Swaraj: A Deeper Freedom

by Vandana Shiva

Gandhi on the Salt March, 1930.

In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi exhorts using ‘soul force’ as a means to seek ‘right livelihood’ – which is what real freedom is all about.  Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj has, for me, been the best teaching on real freedom. It teaches the gospel of love in place of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts ‘soul force’ against brute force. For Gandhi, slavery and violence were not just a consequence of imperialism: a deeper slavery and violence were intrinsic to industrialism, which Gandhi called “modern civilisation”.He identified modern civilisation as the real cause of loss of freedom. “Civilisation seeks to increase bodily comforts and it fails miserably even in doing so… This civilisation is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.”

This, I believe, is at the heart of Gandhi’s foresight. The ecological crisis, which is a result of industrialisation, is the most important aspect of civilisation. Industrialisation is based on fossil fuels, and fossi-fuel civilisation, which has given us climate chaos, is now threatening us with climate catastrophe.

The industrialisation of agriculture was aimed at producing more food and increasing our ‘bodily comfort’, yet a billion people are hungry today and two billion suffer from food-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

Hunger has become the biggest market force. Money is first being made through the creation of hunger. And it is being made again through false solutions to hunger. Ironically, it is those technologies and economic systems that are offered as solutions to hunger that actually create
 hunger. Industrial agriculture, sold as the Green Revolution and the Second Green Revolution to developing countries, is a chemical-intensive, capital-intensive and fossil-fuel intensive system. It must, by its very structure, push farmers into debt, and indebted farmers everywhere
 end up pushed off the land as their farms are foreclosed and appropriated. In poor countries, farmers trapped in debt for purchasing costly chemicals and non-renewable seeds sell the food they grow to pay back debt. That is why, today, hunger has become a rural phenomenon.

The debt-creating negative economy of high-cost industrial farming is a hunger-producing system, not a hunger-reducing system. Wherever chemicals and commercial seeds have spread, farmers are in debt and have lost entitlement to their own produce. They become trapped in poverty and hunger. That is why the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations’ initiative Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is misplaced. It will only create more hunger and famine, not reduce it.

Conventional measures of productivity focus on labour as the major resource and externalise many energy inputs. This biased measure of productivity pushes farmers off the land and replaces them with chemicals and machines, which, in turn, contribute to greenhouse gases and climate change. Further, industrial agriculture focuses on producing a single crop that can be traded globally as a commodity. The promotion of so-called high-yielding varieties leads to the displacement of biodiversity. It also destroys the ecological functions of biodiversity. The loss of diverse outputs is never taken into account by the one-dimensional calculus of monoculture yields.  When outputs of biodiversity are taken into account, biodiverse systems have a higher output than monocultures. And organic farming is more beneficial that chemical farming for the farmers and the Earth.

Industrial agriculture also creates hunger and malnutrition at another level – by robbing crops of nutrients. Industrially produced food is a nutritionally ‘empty mass’, loaded with chemicals and toxins. Nutrition in food comes from the nutrients in the soil. Industrial agriculture, based on synthetic nitrogen-, phosphorus- and potassium-based fertilisers, leads to the depletion of vital micronutrients and trace elements such as magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron.

The increase in ‘yields’ of this empty mass does not translate into more nutrition but in fact leads to malnutrition. Monoculture does not produce more food and nutrition but it does take up more chemicals and fossil fuels, and hence is more profitable for agrochemical companies and oil companies.

Healthy soil produces healthy food. The most effective, low-cost strategy for addressing malnutrition is organic farming. Organic farming enriches the soil, and nutrient-rich soils give us nutrient-rich food. When I carried out research on the Green Revolution in the Punjab, India, I found out that after a few years of bumper harvests, crop failures were reported at a large number of sites, despite liberal applications of fertilisers. The failure came from micronutrient deficiencies caused by the rapid and continuous removal of micronutrients by ‘high-yielding’ varieties. Plants clearly need more than chemicals, and the voracious, high-yielding varieties sap micronutrients from soil at a very rapid rate, creating deficiencies of such micronutrients as zinc, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum and boron. When organic manure is used, these deficiencies do not occur because organic matter contains these trace elements, whereas chemical fertilisers do not.

Earthworm castings, which can amount to between four and thirty six tonnes per acre per year, contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus, three times more exchangeable magnesium, eleven times more potash, and one and a half times more calcium than soil. Their work on the soil promotes the microbial activity essential to the fertility of most soils. Soils rich in microorganisms and earthworms are soils rich in nutrients too.

Organic farming that nurtures soil and its microorganisms is a low-cost, decentralised strategy for addressing malnutrition. It serves the people – it does not serve industry. Now industry wants to turn malnutrition into the next market through genetic engineering and industrial fortification of food.

An example of high-cost, high-risk ‘fortification’ proposals is Golden Rice, genetically engineered to provide more Vitamin A. In fact, the genetically modified rice provides seventy times less Vitamin A than coriander, fenugreek, curry leaves or drumstick leaves! In addition, since genetic engineering is based on the use of antibiotic-resistant markers and viral promoters, it introduces new and unnecessary health risks. GM rice is a high-cost solution. The Golden Rice is patented, and patents generate royalties. That is the objective of patents.

Governments might pay for these high-cost, high-risk options, but this still uses public money which could instead be used to promote biodiversity-based organic farming as an ecological fortification strategy. Corporate greed and deeper industrialisation of food through artificial fortification are not the answer to malnutrition. Greed robs the poor of food. Greed is at the root of hunger.

For Gandhi true civilisation is that mode of conduct, which points out the path of right livelihood. It was on this concept of right livelihood that Gandhi defined freedom. In Hind Swaraj he referred to satyagraha – the policy of nonviolent resistance – as ‘soul-force’ and ‘passive resistance’. He wrote: “Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering: it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soulforce. For instance, if the government of the day has passed a law, which is applicable to me and I do not like it, if by using violence I force the government to repeal the law, I am employing what may be termed body-force. If I do not obey the 
law and accept the penalty for its breach, I use soul-force. It involves sacrifice of self.”

Gandhi used satyagraha against the forced cultivation of indigo and later against the salt laws. Ultimately India’s freedom from British colonialism was achieved through satyagraha, through nonviolence. We need to use satyagraha, soul-force, to gain rights to food for the poor and establish rights of small farmers to cultivate their land free of market forces.

One hundred years after Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj his ideas are even more relevant as we seek creative ways to deal with climate change, corporate rule, food and water insecurity and the loss of citizens’ rights.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned physicist, ecologist and author, and Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. In her role as a visionary activist, she has been battling for India’s food security and farmers’ rights, as well as global ecological sustainability, for decades.  Among her many awards is the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize), 1993, for her pioneering insights into the social and environmental costs of the dominant development process, and her ability to work with and for local people and communities. “Swaraj: A Deeper Freedom” appeared in Resurgence issue 258, January/February 2010, and is reprinted courtesy of Resurgence magazine.



“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi