Gram Swaraj, Satyagraha and Bhoodana

Gram Swaraj, Satyagraha and Bhoodana

Gram Swaraj

  • Gram swaraj, or village self-rule, was a pivotal concept in Gandhi’s thinking. It was the centerpiece of his vision of economic development in India. Gandhiji’s Gram Swaraj was not the reconstruction of the old village but the formation of fresh independent units of villages having self-sufficient economy.
  • Self-sufficiency in basic needs was one of the fundamental conditions of Gandhian village reconstruction. Food, clothing and other basic necessities should be produced at the village itself, which would lead to full employment of almost each able-bodied person and would prevent the rural-urban migration in search of employment and better opportunities.
  • Gandhi really wanted ‘Swaraj’ of self rule by the people of India who represent the rural mass. He observed “India’s soul lives in the village.” He wanted that power structure should be begin from the below. Gandhi wanted true democracy to function in India.
  • He observed.” True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village.”
  • He dreamt of village republics in term of Panchayat in the free India.
  • Gandhi said, “Panchayat Raj represents true democracy realized. We would regard the humblest and the lowest Indian as being equally the ruler of India with the tallest in the land.”
  • Mahatma Gandhi advocated Panchayat Raj, a decentralized form of government where each village is responsible for its own affairs, as the foundation of India’s political system. He term of such a vision was Gram Swaraj.
  • Gandhi wanted political power to be distributed among the villages of India. Gandhi preferred the term ‘Swaraj’ to describe what he called true democracy.
  • His democracy based upon freedom. Individual freedom in Gandhi’s view could be maintained only in autonomous, self-reliant communities that offer opportunities to the people for fullest participation


  • Gandhi called his overall method of non-violent action Satyagraha. This translates roughly as “Truth-force.” A fuller rendering, though, would be “the force that is generated through adherence to Truth.”
  • Nowadays, it’s usually called non-violence. But for Gandhi, non-violence was the word for a different, broader concept-namely, “a way of life based on love and compassion.” In Gandhi’s terminology, Satyagraha-Truth-force-was an outgrowth of nonviolence.
  • It may also help to keep in mind that the terms Satyagraha and nonviolent action, though often used one for the other, don’t actually refer to the exact same thing. Satyagraha is really one special form of nonviolent action-Gandhi’s own version of it. Much of what’s called non-violent action wouldn’t qualify as Satyagraha. But we’ll come back to that later.
  • Gandhi practiced two types of Satyagraha in his mass campaigns.

Civil disobedience

  • The first was civil disobedience, which entailed breaking a law and courting arrest. When we today hear this term, our minds tend to stress the “disobedience” part of it. But for Gandhi, “civil” was just as important. He used “civil” here not just in its meaning of “relating to citizenship and government” but also in its meaning of “civilized” or “polite.” And that’s exactly what Gandhi strove for.
  • But the basic principle was the same: Gandhi’s most decisive influence on his opponents was more indirect than direct.
  • Gandhi set out a number of rules for the practice of civil disobedience. These rules often baffle his critics, and often even his admirers set them aside as nonessential. But once you understand that civil disobedience, for Gandhi, was aimed at working a change of heart-whether in the opponent or the public – then it’s easy to make sense of them.
  • One rule was that only specific, unjust laws were to be broken. Civil disobedience didn’t mean flouting all law.
  • In fact, Gandhi said that only people with a high regard for the law were qualified for civil disobedience. Only action by such people could convey the depth of their concern and win respect. No one thinks much of it when the law is broken by those who care nothing for it anyway.
  • Other rules: Gandhi ruled out direct coercion, such as trying to physically block someone. Hostile language was banned. Destroying property was forbidden. Not even secrecy was allowed.
  • All these were ruled out because any of them would undercut the empathy and trust Gandhi was trying to build, and would hinder that “change of heart.”


  • The second form of mass Satyagraha was non-co-operation.
  • This is just what it sounds like. Non-co-operation meant refusing to co-operate with the opponent, refusing to submit to the injustice being fought. It took such forms as strikes, economic boycotts, and tax refusals.
  • Of course, non-co-operation and civil disobedience overlapped. Non-co-operation too was to be carried out in a “civil” manner. Here too, Gandhi’s followers had to cheerfully face beating, imprisonment, confiscation of their property-and it was hoped that this willing suffering would cause a “change of heart.”
  • But non-co-operation also had a dynamic of its own, a dynamic that didn’t at all depend on converting the opponent or even molding public opinion. It was a dynamic based not on appeals but on the power of the people themselves.
  • Gandhi saw that the power of any tyrant depends entirely on people being willing to obey. The tyrant may get people to obey by threatening to throw them in prison, or by holding guns to their heads. But the power still resides in the obedience, not in the prison or the guns.
  • Gandhi said, “I believe that no government can exist for a single moment without the co-operation of the people, willing or forced, and if people suddenly withdraw their co-operation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.”
  • That was Gandhi’s concept of power-the one he’s accused of not having. It’s a hard one to grasp, for those used to seeing power in the barrel of a gun. Their filters do not pass it. And so they call Gandhi idealistic, impractical.


