressive technologists who are eager to construct life where one could live in harmony with nature and fellow-humans. There was an apparatus for the utilization of solar energy. A house built in a radial shape was on exhibition to show how it saves construction material, resists wind in any direction, and gives good ventilation and light without reducing living room. The Vagan society propagates through charts, tables and prepared foods that it is possible and useful to live only on vegetable food, excluding milk products too. It tells that an animal consumes 60 per cent of the vegetable food for its own growth and returns only 40 per cent to man as meat-food. So adoption of vegetable diet makes [more] food available to the human species. While the calculation may be correct in the case of pigs and fowl fed on grains and vegetables in animal husbandry, what about the fish in the sea and beasts of forests whose flesh is used for human consumption but who eat leaves that human do not use?
In a London Commune
On the 29th August I came to London from Bristol and stayed with Peter Bonnici and Michael Phillips who visited Atheist Centre in India a few months ago. They lived in a commune which is shared by six members.
Though the same name is used, the communes of western countries are different from communes of Socialist countries. In socialist countries, communes are units of administration which own instruments of production. But communes of western Europe and U.S.A. are groups of students and youths living together, the number varying from 3 or 4 to 20 or 30. Each member of a commune has his or her own job. But they pool their earning, cook, eat and live together as a family which is bound not by blood relationship but by ideological like-mindedness. Each member is free to join or leave a commune any time.
Due to free access to jobs, social security and love of individual freedom, many boys and girls of the West like to leave their parental homes and to lead a life that suits their personal tastes. But loneliness haunts them. So boys and girls group themselves into social units called communes. Ordinarily, members of a commune are liberal-minded with progressive views. They promote social action and change which is socialist in leanings. Hence the name "commune". But some students prefer the name "collective" to commune. There is little coordination among the several communes today.
Though members of a commune are largely liberal, I have not come across a commune where "whites" and "blacks" live together. When I asked members of a commune whether they would marry a black "on principle", I found that the concept of "marriage on principle" is alien to their understanding. Nevertheless they admitted the unconscious limitation of their liberalism. It is not enough if the doers are open. The room should be sufficiently inviting for others to come in.
Mr. Christopher Macy, the Secretary of the British Humanist Association arranged a meeting where I spoke on "Positive Humanism". I questioned why adults take labels of caste, community, class and culture and quarrel among themselves, while as children, they played and moved together without those labels. An open mind exposes the folly of these distinctions. Adoption of atheism opens the mind and makes one aware of basic humanness. In the discussion that followed, the economic and social implications of the programmes of replacing flowers with vegetables and of eating beef and pork together were appreciated.
From London I went to Oxford for three days to know the working of Oxfam. Marieke Clarke, the Education Editor of Oxfam, who worked in India and Africa, acquainted me with the aspects of Oxfam work.
Oxfam is synthetic abbreviation of the full name, Oxford Committee for
Famine Relief (OX from Oxford and FAM from Famine). It has grown from small
beginnings. In 1942, a group of Oxford citizens joined to send help to
hungry children in occupied Greece. It grew gradually into an organization
to relive the sufferings arising out of war or any other cause in any part
of the world It attracts wide support abroad and expands its assistance
to medical treatment, vocational training. agricultural development and
fighting drought and famine by sinking wells and improving irrigation.
It co-operates with voluntary efforts everywhere. Viewing the needs
of the world as a whole, the help of Oxfam hardly scratches the surface.
But it has already stimulated thinking on fundamental changes that would
make charity unnecessary. A hungry man cannot be expected to appreciate
his moral responsibilities. Help to relieve hunger, and then the man can
be asked to balance himself in social relationships. Really Oxfam is attending
to first things first. The needs of the Third World countries are greater
than those of the western world. Poverty anywhere endangers security everywhere.
Therefore Oxfam is active in helping Asia, Africa and Latin America at
first to enable the people there to stand on their legs.
On the 7th September I left England for West Germany to meet Dr. Sarma Marla and Mrs. Irma. Fifteen years ago Dr. Sarma came to Germany from India for higher studies. He settled down at Heidelberg University, teaching Sociology. Sarma and Irma came to India last year for collecting material for research on the agricultural economics of rural India. Shri Devendra Kumar, the Secretary of Gandhi Memorial Trust was also the guest of Dr. Sarma and Irma for a couple of days when I went to Heidelberg. Devendra Bhai and I found more leisure to talk at Heidelberg than in India, where, though we meet often, he is immersed in his work as the Secretary. Devendra Bhai came to Europe to participate in the Conference of All Religions at Brussels, convened by Rev. Homer Jack of the Unitarian Church.
Irma took us to the homes of her sister and parents that are forty and seventy miles from Heidelberg. At both places we enjoyed homeliness. Neither difference of language nor of custom could make us feel strangers. After all, all are human. Spontaneity brings people near.
