Covid-19: We need to restore the idea of the Swaraj people | Opinion – analysis
As coronavirus disease (Covid-19) rages around the world, India faces another massive challenge: how to ensure the safety and well-being of its poor and marginalized people living in urban agglomerations.
Large employment centers like Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad are struggling to stem the spread of the deadly virus. The problem is further complicated by those who live in congested slums and ghettos where social distancing is, at best, a misnomer. Furthermore, the poor and migrants are unemployed and face an uncertain future in the immediate future.
It must be addressed. Perhaps the problem does not need a completely new solution, but the one that the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had suggested: Gram swaraj, his talisman, the fruit of his long search for answers to the many evils of India. His pioneering idea of swaraj or self-government emanated from the very foundation of Indian society, its peoples, and its implicit self-sufficiency. Gandhi envisioned his ideal village as a self-sufficient republic, independent of its neighbors for its own needs and yet interdependent for those who depend on it.
“I am convinced that if India wants to achieve true freedom and also through India in the world, sooner or later it must be recognized that people will have to live in villages, not in cities, in shacks, not in palaces.” he said.
In 1929, he wrote in Young India: “We are heirs to a rural civilization. The immensity of our country, the immensity of the population, the situation and the climate of the country, in my opinion, have destined it for a rural civilization … Uprooting it and replacing it with an urban civilization seems impossible to me. . “
Post-closure images of migrant workers who walked back on foot or crowded bus and train stations caused a massive rage. Migrants are aware that, without work, they cannot survive in cities. Rather, in their villages, they have a well-established food supply and free shelter. Still, if they don’t have a job in their destination cities, they have no good reason to stay away from family. Most of them are employed in low-value, low-value hazardous work, which is compounded by a lack of identity and legal protection. Villages are still a better option for them, with a social safety net.
Almost a fifth of India’s workforce, some 100 million, are migrants. Of this, a large majority are from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP). In UP’s case, half a million workers across the country have returned home after the shutdown. To make them financially independent, the UP government has formed a committee of high-ranking officials that is trying to shore up the village economy. The committee has also been asked to take a holistic approach and develop short and long-term plans for migrants.
One of the first tasks of this type that the UP government has taken is to reopen the closed and disused mills, especially those in the food business: flour, oil and pulse mills. It is reviving small units, such as dairies, and guaranteeing them security and support to employ the local workforce and ultimately serve foreign markets.
The government is also trying to revive the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) sector, which has more than 70 lakh units in the state, the largest share in the country. MSME Minister Sidharth Nath Singh recently connected with more than 100 companies based in the United States who showed interest in expanding their existing businesses in the state. “But they want us to introduce some relaxations in the labor laws,” Singh told reporters.
Rebuilding the village economy can allow people to remain in their communities. Small-scale industries, local factories, home products, and homegrown products can make this happen if supported by an efficient distribution system and favorable laws.
According to the British Governor in India, Sir Charles Metcalfe, “village communities are small republics that have almost everything they want within themselves and almost independent of foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. “Such an idyllic village life was lost in the search for a modern India seeking city-centered industrialization and economic activity.
But not all is lost. Adversities can turn into opportunities. The coronavirus pandemic offers one that could help us implement village ideals in practice. It is time for us to correct this anomaly.
Shesh Narain Singh is a senior journalist, columnist, and political analyst. He is a political editor, Deshbandhu and a consultant, News18 India. Vineeta Dwivedi is a former broadcaster and journalist, and teaches Communication at SP Jain SP Management and Research Institute of Bhawan (SPJIMR), Mumbai
The opinions expressed are personal.