Kumarappa an Evaluation R Keithahn
Gandhiji drew us all to him as the sun draws up thousands of drops of invisible water to the skies. I marvel still at the power of that small bundle of human Truth. A large number of his followers found their satisfaction in the immediate programme for political Swaraj which Gandhiji offered them from time to time. Most people were occupied with the normal responsibilities of life. They could get away now and then for a "fight". Time could be found to go to jail. Perhaps also they were attracted by the sensational nature of the struggle which promised quick results. Most would be too impatient to be "Constructive Workers".
I was growingly drawn to Kumarappa and his Village Industries programme. I became a regular Khadi wearer as soon as I understood Gandhiji's unique programme and the important place of homespun therein. Very early I grew very fond of this product of the unemployed or under-employed. It fitted in with my already accepted economic programme of using the product of a just and honest economic effort. The pure white of Khadi was always attractive to me. It is the symbol of the purity of life in all its aspects. There was no question of the importance of Khadi. But 1 felt, all genuine village industries, especially those of food processing, were equally important. In fact, as I have always said, one could go naked in such a tropical climate as that of India and millions practically do so. But one could not live on an empty stomach. In fact, it was my wife who joined me and came to India in 1935, who helped to see things more clearly. After two years of medical practice at Devakottai she said, "India does not need pills or injections; India needs food", or "How can you expect the hungry villager to live a good life on an empty stomach ?"
Naturally I was also interested in the welfare of the exploited and of the Harijans in particular. At Devakottai I gave special attention to the Harijan-Nattar problem. Later in Bangalore I had the privilege of being responsible for a Harijan Hostel. That interest continues to this day. However, I agreed with Gandhiji that this was primarily a caste-Hindu problem. And so, naturally I did not think of giving my whole time to such work. So it was with all of the other aspects of the " Constructive Programme ". As yet, Basic Education had not been started. Thus it was natural for me to become an " agent '' of the All India Village Industries Association. Although I cannot say that I made any special contribution to this work, yet I must say that I was very happy in working with Kumarappa and in being associated with his significant efforts. I always felt that he got down to fundamentals and that he was an effective and independent thinker and worker. As an " agent ", several times, I had the privilege of helping to bring together the rural workers of South India. This is an aspect of Kumarappa's contribution that I feel is most important.
He is always the helpful and creative friend. How often he responded to our call and went from place to place in South India. He gave to us that sympathetic fellowship that alone can help a worker to do his best. His was not an easy task. He was not always accepted. I remember that during one of these tour programmes, which I helped to arrange, he was not permitted to speak in one of the Christian buildings of Tirunelveli District. But he always surmounted such obstacles in his normal stride. There were plenty of people who would accept him and he knew where he stood. He was convinced that his cause was right and that was its ultimate strength.
As he went about he took his box of literature with him. We did not need to depend merely upon his spoken word and personal fellowship but we had his books to read after he had gone away. He was again pioneering in steps in which the rest of us would follow sooner or later.
One might claim that Kumarappa had the Sarvodaya outlook, that he did Samagra Gram Seva right from the beginning. He wore Khadi and believed in it fully. He believed whole-heartedly in the Harijan work. His Village Industries programme was not mere vocational activity. It was a revolutionary programme. My memory tells me that, he never entered the political fray as such, but every time the political situation became tense, the British thought of him in terms of a real political enemy because, his economic programme had fundamental political implications. And so he went to prison along with other Satya-grahis.
Thus it has not been surprising that Kumarappa has been one of the most stimulating "Constructive Work" leaders since the death of Gandhiji. Had we known him well we would have anticipated that he would be one of the sharpest critics of India's own government. Even before the death of Gandhiji he saw our weakness and pressed for a unity of outlook and pro-gramme. It has been a rare privilege to be a member of the Sarva Seva Sangh, and there I am thrilled to see how " Kumarappa " is always one of those who takes us on to new and logical further steps in the " Constructive Programme ".
It has been he who quickly understood the importance of agricultural work as such and has made each one of us more sensitive to this fundamental aspect of India's life. Only four years ago, I visited a very important " Constructive Work" Centre of South India. It has done and is doing good work. I admire the workers. But I was astounded to see that there was nothing which could be called a garden or field. The land and water resources were completely unused. Within these four years, I suppose, there are few " Constructive Workers" who are not sensitive to our responsibilities for the use of the land and water which may be in our hands.
And so Kumarappa was very soon taking his place with others in bringing home to us the wretched and most difficult conditions of landless agricultural labour. He has helped to make us all the more sensitive to the problem of land tenure in India. I believe that others are recording his important contribution in South India at this point. He has come several times, sat with us in our needy villages, and has given to us not only light, vision and courage but also practical suggestions as to how we might get on with this important work.
Thus we see how Kumarappa has been an effective pioneer right from the beginning. He maintains that spirit even though he has physical handicaps. I was thrilled when we sat in a meeting of the Sarva Seva Sangh at Wardha and one of our good workers said that he felt he was " too old " to return to the village to start an agricultural effort under the auspices of the Sarva Seva Sangh, and Kumarappa at once suggested that he be relieved of the responsibilities of Maganvadi and he would himself go to nearby village and start an agricultural unit as a laboratory of the Wardha Institutions. As we all know he has already implemented his offer and has started the Pannai Ashram at Seldoh. He has truly gone back to the village and I am certain that, with others, he will make an outstanding contribution to our complicated agricultural problem.
It was an excellent idea to have invited Kumarappa to be a member of the recent Indian Goodwill Mission to China. I am certain that each worker has been impressed by the reports he has sent from China. He was not afraid of the good in " Communism " and he has shown his readiness to learn even of " Capitalism " by going on to Japan to study their Cottage Industries. Evidently, in his conversation with some Communists, he was able to help them to understand the fundamental difference of the Communist and Sarvodaya approaches. He will have done the same thing in Japan. Kumarappa knows where he stands. And he is always making most of us feel very uneasy. A few years back he was in Britain speaking to the Pacifists in their National Conference. Ruthlessly he penetrated the weakness of modern Western Pacifism by saying that it took for granted an economic system that was the root of modern war. He insisted that if Western Pacifism was to become effective, it must have a revolutionary economic programme. Thus wherever Kumarappa goes he soon helps us to discover our weakness, and if we have the courage, helps us to take the next steps in our own pioneering.
This simple but earnest coworker is always aiding us to keep close to realities. He helps us to understand how fundamental it is to work together as a team, ever remembering that our programme is really a unit, and each worker is carrying on a very small aspect of the total work. Therefore, if we are not to be hypocrites, we must be prohibition workers, naturopathy workers, Khadi-walas, Harijan Sevaks, Basic Educationists etc. all at the same time. But most of all, he is now leading us deeper into the villages and into the heart of the great business of India—that of farming. And not one of us can see the distant end. Again we sing that beautiful hymn, " Lead Kindly Light " that Light for our own day and task, that our understanding may grow and that there may be a deeper appreciation of such of those who help to bring us closer to the Light, as we build a New Society of Justice and Peace.