Mr. Lehmann, Irma's father, showed us round the hot-spring baths of his place, Badherrenab, and nature cure clinic. Devendra Bhai was very much interested in knowing the details of the workings there with a view to adopt some of the methods in India. He saw the methods of tub-bath in its original home of Germany.
Revise Outmoded Values
In Europe alcoholic drinks are taken along with food. Instead of water, alcoholic drinks are taken. I was taking only either water or some fruit juice.
Why was I not taking alcohol? Would I get drunk? No. For millions of people alcohol is a food. They too dislike drunkenness. Evidently I am not taking alcohol on account of an unconscious inhibition in me, a caste habit. like aversion to beef and pork. We hate that which we fear, and fear that which we hate. Both feelings are bad I should be master of my habits, rather than submit to a boyhood habit, or a national trait which cannot be justified rationally and which stands in the way of wider social association. The company in which I moved did not bother whether I drank or not. They put me down for one whose mind was not open, but closed by early nurture. Indeed ancient civilizations make a fetish of several dos and don'ts. Manusmriti of Hindus and Quran of Muslims abound in dos and don'ts. They may be good rules of conduct in their own ages. But in the course of civilization we enter into wider social relationships and face other situations. Manusmriti and Quran did revise earlier habits and codified those that were in tune with their own times. Now they are outmoded. Are we not equally entitled to revise what was said in Manusmriti or Quran or any ancient text? The hesitation to revise outmoded habits is the cause of backwardness. The older the civilization the more backward it is today. Look at aborigines everywhere. If I cling to old habits, I become a fossil worthy to be exhibited and studied by research scholars of sociology or anthropology.
These thoughts turned in my mind when I was drinking orange juice and others were drinking alcoholic drinks. At last the atheist in me took the upper hand. I felt I should become the master of my habits. I should not allow an inhibition to govern my conduct, especially when the inhibition was non-rational and non-social. So I asked for a spoonful of champaign which they were drinking at that moment and sipped it myself.
Nobody in the company seemed to have taken notice of the "big" decision I made to sip an alcoholic drink after a great at deliberation, except Sarma who nodded at me with a smile. He knew the conditions of India and what open drinking meant for one of India. But to me it was a momentous event when I changed a value system and thereby grew more rational and sociable.
Values do count a good lot in social relationships. For instance. at a place in Denmark, I was sitting at breakfast with about ten more at a table. Porridge was passed round. Milk is added to the porridge when it is eaten, and milk was kept in cardboard containers on the table. I poured out from one into my bowl. A woman at the table shirked at once. Why? What I took was not milk but buttermilk! I could not distinguish between the containers of milk and buttermilk! Both looked alike. Further I could not read the label on the containers, as they were written in Danish. The woman thought that what I did was obviously wrong, by mistake of course. Her shirk attracted the attention of others. My host looked at the mistake of mine and wanted to replace my dish of porridge and to give me another dish of porridge to which I might add milk.
That was the value system of diet to which they were accustomed -- milk and not buttermilk with porridge. But to me milk or buttermilk, made little difference. In India we take that kind of porridge with milk or with buttermilk, according to taste and availability. Often, our meagre economic facility does not present wide choice of foods to us. We eat what is available. The poorer the people the more true the saying that "beggars cannot choose." That is our value system in India Therefore I insisted on eating the porridge with buttermilk instead of changing my plate. I did not make a sermon there. But my behaviour acquainted the company with a different value system. In a discussion group later, I referred to the event and asked why we are so particular about milk or buttermilk with porridge and less mindful of the conditions of poverty in Asian populations, war in Vietnam, Apartheid in South Africa, racial discriminations all over the world? The old values should change. We must become aware of our wider social responsibilities for establishing social and economic equalities all over the world.
Taking porridge with buttermilk in Denmark and sipping champaign in West Germany meant something to me personally. It widened my outlook and increased my confidence in myself to be able to revise value systems and make them accord better with changing needs of a growing civilization. Why was such a trig noise made at Vijayawada on the 15th of August, 1972, when we ate bits of beef and pork openly? It was a change in our value system, to shift emphasis from details of diet to responsibilities of removing caste and communal differences, to removing poverty and causes of war anywhere.
After I cleared my mind of the inhibition of drinking alcohol, I began to think intensely on the problems of life in India and abroad. I discussed the matter with Sarma, Irma and Ulla who also visited Atheist Centre in India three months ago. I wanted to know why people drink at all. It is all right, if it is a food. Does it mean a pleasure too? I wanted to experience the pleasures or pains of drinking to the extreme, so that I can talk with knowledge on the subject. Two days later, the experiment was arranged. Red wine of quality which does not impair health was selected for my experiment. Sarma, Irma and Ulla attended upon me as I drank glass after glass at intervals prescribed by them. Within two hours I took eight glasses, measuring about a litre of red wine. All the time I was watching within myself the changes taking place in me. It was an experience of double self -- one which was drinking red wine and undergoing the experiences of drinking and another watching the changes with the interest of experimentation. Sarma, Irma and Ulla kept me talking to see whether I lost coherence or my words lost clarity of pronunciation. I was made to walk now and then to see if my steps faltered. Nothing extraordinary happened. I was quite normal throughout At the time of the eighth glass, a sensation of nausea was creeping into me. That was the limit. Also I felt sleepy and drowsy. Otherwise, I was normal. Irma said, "Remarkable." Self-control can control the effects of physical drugs like alcohol. I was put in bed and I had sound sleep.
