New Delhi- Over 75 years have passed since Nathuram Godse's assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a tragedy foreshadowed by Godse's earlier attempt on Gandhi's life. Gandhi's disagreements with figures like Thanthai Periyar and Babasaheb Ambedkar were notable, yet they all abstained from resorting to violence. Instead, Periyar and Ambedkar played pivotal roles in addressing significant societal issues Gandhi did not fully satisfy. The contradictions between Gandhi and Periyar-Ambedkar offer crucial insights into understanding Indian society, where factors like caste, religion, class, and gender profoundly shape daily life.
This article examines one such contradiction – their differing perspectives on villages – to unravel the complexities of Indian society.
When we are talking about Indian society, villages are the first thing to look upon to understand how institutions and power structures works at the very basic level. The socioeconomic dynamics and the politics completely differ in the villages and the cities. For example, Untouchability is practiced in a more direct forms in villages, like restricting the entry to certain spaces. In urban spaces, the untouchability works in completely different forms when compared to villages. The refusal to rent houses to the marginalized sections are the best examples in this scenario. This is how caste works differently in rural and urban spaces. Coming to the main question, where Gandhi, Periyar, and Ambedkar differ in their views with respect to villages.
Gandhi was a strong advocate of villages and writes that if the villages perish, India will perish too. Gandhi advocated Village Industries and opposed the foreign production and foreign goods. Because, he believed that India need to achieve economic independence along with political independence. Though he read Marx and Marx writes all political forces are shaped by economic forces, the strong support to villages was given as part of the larger attempt to position the Indian Civilization through villages in opposition to Western Civilization as he believed that western civilization is urban. He opposed Western Industrialism, accusing it being the root of exploitation of Indian People and Villages. That is why he writes: “Our Concern is therefore to destroy Industrialism at any cost.”
Thanthai Periyar from the Tamilnadu says to abolish the villages in the entire country making it present nowhere. He points out that whatever reformation we attempt to do in villages can only make a Paraiyan, a Harijan and not a human. He points out the villagers who lack all the basic things like Hospitals, Schools, and Courts, have been mere tools to generate wealth for the cities using its labor. He goes beyond and says that villagers have to toil all the day to provide milk, food grains, for the urban population who have the purchasing power to buy these, as this system will not allow the villagers to achieve that power.
In this stage, whatever reformations you bring, the village will still be a Shudra, says Periyar. The alternative which Periyar put forwards is very important to notice, he wants towns to exist (Oor). He wants not only to abolish Villages but also the cities. He doesn’t want villages or cities, just towns / oors. This is important to notice because the Brahmanical Exploitation works with this rural-urban divide, which can be abolished when both cities and villages doesn’t exist and only Oors (Towns) exist. It is easy to see the rural-urban divide as mere political divisions, but there is a deeply rooted socioeconomic factors where structural violences like caste and patriarchy exercise their power in this system which is maintained by the same power.
Coming to Babasaheb, let us take his famous work with relation to Gandhi – What Gandhi and Congress did to untouchables? Babasaheb warns that Untouchability is most rampant in villages. The scholarliness of Babasaheb helped to bring his diverse and deep academic exposure to understand the India which is primarily an agrarian economy. He says something completely different to Periyar or Gandhi in his Small Holdings in India, after making sound arguments regarding the status of agriculture and small holdings in India, that “Industrialization is a soundest remedy for the agricultural problems in India”.
Ambedkar comes with the similar argument to that of Periyar pointing out the lack of basic amenities in the villages. Ambedkar put forth the solution of bringing from villages to the towns giving them full employment opportunities. Ambedkar’s concern about the village population was highly economic in language as he aimed to achieve economic justice along with social justice. When we have population increasing day by day, how we can achieve the standard of living in villages where the system is not ready to spend on the reconstruction of the villages, by increasing sanitation, or providing the basic infrastructure.
It is difficult to picturize ourselves. Seeing from the lens of Periyar, Ambedkar, and Gandhi, without reading their works on Villages, Urbanization, or Industrialization may lead to jumping to the conclusion of Periyar and Ambedkar understood the Caste Element in the Villages and supported the Cities whereas Gandhi was more into sustaining feudalistic mode of production. But taking few key arguments of these leaders make us understand two primary things when it comes to their views to villages. Firstly, Ambedkar and Gandhi stand in opposite poles in their views over villages, which is not only because of the social backgrounds, but also because of the rich scholarly background with better social understanding of caste dynamics that Ambedkar had in the first place make him to walk ahead of Gandhi.
Secondly, Periyar who mostly stand with Ambedkar, when it comes to a contradiction between Ambedkar and Gandhi, acted as a notable bridge in this contradiction. Though the social views are similar to that of Ambedkar, the point where Periyar starts is as same as where Gandhi starts – Cities are exploiting the labour and the resources of the villages. Whereas Ambedkar points out how urban population are taxed and how these taxes are not used for the villages. But the choosing a different trajectory Periyar positioned himself in a complicated but a necessary interlink between the understanding of Ambedkar and Gandhi in relation to the village question.
Today, still casteism prevails and evolves in the Indian Society – both in rural and urban spaces. Even taking the example of Tamilnadu where Periyar was born, Vengaivayal Tragedy happened in a village setup, whereas a Dalit girl was harassed by DMK MLA’s Family in a City Space. In such a caste ridden society, arguing whether cities or villages are most important and necessary is not an advisable one.
But the arguments of these three thinkers is highly important to move forward as a community understanding how politics and socioeconomic factors play unique role with respect to the spatial setup. This discussion should be further continued with taking more and more works of these thinkers into analysis and developing discourses. Only through learning and unlearning, this discourse can be developed.
Small Holdings in India – Dr. BR Ambedkar – BASS Collection Volume 1
On Budget – Dr. BR Ambedkar – BASS Collection Volume 2
Village Swaraj – MK Gandhi
Gramangal Ozhiya Vendum (Villages should be abolished.) – Thanthai Periyar
-The Author Thambi (pen name) is currently pursuing a Master's degree at Jamia Millia Islamia University and is an avid enthusiast in reading and writing about Periyar.
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