About the Book
Dharampal (1922-2006,) was an Indian thinker,' historian and political, philosopher. He was deeply inspired by Mahatma Gandhi whom he actively supported during the movement for national independence. Dharampal conducted intensive archival research over several decades in India and the. UK, and published some seminal works, including The Beautiful, Tree (1983), Indian Science and Technology, in the Eighteenth Century (1971) and Civil Disobedience and Indian Tradition (1971). Furthermore, his pioneering scholarship and critical interventions have been-influential in various-ways-towards formulating a programme for the regeneration of Indian society and the restoration of a decentralized socio-cultural, political and economic organization.
Humanity on this planet earth has witnessed a rapid change during the last two and a half centuries. This change is taking place in the form of modernization through science, technology and industrialization-a transformation which has destroyed the basic quality of human experience and sensitivity. In the process of such change in the name of development, humanity has faced two world wars and many continued conflicts in the form of declared and undeclared wars or acts of terrorism. Millions of people have perished as a direct result of this violence. Today, direct, indirect and structural violence has reached an extreme. Economic disparity, environmental degradation, civilizational conflicts, etc. threaten the survival of humanity and the very existence of the planet earth. In such a 'Dark Age', a miracle happened. That was the appearance of a unique individual, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Despite having received, albeit partially, a modern western education, he was not deluded by western and modern civilization. Thanks to his unique wisdom and intellect, he was able to discriminate between truth and falsehood. Thus, he had the courage to renounce modern civilization in its totality, and he worked unceasingly to awaken the inner wisdom and restore the lost sensitivity integral to the human community. The concept of Swaraj, on the basis of truth and non-violence, was established by means of Satyagraha, civil disobedience and non-cooperation movements. Gandhi's teachings and practical experiments have created a completely new paradigm in human history. The non-violent revolution has enabled many people and nations to become free from external as well as inner domination. But unfortunately, many people could not understand Gandhi's philosophy either due to the inadequacy of their spiritual strength or due to their self-centered motivation. After Gandhi's martyrdom, the Indian leadership conveniently reduced the Mahatma to an object to be remembered occasionally by erecting his statues and garlanding them. Faced with this predicament, a great sage, Shri Dharampal, opened countless peoples' eyes by giving them the most appropriate method and information to understand Gandhi. Dharampal's tireless efforts in finding and documenting the irrefutable evidence for substantiating Gandhi's statements and discourses are remarkable. Persons like me, without the help of Dharampal's guidance, would not have been able to understand the deepest and subtlest philosophy of the Mahatma. Therefore, I consider the corpus of Dharampal's written work to be of equal importance to that of Gandhi's own writings.
I am overjoyed to hear that the Publications Division of the Government of India is publishing Dharampal's Essential Writings with the cooperation of his daughter Shrimati Gita Dharampal and his other close associates. I feel honoured to pen these few words in remembrance of late Dharampal, who was for a long time my revered friend, philosopher and guide. I wish and pray that the entire work of Dharampal could be published for the benefit of humankind.
Engaging with the oeuvre of one's father in the public sphere, albeit a difficult task, is essential given the crucial significance of Shri Dharampal's research. As a provocative Gandhian thinker with a creative and imaginative intellect, Shri Dharampal (19th February 1922-24th October 2006) engaged in extensive archival research in British and Indian archives which revolutionised our understanding of the cultural, scientific and technological achievements of India at the eve of the British conquest. However, the enormous portent of his discoveries still needs to make more of an impact on conventional perceptions of pre-colonial India. These commonly held assumptions of underdevelopment and degeneration before the advent of the British Raj-refuted by his painstaking historical investigations-had been induced (as he stated time and again) by colonial indoctrination and were maintained in place by a persistent sense of subservience to the modern west experienced, unfortunately, by too many so- called 'educated' Indians. According to my father, until his very last days in Sevagram Ashram, an 'intellectual-psychological unburdening' was a matter of urgency, so that 'India could come into its own', as he phrased it, and in doing so, bring to fruition Gandhiji's vision of Hind Swaraj. This entailed that Indian societal organisation, its polity as well as its cultural and economic institutions would become regenerated, locally and nationally, from within-and after intense self-reflection, determined by the needs of the people concerned.