Alcohol need not disturb the balance of body or mind, even at the extreme. I think that drunkards, under the pretext of drunkenness, enjoy licence of loose talk and action. Social norm can check that licence. For this purpose there should be closer association with drunkards to change their attitudes instead of keeping them at a distance. Prohibition does not seem today to be so important as closer sociability through removal of economic and social isolations. If emphasis is placed on the removal of inequalities, an individual can be left to adjust details of his behaviour decently with fellow men. Too much attention to details of conduct, as Manusmriti and Quran do, curbs initiative and breeds secrecy and sectarianism. It is wrong to suppose that the majority of people are incapable of self-discipline and that self-control is the special prerogative of a few persons. An author of calculus, which is supposed to be a difficult branch of mathematics, encouraged his readers rightly by quoting a proverb, "what one fool does, another fool can". If he could master calculus, why not others as well? To deny to others what one enjoys, is an arrogance of aristocracy, unsuited to the present age of democratic growth. Let us not think of fool-proof methods. Fool-proof methods perpetuate foolishness. Either all people are equally foolish or equally wise. So working for the establishment of equality in economic opportunity and social respect at the human level is more urgent than thinking of details of behaviour. Ancient civilizations, by their elaborate codes of conduct, have been penny-wise and pound-foolish. Hence we have today war, untouchability poverty and racial discrimination side by side with sermons on vegetarianism, prohibition, monogamy and the like. It was outmoded emphasis on values of life. So progressives should deliberately transgress outmoded taboos, and turn the attention of people towards establishment of equalities. The loss, if any, sustained by licentiousness during the period of transition from the old to the new values of life, will be considerably less than the destruction caused to life and property by war and harm done to human personality by observance of untouchability, apartheid racial discrimination and by economic exploitation.
The next day we visited Dr. Houke who came to India three years ago
for sociological studies. Though I took wine the previous day, Sarma and
Irma did not want me to taste wine at Houke's place. Social adjustments
evolve at a decent level when details are left to the care of the individual
and people meet on terms of equality in all respects.
When Charles de Mestral, a student of Geneva University, visited India a few months ago, he stayed at Atheist Centre for a month. At that time proposals for my participation in the Humanist Congress at Amsterdam were hatching. So Charles kindly invited me to his home in Switzerland, when I went to Europe. From West Germany, therefore, I flew to Geneva on the 15th September.
Charles is a very active and affectionate young man. He rushed to receive me at the Geneva airport. He took me to Vich, where his mother, Mrs. Monique de Mestral lives in an ancestral house. Vich is a suburb, thirty kilometres from Geneva.
Switzerland is another country, like India, where nationality does not mean one language. In India there are fourteen principal languages; in Switzerland there are three principal languages, French, German and Italian. But the religious belief of Switzerland is one Christianity with denominational differences, whereas Indians are divided ma mainly between the Hindu and the Islamic faiths. These facts go to prove that there is nothing homogeneous about nationality, except the sentiment of being one nation. India was one nation under the British rule. At the time of the independence, India was divided into Pakistan and India, each feeling a nation by itself again. Evidently the sentiment of a nation is fiction, like god. Fanatical faith in god or nation leads to war and conflict. Rational thought dispels the faiths in god and nation and reveals that all people are basically human.
Though Switzerland is a composite of three languages, all the Swiss have been living together harmoniously. Switzerland is a neutral country without war with her neighbours. Hence the country was chosen to be the seat of League of Nations, after the First World War. Strangely, though Switzerland has no enemies, she maintains military training to her male population between ages of 18 and 40. Charles was called for the military training on the 20th of September for three weeks.
Another oddity about Switzerland is its voting franchise. Switzerland is known to be the best democracy. Indeed it is, since its Premiership rotates among all the members of its cabinet. Also there is provision in its constitution for the democratic checks of recall, referendum and initiative. But the suffrage is not universal. Some cantons of Switzerland have not yet granted the right to vote to their women.
Vich is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The ancestral home of Mrs. Monique has a big library of books in French dating back into the nineteenth century. From their appearance, I would not have wondered if l found some books of the eighteenth century too. The construction of the house, its chimneys, fire-places and wooden panels and its furniture, has the grandeur of former nobility. Though Mrs. Monique is modern in her education and equipment, she maintains the generous courtesies and hospitalities of traditional culture. Despite her weak health she took scrupulous care to attend to my needs. Not only my earlier acquaintance with Charles, but the kindness of Mrs. Monique made my stay at Vich comfortable.
