*The national background at the time of the birth of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement*
Sri Lanka (Ceylon), like many other newly independent nations, was a victim of western colonialism for well over four centuries. Economic exploitation of the conquered peoples was the prime motivation of the colonial powers and this resulted in the imposition of a system of administration which facilitated easy revenue collection and keeping the people in subjugation under a central bureaucratic control. As a consequence of this policy, the people of the land were reduced to be either wage-earners from the colonial government and government-patronized private enterprise or to be passive degenerating communities which had to be satisfied with a subsistence economy. Except for a negligible fraction of the native population who learned the colonizer’s language, embraced the latter’s religion and adopted an alien culture, the vast majority of the peoples in these countries were languishing in poverty, ignorance, disease and squalor.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century certain reforms in educational, administrative and welfare institutions, were imposed by the colonisers and these were obviously in the interest of the colonizers rather than the people. On the part of the colonial peoples, there was a revival of nationalism which continued to this century with great vigour and in different forms, culminating in the concession of political freedom to many colonies immediately after the Second World War. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) won a restricted political freedom in 1948.
This freedom though limited gave the people an opportunity to participate in electing their rulers through universal franchise. The limitations were not realized by most people, for there was some sort of superficial prosperity and affluence due to a considerable amount of foreign exchange reserves left over to Ceylon’s credit in the Bank of England after the Second World War. The new nation was ensured a ready supply of the staple food-rice for the common man and luxuries and semi-luxuries for the more well-to-do people. This state of affairs could not go on for long and already by the first half of the 1950s people were beginning to assert their rights in other fields as well without being satisfied with a subsistence economy and the freedom to elect their government.
By the middle of the 1950s, the common man in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was psychologically ready to be emancipated to push the political freedom he gained in 1948 to other areas of life as well, namely, towards a cultural, social and economic freedom. They wanted a leader with a political will to champion their cause.
The people found their leader in Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to whom they gave a decisive mandate to bring about the aforesaid far-reaching changes at the general election of 1956 which, incidentally, was the historic year of the 2500th Buddha Jayanti Anniversary. A new sense of freedom was experienced by the rural masses with his ascendancy to power. The latent aspirations and powers of the common man, which had been conditioned by the centuries old Buddhist thought and practice, came to the surface during this era. They were manifested in the form of various nationalist movements in the spheres of art, music, drama, literature and religion. In the social welfare and community development field, too, new organisations sprang up which were rooted in the indigenous culture of the people. The Sarvodaya Shramadana thought also took shape during this period of national revival.
While the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement was born in an atmosphere of freedom and promise between 1956 and 1958, it had to grow and come to maturity in the context of an uncertain and gloomy political climate. Therefore, from 1959, the Movement took its own natural course of evolution with the startling velocity received at its initiation based on the thought that ‘if the vision of great leaders is to be shared by the vast millions and if their objectives are to be successfully realized, civic action on the part of the people is an absolute necessity’. Thus the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement was started with the specific objective of involving in a voluntary effort the rural masses and the youth in a constructive effort to:
# develop the personality of youth in keeping with our culture and rapid changes taking place around us,
# awaken rural communities to the realities of social change and help them to become agents of such change in keeping with their own culture and interests,
# achieve national integration by giving opportunities for all irrespective of caste, race, religion or language to contribute their share in the common effort of nation building based on the principles of truth, non-violence and self-denial and for the objective of realizing fundamental human rights and social justice, and
# bring about collaboration with people and communities with similar ideas and progressive programmes in other countries of the world for world peace, human brotherhood and development co-operation between basic groups.
*Philosophy of Sarvodaya Shramadana*
‘Sarvodaya’ signifies a thought and ‘Shramadana’ the implementation of that thought. ‘Sarva’ meaning all and ‘Udaya’ meaning awakening are two Sanskrit words which are also common to our Sinhala language. ‘Shrama’ literally means energy or labour and ‘dana’ – means sharing. Shramadana means ‘sharing’ of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all.
The Sarvodaya concept of ‘the welfare of all’ was Mahatma Gandhi’s answer to the western political concept of the ‘greatest good of the greatest number’. Mahatma Gandhi, perhaps having realised the danger of the Western concept of majority welfare being detrimental to Indian society, already divided by race, caste, religion and language, placed before his people the concept of Sarvodaya as the one thought that would unify his nation ideologically and lead it towards an exploitation-free society of equal citizens.
Acharya Vinoba Bhave continued to propagate Gandhi’s idea through the world famous Bhoodan-Gramadan Movement which Bhave started in 1951. We in Ceylon were inspired by this Sarvodaya thought of Mahatma Gandhi and the Bhoodan-Gramdan action of Archarya Vinoba Bhave.
We do not allow our national pride to stand in our way when we choose to accept the best of any culture. While the word ‘Sarvodaya’ with its literal meaning was adopted from India, the interpretation of its deep meaning as relevant to our own Sinhala Buddhist Culture and national population is completely our own. We have our own indigenous character both in thought and action as far as the Ceylon Movement is concerned.
Sarvodaya ideology of the Ceylon Movement has both a spiritual and material significance relevant to the individual, the family, the village or urban community, the nation and the world. The individual should have a clear and integrated idea as to why, from what and how one has to liberate oneself, one’s village community, one’s nation and one’s world. Unless one’s ideological conditioning is non-fragmentary and embraces harmoniously one’s own welfare with the welfare of others, one cannot go very far as an agent bringing about effective social change.
Sarvodaya philosophy points a two-fold liberation objective every individual should strive for. First, within one’s own mind or thinking process there are certain defilements one has to recognize and strive to cleanse. Second, one has to recognize that there are unjust and immoral socio-economic chains which keep the vast majority of people enslaved, and that these chains have to be removed if the human being is to experience true freedom and enjoy fundamental human rights. Thus, a dual revolution pertaining to an individual’s mental make-up and to the social environment in which he lives is kept foremost in the Sarvodaya Shramadana worker’s mind and behaviour.
