Role of Shramadana

Full Title: *Role of Shramadana in Rural Development*

_From a talk delivered at Agrarian Research and Training Institute – Colombo 1972_

‘What is the first principle in rural development? The identification of a leadership that comes from the people is the first principle of development. This leadership dedicated to hard labour, a simple life and sacrifice rises above others in a struggle to re-structure the rural life. The second principle is the need to integrate rural culture and the development effort. Cultural values can reinforce, discipline and motivate people in development. The third principle is the utilization of the Shramadana Camp as the main instrument for the initiation of long term development programmes. The fourth is to recognize the supremacy of the people and to involve them in an organised form in the development exercise which would include an integrated programme to provide educational, health, economic and self-government efforts that enable every man, woman and child to participate in creating a new life for all, realising the joy of living and working together for the benefit of all, sharing the material and non-material resources equitably’

*How the Movement Began*

The concept and practice of self-help through the sharing of one’s mental and physical energy are as old as our civilization itself. At different times in the history of Sri Lanka this was known by different names such as ‘Samudan,’ ‘Kaiya,’ ‘Aththan ’, ‘Rajakariya’ and ‘Athmopakaraya.’

The word ‘Shramadana’ was introduced for the first time in this country fourteen years ago by a band of teachers and students of Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo. They founded an all island Movement called the Shramadana Movement for the reconstruction of rural areas though initially through an Educational Extension Service Programme. Their sustained efforts along with other fraternal groups resulted in the now world famous Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka.

*Thought and Action*

The literal meaning of the word Shramadana is sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all. For the founders of this Movement, Shramadana was only a medium of constructive action to bring about a non-violent total revolution in man and society to build up a new social order. Sarvodaya is their ideal society where they expect to see an awakening individual (Purna Paurushodaya‚ an awakening village (Gramodaya‚ an awakening nation (Deshodaya‚ and an awakening world community (Vishvodaya). All of these are integrated in a dynamic course of non-violent constructive process of social change. For them the Sarvodaya Thought and Shramadana Action are in- separable and must go together.

*Liberation of Man and Society*

Shramadana action is an excellent instrument for Rural Development provided it is applied in the broader context of the Sarvodaya development ideal. The effectiveness of Shramadana is bound to be lost if this form of action is used only as a money saving process to realize a physical objective. In the recent past more damage than good has been done in many areas by some people, who knowingly or unknowingly, equated Shramadana to some form of free-labour movement. They desired to create non-monetized capital to compensate for the serious lack of capital needed for national development. Perhaps they would have served the country better if they concentrated more on an all out effort to prevent waste of capital resources which were already being spent from Government funds; Shramadana to us has had a more profound meaning and significance. To us it is a positive force for the total liberation of man and society from their present social, economic and political deterioration. The bureaucratisation of Shramadana, we maintained, defeated the very object of founding the Shramadana Movement.

*Development without Servitude*

Development is primarily an activization of human and material resources of a country for increased production of goods and services which leads to the general progress and welfare of her people. An effective development programme should not of necessity be restricted only to the removal of social injustices already prevailing in that society but should take care not to allow the advent of new forms of oppressive systems be they political, technocratic or bureaucratic in character. In other words economic development programmes should not result in reducing the human being from the status of a ‘person’ to that of a ‘thing,’ from being ‘subject’ to that of being an ‘object’.

The Shramadana concept was introduced to this country by the Sarvodaya Shramadana workers of Sri Lanka with the above perspective of removing social and economic injustices, ensuring increased economic growth, freeing society from all forms of exploitation of man by man, establishing an equitable distribution system of goods and services, liberating the human being so that he may be able to participate in decision-making as a person and a subject in such a development process in which he is the master and not the slave.

*Initiative, Leadership, Participation*

In Shramadana the human being is at the same time the destination, the means and the helmsman of the development exercise. This is not a vague and theoretical intellectualization of a distant objective as that which some of those who manage political bureaucratic and technocratic institutions of the country have dubbed as democratic socialism or socialist democracy, and which they naively expect the people to understand and put into concrete form. On the other hand the Sarvodaya concept and Shramadana action are a living philosophy and a concrete practical programme with which the people are already familiar by their cultural conditioning and traditional co-operative way of living.

Then where lies the need for promoting in an organised form the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement? The answer is we have to remove the causes that kill the people’s initiative, leadership and participation in the development of their true constructive vigour flowering forth from the grass-roots of their society and spreading through all strata upwards.

*A Three-fold Cause*

What now are these causes? I would identify the causes by those which are thus affected. They are the individual, the group and the community organisation. Firstly, the prolonged subjugation to colonial domination had resulted in the deterioration of the average individual, from his independent stature to that of being a mere dependent creature bereft of creature comforts to a highly materialistically motivated society. Secondly, the entire rural infrastructure both in the physical and psychological sense was disintegrated and a replacement of this vital element in village society never took place. Thirdly, the rural population became organisationally the nourishing ground to sustain a centralised form of bureaucratic party representing political, landed and capitalistic vested interests of those who inhabited the affluent urban areas. Thus the rural areas were sucked out of their vital human leadership, social coherence and freedom to manage their own affairs.

*Personality Awakening*

The governmental rural development schemes during the last three decades fell far short of their expectations as they never visualised a bold attempt to remove the aforesaid triple factors from the rural scene.
The Sarvodaya Shramadana approach to rural development begins with an apprehension of these at the very roots. In this context Shramadana is primarily an attempt to give an opportunity to as many persons as possible both rural and urban to free their personalities from slavish dependence by becoming truly conscious of the causes that have given rise to the problems they are faced with.

