Self-Employment

Full Title: *Influencing the Social Environment to Accept Self-Employment.*

_Speech delivered at an International Seminar on ‘Youth and Self-employment in South East Asia’ in Colombo sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, 31st December 1972 to 7th January, 1973_

‘We have had three forms of elite. Firstly, those who accepted the party political system and got into the field of party politics; who laid down the general policy of development. Secondly, those who advised and implemented these policies – the bureaucratic staff. Thirdly, the Private Sector, which, of course, was led by the profit motive. The ordinary people in this country had to operate, had to find their way to earn a living, under these forces; and, as you know, these forces are generally backed by the State power’.

First I would like to thank the organizers of this Seminar for inviting me to think aloud on the subject of ‘Influencing the social environment to accept self-employment’. When I contemplated on this subject I was wondering whether it is a question of influencing the social environment to accept self-employment that is readily available, because the question is: Is there a prospect for self-employment? If it is there only and if the prospective self-employees have different values or different mental attitudes which prevent them from accepting self-employment, then of course you have to do something to change that social environment which made them think that way. But on the other hand when you go deep into the subject I am of the firm conviction that anything ‘self’ – self-employment, self-government, self-realisation, anything that is for the self-enlightenment of the human being – is not allowed to grow and develop so easily. There are so many social fears imposed from the top on the people, that this is not allowed to grow. So I would rather talk on the subject based on my own experiences rather than try to give you an academic analysis of the problem because I am not qualified to do it.

Since Independence I believe we have had 21/2 decades of development hypocrisy. When I say development hypocrisy there have been three institutions trying to tell the people what to do without ever allowing the people to participate in decision-making as that has been revealed by the various talks given here. The vast majority of our people live in rural areas, and these are the people who have to be given these opportunities, and these opportunities were not given to these people consciously, deliberately, or by a wrong conception of development by the elite in our society. We have had three forms of elite. Firstly, those who accepted the party political system and got into the field of party politics; who laid down the general policy of development. Secondly, those who advised and implemented these policies – the bureaucratic staff. Thirdly, the private sector, which, of course, was led by the profit motive. The ordinary people in this country had to operate, had to find their way to earn a living under these forces; and, as you know, these forces are generally backed of by the State power. Therefore, when dealing with subjects of this nature, it is very necessary to find out whether we have given a fair chance to the youth. Taking the rural masses as a whole, I believe these chances have not been given. So, that was the false start we made. You cannot imagine a division of labour between thought and action in development or vice versa – they should go together.

So, when we look at our community – I am confining my speech to Sri Lanka, because I hardly know the facts about the other countries – when we look at the rural areas in Ceylon, as Dr. Gamini Corea pointed out the other day, there is a lot of scope both in the areas that have been already brought under cultivation as well as in other areas – a lot of scope for people to engage themselves in self-employment in the field of agriculture. But when the people actually try to do it they are faced with a number of problems, problems which they cannot solve on their own, unless they change the entire environment – not only the social environment but the political, bureaucratic and economic environment in which they live. Therefore this is a basic question of development philosophy. I wonder whether in this country we have a development philosophy at all. It may be that various measures or values accepted by the West were adopted in this country also, in terms of the G.N.P. or growth rates and so on, but development is something more. It is the very quintessence of humanity. It is the progressive ascent of man in all its dimensions. But this is a basic philosophy which is not foreign to our people. Therefore, if we are to reverse this process of making the people free, making the people accept, on their own initiative, self-development, we have to create a terrific psychological force among the masses of this country; and this psychological force has to be an interpretation of their own aspirations, a manifestation of their own development philosophy, a development that embraces not only the economic sector but a development that embraces the entire human community as well. In thinking of our own culture, the human being is at the centre, not the pyramidal structure we have today in our society. It was more or less a concentric circle where the human being was at the centre of everything, not a simple statistical digit which has to be measured and sorted shifted as the planners and others will do. For the human being it was fundamentally a question of the growth of human personality. Therefore fundamentally if self-employment or any other activity, as I mentioned earlier, where the people are to participate fully is to be generated in this country, we have to begin with awakening that consciousness of the people on a wide scale. What is this consciousness I am talking about? According to our culture the awakening of the personality of any human being was based on four definite principles and every family, every village and community as a whole had this philosophical background. These four principles were respect for all life, compassionate action to bring about happiness in others, learning to get joy of living by service to fellow beings and developing a balanced state of mind. The individuals always strived to live up to these four principles which they called Metta, Karuna, Muditha, Upekkha.