The process of education or enlightenment or development of the personality of an individual to the fullest we call ‘paurushodaya’. Only those who have as their supreme goal the development of their personality to the fullest can in the long run show others the way to the path to liberation from the spiritual and moral lapses and socio-economic ills that humanity is faced with today. This means for the individual an educational goal far beyond the present formal acquisition of knowledge directed towards a job career.
During the period of industrialization in Europe and the subsequent commercial expansion towards the East, production of wealth was a material and mechanical affair from which spiritual and humanistic considerations were totally absent and was the sole economic philosophy that interested the Western capitalists. We cannot go on with this theory. In our society, the human being is just as, or even more, important as an end in himself although we are equally anxious to increase our economic productivity to give him a higher standard of living. The dilemma we are faced with today is how to harmonize economic theory with our age-old spiritual wealth.
All human beings have both good and evil in them. The evil in man is better organised than the good in him. The Sarvodaya attempt is to organise the good in man more effectively so as to put an end to the misery in society which springs from the evil in him. Only patient and selfless service to the downtrodden, and the ever-present determination to change society while the individual himself undergoes a change, can vindicate the movement from possible ridicule and probable abuse not only by vested interests but even by other progressive movements which do not share a similar spiritual philosophy.
The Sarvodaya philosophy is a synthetic ideology and a universal concept. All forms of creative altruism and evolutionary humanism, be it from marxian aim of material integration, Rousseau’s option of social integration or Asoka’s endeavour of moral integration, just to give a few examples, are inherent in the Sarvodaya philosophy practised by us for ours is an attempt to bring about total human integration. The philosophy that influenced us most in evolving our Sarvodaya concept in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is Lord Buddha’s teachings.
*Inspiration for Sarvodaya from the Buddhist Thought*
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement drew abundantly from the wealth of Buddhist thought which we have attempted to apply to the realization of socio-economic ideals in harmony with moral and spiritual ends. For the motivation of youth and building a leadership for the Movement the clear philosophy of life as found in the teachings of the Buddha and the culture resulting therefrom was utilized. According to Lord Buddha’s teachings man’s suffering is mainly due to his ignorance of the true nature of things within him and around him. In his teachings he shows a Middle Path practice for the seeker of true happiness to overcome his ignorance and the resulting suffering.
In brief the following are the three principles of reality Buddha wants us to realize by ourselves.
# Principle of Change or Impermanence – All phenomena whether physical or mental, social or spiritual, are caused by various factors or conditions coming together and these conditions and phenomena are in a state of constant change.
# Principle of Suffering – One who fails to understand the fact that everything changes every moment and develops a strong tendency to crave for and grasp things with greed, invariably comes to grief when he has to part with them.
# Principle of Egolessness – The deceptive notion of I, me, and mine or ego is at the root cause of anger, hatred and greed. This erroneous belief in a permanent unchanging personality arising from the ‘Ego’ or ‘I’ factor Lord Buddha dismissed as false.
The three principles of Impermanence (Anicca), Suffering (Dukka) and Egolessness (Anatta) have conditioned the minds of the people in Ceylon for centuries. All other things in our lives – individual and social behaviour, economic development programmes, moral conduct and political behaviour – sprang from this central Buddhist thought. We place this teaching in its relevant perspective before the minds of those who volunteer for Sarvodaya Shramadana work. Personality Development should take place in a direction to bring about the realization of the three foregoing principles leading to correct insight.
Sarvodaya Shramadna workers are encouraged to tread the Eight Noble Steps leading to complete emancipation of a human being:
# Right understanding: Attainment of the knowledge and skill to know and see things as they really are, that is, to acquire correct ideas about the world and significance of life.
# Right thoughts: Right understanding leads to thoughts of renunciation, good-will and non-violence in a determination to foster noble aspirations and endeavour and to be free from malice and ill-will.
# Right speech: Is abstention from every kind of falsehood, slander, rude machinations and abusive language, foolish talk, chatter and gossip.
# Right action: Is peaceful, honourable and pure action and abstaining from injury to any living being, stealing, sexual lust, falsehood and intoxicants.
# Right livelihood: Is abandonment of wrong occupations and getting one’s living only by right methods. Specially mentioned as non-conducive to self-realization are selling weapons of war, butchery, prostitution, slave-dealing and purveying of poisons and intoxicating drugs.
# Right effort: Is suppression of evil and cultivation of good through assiduous self-discipline.
# Right mindfulness or Awareness: Is selfmastery over all one’s actions through constant awareness.
# Right concentration: Is mental equipoise or one’s whole body and mind being permeated with a feeling of purity and peace.
(Note: One who renounces the household life completely and strives after spiritual enlightenment can tread this eight-fold path to perfection. But any ordinary man too can apply these principles in his day-to-day worldly life if he has the will to do so).
The degree to which a person can tread this Path in life may vary, according to his intellectual maturity and spiritual development; but, by treading it, he becomes a part of a mass social movement towards human progress and conscious social change. In order to help the new-comer and the less learned to understand this profound teaching, we in the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement very often make use of Lord Buddha’s reference to Satara Brahma Viharana or the Four Sublime Abodes that lead man to a divine state in this life: (1) Metta (or Loving-kindness), (2) Karuna (or Compassion), (3) Muditha (or Altruistic joy) and (4) Upekka (or Equanimity). In the Buddha’s dispensation those who can cultivate these states of mind can be classed among the noblest of human beings. In Sarvodaya programmes we try to cultivate all these four qualities in us with a view to improving our worth as human beings.
*Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement and rural culture*
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a country of villages with over 85 per cent living in rural areas. There are 23.000 villages in Ceylon and the Movement works in over 200 of them. Whatever success it has achieved so far is mainly due to the understanding it has of the culture of the rural people.