Mr. George de Mestral, father of Charles, is an engineer with creative imagination. There is an incident in his life which marked the beginnings of a new manufacture and a successful career.
Mr. George is fond of hunt. As in the case of everyone who roams about in forests, burs stuck to the trousers of George. But they meant something different to him from common wanderers in forests. To others, burs are a nuisance as they have to pick out burs one by one. To George who has creative talent, burs yielded a secret of nature that led to an invention.
Mr. George thought over the way in which burs stick to clothes. Usually bands and buttons are used to tie up coats and cloaks. Why not try the way of burs to stick cloaks together? The thought led George to study how burs stuck to his trousers when he went into forests. On close examination with a lens, he found out that burs stick to clothes by means of fine hooks. The hooks enable a bur to stick to a cloth as soon as it touches it. At the same time, a bur can be pulled out, without the delay and trouble of pulling a button out of its hole or of untying bands of strings or straps. The bur-way of binding together can be easier than the button or the band method.
Mr. George de Mestral worked upon the bur-way with inventive genius. He has now to produce two surfaces, one like a soft felt and another with fine hooks. When the surfaces come together they should stick as a bur to a cloth and they should separate easily when pulled apart as when a bur is picked out from a cloak. Mr. George, with his skill in engineering, studied the weaving loom to modify it in a manner as to produce loops that can be cut into hooks. Then his problem was to find out the yarn that would be sufficiently stiff to serve as hooks. After seven years of inventive study and hard trial, he devised a machine and a method to produce the surfaces he needed. The product of his invention is called Velcro, 'vel' meaning velvet or the soft wooly surface and 'cro' meaning crochet or hooks in French.
Mr. George and his eldest son, François have established a factory for the manufacture of Velcro at Aubonne in Switzerland. The ease with which Velcro surfaces can be used to fasten, instead of button or band, has given it the slogan "touch to close and peel to open." It has found extensive use in daily life to fasten shirts and blouses, collars and garments, shoes and gloves. Also Velcro is found useful in tying bandages in hospitals and in several industrial processes where covers are required to close and open with comfort.
Mr. George is not eager to make pots of money with the popularity of his invention. He is extremely considerate towards the workmen in his factory. He has reduced their hours of work from 44 to 40 in a week; and gives them facilities to improve their skill and interests.
After a look round the Velcrotex factory, Mr. George took me to his "manor" home, a huge building with dining halls and decorations on walls, and with a chapel inside the compound. The old house is occupied by some of his relatives while George has constructed a modern house for his residence at Commugny where he lives with his third wife, Mrs. Helen. Mrs. Helen is the secretary of the World Youth Organization, visited India in connection with her work, and is actively associated with social welfare work in Switzerland.
During the six days I stayed with Charles, he was taking me everyday to Geneva, partly on his own work and partly to show me round places of interest and to introduce me to his friends who are interested in India. One afternoon we lunched with Mrs. Fransios de Mole who desired to know what I meant by "positive" atheism. She is herself engaged in the work of social counselling, that is, advising persons on the solution of their personal and domestic problems. She has an organization for the work in which several private persons of age and experience help in counselling clients. Those who seek advice generally go to the office of the society. But not infrequently is Mrs. Fransios called on the telephone at late hours in the night or early morning when a mentally disturbed person frantically asks for advice on a problem that is driving him or her to commit suicide, being disgusted with life. In such cases, Mrs. Fransios told me, immense patience and sympathy for the patient is necessary for the counsellor. One of the advices is, 'I see your point and am in sympathy with you. Your problem is terrible but not insoluble. Let me think over it. Please give me time to find out the solution. Please call me over the phone again two hours later." Her experience is that usually the passion cools down within these two hours and the patient either calls again to tell that he or she has changed the mind to commit suicide or does not call again at all. Inquiry at the address shows that things have settled down into normal routines. Rarely has anyone committed suicide without waiting.
Need of Atheism
Talk with Mrs. Fransios confirmed my view that human problems are more psychological than materialistic. This is not only true of individual behaviour, but in mass action also. A suggestion from a leader sparks off a revolution. Material circumstances help mass action, but in themselves do not raise action. The conditions of untouchability and of poverty in India, especially at the time of famine in Bengal in 1945-46, when thousands of destitutes died of sheer hunger in the streets of Calcutta City, are such as would provoke an immediate revolution. But the revolution does not come off in the Indian masses. The reason is clear. In India there are revolutionary circumstances, but there is no revolutionary consciousness among the people. If the revolutionary consciousness is present, people would revolt against any injustice on the slightest pretext. And consciousness is essentially psychological. I am glad, Mrs. Fransios appreciated the need of atheist propaganda in countries like India in particular and in the world at large in general for the understanding of human values.