In the same manner the concepts of sharing, pleasant – language constructive action and equality were regarded as four principles of social conduct.

The indigenous philosophy gave a meaning to everything a person did as a member of a family, a farmer in the paddy field or a ruler over his people.

When you go to a village in Sri Lanka today and try to talk to the people in terms of these principles they will understand you very well. But if you start talking to them in terms of productivity, credit or in terms of other modern economic jargon, they will not accept you. It is a sad omission that in modern economic planning, moral, cultural and spiritual foundations of the people have no place. Therefore people feel alienated from planning establishments.

This leads to a psychological situation where people neither become whole hearted participants of governmental programmes nor do they belong to a cultural pattern which had a stability of its own. In other words there is no phychological environment in which pre-requisites to accept self-employment are satisfied. I believe that a general moral degeneration has taken place in each country. A country that has lost its moral fibre can never progress. That is why we have to begin creating a social environment first clearing the psychological situation.

Let us take an example. Suppose in a village community there are a group of young people who are willing to start a co-operative agricultural venture. It is wellnigh impossible for them to obtain the land, their tools and equipment, subsistence till they can get a return and above all function as a group in freedom. All the established forces will be against them. The party politicians will look at them as enemies if they don’t belong to their particular political party. If the politician is against them or indifferent the administration will take no interest. The local land owners and capitalists will also look at them as a potential threat to their economic interests. So even before they start any self-employment programme they get frustrated.

Last week I was addressing a group of young farm officers at Peradeniya, when one of the officers got up and told me ‘We are afraid to organize a young farmers’ group, because we fear that we will be accused as insurgents and taken to the police station and assaulted. ‘Only three days ago I got a complaint from our Sarvodaya farm at Thanamalwila that when some sick person was being taken in a bus by one of our volunteers in our camp a police jeep came and without any questioning assaulted them on the ground that they were travelling after six in the evening. There is no curfew now and I can’t understand why they behave in this manner. It’s true that there are some people who believe in violence, take up guns and challenge the state. Let the state deal with them. We have no quarrel. But there are the majority of the people in this country who don’t believe in violence. They must be allowed peacefully to undertake ventures to make their livelihood. This is the environment in which you expect self-employment to generate.

How can we bring about a change? I do not want to go into details about this sad state of affairs. How can we bring about a change in this situation? Firstly, I believe that the problems are so vast that a revolutionary change is necessary’, When I say, ‘a revolutionary change is necessary’, I mean the dictionary meaning of ‘revolution’, not the meaning given by various people with violence implied in it, because I personally believe that bloodshed is not necessary in this country to bring about a revolutionary change. A revolution is a fundamental and simultaneous change that should take place in three areas. Firstly, in the area of ideas, of values, and of ideologies. Secondly, in the area of methods and techniques that our people adopt in their day-to-day life, whether in the field of education, in the field of agriculture, or in the field of cottage industries, or in anything else. Thirdly, a change in the institutions beginning from village level to the national and international level. I say that there should be a simultaneous change, a change at the same time in the three spheres – of ideas, ideologies and values; a change in the methods and techniques; a change in the organizations and institutions. This has to take place.

Now what is the change in thinking we have to bring about? As I mentioned at the very outset, when you talk of development, or the development philosophy, when you think of development, those values have to be changed. How can you change them? You cannot change them by lectures, by seminars, by newspaper articles, by radio speeches. You have to change them by a situational approach to this problem. This is how we should do it; we have to take people from various stratified sectors of our community, ranging from the peasants and the workers to the most educated and the highly placed. We have to bring them to a point where they have to live together and work together and share in one anothers work together. Now through the Sarvodaya Movement – that is the method that we have adopted – we can bring about this change in thinking. Fifty of us decide to go and live in one of the most primitive places. It is not a question of simply going there physically and living there. There is a certain preparatory work to be done from 5 in the morning till 6 in the evening. We have a programme of work where you work like members of one family. From the illiterate person to the most literate professor in the University, we live together, discuss together and eat together. In other words, we live together, a communication is established. In our country, and in many countries of South East Asia, communication between the ruling elite and the ruled is almost nil. The communication between the Head of the Ministry and the lowest officials in that Ministry is by circular. There had been 21/2 decades of development hypocrisy; that is why we are in this plight; we have to bring our people together. This is true in most South East Asian countries may be with the exception of China and a couple of other countries. We speak for the poor, we plan for the poor; we think for the poor; we know what is best for the poor, we request aid for the poor we evaluate what is done with the aid for the poor and one fine day we turn round and say: industrialisation is the panacea for all. This was in the early 1950s. People believed it and they were waiting till Gal Oya and other huge projects delivered goods. An officer of the Central Bank, in 1959 wrote a long article to the newspapers saying that the Sarvodaya Movement is aggravating the unemployment situation in this country by promoting Shramadana work. We were amazed at this. They said that more people will be unemployed as a result of hundreds and thousands of people doing development work without accepting any monetary reward. That was the thinking at that time.