The village community acted more or less as a large family, accepting four cardinal principles of social life, collectively called ‘Chatus Sangraha Vastu’ (‘Four Principles of Group Behaviour’ gives the nearest English meaning): Dana (or sharing), Priya Vachana (or pleasant speech), Artha Charya (or constructive activity) and Samanathmatha (or equality). These four principles governed our socio-economic life before the colonial powers came. Remnants of this way of life remain to this day giving us hope for its revival in the future.
‘Dana’ or sharing stresses the equitable distribution of wealth and an exploitation-free society. While each member of the community laboured according to his capacity, this principle enabled each to receive according to his or her need. Long before the socialist economic theories were formulated in the West as a reaction to extreme capitalist exploitation, our people practised a socialist way of life based on the Buddhist philosophy. The concept of ‘Dana’ or sharing was not born out of the reaction against an exploiting class, because such a class did not exist at that time. It was purely based on the knowledge that overcoming craving (or Thanha) is the sole means to Supreme Happiness. The ten virtues that a Bodhisatva (an aspirant for Buddhahood) should cultivate, the ten cardinal principles that a ruler should follow, the three meritorious actions of a follower of the Buddhist teachings and many other similar codes of conduct begin with ‘Dana’. This shows the importance attached by our culture to the act of sharing. ‘Dana’ advocates not only common ownership or state ownership but also non-possession.
Paddy agriculture practised by the Sinhala people is an excellent example of the application of the concept of sharing to socio-economic organisation. Agriculture was the foundation of our economy and all our great kings practised the edict that ‘not a drop of water that falls from the skies should flow to the sea without being put to use’. Priority was given to the construction of tanks and irrigation systems. A network of big and small tanks with irrigation canals ensured a ready supply of water to satisfy the needs of both man and beast, and their crops. The king and other members of royalty physically joined the peasants and the other members of the community in constructing and maintaining the tanks and irrigation works. All stages of paddy farming such as ploughing, sowing, weeding, manuring, harvesting and threshing were done on the principle of shared labour. This form of sharing of labour by all was called ‘Samudan’ by the ancient Sinhala. ‘Samu’ means a collection of people and ‘Dana’ means sharing. Later it was called ‘Kayya’. In 1958 our movement introduced the word ‘Shramadana’.
When an entire nation got down into the paddy fields to share their labour they had to have a time schedule for their work in keeping with the season. The ‘neketha’ or the astrologically auspicious time was a psychological device used by our people to satisfy this need.
The sharing of their crops or the fruits of their labour was called ‘Panguwa’. The king, the monks, the physician, the service agents of the state, the black-smith, the washerman, the aged and the widowed, all received their share or panguwa. The customs, the ceremonies, the song and dance had their due place in every phase of this economic activity. These were extremely important as they gave recognition to the joy of living and psychological contentment. Thus paddy agriculture was a way of life of our people which gave the farmer recognition for his occupation and the joy of living. It was only three hundred years ago that Robert Knox, an Englishman who lived twenty years among these people as a prisoner, made the statement that ‘a Sinhala farmer when washed of his mud is fit to be a king’.
Next to sharing, the second principle that moulded our community into one nation was our use of language. The language our people used in their day-to-day life among members of the family, villagers, the clergy, the elders and children was so varied and pleasant that everyone’s worth and dignity was well recognized. An elderly woman was always called ‘mother’ by all young people while a man or woman of similar age was addressed as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. The words used in the paddy-field, the temple, when on pilgrimages, were different from those that were used in normal life. Even animals were addressed with pet names like ‘son’ and never in derogatory terms. While equality of all was recognized, yet due recognition and respect were given to those that deserved it because of their age, maturity, knowledge or skill, and usefulness to the community.
The third principle that regulated our community organization was ‘arthacharya’ or constructive activity. This, too has both a material and spiritual connotation. The activities that helped for the material prosperity and social well-being of the people and which did not endanger spiritual development were promoted.
‘Samanathmatha’ or equality was the fourth principle. Knee-deep in the mud in the paddy field the king and the commoner worked. There was no discrimination due to caste at that time for a caste represented only a division of labour or specialization. However those who violated the moral laws were ostracized by the rest of the community as outcasts. ‘Not by birth one becomes an outcast; not by birth one becomes a Brahmin (high caste); but by one’s actions one becomes an outcast and by one’s actions one becomes a Brahmin’, was the teaching of the Buddha. Every man, king or commoner was considered equal before the law. There was no duality of behaviour between one’s private life and public life as found today.
This social philosophy and practice at the rural level laid a strong infrastructure for the stability and strength of the nation. It was a strength derived from below from the high moral fibre of a people and was not the result of an imposed power coming down to the people from above. Hence the king and the rulers had a Code of Ten Principles of follow. They were: sharing, morality, beneficience, uprightness, impartiality, composure, non-harbouring of ill-will, non-violence, patience and non-revengefulness. Thus our culture was based on the principles of truth, non-violence and community spirit which identified our people as a nation. This spirit prevails to this day. A Pali stanza we recite even now has the following meaning:
‘May there be seasonal rains to support our agricultural prosperity; may the entire living world be happy, and may our rulers be righteous and just in their actions’.
The strength and culture of the people as opposed to the authority of a bureaucracy was prevalent in this system. The deadweight of a governmental machinery based on an ever-increasing volume of laws and suppressive state machinery to enforce them are predominant now. The present ridiculous situation of people being asked to participate in development or the talk of a welfare state did not exist then. It was an instance of the government participating in people’s efforts and a welfare society by its own right. The human being in his culture was supreme and he was largely free from authority. The freedom to change inherent in the Buddhist thought helped this apparently rigid system to be very dynamic and progressive. Colossal tanks and irrigation works, huge dagobas towering hundreds of feet into the skies, massive palaces and temples built of solid rock, rock inscriptions paintings and carvings and works of high literary stature remain to this day to illustrate the dynamic nature of this culture. The temple, the tank and the paddy field are three symbols of this culture we see in our rural areas even today.