As at Bristol in England, I saw an old cathedral at Geneva which turned Protestant from Catholic after the Reformation. The artificial fountain constructed in the lake Geneva is the tallest in the world so far, 130 metres high. Water from the lake is drawn and pumped into the tube of the fountain. At the top of the tube, water falls down in a torrent in which the tube is scarcely seen.
Experience of Cable Cars
Switzerland is a country for tourists to enjoy the mountain resorts of Alps and for skiing on its ice in winter, Charles is Good at skiing and one day he drove me to Chemonex, a small town on the French side of Alps. From Chemonex the ice clad peaks of Alps are close to see. In clear weather, Mont Blac, the highest peak of Alps can also be seen. On the day we went, Mont Blac could be seen but faintly
An educative experience for me at Chemonex was to go in a cable car. Two large pulleys are mounted horizontally on strong pivots, one at a landing place at Chemonex and another on the peak of nearby hill. A long, stout wire cable turns round on these two pulleys. Two cars, each accommodating about thirty persons. move up and down between the two places, hanging by the cable. The pulleys are turned by electrical power and the two cars compensate each other's weight to some extent as they move in opposite directions. Thus the cable cars carry a group of persons each time from Chemonex to and fro the peak, across the valley. A similar arrangement carries another set of cable cars from that peak to a higher peak. By two stages, persons can reach a high peak from where they command a good view of snow-clad mountain range of Alps. The cable cars travel at regular intervals of half an hour. A fare is charged for the journey up and down which can be completed in about hundred minutes. One could climb the peaks by foot paths too, but the cable cars save time and strain.
On our return from Chemonex, Charles showed me the castle of Chillon which is immortalised in Lord Byron's poem The visit to the castle recalled to my mind Bonevard, who was confined in its dungeons, and Byron's famous apostrophe to the spirit of Liberty.
Though I went to Switzerland for a courtesy call on the parents of Charles, I gained more than I hoped for. Of course, I gained the acquaintance of the friends and parents of Charles and enjoyed their kindness. More than that, I noticed how people of different languages. French, German and Italian, live together in harmony in Switzerland. Each one is inclined to learn other languages too. So a kind of tolerance spreads among people.
Also, on account of the rotation of premiership in the cabinet, differences among political parties are getting blurred. There are political parties in Switzerland as a custom of old democratic form. But when I asked about the parties and their ways, I found that people cared little for the differences among parties. Some of the common people did not know the party of their present premier. They are satisfied with their good government. Switzerland has no colonies like the European imperialist nations of France, Germany, Britain, Holland and others. There is no regimentation which socialist regimes need. Yet all people are fairly uniform in their standard of life which compares well with other European countries. In peace, equality, sufficiency, contentment and good government with democratic norms, Switzerland resembles Sweden. Both are undisturbed by wars and both maintain a fairly uniform and pretty high standard of life.
Alternatives to Marxism
Therefore, socialism is not the only way to establish equality. Doubtless, socialism has projected the idea of economic equality and pointed out to the dangers of private ownership of the means of production. Civilization on should be thankful to the Marxian diagnosis as far as the need to curb private property is concerned. But class struggle is not the only method to achieve the end of economic justice. Sweden and Switzerland have shown that if the government is more people-minded than party-minded, it is possible to attain equality by democratic methods. President Nyerere of Tanzania (Africa) is evolving a method of decentralization called Ujamaa, by which the extremely backward people of Tanzania are progressing well economically, educationally and socially, within a short time of winning political freedom. Mahatma Gandhi too indicated the method of decentralisation and cottage-industries for attaining equality democratically. Of course, the lifetime of Gandhi was spent in the fight for the political freedom of India. He did not survive the freedom in order to experiment With the new method of attaining economic equality, nor were his successors earnest about the Gandhian method. They lapsed into the traditional ways of capitalism and were indifferent to the Gandhian method to which they paid but formal allegiance. Thus Gandhian method missed the immediate chance of fair trial after political freedom.
Another fact reveals that socialist method is not the method. After the Second World War, Berlin City was divided into the eastern and western zones The eastern zone is socialist under the influence of U.S.S.R. The western zone is "capitalistic" under the influence of U.S.A., mostly. If the socialist method were par excellent, why do people of the eastern zone attempt to cross over into the western zone in large numbers? The exodus has become so common that the eastern zone has to build a wall between the two zones in order to conserve its people. The stealthy escapes from the eastern zone to the western zone are prevented by military vigil and imposition of severe punishment. If the socialist method were the best, then there should be movement of people from the western "capitalist zone" to the eastern zone. As the fact is the other way, some rethinking is necessary on the socialist method of class-struggle.