Shramadana, while restoring the freedom of action and awakening of personality of the individual should lead him to participate in a Gramodaya or village Re-awakening Programme. He becomes a participant in planning and implementing of programmes designed to bring about changes in the educational, health, economic and organisational aspects of the life of his community in an integrated scheme of village (group) development. The personal and the group awakening that takes place through Shramadana and Gramodaya Movement brings about a consciousness in the individual and community about the need for the removal of unjust social systems that have enslaved the rural people for generations. In other words Shramadana and Gramodaya Movements should lead to a revolutionary change in the structural life of the community which will eventually bring about Purna Swarajya or Total Freedom. A successful rural development programme can only take place under this Total Freedom.

When the Shramadana Movement was launched in this country we had no illusions about the need for this threefold approach of Education (through Sharamadana), Development (through Gramodaya) and Participation (through Purna Swarajya) if our efforts were to have any true significance in rural and national development. Shramadana always has to be viewed in this revolutionary perspective and I believe the only alternative to violent structural change in this country is this non-violent revolutionary action.

Having mentioned the place of Shramadana practice in the context of a broad social objective I shall next briefly mention some salient operational principles relevant to the role of Shramadana in Rural Development.


Motivation and mobilisation of human resources for development need good leadership. The first principle I would stress is effective rural leadership. We have human resources in abundance. But due to the lack of effective leadership at the rural level these resources remain unused, wasted and even become a social burden. The rural areas have had their ‘ chieftains’ but I wouldn’t call them leaders. Those who generally went by the name ‘leaders’ were at most benefactors, heroes or geniuses as people saw them. They may receive gratitude or admiration from the people but they may not succeed in moving and inspiring the people to a sense of oneness towards the achievement of an objective.

The leaders we need for our villages today are those who can help people to learn to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and take action against the oppressive elements that stand in the way to progress. They rise above themselves in a struggle to re-structure the physical and psychological infrastructure of the village by hard labour and sacrifices.

*Shramadana Camps*

Shramadana Camps provide an excellent opportunity for such true leadership to emerge among rural communities. The provision of opportunities for the emergence of these leaders who truly represent the wishes and aspirations of the people and in concrete constructive action march with the people towards desired goals, I consider to be, a very positive contribution the Shramadana Movement can make towards Rural Development.

*Rural Culture*

The second principle I would stress in the need to integrate rural culture and the development efforts. Motivation for people to participate in rural development can be brought about by good leaders by inspiring them with relevant cultural values. Mobilisation in brought about by placing before the people realizable objectives that are beneficial to them. This indigenous culture and the science of community development have to be closely combined in Shramadana programmes. In the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (or compassionate action), Muditha (or unselfish joy) and Upekka (or equanimity) are the four basic values that are used to inspire individuals. Shramadana is an act of Karuna. Dana (or sharing),Priya Vachana (or pleasant speech), Arthacharya (or constructive action) and Samanathmatha (or equality) are the other four traditional values stressed to inspire and motivate the group.

*Long Term Planning*

The third principle is to utilize Shramadana Camps as the principle instrument for the initiation of a long term development programme. A strict code of self-discipline, a time table which provides for 6 to 8 hours of physical work and 3 to 4 hours of education through dialogue, song and dance, well organised teams and special task groups, preparatory and follow-up programmes, etc., have to be integral parts of any worthwhile Shramadana project. The social and economic surveys of the village as a whole and of every family unit should follow and not precede the Shramadana Camp stage. People should be free to evolve their own development plans based on a simplified understanding of the findings of the surveys.

*People’s Formations*

The fourth principle is the involvement of all people in the village – the young and old men and women-in organised form in the development exercise with direct benefits accruing to every such formation by their own efforts. An integrated programme to promote educational, health, economic and self-governmental development should be drawn up to enable every man, woman and child to participate in building a new life for themselves. In every stage of this exercise they should feel the joy of living and working together.

*People are Supreme*

I am not going into the logistics of Shramadana work as this aspect will be similar to any other serious programme of constructive work involving men, material and know-how. However it should be mentioned as a fifth principle that the governmental and other external agencies should smoothly fit into this programme rather than expect the people to fit into a so-called village development programme which has been formulated without their participation and imposed on them from above as during colonial times. Unless a government has immense capital and human resources and limitless know-how and personnel, has no respect for rural man as a human being and is prepared to negate the elements of much talked theories of democracy and socialism, I believe that, the surest way to keep our villages ‘undeveloping’ is to continue the present exercise of monopolistic planning and implementation from above. Two and a half decades of such planning has proved not only of scant comparative benefit to rural people but also has brought about disastrous social consequences. This haughty thinking at the top must be reversed and people must be given total freedom and a chance to think, plan and to act. Shramadana Movement has proved that the people are well capable of accepting that responsibility.

*Structural Change*

The legislators can do better than sermonize on the virtures of Shramadana. They should by law remove the structural injustices that our people are subjected to today such as landlessness, lack of power to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives and political discrimination in the allocation of governmental resources for development.

*Are the Elite Ready?*

One final observation. The elite must undergo a fundamental change in their attitude to rural development. They should stop playing the dominating Law Giver and Superman role with rural people. On the other hand they should be humble enough to find ways and means of placing their expert knowledge and resources at the disposal of rural people in accordance with the latter’s needs, aspirations and wishes. By personal experience I know that tens of thousands of our rural people have awakened to sacrifice their time, thought and energy through the Shramadana Movement to build up a better Sri Lanka. But how many of our politicians, bureaucrats and the rich are ready to join them in this sacrifice?