In spite of the superstructure of a central government, bureaucracies, monetary systems, budgetary estimates, central economic planning, welfare and development departments, and government extension services, the vast resources of a people’s thought and culture in our country remain largely untapped. It is on the latter infrastructure that the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is built. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is only a humble attempt to revitalise this thought and culture, giving them a new trial and a sophisticated direction according to the needs of the changed times.
It is necessary to make clear at this stage that the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is not confined to the Sinhala Buddhists alone. Since Sarvodaya is an essence of all religions, people of many religious faiths and racial origins work in the Movement as brethren of one family.
Hindus, Muslims and Christians all belong to this common national culture. They have lived in friendship and harmony except on a very few occasions when foreign interests have promoted dissensions among them. Every human being is fundamentally recognized as an equal with any other human being under the Buddhist principle of Samanathmatha or equality.
*Inception of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement*
Sarvodaya thought or philosophy is put into concrete action by an integrated three fold programme, (1) an educational programme, through Shramadana (2) community development programme, through Gramodaya (village re-awakening); and (3) a direct participation programme through a Grama Swarajya (village self-government) movement.
Such a comprehensive and grass-roots programme requires self-denial, great patience and acceptance of the principle that ‘Only good means can bring about good ends’. It is necessary to do continuous research and evaluation of the concepts and the implementation programmes and to maintain strict non-alliance with any party and power political groups but retain same communication with them for a nobler objective. It is important to co-exist with the bureaucracy and co-operate with it for development programmes striving to bring about a fundamental change in this institution itself.
The Movement began as an educational experiment. The word ‘education’ is used here in the broadest meaning of the term. It is not passive accumulation of knowledge or skill by an individual or a group. it is a dynamic process of change both in the individual and the group. Further it is not confined to a particular age group. On the contrary it is a creative experience in which people of all ages and different walks of life participate as equals. The technique used is known as a ‘Sharmadana Camp’.
The first experiment was carried out in a remote village called Kanatoluwa by the students and teachers of Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo, a leading Buddhist high school in Ceylon. The majority of students at Nalanda came from well-to-do families. It is fair to say that the pioneers of the Movement belonged to a higher class – both economically and socially – than most other youths in the country. The community they selected for their experiment, on the other hand, was one of the worst communities in Ceylon at that time. ‘Could these young people build a psychological bridge to close the gap between these two classes as a first step towards total integration of these two groups’? That was the first question we asked ourselves at that time.
Kanatoluwa is situated 67 miles away from Colombo. Forty poverty-stricken families lived in this village. These people did not receive social recognition as equals from the people in the adjoining villages due to a traditional social stigma attached to their caste. Denied even the fundamental human right to earn a living by physical labour, men, women and children of this village had for generations eked out an existence through begging, their only means of livelihood. Their small plots of land were too small to sustain them by agriculture alone and the resultant dependence on begging became a habit and caused them to neglect even what land they had. Their huts were on the verge of collapse or had already collapsed. They had not a single well or latrine. There were 67 children of compulsory school going-age (i.e. between 5 and 14) who had no schooling facilities. Malnutrition and disease abounded. Eating houses, hair-dressers, and similar places closed their doors on them. Worst of all, even the clergy did not accept their alms or cater to their religious needs. In short, at the time Nalanda Shramadana Volunteers arrived for the Shramadana camp at Kanatoluwa, social ostracism was complete with all its ugliness.
Nalanda Shramadana workers prepared for this day for well over three months. Their leaders had visited the village earlier and carried out a socio-economic family survey. With the participation of the villagers they had planned what they were going to do. The material and equipment needed for different social welfare and community development tasks were collected by the students well ahead of the time. Above all, they were psychologically ready as a result of a three months training they had received to face all the obstacles including the caste barrier which they were determined to break.
As Shri Nehru, late Prime Minister of India, remarked once at a Community Development Workers’ Conference, the Shramadana workers believed that ‘their limbs could do it, their limbs could be made to do it and conditions could be created to do it’. For eleven days they toiled, shoulder to shoulder, with the villagers with all the energy they could muster. Every nerve was strained to find ways and means for not only to end the practice of ostracism but also to infuse life, self-reliance and self-respect into these neglected people. They sank wells, dug latrine pits, cleared home gardens and planted various crops, provided the necessary equipment from furniture to the school bell, from clothes to books for the school and the children and inaugurated a formal educational programme, organized literacy classes for adults, conducted health lessons and demonstrations, child and maternity care work, singing and dancing classes and they even established a place for religious worship for the people. Personnel from the Rural Development Department and several other departments associated themselves with the volunteers and assisted them in the campaign.
Kanatoluwa was a hive of activity. Hundreds of visitors from far and near visited the camp. Surrounding villagers in particular had the shocking experience of seeing men, women and children, led by this group of teachers and students who were supposed to be from a higher stratum of society, living and sweating with the so-called outcasts, whose very sight had made them tremble with repulsion only a couple of days before. The lectures, discussions and meetings held every evening made Kanatoluwa a real school of life for all-young and old. How these suspicious observers gradually appreciated our mission and changed their attitudes towards these innocent people was apparent to the campers as the days passed by. A revolution in the minds and hearts of every one of us was complete and the first experiment in selfless labour to realize the lofty ideals of a Sarvodaya Society was successful.
The Hon. Mrs. Bandaranaika (who later became our Prime Minister), seeing the project, made the following entry in the Camp Log Book on 16th December 1958.
‘It has given us great pleasure to see the wonderful work done by all those who have been responsible for the development of the village. The wonderful spirit of service and the enthusiasm displayed by the students of Nalanda Vidyalaya is very praiseworthy. We hope all other schools will follow their example and come forward to help in the development of our backward villages’.
All newspaper editors gave wide publicity to this project and editorially commended this venture.
