THE CROAK is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial.

The labour of love

On Sunday 30 January, a group of volunteers took the path to the Vinoba Janmasthan ashram at Gagode Raigad, in response to a call for volunteers to help them harvest their crop of turmeric. The significance of the day was not lost on us - 30 Jan is the day on which Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by some who felt threatened by his vision , efforts and influence. This day, known as as Shaheed Divas is also observed as Sarvodaya Day and so it was perfect that we would be visiting the ashram on this day. 

The Sarvodaya and Sustainability project is an effort of the eCoexist Foundation, to reflect on whether the principles of Sarvodaya, based in Indian philosophy and wisdom, may help us envision a more culturally appropriate approach to sustainability for Indian society. 

This project has been funded by the Trusteeship Foundation, Mumbai. 

Sarvodaya and Labour

Sarvodaya is based in three simple principles:

  • That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
  • That a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
  • That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

This value that Sarvodaya attributes to physical labour is considered to be beneficial both to the evolution of the individual as well as harmony in the collective. But where did this emphasis on labour emerge from ?

The economic inequities caused by a capitalistic paradigm were compounded by industrialization. This was primarily in the creation of and inequitable distribution of capital. Capital is a result of individual labour.  

Gandhi said,

"Working for economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and labour. It means the 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 semi-starved naked millions on the other. A non-violent system of government is clearly an impossibility. so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists."

Division of labour and the caste system

Both Gandhi and Vinoba were strictly against the division of labour that endowed some castes with the possibility of doing intellectual labour and limited others to menial labour alone. This interpretation of the Hindu caste system, that then oppressed those that offered their bodily labour as their contribution to the functioning of their community, was unacceptable to them. 

This division of the  mind from the body and the insistence that one was superior to the other was the source of violence they believed. Rather it is in the integration of both mind and body that the spirit of man can truly blossom. 

For this to be possible, education has to value physical labour too, creating a love for handiwork in the child. 

Labour and Sustainability

For most people in India, labour is a law of life. They are bound to labour, and the exploitation that comes from an unjust market. 

However, the English term labour, also seems to carry a negative connotation in itself, as if to strip labour of all its dignity. 

The Sustainable Development Goal no 8 aims to

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

So terms such as productivity, work and employment are rather preferred than labour. So does a sustainable society aim to free itself of all labour ? What is that aspect of labour that is demeaning and undignified to the human spirit? Or is that the manner in which this labour is viewed and imposed that needs to be revised?

Handiwork, craftsmenship and skill are other words that can replace the term labour. These acknowledge that there is an intelligence that is part of every physical activity that produces an output - for eg. a farmer carries within him a storehouse of understanding about the soil the crop and the climate. 

It is industry that creates labour - that repetitive meaningless action where an individual is merely a cog in the wheel; easily replaced by the next . In the Sarvodaya vision, then industry is only humane when carried out at a smaller scale, when the creativity skill and enthusiasm of the individual is not sacrificed to the production targets of the machine. 

Labour as Service

And finally, viewing labour as service, as a gift and an offerring, 'shrama seva', is another way of restoring the dignity that it deserves. Often, in farming communities, activities such as sowing and harvesting are done collectively, as they require extensive labour in a short period of time. And so they serve each other , offer 'shrama daan' so to speak, rather than serve an anonymous overbearing market. This interdependence on each other is essential to living off the land, and an isolation would certainly not enable survival. 

For those of us living in the city, who have never had to grow our own foods and so completely unfamiliar with farming activities, this day with the Vinoba Janmasthan residents, was humbling and revealing, as it showed us how little we could really offer. Our complete lack of knowledge and skill in this sphere, our limited physical stamina and our frail endurance was quite evident in comparison with others who live on the land. An adivasi couple, grandparents already, continued to labour long after we had collapsed in a few hours. For that one day, they, indeed, had surpassed us in every way. 

For those of you who can help with marketing the Vinoba Janmasthan produce please do connect - they will be offering fresh turmeric and turmeric powder. Their turmeric has very high curcumin content and is grown without any chemical inputs. 


If you are keen on volunteering for the Sarvodaya and Sustainability project , please email us at

[email protected]

Did you enjoy this newsletter? Subscribe on our website

The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
If you would like to contribute articles on ecology consciousness and sustainability please get in touch with us.

Facebook Twitter Youtube Instagram
306 Harmony Wing 2 North Avenue Kalyaninagar Pune 411006
All rights reserved.

Not interested in our newsletter anymore? Give us feedback before you unsubscribe.