Every aspect of Gandhian thoughts have been widely examined. It is surprising that Gandhi’s views on science and technology finds a paltry mention in the texts.
Aldous Huxley, an English writer, had pointed out Gandhi’s indifferent attitude towards science and termed his Khadi movement as anti-Science. He wrote, “Tolstoyans and Gandhiites tell us that we must ‘return to nature’, in other words, abandon science altogether and live like primitives, or, at best, in the style of our medieval ancestors. The trouble with his advice is that it cannot be followed - or rather, it can be followed if we are prepared to sacrifice at least 800-900 million human lives.
Science, in the form of modern industrialization and agricultural technology, has allowed the world’s population to double itself in about three generations. ...Tolstoy and Gandhi are professed humanitarians, but they advocate slaughter, compared with which the massacres of Timur and Jinghiz Khan seem imperceptibly trivial.”
Most of the contemporary scholars had similar views about Gandhi’s approach towards Science. Even Nehru, one of Gandhi’s closest followers, wasn’t very privy to Gandhian thoughts on science and he responded to Huxley above: “It [Gandhi’s] may not be a correct attitude; its logic may be faulty... Even this attitude is not necessarily accepted by the political associates and followers of Gandhi. Personally, I do not agree with it and I should make it clear that the Indian Congress and the national movement have not adopted it.....” While Nehru’s views on science have been written about and quoted extensively, Gandhi’s have not received much scholarly attention. Through his quotes and writings, we will try to understand his views on science and what made him think so.
Mayhem of machinery
Gandhi’s views on science have often been confused with his views on machinery, the machine age and modern civilization. “Modern civilization, far from having done the greatest good to humanity, has forgotten that its greatest achievements are weapons of mass destruction, the awful growth of anarchism, the frightful disputes between capital and labour and the wanton and diabolical cruelty inflicted on innocent, dumb, living animals in the name of science. The boast about the wonderful discoveries and the marvelous inventions of science, good as they undoubtedly are in themselves, is, after all, an empty boast”, Gandhi had said.
Gandhiji opposed the frenzied run for machinery which no doubt saves time and labour at the same time throws thousands on the open streets to die of starvation. Gandhi said, “ I want to save time and labour, not a fraction of mankind but for all. I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride the backs of millions. The use of machinery increases greed.” In his opinion the earth has enough to satisfy everybody’s need but not anybody’s greed. He replaced greed by love and he believed that everything would be all right. Machines should not be allowed to cripple the limbs of man.
‘Root’ing for Science
As opposed to popular perception, Gandhi had a real appreciation for scientific education and he distinguished between ‘education in science’ and other branches of learning in the following words: “Education of man in science is the opposite of literacy training, which, he kept repeating, does not add one inch to one’s moral stature. By its learning and research, science is real education. It applies the mind to the reality around us. It promotes objectivity and grounded in the rigorous and disinterested pursuit of truth, forcing out all prejudice and illusion....”
Gandhi wanted to promote and nurture science and research culture in the country. He strongly urged the scientists to interact with people to understand their problems and requirements while conducting their research. He emphasised on direct intervention of scientific community in the village development programme.
“I sent a questionnaire to several of our well - known doctors and chemists, asking them to enlighten me on the chemical analysis and different food values of polished and unpolished rice, jaggery and sugar, and so on. Many friends have responded only to confess that there has been no research in some of the directions I had inquired about.
Is it not a tragedy that no scientist should be able to give me the chemical analysis of such a simple article as gur? The reason is that we have not thought of the villager.... What kinds of laboratory research shall we have to go in for?” It is clear that Gandhi was not opposed to modern science; rather he wanted scientifically informed knowledge to formulate policy decisions.
Gandhiji was very keen on rooting out two problems of Indian - idleness and the broken connection between the villages and the urban mass. During one of his tour, he realised that villagers are merely becoming a producer of raw materials and there is hardly any innovation at their end. The villagers only gave and got little in return. It is with this vision of “reinstating the villager” that Gandhiji started the All India Village Industries Association on December 14th, 1934.
The board of advisers of 20 members of AIVIA thus included eminent scientists like C V Raman, P C Ray, J C Bose and Sam Higginbotham. Gandhi felt that there was a need for “centralisation not of administration, but of thought, ideas and scientific knowledge”.
From 1934 onwards Gandhi clearly started emphasising on “science for the villages”. In his speeches Gandhi stressed on “rural mindedness”. To him “rural mindedness” was no “mere detail, but a prime necessity”.
Science of non-violence
Gandhi’s grudge with science might be attributed to the violence, science tends to propagate. At the same time, he had a firm belief that science would be able to bring the dawn of peace on earth. His opinion on science can be very well understood from his statement –“But science, which can be used to serve man, can also be used against Man. Science is not good or evil but its use and users are”.
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