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement quickly started to become a nation-wide Movement of social regeneration. Teachers and students from a large number of schools – big and small – social service bodies village groups and trade unions started writing to us requesting an explanation of the philosophy and techniques we adopted. More and more villages wanted our help to organise Shramadana projects. During the period 1958-1966 over 1,500 lectures, over 50 seminars, 6 national conferences and hundreds of discussions were conducted to explain Sarvodaya Shramadana to diverse types of people. Within a year after the inception the Movement was taken out of Nalanda to a separate central office, and a national association representative of all people in the country was formed.
*Shramadana comes of age*
The word Shramadana had a magical effect. In effect the Shramadana action spread faster than the Sarvodaya thought. Between 1958 and 1966 more than three hundred thousand volunteers were taken to hundreds of rural sites to participate in community development projects through Shramadana Camps. In these camps volunteers both young and old displayed the highest qualities of self-discipline and self-sacrifice and won the hearts of thousands of their fellow-countrymen particularly in the rural areas. This released a flood of altruistic energy that lay hidden in the sinews of the nation.
Shramadana spread throughout the country. It took the form of building and repair of houses; digging of wells; the construction of latrines, clearing of irrigation canals; cleaning of cities, temples and ancient sacred sites; planting of trees in gardens; growing of food crops; transplanting, weeding and harvesting of paddy etc. Shramadana became a household word and many other smaller groups and organisations also adopted the Shramadana approach to the solution of many social and economic problems.
As the Movement expanded, not everything went smoothly. The Movement had its own problems of finding finance and keeping pace with its expansion. It was without a single full-time paid worker. The burden of training volunteers, preliminary surveys of villages, discussions with village communities and selection of project priorities, organisation of travelling, accommodation, food and tools for the volunteers etc., were shouldered by a team of dedicated volunteers. The volunteers were also otherwise employed as teachers, clerks doctors, workers, etc. in their normal working week. They found time for the Movement during their after work hours, week-ends and vacations.
In our operations we also faced difficulties from a few bureaucrats, politicians and land-owners. This was mainly due to a failure on our part to bring home to them the depth of our philosophy and value of this Movement generally for our nation. But the majority of officials, politicians and well-to-to people we came across gave us willing co-operation.
We continued our work quite successfully undaunted by criticism and victimization and without being carried away by praise. Shramadana was popular both in Ceylon and abroad. A few years later the Department of Land Development, with foreign aid, started a scheme under the name ‘National Service Branch’. After some time the name of this Scheme was changed to ‘National Shramadana Service’. This development caused concern in our Movement because under the attractive word ‘Shramadana’ we had already built up a certain philosophy, followed certain principles and adhered to a certain code of conduct. A Shramadana campaign led and manned by departmental officials inevitably could not give that freshness of outlook and dynamism which volunteers gave. For them Shramadana was ‘a freelabour Movement’ or creating non-monetized capital.
We had to accommodate ourselves to the new situation and we came to a working arrangement with the Government Shramadana Scheme. On their behalf we undertook some projects such as the cyclone relief and rehabilitation programmes. For our own projects, this scheme loaned vehicles, tools and implements. This arrangement came to a sudden halt when in 1966 the new Director of the Government Shramadana Scheme pointed out to us that it was a wrong procedure to have supplied vehicles etc. to us as a voluntary organisation. Under the circumstances we had either to abandon most of our future plans and continue as a body doing volunteer social service or had to look for other sources that could assist us. We took the latter course and for the first time in November 1967 we approached private individuals and donor organisations for support. Our work spoke for itself and we received a good response.
Up to the end of 1966 we undertook only specific items of work in villages. Those were completed by organizing large-scale Shramadana camps where sometimes over one thousand volunteers worked on a project. This patient and arduous building up of the Movement for nine long years gave us the following results:
# the people as a whole gave general recognition to the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.
# the Movement was able to recruit a large membership by getting them to participate in camps and experience the usefulness of the work.
# the Movement and its leadership were able to obtain a first hand understanding of our rural problems, and to recognize general principles that could be applied in planning out and inplementing rural reconstruction work.
# the Movement grew in stature and organisational efficiency to undertake large scale community development projects.
# a new generation of an inspired and trained youth leadership was evolved to under-take such national ventures.
With this background of hard work, direct experience and national recognition the Movement sponsored in 1967 its biggest venture to date, namely a ‘Hundred Villages Development Scheme’. The occasion was in preparation for Mahatma Gandhi’s Birth Centenary celebrations in 1969.
*Gramodaya (Village Re-awakening) Programme: ‘100 Villages Development Scheme’*
_Why a hundred villages?_
The idea of a hundred village scheme first came up at the Annual Conference of the Movement held in 1966 at which we discussed how best to celebrate the Mahatma Gandhi’s Birth Centenary (which fell in 1969). The idea was accepted and steps were taken during the last quarter of 1966 to select the hundred villages in such a way as to get them evenly distributed within the 22 Revenue Districts of the island. According to that position average number of five villages per district would come within the scheme. Apart from the Gandhi Centenary Celebrations and the significance of the association of the name of Mahatma Gandhi in the Sarvodaya Movement of India, there is no other reason for choosing the number a hundred. In actual fact, today, the number of villages which has come under the Scheme has far exceeded two hundred. By 1975 we propose to work in 1,000 villages.
