7.5 Gandhi in the 21st Century


The Vegan movement has the same role to play in dismantling the hierarchical system of the Caterpillar in the early 21st century as the “Khadi” movement, spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi, played in dismantling the British colonial empire of the early 20th century[75]. Gandhi fueled the Khadi movement in the early 20th century by writing magazine articles and just plain people-to-people persuasion, without the Internet, without cell-phones and without social media. It is very instructive to study how he got hundreds of millions of people to take voluntary action at once.

The year was 1914. Gandhi, a middle-aged lawyer, dressed in a finely tailored British suit and tie, embarked on a ship to travel from South Africa to India with a brief stopover in England. He was an accidental activist, thrust into that role when he was thrown off the first-class compartment of a train in South Africa, for being colored[76]. But now he was sailing out to join and possibly spearhead the Indian independence movement, to take on the mightiest Empire that the world had ever seen until that time.

Gandhi was received as a hero in India since he had been instrumental in raising the morale of the Indian people through his 1909 monograph, Hind Swaraj. After visiting the villages, towns and cities of India over the next three years, Gandhi announced his grand idea for taking on the British empire: Indians must continue with their ongoing agitations, but in addition, they must change their clothes from British clothes manufactured in the mills of Manchester to simple, homespun “Khadi” clothes.

At first, Gandhi’s plan was met with some ridicule in Indian intellectual circles as magazine articles from those times show[77]. How could the bitterly divided people of India take on the mightiest empire the world had ever seen by changing their clothes? But he had the backing of a few key intellectuals, including Rabindranath Tagore, a poet Nobel Laureate, who saw the wisdom of concerted action, which could unite the people of India. But more importantly, undermining the British textile industry would severely impact the economic might of the British empire[78]. At that time, the textile industry was one of the largest industries in Great Britain. The Khadi movement was simple to join, had a substantial impact and united the people of India in a common, spiritual bond.

The Khadi movement was born, in 1918. At first, the colonial rulers ignored the Khadi movement, even as Gandhi waged a tireless, grassroots campaign. Gandhi wrote in the Navjivan magazine in 1925[79],

“It is my duty to induce people, by every honest means, to wear Khadi.”  

Clearly, Gandhi wasn’t satisfied with moderate half steps, since he was interested in turning people into passionate activists on behalf of the Khadi movement and, thus, the Indian Independence movement. This was key to the rapid spread of the movement. Much to the consternation of the colonial rulers, within a dozen years after it was founded, by 1931, the Khadi movement had managed to bankrupt the textile mills of Manchester[80], paving the way for the eventual independence of India sixteen years later, in 1947. Gandhi was a genius for framing the Indian freedom struggle, not as one between two countries, but as one between the working class on the one hand, and the ruling power elites on the other. He rightly observed that the textile mill workers of Manchester were also the oppressed victims of industrialization and that it was the English East India Company and not the people of Great Britain that began the colonization of India. Gandhi was also a genius for recognizing that it is only personal changes executed in concert that can lead to a social transformation. The Khadi movement truly united the people of India in a common spiritual bond, helping them tide over their other vast differences.

Now, almost a century later, we are faced with a very similar situation, but on a global scale. Gandhi was fighting for the independence of India from colonial rule. We are now fighting for the transformation of our socioeconomic system, to ensure the survival of our children and grandchildren and, indeed, to ensure the survival of all life on Earth as we know it. The British Rulers, who clung to the old idea of a vast British colonial empire, which the sun never set on, opposed Gandhi. Likewise, we can expect to be opposed by those who will cling to the old idea of a hierarchical system with rank privileges. Gandhi inspired the people of India to make that one simple change, to take that voluntary step of changing their clothes. We need to inspire people in industrial societies – specifically, all those who have access to food abundance – to take that voluntary step of changing what we eat, to go vegan. For the Animal Agriculture industry of the early 21st century is the global equivalent of the textile industry of the early 20th century in Great Britain. It is one of the largest industries in the world with, by far, the largest footprint on Nature.

Thus the Vegan movement, without a doubt, has the same potential for personal and social transformation in the 21st century globally, just as the Khadi Movement did in 20th century India. Just like the Khadi movement, it is simple to join, it has a substantial impact and it has spiritual connotations. It can truly unite the people of the world in a common bond, helping us tide over our other vast differences. At the moment, at an individual level, it is a far more practical step than foregoing the use of fossil fuels in our daily lives. Is it any wonder that countries like Germany have seen an 800% increase in vegans in just three years by 2013[81]? It is thrilling that the Miglets in the affluent world are leading this transformation! Personally, I channel Gandhi’s words for the Vegan movement:

“It is my duty to induce people, by every honest means, to go Vegan.”

[75] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khadi

[76] http://bit.ly/1XoMSCo

[77] Brown, Rebecca, Gandhi’s Spinning Wheel and the Making of India (Routledge Studies in South Asian History), Routledge, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0415494311, http://amzn.to/1XoN9Ft

[78] Please see, e.g., http://bit.ly/1PpQFuG

[79] http://www.mkgandhi.org/ebks/gandhijionkhadi.pdf

[80] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-lancashire-15020097

[81] Statistics about Germany reported in http://bit.ly/1IMqh7Y


7.4 The Vegan Metamorphosis
7.6 The AhimsaCoin Economy
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