  • The Bhoodan-Gramdan movement initiated inspired by Vinoba brought Vinoba to the international scene.
  • In 1951, the Third Annual Sarvodaya Conference was held at Shivarampali, a village a few miles south of the city of Hyderabad in South India.
  • Vinoba was persuaded to leave his community center (Ashram) at Pavnar, near Nagpur & attend the meetings. Vinoba decided to walk three hundred miles to Hyderabad.
  • Telangana had been the scene of violent communist rebellion which was still smouldering in April 1951. For Vinoba the future of India was essentially a contest between the fundamental creeds of Gandhi & Marx. In coming to Hyderabad, Vinoba & other Gandhians were confronting a challenge & testing their faith in non-violence.
  • On April 11th 1951, the final day of conference, Vinoba announced that on his walk home to Pavanar he & a few companions would tour the Communist infested areas of Telangana to spread the message of Peace i.e. Non-violence. Once in Telangana, Vinoba quickly showed his sensitivity to the new situation. On April 17th, at his second stop, Vinoba learned at first hand that village people were afraid of the police as well as the Communists & that the village was torn along class-lines.
  • On April 18th 1951, the historic day of the very genesis of the Bhoodan movement, Vinoba entered Nalgonda district, the centre of Communist activity. The organizers had arranged Vinoba’s stay at Pochampalli, a large village with about 700 families, of whom two-thirds were landless. Pochampalli gave Vinoba a warm welcome. Vinoba went to visit the Harijan (the Untouchables) colony. By early afternoon villagers began to gather around Vinoba at Vinoba’s cottage. The Harijans asked for eighty acres of land, forty wet, forty dry for forty families that would be enough. Then Vinoba asked,”If it is not possible to get land from the government, is there not something villagers themselves could do?”
  • This movement later on developed into a village gift or Gramdan movement. This movement was a part of a comprehensive movement for the establishment of a Sarvodaya Society (The Rise of All socio-economic-political order), both in India & outside India.
  • The movement passed through several stages in regard to both momentum & allied programmes. In October 1951, Vinoba was led to demand fifty million acres of land for the landless from the whole of India by 1957. Thus a personal initiative assumed the form of a mass movement, reminding the people of Gandhi’s mass movements. This was indeed a very remarkable achievement for a constructive work movement. The enthusiasm for the movement lasted till 1957 & thereafter it began to wane.

Gramdan movement

  • Meanwhile the Bhoodan Movement had been transformed from a land-gift movement to a village-gift or Gramdan movement, in which the whole or a major part of a village land was to be donated by not less than 75% of the villagers who were required to relinquish their right of owner-ship over their lands in favour of the entire village, with power to equitably redistribute the total land among village’s families with a proviso for revision after some intervals. The Programme of individual land-gifts was still there, but henceforth became a neglected activity.
  • But there was another aspect as well & it related to allied programmes unfolded from time to time. Those progammes were Sampattidan (Wealth-gift), Shramdan (Labour-gift), Jeevandan (Life-long commitment to the movement by co-workers), Shanti-Sena (Peace-army), Sadhandan (gift of implements for agricultural operations).
  • As regards attitudinal transformation, the propagation of ideas combined with the above material achievements, could not but affects the mind of the thinking people.
  • The movement directly influenced the life-style of the co-workers, especially the life-long co-workers & through them many workers & associates or fellow-seekers.
  • By adopting Gandhi’s ideas to the solution of the basic economic problem of land collection & equitable redistribution among the landless, the Movement kept Gandhi’s ideas of socioeconomic reconstruction alive at a period when the tendency of the educated elite was to overlook, if not to reject Gandhi’s ideas as irrelevant.
  • The Movement kindled interest in the individuals to study Gandhi’s ideas & to assess their relevance.
  • To conclude taking an overall view it cannot be gainsaid that the Bhoodan-Gramdan Movement, despite all its real & apparent limitations, it would ever be deemed as a glorious attempt for a peaceful & non-violent solution of the basic land problem of Indian society & through it for a non-violent reconstruction of the Sarvodaya socio-economic-politico order of universal relevance & significance.
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