Gandhi and Industrial Design: Shruti Nilegaonkar

The following paper has been written using Gandhi and his philosophies as a reference to draw conclusions on industry, design and industrial design in India. The paper has been divided into three parts, namely: Gandhi and Industry, Gandhi and Design and Gandhi and Industrial Design.As a student of industrial design, I have been trained through my architectural schooling to contribute through design to the building industry and the production industry. My fellow students and I find ourselves becoming ‘products’ of this education ‘industry’, following a linear path of production and building to lead to a ‘better’ future for this country. But this western ideology conflicts with that of our ancestors and visionaries that talk of development of ‘self’ first; like the thoughts of Gandhi.Gandhi and Industry:

The Cambridge dictionary defines industrialism as “the idea or state of having a country’s economy, society or political system based on industry”.[1] Industrialism also deals with the mass manufacturing of industrial goods through factories which employ urban population and lure the rural population. Industrial development would be the development of the economy, which is the gain of monetary profits. A society based on these ideals would be an industrialized society. Its workers work in clockwork to keep producing and making. Such a society will definitely have tall buildings, shopping malls, cinema theatres, factories, cars and other material luxuries; but does that mean that it is a developed society?

In an article featured in the National Geographic Magazine (June 2012), “Hong Kong in China’s Shadow’; the author, Michael Paterniti, has described Hong Kong as, on one hand, in glitz with its production sector and building industry booming, but on the other hand, the underside of the highly industrialized people live in refrigerator sized houses with bare minimum to live on.

Countries contesting for the ‘best improved’ economies are suffering setbacks in their race for advancement. Tom Orlik has written in the WallStreet journal about China’s falling GDP[2]. He says in this report that China’s economy has been falling because of reduced foreign consumption, as there are no takers for its manufactured goods or infrastructure anymore.

According to Wikipedia, the developed and developing countries of the world are categorized so on the basis of their overall standard of living and the development of industrial base. India thus falls under the developing countries’ category. During analysis of Gandhi’s book on Village Swaraj, I came across his following thoughts on Industrialization: Gandhi says that India cannot be expected to benefit from industrialization. He describes industrialism as a method of exploitation of the industrialized country itself, as well as other countries[3]. During an interview conducted with Gandhian Mr. N. Vasudevan, I questioned him about Gandhi’s total opposition to industrialization as I had come across in his book “Village Swaraj”. This was, because, according to Vasudevan, Gandhi was always evolving as he advanced in life along with the growing modernization[4].  Today when the financial inequality of China and her consumerist economy waver, Gandhi’s thoughts against rapid industrialization can be understood.[5] Gandhi was not against industrialization but he was against exploitation. Bertrand Russell, the mathematician, philosopher and author of ‘Prospects of Industrial Civilization’ says that an industrialized country will colonize another food growing country as it lacks in its basic needs, leading to exploitation of the colonized country.

What Gandhi is trying to say is that it is firstly important to define development of a country-if it is development of the economy or the overall development; spiritual, social and economic, of the people. He preaches the latter for a better India where India should learn from her history, which is still prevalent in her villages and which can develop through village industry, handicrafts and small scale industry. Industrialization will benefit a few who will in turn exploit the remaining millions.

Gandhi and Design:

In the interview with N. Vasudevan, on being questioned about how Gandhi’s philosophies can be integrated in design, he cited the examples of the various Gandhi Ashrams in India and South Africa which are “in tune with nature” in design, which reflect Gandhi’s ideals. Simplicity and use of local materials and resources was repeatedly emphasized by Gandhi. These ideals were not isolated whims but in line with Gandhi’s philosophy of a self sustaining society which is independent and self-reliant.

In Joseph Lelyveld’s book “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi”, he talks of Gandhi’s attire of a plain loin cloth which was a researched design that his genius had churned that made it easier for the masses to relate to him. This design model of his is still followed by the countries’ politicians as they drab in the common man’s clothes.

Gandhi’s methods of Ahimsa and Satyagraha were his proposed design model for freedom fighting which continues to reflect today when people stand up collectively for justice (Jessica Lal Case), or bill passing Janlokpal Bill passing under Anna Hazare or conduct silent marches as reported in by Pavithra Jayaram on 6th September 2012, Delhi.

The designers and engineers of the country, today, form part of the industrialized society. But through the designers it is possible to establish a balance between machine and handicrafts ensuring to safeguard India’s cultural identity in the process of industrialization. They can work together with craftsmen and artists to help manufacture everyday products of actual need. The designer’s role today thus becomes crucial in realizing Gandhi’s Swaraj in India.

Gandhi and Industrial Design:

Since Gandhi is no more one would have to individually access and analyze his philosophies. As the world turns into a giant consumer, the industrial designer gains importance; his job being mainly to identify new needs which can be addressed through mass manufacture.

Gandhi has opposed exploitation through industrialism and hence industrialism of this scale. To study and practice industrial design and to adhere to Gandhi’s vision in itself thus become two conflicting ideologies. Bertand Russell, said in his book (The Prospects of Industrial Civilization) that “…the western world view is their world view, it need not be the only world view.”

Industrial designer Laxminarayan Kannan proprietor of Malkha India, has succeeded in developing a technology for manufacturing cotton fabric based on traditional Indian processes, generating a self sufficient village industry producing good quality fabric. It is an example of industrial application of Gandhi’s ideals.

Study of Industrial Design is training for the Western world view as the syllabus has been globalized. To be an industrial designer would come with certain responsibility as his duty of designing for the user, community, the society, places him in a soup of ethics and business. He is, by duty, to work for the people but how can he by being trained as a part of such a system that threatens his very objective? It is important to redesign the education process to make it specific to this country as design is closely related to society and culture.

An industrial designer’s role would be to ensure minimum exploitation of resources through his design, he should foresee recycling, reusing and decomposition of his mass manufactured product, use sustainable materials and design within economically viable parameters. He has to carefully analyze the needs of this country, look into its past rich culture and derive a design that symbiotically thrives in this society. The Indian designer’s role today, thus, is not of creating and making as the Western concept says, but is of innovating on the existing rich culture and civilization and modifying it for today’s needs. By referring to our ancient civilization and understanding the nuances of traditional designs, the industrial designer’s role thus can concur with Gandhi’s vision for India.

[1]  Cambridge dictionary,

[2] “China’s Ghost Towns and Phantom Malls”, By Robin Banerji &Patrick Jackson, BBC News,

[3] “Village Swaraj”, MK Gandhi, published by Navajivan Trust, 1962 (Ahmedabad).

[4]Gandhian Interview with Mr. N. Vasudevan by Shruti Nilegaonkar, Literature Review.

[5]China’s Economy: The Second Quarter”, Tom Orlik, Wallstreet Journal, July 13, 2012

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