The word swadeshi derives from Sanskrit and is a conjunction of two Sanskrit words. Swa means self or own and desh means country. So swadesh means own country. Swadeshi, the adjectival form, means of one’s own country, but can be loosely translated in most contexts as self-sufficiency.
Like many of Gandhi’s terms, swadeshi can be used to describe the state of an individual or a community. In the case of an individual, swadeshi means acting from a position of strength to solve problems, by drawing on one’s own capacities, and addressing one’s own weaknesses. One person cannot solve another person’s problems and proposed solutions must be made based on personal experience.
In the other, more common usage, swadeshi is the focus on acting within and from ones own community, both politically and economically. In other words, it is the interdependence of community and self-sufficiency. Gandhi believed this would lead to independence (swaraj), as British control of India was rooted in control of her indigenous industries. Swadeshi was the key to the independence of India, and was represented by the charkha or the spinning wheel, the “center of the solar system” of Gandhi’s constructive program.
Gandhi said of swadeshi:
“The cleanest and the most popular form of Swadeshi is to stimulate hand-spinning and hand-weaving and to arrange for a judicious distribution of yarn and cloth so manufactured.”
“Swadeshi is an eternal principle whose neglect has brought untold grief to mankind. It means production and distribution of articles manufactured in one’s own country… Swadeshi is a constructive program.”
“Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote… In the domain of politics, I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics, I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbours and serve those industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting. It is suggested that such Swadeshi, if reduced to practice, will lead to the millennium, because we do not expect quite to reach it within our times, so may we not abandon Swadeshi even though it may not be fully attained for generations to come.”
It seems that Gandhi’s prediction is becoming a reality. Swadeshi is what the progressive movement of today is calling, think globally act locally. Swadeshi is a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence caused by supporting industries that result in poverty and harm to workers and environmental degradation. In a world moving towards decentralized, localized organization, we might adapt Gandhi’s strategy, replacing mass production and consumerism with community, and then form the community of communities: the Earth Community.
- YES! Magazine: Go Local!