Besides reappraising a selection of his publications, such as Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century (1971), Civil Disobedience and Indian Tradition (1971) and The Beautiful Tree (1983), this introductory essay, in tracing the genesis of Shri Dharampal's historical research, simultaneously discusses the intellectual as well as the political implications of his oeuvre: As an endeavour to challenge or delegitimise the historical master narrative relating to India's pre- and early colonial past, his research aimed to initiate further studies into remapping history with a view to accordingly reshape contemporary Indian society and polity.
Originating from Kandhala, a small town in the Muzaffarnagar district of western Uttar Pradesh, but having been educated in Lahore. Dharampal belonged to a generation of young Indians who were deeply inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's propagation of swaraj. Responding to Gandhiji's call for individual satyagraha in 1940, he joined the freedom movement, abandoning his B.Sc. studies in Physics;' and became actively involved in the Quit India movement initiated in August 1942.4 After a short term of imprisonment,' his nationalis fervour was channelled in the direction of Gandhiji's constructive programme which involved strengthening the decentralised social, political and economic village organisation. Intent on regenerating India's rural population, Dharampal became associated in 1944 with Mirabehn (the British-born disciple of Gandhiji) in a village development project near Haridwar. His participation in this experiment in community revitalisation was interrupted by portentous political development: During the partition upheaval, in 1947-48, he was put in charge of the Congress Socialist Party centre for the rehabilitation of refuges coming from Pakistan. Working in the make-shift camps on the outskirts of Delhi, he came in close contact with Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, as well as with numerous younger friends, such as L.C. Jain, in Delhi; subsequently in 1948, he functioned as a founding member of the Indian Cooperative Union (ICU).
Figuring prominently in these various activities was his endeavour to sustain Indian community structures, both rural and urban, through social, political or economic means; for he was convinced about the central role of the community in the ongoing nation-building enterprise. In search of communitarian initiatives -also in the global arena-which could possibly serve as a model for Indian rural reconstruction, he decided at the end of 1948 to go and study the much acclaimed kibbutzim experimental system in Israel. However, due to the partial closure of the Suez Canal, he had to reschedule his sea voyage via England. There, as chance would have it, in an educational and agricultural reconstruction programme in post-war rural Devonshire, Dharampal met and decided to marry Phyllis (my mother), a cultured and altruistically oriented English lady who shared his commitment to rural reconstruction. Paradoxical as this marital union may have appeared in the historical context of Indian Independence from the British Raj, nonetheless, the pioneering spirit of this intercultural couple does underscore in exemplary fashion the immense attraction exercised by their mutually shared humanistic-communitarian visions: So intense was their idealism that it not only transcended nation-state boundaries but also challenged conventional norms.
Yet, alongside and perhaps superseding these universalistic aspirations, a strong sense of commitment to the cause of Indian rural regeneration instigated Dharampal to travel back to India with his acquiescing young bride in the autumn of 1949. Choosing the overland route with the intention of visiting Israel, he was eventually able to familiarise himself with the organisation of the oldest kibbutz, Degania Alef, set up by Russian Jews. However, after a short stay, he realised that their highly regulated communitarian life-style would not function as an appropriate blue-print suitable to Indian conditions which were defined by divergent social and cultural constellations. The task of understanding Indian historical configurations was to constitute a primary incentive and focus of his subsequent research which took concrete shape a decade and half later.
However, in 1950, having gained valuable insights from observing and comparing temporally parallel but culturally and politically distinct endeavours in societal reconstruction in Britain, Israel and independent India, Dharampal felt the urgent need to resume his work with Mirabehn. Above all, he was convinced that 'ordinary' Indians were as capable and innovative as their European or Middle-Eastern counterparts; yet due to colonial subjugation and exploitation, having lost all personal initiative, they had been reduced to their present state of apathy and destitution. Hence, summoning the support of a group of dedicated social workers, Dharampal, propelled by idealistic zeal, set about constructing the community village of Bapugram near Rishikesh," constituted of about fifty resourceless agricultural families. However, after many years of strenuous and often frustrating work (due partially to the lack of creative dynamism emanating from the artificially created community whose structures were not organic), Dharampal became increasingly disillusioned by the futility of this idealistic experiment in village development. And all the more so since his endeavours in rural regeneration seemed to have no impact on the post-Independence mainstream that was mesmerised by the Nehruvian industrialisation agenda.
Notwithstanding his decision to leave Bapugram early in 1954, Dharampal continued to be preoccupied with India's rural regeneration. After a three year interlude in London where he had joined his wife and two small children, he returned to India in late 1957 to work towards the realisation of this essential task. From 1958 until 1964, based in Delhi with his family, he pursued endeavours in this field more intensely: His overriding aim was to impact upon policy-making in order to attenuate the dichotomy between 'Bharat' and 'India'. This he hope to achieve in his capacity as General Secretary of the Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development (AVARD). Founded in 1958 by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, AVARD, as the first Non-Government Organisation (NGO) in independent India, played a path-breaking role, presided over by Jayaprakash Narayan (known as JP), with whom Dharampal developed a very close relationship of mutual respect and appreciation. His appointment at AVARD provided him the opportunity to get first-hand insights into pan-Indian rural conditions as well as into the (mal-) functioning of institutional frameworks. Dharampal's critical reflections about misconceived governmental planning and development projects were articulated with stringent precision in leading articles to the AVARD Newsletter (later renamed 'Voluntary Action') where, to cite one example, when writing in the context of the Lok Sabha debates on the draft of the Third Plan, he castigated the status-quo view as follows:
the people for whom we plan and weave our dreams are seldom anywhere in the picture. More often they are just labourers, wage- earners, with little sense of participation or adventure in the India we plan to reconstruct. The reasons for such apathy are perhaps very deep, somewhere very near the soul of India. Yet that soul has to awaken, before we proceed from dams and steel plants to the flowering of the human being, of the Indian we have deemed to be ignorant, of the people of India whom we describe as 'teeming millions' equating them with ant- heaps. Such awakening, however, is not impossible-Gandhiji did it against heavier odds. All of us in a way are heir to Gandhiji, what we lack is proportion and humility."
In an attempt to comprehend the immediate causes for the disoriented functioning of Indian state and society, he began examining the proceedings of the Indian Constituent Assembly (1946-1949). This investigation was published as a cogent monograph in 1962. That it was entitled Panchayat Raj as the Basis of Indian Polity rendered explicit his prime concern: In reproducing extracts of the Constituent Assembly debates, the failure of the Constitution to incorporate the indigenous administrative and political structures is highlighted. And the poignancy of the matter is underscored by prefacing his introduction with the following quote by Gandhiji:
"I must confess that I have not been able to follow the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly [The correspondent] says that there is no mention or direction about village panchayats and decentralization in the foreshadowed Constitution. It is certainly an omission calling for immediate attention of our independence is to reflect the people’s voice. The greater the power of the Panchayats, the better for the people.”
Yet Dharampal's political intervention in public affairs was soon to take on a more assertive form: In November 1962, incensed by the debacle of the lndo-Chinese war, he wrote an open letter to the members of the Lok Sabha calling for Jawaharlal Nehru's resignation on moral grounds. For this castigatory act, Dharampal (along with two friends, Narendra Datta and Roop Naray an , who were co-signatories of the letter) was arrested and imprisoned in Tihar jail, but released after some months due to the intervention of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Home-Minister, and Jayaprakash Narayan. Besides underscoring Dharampal's impetuously forthright nature, his provocatively critical stance succeeded in sparking off a public debate, partially carried out in the press. IS The issues raised were of fundamental importance in the post-Independence political arena-such as the need for patriotism (as distinct from nationalism), the deconstruction of the personality cult around political figures, in particular Nehru, and the importance of freedom of expression in a democracy.
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