Implementing the "Hind Swaraj" Vision

My friend T.S.Ananthu wrote the enclosed paper on Hind Swaraj in 1982. At that time, he was a Research Fellow at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi. Together with his wife Jyoti, who was a post-doctoral Research Associate at the IITDelhi, he had started a Study Circle in Delhi to look into the science-spirituality and technology-ecology connections.

During my search for truth, I had found Shri Ananthu’s paper and was very impressed with his novel exposition of Gandhiji’s thoughts and wanted to meet him. After locating him, we first met in 1988 at his flat at Rajghat, New Delhi, and we instantly became close friends.

By 1988, when I met Shri Ananthu, 15 years of painstaking work had taken place and the members of the Study Circle had been able to identify the possibility of a new kind of science – building on the foundations already provided by Relativity Theory and Quantum mechanics – that would enable science to accept the reality of the spiritual dimensions which are beyond the senses and the intellect. This, in turn, would lead to a deeper understanding of the forces behind ecology, and would then result in technologies which would preserve rather than destroy the environment.

I became closely associated with Jyoti and Ananthu and their friends and, in 1990, we as a group decided to set up a Trust called “Navadarshanam” (“New Vision”) to try and implement some of these ideas in practice.  We bought 115 acres of land next to a small hamlet about 50 km from Bangalore. This land was completely degraded and unproductive at that time. On this land, we have conducted experiments in the following five areas:

  1. Eco-restoration: Merely by preventing grazing, the land has been converted from wasteland to a nascent forest. There were only three trees when we took over the land in 1990, but now there are about a lakh of them, including several thousand of sandalwood. They have not been planted by us but have appeared on their own, planted by the mysterious forces of nature invisible to the senses. This is an illustration of how invisible forces that are beyond our senses and intellect are primary in determining the laws that govern this physical universe. Our earth is actually alive, and all we did was allowed that force, which is always trying to restore its ecology, full freedom to do so. Therefore, instead of planting trees ourselves, we allowed nature to do so, and in the process have created a natural forest from degraded land. One by-product of this development is that soil conditions have improved dramatically. Another by-product of this eco-restoration has been a sharp rise in the water level, which is falling rapidly in all other areas in and around Bangalore. This has happened despite the fact that Navadarshanam is situated in a rain shadow region, the average rainfall being only 17 in. per year.
  2. Natural farming: On this improved soil, in limited and carefully selected areas, fruit saplings and a few vegetables and cereals/pulses have been planted with minimum disturbance to those trees and bushes which have come up naturally. No chemicals and pesticides are used, the faith being that a healthy soil will take care of all plants in its bosom. This process is aided by lots of mulching around the plants. Thus, the practice followed has been the opposite of modern agriculture, where tilling, watering, weeding and chemicals are stressed, and where monoculture is the norm. The fact that the plants grown at Navadarshanam are healthy and yield very good quality fruits seems to confirm our faith that modern agriculture technology, especially genetic engineering with its harmful effects to our health and the environment, is not needed to provide humanity with adequate food.
  3. Health and food: Based on the principles taught by a Swamiji of a nearby Ashram, food items and cooking methods have been classified according to digestibility/acidity-alkalinity. Diseases are seen as `absence of ease’, caused by undigested food, which disturb the ecology of the body. The subtler (‘pranic’) forces responsible for restoring this ecology are encouraged to play their role more effectively by changing our food patterns such that digestion is easy and effective. Food items developed along these principles have been made available to our network of friends (mainly in Bangalore). These food items being both healthy as well as tasty, more than a thousand families have adopted them in their daily diet, thus sparking a big change in their daily lives.
  4. Energy: Because of the ecologically damaging nature of the technologies that generate power these days, and also their centralized and user-unfriendly administration, connection from the state’s grid has been shunned. Instead, all power requirements at Navadarshanam are generated locally, in the following ways:
      • gobar gas (generated from a local but endangered cow species that the Trust is preserving and multiplying)  provides for cooking needs
      • this is supplemented by charcoal which is made in a simple kiln designed and made on the land, the input to this kiln being deadwood collected from within the land. Wood stoves are also used when needed.
      • homes are designed in such a way that natural breeze ensures not even a fan is needed even in the summer months, and no artificial lighting is required during daytime. At night, the lighting requirements are taken care of by solar panels which charge batteries during the daytime
      • for water pumping also, the same solar panels are used during daytime, when the sun is strong enough to provide the required power
      • solar power is also used for heating and, in a limited way, for cooking.
      • wind power is used to supplement solar power, especially on cloudy days.
      • when extra energy is needed, this is generated by using a diesel engine but without using a drop of diesel – substituting it with oil from the locally available seeds of the honge tree.
  5. Housing: All dwelling units at Navadarshanam have been constructed with the help of alternative technologies, using eco-friendly concepts (such as compressed mud blocks) and locally available material and labour. They require minimum amount of cement and steel, look very elegant, require no plastering, are very comfortable to stay in, and cost just Rs.300 per sq ft.

At Navadarshanam, these alternative technologies are not an end in itself. They are a means to an end, the end being ‘swaraj’ in the sense in which Gandhi had defined it. Utilizing the natural environment created, each resident there attempts to attain mastery over the self in one’s own way. Rather than wait for the whole country or world to follow Gandhi’s ideals, those staying there and others associated with Navadarshanam try to do so individually, making inner work rather than outer accumulation the aim of their life.

Right now, there are eight village workers plus Jyoti and Ananthu who stay there permanently, and are joined every day by seven other villagers who come from the nearby hamlet on a daily basis. Some of our trustees have built a number of dwelling units who, too, come and stay here for long periods. In addition, several people come for short or long periods of time. All eat together in a common kitchen where food is cooked along their health food principles. The atmosphere is free of competition and acrimony, and in their small way the group tries to follow the principles of “Hind Swaraj” in their lives. As a trustee, I have been going there often and taking part in this attempt at implementing the vision of “Hind Swaraj” in our individual lives.

Atmaram Saraogi