Evidently Marxism falls into two parts, the object and the method. The object of socialization of the means of production and the abolition of private property is indeed a super solution to the many evils from which the present civilization suffers. But the method of class-struggle is not the only one for the attainment of socialist objective. The possibility of alternative interpretations of the method gives room for the differences between U.S.S.R., Chinese and Yugoslavian ways of establishing economic equality. Sweden, Switzerland and Tanzania are successfully evolving other methods too for achieving the same objective of economic justice. The Gandhian method is a clear alternative to class-struggle. It is the experience of other methods that makes U.S.S.R. concede that each country should try its own ways of attaining the socialist objective, according to its own history and facility. U.S.S.R. can help other countries to march towards the socialist objective of economic equality, in their own way, but U.S.S.R. will not insist upon its method by which she established socialism. A government that thinks in terms of people sees the need of socialism and can achieve socialism in its own way. In India, it is the party-system of the government that is preventing the government to function in the interest of the people. Therefore partyless democracy and the Gandhian method of decentralization seem to be suitable for the establishment of socialism in India.
Let us Face Realities
A uniform method for all people all over the world is not feasible as long as there are national frontiers, with different cultures, facilities and systems developing within the narrow limits of nationalism. If, on the other hand, there were no national frontiers separating U.S.S.R. and China, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, Kenya and Tanzania, India and Pakistan, U.S.A. and Latin America, China and Taiwan, Japan and Korea, there would have been no war at all and the way of the development of the world would have been different.
When populations mingle freely and free action grows everywhere, equality would have been established without the need of class-struggles or Satyagrahas. But that world order is a distant prospect devoutly to be wished. Facing the realities as they are, every country should evolve its own method of progress, keeping its mind open to learn from the experience of other countries. Other experiences serve as guides but not as programmes of action.
When President Nyerere of Tanzania laid the basis of African Socialism, he clearly explained that the African method of attaining socialism differed from the European method of class war. He told,
"As prayer is to Christianity or to Islam, so civil war (which they call 'class war') is to the European version of socialism -- a means inseparable from the end. Each becomes the basis of a whole way of life. The European socialist cannot think of his socialism without its father -- capitalism. Brought up in tribal socialism, I must say I find this contradiction quite intolerable. It gives capitalism a philosophical status which capitalism neither claims nor deserves. For it virtually says, 'Without capitalism, and the conflict with capitalism creates within society, there can be no socialism!' This glorification of capitalism by the doctrinaire European socialists, I repeat, I find intolerable. African Socialism, on tile other hand, did not have the benefit of the Agrarian Revolution or the Industrial Revolution. It did not start from the existence of conflicting 'classes' in society. Indeed I doubt if the equivalent for the word 'class' exists in any indigenous African language: for language describes the ideas of those who speak it, and the idea of 'class' or 'caste' was non-existent in African society The foundation and the objective of African socialism is the extended family. The true African socialist does not look on one class of men as his brethren and another as his natural enemies. He does not form an alliance with the 'brethren' for the extermination of the 'non-brethren.' He rather regards all men as his brethren -- as members of his ever-extending family.... 'Ujamaa', or 'Family-hood' describes our socialism. It is opposed to capitalism, which seeks to build a happy society on the basis of exploitation of man by man; and it is equally opposed to doctrinaire socialism which seeks to build its happy society on a philosophy of inevitable conflict between man and man."
Nyerere's stand explains the need of adapting the method to national conditions for attaining the same objective of socialism. The concept of "socialist pattern" for India is well thought of in this context. In China and in Tanzania, the leaders of the revolution banished ether parties, converted the ruling party into a national organization and with single-minded devotion practised their respective patterns of socialism and established a socialist state. But, in the case of India, the free play of political parties bogged administration in petty party squabbles and did not permit the government to march towards so socialism. Therefore. "socialist pattern" remained an empty slogan while the government slipped into capitalist competitions.
For the fulfilment of socialism in India it is necessary to take the
first step of partyless democracy, and to commit the government to the
fulfilment of a socialist pattern. Partylessness is the immediate need
of any country that strives towards the establishment of socialism.
On the 20th, I flew from Geneva to Cairo. At once l found the marked difference between orderly life in Europe and chaotic confusion in Egypt as in India. Beggars, garbage, indifference of officers, lack of helpful information, tips for routine services and several trifle discomforts that are common in India are also prevalent in Cairo. Wide inequality and poverty are there at every place.
Cairo is like Calcutta with tall buildings and filthy streets. Vendors occupy pavements with wares, fruit-stalls, tea shops and second-hand books. Each proprietor can pack all his capital in a portable box.
The chief interest for visitors are the pyramids in the outskirts of Cairo city, which is creeping with growing population close to the pyramids. The pyramids stand in the Sahara desert which surrounds Cairo, except for the streak of green belt along the banks of the Nile river. The Aswan dam on the Nile has brought thousands of acres of Sahara under cultivation through irrigation. But this is but a small fraction of the vast desert that extends over the whole of North Africa engulfing Niger, Libya, Egypt and Sudan. Outside the city of Cairo, we find the stretch of the sand, not altogether flat but undulating with dunes. The pyramids stand in the sand, outside the city.