Now we went a little further; we squandered all our money between 1948 and 1952; the foreign exchange reserve we had as a result of slaughter-tapping of rubber during this period was squandered. We spent all that money and then called for technical knowledge; we said that is what we need; we went all out for technical knowledge; the Colombo Plan and all that. Then we found technical knowledge gained through experts coming here and our experts going to other countries and becoming bigger experts will not pay. So we said we want more money; technical knowledge was not enough; we started running to the World Bank when people talked about self-reliance. It was primitive and it was postponing revolution according to one group of people; and according to the other group of people we were going back to pre-historic times in this modern world. Modernity is not a question of time; it is a question of outlook at a particular time. This basic lesson which even our illiterate villager knew was not realised. Then they started shouting: technology did not help us; more and more capital will not help us; Why? because we are getting less and less from our exports. So then it was Unctad 1, Unctad 2, Unctad 3 and Unctad 4. Unctad is dominated by international capitalism. Whatever may happen they will not lose their present advantages in trade. They will not sit down and say we will have a limit to growth. All these things so far did not pay.

There is a fourth approach. May be the only one that can bring about development in developing countries. It should be self-aid; it should be self-reliance. So in evolving a development philosophy in which youth can take to self-employment this concept has to be developed very effectively and functionally. I told you one way that it could be done. That is, by finding a common ground where we can meet. We cannot meet at conference tables; we cannot meet as the boss and the obedient servant. We have to meet on equal terms. And that place is the rural village of Sri Lanka.

I heard some people say: comparatively, our people are very well off; they are getting very good social benefits; death rate is low; the other rate is low; health conditions are very good. I am sad to say that, that is not my experience, and I live more in villages than in cities. One-third of our people go to bed without being sure of a meal the following day. Even yesterday I took some friends out into the village, and they would have seen the emaciated bodies not only of adults but even of little children – they do not have anything to eat. Still, we are said to be the best fed people in Asia! Well, we were the best at the time the War was over. Now where are we? There is one lesson we have to learn from this – that is as I said, the need for a development philosophy, based on self-reliance. That is the first revolutionary change we have to bring about.

And how can we bring about this change? Look at education now – formal education. The formal education system is the base from which this type of philosophy has to be initiated. But what is happening there? Education cannot take place under non-free conditions. Education can take place only under free conditions. When I say ‘free’, I do not mean a disorganized set up. Parents, teachers, students, social and natural environment – these are the main factors that influence education. But today what is happening? Today, education is the plaything of the bureaucrat and the politician. Teacher and the pupil come last. I say this after 18 years of being a teacher. So, the entire educational system has to be re-organized – re-organized on a basis of freedom, of self-reliance – if we are to build up this nation, because it is in the field of education that we can reach every home in this country. But, unfortunately, this aspect is completely forgotten.

Look at the various religious institutions in this country. There are a vast number of Buddhist temples in this country, churches and mosques and so many places with which at least the vast majority of people are associated. Now this is another centre for development action, as much as the school is for development action. But this is not made use of. These places look after the souls of people after death. But these places and these people are all doing an honorary job. They need not be paid. We are not getting full use out of them. That is why I mention this. Now this is another place, a traditionally organized centre, from where a dynamic development philosophy and action could be generated. This is also being ignored. Why? It is being ignored because of the way our nation is structured. When the British came here, they had to centralise everything because they were foreign rulers; and to keep their colonialism going, they had to have a bureaucracy whose responsibility was upwards. The village level officer being responsible to his superior; like that going up to the Governor or whoever it is, and then to London, to the colonial Government. Therefore they have to have that structure. Today we have the same structure. The Village Officer is not responsible to the village community; the divisional level officers is not responsible to the community; they are all responsible to their superiors and responsibility goes upwards; and the poor members of Parliament have to pay every five years because they are only people who have to go to polls. Now of course they are asking for administrative power, a more active role in the development process, but still the situation will remain the same because people are pushed to a side.

