Utilizing Gandhi’s Dreams of “Swadeshi” for Our Everyday Lives

By Jai Bashir, Office of Sustainability

To honor of the birth and inspiring life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and celebrate this week’s Eat Local Challenge, the University of Utah community and all Utahns should embrace Gandhi’s pursuit of compassionate observation and principles for simplicity as guides to solving issues related to our fragile planet and social and ecological jeopardy.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi. Author unknown.

Gandhi’s struggle for national independence for India by using principles of non-violence, or satyagraha, can strongly inform our species’ struggle against uneven power structures that disallow the representations of all biodiversity. Although Gandhi, known as Mahatma or “great soul,” never formally used the word environmentalist, his principles of simple living (ahisma) and focus on self-sufficiency are facets of the movement towards sustainable living and are integral in understanding human ecology and systems thinking. One of the greatest Gandhian principles we can all apply to our lives is that of swadeshi, or radical locality, as a way of examining our consumption practices and role within our communities.

Gandhi believed in radical self-sufficiency, or as he called it swadeshi. He is famous for wearing the dhoti, a simple wrapped garment for male-bodied individuals tied around the waist from cotton he hand spun. Symbolically, the garment and self-woven cotton represented Gandhi’s deep belief in retaining local tradition and eliminating British clothing as a way for Indians to validate themselves within a larger global scheme powered by imperial assimilation. Swadeshi is based on the decentralization of power from market forces that harm village models and make certain social groups vulnerable. Gandhi’s ideal India was not only an India free of imperialist rule, but also of unequal social structures. He envisioned the rise of “village republics” that were self-governing, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining.

What can we, living in present day Salt Lake City, take away from Gandhi’s dream?

Buying local is the best way to fight a globalized monoculture. Monocultures are toxic to the state of the planet, creating a loss of biodiversity and also social diversity. Buying from local artisans allows artists to flourish in their place of residence, without needing to move in order to fit into a more robust, artistic scene. Rather, supporting local artists aids in building and sustaining unique local art hubs that are less connected to the corporatization of art and their work.  When a community has a healthier art scene, it supports the expression of the community as a whole within a media culture that is based on uniformity.

Buying local food, the better known facet of the local movement, has many benefits, which include but are not limited to: creating more robust food communities and networks, allowing the democratization of food within communities, curbing carbon footprints emitted from food traveling across wide spaces, making healthier and nutritious food choices, and fostering urban agriculture. Within Utah the “locavore movement” is making strides with local restaurants building their own unique repertories within Utah’s food scene. Additionally, many local restaurants are choosing to use local produce in their cuisines. To find out more, and to challenge yourself in the benefits of eating local food, check out the Eat Local Challenge. For additional resources, examine Goodread’s list of wonderful readings about the locavore movement on a larger scale.  To learn more about the locality movement in Utah, log on to Local First Utah’s website.

Radical locality may not be a viable option at this time in Utah; however, like everything sustainably related, implementing even the slightest of changes has the potential of making a change in the world.  As Gandhi meditated, ““If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Jai Bashir is a senior in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and Gender Studies. She is a sustainability ambassador for the Office of Sustainability.

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