India: Slowly Down the Democratic Road

Students Restive While Village Developments Push Nation Along Path to Internal Stability

The writer of this article traveled to India last summer on a friendship mission with 11 students from the University of California at Les Angeles under Ford Foundation sponsorship.

"These Indians have no sense of the road," bellowed an American business representative as he steered his new Dodge through a crowd of laborers on the narrow mud lane to Bombay. Between blasts of the born he pointed at a young worker crowding his left fender and growled, "Take that fellow over there--you never know which way be may turn."

Two months in the world's second largest country is enough to convince an American visitor that India does have a "sense of the road." Hazards exist, of course: elements on the extreme right and left that seek to pull it off its course; economic pitfalls of land inequality and industrial backwardness. But basically, Indians are moving forward toward a stable, democratic government.

Student Discontent

The most dangerous block to Indian democracy may come from the young intellectuals. Although the students are proud and sincere, few are satisfied, and some favor violent change.

The primary fact of the Indian student's life today is his economic poverty. A recent study shows that over 40 percent of college students in Calcutta, where all contrasts are magnified, suffer from malnutrition. Most live at home, many in one or two-room flats housing a whole family.

Almost equally important is the outdated educational system. Established by the British to prepare lower class civil servants for the colonial government, the present system of university education gives students theory when they need practical training, allows almost no free student-faculty relationships, and emphasizes rote memory instead of the individual thinking needed in a new democracy. The students are young, too, entering college at about age 15. Emerging from the universities with one or more degrees, most students face almost certain unemployment, for "white collar" jobs are scarce and few are willing to accept manual work.

It is no surprise, then, that students in such an economic and educational position look for total solutions to their problems. With sparse part-time employment and extra-curricular activities, and short study hours, the students gather in coffee houses to debate the future.

A barrage of questions about America meets a foreigner. "Why do Americans like McCarthy? Why is the divorce rate so high? Why have you lost spiritual values? Why did America kill Japanese fishermen by exploding the H-bomb? Why is it impossible for Negroes to go to college? Why do you still support Chiang Kai Shek?" And, the most frequent one of all: "Why did America send arms to Pakistan?"

These questions might indicate revolutionary sentiment among Indians. And indeed, one does meet violent leftists who are card-carrying members of the Communist-dominated All-India Student Federation. Especially strong in Calcutta, this organization urges strikes and demonstrations to solve the students' problems.

But despite a closely-knit Communist student movement most students do not follow the Communists, no matter how revolutionary most try to sound. The questions really indicate sincere interest in the U. S.

One young student of history, after belligerently rattling off question after question, quietly added, "You know, we're not going Communist. Don't judge us by the way our questions sound." Many students, of course, are highly critical of the ruling Congress Party; most have some sort of pet economic or political theory; but fundamentally, the changes the students desire are to be achieved by peaceful means.

The radicalism of the students is, nonetheless, a real problem, for the lack of a strong, non-Communist student organization keeps the democrats walking around in groups of two or three. And the attitude of many top government officials is to ignore the problem. As one top Congress Party officer said, "Oh, they're just students." This widespread disinterest, combined with historic opposition to the British, makes many students despair with the government, a dangerous trend in such a young nation.

Many students urge, along with political changes, various adjustments in the social system. Influenced by American movies, which most see at least once a week, and by Indians who have studied in American universities, many young Indians are rebelling against the established marriage customs, by which parents make the matches in childhood. An intelligent 20-year old in Calcutta had to meet his girl secretly because his mother had already chosen his bride, a girl of 14 who lived in Bombay.

Village Social Work

The joint family system, by which all brothers bring their wives to live in the home of the father or mother, is also under attack by students with modern ideas of establishing their own homes. Castes, too, are breaking down among students, who show little evidence of discrimination. More and more girls also are going to college, although many families still strongly disapprove.

Some students are doing social work, but traditional aversion to manual labor among the "middle class," as well as the students' own economic conditions, keep most from going out to the villages or to city slum areas. A few notable exceptions exist, such as the college boys who have "adopted" a nearby village and are helping to build a new road. A girls' college, too, distributes milk to village children. But on the whole, voluntary constructive work, despite the role it played in Gandhi's philosophy, is not a part of the attitude of India's students.

This lack of contact between the students in the cities and the people of the villages is perhaps the single most discouraging fact in today's India. For the students talk about immediate reforms, when the villages actually need a far different solution. The danger is that these city students, who barely understand the villages, will eventually take over the government civil service. Then they will need to learn quickly about the non-urban 85 percent of India and to plan bold but realistic programs of village development.

The Indian college student is proud of his country's culture and traditions, and yet highly critical of the present government. He is sensitive to the poverty all about him, but frustrated by his inability to help mold his own life or his country's future.

In short, most Indian college students have not yet found their place on India's road. The going is tough now, and the road ahead seems even bleaker. In the words of one Indian professor: "India is not using its greatest resource, its young intellectuals."

The "Real" India

Seven weeks in Indian cities would present a barren picture. But the heart of India is in the villages. There, Community Development, the most powerful answer to revolutionaries in Asia, is itself achieving a revolution of rising hopes.

In the Telingana district of Hyderabad State, where the Communists four years ago got control of many villages by the promise of land and the threat of violence, Community Development is now at its best. Before, Communist terrorists bad aroused the villagers to murder landlords and take the land; now, with the Communists apparently gone, an inspired team of an Indian administrator, a U. S. technical adviser, and village level workers, are achieving not only increased rice production, new wells, sanitation, and malaria control, but more important, a new way of thinking.