To bring about change we have to change the methods and techniques of how we do things. For example if you tell the people; you had better use toilets instead of using the jungle, they will not believe it. They will say; for generations we used our jungle. We do not want toilets. On the other hand, when we live in a project and they see us using toilets, even temporary sanitary toilets, then they begin to think and we get a chance to explain to them: this is how it is useful, and modern knowledge and methods of health science can be introduced to the people. This has to be done situationally. Today it is as distant as London was. This situation cannot bring about a change in the methods and techniques.

At the organizational level what happens. There are many examples I can give. The political minority in the village may be two or three people who know the Member of Parliament or who have a pull with somebody else – I am not referring to any particular government – can dominate the village people. During the last 20 odd years this has been happening. So that village level organizations are not powerfull enough to do anything if they disagree with the local power representative. They cannot go ahead with their projects. They will not get land. They will not get credit. They will not get government advice. This is what is happening to those at the very bottom. So if by some sort of action we can bring all these three groups together at the village level, at the divisional level, at the district level, as part and parcel of our people, then there is a chance of a breakthrough, and this is what we in the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement are trying to do. So we bring all three elements together because they are all human beings – whether bureaucrat, politician or somebody else. We try to bring them all together irrespective of caste, irrespective of race, irrespective of religion, irrespective of party politics or nationality, and bring them all together as human beings and give them a challenge – the challenge of development – development of the total personality, the development of the village, development of the nation, and then youths will create the necessary social environment to create, to build, to produce.

Now, with this background I will very briefly explain how we set about in our movement to get youth into self-employment. Firstly, for 10 years we organized a series of what we call shramadana camps in all parts of the country. It was not a continuing thing in one place. But we used this as an educational programme to educate ourselves as to those eight qualities of human development and good conduct as well as to inculcate in ourselves the qualities like dignity of manual labour. During this process we were able to discover quite a number of leaders.
When I say ‘leaders’, I do not mean the Santa Claus type of leaders who give everything freely, nor the Napoleonic type of leaders who are thugs, nor the type of spiritual leaders who have everything for the other world and nothing for this world. We try to find leaders who reflect the aspirations of the people. When Mahathma Gandhi was asked the question, ‘Gandhiji, you are such a spiritual man, why do you not go to the Himalayas and meditate’? Gandhi replied, ‘Well, certainly I will go to the Himalayas if my people go, because I am following my people’. That is the real leader who is truly behind the people, pushing the people forward; but the people feel it is they who go forward. That type of leadership is very much necessary in our country. We have leaders in the political field; we have an overdose of leaders in politics. Really too many. I think we have highly efficient and intellectually motivated government administrators in this country. We have people who can make money very efficiently and honourably. But among the people we have leaders who can stand above all this, and that type of leader we have discovered. We have discovered quite a large number of such people; and we have started 100 village development schemes which we have expanded now to 450, and the number is increasing. We found, when we were doing this work, it was very necessary to give two types of training for the youth. It is wrong to say ‘training’ in leadership; but in addition to changing their mental attitudes, we give them a scientific basis of organizing people – in other words, leadership training. Secondly, we give them a training in particular skills which would lead them to a vocation.

In this way we were able to get quite a large number of educated youth into the programme, which involves very hard work; and in the six farms we have, they have undergone a lot of hardship. They do not get the privileges most of the government farms or other farms – the private sector capital intensive farms – are getting. But they are sticking to ours because they feel that they are ennobling themselves while there is a positive objective to be achieved. So, this type of thing could be expanded in a very big way. But if we try to do it in isolation, to get each individual as an individual to accept self-employment, I think we are bound to fail. As one of the speakers remarked, it is very important to have and foster the co-operative effort. We must make the individual fit in as part and parcel of the co-operative effort. This is, I think, one of the positive factors to the success of bringing in young people into employment.

Thirdly and lastly we found that however much we concentrated on a personality awakening programme, to build up leadership groups, dynamic programmes to build up a dynamic village community, we can never go ahead unless we find alternatives to the three biggest problems or obstacles to our country’s progress.