Structure of Pyramids
A pyramid is the tomb of a pharaoh who ruled over Egypt six to nine thousand years ago. Each proud pharaoh has his pyramid-tomb built during his reign for laying his body in it after death. It seems there are about seventy pyramids, small and big, along the length of Nile river. But three pyramids have preserved their shape through the ages and are seen near Cairo.
A pyramid has a square base with four triangles on the four sides. The size of the pyramid, which is big, is about 500 ft. high with a side of about 750 feet at the base. A camel by its side looks tiny. A pyramid is built by piling up of hewn stones, each about the size of 8 feet long and 4 to 5 feet near the square face. A third of the length of each stone overlaps with the one above it. There is no mortar or mud binding the stones. In overlapping positions they lie on the side of a pyramid tapering towards tile tip. While the surface of the pyramid is six or ten stones thick, the interior of the rest of the pyramid is seen to be filled with sand in broken or unfinished ones nearby. As the stones are arranged overlapping, one could climb to the tip of the pyramid as by steps, each a metre high.
About 20 feet above the ground, at one place, there is a passage into the interior of the pyramid, by steps each six inches high. The passage is nearly 300 steps long. A third of the first part of the passage is so low that a visitor has to walk half bent. The later part is high enough to walk erect. The width of the passage is narrow, only two persons can go abreast. At the end of the passage, in the interior of the pyramid, is a chamber about 40 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet high. In the chamber is a rock three feet high, four feet broad and eight feet long in which a trough is hewn. The body of a pharaoh was laid in the trough for internment. Of course, the passage and the chamber are lined on all sides by stones of the size that formed the surface of the pyramid.
Close to the pyramid is the Sphinx with a human face, 30 feet high and lions body about 150 feet long. In combining man's head with lion's body the Sphinx is supposed to symbolise man's wisdom and lion's power.
There are several mosques in Cairo, as there are temples in India and churches in Rome. But the Mohammed Ali Mosque is old and big, preserved for tourist visits. Every religious faith developed its own type of architecture for its places of worship. While Hindu temples have towers (gopuram), Christian churches have steeples, Buddhist pagodas have stupas, the Muslim mosques have domes. Mohammed Ali Mosque dates back to five hundred years and has a magnificent dome reverberating echoes as the whispering dome at Bijapur. The tomb of Mohamed Ali, the Nawab of Egypt, has marble sculpture resembling the decorations of Taj Mahal in India.
Heritage of Ancient Civilization
A look at the pyramids, like a look at the Colosseum in Rome or at the ruins of Elora, indeed gives an imposing picture. But at the back of the picture, we can see that ancient civilizations were very aristocratic. Thousands of common people slaved and lifted tons of stones to build the tomb of a pharaoh. Similarly tens of deep caves were cut into mountain sides at Elora and Ajana and their sides and ceilings were painted artistically, while the mass of people remained illiterate and superstitious. The heritage of that civilization is poverty, untouchability and ignorance in the mass of people. Egypt and India and all the countries that pride themselves today on ancient culture, exhibit the wide disparity of aristocratic excellences and degraded misery of common masses. Even democratic franchise cannot remove the inequalities and make them modern, unless there is a cultural revolution that turns the gaze from the past to the present. History is a warning rather than a guide.
Two main characteristics of which the mind should be disabused by a cultural revolution are allegiance to religious faith and the method of charity.
An instance illustrates the self-deception of one who professes religious faith in the modern age. In the air flight from Cairo to Beirut, the gentleman seated next to me was quite modern in European costume. It was evening time before sunset and dinner was served to us in the aeroplane. As it was Ramadan month and before sun set, he did not want dinner to be served to him, according to the Islamic custom. I noticed another gentleman in the seat in front of me also without taking dinner, perhaps for the same reason. Alcoholic drinks are served and sold in aeroplanes. Strangely, while I was eating my dinner, I found my neighbour buying two bottles of whiskey and packing them in his bag! It we assume that the bottles were intended for his consumption, his fast of Ramadan had little influence on his modern ways, though Islamic faith forbids alcoholic drinks. It is not only in the case of Islamic faith. In many people that profess any faith today, the same abuses can be noticed. The more ancient the faith, the greater the abuse in modern conditions of life. Those who cling to religious faiths honestly, remain either backward or in seclusion. Hindu ascetics and Muslim fakirs are glaring examples. Unless the outmoded faith in religion is deliberately discarded, self-deception cannot go.
The practice of charity in ancient civilizations is another modern anachronism love, kindness and sympathy are social needs and everyone practices them in some measure. But to glorify them into a principle of life to solve economic evils in the modern age is inappropriate. Charity was the method to keep the downtrodden living with bare existence in olden time of aristocratic patronage. At that time neither governments were well formed nor people were any more conscious than bring fatalistic. Kingship was the mark of aristocracy.
