because there can
be no peace
without justice


Biography (1869-1948)
The Salt March
                     THE CONCEPT

Home » Gandhian

Sarvodaya or the Welfare of All
7 november 2001, 10:56  |   GANDHI-RELATERAT  

Gandhi used the word to describe the principles that he felt should guide us in our efforts to build ourselves, our families, our communities and nations. He had arrived at these principles of a Sarvodaya society on the basis of his studies, his observations and his Experiments with Truth and Nonviolence. He felt very strongly that the soundest foundation on which societies should be built were the qualities of Truth, Love and Compassion in both our personal and our public lives.

Gandhi first used the word Sarvodaya in a booklet he published in his native Gujerati after he read an essay by the Englishman, John Ruskin. That essay, Unto This Last, was based on a parable from the Gospel according to Matthew (chapter 20, verses 1-16) concerning the owner of a plantation and his hiring of labourers to work in his vineyard.

In his parable Jesus made the master of the vineyard declare: “I will give unto this last even unto thee”. The emphasis of Ruskin’s essay, as interpreted by Gandhi, is certainly that the ideal society is one in which there is concern for the welfare of all: ‘unto this last’, that is the neediest or the poorest of the poor.


The theory of trusteeship, elimination of exploitation in every shape or form; a classless society which offers no privileges by the birth or wealth or talent; mutual cooperation being the driving force of motivation and behavior; and above all, securing the welfare of all without any distinction of race, religion, sex, political affiliation: these may be said to be the highlights of the Sarvodaya society envisioned by the Mahatma.

Put another way: “Human values, individual development that’s always consistent with its use for the development of society; promotion of altruism to the highest degree; integration of the individual with society; lifting the whole human society to the highest level of existence where love and fair play will have the most crucial roles to play; these are the most predominant characteristics of the sarvodaya ideal.”

Guyanese author, Arnold Apple, summarises the same vision of society when he writes: “We must be able to close the gates of unfairness, racialism, untruthfulness and selfishness. To say that we are equal in every respect is indeed a misguided thought! But we must find a system to give every person the right initiative and opportunity to perform to the fullest in his or her capacity – a system to make us seek out and discover new attitudes in which we could move to transform our selfish talents into usefulness, and eventually a progressive nation.”

Sarvodaya then is the application of the principle of nonviolence in the transformation of societies: from their present forms which are mostly exploitative and disfavour the most disadvantaged, toward more balanced, inclusive and equalitarian forms in which could be enshrined the principle of Social Justice for All.

Economic equality

“Economic equality is the master key to nonviolent transformationary independence”, wrote Gandhi. “Working for economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and labour. It means levelling down of the few rich in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of the nation’s wealth, on the one hand; and the levelling up of the semistarved naked millions, on the other. A nonviolent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists.”

The most disadvantaged sections of the community being the economically, the physically and the mentally poor, it is obvious that no equalitarian society could evolve without the Poor taking part in the evolutionary process. And for this sector to take part, focus must be put on raising their status to an acceptably decent lavel.

However, as it should be for all the other sectors of society, if an acceptable level of existence is to be reached and maintained for the disadvantaged sector, it is imperative that it should be self-sustainable through their participation in their own management. Otherwise, they will continue to be dependent on others – a state in which true liberation or empowerment could never take place.

Sarvodaya network

During his lifetime, Gandhiji never allowed sarvodaya organisations to be formally instituted. His thinking was that once you served people, as ‘sevaks‘, within the Sarvodaya philosophy there was no need to institutionalise. But since his demise Sarvodaya organisations have been established (some 40 of them) world-wide – on all the continents – genuinely helping people towards building new societies from the ‘grass-roots’ up. These are now being connected into a Sarvodaya network with headquarters in Bangalore, India.

“The path to this new society and better life”, writes Dr. A.T. Ariyatne, head of the largest Sarvodaya organisation (in Sri Lanka), “begins with the awakening of individuals, families and communities to their own potential. A major aspect of this awakening is helping people to understand that they can make and carry out their own development plans to meet their own needs. And that they do not need to be mentally and physically dependent on what is handed down to them by distant and other agencies outside their spheres.”

At the operational field level, the most successful Sarvodaya programmes have most often been those which, apart from being self-created and self-managed, have employed practical hands-on/learning-by-doing methods, including a lot of income generation, skills training, and conscientsation; rather than the theoretical “talk-shop” or workshopping approach. And they have always exercised utmost respect for the cultural mores of the people involved, whether their ethics come from world faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. or any other traditional religion.

The Credo of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (based in the Philippines), as articulated by its founder, Dr. James Yen, encapsulated a methology that is very much in consonance with Sarvodaya:

“Go to the people

Live among them

learn from them

plan with them

Work with the people

Start with what they know

Build on what the people have

Teach by showing, learn by doing

Not a showcase but a pattern

Not odds and ends but a system

Not piecemeal but intergrated approach

Not to confirm but to transform

Not relief but release.

The author is Guyanese, at present settled in Britain after

working along sarvodaya lines in Africa for the last ten years.