Firstly, we have to put an end to this terrific decisive force we have in this country based on party politics. It does not suit the genius of our people; we have to find a party-less type of democracy for this country; a party-less type of socialist democracy – not one party like in Tanzania. I believe that the genius of our people would be able to think out some way whereby the best in every person, whatever party he is in, could be made use of to build up a society in which man will not exploit man politically, economically or socially. This we have to evolve.

Secondly we have to evolve a system of administration where the people come very much closer to the administration because even now there is a very big distance between the administration and the people. Actually, the administration should be part and parcel of the people. The people must be given opportunities to participate in decision-making. There is some fear on the part of decision-makers to get the people share their power; they are afraid of the people. I remember during the last Government’s term of office at a certain meeting when somebody remarked: ‘Sir, people trusted you and gave you power; why do you not give a little of your power back to the people’. And he replied, ‘I am not going to give power to them; I will exercise the power’. This is the haughty attitude these people develop once they come to power. This has to be changed. The people must be given a chance to participate in decision-making; not only to mark a cross on a ballot paper in five years.

Thirdly, we have the private sector and we have the public sector and we know the ills of both and the virtues of both. Cannot our genius evolve something which will not leave room for economic stagnation but at the same time build up some sort of trusteeship idea within the best of both which could be achieved, instead of having the private sector, the public sector, the corporation sector or Government sector and then the self-employment sector. The self-employment sector cannot cooperate with these sector. It is only good for academic purposes. As a nation we have to push forward like China and do it. Some people say through the bullet, but I do not believe in it.
But there was a mass consciousness created in this country thrice after 1948. There were three movements which we failed to take advantage of. The first was in 1956. In 1956 we had a movement when this community consciousness could have been awakened and put to national development. Well, with the death of the late Prime Minister, Mr. Bandaranaike – he had a vision – we lost it. We had a second chance. That was the massive mandate the people gave this Government in 1970. What did they do? They started a campaign of revengeful vilification: all types of campaigns were directed against the people, making use of the power that the government had. I am one of those who were victimised because I did not care anything for their party politics, because my organization, the Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya, is for goodness in man. All people have goodness and all people have evil. I have goodness, I have evil. Evil is well organized in society. Killing is well organized, legally and illegally, nationally and internationally. Stealing is well organized, legally and illegally, nationally and internationally. All the vices are well organized, legally as well as illegally. Untruth is well organized, legally and illegally. All the other vices in man, are very well organized. I believe in the organization of goodness in man, because there is such a terrific potentiality for goodness. Everybody has goodness, but when you harness the goodness of man – that is Sarvodaya – then you do not have time to satisfy the politician’s ego by paying poojas. That second moment was missed in 1970 when the whole nation could have been put on to the 3 or 31/2 million acres of land and told, ‘Let us build the nation out of this’. Well, we missed that second chance also.

The third movement was when the youth of this country demonstrated by guns, by actually firing and killing, saying that they could not wait any more; they wanted to change this structure. We missed that chance. Now we are convalescing: everything is fine; the five year plan is going to work. This chance was also missed.

First let us find an area where we all can meet. The Prime Minister has declared that 1973 is a development year. Let us define development. Development is the ascent of man in all aspects, not merely one aspect – it is the ennoblement of man. To achieve this collectively, man has to have a certain ethical measure, not the G.N.P. or other measures. We know that Pakistan had a high incidence of G.N.P. but poverty increased. That is a good example. On the other hand, Indonesia had a very fine equitable distribution, but the G.N.P. decreased. All these measures have their faults. But there is one measure which cannot fail – the ethical measure. It cannot, because it has the direct backing of certain religious principles observed by the people of this country; because when you go through the religious – I will not say religious -historical texts in this country, you will find economics, politics, morality, everything, very well mixed together. This is a thing we can give the world while we get scientific technology from the world. We have missed three chances. Now the time has come for us to create this environment, firstly the psychological environment, where you look at every human being as a dignified person, not as a person who is with you or against you. We are pilgrims going towards the same objective. That type of psychological environment has to be created. Having created that mental condition in the people, which can be done, which still can be done, then of course we isolate our problem. We will have our strategical options towards a solution. Then the development of the mass of people will go on by their own effort as a movement. Let the economists and politicians go on to serve this movement, because what ultimately can triumph is not raja shakthi, or danda shakthi, or force of coercive power; what ultimately will triumph is Force of Righteousness, Force of the People, and Mastery of the People; and the People are always Supreme.