_How selection was done_
Through the medium of national Sinhala and Tamil Newspapers by Radio Broadcasting and by the official monthly journal of the Movement, ‘SARVODAYA’, very wide and repeated publicity was given to the proposed Scheme. The Headquarters of the Movement invited applications from or nominations of villages. A large number of individuals and organisations sent in their suggestions, and a specially prepared data sheet was sent to all of them for completion and return. Thus the following preliminary data about each village were collected:
* Location (Grama Sewake Division, D.R.O’s Division, Electorate, District, Province, Closest Town, Village boundaries),
* Access route to the village by railway, bus motor car, jeep,
* Active volunteer organisations already existing in the village, Government agencies available in the immediate vicinity, Extent of the village,
* Main crops, industries or crafts,
* Employment position and prospects,
* Number of families and population,
* Main economic social and other problems which the community faces,
* Ways in which the community can participate in development work,
* List of names of local village personnel who can be associated with the development work,
* A suitable venue and date for a preliminary meeting in the village itself,
Once this questionnaire is filled up and returned to the Sarvodaya office, a team of trained volunteers visits the village, conducts a preliminary survey and has a discussion with the villagers and others as found necessary; then it reports back. The Executive Council of the Movement takes the final decision as to whether or not to include a particular village in the Hundred Villages Development Scheme.
Once a village is included in the scheme immediate steps are taken to organise a series of Shramadana camps in the village to satisfy the biggest felt need of the community which can be completed with voluntary labour and for which the capital expenditure involved is the least possible. Some examples of such initiation projects are: restoration or desilting of village tanks, opening up of new irrigation canals or clearing the existing ones, and the building up of motorable access roads to the village. The active participation of the village community is sought and fostered from the very inception and at all stages such as project planning, camp organisation, evaluation of work and follow-up planning. This phase of the work is handled with great care by a team of experienced camp organizers specially oriented for the purpose. To assist these organizers, teams of volunteers (of varying numbers depending on the size of the project) are taken with them to reside in the village and work with the community.
A Sarvodaya Shramadana work camp has proved to be the most effective means of destroying the inertia of any moribund village community and of evoking appreciation of its own inherent strength and directing it towards the objective of improving its own conditions. The Sarvodaya Shramadana volunteers act as catalysts or energizing agents and providers of the necessary guidance on methods and techniques of Shramadana group work and community organisation. They do not stand aloof as a separate group but deliberately and willingly identify themselves with the village people and try to live as an integral part of the village community. They share the villagers’ hardships, do manual work with them, eat the same food and live with them, learn while teaching them and sing and dance for and with them. The spiritual motivation that has made them volunteer for this selfless labour, the freshness and unpatronizing approach of the votunteers, all add up to release the hidden but innate goodness and co-operative spirit of the villagers. All this happens while a Shramadana is in progress.
Experience has proved that for the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement the least difficult task has been that of getting community co-operation. The Sarvodaya philosophy provides a basis for everybody to meet at a common level and rise above all divisive forces in the village. Caste, creed, class, party-politics and factions are readily forgotten.
A workable and realistic programme which can be carried out without dependence on governmental funds and bureaucratic procedures sets a tangible goal before them. Given the necessary sincere leadership and a scientific plan of action, a dynamic community action programme is set in motion. Such is the manner in which initiation of the development programme in each of the hundred villages is done.
*A Shramadana camp Described*
A Shramadana camp may be defined as a place at which men, women and children who have accepted the Sarvodaya thought have come to live and work together for a certain period of time, varying from two days to a month. They accept two objectives when they encamp in the village – (i) experiencing their traditional social living based on the principles of sharing, pleasant language, constructive activity and equality; (ii) sharing their labour to complete a physical task that satisfies a long felt need of the community.
A Shramadana camp needs a lot of preparation. Teams of village youths undertake preparatory work in connexion with the accommodation of volunteers, collection of food rations, provision of sanitary facilities and water for drinking and washing, bringing together the tools and implements necessary for the project, marking out the area where the physical work is to be done (e.g. marking a roadway), and informing and soliciting co-operation from the neighbouring communities and governmental officials.
The central organization has to select and train volunteers from among those who volunteer from schools, universities and elsewhere. The training is very general and includes:
# basic philosophy and principles of the Movement,
# code of self-discipline,
# problems facing the rural people in general and the village community concerned in particular,
# the targets to be achieved in the camp and follow-up,
# facilities available and the probable problems to be encountered,
# working details including the camp timetable and transportation details,
The central organization also undertakes to supplement the efforts of the organizers at the village level by providing in advance the deficit food, tools and equipment, if such a need arises. A camp programme, too, is normally prepared and circulated among the volunteers, villagers and others.
After the preparatory stage comes the camp stage. The volunteers from outside arrive and encamp with the village-volunteers, villagers and others.
After the preparatory stage comes the camp stage. The volunteers from outside arrive and encamp with the village-volunteers. The numbers participating from outside may vary according to the size of the village, the nature of the project and the volume of labour input required.
The camp is normally inaugurated in the evening around 6 p.m. . A fair number of village men, women and children along with youth gather at the camp site at this time. A youth leader who is assigned to conduct proceedings invites a village elder or a village child to inaugurate the camp by lighting the traditional coconut oil-lamp and hoisting the national and Sarvodaya flags. This is done to the chanting of ‘Pirith’ or religious stanzas by monks if they are present or to the singing of a Sarvodaya Song.
This ceremonial opening is followed by what we call a ‘family gathering’. The idea being that all the people gathered consider themselves to be the members of one family and in that spirit discuss their problems and the ways and means of solving them. A Sarvodaya elder or a youth leader initiates a dialogue with the people who participate as equals. The volunteers have come to learn and not to teach; they have come to share and not for charity. All are seated on mats spread on the floor. The village elders, men, women, youth and children seated in a circle shoulder to shoulder with volunteers from outside soon feel one with them and fearlessly express their views.
A mass education programme is thus set in motion where the history of the village, their habitual customs and beliefs, their problems and aspirations are readily discussed. Relevant quotations from great religious teachers and other great men are read and explained. Song and dance items are intermixed with serious discussions regarding community, national and international problems. Family-get-together of this nature with a total duration of about four hours a day are held daily in Shramadana camps. Hence one sees the rare sight of a university professor or a college principal seated on a mat with illiterate villagers, youth and children exchanging experiences and learning from each other.
