One of the most inspiring aspects of the freedom movement in India was the combination of struggle and constructive work. While several great freedom fighters contributed to this idea, the most important contribution to this concept was made by Mahatma Gandhi. This has attracted worldwide attention and rightly so.
Gandhiji understood very well that the freedom movement involves long-term commitment, and struggle cannot exist with equal continuity for such a long time. There will be periods of peak levels of struggles, and there will be periods of rest or relative rest. However to maintain continuity in the work of freedom fighters, in their mobilization and inter-actions, in their sense of achievement and fulfillment, for maintaining high spirits and inspirational feelings, good work giving relief and hope to people, providing them opportunities of learning and working together, should continue all the time.
Hence the concept of combining struggles with many-sided constructive work was evolved . There was , however, no hard dividing line as one often contributed to or led to the other. For example the struggles by taking inspirational mood of nation to high levels also contributed to great upsurge of constructive work. On the other hand constructive work like anti-alcoholism also led frequently to great anti-liquor struggles involving a lot of sacrifice by dedicated activists including women.
This combination provided adequate room for people of different capabilities to contribute to the wider struggle. Not everyone could sacrifice everything, but they could contribute in several small yet significant ways to the freedom movement.
Hence adding constructive work to struggles gives opportunities to many more people to contribute and as they also get a chance to work in an area of their liking, their creativity comes out more beautifully, contributing much to the betterment of society.
Hence the freedom movement could have many branches of very interesting and creative work which continue to have an influence even up to this day because this is genuinely work of enduring relevance.
Among the various kinds of constructive work which got importance in the freedom movement mention may be made of work relating to inter-faith and communal harmony, ending various discriminative practices, campaign against liquor and intoxicants, campaign for cottage scale rural industry and diversification of rural livelihoods, promotion of self-reliance of rural communities based on equality and simplicity, voluntary work in the area of sanitation and public hygiene, peace and justice based internationalism even in the middle of a struggle against colonialism. All this remain highly relevant even today.
This idea of combining struggle and constructive work has been taken up by several important struggles in India in recent times. When I was covering the Chipko movement as a young reporter in Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand , I learnt about the importance of this approach in the company of such inspiring activists as Vimla and Sundelal Bahuguna, Kunwar Prasun and Dhum Singh Negi. Later this combination was also witnessed in the Appiko movement of Western Ghats inspired by the Chipko Movement of Himalayan forests and villages.
When I was covering the famous struggle of workers in Chattisgarh led by Shankar Guha Niyogi, I was witness to a beautiful realization of combining struggle and constructive work, combining sangharsh and nirman, as all too frequent struggles of workers here were combined with a people’s health campaign and the setting up of the Shaheed Hospital ( which continues to this day), a very successful anti-liquor campaign, a program of vocational skills, tree-planting, cultural initiative, women’s empowerment and other constructive work.
The Narmada Bachao Aandolan, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathna in Rajasthan, the struggle of adivasis led by Sunil Ji and his colleagues in and around Hoshangabad ( Madhya Pradesh), all followed a similar approach to a greater or lesser extent, to give a few examples only from the movements which I covered personally as a reporter. I am sure there are several other such movements scattered all across the country, and the legacy of the freedom movement has contributed a lot to this.
This legacy of the freedom movement should be carried forward by other social movements to bring more relief and hope to people, while at the same time advancing struggles for wider changes.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Planet in Peril.