The principle of charity was built into religious practices as Da' in Hinduism and as Zakat in Islam. Dan and Zakat have perpetuated a class of beggars. Besides being distributed throughout the lands of ancient civilizations. beggars swarm at Hindu temples and Muslim mosques and every place of worship. Hindu caste-system, which associated each caste with a profession or craft, has castes whose profession is living by beggary.
Through full-employment in socialist countries and through implementation of measures of social security in capitalist economics. European countries have abolished beggary. So Europeans find beggars a nuisance when they visit Egypt or India out of tourist interest. Christian faith also has place for charity.
But charity is institutional rather than individual in Europe. Big charities are donated to institutions that do social work. Lack of full employment or of social security on the one hand and glorification of charity by religious faith on the other continue beggary not only as a tradition in ancient civilizations, but as a necessary means of livelihood for the poor in modern civilization. Therefore a modern well-placed man cannot look upon beggary with contempt unless he realises his civic responsibility to work for full-employment or social security. Sheer lack of employment throws some able-bodied persons and those with a sense of self-respect into the need to beg to feed the empty stomach. An immediate task of the cultural revolution, therefore, should be the establishment of full-employment or of at least social-security in order to save fellowmen from the degradation of beggary.
Guides or Pests?
Like beggars, tourist-guides also prove a pest at places of tourist interest like pyramids in Egypt and caves at Ellora and Ajanta in India. Tourists feel the need of guides to show them round and explain the significance of the structures and places. lo Europe there are guide-books In different languages to help tourists to understand tourist places like Edinburgh, Chemonex or even London Guides are even welcome at such places, and the fee for the guides is not grudged. But at places of tourist interest in Egypt and in India, guides impose themselves upon visitors. They trade upon the ignorance of strangers and often cheat them too. The profession of guides is a clever extension of the profession of beggary. The guides who showed a group of us round the pyramids, described himself as a graduate of She university and a diploma holder in archeology working as a teacher in a school. During his spare time he assists and charges a fee for augmenting his pay as a teacher. Having repeated the explanations to hundreds of visitors to whom he acted as a guide, he did his job well, of course. But at the end, besides, receiving the fee due to him as a guide, he almost demanded a tip from everyone of us. If we disobliged him, he could hay_ inconvenienced our return to Cairo city in time. The guides reminded me of the professional priests or panda, of places of Hindu pilgrimage. Pandas are proverbial for fleecing, an aspect of exploitation in an order of private property.
Besides raising classes of beggars and Pandas. religious faith blinds people physically and mentally. Common women move about the streets of Cairo with long veils covering their bodies from head to foot. They see but defectively through two small slits in the veil at the level of eyes! Blind people are naturally deprived of their vision. But this is a religious custom that denies normal vision to normal women. In India too, some Muslim women adopt the same custom. Perhaps as an influence of Muslim rule in India, some Hindu women of the Northern parts draw a veil from a part of their sari and cover the face. When medical research is striving to restore vision to diseased eyes, religious custom closes the vision of healthy eyes. Nothing short of stupidity!
I came across a case of mental blindness, obviously one of the many. I was buying an English newspaper from a hawker in the streets. She had a veil covering her face and carried bundles of Arabic and two English newspapers, The Egyptian Gazette and International Herald Tribune.
She did not know English, but distinguished them from the shapes of titles and knew their prices. I took a copy each of both the English papers and was trying to pay her, counting the Egyptian coins with which I was not familiar. Presently an elderly gentleman passing-by saw my difficulty, stopped short and asked me in English if he could help me. After paying for the papers, he was interested to know wherefrom I came and how I enjoyed my stay at Cairo. He told me he was a retired officer from Alexandria who came on a visit to Cairo to meet his son who was a businessman. After some pleasant talk, he wanted to have my address in India. When I mentioned "Atheist Centre" as a part of my address, he asked me with surprise if I was a member of that Centre and if I did not believe in the existence of god. Then he put the two questions, "Who created this earth?" and "Don't you pray, when your aeroplane falls to crash on the way?" Strangely these two are among the few common questions asked of an atheist all over the world. It does not occur to believers that when a plane crashes, bishops, moulvis and priests in the plane are as much subject to the accident as an atheist travelling with them. Their prayer does not save them any more than an "infidel" suffers from the mishap. Perhaps at the time of the accident, an atheist may think of the parachute provided to each passenger in the aeroplane and save himself from the injuries of the plane-crash while the bishops close their eyes in prayer and fall in the disaster miserably. The gentleman from Alexandria thought over my answer for a moment and advised me in low voice. "Please don't talk of God, talk of weather", and went his way. His mind was closed with blind belief just as the eyes of the woman were shut with a veil.
The more I see the more I feel the need for atheism.
From Cairo, I returned to India on the 25th of September (1974), after eight weeks of tour.
I thank the several friends who helped me to make the tour, both with paying for my passage and with offering me local hospitality. I shall strive to deserve their kindness by working for the social change which they expect of me.