To quote Professor Hewage (‘Metta’ Page 110 Step 7.28): ‘Peaceful villages united and contented traditionally, but torn asunder within the last two decades into lazy, aggressive, corrupt, warring groups, due to party politics and its after-effects, now found new solace in the family get-together, organized by the Sarvodaya Workers. Some of the leaders of these villages, both men and women, went even to the extent of bursting into tears after coming together for this project with a common goal. The Sarvodaya Social Philosophy in action in these Shramadana Camps was found to be miniature peoples universities, communicating new knowledge and skills to the literate and illiterate alike in addition to the material benefits they brought to the village by completing work projects’.
Generally around 8 p.m. the campers have their meals. Another campers’ meeting follows where formation of work teams and allocations of work for the following day are done. With a sing-song and a few minutes of meditation the first evening in a Shramadana Camp ends around 10.30
*Targets for the First Year*
The first year of development for a village in this scheme is the period of ten to twelve months immediately following the initial Shramadana camp. During this first year the following targets are expected to be realised through the Shramadana Camp:
# To complete the development tasks that have been undertaken for the first year and thus bring into being in the minds of village people the sense of latent strength they possess as a community.
# To cultivate nobler individual and social values; to acquire elementary scientific and technical skills and know-how; and to learn to engage in intelligent and active participation in group and community action programmes.
# To discover a group of young and intelligent village leaders from among the members of the village community and provide them with the necessary training in the Sarvodaya methods and techniques of community development with a view to developing them ultimately into village level Sarvodaya extension workers.
# To bring together existing village level leadership and new blood to form into a common village planning body (Gramodaya Sabha – Gramodaya literally means village awakeing).
# To link up with the village development scheme and educational or similar institution close to the village, training a group of young people selected from such a body and obtaining their active and voluntary participation in village projects.
# To conduct a thorough house to house survey of all the families of the community with a view to collecting all possible data pertaining to their present economic, social, educational and cultural life, to the health and medical services and their expectations in regard to these in the future.
# To provide opportunities for three national level Sarvodaya workers (preferably university graduates) to get a thorough understanding of the present conditions prevailing in the village and trends of future changes with a view to becoming a part of a body of 300 rural reconstruction resource personnel emerging from all the 100 villages belonging to the Scheme.
# To bring into being for each village project a link with one foreign community group of welfare agency for mutual help and fraternal understanding.
# To bring into being for each village project a link with one private local voluntary body or a supporting agency possessed of financing resources.
# At the end of one year after the initiation of the programme, to evolve a three-year long-term development scheme for the village based on
## the findings of the survey
## evaluation of the first year’s progress.
## available village, local and foreign resources, human as well as material.
## the degree to which the village people are ready to shoulder the stresses and strains of such a consciously laid down plan and finally.
## the physical limitations of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement whose meagre material resources do not by any means entitle it to be looked upon as a rich organisation.
Experience has shown that not all these targets can be achieved by the Movement in every village where we have started work during the specified period owing to several reasons, including: (i) lack of sufficient finances, (ii) lack of sufficient trained and full-time workers (we have only 30 full-time workers at the moment handling 225 villages).
*Village level organization*
The primary objective of the Sarvodaya philosophy and programme is the fulfilment of man. The Sarvodaya appeal is directed towards the transformation of the individual and through the individual the family, the village, the nation and the world. However, the approach is not exclusively in the realm of human values nor its growth linear in character. It is a very practical and an integrated application of the Sarvodaya thought to the solution of numerous social, political, economic and moral ills and injustices. These are inter-related and inter-dependent. Therefore the Sarvodaya approach is to solicit the active participation of every child, youth, mother, farmer and others in this Movement. Through their direct participation in organized groups the Movement makes an attempt to:
# bring about a change in their ideas, attitudes and objectives according to the Sarvodaya philosophy;
# bring about improvements in the methods and techniques adopted by people in their day to day life specially in economic production, distribution and consumption.
# bring about change in their existing organizations and institutions for the better.
The village level organizations that are progressively formed as the village development scheme developments are: (i) A children’s group (Singithi Haula), (ii) A mothers’ group (Mau Haula), (iii) Youth group (Yovun Haula), (iv) Farmers’ group (Govi Haula), (v) Others’ group (Samudan Haula), (vi) Village Re-awakening Council (Gramodaya Sabha).
One of the first groups that is organized in a Sarvodaya village is the children’s group, composed of children below the age of 14. The decision to organize a children’s group is generally taken on the suggestion of a child at a family gathering in a Sharmadana Camp. The child is more or less induced to do this when he hears an account given by the participant from another village coming under the Hundred Villages Scheme.
The older children and younger brothers and sisters of youth members of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement are also organized at the central level as a union of Sarvodaya children’s groups. The group takes the initiative to help the children organize themselves by giving them a pamphlet which explains the objectives, principles and activities of the children’s group and which has a detachable application form.
The first activity of the children’s group is to start a children’s library. The Movement helps to put up the building, equip the library with furniture and books, and organize the library council. The children’s library scheme is supported by the World Assembly of Youth through the UNESCO gift-coupon-scheme. In addition to the issuing of books and provision of facilities for reading the children’s library is also the centre where a variety of children’s activities are conducted.
Children take pride in being identified in their participation, to belong to this group and to carry a card. The children’s organization becomes the starting point for the formation of other groups and much of its success depends upon the dedication and efficiency of the adults who guide this programme.
The second group organized in the villages is the mothers’ group. Some of its objectives are proper bringing up of children, home improvement, religious work, moral re-awakening and activities to supplement the family income. They are also linked with other villages through the Sarvodaya union of mothers’ group.
The third group is the youth group. They begin with what they can do in the village such as community development and education projects, recreation and sports. As and when assistance comes, the youth groups start agricultural and cottage industrial ventures to bring them an increased income. These young people participate actively in Shramadana camps in other villages coming under the Sarvodaya scheme. Thus they are brought together with youth from other rural and urban areas. They too at the national level become a part of the union of Sarvodaya youth.