Villagers who might have watched the twentieth century pass by are now eagerly changing their feudal conditions. Farmers learn to plant rice in rows, rather than scatter it with no plan. Some villages begin cooperative stores and libraries.

Caste Walls Breaking

Companion to the spreading idea of economic progress, of course, is a feeling of social unrest. For when people begin to move, caste barriers must crack. In one village, a high caste Brahman protested against a former untouchable's building a mud but on the adjacent plot of land. But the Development Commissioner, with a certain toughness in his voice, reminded the Brahman that untouchability was now unconstitutional.

Not only is social equality one of the people's desires; a new social consciousness is also evident. There is nothing quite so levelling and unifying as having all villagers--from high caste to no caste--begin to clear a path for a new road. For by joining hands, villagers also join spirits.

The technique of Community Development is the key to its success, for it does not hand the villagers anything for nothing: the villagers themselves must be the chief part of any effort. "Give and Require" is the basic formula. "If you will put a good tile roof-on your hut," said the Development Commissioner to one farmer, "we will give you an extra acre of land."

The village level worker, or "gram sevak," has the all-important job of securing the support and confidence of the village. Generally he is a young boy just out of high school, who has completed six months at a special training center. Sincerely dedicated, these young Indians know that the future of village India is largely in their hands.

Community Development, financed and planned primarily by the Indian Government itself, is aided both by the Ford Foundation and the U. S. Government. The foundation helped to set up the training centers for the village workers, while the U. S. has contributed about $12 million to community projects--partly in the form of technical advisers--since the beginning of the program in 1952. The amount of U. S. aid is small--only about 10 per cent of the Indian contribution--but the results have so far been spectacular.

At the present time, about 30,000 of India's 500,000 villages are under the program, and by 1961, at the end of the second Five Year Plan, every village is scheduled to be included in a project.

Community Development is only one part of India's Five Year Plan of economic development. As an experiment in democratic planning, the 84 billion program also affects irrigation, industrialization, schooling, food production, and health. If India meets the high goals of the plan, the achievement will rank as one of democracy's greatest.

One of the most serious problems, not met by the Five Year Plan, is land inequality. Everywhere, the land question is primary, for it is the true source of village wealth and life. It is estimated that in one district, for example, 75 percent of the people are landless, and three percent own half the irrigated land. Land reform is officially under the control of the various State governments, unlike Community Development, which is administered from New Delhi.

Petitions for Land

Former untouchables are in the most acute conditions. Gandhi called them harijans, or "children of God," but they are more accurately children of the land. It is common to see groups of harijans submitting petitions for land to Hyderabad's Development Commissioner, who also happens to be chief revenue and land reform officer. Always showing that he considers them equals by deliberately touching them, he would say, "You build a road from here to that land, and it will be yours.

Unfortunately, most administrators are not so progressive as Hyderabad's and other states are painfully slow in adopting even the most basic land reforms. Aside from official state government legislation, which comes slowly, the chief hope for land reform comes from a little old man with the simple formula of the Golden Rule. Vinoba Bhave, the man Gandhi chose to be his first example of civil disobedience against the British, is walking through villages asking the landed to volunteer one-fifth of their acreage for redistribution. "Bheodan," or landgift, is an idea that may spur state governments to needed reforms. For to date Vinoba has collected over three million acres in his saintly, Gandhian way, and he hopes to have 50 million by the end of 1956. Tremendous problems of redistribution, gifts of fallow land, and the lack of accompanying agricultural improvements plague the Bheodan workers. But the collectors--especially in Gandhi's own village of Sevagram--have a faith that may very well achieve peacefully the most needed revolution in Asia.

For Asia is definitely going through a revolution--whether violently in China or democratically in India. The central figure in India's revolution is Prime Minister Nehru. Most Indians, young and old, thick that Nehru will solve their problems, despite corruption and lethargy in the Congress Party.

This faith in Nehru carries over to his so-called "neutralist" foreign policy. Whether Nehru invites Chou En Lal to New Delhi or speaks out against U. S. arms to Pakistan, he has substantial support from the people. For Nehru and most Indians oppose Communism, believing that the best method to keep India democratic is to increase food production, education, and industrial and village development. If the government remains both nationalistic and economically progressive, the people will give it their support, and there is little danger of India's joining the Communist camp.

Nor is there, however, much chance of getting India to join an American-inspired area alliance. Hatred of Pakistan is strong, and the recent U. S. arms aid to that country increased distrust of American intentions. Furthermore, America is still tied to colonialism by its support of France in Indo China, and Indians do not like to admit that Red China is the new colonial power in Asia.

Of course, India has its own troops concentrated on the Northern border near China and Tibet, but India's main weapon against infiltration from Red China is not arms but internal stability.

To achieve stability, Indians realize that many years of peace are needed. Thus the internal problems evident to any visitor in India fundamentally affect India's foreign policy of "neutrality," more properly called "non-alignment." For it is by settling disputes between Russia and America that Indians hope to achieve time to make democracy secure at home. Only by recognizing the desire to relieve tensions and settle disputes can one understand the apparent inconsistencies in Nehru's foreign policy. Repeated attempts to admit Red China to the United Nations alongside stern warnings to Ho Chi Minh and Chou En Lal to observe the Indo-Chinese truce agreements are linked only by the single purpose of achieving some kind of a live-and-let-live settlement in Asia.

A temporary settlement, undertakes with full knowledge of the ultimate objectives of the Communists, could bring India and Asia new life and new hope. For if India fails in its democratic experiment, then Asia must fall to the technological totalitarians in the North. But if India succeeds, Asia could become democracy's strongest partner