The fourth village level group is the farmers’ group. In fact in paddy agriculture alone there are 1.1 million farmers employed in Ceylon. On them depend nearly 7 million members of their families. Their monthly income is Rs. 50 (i.e. less than US$ 10). The farmers who live in Sarvodaya villages organize themselves into farmers groups with five clear objectives before them-namely to:
# ensure unity among farmers.
# win freedom from exploitation and right of participation in farming agricultural policy and implementation of programmes.
# improve productivity in paddy agriculture.
# safeguard agricultural values associated with paddy agriculture and
# make occupational recognition of farmers a reality.
In the fifth group all others who do not belong to either of those categories such as teachers, government servants, craftsmen, artists and musicians are included.
These five groups separately meet on different days of the week at the village centre. They discuss their problems and programmes at these meetings. All the groups together meet once a week. The village awakening Council or the Gramodaya Sabha is a body representative of all these groups. Each representative individually and the council collectively are in over all responsibility of the entire development programme of the village.
The entire organizational responsibility for central planning and: projects execution of the Hundred Villages Development Programme is borne jointly by Central Executive Council (35 members) of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement. This is a completely voluntary and non-professional body and no paid professional workers are employed at present. The office and field staff of the Movement too, consist of volunteers most of whom are young university and college graduates who utilize their after-work hours, holidays and vacations to carry out their assignments. Most of them are teachers, senior college students, university professors and lecturers, government and mercantile employees, and Buddhist clergy. There are few full-time young volunteers who have chosen to serve the Movement as full-timers till they find employment. Thirty of them are paid a monthly living-allowance and their travelling expenses are borne by the Movement.
*Specific items of work carried out*
Skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour are mobilized in required numbers, both from among the village people and from volunteers, to carry out an integrated programme of development and welfare work in each of the 100 villages. Some of the items of work are:
# construction of motorable approach-roads to villages,
# renovating village tanks and irrigation canals,
# assisting in paddy cultivation by providing voluntary labour for ploughing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, threshing, etc.
# starting new cottage crafts and home industries and helping those that are being already carried out,
# construction of wells for bathing and drinking purposes,
# construction of low cost houses and lavatories for each home,
# conducting community education classes, lectures, seminars, and conferences, both for young people and adults,
# literacy and cultural programmes such as traditional music and games,
# establishment of children’s libraries community centres, recreation facilities and places of religious worship.
*Deshodaya – National Re-Awakening Programme*
In March 1970, as a result of a resolution adopted at a Sarvodaya village leaders’ conference consisting of Gramodaya council members, an Alliance of Sarvodaya Villages was founded. The objectives of this organization are:
# helping one another for mutual village development,
# exchange of experience in village development,
# taking steps to solve problems that are common to rural people,
# taking up rural development policy matters with the Government,
# striving to win the basic rights of rural populations, and
# helping to bring about national integration.
*Vishvodaya: World Re-Awakening Programme*
Our attempt is to get people of all countries together into this programme. Already nearly 50 of our villages have been brought into development-co-operation with school children and youth groups in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Japan and New Zealand through the good offices of the UNESCO Gift-Coupon-Scheme, the World Assembly of Youth and the Sarvodaya Shramadana Branches in those countries. Sarvodaya Shramadana groups are already active in the Netherlands, Belgium and England trying to apply this philosophy to some of their social situations. Creating a concern for the economically less developed countries, whipping up public opinion to pressurize their governments to treat the so-called Third World with justice and fair play, organising non-violent campaigns against colonialism and neo-colonialism, armament production and war are some of their activities.
A careful perusal of the foregoing chapters of this paper will show the reader that the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, though it involves large numbers of youth and is led by youth, is yet something more than a youth programme. The Movement undertakes community development projects but it is something more than a mere community development activity. It makes use of assistance from government as well as private individuals and organizations but do not exclusively depend on them. It participates in national development efforts but is equally concerned with the welfare of the entire humanity.
No doubt construction activities involving youth have great value for the community, but we cannot stop there. In actual fact these activities are not even the beginning of a total revolution to build up man and society. If however these lead to a total change in the outlook of man both towards himself and towards others in the community and also lay an infrastructure that is necessary for a self-generating progressive society, that they may be said to be on the right path. Otherwise we will only be scratching the surface and not attacking the problem at its roots. To provide piecemeal solutions to basic problems is self-defeating. We should not forget the revolutionary aspect of the youth movement where they demand that social foundations be relaid, wherever necessary, so that all people have equal chances and opportunities to jointly manage their own affairs democratically and freely.
On 27th May 1970, our people stepped on to a new era with a new people’s leadership taking over the reins of government. This new leadership is pledged to a socialist democratic programme. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is hopeful of a better deal now and expects to expand the Hundred Villages Development Scheme to 1,000 villages during the course of the next five years. It also expects to expand its leadership training programme with the establishment of the proposed rural youth leadership training centre. An expansion of the pre-employment voluntary youth service scheme is also considered.
Still, we do not know what is in store for our Movement which largely depends on the good-will of all. But we are sure that what individuals, groups, nations, and the humanity as a whole now need is a form of ‘dynamic harmony’.
Ours is an endeavour to achieve ‘dynamic harmony’ through non-violent direct action by the three-fold programme of education, development and participation so far described in this paper. We do not align ourselves with party politics or power block but try to build up enlightened people’s actions from below as the fastest and the most effective means our contemporary society has for rapid social change. We are re-discovering and re-activating the forces of non-violent potentialities in youth ‘for building the defences of peace in the minds of men’. Exploitation of man by man any where in any form is violence. Calling a halt to exploitation or violence in all fields, economic, political, administrative or social – by non-violent direct action is the duty of all who believe in total freedom. The Movement provides the youth a humble opportunity to do that duty.